On the totem pole of leisure transportation, trains can often fall pretty close to the bottom. Perhaps it's a perception problem, or a foggy remnant of those times in college when we rode third class, or maybe it's a mental connection to those horrible commuter trains that are always late and also brutally expensive. But riding the rails can actually be a dramatic adventure, and one that shouldn't (always) break the bank. We rounded up some of the best train experiences that promise to make getting there (at least) half the fun — whether you choose a budget option, a mid-priced journey, or a once-in-a-lifetime indulgence.
Save: Classic Europe Itineraries
Erase what you remember from your college trip across the Continent. Many European stations have been vastly upgraded or lavishly maintained their Victorian-era designs, which means just walking through St. Pancras Station in London to catch the Eurostar to the Mainland can leave you wonderstruck. For the best deals, book four months in advance through RailEurope, and choose a non-flexible ticket. Starting at $167, these prices can take you round-trip from Vienna through Budapest and Prague and back, stretching those countryside views across an entire month. Single-country passes start at just $68 (Turkey, Czech Republic) and go up to around $200 (Spain, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland). Check their blog regularly for crazy deals, giveaways, and tips on getting around in style.
Spring: Coast-to-Coast Canada
Crossing Canada by train affords stunning views of the coast, the Rockies, the plains, and major cities as ViaRail meanders from Vancouver to Toronto across four nights during the Great Wester Way route. The train company is about to undergo a major overhaul, which is partly why it’s extending serious deals to die-hard rail riders. By purchasing the Sleeper Plus Class, the lengthy journey includes full-sized beds in sleeper berths as well as all your meals and free WiFi, starting at just $940 — much cheaper than a hotel, car rental, and meals. (Plus, there are showers!) When it’s light out, head to the glass-domed Panorama car to see the landscape unfurl from your window; at night, live entertainment will have you racing to leave the privacy of your cabin. If you want to try more adventurous destinations and have less time to burn, check out the shorter routes, such as an 11-hour ride near Lake Superior (from $65) or the 2-night, 1697 km-long ride from sub-Arctic Churchill to Winnipeg, where you can see the Northern Lights, Polar bears, and Beluga whales (starting at just $207, though watch the site for updates as the line is presently under construction).
Splurge: An Exclusive Look at Japan
You have to join the lottery in October to even get a chance at one of the 14 berths on the Seven Stars Kyushu Train that redefined luxury train travel when it launched in 2013. Foreigners get preference, with two cabins reserved strictly for non-Japanese travelers, but expect a very international crowd on this expensive-but-totally-worth-it train trip. It all starts with a cocktail and piano serenade as you enter the private Kinsei Lounge at Hakata Station in Fukuoka Prefecture. From there, you’re escorted to the purpose-built sleeper train furnished with teak desks and comfortable window-side chairs that convert to cozy beds during evening turndown service. The bathrooms are bananas — can you imagine a shower while moving at 100 mph? Expect to stop in the ancient porcelain town of Arita to meet national treasures, visit an historic opera house where you’ll get to try on costumes after a performance exclusively for your small group, and return to your rail-cruise for meals in the back dining car that reflect local tradition and flavors. The price might scare you: it’s about $6,171 for two people sharing a cabin for two days and one night—though that does include alcohol, star-chef created meals, entertainment, private tours, and an experience to brag about for the rest of your life.