Thanks to Kenneth Branagh’s new take on the classic Agatha Christie novel Murder on the Orient Express, old-fashioned train travel is having a moment. In recent years, some of the most celebrated railways in history have been carefully restored to working order, allowing customers to once again experience the golden age of train travel. If you’re feeling inspired to take an intrepid cross-country journey, but can’t afford the extravagant ticket prices, then here are some of the world’s greatest train journeys that won’t break the bank.
The Bergen Railway – Oslo to Bergen, Norway
The spectacular Oslo to Bergen railway, which takes you from east to west across Norway’s Hallingskarvet National Park, is one of the highest in Europe, at times passing through an impenetrable-looking terrain of snow-covered mountains. By the time you reach Finse, the highest station along the route at an altitude of just over 4,000 feet, you’ll be feeling on top of the world. Change onto the Flam Railway when you arrive at Myrdal for the scenic descent down into the valley to the fjord below.
The Jungfraubahn, Switzerland
Switzerland’s beautiful alpine landscapes make a stunning destination in either summer or winter, when cold but crystal-clear days offer fantastic viewing conditions. Visitors to this part of the world will be spoilt for choice when it comes to jaw-droppingly dramatic scenery; Switzerland boasts three first-class railway journeys including the Bernina Express and the Glacier Express. Most impressive of all, the Jungfraubahn threads through the Swiss countryside from Interlaken before climbing 3,000 metres up the north face of the Eiger, finally pulling in at the highest station in Europe, Jungfraujoch, on snow-capped Jungfrau mountain.
The Reunification Express, Vietnam
Opened in 1936, the Reunification Express winds through 1,000 miles of jungle-covered cliffs, through villages and alongside rice fields and is the cheapest trip on our list with tickets starting at £2.60. The two-day journey from Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City in the south takes in some of the most beautiful parts of Vietnam, including stunning views of the South China Sea. Pay a little extra to upgrade to a sleeper carriage and save on hotel bills, the trains are relatively modern and offer comfortable, air-conditioned berths.
The Moscow to Nice Sleeper
Restored back to its former glory in 2010, the Moscow to Nice sleeper is the longest train journey on the continent. Follow in the footsteps of former Russian aristocrats who, in the 1860s, would take the country-spanning trip from the frozen Belorussky Rail Terminal in the search of the warm winter sun of southern France. The train departs from Moscow every Thursday morning, rumbling through Belarus and Poland during the night before stopping briefly on the Czech border the following morning, where you can get off to stretch your legs. The train continues on its eight-nation tour through Austria and Italy until finally arriving, the next morning, in Nice, for a sunny morning breakfast of croissants and coffee on the Promenade des Anglais.
The California Zephyr – Chicago to San Francisco
Amtrak’s California Zephyr spans almost the full width of the United States, from the Great Lakes to its Pacific Coast. Linking the Windy City with The City by the Bay are 2,438 miles of railway track that take a leisurely 52-hour route through the American West, travelling through a total of seven states. Highlights of the route include panoramas of the Colorado canyons, the Rockies, California’s High Sierra and the Nevada Desert. A winter journey offers the appeal of snow-topped mountains, while National Park Service rangers deliver commentaries on the Rockies section of the journey during the spring and summer months.
The Harz Railway, Germany
The ultimate train journey for anyone who loves the magic of the old-fashioned steam locomotives, Germany’s spectacular Harz Railway is a restored narrow-gauge network that criss-crosses the Harz mountains, stopping off at the charming little medieval towns nearby. The most impressive display of steam power in Europe, the train takes its passengers on a journey through coniferous forests and fairytale mountain landscapes. What makes the railway particularly special is the fact that it’s not just a tourist attraction; local schoolchildren, shoppers and commuters all rely on its services.
The Orange Express, Mallorca
Discover a different side to the isle of Mallorca with a journey back in time on the vintage, wooden-panelled train that runs from the capital of Palma to the pretty little town of Sóller. The narrow-gauge railway, nicknamed after the export that made the region rich, follows a scenic route through the Serra de Tramuntana Mountains, over the ‘five-bridge’ viaduct, along its turquoise coast and through leafy orange groves. The old-world charm of Sóller, surrounded by beautiful unspoiled countryside, is the perfect day trip away from the hustle and bustle of the city.