Kids like trains. Think the Little Engine That Could, Thomas the Tank Engine, the cool Hogwart Express from Harry Potter, and the Polar Express. Parents like trains too, because taking a train trip to a vacation destination can be a very relaxing way to travel for everyone. No need to pack movies, video games, or bribes to keep kids in line, the continually changing scenes and landscapes, as well as the speed and lulling motion, keeps everyone entertained. These ten railway journeys from around the world prove that the journey itself can be half the fun.
The California Zephyr
Amtrak’s California Zephyr allows passengers to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the West. The fifty-one-hour journey traverses through the Rocky Mountains to the snow-capped Sierra Nevada as it travels from Chicago to San Francisco. On the way you’ll pass through the 6.2 miles Moffat Tunnel, follow the Truckee River in Tahoe, and get a glimpse of Denver, Salt Lake City, and Sacramento.
Shanghai’s Maglev Train
This futuristic looking Shanghai train was the first commercial high speed maglev (magnetically levitating) line in the world. And the train is fast. The journey from Longyang Road station in Pudong to Pudong International Airport is 30 kilometers, and takes less than eight minutes. The train can reach speeds up to 431 kilometers per hour.
Train to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is an amazing place to visit, but trekking there might be hard for younger children. However, you can take the beautiful train ride from Cusco to Machu Picchu in one day. The ride goes through the sacred valley, the Andean foothills, and along the Urubamba River before its final destination at the Inca ruins. Spend the day cavorting around the ruins before heading back down.
Darjeeling Toy Train
The Indian hill trains, also known as toy trains, connect the scenic Himalayan hill stations to the lower altitudes. The trains are restored steam engines that skirt along narrow tracks as they climb their way up into the mountains. The journey from Siliguri to Darjeeling is 83 kilometers and takes about eight hours.
Harry Potter Train
The Hogwart Express, made famous in the Harry Potter books, actually exists—well, kind of. West Coast Railway in the Scottish Highlands supplied the engine and trains for the film, and much of the route traversed in the movie is the same one the Jacobite Steam Train runs today. It departs from Fort William with round-trip service to Mallaig, passing through wonderful scenery along the way.
The Semmering was the first railway in the world to be built in challenging high mountain areas, where rails were previously thought to be unsuitable. Because of this feat of engineering, it is included on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. The train runs from Vienna to Trieste, Italy, and its journey is still something to marvel at today: extremely tight corners, bridges, tunnels, and stark inclines.
Train to the End of the World
The southernmost train ride in the world is located west of Ushuaia, in Tierra del Fuego. You can take a three-hour loop, starting at the “End of the World” station, and passing through the lowest point on earth. Stop off at the nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park for some hiking and exploring.
The Polar Express
The seventeen-hour trip from Stockholm to Kiruna is a cool (literally) way to travel around the Artic Circle, and will give your kids a chance to be near Santa’s workshop at the North Pole. You can also see the nearby ice hotel, though be sure to pack plenty of warm clothes.
Eastern and Oriental Express
Rather than taking a long bus tour through Asia, where the family is sure to get tired and cranky, the E&O Express provides all the scenery while you get to relax in luxury. The Bangkok to Singapore route will take you past the bridge over River Kwai, into Kuala Lumpur, through the Straits of Johor, and on to Singapore.
The Desert Express in Nambia starts from either Windhoek or Swakopmund, and takes you through savannah, plains, and plenty of opportunities for animal viewing, including a trip to a big game farm to watch lions being fed.