Air travel is about getting from point A to point B as fast as possible. Rail travel, on the other hand, is about so much more, especially in the winter when you can cozy up in a blanket with a hot beverage and take in the snowcapped mountain views everywhere from the Canadian Rockies on VIA Rail’s the Canadian train to the top of the Swiss Alps on the Glacier Express. These are the best train trips you’ll want to take this winter when you’d rather watch the world go by slowly.
Route: St. Moritz to Zermatt, Switzerland
“Express” is a bit of a misnomer here. All in all, the train ride between St. Moritz and Zermatt takes eight hours, but you’ll enjoy taking it slow as you pass through the Rhône Valley, into 91 tunnels, and over the Oberalp Pass and 291 bridges along the way. You can hop aboard the Glacier Express with a Eurail pass or book single tickets anytime throughout the winter, but Planet Rail has a seven-night Luxury Glacier Express trip (from $3,250), which includes overnights at five-star hotels and passage in the Excellence carriages that debuted in March 2019. There you can enjoy a five-course lunch with wine, plus afternoon tea, while you take in the late-winter scenery from the panoramic windows.
Book Now: From $154 one way, raileurope.com
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Amtrak Empire Builder
Route: Chicago to Seattle
As you make your way from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest on the Amtrak Empire Builder, you’ll travel along a portion of the Lewis and Clark Trail. While this train operates year-round, seeing the snowy landscape from North Dakota’s late-19th-century Gassman Coulee Trestle is particularly spectacular. The scenery gets even better as you pass into Montana and by Glacier National Park. You can reserve a one-way coach ticket for the 46-hour trip directly through Amtrak, but for a more comfortable journey you’ll want to book Vacations By Rail’s Snow Train trip (from $1,109), which includes a roomette in a sleeper car, with hotels in Chicago and Seattle at the beginning and end of the journey.
Book Now: From $150 one way, amtrak.com
VIA Rail’s the Canadian
Route: Toronto to Vancouver, Canada
Watch some of the most spectacular winter scenery in the Canadian Rockies from the warmth of a train car as you make your way from Toronto to Vancouver on VIA Rail’s aptly named the Canadian. For the four-night journey, you can book anything from an economy seat to a room in a sleeper car. Or Vacations By Rail’s Canadian Rockies Winter Adventure package (from $3,400) has departures in January and February 2020 for a seven-night trip that includes an overnight on the train between Vancouver and Jasper National Park, plus overnight stays at historic properties, including Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.
Book Now: From $444 one way, viarail.ca
Route: Bergen to Oslo, Norway
The Bergen Railway connects the cities of Oslo and Bergen on a seven-hour train trip through the Norwegian wilderness. While it’s beautiful year-round, the scenery is even more dramatic in winter. You can buy a simple one-way ticket, but you’ll want to book this train ride as part of Fjordtours’ Norway in a Nutshell Winter Tour (from $190), which also includes a short detour on the Flåm Railway and a fjord cruise on the Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord before connecting back to the Bergen Railway in Voss to complete the trip.
Book Now: From $53 one way, vy.no
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Alaska Railroad’s Aurora Winter Train
Route: Anchorage to Fairbanks, Alaska
Traveling the same route as the Denali Star Train does in summer and fall, the Aurora Winter Train runs from now until May 10, 2020, and offers views of Denali and Alaska’s remote backcountry. You can make the 12-hour journey up to Fairbanks on Saturday and return to Anchorage on Sunday for a quick weekend trip, or you can turn it into a five-night trip with Vacations By Rail’s Aurora Viewing at Bettles Lodge package (from $2,157) that also includes a trip up to the town of Bettles, which is one of the best places in Alaska to see the northern lights.
Book Now: From $216 one way, alaskarailroad.com
Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express Winter Wonderland
Route: Moscow to Vladivostok, Russia
For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, travel across the frozen steppes of Russia on the luxury Golden Eagle train on the Trans-Siberian Railway in February 2020. With only one eastbound journey from Moscow and one westbound trip from Vladivostok departing each winter, you’ll travel through eight time zones, covering 6,000 miles on this 15-day trip across the continent. Along the way you’ll eat freshly caught fish from Lake Baikal, explore Yekaterinburg, and take Russian lessons on days the train passes through the most remote parts of Siberia.
Book Now: From $18,195 one way, goldeneagleluxurytrains.com
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Belmond British Pullman
Route: Round trip from London’s Victoria Station
While most of Belmond’s beautifully restored vintage trains (including the famed Venice Simplon-Orient-Express) take the winter off in Europe, you can book a variety of holiday-themed day trips through the countryside on the Belmond British Pullman train from London’s Victoria Station. There are multiple Christmas lunch journeys as well as trips to Canterbury to listen to Christmas carols, and a New Year’s Eve dinner onboard the train.
Book Now: From $524 round trip, belmond.com
Route: Aizuwakamatsu to Uonuma, Japan
Up in the remote mountains of Fukushima Prefecture, the JR East Japan Railway Company’s Tadami Line is particularly spectacular in the snow. Connecting Aizuwakamatsu Station in Aizuwakamatsu to Koide Station in Unonuma, the Tadami Line runs through 37 stations (though a section in the middle is temporarily replaced by bus service due to storm damage) and along the Tadami River. In addition to the scenic train ride, you can also visit hot springs and go skiing or snowboarding. It takes a little bit of work to get to this remote part of Japan, but it can be done all by train. From Tokyo, you can take the Tohoku Shinkansen train to Koriyama Station and then connect to the Aizu-Wakamatsu Station via the JR Ban’etsu West Line. It’s best to purchase a Japan Rail Pass to cover all three trains to get there.
Book Now: From $187 for a five-day pass, eastjapanrail.com
This article originally appeared online in November 2018; it was updated on December 4, 2019, to include current information.
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