When planning my travels, I always look for available historic or vintage train rides to enhance my travel experience. I love the feeling of travelling back in time and absorbing stunning views along. Here is my selection of seven historic train rides I have taken in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the United States, and Europe for your travel inspiration.
The Kuranda Scenic Railway, Cairns, Australia
One of the most unique rail journeys in Australia takes you from Cairns to Kuranda, the village in the rainforest, with views of the surrounding mountains. Rising from sea level to almost 330 metres (1,083 feet), the journey to Kuranda passes spectacular waterfalls and takes you into the stunning Barron Gorge. Meandering through picturesque scenery, you travel through 15 handmade tunnels and across 37 towering bridges. The journey includes an English commentary and all passengers receive a trip map and a map of Kuranda. Upon reaching the village of Kuranda, many interesting attractions and unique shopping experiences await you.
The length of the trip is 37 kilometres (23 miles). Check up-to-date timetable. I recommend going back by Skyrail Rainforest Cableway to enhance your experience. Travel time: Scenic Railway: up to 1.5 hours, visiting Kuranda Village: 2–3 hours, Skyrail: 1.5 hours.
The TranzAlpine Railway, South Island, New Zealand
The TranzAlpine is one of the world's great train journeys covering 223 kilometres (139 miles) between Christchurch and Greymouth, taking just under 5 hours. You will traverse the majestic Canterbury Plains to the backdrop of the mighty Southern Alps, making it the journey of your lifetime. Along this journey, you will see spectacular views, travel the edges of the ice-fed Waimakariri River, cross the Southern Alps, and see miles of native beech forest. The train slowly ascends through spectacular gorges and river valleys of the Waimakariri River towards the Southern Alps to the alpine village of Arthur's Pass. There is a short break before descending through the Otira Tunnel to the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island and through lush alpine beech rainforests to Greymouth—a great base for visits to popular glaciers at Franz Josef and Fox Glacier.
The train runs once a day between Christchurch, Arthur's Pass, and Greymouth on the South Island's west coast. The journey takes 4.5 hours, so you can make a round trip in a day with an hour long stop in Greymouth. You can also take one way trip by the TranzAlpine and either hop on a connect bus or rent a car to go along the west coast to Franz Josef Glacier.
The Sagano Scenic Railway, Japan
The Sagano Scenic Railway, also known as the Sagano Romantic Train, is a sightseeing train line that runs along the Hozugawa River between Arashiyama and Kameoka in Japan. Its charming, old fashioned trains wind their way through the mountains at a slow pace, taking about 25 minutes to make the seven kilometre (four miles) journey and giving passengers a pleasant view of the scenery as they travel from Arashiyama through the forested ravine and into rural Kameoka. Originally part of the Japan Rail (JR) Sanin Line before it was replaced by a faster, straighter route in 1989, the scenic railway route was preserved and outfitted with nostalgic trains featuring wooden benches. The views along the line change with the seasons, and the train is particularly popular during autumn from mid-November to early December when the leaves along with the ravine change colour. Each train is made up of four enclosed cars and one fully open car to please photographers.
Sightseeing trains depart from Torokko Saga Station, which lies next to JR Saga-Arashiyama Station (just 15 minutes from Kyoto Station). Torokko Kameoka Station, the terminal station of the sightseeing train, is within a five-minute walk from Umahori Station on the JR Sagano Line, where you can take a train back to Arashiyama or Kyoto. The trains depart every hour from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. They do not operate in winter from the end of December till the end of February. Take your time to have a beer at the railway station before your trip while listening to mechanic piano and watching old steam locomotives.
The Cass Scenic Railroad, West Virginia, the USA
Take a trip back to an era when steam-driven locomotives were an essential part of everyday life. Cass Scenic Railroad State Park is filled with a rich history, unparalleled views, and the sights and sounds of an original timber processing town. The park's 18 kilometres (11 miles) long heritage railroad and authentic company town are some of the state’s most popular tourist attractions. The Cass Scenic Railroad line was built in 1901 to haul timber to the mill in Cass. The locomotives are the same Shay locomotives used in Cass during that time, and in the rainforests of British Columbia for more than a half-century. Many of the passenger cars are old logging flat cars that have been refurbished.
You can choose a steam engine trip from Cass to Whittaker Station or Bald Knob. The round trip to Whittaker Station takes two hours. The popular Mountaintop round trip excursion takes you to Bald Knob. It is approximately 35 kilometres (22 miles) long and takes about 4.5 hours.
The Ffestiniog Railway, Wales, the United Kingdom
Originally built in 1832, to serve the slate industry of Blaenau Ffestiniog, the line used to be operated by gravity. Wagons laden with slate rumbled down the hillside, kept under control by intrepid brakesmen who leaped from wagon to wagon tightening or loosening the brakes while their colleague on the front wagon blew his horn to warn others of its passage. Steam locomotives were introduced in the 1860s and today some of those same little engines haul carriages of holidaymakers through the stunning scenery of the Snowdonia National Park. Practical information
Porthmadog's Harbour Station is considered to be the headquarters of the railway, where most train routes eventually either start or finish. The station itself is located in the most eastern part of the town. You have a few options for getting to Porthmadog by train. Option one is to hop on the Cambrian Line that runs from Shrewsbury. Option two is to take Conwy Valley Line from Llandudno Junction that will bring you to Blaenau Ffestiniog. Finally, you have an option of taking one of the three bus services that will bring you to Porthmadog: Traws Cymru T2, Arriva buses, or Lloyds. Allocate your time to visit Llechwedd Slate Caverns, a former slate mine before coming back to Porthmadog.
The cogwheel train to Jungfraujoch, Switzerland
If you find yourself around Interlaken, why not climb the North Face of the Eiger, traverse the Mönch, and scale the Jungfrau to an altitude of almost 3,500 metres (11,000 feet). By train, of course, on the famous Jungfrau Railway, one of Switzerland's most amazing train rides. Completed in 1912, the Jungfrau Railway is open all year round and takes you to the most spectacular view of the Alps you can get. Much of the Jungfrau Railway itself is in a tunnel inside the mountain, but the views from the top are spectacular.
The Jungfrau Railway operates from 8 a.m. until mid-afternoon every hour, every day, all year round. Start your trip from Interlaken Ost station to Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald via the Bernese Oberland Railway. Change to the Wengernalp Railway and go to Kleine Scheidegg. Then ride the Jungfrau Railway directly from there to Jungfraujoch. Journey time from Interlaken Ost takes 2 hours. A trip on the Jungfrau Railway doesn't come cheap, so it's worth considering a Swiss Half Fare Card. Once you have it, you can buy tickets to Jungfraujoch with a 50% discount at any station or online. Before you go on your trip, make sure to check the weather. You would not want to make an expensive journey to Jungfraujoch only to find it fogged in. Remember to take proper walking shoes or boots; even if it is summertime down there, expect snow on the top. I was visiting in August and was not very well prepared.This looks much more appropriate.
The Balozi Peat Museum Railway, Latvia
Since the town's name Balozi means pigeons in English, the railway was nicknamed the Pigeon Railway. There is a long history of peat extraction around the town. A peat extraction plant was established in 1947, and soon thereafter an extensive narrow gauge railway network was completed to transport peat from fields to the factory. The total length of the railway network, including a branch line from the factory to Balozi Station for transferring peat to broad gauge carriages, was at least 28 kilometres (17 miles). In the last 30 years, the peat factory in Balozi gradually decreased not only the peat production but also the narrow gauge railway network. As a result, only 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles) of the railway tracks remain in place.
Train rides are available in the summertime on the last Saturday of the month. Enhance your experience with hiking in surrounding areas.
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Author: Anita Sane
About the author
Anita is a part-time traveller, passionate photographer and a retired career woman from Latvia, travelling mostly solo for more than 15 years. She is a skilled travel planner who plans and executes her travels by herself. Anita wants to show you how to travel the world and open your mind to new experiences. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Bloglovin.