Rail journeys are growing in popularity, especially as eco-minded travellers seek ways to reduce their carbon footprint. On top of being an environmentally friendly transport option, trains also offer a scenic way of getting from point A to B – whether you’re traversing the Swiss Alps, whizzing past Tokyo’s urban sprawl or trundling through the Scottish countryside. Here are 5 epic rail journeys to inspire your next holiday.
The route: The Glacier Express is your window to the Swiss Alps. The nearly eight-hour rail journey starts in the morning from Zermatt and takes you through the cantons of Valais, Uri and Graubünden before arriving in the elegant resort town of St. Moritz.
What you’ll see: Expect varied panoramic views as the Glacier Express travels across 291 bridges and through 91 tunnels between Zermatt and St. Moritz. The route offers the perfect combination of lush alpine valleys, snow-covered peaks and blue skies. Along the way, you’ll see the Rhone river, the mountain village of Andermatt and the Oberalp Pass before descending into the stunning Rhine Gorge. You’ll also cross the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Landwasser Viaduct – a curved, single-track railway bridge that towers 65m above the Landwasser river.
Dining on board: Choose from a range of Swiss and international dishes, including Graubünden barley soup, chicken tikka masala and a platter featuring various types of mountain cheese. All meals are freshly prepared on board and brought straight to your seat. However, note that due to staff shortages, the full menu is currently only available on certain trains.
Where to stay: If Geneva is part of your Switzerland itinerary, book a stay at the elegant Fraser Suites Geneva, located in the prestigious shopping and business district of Rue du Marché.
The route: The Jacobite is perhaps the world’s most magical railway journey – in fact, it doubled as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films. Built in 1949, this steam-belching relic puffs its way from the town of Fort William in the Scottish Highlands to the village of Mallaig on the west coast. A round trip is 84 miles and there are two daily return services (one in the morning and another in the afternoon), with each one-way ride taking about two hours.
What you’ll see: The Jacobite will reveal some of Scotland’s most impressive natural sights. Your starting point of Fort William lies in the shadow of Ben Nevis, so you’ll get to glimpse Britain’s highest mountain. Thereafter, the train will travel to the UK’s most westerly mainland railway station, Arisaig. En route, it’ll pass the deepest freshwater lake in Britain, Loch Morar, as well as one of the shortest rivers in Scotland, River Morar. Another highlight of the journey is the crossing of the spectacular Glenfinnan Viaduct, a curving railway bridge with 21 arches towering 100 feet above Loch Shiel. At Mallaig, disembark for glorious views of the Isle of Skye and Scotland’s Inner Hebridean islands.
Dining on board: Pre-order the scrumptious Jacobite Cream Tea, which features hand-cut sandwiches made with locally sourced mature cheddar, free-range egg mayonnaise, Scottish ham and coronation chicken. These are complemented by homemade cakes and fruit scones served with strawberry preserve and clotted cream. Vegetarian and vegan versions are available too.
Where to stay: Before embarking on your rail journey, spend a few days exploring Glasgow (around a 2.5-hour drive from Fort William). Bed down at Fraser Suites Glasgow, which is set in a beautifully restored 1850s Victorian building in the stylish Merchant City district.