These New Tours Include Epic Train Trips in Paris, Istanbul, China, and Mongolia

The Trans-Mongolian Railway and an Orient Express-inspired itinerary from France to Türkiye are among the new rail journeys launched by small-group adventure travel company Intrepid.

The only thing better than the rail trip of a lifetime is one that's fully planned and organized for you by a well-established tour operator.

The only thing better than the rail trip of a lifetime is one that’s fully planned and organized for you by a well-established tour operator.

Courtesy of Intrepid

If you’re looking for a more immersive travel experience that will allow you to enjoy incredible destinations at a slower pace—with a window-seat view onto towns and passing landscapes while journeying alongside local commuters—Intrepid Travel’s new trip category might be just the (train) ticket.

Today, Intrepid, a small-group adventure travel company and 2022 Afar Vanguard nominee, announced the launch of a new rail travel range with more than 40 train-focused itineraries, three of which are entirely new for 2024. (While rail journeys are not new for Intrepid, this is the first time the tour operator is making it an official category of trips.)

“A train is not just a way to get from A to B—many of our rail trips also feature some of the most iconic train journeys in the world, including Bangkok to southern Thailand and the Trans-Mongolian Railway,” Erica Kritikides, global product manager at Intrepid, told Afar. “These are experiences in and of themselves that we expect travelers to remember for a lifetime.”

The three new trips officially launched on Friday, May 31 (and are now available to book), and include all transportation (except international flights), accommodations, some meals, and select activities. The new itineraries are:

  • “Trans-Mongolian Railway Adventure”: This trip takes travelers on the historic Trans-Mongolian Railway, which was constructed in the late 1940s. The itinerary starts in Beijing and follows the route that ancient tea caravans took through the hilly landscapes in China, then enters the grasslands of inner Mongolia. There, travelers will get to explore Khustai National Park (where they’ll have the opportunity to overnight in a traditional nomadic camp) and see the dunes of the Gobi Desert before wrapping up in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. The 11-day trip starts at $3,060 per person.
  • “Express to the Orient: Paris to Istanbul”: This itinerary will first connect Paris and Budapest entirely by local trains, following the same route as the historic Orient Express, a long-distance passenger train that ran between 1883 and 1977. Along the way, travelers will have the chance to disembark and explore cities like Strasbourg, France; Munich, Germany; and Salzburg and Vienna in Austria. After Budapest, Hungary, travelers will hop on a private transfer to Serbia, where in Belgrade they’ll start another historic train route, the Balkan Express. From there, they will visit Niš in Serbia and Sofia and Plovdiv in Bulgaria before spending the final two days in Istanbul. The 15-day trip starts at $3,992 per person.
  • “Paris to Rome by Rail”: Passengers will begin this itinerary in the City of Lights, where travelers will hop on the Gotthard Panorama Express to cruise through Switzerland on a historic train route constructed in 1872. The journey winds through the Alps, stopping in the Swiss towns of Lausanne, Lucerne, and Bellinzona (for Lake Geneva views, a colorful medieval Old Town, and mountain hikes, respectively) before crossing into Italy and beelining for Rome. Guests will spend the final three days in the Eternal City, visiting sites like the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum and participating in an Italian cooking class. The 10-day trip starts at $3,709 per person.

Each trip has an average group size of 10 to 12 travelers and is accompanied by a local tour leader, who knows how to make the trip go smoothly.

Since 2020, Intrepid has been removing flights from itineraries where a viable alternative exists and replacing them with less carbon-intensive options. “Taking a long, hard look at our trips to identify ways to cut them down and removing flights in favor of rail travel is just one part of our broader decarbonization efforts, but every step to reduce emissions makes a difference,” said Kritikides. One example: On Intrepid’s 15-Day “Scenic Vietnam” itinerary, a flight from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh City was replaced with an overnight train ride. According to Intrepid, the swap reduced the carbon emissions per person per day by 12 percent.

Kritikides noted that the travel industry currently accounts for up to 11 percent of global carbon emissions, “so we can and must do better,” she said, adding that transportation accounts for one-fifth of the world’s total carbon emissions. But rail travel only contributes 1 percent, compared to the 45 percent that road transport contributes and the 12 percent attributed to air travel.

The new rail trips come as Intrepid has also noticed an increased interest among travelers for train journeys as well as a growing customer appetite for slow travel.

“Slow travel allows you to dive deeper into a destination and explore places you never would have if you were opting for the convenience of hopping on a flight to the next major stop,” Kritikides said. “Intrepid’s rail journeys offer travelers an added dimension of discovery, allowing them to disconnect from their daily lives and enjoy the scenery of historic rail routes.”

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at Afar. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
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