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10 of the Best Rail Journeys from 50 Years of Train Travel!

Having spent the last 50 years travelling thousands of miles around the world by train, how do you choose your top ten rail journeys?

As part of rail tour operator Ffestiniog Travel's 50th anniversary celebrations, its founder Alan Heywood was invited to do just that. Since leading his very first tour to Switzerland in 1974, Alan has escorted hundreds of rail travellers around the globe – and continues to do so at the age of 83! In 2024 he will once again return to Switzerland and lead tours to Romania, Georgia, Armenia and Slovenia!

With so many rail journeys to choose from, he has managed to select his top 10 personal favourites and briefly explains why:

Bernina Express, Switzerland – a stunning journey that crosses two Alpine passes from Chur in Eastern Switzerland to Tirano, just over the border in Northern Italy. The train climbs to over 7,000ft and has large panoramic windows to deliver amazing views. A return journey takes most of the day with time in Tirano to take lunch – an unforgettable day trip.

Trondheim to Bodø, Norway – This journey passes through superb remote coastal and mountain scenery and crosses the Arctic Circle en route – dramatic landscapes unfold as you travel north.

Darwin to Adelaide, Australia - The wonderful “Ghan” train takes two days to travel from north to south through Australia's 'red centre'. The comfortable sleeping cars, lounge car and good restaurant make it an extra special experience as you travel through the wilderness. Off-train excursions are available in Katherine and Alice Springs making it a great rail tour experience.  

Glasgow to Fort William and Mallaig, Scotland - Shining lochs, Scotland's highest mountains and wonderful coastal scenery. The northern section from Fort William to Mallaig can also be done as a separate excursion by the fabulous “Jacobite” steam train, crossing Harry Potter's famous Glenfinnan Viaduct. Should be on everyone's train travel list!

Cumbres and Toltec Railway, USA - A 64-mile journey by heritage narrow gauge steam train across the Rockies from Chama, New Mexico to Antonito, Colorado. The train climbs to over 10,000ft at the Cumbres Pass Summit, an amazing feat affording fantastic vistas. This was how the West was opened up!    

Vaser Valley Forestry Railway, Romania - A quirky addition to the “Top Ten” because this is the last genuine working forestry railway in Europe. A steam and narrow gauge journey through a remote valley with no road access. This is life as it used to be.

Harz Railway, Germany - A 140km narrow gauge network in the former east which serves both local transport and tourism needs. The lines link picturesque towns with half–timbered buildings through stunning mountain and forest scenery reaching a height of over 3,000ft at the top of the Brocken Mountain. Steam and diesel operated trains available.

Zugspitzbahn, Germany – this rack railway and cable car to the summit of Germany's highest mountain (9,600ft) is a must for any train travel fan. It departs from the attractive Bavarian alpine town of Garmisch Partenkirchen and is a great way to see this beautiful part of Germany.

Tashkent to Samarkand and Bukhara, Uzbekistan. This modern, express rail line provides a great link to some of the most beautiful Central Asian Silk Road cities with their ornate architecture and fascinating history. It is a great way to explore Uzbekistan and experience the country's rich culture.

Glacier Express, Switzerland – This wonderful train journey from St. Moritz and Chur to Brig and Zermatt takes you across the roof of Switzerland in comfort. It travels along the upper reaches of the Rhine and Rhȏne rivers and crosses the Oberalp Pass (over 6,000ft) delivering breathtaking views through panoramic windows.  Experience man-made engineering excellence working in harmony with nature.

Alan adds; “It has been a privilege to explore the world by train over the last 50 years and to share my passion with other travellers. Train travel and rail holidays have grown in popularity exponentially over the years because how else can you see as much of a country at ground level in a relaxed fashion other than by train? Travelling by rail is also rewarded with unforgettable, breathtaking views adding to any holiday experience!”

Ffestiniog Travel can help you experience Alan's favourite rail journeys – either as an independent Tailored Rail holiday or as part of an Escorted Rail Tour.

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Albanian Odyssey – May 2022

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  • UK's first rail tour operator to run an overseas escorted rail holiday in 1974
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