The most scenic train rides in the world

By Patricia Doherty
February 11, 2019, 3:03:45 PM EST

Train travel is one of the oldest ways to get around, and the idea of a journey on the rails conjures up the past. Despite those notions, most trains are modern, fast, and efficient ways to get around.

Some of the scenic rides we describe here were created mainly to take passengers through beautiful, perhaps inaccessible locales. Others connect cities and towns, replacing air travel for shorter trips with convenient downtown stations and frequent schedules. On some trains, the beauty of the interior décor rivals that of the passing scenery. Many train stations are destinations in themselves, with art, vintage architecture, gourmet dining, and classic cocktail venues.

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Our ideas include a West Coast Amtrak route with stops at popular tourist towns, a commuter train that happens to pass through some of New York State’s most beautiful areas, and a trip through America’s most popular national park. We suggest a ride through the Scottish Highlands in a magical steam train that appeared in major films, a gourmet dining and wine experience, and adventurous journeys through Mexico, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, and New Zealand.

Each excursion is unique, but all offer the opportunity to sit back, relax, and relish the passing landscape.

1. Pacific Surfliner

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(Photo courtesy of Amtrak)

This Amtrak routehugs the Pacific Coast starting from San Luis Obispo where you can explore the lively college town or venture out to nearby wineries or a historic mission. From there, ride in comfort for 350 miles of ocean views with beaches, rocky coastline, quaint towns, and little between you and the blue Pacific. In San Diego, visit Balboa Parkmuseums or dine in Little Italy or the Gaslamp Quarter. If time allows, take advantage of train stations along the way that are within walking distance of local attractions. In Santa Barbara, head to the nearby beach or Funk Zone, an artsy collection of boutiques, restaurants, and cafes, or sample California wines as you stroll and sip through the Urban Wine Trail. Union Station in Los Angeles is a destination in itself with historic art and décor, or venture out to Downtown L.A. or the Mexican markets on Olvera Street. Dine or enjoy a cocktail at Traxx while you wait to board for your next adventure.

2. Jacobite Steam Train

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(Photo/Getty Images/Alan Copson)

Starting in the Scottish Highlands town of Fort William near Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, this 84-mile round-trip train journey winds through green hills, crystal blue lochs, deep valleys, and quaint villages. A highlight of the trip is the crossing of the 21-arched Glenfinnan Viaduct with its graceful curves and towering columns, overlooking Loch Shiel and the Jacobite monument. Harry Potterfans will recognize this view as well as the steam engine and carriages which became the Hogwarts Express, courtesy of West Coast Railways which operates the Jacobite. The train stops briefly at Glenfinnan Station and then passes the lovely towns of Lochailort, Arisaig, and Morar. At the last stop in Mallaig on Scotland’s west coast, passengers have about an hour and a half to explore before the return trip to Fort William. Some travelers will go on to the Isle of Skye, a ferry ride from Mallaig. The Jacobite Steam Train runs from May to October, with morning and afternoon departures. Advance ticketing is recommended.

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