Commercial air travel is undoubtedly the most convenient and quickest way to get between Point A and Point B. But have you ever wondered, as you gaze out your airplane window to the land below, what it would be like to actually see those mountains and lakes and cities that are passing by beneath you?
If you are ever in the mood for a more immersive trek between your departure and destination, why not try a train journey? In a luxury car, or even economy, it can be a relaxing mode of transportation with just a bit more journey to make, but a lot more to see and enjoy along the way. Below are just a few of these types of trips we have taken, to give you an idea of what you might be allowing to pass you by as you fly over!
North America - Alaska
Anchorage or Fairbanks to Denali National Park
Board the GoldStar in Anchorage, with its domed top and charming blue and yellow façade. On your 8-hour voyage, enjoy your comfortable seat as you gaze out the large picture windows to the beautiful Alaskan landscape as you pass.
After enjoying some delicious snacks and coffee in the dining car, make your way to the highlight of the ride, the dome car and the open-air viewing platform. From these spots, you can see the true Alaskan wilderness you might miss when traveling by bus on paved roads or above in the air. In fact, the GoldStar train is one of the best spots to view Denali (formerly Mount McKinley), the highest Mountain in North America!
New Zealand – North Island
Auckland to Wellington
This train trip touts itself as a “journey through the heart of the North Island” and anyone who has taken the ride will most likely agree with the sentiment. On this journey, passengers travel along coasts, cliffs, mountains, meadows, and past the natural wonder that most imagine when they think of New Zealand’s North Island.
The train offers a dining car with snacks and meals, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and even some activities for children. With an open-air viewing car and large windows along with tables at each set of seats, this journey will be comfortable and will pass quickly for its 12-hour timeframe.
The Northern Explorer route travels between Auckland and Wellington, but there are several stops along the way for you to tailor your itinerary the way you wish. Create a journey all your own with an added stop in Hamilton to explore the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, or a hop off at the National Park stop for a day of exploring the native flora and fauna that New Zealand has to offer!
Europe - United Kingdom
London to Edinburgh
Contributed by Mark Dauner
On my recent train from London to Edinburgh, I overheard a woman say to her friends (in a wonderfully Scottish accent), “You know, you can fly to Edinburgh for less money and in half the time…but why would you?”
I couldn’t agree more. Although not as scenic as the rail journeys that Sara has described in this post, the 4-5 hour journey from London King’s Cross station through the English countryside towards Scotland is very pleasant – with its green fields of grazing cattle and sheep, and small cities and towns with beautiful old buildings and churches.
The UK’s National Rail system is extensive and is served by several different train operators depending on what region of the country you are in. Our trip to Scotland was aboard Virgin Trains. We had a rail pass that allowed us to travel in first class. In the morning this included service with complimentary hot and cold drinks as well as breakfast options such as fruit, muffins and scones. Afternoon and evening service also included sandwiches, hot meals such as chicken curry and a selection of wine, beer and liquor. For travelers in coach, there were similar beverage options for purchase as well as a separate dining car with additional food choices.
About halfway through the journey the train makes a stop at York. Get off here! Don’t worry, there will be another train coming later. Travel and Transport COO Tim Fleming recommended making this stop to me about 10 years ago and I’m so glad that I was finally able to do it. York is a historic, walled city with a rich history dating back to Roman times. Walking through the streets – especially during the holiday season like we did – you might feel like you’ve been transported into a Dickens novel. Be sure and tour York Minster Cathedral, whose history stretches back over 1,500 years.
Next you’ll get back on the train and ride for a couple more hours along a route that will take you through Newcastle-upon-Tyne (yep, the beer is from there), Berwick-upon-Tweed and what I’m told are some very beautiful and scenic cliffs and coastline. We saw none of that because it gets dark at 4:00 p.m. in November. Soon you’ll reach Waverly Station and step into the streets of historic Old Town, Edinburgh. We’ll talk more about that in another post.
Oh yeah. There's another train you can board at King's Cross in London - if you can manage to get through the wall, that is.
There are many wonderful, scenic and even famous rail journeys to explore throughout the world. Have you taken any? What do you recommend?
If you’re looking for ideas on how to incorporate rail into your next vacation, our travel advisors can help. Contact us today!