Train rides are magical experiences if you pick the right train. We’ve rounded up 10 of the world’s best train rides, chosen for spectacular views and a million and one great excuses to get off and go exploring.
1/10 Amtrak Coast Starlight – Seattle to Los Angeles
Amtrak has legendary train rides to spare, but the Coast Starlight from Seattle to Los Angeles is in a league of its own. The journey showcases the camera-ready West Coast, including the towering peaks of the Cascade Range and Mount Shasta, lush forests, valleys and rambling stretches of Pacific Ocean shoreline. It’s one of the great train rides for cities too with stops at Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco Bay area and Santa Barbara. Stay on or hop off, it’s all incredible.
2/10 Grand Canyon Train – Williams Arizona to Grand Canyon South Rim
As train rides go the Grand Canyon Train really earns its place in the line up of world greats simply because it’s the vintage train that takes you right to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. The trip starts at Williams, Arizona in the morning and returns in the afternoon. During the two hour and 15 minute ride, you’ll enjoy a spectacular backdrop all they way to the canyon. There’s live entertainment, including musicians strolling through each car. And a fun mock train robbery, adds to the true Wild West experience for kids.
3/10 PeruRail Vistadome – Cusco to Machu Picchu
The journey from Cusco to Machu Picchu aboard the PeruRail Vistadome is one of those train rides of a lifetime. With wide, panoramic windows located both beside and above you, the journey almost immerses passengers in the stunning landscape. On board entertainment includes traditional Andean music and dancing. Snacks and drinks made from local ingredients are another cultural experience, and there are even fashion shows featuring designs made from baby alpaca wool. Although it’s likely you’ll spend most of the four hour trip simply staring at the magnificent landscape of the Sacred Valley.
4/10 Amtrak Crescent – New York to New Orleans
If your unforgettable train rides needs cities in the mix, Amtrak Crescent shuttles passengers between New York and New Orleans each day, gliding through urban greats like Washington D.C., Atlanta and Birmingham. Passengers will experience the heritage of the American South, from quaint towns like Greenville, South Carolina, to the vibrant energy and unique beauty of New Orleans. And if you haven’t yet explored New Orleans with the family, you’ll be surprised by its kid-friendly attractions, including the excellent children’s museum now rehomed in leafy City Park.
5/10 California Zephyr – Chicago to San Francisco
The Amtrak California Zephyr travels daily between Chicago and San Francisco, stopping at several iconic destinations including Omaha, Denver, Salt Lake City and Sacramento. This long-distance route showcases so much natural beauty from the Rocky Mountains to California’s Sierra Nevada that it’s often described as one of the most beautiful train rides in North America.
6/10 Glacier Express – Zermatt to St. Moritz
Swiss trains enjoy a world class reputation with good reason: they’re efficient and can get you just about anywhere in this small, but geographically challenging country. As the legendary Glacier Express more than proves on its journey between Zermatt and St. Moritz. Thanks to the enormous floor-to-ceiling windows you’ll see almost every type of Alpine landscape from historic villages to the mighty Matterhorn as the train rides its way through narrow curves, dozens of tight tunnels and hundreds of stone bridges during the 8-hour trip. Purchase the Swiss Travel Pass, kids under age 16 travel free.
7/10 Rocky Mountaineer – Vancouver to Jasper
The Canadian Rockies are breathtaking and there’s no better way to savor them than on one of the world’s most luxurious train rides. The Rocky Mountaineer offers four different routes of varying lengths. One of our favorites is “Journey through the Clouds”; starting in Vancouver and ending in Jasper. Along the way, you’ll enjoy remote vistas, wildlife and majestic Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. And each night, you’re escorted off the train to sleep in first-class accommodation.
8/10 Denali Star – Anchorage to Fairbanks
The Denali Star train rides through magnificent Denali National Park in Alaska are the perfect way to see some of its six million acre landscape which includes taiga forest, tundra and America’s tallest mountain, Denali. Extraordinary animals roam freely in the park too, so expect to see plenty of wildlife. The route from Anchorage to Fairbanks clocks in at 8 hours and makes several stops along the route – you can even get off in Denali National Park itself. The Denali Star is seasonal and runs from May to September. There are several different ticket classes, but try and book a car that offers open-air platforms and 360-degree dome windows.
9/10 Tobu Railway – Tokyo to Nikko
Japan’s train rides earn gold stars from railway enthusiasts around the globe thanks to the country’s high-speed and widespread rail network. For families visiting Tokyo, Tobu Railways offers a fabulous ride to Nikko, home to one of Japan’s most important World Heritage Sites, the Toshogu Shrine. Catch Tobu Railway from Tobu Asakusa Station in Tokyo and in one hour and 50 minutes you can be gazing at Nikko’s unspoiled lakes, forests and famous waterfalls. For kids, the area’s main attraction might be Edo Wonderland, an interactive theme park that’s like stepping into the ancient world of Japan’s legendary Shogun.
10/10 The Mount Washington Cog Railway
For train rides with history you want Mount Washington Cog Railway. This three hour round trip, from Bretton Woods through New Hampshire’s White Mountains to the top of Mount Washington, has been running since 1869. And although today’s coaches are mechanically state-of-the-art, the charming retro atmosphere faithfully replicates what travelers would have experienced back in the mid 19th century. Mount Washington’s the highest peak in the Northeast, so expect views unrivaled any where else in New England during the one-hour layover at its summit. Not only can you see over five states, as well as Canada and the Atlantic Ocean, you also have time to explore the Mount Washington Observatory.
Content by Allison Tibaldi
Looking for more family adventure? Try 10 incredible US beaches to discover with kids. And don’t forget to follow Family Traveller on Instagram and Facebook and share your travel plans – or just say ‘hi’.
Glacier Express Image @glacierexpress