1. The Rocky Mountaineer:
The Mountaineer made its first run in 1990 and has since grown into the world’s largest privately owned luxury tourist train company. If you shell out for the “GoldLeaf Service” you get cooked-to-order breakfast and lunch in the dining car as well as unlimited cocktails and snacks. That’s just icing on top of the fact that you will see some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, as the Mountaineer carves paths along icy rivers and stone cliffs in the Canadian Rockies. This is alpine rail exploration at its most majestic. 7 days, 6 nights, from $3,059.
2. The Glacier Express:
This is likely one of the best ways you will spend seven hours in your entire life. You’ll travel through snow-capped gorges, lush valleys, 91 tunnels, and across 291 bridges. The stunning rail line was opened in 1920 so the world’s wealthy could explore the Swiss Alps in style, and in 1930 it made its first full trip between St. Moritz and Zermatt. To honor the 75th anniversary of the Express in 2005, panorama coaches were added to both first and second class. So take a ride of the “world’s slowest fast train” and you’ll be “traditionally trendy, just as one is used to!” Day trip, from $320.
3. Hiram Bingham Orient Express:
If you’ve been putting off that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Machu Picchu, consider this your motivation to finally check it off the bucket list. The Hiram Bingham is one of the most renowned luxury rail experiences in the world—hence the travel rate of more than $100 per hour—because not only are you in a swanky vintage train, you’re climbing the Inca Trail. The 1920’s Pullman-style train is named for the explorer who rediscovered the Incan Citadel in 1911, and it is built to pamper its 84 passengers. There are two dining cars, an observation/bar car and a kitchen car, which provides brunch service on the way to Machu Picchu and a four-course dinner on the return trip. One day, $795
4. The Royal Scotsman:
Grab your waistcoats and sporting jackets. This handsome coach is here to ferry you in a most dignified manner through some of the UK’s most beautiful landscapes, with more “pine-clad mountains reflected in mirror-still lochs” than you’ve ever seen before. You and just 35 other passengers will be treated to “world-class cuisine, rich with Scottish specialties” and views of the super-majestic Highlands. There will also be castles on castles on castles to visit and complementary golf in the nation where the sport was born. Why not pretend to be a member of the aristocracy for a few days? $7,113.60, 5 days, 4 nights.
5. Talyllyn Railway:
The Talyllyn lands on the list for being the most adorable train trip we could find. The little steam-operated, narrow gauge railway was originally built in 1865 to haul slate from the Bryn Eglwys quarries near Abergynolwyn. The slate runs shut down in 1946 after an accident, and the line, which had fallen into disrepair, would have been absorbed by the woods if not for a generous group of enthusiasts who formed the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society. At just 7 miles long, this is a trip for the whole family, because how cute does this sound: “The TR is still very much the railway it always was, a rural byway where the pace of life is gentle, the average speed of the train is still less than nine miles per hour, and passengers can have an unhurried journey along the beautiful and unspoilt Fathew Valley.” Get a hop on, hop off ticket and go do some exploring in Wales. Half-day, from $24.
6. Tsar’s Gold Train Trans-Siberian Railway:
You could sightsee 5,600 miles of Asia on one of the blue collar cars traversing the Trans-Siberian Railway, or you could spend the extra dough to ride the Tsar’s Gold Train. The Trans-Siberian Travel Company will take you to Beijing’s Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Gobi Desert, Siberia’s Lake Baikal, and into Mongolian nomad settlements. You’ll also visit two kremlins, including the one in Moscow and the one you probably haven’t heard of. If you’re worried about making it out of Russia alive, the private train promises to show you this great swath of Asia in the “safest, most comfortable and fascinating manner.” Just like the tsars would do it! 15 days, from $760 (one way)
7. Rovos Rail:
Over 15 days, ride through South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Tanzania. Visit historic villages, the Selous Game Reserve, the diamond town of Kimberley, Victoria Falls, the Great Rift Valley, and much, much more. The Society of International Railway Travelers says, “Celebrated not only for its fabulous equipment, the train is rightfully proud of its stellar dining and on-board service.” There is definitely some weirdness about fetishizing the grand old colonial times in Africa, but if you can afford the trip and promise not to romanticize the years when Europeans traveled to Africa and subjugated local populations, then it will provide a singular experience. Oh, and leave your ripped jeans at home, because, “Evening attire is more formal—for the gentlemen a jacket and tie is a minimum requirement while for ladies we suggest cocktail/evening dresses or suits.” 15 days, from $4,500 (one way).