LONDON, Sept. 23, 2009 -- For so many people, there is something undeniably romantic about the idea of train travel. Of the many great train journeys to be found around the world, we picked 10 of the most scenic and unforgettable; some expensive and luxurious, others historic and rustic. From Siberia to South Africa, Switzerland to Singapore, these are trips that will whisk you back in time, and away through some of the world's most stunning countryside.
1. The Blue Train: South Africa
South Africa's famous Blue Train is just what it sounds like, a beautiful blue train. It bills itself as "a window to the soul of South Africa," and it does give you a literal window onto the ever-changing 1,000 miles of countryside that stretch between the coastal city of Cape Town and the inland capital, Pretoria. A five-star hotel on wheels, the Blue Train is outfitted with elegant bed linen, marble floors and gold fittings in the bathrooms, and cocktails, high tea and fine cigars can all be had on board. Dine on fresh meals prepared by top chefs as the train winds its way through the country's diverse and gorgeous landscapes.
2. The Settle-Carlisle Railway: England
This 72-mile journey takes you through some of England's most scenic countryside, among hills and villages, over arches and through tunnels. From the Yorkshire Dales, with its lush green hills, distinctive limestone cliffs and grazing sheep, through the lakes and streams of Cumbrian Falls and over the impressive 24 arches of the Ribblehead Viaduct, the Settle-Carlisle Railway is equally famous for its scenery, and the Victorian architecture along the route. The journey ends at the city of Carlisle, along the Scottish border. Hop off and explore, or turn around and head back through the countryside. Either way, your eyes will find plenty to feast on.
3.Trans-Siberian Railroad: Russia
The Trans-Siberian Railway is, arguably, the world's most famous train experience. There are three routes to choose from: the Trans-Manchurian or Trans-Mongolian, both of which take you from Moscow to Beijing, or the epic Moscow to Vladivostock, which crosses seven time zones and deposits you on the coast near Russia's border with China and North Korea. The legendary trip covers more than 6,000 miles and takes a full week to complete. Whichever route you choose, you are assured of an unforgettable journey, through soaring mountains and the Siberian tundra, past rivers, lakes, rolling hills, forests and picturesque villages. It is truly the trip of a lifetime.
4. Venice Simplon-Orient-Express: Europe
Earlier this year, Vanity Fair called the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express "the train against which all other luxury trains are measured." A trip on one of these trains is almost as much about the elegant meals, ornate carriages and plush decor as it is about the magnificent scenery speeding by outside. With nine different departures and destinations across Europe, the Orient-Express offers a tantalizing variety of incredible trips from which to choose. There are the comparatively short journeys like London to Paris, or Venice to Rome, and then there are the routes that are destinations in and of themselves, like one that will take you from Paris to Budapest to Bucharest to Istanbul. Swiss Alps? Venetian canals? French countryside? Why not all three?
5. The Rocky Mountaineer: Canada
The journey through the Canadian Rockies is truly one of the most spectacular train trips in the world. Whether you have a week's worth of vacation, or just two days to get away, you can hop on a Rocky Mountaineer train any Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday, and customize your trip from there. Spend your days on the train, gazing out at stunning, jagged, snow-capped mountains, crystal lakes, winding rivers, and miles of pine trees, and your nights in a hotel. You wouldn't want to sleep through any of the scenery.
6. Eastern & Oriental Express: Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand
If you're traveling through Southeast Asia, and have some time (and money) to spare, hop aboard the Eastern & Oriental Express for the 1,200-mile journey from Singapore to Bangkok, Thailand. This train, which boasts luxurious overnight cabins, an observation car, delicious meals prepared by internationally chefs and an elegant bar, whisks you through the lush, tropical countryside of Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand in style. Towering palm trees, impossibly green mountains, rice paddies and glimpses of the ocean stretch in every direction beyond the panoramic windows, and will make you wonder why you ever considered flying over all this beauty.
7. Hejaz Jordan Railway: Syria and Jordan
Construction on what is now known as the Hejaz Jordan Railway began in 1900, with the goal of connecting Damascus, Syria, and the ancient, holy city of Madina in Saudi Arabia, and was completed in 1908. During World War I, Lawrence of Arabia orchestrated many expert attacks on the railway, which he knew to be instrumental in transporting supplies to the Turks. These days, you can still travel part of this historic and famous route, from Damascus to Amman, Jordan. Just show up and buy your ticket on the day you want to travel (the train only runs twice a week) and you'll be off rattling along tracks built by the Ottomans, through dusty red countryside, little towns and under tunnels through towering gray mountains. Bring your camera, some sustenance (the journey takes about 10 to 12 hours, and no food is provided on board), and a sense of adventure. Don't be surprised if the train leaves late or, some days, ends up not running at all.
8. Palace on Wheels: India
Trains are generally the best way to travel through India, but the Palace on Wheels is a class apart. It is what it sounds like, an elegant, enchanting means of travel. Decorated in ornate, colorful regional textiles, inside, the cars look almost like they belong to a different age. The journey, which starts and ends in Delhi, takes you on a loop through the towns, cities and expansive, gorgeous desert of the northern region of Rajasthan. Then, there are the added elements of the trip, which is stretched over eight days, like the elephant welcome in Jaipur, lunch at the Lake Palace in Udaipur, a camel safari, and the requisite tour of the Taj Mahal.
9. Glacier Express: Switzerland
The Glacier Express, which covers 180 miles in 7 ½ hours, is probably both the slowest and the most scenic train ride in Europe, a good combination. This leisurely trip takes you through the magnificent Swiss Alps, across 291 bridges, through 91 tunnels and across the Oberalp Pass, which reaches nearly 7,000 feet. Switzerland's Alpine landscape here is magically untouched, and you will have trouble tearing yourself away from the windows as you wind your way among mountain forests, valleys, wide open meadows and clear streams.
10. Mombasa to Nairobi: Kenya
The Jambo Kenya Deluxe whisks you from the seaside city of Mombasa inland to the capital Nairobi, through Kenya's expansive, beautiful countryside. The overnight train offers a three-course breakfast. Keep your eyes peeled as the train chugs through the country, and you're sure to spot impala, giraffe, ostrich and a variety of other exotic African wildlife meandering through the plains. The train, which used to go daily, now operates just three times a week, and often runs late. But for the flexible and adventurous, this is a great trip.