Take in the best of spring this year with a trip on a Japanese bullet train or a vintage railcar in England.
The cherry blossoms may already be blooming in Tokyo and Washington, D.C., but it’s not too late to book a last-minute trip to experience the best of spring scenery somewhere else in the world. And what better way to enjoy it than from a window seat of a train? This spring, you can see the tulip fields at their peak in late April on a Dutch electric train or journey to the Grand Canyon on a vintage steam locomotive before the summer crowds (and temperatures) arrive. Here are six of our favorite scenic train rides that are at their best in the spring.
The Tokaido Shinkansen Line
Route: Tokyo to Kyoto, Japan
If you’re traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto on the Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train, be sure to pay attention as you pass through Shizuoka Prefecture. When you’re heading south, you’ll see Mount Fuji on the right side of the train and a pink sea of shibazakura, or moss phlox, blossoming to the left. If you’d rather enjoy the flowers at a slower pace, the annual Fuji Shibazakura Festival takes place this year from April 13 to May 26, with peak bloom typically falling in the first few weeks of May.
Book Now: ¥29,110 (US$261) for a seven-day pass, jrailpass.com
Route: Interlaken, Grindelwald, or Wengen to Jungfraujoch, Switzerland
To reach the Jungfraujoch—the highest-altitude train station in Europe at just over 11,000 feet—you’ll start your journey on a modern cogwheel train in either Interlaken, Grindelwalk, or Wengen. Once you reach Kleine Scheidegg, you’ll transfer to the Jungfrau Railway, which will take you through nearly 4.5 miles of tunnel before emerging to spectacular views of the Aletsch Glacier, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Jungfrau Railway is open year round, but visit in the spring before the summer crowds arrive.
Book Now: From $170 round-trip, raileurope.com
Route: Williams, Arizona, to Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park celebrated its 100th anniversary earlier this year, but the Grand Canyon Railway has been bringing visitors from the town of Williams to the South Rim since 1901. After closing for the winter season, the historic train reopens every March to make the journey up to the Grand Canyon each morning and back each afternoon through 65 miles of ponderosa and pinion pine forests. On the first Saturday of the month, you can ride the train pulled by a restored vintage steam locomotive. If you’re departing from the Midwest, Vacations By Rail offers a six-day rail tour that combines round-trip overnight train rides on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief between Chicago and Flagstaff with a day trip on the Grand Canyon Railway.
Book Now: From $67 round-trip, thetrain.com
Route: Haarlem to Leiden, Netherlands
Most tourists flock to Keukenhof Gardens to catch the tulip bloom that happens each year in mid-to-late April in the Netherlands. But did you know that the Dutch state-owned railway company operates regional trains between Haarlem and Leiden that pass directly through beautiful tulip fields? You can opt for the faster Intercity train that only makes two stops or the local Sprinter train that makes four stops between the two cities. Either way, a one-way trip takes less than 30 minutes from Haarlem and costs €6.20. Once you’re in Leiden, you’ll want to take the afternoon to explore the small city where Rembrandt was born in 1606. This year, the Netherlands is celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Dutch master’s death with a year-long art extravaganza in Leiden and elsewhere around the country.
Book Now: From €12.40 (US$14) round-trip, ns.nl
Route: Chicago to the San Francisco Bay Area
After departing from Chicago, the California Zephyr passes through Iowa and Nebraska before heading into the Rocky Mountains and then through the Sierra Nevadas and down into the San Francisco Bay Area. Even if you stick to the Amtrak-designated route, you’ll get to see the mountains thaw out and come alive in the spring. But if you’d like to break up the two-night train ride, Vacations By Rail has a trip that lets you disembark in Salt Lake City and drive up to Yellowstone National Park for three nights. Not only is the park less crowded than it is in summer but bears are also likely to make an appearance as they come out of hibernation.
Book Now: From $173 one way, amtrak.com
Route: Round trip from London’s Victoria Station
The meticulously restored Belmond British Pullman train makes day trips around the English countryside from its base at Victoria Station throughout the spring. While you could take afternoon tea with The Great British Bake Off judge Mary Berry or go to the Cotswolds on the train, there are still a few seats left on the June 5 trip to the RHS Chatsworth House Flower Show. After a three-course brunch on board, you’ll spend the afternoon at the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire exploring the display gardens, getting advice for your own backyard from the floral experts on hand, or simply enjoying a cup of tea outdoors. On the train ride home, there’s a champagne reception and five-course dinner to round out the day.
Book Now: From £465 (US$605) round-trip, belmond.com
>> Next: The 10 Best Places to Travel in May