Tired of the conventional holiday package? Looking for a different experience? Step aboard escorted rail journeys and who knows where your adventure will take you!
If you've never experienced this type of tour before, you should perhaps begin with UK rail journeys so you can get a flavour of what to expect. The greatest of them all has to be travelling aboard the Jacobite Steam Train for an unforgettable journey from Fort William to Mallaig. Fans of the popular film series Harry Potter will particularly enjoy this journey as it takes you over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, the same route that the Hogwarts Express follows.
However, you are not restricted to the UK when contemplating rail tours, rail holidays in Europe are also a popular choice where you can travel upon the infamous Glacier Express, which is renowned for being one of the world's slowest express trains, to the winter wonderland of Switzerland. On the other end of the scale, soak up the sun on escorted rail journeys whilst taking in the sights of many of the most beautiful cities in Spain to the swaying palms of Italy.
For that once in a lifetime adventure, rail tours should tick all the right boxes as you admire the awesome landscape of Canada as you journey aboard the Rocky Mountaineer or soak up the flavours of Morocco via the Marrakech Express. Let the Mont Blanc Express take you to the dizzying heights of Chamonix, regarded by many as the alpine capital of the world, or admire the stunning scenery along the GoldenPass Line. The famous Rauma Railway in Norway is an experience not to be missed as you follow the river, crossing 32 bridges whilst admiring the Verma Waterfall and the architectural masterpiece of Trollveggen.
With so many rail experiences to choose from, the only problem you may face is trying to decide which one to climb aboard first. Whichever rail tour you choose, it's wise to wear comfortable shoes as there could be an element of walking involved between the stations. Also, pack light as you will be responsible for manoeuvring and carrying your own luggage.
Rail tour packages start from £279 per person and tend to include: return travel by Eurostar, interesting itineraries including visits to places of interest, comfortable hotel stays, most meals, a fantastic programme of optional excursions (extra charge) and the services of an experienced tour manager.
With so many wonderful rail tours available, the prospect of choosing which one can appear to be a little daunting so let us inspire you with some of the most famous rail experiences to be found in the UK and across the world:
The Jacobite Express, Scotland:
One of the greatest rail journeys by steam to be found in the UK that covers part of Scotland's stunning West Highland Railway Line. The Jacobite Express operates a daily service starting from Fort William, at the foot of Ben Nevis, at 10.15am arriving in Mallaig, a busy fishing port, at approximately 12.25pm. The return journey leaves Mallaig at 2.10pm arriving back in Fort William at 4pm. Sometimes due to customer demand, a second service will be in operation. Covering 41 miles, your journey will take you through areas of outstanding natural beauty including Loch Eil, the Glenfinnan Viaduct and Arisaig. Fans of the Harry Potter film series particularly enjoy travelling aboard the Jacobite as it follows the same route as the Hogwarts Express. There are toilet facilities on-board as well as a buffet carriage for drinks and snacks.
The Glacier Express, Switzerland:
This is one of the most famous rail journeys in the world travelling from Zermatt to Davos or St Moritz. The journey itself takes approximately 7 hours (crossing 291 bridges and 91 tunnels) which is why the Glacier Express is affectionately known as 'the slowest express train in the world' passing along the World Heritage Site of the Rhaetian Railway through a varied scenery consisting of beautiful peaks and valleys. During high season, hordes of tourists clamber aboard the Glacier Express so to avoid the crowds, travel in the quieter season. You can enjoy lunch at your seat whilst admiring the spectacular alpine scenery of which this route is famed for. This is a daytime only train so there is no accommodation on-board but instead you will enjoy First or Second Class Panorama Cars. Drinks and snacks are available all day and are served at your seat although some trains will have a Bar Car.
Mont Blanc Express, France:
Travelling via the Mont Blanc Express provides an alternative option to exploring the beautiful region of Mont Blanc and the Trient Valley. The trains are comfortable for passengers and tend to depart early in the morning, operating until quite late in the evening. You are likely to board the train at St Gervais/Le Fayet and begin the steep climb into the Chamonix Valley continuing through the Montroc Tunnel to the highest point of the journey at Le Buet in the Vallorcine Valley. Your journey continues through the Trient Valley before embarking on its descent to the Rhȏne Valley and Martigny, Switzerland. Have your camera ready so you do not miss out on the terrific landscape and why not listen to the informative commentary on-board that's available in English, French and German. If you're not travelling on an escorted tour, it would be wise to purchase your tickets from the Ticket Counter and not the Dispensing Machine as it will be so much cheaper. The journey from Martigny to Chamonix will take approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes with a change at Vallorcine. You may wish to visit the Mer de Glace, one of the largest glaciers in France and very popular with tourists, however you will need to board another train that will add a further 30 minutes to your journey but the views are definitely worth it!
Wilhelm Tell Express, Switzerland:
This is where you can possibly get the best of both worlds because the Wilhelm Tell Express is a journey combining both rail and water into one amazing adventure. You will first enjoy a relaxing cruise aboard an historic paddle steamer from Lucerne to Flüelen that will last approximately 3 hours. Once the cruise has finished, you will board a train that will take you to Locarno by following the famous Gotthard Line and this journey will last for approximately 2 hours. Despite being called The Wilhelm Tell Express, this route is anything but fast, instead travelling at a leisurely pace so you can thoroughly enjoy the scenery. The train will take you to an altitude of 1110 metres and your journey will include passing through the Gotthard Tunnel. There are two ways of travelling on the Wilhelm Tell Express, opt for 'Standard' and you will be given a voucher to be used in the ship's restaurant or upgrade to 'Premium' and enjoy a three course meal aboard the ship followed by a welcome drink and travel in 1st class on the train.
The Bernina Express, Switzerland:
This could quite possibly be one of the most spectacular rail journeys across The Alps as both the Albula and Bernina Lines come together to combine the wintry landscapes of the north to the swaying palms of Italy in the south. This is the highest mountain railway in The Alps and a section of the route between Thusis and Tirano has been classed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Your journey begins in Chur, the oldest town in Switzerland, where you will pass through an area interspersed with fairytale castles and the Schinschlucht Gorge. The Solis Viaduct takes you into the stunning Albulatal Valley before crossing the world-famous Landwasser Viaduct. The Bernina Express will take you higher into the Alps where mighty glaciers await as you arrive at Lake Bianco. You then begin a descent of 2,200m to Poschiavo where you'll get to experience the famous Brusio Circular Viaduct so cameras at the ready! The journey overall takes approximately 4 hours and the Bernina Express will take you through 55 tunnels, across 196 bridges and climbs over 7,391 feet. Spectacular views can be enjoyed from the panoramic windows of 1st and 2nd Class coaches. There are comfortable seats, a refreshment trolley and toilets on-board.
The Rocky Mountaineer, Canada:
There is no better way to experience the Canadian Rockies and Whistler than by travelling aboard the Rocky Mountaineer. It is quite simply one of the most unforgettable luxurious rail journeys that you're likely to experience in your lifetime and follows a selection of historic routes across Canada. You should get to see awe-inspiring peaks, crystal-clear lakes, thunderous rivers and maybe even spot wildlife native to Canada as quite a lot of the journey takes place during the day. You will not sleep aboard The Rocky Mountaineer, instead you will stop overnight in Kamloops if travelling the First Passage to the West or Quesnel along the Rainforest to Gold Rush Route. Guests can relax and eat in comfortable spacious seats whilst admiring spectacular scenery.
VIA Rail 'Canadian' Train, Canada:
An awe-inspiring rail journey across Canada from Toronto to Vancouver that operates three times a week during the summer months and twice a week during the winter. On most escorted tour packages you will travel the full length of the Canadian National Railway's mainline and you'll want to be near a window so you can view the ever-changing scenery. If you travel in Economy Class you will have a comfortable seat to sleep on that reclines 40 degrees and has plenty of legroom. You will also have access to the Economy Class Skyline car that has a coffee shop, lounge and Vista Dome. If you would prefer to sleep in a comfortable bed, upgrade to Sleeper Plus Class where you will have your own private 2-berth bedroom or 1-berth roomette in Art Deco rail cars that have been refurbished from the 1950s. There is an Observation Dome where you will be presented with unparalleled views, relax in comfortable lounges or have a bite to eat in the restaurant cars. On most trains, there are activities for children, in addition to complimentary Wi-Fi and an entertainment system where you can watch certain TV shows.
Jacobite Express: Glacier Express: Mont Blanc Express: Wilhelm Express: Bernina Express: Rocky Mountaineer: VIA Rail Canadian Train: