10 Unique Train Trips

Love train travel? These railways offer a unique window on the world, cutting a swath through some of the most breathtaking landscapes on Earth:

1. Cass Scenic Railroad (West Virginia)

The steam trains climb the 11 miles (18 km) from Cass to the 4,842-ft-high (1,476 m) summit of Bald Knob, which has spectacular views and bracing mountain air. The line, built in 1901 to haul lumber, uses geared locomotives to overcome its ferocious gradients, which include switchbacks.

Planning: Advance booking is advisable. Bring plenty of warm clothing.

2. White Pass & Yukon Railroad (Alaska and Canada)

Built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, the narrow-gauge WP&YR starts from the Taiya Inlet quaysides of Skagway, Alaska, and climbs 2,880 ft (878 m) over the White Pass into Canada’s Yukon territories and some of the north’s most rugged terrain. Diesel and steam trains travel to Carcross or Fraser Meadows.

Planning: Passports are required. There are places to stay in Skagway, on the South Klondike Highway. Advanced booking is advisable.

3. The Old Patagonian Express (Argentina)

Departing twice weekly from Esquel in Patagonia’s mountainous Chubut province, this antique train—known locally as La Trochita (“the little narrow gauge”)—winds through rugged terrain to the small settlement of Nahuel Pan.

Planning: The round-trip takes 2.5 hours. Accommodations are available in Esquel, reached by plane or bus from Buenos Aires.

4. The Overlander (North Island, New Zealand)

This epic 423-mile (681 km) train journey through the heart of North Island links Auckland in the north to Wellington in the south. Highlights along the way include the ski resort of National Park, the Mount Ruapehu volcano, the Raurimu Spiral, and the Hapuawhenua Viaduct. There is an observation carriage at the back of the train and a viewing platform at the front. On certain Sundays the train is steam-hauled for part of the near 12-hour journey.

Planning: The service runs daily in the summer season (except Christmas Day).

5. The Sunlander (Queensland, Australia)

Snaking along the Queensland coast between Brisbane and Cairns, the Sunlander offers a superbly luxurious service with dining and sleeping-car facilities. As Queensland glides past the windows, passengers can enjoy local seafood platters or club and buffet-car fare. The climate becomes increasingly tropical as the train travels north toward Cairns.

Planning: The journey takes about 32 hours.

6. Kandy to Haputale (Sri Lanka)

The train south from Kandy, in central Sri Lanka, to Haputale travels past tea plantations, forests, unspoiled villages, and waterfalls. For the five-hour journey, the first class observation car is well worth the extra fare.

Planning: Advance booking is essential. Expect high temperatures and humidity.

7. Malnad (Western Ghats, India)

Shimoga in India’s Karnataka province is the eastern end of the run to Talaguppa in the Western Ghat Mountains. The 46.6-mile (75 km), three-hour journey aboard a small railbus from Shimoga to Talaguppa passes through lush rain forest. The magnificent Jog Falls—India’s highest waterfall—can be reached by road from Talaguppa.

Planning: An overnight train from Bangalore connects with Shimoga. Facilities on the railbus are limited. The line is being upgraded, so check ahead before traveling.

8. Sarajevo to Mostar (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Traversing superb Balkan scenery, the train from Sarajevo climbs to its highest point near Konjic, where it joins the Neretva Valley. The descent into Herzegovina passes through dramatic gorges until reaching the town of Mostar, famous for the 16th-century stone bridge that was destroyed during the Bosnian War in the 1990s and rebuilt.

Planning: The journey takes about 2.5 hours. There are two trains per day.

9. The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway (England)

Opened in 1927, this miniature steam railway (its rails are just 15 in/38 cm apart) runs from the picturesque resort of Hythe to the shingle foreland of Dungeness, famous for its lighthouse, power station, and wildlife. Stops along the 13.5-mile (22 km) route include the seaside resort of Dymchurch with its miles of sandy beach.

Planning: There is a model railway exhibition at New Romney Station.

10. Welsh Highland Railway (Wales)

Running to Porthmadog Harbour Station from Caernarfon in North Wales’s Snowdonia National Park, this spectacular line traverses some of the finest scenery in Wales. Catch dramatic views of Snowdon’s 3,560-ft (1,085 m) summit and the precipitous Aberglaslyn Pass from the Pullman observation cars as the train blasts through the mountains.

Planning: Porthmadog and Caernarfon both have places to stay.

Related:

 

Comments

  1. FM1721
    London, UK
    December 19, 2011, 3:53 pm

    The entire rail network in Sri Lanka is an exciting adventure! One can actually see an awful lot of the country as the trains are a bit slow… Definitely recommend discovering the island by rail though!
    A few impressions:
    http://www.fm1721.com/experience/asia/sri-lanka/

  2. TheWorldOrBust
    Miami, FL
    December 19, 2011, 10:24 pm

    I’ve been on the White Pass Railroad, it offers some spectacular views!!!

  3. Jacinthe Milton
    http://www.nationalvisas.com.au/
    December 20, 2011, 4:27 am

    I’ve been Welsh’s railway and it’s so cool to be there! Now wanted to experience the railroad at Malnad, Western Ghats, India. So fantastic!

  4. Andrew Thomas
    Porthmadog, Wales
    December 20, 2011, 4:49 am

    Your story http://intelligenttravel.nationalgeographic.com/2011/12/19/10-unique-rail-journeys/
    contains an incorrect email address for the Welsh Highland Railway. It should be http://www.festrail.co.uk

    Best regards
    Andrew Thomas
    Media Relations Manager, F&WHR

    • Giovanna Palatucci
      December 20, 2011, 9:51 am

      Thanks for spotting our error, Andrew. We have made the change!

  5. Alexander
    December 20, 2011, 10:30 am

    Breathtaking landscapes, indeed! Thanks for this article, it’s really interesting , and remind me the train journey of Cousteau team, i belive somewhere in latin America.
    White Pass looks fantastic!
    Find some trip routs at http://travel-europe-eu.blogspot.com/

  6. danny
    london
    December 21, 2011, 3:21 am

    “unique – Definition of unique
    Unique means one of a kind. ”
    There are quite a number of railway lines such as the ones described, that unique is completely the wrong word.

  7. Mike
    New Zealand
    December 24, 2011, 10:43 pm

    The Scottish Highlands by train, fantastic

  8. Jp
    January 3, 2012, 9:16 am

    Im missing the Trans-Siberian Railway. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Siberian_Railway

  9. Michael
    New Zealand
    January 20, 2012, 4:36 am

    From my experience the TranzAlpine journey here in NZ is better than the Overlander

  10. Prat
    January 22, 2012, 11:29 pm

    Oh wow!! Shimoga is my hometown… great to see the train trip at 7 on nat geo page…
    Shimoga is a scenic place indeed!! Love it…

  11. Mike
    London
    May 5, 2012, 4:47 am

    Completely agree Michael – Trans Alpine in the South Island of New Zealand is the better trip.

  12. fateme zand
    Iran
    May 6, 2012, 1:49 pm

    so nice!

  13. puri
    Indonesia
    May 7, 2012, 4:56 pm

    Amazing. I want try to do.

  14. chris
    NZ
    May 8, 2012, 6:48 am

    I recommend the Driving Creek railway at Coromandel. This wonderful narrow guage railway and all the rolling stock was the inspiration of a local potter to get clay for his work. The railway now zig zags to the top of the mountain and is just amazing.

  15. Gaby
    Paris
    May 8, 2012, 8:58 am

    You forgot the mystic train from Cuzco to the Machu Pichu (Perù) with INCA RAIL or Perù Rail !
    http://www.incarail.com/
    XX

  16. Yu Matsuo
    Sri Lanka
    July 11, 2012, 9:38 pm

    Today,I get the train from Kandy to Haputale.
    It’s amazing experience!!

  17. chamara roshan
    sri lanka
    November 17, 2012, 8:25 am

    good mail
    & i think nice trips

  18. widura
    sri lanka
    December 5, 2012, 8:00 pm

    also visit http://www.railway.gov.lk if you are visiting sri lanka. or contact this group in face book on http://www.facebook.com/groups/railj for any railway information or help in traveling on train in sri lanka, we are happy to help you

  19. Mihiranga Fernando`
    Sri Lanka
    December 5, 2012, 11:33 pm

    Official site of Sri Lanka Railways is
    http://www.railway.gov.lk

  20. Geoff Benson
    Australia
    December 10, 2012, 1:21 am

    They look amazing.. I did the Kuranda Scenic Railway over the weekend it way awesome as well
    http://www.facebook.com/cairnsvisitorinfo

  21. 10 Unique Train Trips | FounditGood
    June 25, 2013, 10:48 am

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  22. Sriharsha D V
    Bangalore, India
    August 26, 2013, 11:23 am

    Referring to the 7th entry:

    The rail lines have been converted to broad guage and new lines have been laid out and normal trains ply on those lines. No more railbus.

    However it is closer to Jog Falls – 2nd tallest single drop waterfall in India. Also ask locals for Dabbe Falls, it is bewitching – although one has to wade through rainforest to get there – But totally worth it. Also ask for Honnemardu backwaters and Gudavi Bird Sanctuary. Keladi and Ikkeri will interest those who have a thing for historical places – wonderful temple architecture can be found there.

  23. gauri
    August 27, 2013, 3:07 am

    trans siberian rail….

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  28. Juan José Ibañez
    DF, Mx
    January 21, 1:05 am

    Gracias por la distinción a mi comentario;¡¡ me da más impulso a seguir viajando con Ustedes!!

  29. Sudharma Daine
    Bangalore, India
    January 23, 10:42 pm

    I have done the Kandy-Haputale Train trip…fascinating…one of the wonderful train trips I have taken.

  30. keerthi kumar
    India
    January 24, 3:49 am

    Rail/train is a wonderful experience,in the earlier days there were steam locomotives, it’s running, it’s horn and jurney by looking outside the nature etc., it was wonder full experience, try ones in the life time.

  31. ancadiana
    Romania
    January 24, 10:28 pm

    and also Russia! Trans Siberian train! amazing!

  32. Hans
    South Africa
    February 8, 12:03 pm

    Did you know In West Virginia there are eight different fun train stations with amazing train ride availability.
    Between these tracks, you will have the choice of a variety of train styles and scenes.

    Have a look here: http://www.fun-rides.com/west-virginia-train-rides.html