Maybe a bit of a cliche, but still: the journey itself is just as important as the destination. To me, this is extra true when it comes to train journeys. Although travelling by airplane gets you to the other side of the planet in a couple of hours, travelling by train is just really relaxed and laid back. The advantage of travelling by train is that a) it’s much more sustainable and b) you travel through many different landscapes with gorgeous panoramas. That camera will be glued to your hand permanently. Also: it’s a completely unique experience, with some of the train rides making you believe you’re in the roaring ’20s.
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Here are 5 unforgettable train journeys which should be on your bucket list. Here we go:
The Venice Simplon Orient Express (most luxurious train ride)
Remember that scene in the James Bond movie Spectre when Bond is dining in the train and Madeleine comes walking in, in that super fancy light blue dress? If not: let me refresh that memory.
Ever wondered what that would feel like? You can experience this during the Venice Simplon Orient Express train ride, which exudes glamour and luxury. The dress code during the day is smart-casual, and for dinner you’re expected to wear black tie, which basically means a suit for the guys and an evening gown for the gals. Jeans, flip flops, sneakers and such are an absolute no go. But why would you even consider this… this is your chance to go fully James Bond / Madeleine Swann, so go for it!
About the Venice Simplon Orient Express train ride itself: There are several routes, for example from London to Venice, Verona or Paris. You can choose a day trip or an overnight trip. But if you’re willing to spend that much money on a train ride, you might as well splurge on the overnight trip. If you’re going to do this once, do it well.
Cost: The day trips start from around 700 – 900 GBP per person. The overnight trip is a bit more expensive: be prepared to spend at least 2200 to 3500 GBP per person. Check the website for current rates.
One of the most well-known train rides in the whole world: the trans siberian railway. It goes from Moscow to Vladivostok (far east of Russia) or Beijing. Whatever floats your goat. To set things straight right away: this is not one train. There’s no such thing as THE Trans-Siberia Express. It’s a great number of railways & trains which bring you from Moscow to the far east of Russia or Beijing (about 10.000 km).
There are several connecting rail routes from different locations in Europe to Moscow and, at the end of the journey, from Beijing all the way down to South-East Asia. It’s not a hop-on-hop-off kind of train, because every ticket has a date and a booked bed etc. However, you can easily plan some stopovers by purchasing seperate tickets.
Don’t expect fancy waiters, piano players, bar cars and such things on the Trans Siberia Express train ride. The railway is a vital part of the Russian infrastructure, so it’s used by locals a lot. It’s comfy-ish if you don’t go for the cheapest ticket, but either way it’s definitely not luxury travel.
Cost: the cheapest ticket from Moscow to Beijing costs a little under $700,-.
You can plan and book your train ride through this website.
Belmond Hiram Bingham Peru: Machu Picchu in style!
If you are into luxury travel, this train ride is one for your bucket list! This is the most luxurious and indulgent way of travelling from and to the Peruvian highlight: Machu Picchu. Think lounges, champagne, wine and decadent dinners with top quality Peruvian food.
The Belmond Hiram Bingham train runs between Cuzco and Machu Picchu. You can either go for a one way ticket or a round trip. The prices includes a welcome drink, onboard meals, drinks, entertainment, guides, bus transfers, the entrance to the Machu Picchu Sanctuary and an afternoon tea at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge.
The price? For a one way trip, including all the abovementioned meals, drinks etc., will set you back around $475,-. per person. A lot cheaper than the Venice Simplon Orient Express, but it’s also not as fancy. I haven’t found anything about a particular dress code, but I did find something on a forum: Since you are travelling from or to Machu Picchu, which is quite the outdoor experience, I read that (smart) casual wear is fine.
For availability and tickets you can check their website.
Rovos Rail: Cape Town to Dar es Salaam, Africa
One train which takes you through 5 African countries? That’s the Rovos Rail train ride from Cape Town (South Africa) to Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), or the other way around. The ride itself takes 15 days and yes, you can call this an epic train journey! It includes several different tours to historic villages, a diamond town, large cities, game reserves and beautiful nature.
You’ll travel through South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania. By the way, this is also a more luxurious train ride, since there’s a dress code on board. During the days you’re expected to dress casual smart, which means informal but neat. During the evenings the attire is more formal: a jacket and tie for the gents, and a suit, cocktail dress or evening dress for the ladies. Also fun: there’s a 1920′ theme night somewhere during your trip.
As you would expect, this isn’t really a budget proof option… The complete journey costs a little under $13k (and if you are a solo traveller, add a single fee of around $5700,-). But this does include practically all meals, drinks, alcoholic beverages and excursions.
For the exact dates and prices you can visit their website.
Sri Lanka: the most scenic train ride
Okay, after all of these expensive, high-end train rides, it’s time for a more affordable option. And there is one, and it’s absolutely breathtaking.
Sri Lanka is a country for hassle-free travel. It’s beautiful, safe (as a solo woman as well) and did I already mention beautiful? The country is actually home to one of the most scenic train rides in the world: from Ella to Kandy. The train ride from Ella to Kandy is one scenic experience. The train will take you through many different landscapes: from beaches to jungle and from tea plantations to mountains. The panorama views will blow your mind. Along the way you can buy nice treats from local sellers, like mango with cinnamon and freshly made rice with curry. You won’t be hungry for sure!
Depending on your need for luxury / available budget, there are several options. All the way from first class sleeper cabins to very basic 3rd class (read: crowded) seats. There are three trains a day, and you can easily buy tickets up front in one of the local offices. The train ride itself takes around 7 hours and costs only two dollars or so.
So here you go: some gorgeous train rides to add to your travel bucket list. Do any of these appeal to you?
If I had the money, I’d totally dig a super fancy train ride, but since I don’t make six figures a year, the Sri Lanka train ride from Ella from/to Kandy is probably my favourite.