Have you started planning your 2024 holidays yet? I know I have. In the darker days of December and January, travel can seem a world away but a few bright photos and a couple of maps can help while away the winter (or encourage us to embrace it).
Train travel will continue to gain popularity in 2024
One of the biggest trends for holidays in 2024 is train travel. Something I’m thrilled about, not just because I really enjoy my own adventures by train, but also because ditching the car and plane for at least some of our adventures is one way we can all reduce our carbon footprints, help slow down climate change, and protect our planet and the creatures (including us) who live on it.
Train tourism is expanding across Europe
Across Europe and the world, train tourism opportunities are expanding as countries seek to maximise opportunities for sustainable tourism. And if you want to holiday by train in the UK, we have some great ideas to help you leave the car and traffic queues behind.
Our A-Z of train trips and holidays below has something for everyone
Whether you’re hoping for a holiday by train in Europe in 2024 or a few UK day trips, we’ve included plenty of favourites, a few great rail journeys you might not have considered, as well as some intriguing UK train stations that are well worth exploring.
We’ve also managed to cover the whole alphabet!!
A is for the Arctic
If you love the winter, this one could perhaps be your first rail holiday for 2024. Whether you’re hoping to experience the Northern Lights in winter or enjoy the midnight sun in summer, you’ll be pleased to hear you can cross the Arctic Circle by train.
Here’s one great winter train trip example.
Norway’s Nordland Railway is the country’s longest and is also known as the Arctic Circle Express. The journey from Trondheim to Bodo represents a feat of engineering, crosses nearly 300 bridges, and goes through over 150 tunnels. If you opt for a winter cabin on the night train, you might even spot the northern lights as you travel.
B is for Bannau Brycheiniog National Park
Most people know by now that the Brecon Beacons National Park is now known by its Welsh name Bannau Brycheiniog. But did you know that you can get to the edge of the Brecon Beacons by train?
How about a walk up the Blorenge or the Sugar Loaf from friendly Abergavenny station. Or if you fancy capturing a castle or two, set off on the 20-mile Three Castles Walk (there’s a lovely swim available at Skenfrith Castle).
C is for Cannes
If you’re looking for a flight-free holiday to the French Riviera, how about hopping on board the Riviera Railway in Cannes and exploring a few of the lesser-known coastal towns and villages along the way to Ventimiglia in Italy.
Flight-free travel specialists Byway offer two French and Italian Riviera by train holidays that start with the train from London to Paris.
We predict this seaside odyssey’s going to be near the top of plenty of rail holiday and train journey 2024 lists.
D is for Dartmoor
Accessing UK national parks by train isn’t as difficult as you might think. And Dartmoor is a great example. With existing Ivybridge station and the new Okehampton station on the Dartmoor line, you can now access both the north and south of Dartmoor by train.
Which means you can walk on Dartmoor, wild camp on Dartmoor, walk round Dartmoor on the Dartmoor Way, and even walk across the wild middles of Dartmoor on your own north to south route. All by train.
E is for Europe by train
Train travel to Europe isn’t just about Paris and Brussels. The Eurostar also gives us quick and easy train connection to a whole host of exciting European destinations. We’ve gathered together four you might previously not have thought of but once you start looking, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to European train journeys for 2024.
- Take a night sleeper from Brussels to Prague
- Reach Amsterdam from Brussels in just two hours
- Enjoy a Paris night before your train to San Sebastian
- Head to Croatia’s capital Zagreb via Paris and Stuttgart
F is for ferry
Okay so we all know trains don’t float but there are plenty of ferry-train connections out there that would turn a great rail journey into a voyage of exploration.
Holiday by train and ferry in the UK
- With ScotRail’s Rail & Sail tickets, you can hop off the train and onto the ferry to explore Orkney (Aberdeen or Scrabster stations), Shetland (from Aberdeen station), and even the Outer Hebrides (from Oban station).
- At the other end of the country, the GWR train from London Paddington to Penzance will leave you with just a short walk to the ferry for St Mary’s on the Isles of Scilly.
Holiday by train and ferry in Europe
If you’re exploring Europe by train with an Interrail pass, you’ll be pleased to hear your pass includes free and discounted ferry trips on some routes. These include the Greek islands from mainland Greece, Finland and Sweden from Germany, and Croatia from Italy. Each route and pricing is different but you’ll find all the information you need on train and ferry travel on the Interrail website.
G is for Glacier Express
Almost as exciting as the Santa Special must surely be the Glacier Express. Directly connecting mountain resorts St Moritz and Zermatt, this train ride rivals the Bernina Express to be Switzerland’s most scenic train journey.
This European train holiday is slow travel at its best. Journeying gently through panoramic mountain and valley scenery, you’ll be served lunch, wine and snacks at your seat while you take in the views through wide viewing windows and roof skylights.
The standard seats are great but if you fancy a touch of luxury train travel, First and Excellence class seats are also available. For booking advice I can recommend the Man in Seat 61.
H is for Hathersage (and Hope)
The Hope Valley line crosses the Pennines between Manchester and Sheffield, which means it’s a brilliant connection by rail to some of the Peak District National Park’s most sought after scenery.
You could perhaps collect National Parks by train.
Hop off at Hathersage station to enjoy a circular walk up to the gritstone escarpment of Stanage Edge, where stunning views and steep cliffs await. If walking isn’t your thing, Hathersage Village has plenty of cafes and some interesting literary links to Charlotte Bronte and Robin Hood.
I is for Italiani
FS Treni Turistici Italiani is a new Italian travel company that has been set up specifically to offer high quality, sustainable tourism services via Italy’s train network.
First out of their bag is a new overnight service between Rome and Dolomite ski resort Cortina d’Ampezzo. With a 40-minute boarding window, you’ll have plenty of time to onboard your ski equipment but you’ll need to be quick booking because this snow-sport service is weekend only until February 15th 2024. Treni Turistici Italiani is an exciting advancement and a train company we’ll be keeping an eye on.
J is for Japan
Japan is well known for its speedy bullet trains or Shinkansen whose network covers nearly 3,000 miles and can carry you for speeds up to 200mph. But that isn’t the whole story of rail trips in Japan.
In spring, why not view valleys full of blossom or sakura from the Hanwa line? In winter enjoy wild seas, snowy scenes, and spectacular Mount Iwaki on the Gono Line. Or discover bright autumn foliage as you travel through bamboo forests on Kyoto’s Sagano Scenic Railway.
Or for something completely different (you’ll find lots of that in Japan) how about visiting Shinjuku-ku station (the largest station in the world with over 200 exits), booking yourself a front row observation seat on Tokyo’s wide-windowed Romance Train, or buying your train ticket from a cat inspector.
K is for Keith
Keith train station isn’t the only station in the UK that sounds like it’s named after a person (you can also visit Ashley, Barry and Glynn) but it is an important stop if you want to appreciate the Speyside Malt Whisky Trail by train. Home to Strathisla Distillery, Scotland’s oldest working distillery, Keith is a great stop off point for anyone who enjoys the history and taste of a wee dram.
L is for Los Angeles
Train travel in the USA can involve some big distances and this voyage across America’s Deep South on board Amtrak’s Sunset Limited is no exception, with a total journey time between New Orleans and Los Angeles of 46.5 hours.
On the way you can hop off to enjoy attractions like the Alamo in Texas, the Space Center in Houston and Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. But these double decker superliner trains have dining cars, bedrooms and fantastic sightseer lounges, so you might want to stay on board and enjoy the ride.
M is for Morar and its famous silver sands
Get off the train at Morar station on Scotland’s West Highland Line, and you’ll be spoilt for choice. A short walk on one side will take you to Loch Morar, Britain’s deepest freshwater loch. And an explore on the other side of the line will see you marvelling at some of the whitest sand beaches you’ve ever seen.
N is for New Zealand’s Northern Explorer
Unlike much of Europe, New Zealand’s train coverage isn’t extensive but one trip you really should take is the North Island’s Northern Explorer, which takes you from Auckland in the north all the way south to capital city Wellington.
On the way, you’ll enjoy a varied taste of New Zealand farmland and native bush. You’ll also travel the famous Raurimu Spiral onto the volcanic plateau by the distinctive volcanoes of Mt Tongariro, Mt Ngauruhoe, and Mt Ruapehu. The Spiral gets over the problem of an overly steep slope to the Plateau via an ingenious track layout of tunnels, a circle, and hairpin bends.
The trip takes a whole day but Rail New Zealand offers a Scenic Plus experience on the Northern Explorer, which includes local, seasonal lunch and afternoon tea.
O is for Orinoquia Bridge
Orinoco is the name of a furry litter-gathering Londoner, and also the title of a flowing 80s music track. But long before Wombles and Enya were invented, it was the name of South America’s third longest river (1,400 miles).
The Second Orinoco Bridge (Puente Orinoquia) crosses the Orinoco in Venezuela and carries both road traffic and trains. The train track sits in between the two carriageways and was built to join the city of Ciudad Guayana with a deep sea port on the north coast (thus avoiding some dredging of the lower Orinoco).
According to one Trip Advisor report, you’re not allowed to take photos of the bridge from the nearby stopping place, and I can find no evidence of the trains yet running. If you can make it across, this one sounds like it would be a tourism first.
If you do cross the Orinoco by train, please let me know!
P is for Pullman and luxury train tickets
The British Pullman train experiences epitomise elegance and opulence. With round-trip, single day luxury train travel departing from London Victoria, why not dine in luxury and sip on nostalgia?
Pullman dining to London
If you’re travelling with GWR between Plymouth or Swansea and Paddington stations, you could turn your travel into a day out by booking a First Class ticket and reserving your meal in the Pullman coach. Fillet steak anyone?
Q is for quesadilla
Where better to eat a traditional, corn tortilla, warmed on a griddle and filled with melted cheese than Mexico?
And how better to travel across Mexico than by train?
I’m cheating here of course but I’ve already used M and I wanted an excuse to tell you about a fascinating train holiday between the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sinaloa. The El Chepetrain (aka El Chepe or Chihuahua Pacifico) runs for 220 miles from Los Mochis to Creel and passes through the stunning Copper Canyon.
With a mountain range, bridges, tunnels and plenty of fascinating stops, this is a holiday by train with a difference.
And hopefully plenty of melted cheese!
R is for rooftop
‘On the rooftops of London, Coo what a sight.’ Sang Mary Poppins and Bert, and they weren’t wrong. But sometimes the bustle of the city can seem overwhelming. Next time you take the train into the capital, why not explore some London rooftop gardens. Here are a few ideas but more are available.
- The Garden at 120 in Fenchurch Street offers free public entry and fabulous views of The Shard, The Gherkin and St Paul’s Cathedral.
- Not quite a rooftop garden but one of London’s best experiences has to be the Treetop Walkway at Kew Gardens.
- Perhaps the most well known London roof garden, and currently the highest is the Sky Garden on floor 43 of Rafael Vinoly’s famous Walkie Talkie building. Choose from one of the restaurants or book a free public ticket online.
S is for sleeper train
With flight-free travel gaining momentum, I predict 2024 is going to be the year of the sleeper train. If you’re looking for train adventures in Europe, there’s great news because new sleeper trains are opening all the time (and the existing offer is already good). Here are a few examples (and don’t forget a night train will save you money on accommodation).
- Check out the new OBB Nightjet sleeper services heading from Berlin to Paris and Brussels. OBB operate a wide range of European sleeper train services some of which connect easily with the Eurostar.
- Hop on the Swedish Railways service to Stockholm from Berlin or Hamburg. On the way you’ll cross the famous Oresund Bridge between Denmark and Sweden. Okay so you might want to be awake for this momentous crossing but a comfortable sleep in the hours leading up to it won’t hurt.
- Leave mainland Italy to wake up in Sicily after a ride on Europe’s last remaining train ferry. Now that has to be an adventure.
T is for Table Mountain
Table Mountain sits high above South Africa’s legislative capital Cape Town, which also offers tourists everything from whale watching to a great food scene.
But why limit your experience to one city when you can hop onboard and travel slowly through South Africa by train. Trailfinders offer a 15-day trip that includes four nights with great day excursions in a Pullman suite on board Rovos Rail’s Cape Town to Pretoria route.
U is for University
Whilst many of our British universities have easy access to train transport, University station in Birmingham is the only mainline station in Great Britain built specifically to serve a university.
Unsurprisingly the University of Birmingham is only a few steps away from the station but the Worcester and Birmingham Canal is even nearer, and I can recommend the towpath walk, not least because the canal’s proximity to the train line makes it an easy adventure by train.
From the towpath, as you pass University station, look out for Old Joe on the university campus, the world’s tallest freestanding clock tower. Said to have inspired both Tolkien and Pixar, Old Joe is home to Peregrine falcons and has an asteroid named after it.
V is for Vancouver to Banff
This scenic rail trip on board the Rockie Mountaineer is your opportunity to view the Canadian Rockies from the comfort of wide-windowed carriages. This is a two-day, daylight trip with an overnight hotel stop in Kamloops.
As well as traveling through stunning mountain scenery, you’ll experience the Spiral Tunnel track system, which allows the train to negotiate the steep incline around the Kicking Horse River.
W is for (Fort) William
Okay so this one’s a bit of an alphabetic stretch but I accidentally wrote two f’s.
Fort William is a hub for outdoor adventure, gives access to the UK’s highest mountain Ben Nevis, and is the northernmost point of the 96 mile West Highland Way walking route. More importantly, Fort William train station sits on one of the most beautiful railway lines in the world.
Arrive in Fort William in comfort on the Caledonian Sleeper from London, and you’ll find rail access to Rannoch Moor, the Glenfinnan (Harry Potter) viaduct, the silver sand beaches at Morar, as well as island ferries from Oban and Mallaig.
X is for Xenia, Ohio
Turns out Xanadu doesn’t have a railway station but I did try and find one for you. I settled instead on Xenia in Ohio USA. You can’t get there by train anymore but you will find Xenia station open to visitors at the crossing point of five directions of paved walking trails.
Xenia is also a stop-off point on the USA’s longest National Scenic Trail, the North Country Trail. At 4,800 miles, this trail crosses eight states, includes some access by train, and offers a huge diversity of landscapes for committed through-hikers.
Y is for Ystrad Rhondda
Ystrad Rhondda isn’t the highest train station in the UK or even the highest train station in England. But if all the train stations in the UK were arranged in an alphabetical line, it would be at the end of the line.
The industrial and human history of the Rhondda Valleys sometimes makes hard reading but is worth trying to understand. For valley views, why not try this 13km walk around the hillside before popping back on the train at Treherbert?
Z is for Zambia
The list of train stations in the UK is long and fascinating (train station abbreviations including WEE and POO) but it doesn’t include a station to complete our alphabet of rail holidays for 2024 with a Z.
But Zambia fits the bill and, although it might not be the first 2024 holiday by train you think of, it is possible to get on a train in Zambia and end up on a river cruise underneath the fabulous Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River.
That’s two z’s for the price of one!