Updated: May 26
The ultimate form of slow travel comes with a front-row seat to showstopping views.
When I decided to stop flying four years ago, I never imagined that I would end up seeing more of the world than ever before. I thought disliking planes would lead to my world becoming smaller – it seemed that everywhere worth going was some far-flung destination, only accessible by flight. But my new lifestyle led me to trains. I traversed continents and moved across borders, appreciating the land more than ever before, without harried runs through the airport. I learned about wildlife, agriculture, and history on journeys that weren’t just about the departure point or the destination but witnessing every mile in between.
The Wes Anderson-designed dining car aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.
One of the world’s most stylish trains, Belmond’s iconic Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, connects European cities from Istanbul to London. On trips from Paris to Prague or Amsterdam to Verona, passengers toast Europe’s grand rivers or the snowcapped Swiss Alps from the velvet-clad bar car while music floats from the grand piano in the corner. As a bonus, travelers in the Grand Suites enjoy 24-hour butler service, free-flowing Champagne, seasonal gourmet menus featuring Petrossian caviar, and spacious marble en suite bathrooms with gilded fixtures.
Crossing Europe by train typically takes only a night or two. To weave in a little extra relaxation time and visit a few national parks, take a cross-continental train in North America. On a 14-day Toronto-to-Vancouver odyssey arranged by Globus aboard VIA Rail, stops in the mountain towns of Jasper and Banff mean icefield hikes and horseback rides through dense forests. In summer, this route offers a chance to see the Great North completely thawed – Ontario alone has over 250,000 lakes – while winter and spring departures see a ride through plush Canadian snow. On the train itself, Prestige-class rooms come with heated bathroom floors, double beds, butler service, and TVs. The train has an elegant, relaxed vibe, with wood and leather detailing. The magic of this route is the intimacy it fosters – by the end of my trip, I’d made friends from four continents and several countries. We exchanged snacks and stories and met up for lively dinners and evening drinks. Passengers turn up for activities such as movie nights, wine tastings, yoga classes, and lectures on the wildlife roaming outside the cars: moose, beavers, and, on farms in the prairie provinces, bison.
For those who prefer to pair scenic rides with overnight hotel stays, Rocky Mountaineer’s tours offer the best of both worlds. On a four-day Vancouver-to-Jasper train trip, travelers take in panoramic views of the Canadian Rockies from the train’s glass-domed coaches, riding along the Fraser River and past Mount Robson, eyes peeled for moose and caribou. Onboard lecturers teach passengers about local wildlife and geology. When the train arrives in designated cities each evening, everyone disembarks for historic railway hotels, often built specifically to accommodate train travelers in the days of the railroad barons.
My train trips in Europe and North America taught me to slow down and appreciate nature and gave me the pleasure of knowing a place well. I ended up becoming more adventurous and well-traveled. Train travel expanded my world rather than shrinking it – it’s a ticket to a new perspective.