Whether you’re after a continent-crossing adventure, want to step into the bygone era of maharajahs or fancy indulging in the finer things in life, you can achieve all of these things and more with on a railway route. In this week’s photo showcase we’ve looked at some of the world’s greatest rail journeys, some of the best trips on the tracks that can be taken across the world, whether its riding the Trans-Siberian from Moscow to Beijing, crossing the Australian continent on the Indian Pacific, enjoying the scenery on the classically romantic Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, or boarding South Africa‘s luxurious Blue Train from Pretoria to Cape Town.
1. The Trans-Siberian
As the Trans-Siberian celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, seems only appropriate that we kick off our list of the world’s most epic rail journeys with this famous route. The Trans-Siberian is certainly one for record breaking, spanning a jaw-dropping 9,288 kilometres from Moscow to Vladivostok, making it the longest direct rail route in the world passing through eight different time zones. The Trans-Siberian railway can be experienced in a variety of lengths, budgets and travel styles, whether it's a quick non-stop 5 day journey from Moscow to Beijing on a common commuter train, slowing down your trip with stops at various ports on all along the way over 9 days, or a leisurely 15 day sojourn to its final destination in Vladivostok on board the luxurious Golden Eagle.
2. Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
Undoubtedly one of the world's finest travel experiences that can be done on rails, simply the name itself evokes the image of vintage cabins outfitted with the finest furnishing from around the globe, sophisticated dining cars serving up indulgent afternoon tea and masterfully-prepared four-course meals, and of course stunning scenery while passing through some of Europe's most alluring and romantic destinations. Perhaps the most alluring route of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express takes travellers from London through to Venice, or vice versa, on a journey through the pretty Kentish countryside, the Channel to France and through the magnificent Swiss Alps to Venice over the course of two days. Want to spend more time on this icon of the Art Deco era? Travel via Budapest or Prague on a five day railway voyage.
3. The Blue Train
Dubbed one of the most luxurious trains in the world, The Blue Train may be giving the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express a run for its money when it comes to fine living on the move. Born of a dream to link the north and south of Africa through steam technology, the full potential of the Blue Train may have been never realised, but this by no measure means it fails to impress. Traversing South Africa, running 1600 kilometres between Cape Town and Pretoria, the Blue Train offers the height of luxury while passing through the spectacular scenery of the Rainbow Nation. This extravagant hotel-on-wheels has played host to the likes of kings and presidents, as well as honeymooners or 50th birthday celebrants. The 27 hour return journey includes one stop in both directions and all inclusive meals and drink.
4. Maharajas Express
As the name suggests, the Maharajas Express aims to recreate the elegance and pageantry of the erstwhile maharajas whilst also offering passengers the height of modern luxury. Recognised as the most luxurious train in India no detail has been missed here, whether it’s the red carpet lined aisles; the regally furnished cabins complete with tapestries antique fittings inlaid with semi-precious stones; or the Safari Bar carriage with hand cut crystal glasses and gold plated cutlery. There are five different journeys to choose from on the Maharajas Express and they not only offer 5-star living, but also the chance to submerge oneself into the culture of India with visits to palaces and forts along the way, as well as excursions to national parks and attendance at cultural performances.
5. Belmond Hiram Bingham
Bearing the name of the American explorer who claimed to have rediscovered the lost citadel of Machu Picchu, it's not difficult to guess the route of the luxurious Belmond Hiram Bingham. Modelled on the Pullman cards of the 1920s, this first-class train service offers day returns from Cusco to the Lost City of the Incas – or if you'd like to spend more time exploring the citadel you can stay the night at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge before your journey back to Cuzco. The train itself isn't hard to miss with its brilliant blue exterior and gold embellishments, and the interior is just as eye-catching with polished wood panelling and brass finishing. Passengers can enjoy gastronomic cuisine in the dining car, sample pisco sours and listen to live Peruvian music in the bar car, or sit back and enjoy the scenery from the large cushioned seats of the observation car.
6. Eastern and Oriental Express
Perhaps the most luxurious way to experience Southeast Asia is onboard the Eastern and Oriental Express. For a truly classic journey you cannot go amiss with the Singapore to Bangkok route, or vice versa, passing through spectacular rural landscapes, colonial cities and historic sites along the way. There are four categories of cabins to choose from, but all exude the sumptuous luxury of a bygone era with decorative marquetry and fine fabrics throughout. At the rear of the train is the colonial-inspired, teakwood observation car where days can be whiled away admiring the passing scenery, and nights can be spent consuming delicious cocktails. The saloon car is a delightful experience too, with its very own library and a selection of games.
7. The Canadian
Joining the ranks of the Trans-Siberian and Indian Pacific, the Canadian is another epic cross-continent journey spanning an impressive 4,466 kilometres from Toronto to Vancouver. This four day route passes through some of Canada's most impressive landscapes including the glaciers of the Rocky Mountain. A journey on The Canadian may not be winning any luxury awards in this list of railway journeys, but it's certainly an incredible way to see the country. Passengers can opt for an affordable economy class reclining seat, or for a bit more privacy there’s the sleeper plus class with private cabins. In 2014 The Canadian introduced their first deluxe prestige class sleepers for some added comfort. If you want to experience this railway journey for yourself be sure to time your visit carefully as The Canadian only runs in the summer.
8. Indian Pacific
Named after the two oceans it joins, the Indian Pacific is a rail journey of epic proportion traversing 4,352 kilometres across southern Australia from Perth to Sydney. Spend three days and three nights passing through scenic landscapes and the barren outback, through vibrant cities and remote towns, with stops at various ports of call along the way. What makes this journey so great is that like the Trans-Siberian it has something for every budget, whether you choose the more affordable duel-berth shared sleeper cabins and airline-style seating or opt for something more grandiose with their Platinum Cabins. At more than double the price, these accommodations benefit from double beds, en suite bathrooms and full room service, plus large panoramic windows so you don't miss a thing. Photo courtesy of Adam Rombold.
9. Kyushu Seven Stars
With its first run completed in 2013, the Kyushu Seven Stars is one of the newest luxury sleeper trains to be debuted in Japan. Referred to as a cruise train, the Kyushu Seven Stars allows passengers to sit back in luxurious comfort while taking in the stunning scenery of Japan's third largest island, with stops at various sites of interest along the way. For those that just want a taste of the Seven Stars there's a short two day journey which focuses on the northern half of Kyushu, or those with more time on their hands can opt for the four day option which forms a large circuit around the whole island. As for the train itself, it's a gorgeous collaboration of local artisans with handmade furnishing fusing Western and Japanese design. Photography courtesy of Eiichi Kimura.