Five unforgettable rail journeys
The trans-continental one: Trans-Siberian Railway, Siberia
Some railways win fame puttering their way through cutesy landscapes. Others earn affection merrily chuffing up and down snowy peaks. But few would dispute that the Trans-Siberian is the supreme king of all things straddling two rails – a leviathan of a railway journey, traversing distances big enough to bring on a headache just thinking about them. By the time passengers step off at the last stop, chances are that their train will have clanked and jolted its way round a fifth of the circumference of planet Earth.
It’s less well known that there’s not just one Trans-Siberian route, but rather a number of sub-species. The original Trans-Siberian route takes passengers from Moscow to the seaport of Vladivostok, but one of the most colourful alternatives is the Trans-Mongolian route – a trip connecting three capital cities and a world of changing landscapes. Beginning in the Russian capital, trains trundle their way through birch forests across the Ural Mountains to the town of Yekaterinburg. Within a few days, services swing round the brilliant blue waters of Lake Baikal, before plunging southward into the gently sloping grasslands of the Mongolian steppe, dotted with yurts and grazing horses. The last leg from the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar to Beijing is a fitting finale, quickly skipping between the arid expanse of the Gobi Desert, industrial sprawl and green mountains – squint and you may even glimpse the Great Wall itself.
For much of the journey however, the appeal lies inside the carriage rather than outside the window. Expect to idle away days making new friends in the dining car and staging bitterly fought card games in your cabin – experiences all swept along on a tide of freely flowing vodka.