The extraordinary express: scenic train travel around the world
People from all over the globe are more aware than ever of the environmental impact their choices have - from food consumed to vacations planned. Booking.com, the digital travel leader connecting travellers with the widest choice of unique places to stay, a range of must-do travel experiences and seamless transport options, recently revealed that in 2020, almost half (48%)* of global travellers plan to take slower modes of transport to reduce their carbon footprint. This sustainable choice doesn’t have to come at a sacrifice to experiences, as Slo-Mo becomes the new Fo-Mo. Almost six in 10 (59%) UK travellers would prefer to take a longer route to enjoy more of the journey itself, a decision that’s as beneficial for their travel itinerary as it is for the planet!
With a mission to make it easier for everyone to experience the world, Booking.com has tapped into data and endorsements across its 155,000 destinations in 227 countries and territories across the globe to identify some of the most epic train travel options for those ready to take the slow track.
Ella to Kandy, Sri Lanka
Originally built to transport tea and coffee, this seven-hour train route through the rolling tea plantations of Sri Lanka has become a key transport link for locals. For travellers though, this scenic route offers not only an incredibly scenic adventure, but also connects a number of the best sights and destinations many plan to visit. Throughout the journey the lush green fields are interspersed with the splash of colour from a sari as locals nearby harvest the tea leaves. On board, locals travel through the cabins selling delicious snacks to sample such as wade – fried dahl balls or a sweet milk tea; although with seven hours to pass its best to stock up on water and a picnic before you depart too.
Where to stay:
Before setting off, travellers should enjoy a stay in Ella, a small town in the Badulla District. For accommodation the clue is in the name, Ella 100 View Cottage’s view over the impressive scenery really won’t leave guests disappointed. The property boasts a garden and a terrace as well as comfortable furnishings – the perfect destination to relax and unwind after a busy day hiking and exploring around the local area. Within walking distance of the property is the Demodara Nine Arch Bridge and Ella Spice Garden – a must-see for any aspiring cooks.
On arriving in Kandy, travellers can find another unmissable accommodation that boasts breath-taking views is 390 Villa Vista. Offering modern rooms, a restaurant and swimming pool, so visitors can unwind after the train journey. The B&B is also one of Booking.com’s top picks in Kandy due to its exceptional 9.6 rating for having amazing views, friendly staff and fantastic location.
Zermatt to St Moritz, Switzerland
This 8-hour train journey is commonly referred to as the ‘slowest express train in the world’ – ideal for those ready to embrace the journey itself. Also known by its actual name, the Glacier Express, this route winds its way through tight valleys of the Alps, through 91 tunnels and across 291 bridges. Along the way travellers can enjoy the view of impressive mountains, fierce streams, impressive rock formations and, for those travelling in Spring or Winter, lots of snow. Onboard, passengers can indulge in a three-course menu while listening to information about the passing landscape on headphones provided.
Where to stay:
Ahead of the journey in Zermatt, travellers can immerse themselves in the stunning Alp scenery with a luxurious stay at CERVO Mountain Boutique Resort. Travellers can reach the property via the Zermatt Sunnegga cable car when staying at one of the seven chalets with spacious rooms and suites. The onsite restaurant boasts delicious lunch and dinner options as well as a range of regional specialties and fine wines.
On arriving at St Moritz, travellers can indulge in further luxury the Swiss have mastered with the premium experience available at Badrutt’s Palace Hotel. Dating from 1896, this regal 5-star hotel in the center of St. Moritz offers panoramic views over the Engadine Alps and Lake St. Moritz. At the hotel guests have six restaurants to choose from, an indoor pool and spa and fitness facilities to make use of.
Salta, Argentina to La Polvorilla, Argentina
Tren a las Nubes or Train to the clouds is the fifth highest railway in the world, making its way through the Andes mountains. The journey, a combination of bus and train, begins snaking from Salta down the Lerma Valley before ascending to Quebrada del Toro. It then continues past San Antonio doe los Cobres and reaches the breath-taking viaduct across the desert canyon of La Polvorilla. The tren a las nubes is a roundtrip journey, returning to the city of Salta as part of the epic journey. The train is well-equipped for the journey with a food cart and a medical cart for anyone affected by altitude sickness from the dizzying heights.
Where to stay:
Ahead of departure and on return, travellers can explore Salta, one of South America’s hidden gems which Booking.com recently identified as one of the top emerging travel destinations for 2020**. Apartamento Reyes Catolicos is highly rated by guests on Booking.com for its location as many of Salta’s attractions are just a short walking distance from the apartment. Not only is it close to the centre but it is also easy to get to the mountains – making it the perfect base for hikers. The property is well equipped with a kitchen for those looking to prepare a snack to take hiking.
Darwin to Adelaide, Australia
The train, known as the Ghan, travelling through the Australian outback takes about 54 hours and is the world's longest north-south train journey. Travellers can break the trip up by stopping at Alice Springs along the way. Once on-board, the train boasts bed and board. From the train windows, passengers can enjoy and daydream while the unique Australian landscape passes them by. The train takes its name from the cameleers who were nicknamed “Ghans” by locals, that came to explore the country with their camels to carry goods for explorers.
Where to stay:
Starting in Darwin, travellers searching for luxury while on their scenic adventure, then Darwin Waterfront Luxury Suites offers elegant and comfortable accommodation. Located on Darwin’s beachfront, visitors will also enjoy being able to sit on their private balcony taking in the gorgeous scenery.
Once in Adelaide, guests will find the Adina Apartment Hotel boasts a great location on Victoria Square, in the heart of the city occupying the heritage-listed former Treasury Building. The hotel itself features impressive interiors and facilities, including a heated swimming pool for winter months.
Banff to Vancouver, Canada
Connecting two key Canadian destinations, this train route is a popular choice with many global travellers to Western Canada. The Rocky Mountaineer, which takes two days, journeys through looming mountain ranges and past icy lakes. On the first leg, from Banff to Kamloops, travellers will pass Kicking Horse Canyon and climb Rogers Pass. The second leg, from Kamloops to Vancouver passes the rushing waters of Hell’s Gate in the Fraser Canyon. Onboard, passengers can take in the passing scenery from a two-levelled glass coach or while enjoying a delicious meal in the fine dining cart.
Where to stay:
Before setting off, travellers can experience the resort town of Banff. Located just a quick one minute walk from the heart of Banff, the Moose Hotel & Suites offers decadent accommodation with inviting, warm décor. Each room also comes with a patio or balcony so travellers can take in the atmospheric surroundings after a day of exploring.
At the other end of the journey lies Vancouver, a bustling seaport. Built in 1906, the West End Guest House is a historic bed and breakfast, located in the West End of Vancouver, just a short stroll from Vancouver’s downtown. After a busy day sightseeing, guests will be able to enjoy the cozy fireplace in the parlor or a peaceful rest in the stunning gardens of the Guest House.
* Research commissioned by Booking.com and independently conducted among a sample of adults who have taken a trip in the last 12 months/plan to take a trip in the next 12 months. In total 22,000 respondents were polled (including 1,000 each from Australia, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Japan, China, Brazil, India, US, UK, Russia, Indonesia, Colombia and South Korea; and 500 each from New Zealand, Thailand, Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Hong Kong, Croatia, Taiwan, Mexico, Netherlands, Sweden, Singapore and Israel). Respondents completed an online survey between 9th August to 28th August 2019.
** The data analysts at Booking.com selected the top 1,000 booked destinations during the time period August 2018 -June 2019 and ranked them by fastest growing when compared to the window of time of the previous year. Only international and leisure trips were taken into account and the destinations were slightly curated to ensure geographic distribution.