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Our top five train journeys span three continents and every imaginable terrain.

If your overriding thought of rail travel is British Rail sandwiches, broken ticket barriers, men in anoraks or the commuter crush at Waterloo, cast it to one side. They have about as much in common with these rail adventures as Thomas the Tank Engine does with a bullet train. 

In the 19th century, the arrival of the railways revolutionised travel, especially for the masses. New lines opened up the unvisited wildernesses of Canada, Russia and sub Saharan Africa, making them accessible for the very first time, and with relatively little effort you could hop on board in Lon-don and (barring a change or three) end up on the Sea of Japan. Rail travel was – and frequently still is – cheap and it brings you up closer and personal not only with the environment you’re passing through, but also local people. 

Our top five train journeys span three continents and every imaginable terrain. Whether you want to travel with live chickens and migrant traders from Almaty to Urumqi, or prefer to relax in the decadent surroundings of of a royal train, there’s something for every budget and taste. 


Trans-Siberian Winter Wonderland
There’s so much more to Siberia than Gulag Archipelago, and though it might seem counter-intuitive, the best time to ride all 5,772 miles of the world’s longest railway from Moscow to Vladivostok is in the depths of winter. The amply heated Golden Eagle whisks passengers across seven time zones in luxury, stopping at the Lake Baikal Ice Festival for dog sledding, a hovercraft ride and, of course, a lot of ice-cold vodka.

Cape to Cairo 
Cecil Rhodes envisaged a single railway line stretching the length of East Africa. Regional instability and the break-up of empires prevented the realisation of this dream, but there’s a good network of local passenger trains across the continent, with the exception of South Sudan and Sudan. Although not for the faint-hearted, train travel’s an extraordinary way to explore the heart of Africa and to appreciate its epic landscapes and wildlife. 

Silk Road
The overland trading routes of antiquity, ridden by Marco Polo and Genghis Khan, were usurped almost overnight with the arrival of the railways. However, the steppes and mountains of central Asia and western China remain, majestic in their size and variety, and you’ll never forget your first sight of Bukhara, Samarkand or the Taklamakan Desert. You can ride on scheduled passenger services from Moscow to Beijing via Astana or Tashkent.; 

Palace on Wheels
The 14 cars of the Palace on Wheels are each named after one of India’s princely states, and are decorated with an appropriate level of regal splendour, including antique furnishings and original artworks. The train completes a circuit of Rajasthan, visiting the Pink City of Jaipur, the Blue City of Jodhpur, and the desert fortress at Jaisalmer, and returns to Delhi via Udaipur (made famous in Octopussy) and the Taj Mahal.

Jewels of Persia
The latest epic addition to this list is the Jewels of Persia, a luxury train between Budapest and Tehran which launched in late 2014. Over the course of two weeks the train crosses five countries, sails across Lake Van on a train ferry, and arrives triumphant in the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is the only European train allowed into the country, and itinerary highlights include Isfahan, Shiraz, and the great Achaemenid ruins of Persepolis.
Departs September 4, October 6 and November 16



Top five train journeys
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