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The 5 Best Rail Adventures for 2020

Rail adventure is the future of travel. Riding the train is sustainable, efficient, fun, and on the rise to becoming the best way to travel the world. Hip adventurers have noticed and rail adventures are quickly becoming the hottest travel trend for 2020. So we decided to put in the research to figure out why rail adventures are the best way to vacation AND 5 amazing ways to go on a rail adventure in 2020. 

 

Sustainable

Traveling by train is by far the most sustainable form of long distance travel, especially when you consider the alternatives. Airplanes require massive amounts of fuel to fly and are overall just bad for the environment. Air travel contributes between 4 and 9 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions per year and is one of the fastest growing contributors to climate change. Water travel isn’t that great either. Cruises are also incredibly wasteful and have a history of leaking and dumping waste into the ocean. 

Air travel produces far more carbon dioxide than rail travel
Plane rides produce 90 percent more carbon dioxide than train rides covering the same distance

Carnival Cruise Lines were fined $20 million in 2019 for dumping oily trash into the ocean after already paying $40 million in penalties. While you can make smarter decisions when it come to air and cruise travel, the best way to cut your emissions while traveling is a rail adventure. Rail companies are leading the sustainability trend with emission and waste-cutting policies.

Sustainable Cruise Fail: Carnival Cruises fined for dumping trash
Carnival Cruises fined for dumping trash

In November 2019, Eurostar made news by committing to plant a tree for every train that operates every year. Beginning in 2020, every year 20,000 trees will be planted in the woodlands in the UK, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Eurostar also made news when they unveiled the first “plastic-free” train. Their London to Paris train ditched plastic and switched to new wooden cutlery, recyclable cans of water, glass wine bottles, paper-based coffee cups and environmentally friendly packaging for food served to customers. When rail travel is this much more sustainable than air and water travel, why not make a rail adventure your next sustainable vacation?

 

Efficient

Rail adventures are easy, inexpensive, and definitely efficient. Forget dragging your luggage around all day as you explore a new city. Rail adventure operators hold your luggage while you explore. Don’t worry about navigating, you’re not the one driving! You don’t have to pay attention to directions, you can just sit back and experience a landscape like you never have before. A rail adventure is perfect for those who need a mental break from planning and navigating but don’t want just a boring vacation on the beach. You can be see all the iconic sites while keeping relaxed. 

With rail adventures you get more bang for your buck. Rail systems often sell yearly travel passes. Combine your pass with one of our awesome adventures and you’ve got a great deal. Now that you’ve got a yearly pass, you can go on more than one rail adventure next year! And forget expensive plane tickets and hotel rooms, your train ticket will cover travel and a bed for a lower price. Not to mention all the extra leg room you get with trains will keep you happy and comfortable unlike cramped planes. For all these reasons and more, a rail adventure is the most efficient way to travel.

 

Fun

You’ll have more fun on rail adventures than other forms of travel. Rail adventures cover more distance than traveling on foot or in a car. Train stations are more centrally located than most airports and traveling by train is actually faster than traveling by plane. Your rail adventure will take you directly to and from destinations, instead of plane rides which only ever get you close. This convenience leaves more time to have a fun!

And sure, you may have traveled around this country before. But have you traveled through it? You’ll travel through cities and the country side, population hubs and desolate landscapes. You won’t see just the big-name cities, you’ll see it all. And you’ll be surrounded by the locals. Vacations that keep you away from the locals keep you from truly embracing your destination’s culture. Now considering all the extra time you have for authentic experiences, surrounded by locals, an amazing vacation is almost guaranteed.

 

 

The 5 Best Rail Adventures for 2020

These rail adventures are stuffed with excursions and tours, just like any other adventure package.

Trans-Mongolian Express – 19 Days

From bustling Beijing to the Hermitage in St Petersburg, travel halfway around the world in three incredible weeks. Board one of the world’s great trains and ride the rails on this once-in-a-lifetime trip across the grassy steppes of Mongolia and through the taiga forests of Siberia. Share train carriages with locals and spend nights in a Mongolian ger and a cozy Russian guesthouse. Not only does this trip provide the perfect blend of comfortable accommodations and plenty of activities, but also free time to explore this fascinating region at your own pace.

Trans-Mongolian adventure
Altai Krai, Russia

Route: Beijing, China | Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia | Gorkhi Terelj National Park | Irkutsk, Russia | Listvyanka, Russia | Irkutsk,  Russia | Yekaterinburg, Russia | Moscow, Russia | Saint-Petersburg, Russia

Trans-Mongolian Express Map
St. Petersburg to Beijing rail adventure

Service Level: Standard

Comfortable tourist-class accommodations with character; mix of public and private transport.

Physical Rating: 2 – Light

Light walking and hiking suitable for most fitness levels. Nothing too challenging.

Trip TypeSmall Group

Small group experience; Max 16, avg 12

Mongolia adventure
Terelj, Mongolia

Excursions:

  • Guided tour of Mongolia, Irkutsk, Yakterinburg
  • Overnight stay in Terelj National Park
  • Visit Baikai Limnological Museum
  • Enjoy traditional Russian banya (sauna)
  • Multiple stops in community markets
  • Visit Lenin’s Mausoleum
  • Visit Hermitage Museum

Departures:

  • April 13, 30, 27
  • May 4, 11, 25
  • June 1, 15, 29
  • More summer dates available! Contact for details

 

 

Budapest to Sofia Adventure – 10 Days

This 10-day tour will leave you wondering why you waited to explore Europe’s roads less travelled. Ride the rails from Budapest to Sofia and experience Eastern Europe’s charm firsthand. Soak in a thermal bath in Budapest or opt to visit Buda Castle, Hungary’s royal palace. Discover Romania’s countryside while visiting Sighișoara or marvel at the baroque architecture of Brasov. (Better yet, enjoy the contrast by seeing them both.) You’ll also have time to sample Bulgarian cuisine that’ll give you the energy you need to cycle your way through Veliko Tarnovo, one of the oldest cities in the world.

Barajul Drăgan-Floroiu, Romania

Route: Budapest, Hungary | Sighisoara, Romania | Brasov, Romania | Bucharest, Romania | Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria | Sofia, Bulgaria 

Budapest to Sofia Map
Budapest to Sofia rail adventure

Service Level: Standard

Comfortable tourist-class accommodations with character; mix of public and private transport.

Physical Rating2 – Light

Light walking and hiking suitable for most fitness levels. Nothing too challenging.

Trip Type: Small Group

Small group experience; Max 16, avg 12

Matthias Church, Budapest, Hungary
Matthias Church, Budapest, Hungary

Excursions:

  • Explore Buda Castle
  • Tour Romanian countryside
  • Tour Bran Castle
  • Walk through Budapest, Sighisoara, Brasov, Bucharest, and more.
  • This tour is relaxed with more opportunities to break off and explore the city at your own pace.

Departures:

 

 

Northeast India & Darjeeling by Rail – 13 Days

Anybody can view the sights of India by foot or bus — but you’re not just anybody. Instead, get off the beaten path and see India in a very untypical way — by train. Over two weeks, you’ll head north into Sikkim and Darjeeling via vans and local trains (including the famous toy trains in Darjeeling), giving you an up close and personal experience with authentic India. There’ll be plenty of palaces and forts to spot both on the train and off, and you’ll still get all the social elements of travelling with a group. Add in local meals and a large helping of culture, and this is a trip that’ll stay with you for a long time.

Route: Kolkata | Jalpaiguri | Darjeeling | Gangtok | Kalimpong | New Jaipaiguri | Mughal Sarai | Varanasi | Lucknow | Delhi 

India Map
Kolkata to Delhi rail adventure

Service Level: Standard

Comfortable tourist-class accommodations with character; mix of public and private transport.

Physical Rating: 3 – Average

Some tours may include light hiking, biking, rafting, or kayaking in addition to walking.

Trip Type: Small Group

Small group experience; Max 15, avg 12

Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India
Varanasi, India

Excursions:

  • Visit Victoria Memorial
  • Tour Mother Teresa’s House
  • Tour New Jaipaiguri, Gangtok
  • Explore the Mahakal Temple
  • Travel the World Heritage-listed Darjeeling Himalayan Railway on a vintage steam engine train.
  • Visit the Peace Pagoda
  • Sunrise boat trip on the Ganges

Departures:

 

 

Ancient Empires (Beijing to Tokyo) – 16 Days

Explore two ancient nations in 16 well-packed days on this unique journey that takes you from the epic lengths of the Great Wall of China to the poetic views of Mt Fuji. Hop aboard trains and ferries and face an army of Terracotta Warriors for a historical encounter you won’t soon forget. Spend nights in a traditional ryokan and a shukubo temple lodging for an authentic Japanese experience. Head off the beaten track to reveal the cultural treasures of the region’s ancient sites.

Beijing rail adventure

Route: Beijing, China | Xi-an, China | Suzhou, China | Shanghai, China | Osaka, Japan | Koyasan, Japan | Hiroshima, Japan | Kyoto, Japan | Hakone, Kapan | Tokyo, Japan 

Ancient Empires Map
Beijing to Tokyo rail adventure

Service Level: Standard

Comfortable tourist-class accommodations with character; mix of public and private transport.

Physical Rating: 3 – Average

Some tours may include light hiking, biking, rafting, or kayaking in addition to walking.

Trip Type: Small Group

Small group experience; Max 15, avg 12

Kyoto, Japan
Kyoto, Japan

Excursions:

  • Visit the Great Wall of China
  • Tour the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square
  • Visit the Terracotta Warriors
  • Explore the Master of the Nets Garden
  • Enjoy a Shanghai acrobat show
  • Fly from Shanghai to Osaka
  • Stay overnight in a temple atop the 800m tall Mount Koya
  • Tour the Peace Park and Memorial Museum in Hiroshima
  • Explore Nijo Castle and gardens
  • Boat ride on Lake Ashino-ko

Departures:

  • March 13, 20
  • April 1, 8, 15, 17, 29
  • May 15, 22, 29
  • Summer dates available! Contact for details

 

 

Paris to Sofia by Rail – 21 Days

This three-week tour will leave you wondering why you waited to explore Europe’s Eastern rails less travelled in the first place. Begin in Paris before setting off throughout the charming countryside. Stop by Swiss Alps villages, stroll through Munich and Sofia, and hike in the hills of Veliko Tarnovo. Extensive enough to see plenty, but not so long that your plants are doomed, these often-skipped villages and cities are ones you’ll miss as soon as you leave.

Wengen, Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland
Wengen, Switzerland

Route: Paris, France | Lausanne, Switzerland | Zermatt, Switzerland | Chur, Switzerland | Munich, Germany | Salzburg, Austria | Vienna, Austria | Budapest, Hungary | Sighisoara, Romania | Brasov, Bucharest | Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria | Sofia, Bulgaria 

Paris to Sofia Map
Paris to Sofia rail adventure

Service Level: Standard

Comfortable tourist-class accommodations with character; mix of public and private transport.

Physical Rating: 2 – Light

Light walking and hiking suitable for most fitness levels. Nothing too challenging.

Trip Type: Small Group

Small group experience; Max 16, avg 12.

Bran Castle,Romania
Bran Castle, Romania

Excursions:

  • Hike the Alps
  • Ride the Glacier Express through the Alps
  • Explore the Neuschwanstein Castle
  • Go on the famous Sound of Music tour in Salzburg
  • Tour Buda and Bran Castles
  • Explore authentic Medieval architecture in one of the oldest cities in the world (Veliko Tarnovo)

Departures:

 

 

The Best Way to Adventure in 2020

Don’t let the New Year pass you by without making adventure plans for 2020. Get your passport, buy a rail pass, and head out. Or pick one of our awesome rail adventure packages. From the sustainability, efficiency, and extra adventure benefits, you know how amazing a rail adventure can be. No matter how many stops you make, discover a new place from the comfort of your train car

 

 

For more info on how to travel sustainably, head to our Sustainable Tourism page

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