All aboard with Ed Leahy...
Often referred to as the ideal way to travel, it was the railways that first allowed the mass movement of people, making the world a smaller and more accessible place. Air travel has obviously taken over, but for many, the train will always be the ideal method of getting from A to B. A simple spin on the Dublin DART can take you from the beautiful Howth Head along the scenic coast of south Dublin, which is not accessible to cars, while similar stretches of coastal railway lines will take you to some of the most scenic places in Ireland. But if you want to experience some of the world's most renowned rail journeys, here are a few of the best:
The Ghan (Australia)
Travel the length of Australia, from north to south, enjoying a two-night, 3,000-kilometre journey from Darwin in the North Territory to Adelaide in South Australia. Named after the Afghan cameleers who once traversed this route, The Ghan takes you to the inspiring Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge), down to Alice Springs and the Red Centre. Heading south, you will enjoy the majestic Flinders Ranges and the Adelaide Plains to complete your journey from the northern tropics to the vineyards of the south. www.railaustralia.com.au
Orient Express (Europe)
Probably the most famous of all rail holidays, the Orient Express runs from London to many European destinations including Vienna, Budapest, Istanbul and Athens. The five-day luxury London-Venice excursion starts with a night at the Ritz Hotel in London, before setting off on the vintage carriages of the British Pullman and transferring in France to the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Day three offers amazing views of the spectacular Swiss Alps before arriving in Venice to enjoy a three-night stay at the exclusive Hotel Cipriani. www.orient-express.com
Trans-Siberian Railway (Russia)
This journey, which runs from Moscow to the Russian Far East and Sea of Japan, can be a real labour of love for train-travelling enthusiasts. The 9,000-kilometre voyage from the Russian capital to the port city of Vladivostok takes over six days and you will pass the official boundary between Europe and Asia, which is marked by a white obelisk, just before you get to Yekaterinburg. A change and another three days can take you to the North Korean city of Pyongyang. www.trans-siberia.com
The Bullet Train/Shinkansen (Japan)
Spend the morning wandering about the serene gardens and temples of Kyoto, experience a surreal afternoon strolling through the still-recovering atomic-bomb destroyed city of Hiroshima, before enjoying a hectic, fun-filled night in downtown Osaka. Such a day in Japan is very possible thanks to the speed and efficiency of the Bullet Train network, which allows you to explore this interesting and exciting country, without wasting days travelling between destinations. The trains can reach speeds of up to 320km/h and a Japan Rail Pass allows you unlimited travel for a duration of your choice. www.japanrailpass.net
California Zephyr (US)
This epic train trip takes you across several states of the US from Chicago to the city of San Francisco, passing through Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah and Nevada before arriving at the Golden Gate city in California. The journey takes you through the Rocky Mountains, past the snow-capped Sierra Nevadas, through the Moffat Tunnel, Colorado's Gore, Byers and Glenwood Canyons. Other journey highlights include Winter Park, Truckee River, Donner Lake, San Pablo Bay and the Carquinez Strait.
The Rocky Mountaineer (Canada)
Spectacular views are guaranteed on all four routes that take in British Columbia, Lake Louise, Jasper, Calgary, Vancouver and Whistler. This world-renowned, luxurious train travels by daylight through the wild beauty of Canada's majestic Rockies. A new three-day rail route connects Seattle to the Canadian Rockies and the bi-levelled gold leaf coach offers aerial views through the glass-top carriages. Dining is another selling point for these train journeys, with award-winning cuisine to be enjoyed on board. www.rockymountaineer.com
The Royal Scotsman (Scotland)
Journeys on The Royal Scotsman take you through the heart of the Scottish Highlands, boasting amazing vistas of pine-clad mountains reflected in glass-top lochs. The train is reserved for just 36 guests travelling in private cabins, with an open-deck observation carriage behind. The dining experience is to be cherished and the after-dinner tales told by a local clansman add to the traditional Scottish experience. The latest Royal Scotsman experience is a four or five-night tour tailored for golf enthusiasts, visiting renowned championship courses such as the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles Hotel. www.royalscotsman.com
Blue Train (South Africa)
One of the world's most luxurious train journeys, the Blue Train travels 1,600 kilometres from Pretoria to Cape Town in South Africa. Luxury and deluxe suites make the journey a moving five-star experience, while the dining cars offer a gastronomic feast throughout. The more scenic Garden Route takes you from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. I was disappointed to find out that Robbie Robertson's Somewhere down the Crazy River had nothing to do with the South African experience despite telling us to "Catch the Blue Train, to places never been before." www.bluetrain.co.za
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