The 50 Best Railway Journeys

Anthony Lambert takes a grand tour of the world’s greatest train rides

Saturday 02 August 2008 00:00 BST

Settle & Carlisle

No other railway in England compares with this main line through the Pennines for landscapes on a majestic scale. Trains from Leeds thread through the Aire Valley to enter the Yorkshire Dales National Park, just north of Settle. There is not a dull mile in the whole line as it weaves between such peaks as Ingleborough, Pen-y-ghent and Whernside. Its symbol is the 24-arch Ribblehead Viaduct, a rugged arc of stone amid moorland. There are fine walks from any of the 10 intermediate stations.

Where Northern Rail stations (

How much £26.70-£35.70

How long 2 hours and 45 mins

Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland railways

From spring 2009 these two narrow gauge steam railways will meet at Porthmadog, offering two lovely routes through the mountains of Snowdonia, to Blaenau Ffestiniog and Caernarfon respectively. At present the WHR operates from Caernarfon to Rhyd Dhu where one of the walks up Snowdon begins. The FR offers glorious views from the moment it crosses the Cob at Porthmadog and has the unique British feature of a spiral to gain height above the waters of the Tanygrisiau Reservoir.

Where FR and WHR stations (01766 516000/513402;

How much £17.50/£17.50

How long 1hrs 15mins/45mins

The Harz Mountains

The 140km network of charming narrow-gauge railways serving the towns and villages of the Harz Mountains offers one of the great daily steam spectacles of the Continent, as huge tank locomotives tackle the steep gradients. The system carries over a million passengers a year, many to the 3,747ft summit of the Brocken, setting for a scene in Goethe's Faust and off-limits until German unification. Wernigerode or Quedlinburg - a World Heritage Site for its 1,600 listed timber-framed buildings - are the usual choice of resort.

Where: (

How much: up to €24 (£19)

Train to Skye

A journey on this steam railway between Sheffield Park and Kingscote is made memorable not only by Sussex countryside but also by the historic carriages and atmospheric stations, each restored to evoke a different period: Sheffield Park the Edwardian era, the inter-war years by the classic country junction of Horsted Keynes, complete with small refreshment room serving real ale, and Kingscote the 1950s.

Where: BR stations (01825 720800;

How much: £10.50

How long: 30mins

Cologne-Frankfurt via Koblenz or Neuwied

The railway lines along each bank of the Rhine are the best way to appreciate the beauty of the gorge between these cities, which is regarded as the waterway's most impressive stretch. Both are served by stopping trains, so it is easy to break the journey to visit the many castles that line the banks, though some are a stiff climb into the woods. It's best to make both journeys, as many of the hilltop castles are invisible from the riverbank on which they are situated.

Where: DB (08718 808066;

How much £38.54How long 1hrs 30mins-3hrs 30mins

The Far North

The journey from Inverness to Britain's most northerly town, Thurso, is overlooked in favour of better-known Highland lines further south. Yet from the moment the train clatters over the Caledonian Canal on leaving Inverness, the journey is full of interest and takes in some of Scotland's most beautiful scenery. In winter, especially, you would be unlucky not to see deer.

Where ScotRail stations (

How much £19.20-£26.40

How long 4hrs

West Somerset Railway

A bus link from Taunton station delivers passengers to the start of this 20-mile line at Bishop's Lydeard. Through rolling farmland between the Quantock and Brendon hills, steam trains make for the coast at Watchet. From Washford station you can reach the splendid cloisters of the Cistercian abbey of Cleeve, and Dunster's lovely village and castle (NT) are an easy walk from the last station before Minehead.

Where WSR stations (01643 704996;

How much £13.40

How long 1hrs 15mins

Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express

Inaugurated in 2007, this train is a joint venture between Cheshire-based GW Travel and a Russian company to operate an entirely en suite train on various trans-Siberian routes. At last it is possible to do the world's longest train journey in comfort. The cabins have DVD players and the shower room has underfloor heating. Destinations from Moscow include Vladivostock by two different routes and Ulaan Baatar.

Where GW Travel (0161-928 9410;

How much £2,895-£16,495

How long 7-21 days

The Road to the Isles

Unquestionably one of the world's great railway journeys, the line from Glasgow to Fort William and on to Mallaig traverses some of Britain's loneliest landscapes: "A wearier looking desert man never saw" was how the hero of Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped described Rannoch Moor. The lovely scenery is enlivened by the bark of steam locomotives that work the Jacobite Steam Train.

Where: ScotRail stations (

How much: £29.60-£46.70

How long: 3hrs/1hr 15mins

The Cumbrian Coast

The deeply incised estuaries of the Cumbrian coast make the railway between Lancaster and Carlisle one of Britain's most circuitous routes. It is a railway of contrasts, from the forlorn post-industrial landscapes of Workington and Barrow to the bird sanctuaries of the Kent and Leven mudflats and saltmarsh. For much of the way, the sea is close enough to smell, and there are fine views of the Lake District hills.

Where Northern Rail stations (

How much £15.30-£46

How long 3hrs 30mins

Glacier Express

For many, this is Europe's finest journey, linking the famous Swiss resorts of Zermatt and St Moritz. It's an express in its limited stops only, the narrow gauge train averaging just 36km per hour as it loops and spirals up and down the mountains of the Valais and Graubunden. Lunch is served at your seat in first class (£22 extra) and there is a multi-language headphone commentary available in all carriages, which have panoramic windows - even in the roof so that you can see the peaks above you without getting a cricked neck.

Where Swiss Travel Centre (020-7420 4934;

How much £88 one way

How long 7hrs 30mins

North Yorkshire Moors Railway

This 18-mile railway offers much finer views of the North York Moors National Park landscapes than the main road to the west, quite apart from the pleasure of using the characterful steam railway that features in Heartbeat. It begins at a junction with the Esk Valley Railway (see No 14) at Grosmont and climbs up to the Heartbeat location of Goathland before threading the wooded moorland of Newtondale. A glimpse can be had of the castle before the train arrives at the southern terminus of Pickering.

Where NYMR stations (01751 472508;

How much £14.50

How long 1hr

The Esk Valley

Skirting the northern part of the North York Moors National Park, the "Community Railway" from Middlesbrough to Whitby links a series of delightful stone-built villages and places associated with James Cook. The almost volcanic outline of Roseberry Topping dominates the skyline before the train reaches the River Esk.

Where Northern Rail stations (

How much £7.70-£8.20

How long 1hr 30mins

Clermont Ferrand-Beziers

The less well-used of the two lines from Clermont Ferrand through the Massif Central (the other goes to Nimes), this switchback route traverses some of the wildest country in France. Near St Flour the line crosses Eiffel's Garabit Viaduct and follows the Lot and Tarn rivers to reach Millau and Norman Foster's viaduct, the world's highest road bridge.

Where Rail Europe (0844 848 4069;

How much £37.50 one way

How long 5hrs


Okay, most of the scenery between London and Paris or Brussels isn't going to inspire a modern-day Edward Thomas, but the pleasure of using the magnificently restored station at St Pancras and the blissful ease of Eurostar makes it a great experience. Treat yourself to first class and enjoy champagne and a pretty respectable meal at 186mph.

Where Eurostar (08705 186186;

How much £59-£309

How long Paris 2hrs 15m; Brussels 2hrs

The Eastern & Oriental Express

Created by Orient-Express, this luxurious train of green and cream carriages links Singapore and Bangkok, with a tour of George Town and a cruise along the River Kwai en route. An observation car allows one to feel part of the exotic landscapes as the train crosses from the peninsula's west to east coast. Exquisite.

Where Orient Express Hotels Trains & Cruises (0845 077 2222;

How much from £1,110

How long 4 days


It took 12 years to build this 489km railway. Many break the journey at Myrdal for the spectacular branch down to the sea at Flam, so steep the train has five braking systems. The last stretch from Voss is seldom out of sight of fjords. The area around Finse was used for The Empire Strikes Back.

Where European Rail (020-7619 1083;

How much £87 Komfort class, one way

How long 7hrs

The Canadian

This epic journey between Toronto and Vancouver is the flagship train of VIA, which operates Canada's depleted passenger services. The periodically refurbished silver 1950s carriages are still a joy to travel in, with vistadomes for the scenic parts west of Edmonton. This village on wheels is so long the staff cleaning the windows at Jasper wear rollerblades.

Where Rail Select (01904 521921;

How much £549-£829

How long 3 1/2 days

Coast to Coast

Running south of Hadrian's Wall for much of its length and following the valleys of the South and North Tyne, the line traverses the 60-mile neck of Britain between Carlisle and Newcastle and shares the same wild scenery as the wall. The AD122 bus calls at Haltwhistle and Hexham stations and links many of the wall's sites and museums.

Where Northern Rail stations (

How much £13.40-£15.20

How long 1hr 30mins

Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway

The narrow gauge trains of this historic railway once puffed through the streets of Welshpool carrying sheep, cattle and coal as well as passengers, but trains now start at a terminus on the town's outskirts. The railway uses carriages and locomotives from Antigua, Austria, Hungary and Sierra Leone, and the railway winds through the lovely Banwy Valley.

Where WLLR stations (01938 810441;

How much £11.20

How long 45mins

Rocky Mountaineer

There is no better way to enjoy the fabulous mountain landscapes of the Rockies in British Columbia and Alberta than from the dome cars and observation balconies of the Rocky Mountaineer trains operating three routes - Kicking Horse, Yellowhead and Fraser Discovery. They are day trains, with excellent meals cooked on board.

Where Rocky Mountaineer Vacations (00 800 0606 7372 toll free;

How much from C$799 (£399)

How long 4-16 days

To The Surfers Paradise

Thebranch line from the junction at Par toNewquay, famous for its Atlantic breakers, begins among china-clay workings but is soon embowered in the densewoodland of the Luxulyan valley and underneath the historic 10-arch Treffry Viaduct on a mineral line that crossed over the Newquay line. The line emerges on to a plateau still surrounded by signs of the china-clay industry before reaching the coast.

Where Arriva Trains Wales stations (

How much: £3.50–£7.10

How long: 1hr

El Transcantábrico

This narrow gauge train operates a week-long excursion between Santiago de Compostela,Bilbao and Leon (or vice versa) across the hills and mountains of northern Spain.Theluxury train with en suite showers/toilets is a mobile hotel, shadowed by a coach that takes passengers to some of the finest natural and historic sites along theway. Highlights range from the 14,500-year-old cave paintings of Altamira to Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Breakfast apart, most meals are taken off the train and the price includes all meals and drinks with them.

Where FEVE(00 34 985 981 711;

How much :€2,500 (£1,984)

How long: 7 days

New Jalpaiguri–Darjeeling

The Indian railways that contrive by endless curlicues to reach the hill stations are all splendid journeys, but the finest on a clear day has to be the “Toy Train” to Darjeeling, once the summer retreat for Calcutta. The views over the Himalayas and of the world’s thirdhighest peak of Kanchenjunga are stupendous. The railway is now a World Heritage Site and efforts are being made to retain steam traction and the railway’s character, but visitors should check the status of the Gorkhland independence conflict before going.

Where: SDEnterprises Ltd (020-8903 3411;

How much: £17 (first class)

How long: 6hrs 15mins

The Bittern Line

This thriving community railway links the county town with the Broads and the sea. At the capital of the Broads, North Walsham, you can hire bikes or head west on the nine-mile miniature Bure Valley Railway to Aylsham. Rolling fields punctuated by Norfolk’s numerous church towers bring the train to Cromer and its wide beaches before the dogleg on to Sheringham.

Where: National Express East Anglia stations (

How much: £5.90–£8.20

How long: 1hr

Severn Valley Railway

Heathland and a glimpse of the animals in a safari park precede the lovely riverside town of Bewdley, after which the railway offers frequent views over the River Severn. From Bridgnorth station a pedestrian footbridge leads into the High Town and its many fine buildings, notably the Tuscan-columned church of St Mary Magdalene, designed by Thomas Telford.

Where: SVR stations (01299 403816;

How much: £13

How long: 1hr 15mins

The Deccan Odyssey

This luxury all en suite train tours the south of India, starting in Mumbai and travelling along the Konkan coast to visit Goa, Pune and the World Heritage Sites of Ajanta and the Ellora Caves by coach excursions. Space in the carriages is generous with only eight passengers per coach and four in the two Presidential cars, and every suite has TV and phone connections. There is even a spa car offering Ayurvedic massage.

Where: The Luxury Train Club (01666 860172;

How much: from£1,120

How long: 8 days


Arguably the finest stretch of main-line railway in Britain, the journey west from Devon’s capital begins with the glorious stretch along the seawall through Dawlish and Teignmouth. After the deep, wooded valleys of the South Hams, there are views across the flanks of Dartmoor before a succession of panoramas from lofty viaducts engineered by Brunel. The crossing of the Tamar by hisRoyal Albert Bridge marks the entrance to Cornwall. St Michael’s Mount is a fitting climax.

Where: First Great Western stations (08457 000125;

How much: £15.70-£67.80

Spiez–Brig via Kandersteg

The opening of the 34.5km Lotschberg base tunnel has reduced the importance of this line, but because it serves the resorts of Adelboden (Frutigen station) and Kandersteg and is such a scenic route, new trains have been built for it with panoramic windows. The line climbs to the “old” Lotschberg tunnel by a series of hairpin loops, partly in tunnel, and drops down the south ramp into the Rhône Valley with views towards Italy. Where Swiss Travel Centre (020-7420 4934;

How much: £20 one way

How long: 1hr

Cathedrals Express

Most of the steam-hauled trains in this programme of excursions from London termini take scenic routes to cathedral cities, with a champagne brunch on the way out and a fourcourse dinner on the way back for those opting for Premier Dining. There is a licensed buffet car for those in standard class, and steward drinks’ service in First. Most excursions allow four or five hours to explore a city.

Where Steam Dreams (01483 209888;

How much:from £39.50

How long: 10–12 hrs

Tube Accross The Island

First-time visitors arriving at Ryde Pier are astonished by the sight of a 1938-built Underground train ready to whirr them across the island to Shanklin. It rattles through the meadows to isolated Smallbrook Junction where you can catch an Isle of Wight Steam Railway train of even older carriages to Wootton.

Where: Island Line stations (

How much £4.20

How long 24 mins

La Chaux-de-Fonds–Glovlier

There’s hardly a railway journey in Switzerland that doesn’t delight the eye, but few venture on to this narrow gauge line that weaves through the upland meadows and woods of the Jura Mountains. The weather would have to be bad for horseriders not to be seen riding along this route.

Where Swiss Travel Centre (020-7420 4934;

How much£14

How long 1hr 15mins

Through the Animas Gorge

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Colorado is one of the great tourist railways of the US, featuring spectacular mountainous scenery, notably through the Animas River gorge. Trains are hauled by coal-burning steam locomotives, which worked the line in the days of gold-ore mining.

Where Durango station (00 1 970 247 2733;

How muchUS$75–159 (£37.50–£79.50)

How long 3hrs 30mins


No road threads the heavily-wooded valley of the East Looe River. The valley is reached by a near spiral from the junction at Liskeard, the train reversing underneath the huge stone viaduct that carries the main line on to Penzance. Stop off at St Keyne to visit a collection of organs at Paul Corin’s Magnificent Music Machines.

Where First Great Western (08457 000125;

How much£3-£3.60

How long 30mins

Manchester Piccadilly-Sheffield

Between the long tunnels at Cowburn and Totley is one of the most beautiful stretches of railway in northern England, threading Edale and the Hope Valley. Walks head into the gritstone moors from the five intermediate stations, and the Pennine Way starts north of Edale station. The best known of the summits seen from the train is 2,031ft Kinder Scout, scene of the 1932 mass trespass.

Where: Northern Rail stations (

How much:£14.30–£20.40

How long: 1hr


Trains traverse a reopened railway to reach Antrim after which the line passes through rural landscapes of small farms. After crossing the River Bannat Coleraine the sea is seldom out of view, and the romantic Mussenden Temple can be glimpsed before the train enters a tunnel.

WhereTranslink stations (

How much£13

How long 2hrs 30mins


This narrow gauge line linking Domodossola in Italy with Locarno in Switzerland takes its name from the 100 side valleys, which the railway has to cross in its progress along the main valley of the River Melezza. Its stations serve clustered villages of dark stone houses huddled round Italianate belfries.

Where Swiss Travel Centre (020-7420 4934;

How much £23 one way?

How long 1hr 45mins

The Marshlink Line

Walks abound off this line across the marshes. It crosses the Saxon Shore Way and theRoyal Military Canal and it’s only a short stroll from Henry James’s “russet arcadia” of Rye to its erstwhile harbour, Martello tower and Camber Sands.

Where Southern Railway (08451 272920;

How much£8.90-£16.20

How long 45mins

The Indian Pacific

This east–west train across Australia linksSydney and Perth, and a stopover inAdelaide is allowed for no extra charge. The route is famous for the longest straight stretch of track in the world – the 478km across the barren Nullarbor Plain where a stop is made at the railway colony of Cook, once home to 300, now two. There are also longenough stops in Broken Hill and the gold town of Kalgoorlie for a tour.

Where International Rail (0870 084 1410;

How much from £980 in Gold sleeper

How long 4 days

Shakespeare Express

England’s only regular main line, steam-hauled excursion train operates two return trips between Birmingham Snow Hill and Stratford- on-Avon every Sunday until 14 September. Premier Class includes either breakfast, a three-course Sunday lunch or high tea. The train bowls through the underrated countryside of north Warwickshire, stopping for passengers in the pretty town of Henley-in-Arden.

Where Vintage Trains (0121-708 4960;

How much£17.50-£47.50

How long 3-7 hours

Orient Express

England’s only regular main line, steam-hauled excursion train operates two return trips between Birmingham Snow Hill and Stratford- on-Avon every Sunday until 14 September. Premier Class includes either breakfast, a three-course Sunday lunch or high tea. The train bowls through the underrated countryside of north Warwickshire, stopping for passengers in the pretty town of Henley-in-Arden.

Where Vintage Trains (0121-708 4960;

How much £17.50-£47.50

How long 3-7 hours

Coast Starlight

The parlour cars for the Coast Starlight between Seattle and LA have just been refurbished, and there is even a cinemawith 50-inch plasma monitors for after-dark movies.Byday passengers enjoy unrivalled views of northern forest, dairy farms, the peaks of theCascades and the Pacific shoreline. Daily wine tastings complement the regional fare.

Where Ffestiniog Travel (01766 772957; www.

How much from US$92 (£46)

How long 36 hours

The Conwy Valley

The long, broad estuary of the Conwy provides a delightful start to the journey from Llandudno Junction to the former centre of the slate industry at Blaenau Ffestiniog. Wooded hills enfold the line as it approaches Betws-y-Coed from where the line struggles to find a route through the narrow valley of the Afon Lledr.

Where Arriva Trains Wales stations (

How much £6.20

How long 1hr


There are few stretches of railway so continuously beside the sea as this curve around the Ligurian Sea. Inland are the Alps crashing abruptly down to the sea. French groves of oranges give way to palm-sheltered promenades at the series of Italian resorts.

Where Rail Europe (0844 848 4069;

How much £31 one way

How long 9hrs 15mins


This journey over the highest rail crossing of the Andes takes you up to 15,688ft at Galera, and oxygen is available on the train. Once a daily train, it now operates about twice a month, though the carriages have been recently refurbished with windows in the roof and better seats.

Where Journey Latin America (020-8747 8315;

How much from £271

How long 3 days

The Heart of Wales

The train between Shrewsbury and Swansea wends through some of the most unspoilt scenery in the Welsh Marches and Wales. There are spectacular views for most of the way, and some of the stations are bright with flower-beds and hanging baskets looked after by local volunteers.

Where Arriva Trains Wales stations (

How much £19-£33.80

How long 4hrs

Rovos Rail

This luxury train of entirely air-conditioned en suite rooms with double or twin beds has to be the most comfortable way to see southern Africa. The beautifully restored wood-panelled coaches include dining, lounge and observation cars. Varying itineraries venture as far as Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Swakopmund in Namibia, but the most frequent route is between Cape Town and Pretoria.

Where Rovos Rail (020-7228 8283;

How much £650-£3,900


Two trains of immaculately maintained carriages in Pullman umber and cream livery – one of 1920s and 1930s vintage and the other 1960s – operate a wide range of excursions to historic towns and cities, sporting events, theatre productions, gardens and country houses. Lunch or dinner of four or five courses is served on starched white linen in wood-panelled surroundings with deeply upholstered armchairs, topped with antimacassars of course. The trains start or pick up from over 60 stations across Britain.

Where Orient Express Hotels Trains &Cruises (0845 077 2222;

How much from £170

How long mostly 10–14 hrs

Danube Express

This newly created train begins operation this autumn on varying eight-day itineraries to towns and cities of central and eastern Europe with nights in hotels before and after two or three nights on the train. Classic sleeping cars have toilet and shower at the end of the coach, deluxe cars have en suite facilities. The restaurant car will serve freshly prepared meals with a central European theme. Since the train is being developed by the entrepreneur who established Great Rail Journeys, it has a wealth of experience behind it.

Where (01462 441400;

How much from £2,090

How long 3-8 days

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