20 of the World’s Best Rail Holidays for 2019
Rail travel is having a ‘moment’ in 2019 thanks in part to the growing awareness of the environmental impact of flying. However, whilst we welcome all those who are new to the idea of rail holidays, the green movement perhaps focuses too much on what trains don’t do in terms of pollution and not enough on what a great rail journey does offer in terms of scenery, excitement and exploration. With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of twenty rail holidays which will expand your world – without costing the earth!
For further information on the top twenty rail holidays for 2019, call us on 020 3322 7741 to speak to a member of our friendly team, or send us an email and we’ll get right back to you.
SCENIC RAIL JOURNEYS
Glacier and Bernina Expresses
Switzerland is one of the world’s most picturesque locations. Its iconic , snow-capped mountains, flower-filled alpine meadows and distinctive wooden chalets have shaped our collective understanding of what mountain living might look like. Whilst the energetic and the adventurous can explore the beautiful valleys on foot or on skis, two stunning rail lines mean you can enjoy some jaw-dropping views from the comfort of specially designed train carriages. The Glacier Express climbs over 2000 metres, sneaking through dramatic mountain passes until it reaches Switzerland’s oldest city, Chur. The Bernina Express connects Chur with Italy, crossing breathtaking viaducts and delivering you into Tirano in time for lunch.
Norway in a Nutshell
Norway’s fjordland offers sheer cliffs, steep climbs and rough, dramatic seas. It is wild, beautiful country whose natural aesthetic has arguably been enhanced by the architecture of people who respect and admire their surroundings: small wooden buildings, often painted in bright colours, sit snugly in pine forests and on harbour fronts, or cling to cliff edges. Our ‘nutshell’ holiday lets you enjoy all this scenery and more, combining a journey on the Bergen Line – regularly voted one of the world’s most beautiful railways – with a cruise in the fjords and stays in the charming cities of Bergen and Oslo.
Venice via the Brenner Pass
Venice is famous for its relationship with water: the canals, the gondolas and the uneasy truce with the Adriatic Sea. What is perhaps less well appreciated is how close this beautiful city is to the imposing Dolomites. As a result, the train journey to Venice via the Brenner Pass is stunning, with incredible views throughout as the Bavarian plains give way to Alpine peaks and valleys, before you pass through historic Verona and on into Venice. Our suggested itinerary allows you plenty of time to explore the city’s numerous highlights before travelling onto Turin for more architectural and gastronomic indulgence.
Rocky Mountaineer: First Passage to the West
Europe doesn’t have a monopoly on train journeys through incredible scenery. The Rocky Mountaineer travels West from the corn-growing plains of Calgary, through the Rockies and on into one of the world’s most liveable cities, Vancouver. You will travel in specially designed carriages which afford you panoramic views of the dramatic, changing landscape and your trip will include stops at both Banff and Lake Louise where you can further explore the lakes, mountains and wildlife which make the Canadian Rockies such a stunning destination. A third and final stop will be arranged to ensure you get to enjoy the best vistas during daylight hours before you pull into Vancouver, on Canada’s Pacific coast.
EPIC RAIL JOURNEYS
London to Moscow and St Petersburg
Russia’s relationship with Europe has helped define world history for much of the last 300 years and this incredible trip will give you a fresh perspective on both Russia and some of its most important neighbours. Your outward journey will include nights in Berlin and Warsaw, two vibrant, historic cities which have endured tempestuous relationships with Russia, before you arrive in Moscow with plenty of time to explore the Russian capital. The Kremlin and Red Square await, as well as a host of cultural interests such as the world-famous Bolshoi theatre, before you move onto the beautiful city of St Petersburg where you will find ornate palaces, Fabergé eggs and, in the summer, the white nights when the sun never sets.
London to Istanbul
From the continent’s Western edge to its borders with Asia, via Brussels, Munich, Budapest and Bucharest, this wonderful adventure is an opportunity to explore the historic and cultural diversity of Europe before revelling in the aromatic, ear-bending bustle of Istanbul. Whether you are interested in celebrated city-centre parks or award-winning museums, giant gothic parliament buildings or perfectly preserved peasants’ homes, Michelin stars or traditional cuisine, this exploration of some of Europe’s most charismatic cities will leave you delighted and charmed.
Whereas a trip to Istanbul will leave you on the cusp of another continent, this tour of Morocco takes you deep into new cultures and experiences. Taking advantage of Europe’s high-speed train lines, you will cross into Tangier, the gateway to the African continent, in no time at all, and from there you will be able to explore the souks, old towns and mosques of Marrakech, Rabat, and Fez. Travel between Morocco’s main cities is easy and comfortable on the country’s railways, and we are happy to organise additional tours and excursions to the places the trains can’t reach: the incredible Atlas mountains or the beachside town of Essaouira with its world-class surfing.
London to Rome and Athens
The capitals of Italy and Greece have influenced almost every aspect of Western culture, from language to laws, art to athletics, military ideas to mathematical formulas, and much else besides. This holiday allows you to explore all that these great civilizations have left behind in Rome and Athens whilst also seeing the beautiful countryside which shaped and fed these important cities. The Colosseum, the Vatican and the Acropolis are just some of the treasures which await, as well as the beautiful Mediterranean climate and two distinctive but equally delicious cuisines!
LAKES AND COASTAL RESORTS BY RAIL
Lake Como via the Bernina Express
Lake Como in the summer is the essence of Italian style, with beautiful boats transporting beautiful people across beautiful clear blue waters. The area is full of restaurants and bars where you can revel in the sunshine whilst enjoying exquisite food and excellent wine and all of this is prefaced by a journey on one of the world’s most revered railways, a line which carries you over and through a series of Alpine valleys as you travel from Switzerland into Italy.
The French Riviera: Nice and Cannes
If you like your sunshine served with a certain je ne sais quoi, this trip to France’s Mediterranean coast, via the high-speed TGV, will meet your every expectation. Nice and Cannes offer excellent people-watching opportunities as well as great weather, great food and fabulous scenery. Day trips to the principality of Monaco with its casinos and yacht-stuffed harbour are easily organised, or you might choose to head inland, to explore beautiful Provence with its purple lavender fields and aromatic perfumeries.
Lake Bled by Rail
Slovenia is perched on the Eastern edge of the Alps and offers dramatic mountain scenery without the crowds which can sometimes be found at the Western end of the range. Your journey to Lake Bled includes traversing the magnificent Austrian Alps, where snowy peaks and lush valleys will be visible in all directions from your comfortable seat. Lake Bled itself is surrounded by thickly-forested mountains which will form an impressive backdrop to days spent on the water or on the beach in this most picturesque of locations, whilst evenings can be whiled away in one of the many nearby cafés and restaurants.
Amalfi Coast and Sicily
By the time you reach southern Italy, the Mediterranean has turned turquoise, the heat has turned up, and your desire to do anything too strenuous has probably turned off. The Amalfi Coast is dotted with picture perfect fishing villages, many of which now have gorgeous hotels where you can laze by the pool, sipping a cool drink as the sun slides across the horizon. After a few days of relaxation, a combination of train and ferry will transport you to Sicily, where seafood, sunshine and the slopes of Mount Etna await.
LUXURY TRAIN HOLIDAYS
London to Venice on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
Although the route is no longer operated by steam engines, and the service now terminates in Venice, not Istanbul, the principles which underpinned the Orient-Express when it launched in 1883 – of luxury, comfort and class – remain unchanged. Gliding through France and Switzerland before crossing the Alps at the Gotthard Pass and easing into northern Italy, the beautiful views from your private compartment will be accompanied by fine dining, impeccable and, in the evening, a chance to enjoy a cocktail in the bar whilst a baby grand piano plays in the background.
Eastern & Oriental Express: Singapore to Bangkok
This increasingly popular trip takes all that is wonderful about the original Orient-Express and applies it in the beautiful surroundings of SIngapore, Malaysia and Thailand. The air-conditioned carriages have been fitted out to exacting standards, allowing you to relax and enjoy the ever-changing scenery, from tropical jungles to dramatic limestone gorges. Whilst your cabin is very comfortable and luxurious, the train is also equipped with a range of communal carriages, including two dining cars and an open-air observation car, giving you a choice of spaces in which to enjoy this incredible journey.
The Blue Train: Pretoria to Cape Town
If you prefer your heat dry – like a good bottle of South African white wine – then the iconic Blue Train and its stunning journey from the country’s administrative capital to the jaw-dropping natural beauty of Cape Town may be the right luxury train trip for you. Crossing the beautiful savannah, the train’s attentive staff will attend to your every need, with the four-course evening meals a particular highlight. A selection of lounge cars give you a choice of where to enjoy a digestif (and then a nightcap!) before retiring to your luxuriously appointed compartment for a blissful night’s rest.
The Belmond Andean Explorer
Whilst the Andean Explorer might not have the heritage of some of the world’s other luxury train journeys, it is every inch their equal in terms of comfort, vistas and unforgettable experiences. The beautifully decorated carriages reflect the history and culture of the Peruvian landscape through which you pass as you travel from Cusco, the capital of the Inca empire, to the serene Lake Titicaca whilst the dining and cocktail cars reflect local cuisine in the delicious menus. An observation car is available to ensure you don’t miss the best views of the imposing granite mountains whilst in the ‘hummingbird car’, you will even find a spa!
RAIL HOLIDAYS OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
Transylvania to the Black Sea
If it is unexpected, under-explored beauty that you’re after, then this trip from the heart of Transylvania to the beaches of the Black Sea will leave you thrilled. Whether it’s the architecture of Cluj Napoca and Sibiu, with terracotta-tiled roofs and charming Germanic churches, the staggeringly vast salt mines in Turda, or the Transfagarasan Highway which is considered by many to be the best road in the world, there is so much to explore in addition to the fabulous Bran Castle – better known as Dracula’s Castle.
Influenced by Russia to the East and Europe to the West, whilst maintaining its own distinct identity, the Ukraine is an incredibly rewarding holiday destination. The capital, Kiev, offers visitors a captivating mix of traditional, baroque architecture – especially evident in the beautiful orthodox churches and St. Sophia Cathedral – and excellent cultural attractions such as Pinchuk Art Centre. The journey to Odessa, the so-called ‘Pearl of the Black Sea’, takes you through the heart of the Ukraine and after a few days in this vibrant, cosmopolitan city with its wide range of restaurants, it is on to Lviv where Western and Eastern influences again mix, to captivating effect.
Riga to Tampere
The advent of budget air travel has made some Baltic cities popular destinations for weekend breaks, but few visitors explore beyond their immediate surroundings and so miss out on the landscapes, towns and history which make the Baltics so fascinating. In addition to Riga, Tallinn and Helsinki, this magical trip includes time in the medieval university town of Tartu and the city of 200 lakes, Tampere, whilst your train journeys will give you glimpses of the lush woodlands and charming countryside that so many miss.
The Pilgrim Route to Santiago
Explore some of southern Europe’s most beautiful cities and scenery on this trip through France and Spain towards the tomb of St James in Santiago de Compostela. Stop in the wine capital Bordeaux and foodie destination San Sebastian, as well as the medieval city of Burgos and Leon, chock full of incredible architecture and great restaurants. You will arrive in Santiago relaxed, refreshed and ready to explore the UNESCO World Heritage listed old town.