What are your most memorable or favorite train rides?
August 14, 2014 12:23 PM   Subscribe

Which train ride(s) have you particularly enjoyed? Of any distance and length, anywhere in the world.

I just had the pleasure of riding the Alaska Railroad from Seward to Anchorage and it was one of the best train rides I've ever been on. Simply amazing and breathtaking views. I've had the chance to ride many rails around the world and I wanted to know what others have enjoyed and can suggest.
The only Amtrak I've been on is the Surfliner from LA to San Diego. I've done many trains in China, including overnight ones from Guangzhou to Shanghai, Qinghai to Llhasa, Shanghai Maglev, Shinkansen in Japan, RER in France, Eurostar from London to Paris, and typical metro trains in other metropolitan areas in America and elsewhere.
I love to travel so I would love to find epic train rides as reasons to visit other countries (I've read about some nice rail lines in South Africa and Australia, for example).
posted by xtine to Travel & Transportation (61 answers total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
Calgary to Vancouver, through the Rockies. I've traveled in Europe via train (best was Geneva to Milan) but nothing came close to the Rockies.

edit: it actually was Edmonton to Vancouver; not sure which city the trains run from these days.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:29 PM on August 14, 2014

Amtrak has many problems, such as delays and generally poor food. But disregarding the creature comforts or lack thereof, I really enjoyed the California Zephyr from Chicago to Salt Lake City. After a few days of flat Midwestern landscape, having the Rockies rise up around the train is pretty amazing.
posted by brackish.line at 12:36 PM on August 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I used to commute on Amtrak's Empire Service from Rhinebeck, in upstate New York, into NYC every day. The line follows the Hudson River, and in the fall when the leaves are changing, and later in the winter when the river is frozen, it's a particularly beautiful 90-minute trip. Downside: Amtrak's less-than-stellar reliability.

I was in Sweden last year and regret a last-minute decision not to take the Arctic Circle Train. Must go back!
posted by bassomatic at 12:39 PM on August 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

If ANY length is ok... I have some fond memories of the Incline Railway in Chattanooga TN. "The Incline’s trolley-style cars climb through the natural beauty surrounding historic Lookout Mountain at a breathtaking 72.7% grade."
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:44 PM on August 14, 2014

Also, this previous post should whet your appetite: Time flies by when you're the driver of a train!
posted by bassomatic at 12:45 PM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Overnight from Helsinki to Rovaniemi and back. They have sleepy owls on the pillowcases! And the berths were 200% more comfortable than the Amtrak Empire Builder I took last year.
posted by unknowncommand at 12:48 PM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

In Norway, the Bergensbanen (Bergen - Oslo) is a beautiful journey. You can watch the whole thing here.

And if you're on the Bergensbanen anyway, hop off at Myrdal and take a roundtrip on the Flåmsbanen before resuming your journey. The scenery is stunning. (video here)
posted by Joey Joe Joe Junior Shabadoo at 12:49 PM on August 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Amtrak: Seattle to San Diego. The train I took had observation cars where everyone gathered to watch the sunrise and sunset over the water or the forests.

posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 12:59 PM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had a fantastic trip on the Transiberian between Beijing and Moscow via Mongolia. Amazing scenery, interesting people, and six days on a train is a great way to clear your head.
posted by colin_l at 12:59 PM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

The West Highland Line. You may remember its Glenfinnan viaduct from several Harry Potter films. In the summer, you can take The Jacobite steam train along this route.
posted by grouse at 12:59 PM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dresden's trams go through some very romantic scenery for a downtown tram system.
posted by Mr. Six at 1:05 PM on August 14, 2014

The narrow gauge train between Durango, CO, and Silverton, CO, was really fun when I went a long time ago. And, from what I remember, extremely pretty.
posted by papayaninja at 1:06 PM on August 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh yes that reminds me, north of Manchester to the Lake District was also quite scenic and quite affordable too.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:12 PM on August 14, 2014

I fondly remember riding the Wengernalp and Jungfraubahn in Switzerland as a child.
posted by pineappleheart at 1:13 PM on August 14, 2014

The rail line up Snowdon Mountain in Wales offered a memorable ride, but it got cloudy towards the peak.
posted by Mr. Six at 1:23 PM on August 14, 2014

Glacier Express across Switzerland from Davos to Zermatt!
posted by mskyle at 1:25 PM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hötting station of the Mittenwaldbahn is a ten-minute walk from my front door. The daily commute on that line was the high point of an otherwise boring internship I had to do a couple of years ago.
posted by wachhundfisch at 1:27 PM on August 14, 2014

I had a great trip on the Trans-Siberian, going from St. Petersburg, through Moscow, Siberia (Irkutsk), down through Ulanbataar, Mongolia, into Beijing, and finally to Qingdao, where I then took a boat to Incheon, Korea, where I then took a train to Seoul. Amazing people, great views, cameraderie and silence alike.
posted by suedehead at 1:28 PM on August 14, 2014

My only rail experience outside the US is the Eurostar and the local transit in London and Paris (and if we're counting really puny rails, the Montmartre funicular), so can't help you there. But in the US, my favorite Amtrak route so far is the Vermonter. I took that from DC to Burlington one October, and the stretch north of New York to Burlington with all the leaves was just gorgeous. Plus I loved it when we would stop for little leg stretches at tiny rail stations with no real platform, just a building next to the tracks and some woods.

The other routes on my personal to-ride list are the Surfliner, the Empire Builder by Glacier National Park, and especially the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. I also understand that there's an incline railway in New Hampshire that's pretty groovy.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 1:32 PM on August 14, 2014

Berlin to Prague; it goes through a pretty section of Dresden and then along the Labe/Elbe river.
posted by soelo at 1:33 PM on August 14, 2014

I estimate I have travelled on at least two thirds of Norwegian lines and pretty much all of it is attractive, often it is stunning. I also enjoyed the Storlien - Sundsvall section in Sweden, its the first part of the Swedish part of the journey from Trondheim to Stockholm. Essentially the country there is kind of broken up, forested but not so it obscures the wider picture. When I did the journey in the mid 1990s there were large sections of big sheet fence that was falling into disrepair in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. It had a feeling of an attempt to establish some sort of control that had failed. Combined with the local country and a dark sky it made for a powerfully attractive kind of gloom. I'd recommend it.

Switzerland as you are probably aware is mostly gorgeous from the train.

There is a short section of rail from Exeter to Newton Abbot in Devon, UK that I really love, I think I have mentioned it before on the blue. Its only about 20 minutes but it first runs along the Exe estuary which is an important bird migration site, mud flats at low tide with boat wrecks and harbour and jetty walls sticking out, ferries at high tide. Then it goes along the coast and its all red earth cliffs and stacks divided by the railway line with a blue or brown sea and distant cliffs. This was the section that fell into the sea last winter. There's a house there that cost someone a million pounds that will come down probably sooner rather than later.

We went from Cologne to Northern Austria in the summer. The first two hours out was down the side of the Rhine and was very attractive - I would be happy to repeat it. Then you get towards Frankfurt and can turn in for the night.

Going from Berlin to Prague, once you cross the border there's a long hilly riverside stretch that's worth the trip.
posted by biffa at 1:38 PM on August 14, 2014

Vienna to Graz via the Semmering Railway is spectacular.
posted by scody at 1:47 PM on August 14, 2014

Amtrak from Portland to Ann Arbor, MI and back twice. Once in coach and once with a sleeper car. Go with the sleeper. :)

There were delays and such every time, but the pleasure of traveling by train vs. the airline still wins. I *loved* my train travels and if you have the funds/energy to do it, it is well worth it. But do book the sleeper and avail yourself of privileges afforded because of it - it makes for a much better trip than going all in "coach."
posted by ainsley at 2:09 PM on August 14, 2014

In 1987 my cousin and I went on a Russia trip with a high school class (his mom was a Russian teacher). After spending a few days in Moskow we went to Leningrad by night train. Of course a night train is exciting enough when you are 18 and there are a bunch of teen girls on that same train keeping themselves awake, but it was also a very long and memorable train ride. It was especially strange because we witnessed a strange atmospheric phenomenon; a whole bunch of stationary lights, scattered over the sky. Back then we called them UFO's, but I never managed to find a good explanation for what we saw. And by then I was already heavily interested in astronomy and could easily identify all kinds of "regular" astronomical or meteorological phenomena. So yes, that was an interesting train ride. I don't recall ever sleeping that night.
posted by hz37 at 2:13 PM on August 14, 2014

I also came to mention the trains that run alongside the Hudson River (both Amtrak and the commuter rail Metro North) - at sunset and sunrise the ride is quite beautiful.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:21 PM on August 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nthing the Empire Service! Sit on the left going North and on the right going South. Avoid going North in late afternoon if you want to see the foiage -- too much glare for a really good view!
posted by jgirl at 2:36 PM on August 14, 2014

When I moved from Florida to Pittsburgh and back again, I did it on the Auto Train. In both cases I had just packed and moved, so I had a good 16 hours of being by myself in my own compartment with books. Can I tell you how great this was?

Yeah, dinner sucks, so go to Giant Eagle and get some chips and a hoagie. Breakfast is fine.

It leaves at 4 and gets in at 10 am (give or take, it can be a crap shoot.) If you can, get a car where Tiny is the porter. He's fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:55 PM on August 14, 2014

If you like overnight trains, Inverness to London was a lot of fun. Being short, I fit in the bunk pretty well, and the train rocked me to sleep. And just like in the movies, when we boarded, the conductor asked if we wanted coffee or tea in the morning.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 3:03 PM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Quiet car on the Acela Express is great. It's like a moving oasis up the northeastern corridor. And it doesn't cost a cent more than the ordinary Acela ticket.
posted by Slap Factory at 3:53 PM on August 14, 2014

Exeter to Dawlish. Family holiday to stay with MIL at the seaside. Very beautiful, also a great start to the holiday - you really feel as if you're travelling to somewhere where the rules are different. Past Powderham Castle, deer on one side (first picture) and from here on out sea on the other; past Starcross and the little harbour where the sailing boats might be beached or floating, depending on the tide; Dawlish Warren where there are caravans and converted railway carriages as holiday accommodation; right on the edge of the sea past the red sandstone cliffs; and so on to Dawlish Station, before the Kenaway tunnel. Trainspotters stand on the bridge there to see the summer season steam train going into the tunnel.

This February, stuff like this and this happened, and people were afraid the line might be closed for ever. It's the only railway into Cornwall and this part of the track is right on the edge of the sea - an argument can be made that this is not a sensible location and there was talk of re-opening some long defunct track inland.

I suppose the storm looks like small beer if you're used to more extreme weather. But good-o, Network Rail did their stuff and it was all fixed by April.
posted by glasseyes at 4:00 PM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ah, biffa, jinx.
posted by glasseyes at 4:09 PM on August 14, 2014

I love traveling by train! Some of my favorite journeys:

Albuquerque to Chicago and back on Amtrak. I especially loved the hours in the middle of the night, when the train is going full out, making up time that it loses on stops during the day. The roomettes are ridiculously small and the food is nothing to write home about, but I still loved it.

Tokyo to Kyoto and back (and Tokyo to Okayama and back) on the Shinkansen. Such a beautiful, quick, quiet journey. The service is exquisite, even in the cheap seats (not that there are any cheap seats on the Shinkansen!). I loved the way the conductors and attendants bowed as they entered and exited the car each time. It is easy for English speakers to travel by Shinkansen in Japan, I've found.

Bangkok to Chiang Mai on whatever train was the absolute cheapest ever. I think we paid about forty-eight cents each for our one-way tickets. We sat on wooden benches and did our best to chat with the locals and bought food from the hawkers at the small stations. (Later, when we bought a first-class return ticket, it wasn't nearly as much fun. I'd go cheap again.)

One of the most uncomfortable journeys by train I ever took was Syndey to Melbourne. Fifteen hours of uncomfortable tedium and bad food. There are better ways to travel in Australia than by train.
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 4:13 PM on August 14, 2014

The TranzAlpine on Kiwirail from Christchurch to Greymouth was pretty awesome.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 4:38 PM on August 14, 2014

Montreal to NYC is long, but I found it very pleasant, lovely scenery, particularly in the fall
posted by Greener Backyards at 4:59 PM on August 14, 2014

Most of Derry to Belfast is along the Northern Irish coast, and it's beautiful.
posted by naturalog at 5:38 PM on August 14, 2014

Also Mainz to Koblenz on a non-ICE train. It goes through the Rhine Valley and there are castles and it's beautiful.
posted by naturalog at 5:40 PM on August 14, 2014

Came to suggest the Rhine valley train too. In Australia, the Indian-pacific is fantastic if you go first class. I don't know about second, but third is pretty painful. Sitting up for three days. The Ghan is probably similar.

For shorter trips in Australia, the train from Sydney to Newcastle (~3hours, $10) goes through some stunning country.
posted by kjs4 at 6:10 PM on August 14, 2014

The Copenhagen/Hamburg line features a ferry crossing where the train drives onto the boat. Super weird and fun.
posted by bruceo at 6:19 PM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Bergensbanen.

Also the Coast Starlight, which runs from Los Angeles to Seattle. I've only taken the part from LA to Oakland, but even that is gorgeous. Only problem is that, at least on the way north, you pass by most of northern California and part of Oregon at nighttime.
posted by number9dream at 6:22 PM on August 14, 2014

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned this yet, but The Man in Seat Sixty-One is your friend. They have an extensive section on the greatest train rides in the world. And the level of detail about stops, costs, amenities, etc. is amazing.
posted by John Frum at 7:29 PM on August 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

Hah, two of the three I was going to recommend were the Surfliner and the Alaskan Railroad (though in my case I took it from Fairbanks to Denali, which is highly recommended if you go back).

The third, though, has not been mentioned. You can quite literally ride an old WW2-era train on the bridge over the River Kwai on what's called the Death Railway. You can take the train from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, but better to take it from Kanchaburi to Nam Tok and go see the Hellfire Pass. It's an amazing experience and quite fun, though obviously filled with historical horror that you should be respectful of as well.

You might also stop along the way (sort of) at Mae Klong Station, where the market literally pulls up the sticks when the train rolls through.
posted by librarylis at 7:44 PM on August 14, 2014

The midnight train from St. Petersburg to Moscow in 2002. The bunk was clean and comfy. The air conditioning worked, after we got moving. The toilet (at the end of the car, not in the cabin) was horrifying. I woke up several times during the night and it didn't look to me like we were going very fast; I'd guess somewhere around 50 MPH. The box breakfast, containing bread, sausage, fruit, cheese, and cookies(?), was served about an hour before we arrived, and was tasty and filling.

When I was a wee lad, like around 4, I traveled with my mother and two younger brothers from somewhere in Texas to Miles City, Montana by way of Minneapolis. It took several days. My only real memory is of walking from car to car was really scary because there were gaps in the floor. Probably not big enough to fall through, but I wasn't convinced.

I want to take the train from Denver to Salt Lake (or at least to Glenwood Springs) someday.
posted by Bruce H. at 7:45 PM on August 14, 2014

My favourite train trip ever was from Singapore to Bangkok, as per this map. My memory is a little hazy on exact details but there were three legs to the journey: Singapore - Malaysia, Malaysia - Thai border, Thai border - Bangkok.
The second leg we went on a romantic, ramshackle train with open doors that slowly stopped and started it's way past palm plantations and small villages. Lunch was wrapped in leaves, delicious and bought from a station. We think we may have caught the wrong and much slower train but have no regrets there. The train through Thailand to Bangkok we are still raving about and recommending. We had a first class cabin which was really cheap, even with meals included. One day we hope to travel the whole of SE Asia by train (And Russia, China....so many trains...)
posted by Wantok at 7:49 PM on August 14, 2014

The Carins to Kuranda railway in north Queensland was pretty cool when I took it many years ago, scenery is great and hopefully the charm hasn't been wiped away by the tourism types. I took the Indian-Pacific from Sydney to Perth as a little kid and liked it (emus racing the train through the Nullabor!) but I fear adult me would be less entertained.

I really enjoyed the train travel in India but the Darjeeling Himalayan railway was the cherry on top. So much fun and you get to spend time in Darjeeling at the end of it.
posted by N-stoff at 9:54 PM on August 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

The train on Corsica is amazing, you've got Mediterranean beaches, sweeping mountain passes and medieval architecture all within a few hours of each other.
posted by Ned G at 2:16 AM on August 15, 2014

I really liked the trip I made on the Rheingold Trans Europa Express (PDF). It was very scenic. We ended up in Switzerland and there we took the previously mentioned Glacier Express, which I would really recommend as well.
I don't think you can just go and take the TEE normally, it was a specially organised historical event. But you asked about memorable, and that it was. We were very lucky in that the time we booked for our turn in the panorama car (dome car) was right when we passed the Lorelei!

Another memorable train trip was in Sudan where I travelled on a freight train from Babanusa to Er-Rahad. We boarded in the evening, the car had no light inside, and the ride turned out MUCH bumpier than we'd been told, so we spent the first 20 minutes holding and then tying down our motorcycles, while holding flashlights in our mouths. Sand and dust came in through the seams in the wooden floor, the train rocked and bucked, and the noise was unbelievable.
But we were very happy to be on that train, and in the morning as the sun came up we opened the side doors on the train and people sat in the morning sun, letting their feet hang in the breeze and looking out over the land. Every time the train stopped at a station, locals came up to it and offered bread, grapefruits, boiled eggs or tea for sale and over the course of the morning that added up into a pretty great breakfast.
The trip was planned to take 13 hours but ended up taking twice as long.

Not an experience anyone could easily repeat, especially not now, but a sweet memory for me none the less.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:34 AM on August 15, 2014

No-one's mentioned the Rocky Mountaineer yet (although the line between Calgary and Vancouver has been). We've just done Vancouver--Jasper and then Banff--Vancouver on a rail tour. Comfortable, great service and some of the train hosts' jokes were even funny. Plus bears (from the train), elk, eagles and some stunning scenery.
And, to quote myself (from this post):
"Earlier this year I travelled from Leipzig to London by German ICE, Thalys and Eurostar. Admittedly I took several days to do it (stopping overnight in Baden-Baden and Cologne) and it was first class all the way, but really, who wouldn't go by train. I found that if you score a quiet zone seat on the ICE, you can look out through the driver's windscreen and watch the snowy German landscape explode past you at 300 km/h ... mind-blowing.".
posted by Logophiliac at 4:47 AM on August 15, 2014

In the US: Denver to Glenwood Springs.
In Italy: Cinque Terre to Milan.
In the Netherlands: Utrecht to Roosendaal.
posted by neushoorn at 5:08 AM on August 15, 2014

The Poznań-Przemyśl night train right across Poland, in deepest winter. -20 C outside, +24 C inside. A warm welcome from the station staff as we clambered into our three-person compartment. A calm that descended over the train as we departed...and we slept until Rzeszów, what must have been 90% of the journey. A warm rogal and tea with lemon as we woke over snowy fields whiter than any I remember. The crispest light through the frosted-over windows! Off the train and into a minibus to the Ukranian border. Two hours later we were in Lviv, my favourite city.
posted by mdonley at 7:30 AM on August 15, 2014

I really enjoyed riding Amtrack from Richmond, CA (which is basically where BART ends) to Davis, CA (which is simply where the friend I was visiting lived). The train curls around the edge of the Bay, often with nothing but a short gravel incline between you and the water. You leave the Bay by crossing a bridge high above the water where container ships hang out while waiting to go back to sea (I presume).

It isn't epic. It isn't the Orient Express. It's practically a commuter train. But it's a beautiful, short ride and I loved it both times I took. It was memorable.
posted by maryr at 8:12 AM on August 15, 2014

My other favorite, short train ride was to Mont Blanc at Chamonix. It had never before occurred to me that you might have a train stop that was nothing more than a trail head.
posted by maryr at 8:15 AM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm currently on a Thalys from Paris to Brussels. Apparently almost no one wants to do this ride on a Friday evening in August, because I was able to get a first class ticket for cheap and there are only a few other people in the car. I just had a nice dinner and now I get to watch the flat but pretty countryside (and wind turbines), and wifi is free. Life is good sometimes.

Oh also, don't just take the Amtrak up the Hudson, continue to Montreal. The views of Lake Champlain (on the right going up, on the left coming back) are beautiful. But be warned, it is *slow*.
posted by A dead Quaker at 10:41 AM on August 15, 2014

I love the ride from Copenhagen to Malmo across the Oresund Bridge. Similar is the ride out to Odaiba on the Yurikamome which crosses the Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo.
posted by Middlemarch at 2:37 PM on August 15, 2014

Another vote for the Rhine Valley from Cologne towards Frankfurt. The castles dotted along the river are just stunning.

The Shonan Monorail from Ofuna to Fujisawa/Enoshima in Japan is probably my favourite train route though. Stand in the front of the first carriage and look out through the driver's cab. The route includes inclines, narrow vegetation-choked tunnels, and stretches where the train runs suspended over regular surface streets. As this Monorail Society article says, it's tremendous fun. The Yurikamome monorail (oh, Wikipedia says it's actually not a monorail...) from Shimbashi to Odaiba is pretty good too - and again, you should travel right at the front.

And on a rather smaller scale - in more ways than one - I have a soft spot for the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway in England's Lake District.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:53 PM on August 15, 2014

I love, LOVE, LOVE traveling by trains. I still fondly remember traveling by one of the last workhorse steam-locomotive powered trains in rural Kerala in the 70's. Here are some of my most memorable train journeys:
posted by thaths at 2:56 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just took the Coast Starlight from Oakland to LA a few days ago. The views of the ocean were just gorgeous... you get to see beaches that are pretty remote, which you probably would never get the chance to see otherwise.
posted by mollywas at 2:56 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Hiram Bingham from Cusco to Machu Picchu was like time travel and has the additional advantage of ending at one of my favorite places in the world.
posted by Lame_username at 1:54 AM on August 16, 2014

Seconding the suggestion for the Cairns to Kuranda train. I took the trip about a month ago and it was charming and awesome. There's a fantastic cable car thing in the area too.
posted by Sarah Lund's Jumper at 3:00 AM on August 17, 2014

Also: Hanoi to Danang. Spectacular cliffs, beaches, waterfalls, lush forests.
posted by Sarah Lund's Jumper at 3:04 AM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lhasa to Xi'an. The rooftop of the world. Oxygen cannulas are offered to combat altitude sickness.
posted by karst at 12:42 PM on August 17, 2014

Chicago to New Orleans, pre-Katrina. Amtrak sometimes gets a bad wrap, but that was a wonderful experience. I actually got some of the best sleep I can remember, being rocked back and forth in our sleeper car. The friends I went with still say today how the food on the train was the best of the whole trip.
posted by robadobdob at 10:47 PM on August 20, 2014

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