Travel & Leisure

Dream Train Trips

Some trains simply provide a way to get from here to there, but some routes are destinations in themselves—almost railway cruises

By Julie Lavoie

Rocky Mountaineer’s First Passage to the West

If you want to go back in time and better understand Canada’s history, First Passage to the West is for you. Going from Vancouver to Banff, Alta. (or the other way around), this trip follows the trail of the first passengers who rode the rails in Western Canada. There are no sleeping cars on Rocky Mountaineer trains, just comfortable glass-domed coaches that give you a front-row seat for Mother Nature’s display. Guides point out sights that are not to be missed along the way, such as B.C.’s Stoney Creek Bridge and Kinbasket Lake. Although the Rockies are the big stars of the trip, you may also spot animals wandering near the tracks and eagles soaring in the distance. An overnight stay in a Kamloops, B.C., hotel is included in the package.

Duration: Two days on board.
Pluses: You’re guaranteed to see the Rockies in daylight. You can choose to stop at in Alberta at Lake Louise or Banff.
Minuses: The train stops for the night and leaves early in the morning. Transport to and from the hotel is by bus.

Grand Train Tour of Switzerland

Train travel in Switzerland is without a doubt a treat. Several themed tours highlight some of the country’s cultural or gastronomic assets, such as the Chocolate Train, which connects Montreux to the Cailler (Nestlé) factory; the Cheese Train from Montreux-Berner Oberland to Pays d’En haut (the Lake Geneva Region); and the Vineyard Train from Vevey to Chexbres. The Grand Train Tour lets you immerse yourself in the country’s many landscapes by creating your own itinerary—your only decisions are which stopovers to make on this 1,600-kilometre (1,000-mile) loop. The Glacier Express¬ through the Alps provides plenty of shivers that have nothing to do with the temperature: with your head in the clouds at an altitude of over 13,000 feet, you’ll be awestruck as each snowy peak comes into view.

Duration: It all depends on what you’re looking for—and on your budget. The Swiss Travel Pass gives you unlimited travel on the Swiss Travel System’s train, bus, and boat network for three, four, eight, or 15 days.
Plus: The Swiss Travel Pass gives you free access to more than 480 museums and exhibitions.
Minus: Having to choose from among so many options!

Singapore to Bangkok on the Eastern & Oriental Express

Belmond is best known for the legendary Venice Simplon-Orient Express, but the company—bought by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton in 2019—also offers hotels, cruises, safaris, and exceptional train travel in South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. The Eastern & Oriental Express crosses Singapore, Malaysia, and part of Thailand and is the epitome of luxury. The cabins’ old-world charm makes you want to curl up for endless hours as you gaze out the window. Still, you won’t be able to resist the temptation to sip champagne with the other passengers or the lure of the observation car at the rear of the train, where you can feel the wind on your face as you contemplate the horizon. Excursions are available, including a short hike in Malaysia. It’s the trip of a lifetime.

Duration: Different packages are available, including a three-day package (two nights on board). Be sure to take the opportunity to explore Singapore and Thailand at the beginning and end of your trip.
Pluses: The exceptional service, comfortable cabins, and meals worthy of the best restaurants.
Minus: You have to pack stylish clothes.

Chicago to San Francisco on the California Zephyr

This train is a truly unique way to explore the United States, following pioneer trails across the 4,000 kilometres (2,500 miles) between Chicago and San Francisco. The journey takes passengers though seven states: Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California. As you marvel at Colorado’s canyons and parks, the Rockies, and California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, the time flows by gently.

Duration: This non-stop trip takes around 52 hours.
Pluses: Daily departures and a choice of several classes, including economy class, with a single seat.
Minuses: No Wi-Fi and frequent delays.

Crossing Australia on the legendary Ghan

To appreciate the expanse of the country-continent of Australia, The Ghan, which celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2019, is a must. From Darwin on the northern coast to Adelaide on the southern (or the other way around), you’ll discover Australia’s various landscapes both from the train and during daily excursions. The 3,000-kilometre (1,850-mile) route includes cities, deserts, and forests. Observe the rock wallabies during a short hike in Nitmiluk National Park, enjoy a big outdoor “barbie” at Alice Springs Telegraph Station, and visit an underground dugout home in Coober Pedy. We loved the comfortable cabins and the friendliness on board.

Duration: Two to four days on board, with stops.
Pluses: The all-inclusive formula. Once you’re on board, you don’t have to think, except to choose your excursions and meals. The atmosphere is very relaxed.
Minuses: Menu options for vegetarians are limited, and the summer heat can be an ordeal.

If You Go

– Most passengers who set out on long train trips tend to be retired or are celebrating a special occasion. You’ll meet more couples than families as well as solo travellers. Meals in restaurant cars are good opportunities to meet other people.
– All of these trains offer various types of cabins, gourmet meals, and options for passengers with reduced mobility.
– It’s best to plan your trip with a travel agent to be sure you are choosing the package that best suits your needs. In addition to the websites mentioned above, check out and
– Lonely Planet’s Amazing Train Journeys presents 60 train journeys from around the world for inspiration.