1. Toy Train, Darjeeling
In times gone by, the stifling summer heat of Calcutta would drive the British high into the hills of Darjeeling for their seasonal retreat.
Today, the Toy Train runs from the plains of New Jalpaiguri to the city’s cool, lush heights, offering breathtaking views of the Himalayan peaks and a unique travel experience.
The train rises 2000 metres in little over 80km, passing through forests and towns along the way.
It casually rolls on roads alongside buildings, with the lines so close that they resemble city tramways more than train lines. Shop owners and fruit vendors smile unperturbed as the train trundles past their stalls within touching distance.
To forewarn people of its arrival, the train has an impressively loud horn, designed to eclipse the noises of car horns. That the horn is used virtually non-stop on the journey does little to take away from the enjoyment (honestly). If anything, it enhances the unique feel of this particular route.
As the journey continues past verdant tea plantations, the temperature drops dramatically and the breathtaking brilliance of the route becomes even clearer.
Marvel at some of the world’s most spectacular mountain views and catch a glimpse of the world’s third highest mountain, Kanchenjunga.
The entire Darjeeling Himalayan Railway became a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1999, although this stretch is by far the most breathtaking.
In fact, such is the importance of this train route that the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society was formed to “promote awareness of, interest in and support for” the line.
Many of the stations along the way have been restored as part of this society’s efforts. The quaint little stations give an enjoyably vintage feel to the journey, while the trains themselves are a sight to behold.
At the equivalent of just 50p for a second-class ticket, you won’t find a more spectacular and interesting journey anywhere in the world.
2. Bergen Railway, Norway
Offering entirely different, but equally impressive, experiences in the winter and summer, this high altitude line links Norway’s two main cities, Oslo and Bergen.
The 496km journey will take you past exquisite landscapes, including glorious fjords, glaciers, snow-capped mountains and Norway’s largest national park, Hardangervidda. This is by far one of the most scenic train lines in the world.
3. The Ghan, Australia
Named after the Afghan camel trains that pioneered the routes through Australia’s Outback, the line from Adelaide to Darwin is nearly 2000 miles long.
En route you will get the chance to marvel at the never-ending desert, watch kangaroos grazing in the wild and take a peek at some of the country’s best vineyards. Gorges, mountains and rivers aplenty accompany this wild and varied terrain.
4. Qingzang Railway, China
The section between Qinghai in China and Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, is the highest track in the world.
This railway line is an engineering marvel, with about 550km of the line laid on permafrost.
The Tanggula Mountains are awe-inspiring and crossing the Tibetan Plateau will – quite literally – take your breath away. Emergency oxygen is required for anyone wishing to travel, as the train rises to 5000 metres above sea level.
5. Trans-Siberian, Russia
You didn’t seriously think we’d compile this list without including the world’s longest – and perhaps most famous – railway, did you?
Going a third of the way around the world and spanning seven time zones would be enough of a draw for most travellers, without the impressive Siberian landscape and elegant trains. The cabins are comfortable and the scenery will keep you occupied for hours on end. Seven days on a train has never passed so quickly.