preloadCanadian Pacific Railway Train through Banff National Park Canada

Sometimes it’s the journey, not the destination, that makes traveling really special. This is especially true when it comes to scenic train rides. Seriously, we challenge you to think of anything more dreamy than losing yourself in a rolling display of dramatic mountain valleys, glacial lakes, and emerald hills as you trundle onward from A to B. Best of all, scenic train rides require minimal effort. There’s no road for you to pay careful attention to, no steering wheel to grip, no bad weather or traffic to spoil the itinerary. Every second is yours to enjoy.

Train et Cervin, scenic train ride

With over 400 million annual visitors to HotelsCombined, we’ve stacked up the tracks and picked what we believe are the most beautiful railway journeys in the world. Don’t bother bringing a book for these iconic itineraries — you won’t need any onboard entertainment. From wildly beautiful landscapes to nostalgic dining cars everything about these marvelous locomotives is guaranteed to excite and enchant. Pack your bags. We’ll meet you on the platform.

1. Rocky Mountaineer’s First Passage to the West, Vancouver to Banff, Canada

  • Distance: 372 miles
  • What to Expect: Untouched forests, mist-shrouded valleys, and towering stone outcrops along one of Canada’s most breathtaking scenic train rides
  • We Recommend: Purchasing a GoldLeaf ticket, which gets you searing in a glass-walled sun-dappled car
Man at Moraine lake at sunrise, Banff, Canada
Photo| Man looking at Moraine Lake at sunrise, Banff National Park| GETTYIMAGES – MATTEO COLOMBO
Canadian Pacific Railway Train through Banff National Park Canada, scenic train ride
Photo| Canadian Pacific Railway Train through Banff National Park| GETTYIMAGES – FERRANTRAITE

It’s hard to imagine any kind of train journey living up to the breathtaking landscapes of Banff National Park and Lake Louise. But that’s exactly what Rocky Mountaineer has achieved with this extraordinary route through the Canadian Rockies. Leaving Vancouver behind, the train speeds through vast forests of idolic pine trees as it winds its way into deeper British Columbian striking wilderness. Passengers spend the night in sleepy Kamloops before continuing on to their spectacular destination.

Where to Stay: Fairmont Banff Springs

Fairmont Banff Springs, hotel near scenic train ride
Photo| Fairmont Banff Springs| Provided by LEONARDO

Canada’s “Castle in the Rockies,” this historic hotel’s storied past stretches back over 130 years. Housed in a marvelous chateau-style building, it offers spellbinding mountain views. Totalling at 757 guest rooms and suites, it’s a pretty spacious setup. All the same, the accommodation itself is cozy and intimate, with warm hues and retro-leaning decor. Wrap yourself up burrito style in premium bedding and lie in as late as you like. Or alternatively, make an appointment at the award winning Willow Stream Spa, with its comprehensive offering of soothing massages and treatments.

Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 217 – USD 1,702
Guest Rating: 8.1
Address: 405 Spray Avenue, Banff, AB T1L 1J4, Canada

Hotel Location

2. Rovos Rail’s Namibia Safari — Pretoria to Swakopmund, Southern Africa

  • Distance: 2,112 miles
  • What to Expect: Timeless wood-paneled luxury, onboard bathtubs, and rolling views of Southern Africa’s most stunning scenery
  • We Recommend: Saving some of your camera battery for some stunning nature shots at Fish River Canyon, the second largest of its kind in the world
The Big Hole, an open-pit and underground diamond mine, Kimberley, South Africa.
Rovos Rail train, scenic train ride
Photo| Rovos Rail train crosses the Great Karoo Desert | GETTYIMAGES – BLAINE HARRINGTON III

Taking a full 7 days to complete, this epic journey takes passengers across some stark deserts and diverse heartlands. Beginning in the South African capital of Pretoria, it runs south to the 19th-century diamond mining town of Kimberly. Heading west from there, passengers glide across terracotta plains and mountains before reaching the barren beauty of Namibia’s Kalahari desert. A pause in the energetic Namibian capital of Windhoek precedes this scenic train ride’s final leg — a lone track that runs across the beige emptiness of western Namibia to Swakopmund, a German-era town surrounded by miles of stunningly secluded beaches. Rather than a public train, the Rovos Rail’s Namibia Safari is a tour service, with enough time for several excursions along the way. These include a trip to Garas Park with its giant forest of succulent quiver trees.

Where to Stay: Strand Hotel Swakopmund

Strand Hotel Swakopmund, hotel near scenic train ride
Photo| Strand Hotel Swakopmund| Provided by BOOKING.COM

Strand Hotel Swakopmund occupies what is definitely the best address in town, jettying out into the Atlantic with two large sandy beaches fanning out from it on either side. To add to that, Swakopmund’s luscious central park extends out from behind the hotel. Meanwhile, the bulk of the town’s history attractions are a short amble away. There’s plenty to keep you lounging idly around the hotel as well. Bars, restaurants, a bakery, and sea facing terraces making eating in a highly tempting option. You’ll also love the decor, which treads the line between German colonial and contemporary beach house. Think shuttered windows, sun-washed lounge spaces, and breezy pastel hues.

Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 151 – USD 792
Guest Rating: 8.1
Address: An Der Mole, Swakopmund, Namibia

Hotel Location

3. Belmond Hiram Bingham — Cusco to Machu Picchu, Peru

  • Distance: 57 miles
  • What to Expect: Pisco-accented tipples and live music against a tumbling backdrop of verdant terraces and Inca engineering
  • We Recommend: Sneaking out to the balcony at the back of the rear carriage for unobstructed openair views of the rugged Incan countryside
Train from Cuzco to Machu Pichu., scenic train ride
Photo| Train from Cuzco to Machu Pichu| GETTYIMAGES – GONZALO AZUMENDI
Machu Picchu

Hiram Bingham, the first American tourist to Machu Picchu, had to trek for days through dense jungle to reach this marvel of Inca ingenuity. Now though, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is accessible via one of the most scenic train rides in the world. This luxury locomotive lets passengers admire Peru’s romantic Andean heartlands from the comfort of a timeless wood-paneled railcar. Leaving the vibrant former capital of Cusco, the train climbs steadily into the Sacred Valley of the Incas. With the crashing Urubamba River on one side, it passes lesser-known highlights like Ollantaytambo, with its enormous Incan fortress. Finally, passengers disembark at Machu Picchu, Peru’s most dazzling attractions.

Where to Stay: Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel

Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, hotel near scenic train ride
Photo| Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel| Provided by BOOKING.COM

While you can’t stay in the citadel itself, staying close to Machu Picchu is advisable if you want to experience its legendary sunrises. Built in the traditional Andean style, this enchanting cluster of 83 whitewashed casitas offers an Incan experience like no other. Set across 12 acres of painstakingly landscaped gardens, this hotel village is home to 214 bird species and 372 local orchids, the largest local collection in the world. Guests can learn about their stunning natural surroundings with an inhouse explorer tour. Then retire to the Unu Spa for a locally sourced tea treatment or moment of reflection in the Andean sauna.

Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 602 – USD 1,036
Guest Rating: 9.0
Address: Pueblo de Machu Picchu, 084, Machu Picchu 999, Peru

Hotel Location

4. The Eastern & Oriental Express — Bangkok to Singapore, Southeast Asia

  • Distance: 1,262 miles
  • What to Expect: A journey back to the scenic train rides of old, with the aesthetics of an Agatha Christie novel
  • We Recommend: Exploring the exuberant city of Kuala Kangsar, with it’s colonial heritage and dazzling Malay architecture
Eastern & Oriental Express train
Photo| Eastern & Oriental Express train| GETTYIMAGES – BARBARA CASTELLO

Even if it never moved, there’d still be much to say about a stay aboard this elegant luxury locomotive. Originally built in New Zealand as a sleeper service from Auckland to Wellington, the cars were completely refitted as a love letter to the golden age of rail travel. We’re talking cherry wood panelling, white-linen dining cars, and even an onboard wellness center. At the back of the train, there’s a beautiful sunroom where you can get a full panorama of the Southeast Asian countryside. Steal a moment there to watch as the train crosses the historic River Kwai or passes through Malaysia sky-reaching jungles.

Where to Stay: Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse

Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse, hotel near scenic train ride
Photo| Bangkok Marriott Hotel the Surawongse| Provided by LEONARDO

Doing boutique or luxury in a place like Bangkok, it’s difficult for hotels to stand out. Even so, The Surawongse has created something truly memorable. The downtown views from its rooftop pool terrace are spectacular. The interpretations of Chinese and Thai cooking styles at its two restaurants are sublime. And its residential suites, accented with intricate ink murals, are effortlessly cool. A particular highlight is the Quan Spa, offering innovative treatments like Muay Siam, a hot balm massage that stimulates muscles and mind using the principles of Thai boxing.

Star Rating: 5*
Price: USD 96 – USD 6,901
Guest Rating: 9.0
Address: 262 Surawong road, Si Phraya, Bangrak, Bangkok 10500, Thailand

Hotel Location

5. West Highland Line — Glasgow to Mallaig, Scotland

  • Distance:1 km
  • What to Expect: Equal parts enchanting highland journey and Hogwarts whimsy
  • We Recommend: Riding the Jacobite Steam Train, a timeless locomotive that chugs the final 42 miles out of Fort William from May to October
Photo| Loch Shiel and the Jacobite memorial| GETTYIMAGES – GORDIE BROON PHOTOGRAPHY
Glenfinnan Railway Viaduct, part of the West Highland Line, Glenfinnan, Loch Shiel, Highlands, Scotland, United Kingdom, Europe
Photo| Glenfinnan Railway Viaduct| GETTYIMAGES – ALAN COPSON

Back in 2009, readers of the travel magazine Wanderlust voted the West Highland Line top rail journey in the world. It’s not hard to see why. Winding its way past crystalline lochs and around snow-capped mountains, this route offers incredible scenery. Passing through the cinnamon-hued wilderness of Rannoch Moor, you’re likely to spot deer darting through the long grass. The train then skirts around Ben Nevis, Britain’s tallest mountain, before switching west at Fort William. The highlight for most passengers, however, is the Glenfinnan Viaduct, a striking slate-colored bridge best known for featuring in the Harry Potter movies.

Where to Stay: Creag Mhor Lodge

Creag Mhor Lodge, hotel near scenic train ride
Photo| Creag Mhor Lodge| Provided by BOOKING.COM

An escape to the Highlands is romantic, wherever you base yourself. If you want to really do the Highlands well, though, you chose somewhere like Creag Mhor. Looking out over the serene waters of Loch Linnhe, this gorgeous slate-fronted manor house offers everything you’d expect from a proper Scottish escape. Cozy traditional rooms, excellent home-cooked fare, and a  whiskey bar — if that’s not your thing, they also have an excellent local gin: Caorunn.

Star Rating: 5*
Price: USD 168 – USD 257
Guest Rating: 9.0
Address: North Ballachulish, Fort William, PH33 6RY, United Kingdom

Hotel Location

6. Copper Canyon Railroad — Chihuahua City to Los Mochis, Mexico

  • Distance: 415 miles
  • What to Expect: A wild frontier adventure through rocky gorges
  • We Recommend: Stopping to experience the fascinating indigenous culture and crashing waterfalls in the Sierra Tarahumara
Chihuaha Pacific Railway at Divisadero of Urique and Copper Canyon.
Photo| Chihuahua Pacific Railway at Divisadero of Urique and Copper Canyon| GETTYIMAGES – MANFRED GOTTSCHALK
Chihuahua, Mexico
Photo| Waterfall in Chihuahua, Mexico| GETTYIMAGES – LEO MARTINEZ- EYEEM

Also known as El Chepe, the Copper Canyon Railroad is one of Mexico’s most scenic train rides. Opened in 1961, the line extends northeast out of Los Mochis, taking passengers past rugged mountains and emerald farmland. Further on, the landscape shatters into one of Mexico’s coolest attractions, Copper Canyon. Four times the size of the Grand Canyon, this network of distinct gorges features steep revenues and jaw-dropping escarpments. El Chepe hugs the landscape, traversing cliffs and crossing 37 bridges along the way before it reaches the quirky regional capital of Chihuahua.

Where to Stay: Sheraton Chihuahua Soberano

Sheraton Chihuahua Soberano, hotel near scenic train ride
Photo| Sheraton Chihuahua Soberano| Provided by LEONARDO

If its spectacular views of the city don’t get you, its enormous infinity pool will. Located steps from excellent dining and golfing at the San Francisco Country Club, this hotel is an ideal place to relax and rewind after the epic train journey you just completed. The rooms are traditional and spacious, many offering views of the course. Meanwhile, an upgrade to a suite will amp up your experience with a little extra norteño flair and corner-room views.

Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 83 – USD 108
Guest Rating: 8.0
Address: Barranca Del Cobre 3211, 31125 Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico

Hotel Location

7. Glacier Express — Zermatt to St. Moritz, Switzerland

  • Distance: 181 miles
  • What to Expect: A terrific trip above the treeline against jaw-dropping alpine views
  • We Recommend: Purchasing an Excellence Class ticket, which includes a regional dining experience with local wines, as well as access to the train’s elegant cocktail bar
train running on the Bernina railway , scenic train ride
Photo| Train running on the Bernina railway in Switzerland| GETTYIMAGES – MAX SHEN
Bernina Express train in autumn, Filisur, Switzerland, scenic train ride
Photo| Bernina Express train in autumn, Filisur| GETTYIMAGES – ROBERTO MOIOLA – SYSAWORLD

It’s difficult to picture anything so striking as the Glacier Express, gliding its way across the snow-blanketed Swiss Alps. Beginning in the premier ski resort of Zermatt, this stunning rail service climbs into the Upper Rhone Valley. At its highest point, the track reaches the Oberalp Pass — the lofty source of the Rhone River, which rises 7,000 feet above sea level. The Glacier Express offers better viewing than most scenic train rides, thanks to panoramic windows that flex into a partial skylight above your head. You’ll be particularly glad it has them as the train whizzes over the 291 bridges that are along the route.

Where to Stay: Hotel Reine Victoria

Hotel Reine Victoria, hotel near scenic train ride
Photo| Hotel Reine Victoria| Provided by BOOKING.COM

Built at a time when tourism was just emerging, Hotel Reine Victoria was designed to accommodate the kind of wealthy, well-to-do tourists that flocked to Switzerland during the late 19th century. As such, expect an extravagant hotel experience, with crystal chandeliers and exquisite frescos on its ceilings. The guest rooms and suites, meanwhile, have received a contemporary facelift, with warm tones and clean lines throughout. There are also two large heated pools, one indoor and one outdoor with sublime views of the mountains.

Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 208 – USD 387
Guest Rating: 8.0
Address: Via Rosatsch 18, 7500 St. Moritz, Graubunden, Switzerland

Hotel Location

8. The Main Line — Kandy to Ella, Sri Lanka

tea plantation train in haputale, scenic train ride
Photo| Tea plantation train in Haputale, Sri Lanka| GETTYIMAGES – © VINCENT BOISVERT
  • Distance: 100 miles
  • What to Expect: An emerald jungle views and a bunch of new friends
  • We Recommend: Sating any hunger pangs with vadai, spicy lentil donuts that are very popular with locals
Sri Lanka, Kandy
Bathing baby elephants in Pinnawala
Photo| Bathing baby elephants in Pinnawala| GETTYIMAGES – ROSITA SO IMAGE

Built in the late 19th century, Sri Lanka’s main line is widely considered to be one of the most scenic train rides in the country. It’s arguably the stretch from historic Kandy to the lush forest-shrouded village of Ella that earns it this title. Bright blue trains take passengers on a lazy journey past vibrant tea plantations and misty highland valleys. Unsurprisingly, the railway is one of the most Instagrammable attractions in the country. Make sure you have your camera ready when you reach Nine Arch Bridge, a stunning stone viaduct just outside Ella.

Where to Stay: EKHO Ella

EKHO Ella, hotel near scenic train ride
Photo| EKHO Ella| Provided by BOOKING.COM

If dreamy sunset views are your thing, you can’t go wrong with this spectacular hillside hotel. EKHO Ella looks directly over the Ella Gap, offering fantastic views of both the forest and sea of clouds that roll in through the valley when the weather’s right. Unlike most of Ella’s gorgeous hillside lookouts, however, you won’t need a pair of hiking boots. Instead, sink into the garden jacuzzi, or order a cool cocktail on the terrace, and drink it all in. The views are almost as spellbinding from the guest rooms and suites, some of which feature private sunrooms.

Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 100 – USD 261
Guest Rating: 9.0
Address: Ella-Wellawaya Road, Ella, Sri Lanka

Hotel Location

Step Aboard one of These Scenic Train Rides

Beautiful Girl Traveling By Train Among Mountains
Photo| Girl Traveling By Train| GETTYIMAGES- MISHA SOTNIKOV

When it comes down to it, there are few other ways to experience an overland trip like scenic train rides. Taking you through remote backcountry corners and spectacular national parks, the right itineraries can take you places you may never think to visit. Additionally, all of the scenic train rides on this article are either tours or regular public services. So you can hop on and off at those really special spots along the way. What we really love though, is the freedom from the steering wheel, that allows you to really lose yourself in the scenery or share the experience with your intrepid travel buddy.

Planning a scenic train ride soon? Let us know where in the comments below!

About the author

Sebastian Morgan I’m a blogger, history buff, and serious over packer, currently based in Taiwan. Eats, drinks, and destinations are my thing. When I’m not writing about those, I’m either hitting up the local hot springs or slurping down a bowl of sesame noodles. I hope to one day do both at the same time.

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