10 Scenic Train Rides to Take this Winter
Though winter might not seem like the most obvious time to take a scenic train ride, there are plenty of routes around the world that prove otherwise. From daytrips through the Swiss Alps or the mountains of North Carolina to weeklong luxury excursions through the Canadian Rockies, there’s something for everyone.
1. Glacier Express, Switzerland
The Glacier Express made its first run from Zermatt and St. Moritz in 1930 when the Visp-Brig line opened. Though the train has gone through numerous changes over the years, today it still offers prime opportunities to experience the Swiss Alps in all their glory. Travelers can enjoy views of the Solis and Landwasser viaducts as well as spiral tunnels, the Rhine Gorge and the Oberalp Pass, all from the comfort of the train. The journey takes roughly eight hours.
Pro Tip: The Glacier Express offers panoramic railcars, so don't forget your camera.
2. The Flam Railway, Norway
This 12-mile train ride runs from Myrdal high mountain station on the Bergen Line down to Flam Station, located in Norway’s innermost Aurlandsfjord. The winding journey gives way to scenes of deep gorges, waterfalls, snow-covered mountain peaks and pristine views of the Flam Valley. The ride takes between one and two hours and departs four times during the winter season.
Pro Tip: Take in Instagram-worthy scenes of Naeroyfjord with a cruise. The ferry terminal is located steps away from the train station in Flam.
3. West Highland Line, Scotland
The West Highland Line offers journeys from Glasgow to Fort William (the gateway to the U.K.’s highest peak, Ben Nevis) and Glasgow to Mallaig. The line, however, is perhaps best known for its appearance in the Harry Potter films as the Hogwarts Express. Erskine Bridge and Dumbarton Castle are visible from the train, while travelers can also catch a glimpse of the Arrochar Alps.
Pro Tip: Travelers can book an overnight sleeper train on the West Highland Line from Glasgow to London (Euston Station). This train departs once a day (excluding Saturday nights).
4. Semmering Railway
Take in the winter views of Western Austria on the Semmering Railway, the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage-listed railway. The journey runs between Gloggnitz and Semmering, crosses over 16 viaducts and passes through 15 tunnels. A number of services and facilities are available on board the train including children’s entertainment, showers and snack trolleys. Facilities, however, do differ per train route, so it’s best to check what’s available before boarding. Eurail Passes are valid on the Semmering Railway.
Pro Tip: Ski lovers who are planning on making this a longer experience will want to hit the slopes in Semmering, which is known for its ski scene.
5. Rocky Mountaineer, Canada
Whether you’ve got two days or two weeks, the Rocky Mountaineer provides itineraries for just about every time frame. The routes make stops in British Columbia and Alberta, though some start in Seattle, Washington. The Journey through the Clouds route, for example, takes travelers from Vancouver, B.C., up through Jasper, Alberta, and onward to Calgary for the longer excursions. Travelers on this route will take in spectacular views of the 300-foot Pyramid Falls, Mount Robson (in the Canadian Rockies) and Hell’s Gate, a narrow 108-foot-wide gorge.
Pro Tip: Want more than just a train journey? Take advantage of the longer rail packages that include cruises.
6. Aurora Winter Train, Alaska
The Aurora Winter Train takes travelers from Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage, to Fairbanks. This 12-hour journey is part of the Alaska Railroad and makes stops at Wasilla and Talkeetna, and at Healy and Nenana as needed. Journeys depart on Saturdays, with a return trip on Sunday -- though during December, February and March, visitors have the option of a midweek departure.
Pro Tip: Travelers can add on the Iditarod Race & Fur Rondy Tour, which runs from Feb. 28 to March 3.
7. Bernina Express, Switzerland
Linking Northern and Southern Europe, the Bernina Express runs from Chur/St. Moritz, Switzerland, through to Tirano, Italy. The journey snakes through Alpine scenery, running through 55 tunnels and over 196 bridges and climbing to 7,391 feet, where travelers will find Ospizio Bernina (Rhaetian Railway station). Stops include Poschiavo and Le Prese, and travelers can enjoy views through the train’s panoramic windows. The journey takes roughly four hours in total.
Pro Tip: Those with time to spare should book a seat on the Bernina Express bus, which takes travelers from Tirano to Lugano, and vice versa.
8. GoldenPass, Switzerland
Running from the small Swiss city of Lucerne to the resort town of Montreux, situated on Lake Geneva, the GoldenPass is an ideal way to experience the photo-worthy landscape of Switzerland. The journey takes roughly five hours, departs daily and travels through three regions. Stops include Interlaken, Zweisimmen and Gstaad. The GoldenPass’ panoramic cars provide travelers a firsthand view of the Brunig Pass, high-alpine mountains, vineyards and lakes.
Pro Tip: For an even better view, consider purchasing one of the VIP seats at the very front of the train.
9. Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
An ideal excursion for the whole family, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers train journeys on the seasonal Polar Express. This 1.25-hour, roundtrip train experience departs from Bryson City depot in North Carolina. The train travels through snowy terrain and eventually ends at the North Pole. As the train makes its way to its destination, travelers can enjoy hot cocoa and a treat, while listening to “The Polar Express” story. At the North Pole, Santa boards the train and personally greets every child with a gift before the train makes its journey home.
Pro Tip: The Polar Express runs through Dec. 31.
10. Ethan Allen Express
Ideal for year-round travel, the Ethan Allen Express offers daily service between New York City and Rutland, Vermont, via Albany. Escape the stress of city life and head to Vermont, via the Hudson River Valley, for a weekend of skiing and a much-needed dose of nature. The 5.5-hour ride departs daily and is pet friendly.
Pro Tip: Grab a seat on the Thruway bus connection and hit the slopes in Okemo.
Ashley Bess is an editor turned freelancer writer who describers herself as short, opinionated, recently repatriated, lover of gin and travel and with a head full of useless song lyrics and movie quotes.