Scenic Train Journeys In Europe, The USA And Beyond

Whether you’re floating around the USA,  sightseeing in the Balkans or holidaying in Italy,  don’t jump on a plane and spend hours staring at grotty clouds or re-watching movies.  See more of your location with a scenic train!

Have a specific train in mind? Jump to it!
Crescent to D.C & Capitol To Chicago

California Zephyr: Denver To Salt Lake City

The Eastern Express

Yangon Circle Train
The Balkan Express
The Glacier Express
The Bernina Express
Faenza To Florence & Florence To Pisa
The Öresund Bridge
EN 473 Overnight Train: Budapest To Brasov

Mountain Railways Of India

Note: This post contains some affiliate links, but this is not sponsored content. All comments reflect the author’s real experience.

Crescent to D.C & Capitol To Chicago

by Locaux

 Though I had twice traversed from the east coast of the U.S. to the west by car and plane, I couldn’t resist the voyage by train.
Starting in the Deep South, in the heart of the Civil Rights movement – Birmingham, Alabama.  We travelled north along the eastern coast through North and South Carolina up to the Washington D.C., the transfer point to cross the mid-west and ultimately and into sunny California.

California Zephyr: Denver To Salt Lake City

by Sophia Moss

The California Zephyr Amtrak route between Denver and Salt Lake City is something you’ll never forget.

The train goes up into the Rocky Mountains, through tunnels in the mountains themselves,  until it reaches the point where the trees stop growing.  You will then slowly descend into Utah, swishing past lakes where the swimmers will wave at you.

Utah’s deserts look like they fell out of an old Western film.

If you take this trip, you have to go upstairs to the viewing deck. Here, the walls and ceiling are covered in windows so you can enjoy the panoramic views. I stayed up there for hours, so it’s best to head up there soon after you board the train to make sure you get a seat!

The California Zephyr between Denver and Salt Lake City captures how diverse and stunning the USA really is; you can go from the top of a mountain to the depth of the desert in just a few hours! At just $63 if booked in advance, it’s the perfect way to round off a trip to Denver.

 

The Eastern Express

by Selin Sen 

Do yourself a favour and buy Eastern Express train ticket for only 10 euros! By spending the equivalent of a  movie ticket,  you can witness a 25-hour long movie from your compartment window in which seasons and geography changes.

The complete journey runs from Ankara (Capital City of Turkey) to city of Kars and there are countless attractions along the way. For example, when you are getting close to the City of Erzurum, it is tradition to call restaurants that cook city’s speciality Cağ Kebabı and ask them to bring to Erzurum train station and have a delicious feast.

The journey is full of fun and good panoramas, but the real star is final destination: Kars! It is the most unconventional winter wonderland.  This undisturbed wilderness is almost like a postcard!

If you have a chance, make sure to stop by the Lake Cildir and have horse carriage ride of your life.

The only problem is since it is so cheap and such a great romantic journey, in wintertime train tickets are basically impossible to get!!

Tickets for the Express sell out 15 minutes after they go on sale.  In any other season there is no big problem with finding a ticket but, if I were to do it all over again I would have preferred to take Eastern Express in winter.

Yangon Circle Train

by Carly Mann

The highlight of my trip to Yangon, Myanmar was riding the Yangon Circle Train.  This thirty-mile loop circumvents the entire city, starting in the city centre before looping north through Yangon’s expansive suburbs.

Although there are some new trains with air conditioning, the most authentic experience comes from riding one of the older, slower trains that move at a snail’s past along the sixty-year-old route.

During the three-hour journey, you can expect more than a few curious stares, along with an amazing opportunity to see daily life in Yangon. This is mainly a commuter train, so most of the other passengers are locals going about their typical routines. Vendors pass through the wagons selling fresh fruit, candy and trinkets (but never water, so bring your own!). The train moves so slowly that it’s safe to sit in the doorway and hang your feet out along the way… just make sure you don’t lose a flip-flop!

A ticket on the Yangon Circle Train is valid for one complete loop, and you’ll need a new ticket if you plan to get off to explore any of markets that have popped up at all the stations.  Since tickets only cost fifteen cents (in US dollars) it’s no big deal, but you’ll have to wait at least an hour for the next train to pass by.

 

The Balkan Express

by Deah Hester

The Balkan Express travels over 400 bridges and through more than 200 tunnels, and is a fantastic way to see the scenery between Belgrade, Serbia, and Bar, Montenegro.

It’s 300 miles and it takes 12 hours, although you can stop at towns along the way for an overnight if you wish.

The train itself was comfortable, with a simple bar car at one end. The rail line has been open since 1976 and was often used by Yugoslavian leader Tito to visit the disparate countries of the Balkan nation. We bought our tickets three days before our date of departure, and there was plenty of open seats on the train.

We enjoyed a coffee and breakfast at the cafe in the train station, watching other trains arrive and depart. Because Serbia operates on mostly Cyrillic signage, we made sure to confirm which train was ours and keep an eye on it. Right on time, it left the station, and we soon made friends with the other riders in our compartment.

As we sped through the fertile fields of Serbia, we’d see small communities gathering at their beautiful Eastern Orthodox churches.

Later, as we passed into Montenegro, the terrain grew mountainous with beautiful peaks, valleys, and bridges, with winding mountain paths for the locals. Finally, as we were nearing the capital city of Montenegro, Podgorica, and then another hour to the seaside town of Bar, the land flattened out and the blue waters of the Adriatic Sea sparkle in the distance.



 

The Glacier Express

by Whitney O’Halek

Train travel is romantic, classic, relaxing, and exciting all at the same time. But as with all travel, you’re sometimes subject to factors beyond your control.

The train itself was luxurious. We sat in 1stclass on plush, comfy seats, stowed our luggage away, and enjoyed views not only out the sides of the train but also out the panoramic windows in the ceiling!

Each seat came with earbuds so those who wanted could listen in to information about the train, Alpine history, and the architectural feats like viaducts and tunnels that allow train travel through the mountain range! The views ranged from the snow-capped Alps, tiny mountain villages, historic churches, and snow-covered trees.

My husband and I planned our whole week-long trip around this scenic train ride, but unprecedented snowfall and a maximum avalanche risk of 5 required that we change up our route. After trying to figure out if another method of transportation would be more advantageous for us, we decided to stick with the plan and take the new route that the Glacier Express recommended to us. The route in red is the typical route; the green was our amended route:

We did enjoy the trip between Zermatt and Brig, and again between Chur and St. Moritz — the epic snowfall made for stunning scenery — but the section between Brig and Chur by way of Zurich was left a lot to be desired. That said, my husband and I both said the sections of the Glacier Express route we did see were totally worthwhile!

The Glacier Express is available on the interrail pass. 

The Bernina Express

by Monika Komar

The Bernina Express brings four hours of spectacular, always-changing landscape and sights. Even for someone who considers trains a quick means of transport rather than an impressive piece of engineering, I appreciated every second of it.

The journey starts in Chur, the oldest Swiss town. From there, you travel in style – Bernina trains are very comfortable and feature huge panoramic sealed windows all the way to the roof so you don’t miss any of the fantastic views. The train reaches the altitude of 2253 metres, going through hundreds of tunnels, bridges, loops and the incredible Landwasser viaduct.

Throughout the journey, the landscape varies so much I was constantly in awe – one moment there’s the picturesque alpine scenery with snow-capped villages, the next – the green Mediterranean valleys in northern Italy. The train takes a quick break in the glacier region so you can hop off for a quick photo, a snowball fight or a drink – Alp Grüm is home to a restaurant accessible solely by train.

The views from this spot are truly impressive – there are the rugged Bernina massif, Palü Glacier and the Poschiavo valley. Back on the track, there’s more to admire – indulge in the distant Lake Poschiavo and the Bergamo Alps.

The journey ends in the lovely little village of Tirano, from where in the summer you can carry on to Lugano. The Bernina Express journey is still one of my favourite travelling experiences.

The Bernina Express is available on the Interrail pass.



Faenza To Florence & Florence To Pisa

by Margherita Orsi

One of the best ways to explore the Italian countryside is by train. There’s one train, in particular, I used to take all the time, as a Bologna girl studying at uni in Pisa: the regional train from Faenza (Emilia-Romagna, Ravenna province) to Florence. And then, I’d normally take another regional train from Florence to Pisa.

The whole journey would take about four hours, and it cost around 15 euros. These two trains formed part of my student life routine, and I have to admit I miss them a bit, though the journey was often bumpy and the trains mostly travelled by some kind of delay. You ALWAYS have to take a delay into account if you are to travel by train in Italy.

It’s on this type of trains that you get to admire the beauty of the Italian landscape, the real one: small towns and mountain villages like Fognano, Brisighella, Marradi, and Crespino del Lamone, each with its own tiny station (and usually only one platform).

This is a secret part of Italy you won’t get to experience anywhere else, and I’m still grateful for having had a share of it almost daily for the last two years.

The Öresund Bridge

By Per Brogevik 

Transport from Sweden to Denmark has been something of a challenge throughout the years.

Long queues to the small ferries have been something to take into account when travelling between the two Scandinavian countries. There were really no other option and the discussion to build a bridge started in the mid-1900’s.

Everything changed in 2000 when the new bridge Öresund Bridge (Öresundsbron) opened to the public. Now, you can travel by train or car between Copenhagen and Malmö in less than 30 minutes. The short train trip is a cool experience as the bridge was constructed over an artificial island and the last part into Copenhagen goes through a tunnel deep down under the sea level.

If you visit Copenhagen, also consider to take a day trip to the Swedish side and visit the beautiful small town of Malmö or its surroundings. Newly designed train stations both on the Swedish and Danish side of the strait makes transport a breeze. The cost for a one-way ticket is about €13.

EN 473 Overnight Train: Budapest To Brasov

by Sophia Moss

Thanks to some archaic comments on trip advisor, I was expecting terrible things from the overnight train to Brasov.

People said the other passengers would mug me and smoke endless cigarettes in my face, the ticket inspectors would steal my passport and make me pay hundreds of euros to get it back, and the train itself would be some rickety relic from Romania’s communist days.

The train wasn’t luxurious, but it was fine. I spent £17 on a seat rather than forking out extra for a bed, so the night wasn’t exactly restful. The border guards check the passports twice and will wake you up at 12 am to do so. As most of the train journey takes place at night, there wasn’t a whole lot to see for the first 8 hours.

The views from about 6 am onwards were pretty spectacular, however. The train is surrounded by endless woods on either side and you pass rustic isolated farms and tiny villages with lone spiky churches. The scenery looks like it fell out of a distant, rural past.

The misty mountains, skinny, Blair-witch style forests, tiny villages that look untouched by time, and so much endless, isolated countryside could inspire endless fiction writers.



Mountain Railways Of India

by Pooja Shah

There are just 3 railways in the world which have been honoured by UNESCO and included in world heritage list. One of these 3 is mountain railways of India which comprises of 3 railway lines built more than a century ago connecting high altitude hill stations and representing the best technologies of its time.

All the 3 are still operational and provides a wonderful experience to tourists across the world. We happened to embark on one of these beautiful journeys provided by Nilgiri mountain railway connecting Mettupalayam and the very popular hill station Ooty in Southern India.

The toy train as it is popularly known has just around 100 seats and is one of the very few trains in the world that still runs on steam.

The engine actually pushes the train upwards (rather than pulling it) and takes around 5 hours to cover a distance of 46 km. The slow journey through the dense hilly forest is scenic and the number of halts, bridges, tunnels and curves add its own charm to the experience.

The silent wind blowing through our hair, sweet whistle of the train, smoke from the engine, small villages passing by with kids waving – all of this teleported us to a bygone era and we never realized when 5 hours passed.

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About Sophia Moss

Freelance journalist, copywriter & travel blogger. Bylines with Ethaid by Atlas, Easyjet Traveller, Prospect Magazine, The Sun Online, Litro Magazine.

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