Welcome to the fourth edition of my travel clinic, where I share the top tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years to help make my travel life easier. And this edition is all about travelling by train. Rail travel is probably my favourite way to travel, and I’ve already shared some of my budgeting tips and route ideas for seeing Europe by train. So this time I’m going to go a bit further afield, and featuring some of the best rail destinations around the world, whatever your budget.
I’ve Interrailed around Europe, where else can I go?
If you want to do a rail trip, then Europe is the obvious place to start. There are so many possible train routes that you could easily spend years exploring different parts of the continent. But if you fancy a change, there are a few other countries that are easy to get around by train too. Japan has a great rail network, connecting all the major cities with fast, punctual trains (and signage in English). Individual fares can be quite pricey so even if you’re only planning on taking a couple of train journeys it’s worth getting a Japan Rail Pass. They start from £196 for a seven-day pass and you can also get passes for 14 or 21 days.
The opposite end of the spectrum from ultra-organised Japan is India! Indian trains are a must-do; your train probably won’t be on time, but you’re guaranteed to meet people and get an insight into Indian life. The network is huge so you can reach most parts of the country. And tickets are cheap – £7 for Delhi to Agra in a seat, £30 for Delhi to Mumbai in a first-class sleeper – or you can get an IndRail pass covering the whole country. Other places with good rail networks include Thailand, Vietnam, China, Morocco and Canada.
I know about the Trans-Siberian, but what other great long-distance trains are there?
A seven-day journey across Russia from Moscow to Vladivostok, the Trans-Siberian is probably the world’s most famous long-distance train. But it’s not the only epic rail trip out there. There are a few other options if you want to cover some serious mileage by train. Australia has a couple of long-distance routes, but the most famous is the Indian Pacific, running from one side of the continent to another. It takes three days to travel 2700 miles from Sydney to Perth, through the Blue Mountains and Adelaide, across the desolate Nullarbor (aka ‘no-tree’) Plain to gold-mining town Kalgoorlie then on to Perth. Prices start from £1025 for a single or £1150 for a twin cabin with private bathroom, including meals and drinks onboard.
Or there’s The Canadian, which crosses Canada from Toronto to Vancouver over four days. It’s one of the world’s most scenic train journeys, passing through the Rocky Mountains and Jasper National Park. Economy tickets start from £260 in a reclining seat, but you still get a lounge, coffee shop and observation car with a glass roof to make the most of the views. Or if you want to splash out, cabins start from £640. For long-distance on a bit more of a budget, the Reunification Express travels the length of Vietnam, from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. It takes 36 hours to do the trip in one go or you can stop off at places like Hué, Nha Trang and Hoi An. Tickets cost £30 in a seat with air con up to £45 in a soft sleeper.
Can you travel the USA by train?
The USA isn’t the most obvious destination for a rail trip. Cheap flights and even cheaper Greyhound buses across the country mean the Amtrak train services tend to get overlooked. But it is possible to travel the USA by train, and there are some great landscapes along the way. It doesn’t have to be expensive either, you can get from coast to coast in three days from as little as £145 if you book in advance (and don’t mind sleeping in your seat). It’s a completely different prospect to travelling by train in Europe though, where frequent trains connect almost all major cities. The USA’s rail map looks a lot more sparse and there are big patches of the country without any train coverage at all.
There are several long-distance train routes which cross the country, usually double-decker trains running once a day which have a mixture of reclining seats and sleeper cars. One of the most scenic routes from coast to coast is via the Lake Shore Limited from New York to Chicago, then the California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco, passing through the Rockies and Sierra Nevada Mountains. There are also regional trains connecting some major cities, so you can combine a trip to New York with Boston (3 hours) or Washington (3.5 hours). Or there’s the Coast Starlight from LA to Seattle via San Francisco and Portland. If you’re planning on doing a lot of train travel, Amtrak have 15, 30 or 45-day USA railpasses.
The Orient Express is a bit out of my budget, is there a cheaper way to get a taste of luxury on the rails?
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is the ultimate luxury train, carrying passengers in five-star luxury in restored 1920s and 30s carriages. Think cocktails in the piano bar and black-tie dinners before retiring to your Art Deco wood-panelled cabin. But it’ll cost you a tidy £2210 for the 24-hour journey from London to Venice. You can get a taste of Orient-Express luxury for less though with a day trip on its sister train, the British Pullman. There are a range of trips from London, with brunch, dinner and afternoon tea outings as well as murder mystery lunches and day trips to places like Cambridge or Canterbury. Prices range from £225 to £510 per person. Or if you’re outside of London, Orient-Express owners Belmond also run day trips on the similarly luxurious Northern Belle from Birmingham, Liverpool or Manchester (from £195).
Do you have any other rail travel questions or tips and tricks to share? The next travel clinic will be about wine travel, so if you have any questions get in touch.