The cherry blossoms may be blooming in Tokyo and Washington, D.C., but unfortunately this is not the year to experience spring scenery somewhere else in the world. That doesn’t mean you can’t plan ahead for next year, especially for vacations that take a little more planning like a train trip. For example, 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 typically takes place between April and May, with peak bloom typically falling in the first few weeks of May.
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.
Grand Canyon Railway
Route: Williams, Arizona, to Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park celebrated its 100th anniversary last 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 pinyon pine forests. 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. Dates for 2021 are already bookable at vacationsbyrail.com.
Nederlandse Spoorwegen trains
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 less than €10. Once you’re in Leiden, you’ll want to take the afternoon to explore the small city where Rembrandt was born in 1606.
Amtrak California Zephyr
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. Sign up at vacationsbyrail.com for information about when 2021 dates and prices will be available.
Belmond British Pullman
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. In past years, special journeys included afternoon tea with The Great British Bake Off judge Mary Berry or a trip to the RHS Chatsworth House Flower Show. For 2021, you can already book ahead for a Mother’s Day afternoon tea on the train or a murder mystery lunch on board via belmond.com.