Holidays are a time to unwind, reminisce, and return to the carefree days of childhood, all the while exploring new destinations and making new friends. Add to that a few romantic rail journeys and we've got the recipe for the perfect getaway. The greatest joy of travelling by train lies in being able to take things slow, stare longingly at unfamiliar scenery, and lose ourselves in the heady rhythm of the journey. Trains indeed make the world our oyster, revealing beautiful little secrets tucked away beyond most tourists' gaze.
The New World by train
Think dramatic American terrains and one of the first images to pop up in our minds is the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon. The stark-naked rocks that the meandering Colorado River had once cut through is a sight we can't get enough of. The Grand Canyon Railway running from Williams in Arizona all the way directly to the Grand Canyon, traverses a distance of 65 miles through forests and along the lakes of the Grand Canyon National Park. We travel in restored carriages while the crew tells local folktales, musicians play rustic music, and cowboys jump aboard and transport us to the era of the Old West. The scenery is indeed breath-taking, but it's the train journey that brings to life the Wild West experience in its entirety. For those of us eager to explore the mining history of Colorado, the Durango & Silverton Railway is just what we've been looking for. Passing through the stunning San Juan mountains, the railway follows the course of the Animas River whose shingle banks keep us company as we continue to Durango. Used to transfer gold and silver ore from mines in the 19th century, the carriages are still hauled by a steam engine to this day.
Available on The Trans-American Rail Tour
Locomoting through the wilderness of Canada
Canada charms with its endless expanse of uninhabited land perennially covered in snow and tundra forests, indigenous settlements, exotic wildlife, and futuristic cities. One of the country's most famous landscapes, the Canadian Rockies are home to awe-inspiring scenery at every turn as emerald lakes reflect snow-drizzled peaks of the mountains, pine forests rise from the water's edge along the gentle slopes of the foothills, and ancient glaciers spread across the rugged surface of the cliffs. The forests are filled with an array of wild animals, including elk, moose, bighorn sheep, and deer. Bears, coyotes, wolves, wolverine, lynx, cougars, and mountain lions also call these woodlands home. The Rocky Mountaineer offers the perfect way to experience the Rockies in their full glory, its one glass-topped dome carriage serving unobstructed views as impressive mountains welcome passengers in their embrace.
Available on Canada & the Rocky Mountaineer
Discovering the largest continent from its railways
Whether we go there just once in our lifetime or time and again, Asia never ceases to inspire. The ancient architecture of China, the modernity of Japan, the friendly charm of Vietnam, or the vibrance of India - there's so much to explore and experience. It's little surprise then that train journeys in the largest continent are as diverse as the sights. The Reunification Express, connecting the north and the south of the country epitomises the colour and bustle of Vietnam. Colourful stalls selling an array of sweets and savouries line the platform and keep passengers occupied while they wait for the train. This overnight sleeper train from Hanoi gradually leaves behind the bustle of city life, the swaying rhythm of the journey rocking us to sleep. We wake up fresh to a completely different environment as the train rushes through rural Vietnam.
Available on Grand Tour of Vietnam and Cambodia
Who can deny that we all secretly derive some thrill from speeding vehicles? The Shinkansen bullet train in Japan offers exactly that. The glistening capsule-shaped bodies stand as testimony to the technological advancements of Japan, and the 200-miles-per-hour speed offers us a travelling experience like no other. The network of superfast trains connects Tokyo to major cities such as Kyoto and Osaka, carrying passengers from one futuristic city to another in less than 3 hours past acres of paddy fields and rolling hills.
Available on Discovering Japan
India fascinates as well as overwhelms, and we cannot ignore the tingling of anticipation at the prospect of exploring this sprawling country. Train journeys through India are as engrossing as the country's architecture or cuisine. Its network of railways, connecting the length and breadth of the country, runs through some of the most remote villages as well as huge industrial cities. The short journey from Delhi to Agra on the Gatimaan Express - whose name in Hindi means something that's moving in high speed - takes us through the rural heartland of north India, giving us sight of farmers toiling in paddy fields and women carrying water in earthen pots, while enjoying the onboard hospitality of the train staff.
The most iconic of train journeys in India is aboard the Toy Train that peregrinates through Himalayan pine forests and rhododendron blooms to reach the colonial hill towns of Shimla in the north and Darjeeling in the east. The slow-moving trains present the most idyllic Himalayan panoramas as they skirt uphill, leaving behind hamlets and colourful markets. Passing idly through tunnels and past tea plantations, they often make their way through the clouds that hang lazily from the slopes of the mountains. In contrast, on board the Palace on Wheels, we are transported to a bygone era of Rajput court life, the décor an example of Rajasthani vibrance. Beyond the architectural marvel of the many temples, forts, palaces, and mausoleums we visit, this train presents us with a slice of local culture and traditions.
Travelling around the world may not take 80 days anymore, but for those of us looking to immerse ourselves in the unfamiliar cultures of distant lands, rail journeys are a must. Be it vendors peddling snacks we've never tasted or a cacophony of languages we've never heard, there's always something novel waiting for us.