The most magnificent rail journeys you can do in a day

Advice

We do love a good train journey here at Telegraph Travel. And some of the finest can be done in a day. Here are 15 of the most magnificent, from a scenic railway in Scotland to the Canal Line in Panama.

1. Scotland

The most scenic railway in Britain, known in Scottish Gaelic as the “Iron Road to the Isles”, is a kaleidoscope of mountains, moors, lochs and seascapes in a 165-mile (266km) odyssey through the west Highlands from Glasgow to the fishing port of Mallaig. Look out for Ben Nevis towering over Fort William, the UK’s highest station at Corrour, and scenes from Harry Potter films. There’s a bonus at the end – it links with ferries over the sea to Skye. 

Singles £35.90; returns from £59.50 (buytickets.scotrail.co.uk). 

2. Little Yellow Train, France

Le Petit Train Jaune runs daily on a narrow gauge electric line that climbs for almost 40 miles (64km) through the eastern Pyrenees from the medieval fortified town of Villefranche-de-Conflent to the Spanish border, via the highest station in France at 5,226ft. With vintage open and closed carriages it is like a toy train tootling through tumultuous scenery of ravines, deep forests and meadows ablaze with wild flowers.

Singles from Villefranche to the ski station of Font Romeu €13 (£11.70; about-france.com/tourism/yellow-train-pyrenees).

3. Lake Brienz, Switzerland

Standing on the open veranda of a vintage coach listening to the sound of a 1913-built steam locomotive will become another way to enjoy the picturesque line between Interlaken and Meiringen this year. It runs beside the waters of Lake Brienz and there is the chance to travel one way by a paddle-steamer dating back to 1914. Adding to the historical concentration is the steam-worked rack railway from Brienz which climbs the greatest vertical distance of any of Switzerland’s railways, up the Rothorn.

The optical illusion that is Lake Brienz

The optical illusion that is Lake Brienz

Credit:
istock

Moriarty Express (0041 79 724 0535; swiss-railway-services.ch) runs on selected dates April-October; from £24 one way. 

4. Kuranda scenic railway, Australia

It may only span some 23 miles, but the Kuranda Scenic Railway, which links Cairns, Queensland’s gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, and Kuranda, “the village in the rainforest”, certainly lives up to its name. The journey takes about two hours, and the line rises dramatically from sea level to nearly 1,100ft, snaking its way through the Barron Gorge National Park, and offering spectacular views back towards Cairns and the Coral Sea.

One-way from AUS$50 (£28): ksr.com.au.

5. Canal Line, Panama

Everyone knows you can cross an isthmus on the water, whether as part of a cruise or on one of the locally bookable full and partial transits. But how about going overland by means of the characterful retro-style Panama Canal Railway? Railway, note – not railroad. As many a proud Panamanian will tell you: “This ain’t America, señor.” It was built in 1851-55 for gold-seekers who were bound for California. 

One-way tickets from Colón to Corozal cost $25 (£20); panarail.com.

6. Hello Kitty Train, Japan 

This train mixes two of Japan’s deeply -rooted passions – high-speed bullet trains and Hello Kitty. The train whizzes between Osaka and Fukuoka in southern Japan’s Kyushu prefecture. The first carriage of the train – whose exterior is festooned in pink ribbon motifs – is a temple to all things Hello Kitty, with a space decorated with the famous cat and her friends, merchandise and a photo booth for taking the ultimate Hello Kitty selfie.

Use JR Rail Passes to travel: (jr-hellokittyshinkansen.jp/en/). 

7. Buenos Aires–Tigre, Argentina

Once the largest network in Latin America, the Argentine railways are much shrunken and shoddily maintained. The best-kept, most reliable suburban line runs from the handsome Retiro Mitre terminal in Buenos Aires – designed by British architects Eustace L Conder, Roger Conder and Sydney G Follett and engineer Reginald Reynolds, and recently given a thorough polish and clean-up – to Tigre, a town and river delta that has long been the weekend breakaway for tired city folk. The train departs/returns every 11–12 minutes from dawn until 9.30/10pm. 

One-way tickets: AR$26.50 (55p).  

8. The Bridge, Copenhagen–Malmo

The dramatic 16-km-long bridge connecting Copenhagen to Malmo has made it possible to include visits to both cities in the course of a weekend break and to enjoy a taste of the quite different cultures of the Danes and the Swedes. Services are frequent and there are good views of the Oresund Strait. For lovers of the Scandi noir crime series The Bridge, however, the compelling reason for making this journey is that, this is The Bridge.

One-way fares cost from 110 SEK (£10). 

9. Churnet Valley, Britain

The North Staffordshire Railway was laid during the 1840s to shuttle passengers around the Potteries. The line was so pretty that train tourism swiftly followed (the Churnet Valley was nicknamed “Staffordshire’s little Switzerland”) until Dr Richard Beeching wielded the axe in the Sixties. Thankfully 10 miles (16km) of tracks have been preserved between the Peak District and Alton Towers by volunteers of the Churnet Valley Railway. Nostalgic steam and diesel services also allow passengers to partake in driving courses, steam stoking and footplate rides through bucolic countryside.

Palau, Sardinia

Palau, Sardinia

Credit:
istock

Churnet Valley Railway (01538 750755; churnetvalleyrailway.co.uk) offers year-round rides. Adult tickets from £17; children £11.   

10. Trenino Verde, Sardinia

D H Lawrence loved Sardinia’s 400km rural rail network: “we take the slow train, no matter where it goes.” Now the four railway tracks offer the most idyllic – and sometimes only – passage through Sardinia’s rugged interior using Fifties railway stock. Some locations are so rural that drivers often disembark to shoo geese and sheep off the time-worn track. Sadly steam engines are disused (they kept setting fire to local terrain) but the prettiest coastal lines (to Bosa and Palau) call at secret beaches and vineyards. 

From £3 per hour ride; for more details, see Trenino Verde (treninoverde.com). 

11. Bohinj railway, Slovenia

The three-hour journey from Jesenice to Nova Gorica winds through the Julian Alps, burrowing through 36 tunnels and crossing the world’s longest stone arch railway bridge over the Isonzo Gorge. A steam locomotive pulls historic passenger carriages with staff in the uniforms of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which built the railway between 1900 and 1906. 

Tickets from £40 with ABC tourism (00 386 59 070 512; abc-tourism.si)

12. Coastal Pacific, New Zealand

The 2016 earthquake at Kaikoura on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island severed the railway between Christchurch and the ferry terminal at Picton, but it has just reopened. The journey – in panoramic carriages with a buffet car – is full of variety, taking passengers through thick forest, past densely stocked sheep farms and an extraordinary pink lagoon of salt production, but it is the long stretches beside the Pacific Ocean that are the highlight of the 6¼ hours.

Staggering scenery on the approach to Christchurch

Staggering scenery on the approach to Christchurch

Credit:
istock

From £86, Rail New Zealand (0800 014 8106; railnewzealand.com).

13. Devil’s Nose, Ecuador

Quito is at 9,350ft above sea-level. Ecuador’s second city, Guayaquil, is on the Pacific coast. Trains operate along the entire line (including the posh four-day Tren Crucero service), but a high point – and a popular day trip – is the 7.5-mile (12km) zigzagging section known as the Devil’s Nose for the mountain on which it was built in the 1900s. Connecting Alausi and Sibambe, it drops, or climbs, 1,640ft in around 45 minutes.

Tren Ecuador operates two trips a day, Tues-Sun, for US$33 (£26) return, including lunch or dinner (trenecuador.com/en/day-trips/the-devils-nose). 

14. Dresden–Prague

A lovely journey south of the “Florence of the Elbe” which incorporates breathtaking views of the craggy mountains of the area known as the Sächsische Schweiz (Swiss Saxony) and a lovely stretch along the river near the border at Bad Schandau. Sit back and relax in the restaurant car with a glass of Czech beer. 

The route is operated by Deutsche Bahn (bahn.co.uk) and Czech Railways (cd.cz/en/). The journey takes just over two hours and single fares cost from about €15. 

15. Glacier Express, Switzerland

Europe’s most popular tourist train is adding an “Excellence Class” of carriage from March 2. One Glacier Express a day in each direction between St Moritz and Zermatt will include the new coach for just 20 people. In addition to enjoying the scenery through the panoramic windows, passengers will have a five-course lunch of regional and seasonal dishes, including wine and an aperitif and canapés during the afternoon. 

First-class one-way fare from £215 (Swiss Pass and Half-fare card can be used); then there is the  Excellence Class supplement of £331: Glacier Express (020 7420 4934; switzerlandtravelcentre.co.uk).

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