Cross-country in Canada
Combine three trains—the Canadian from Vancouver to Toronto, a Toronto–Montreal commuter train, and the Ocean from Montreal to Halifax—to go your own pace traversing the almost 4,000 miles from one end of Canada to the other.
Outside Between Vancouver and Toronto, you'll pass the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, the nearly 13,000-foot Mount Robson, along with the town of Jasper in 4,200-square-mile Jasper National Park, part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Spring and fall are peak times for spotting bighorn sheep, grizzlies, moose, and elk on the 600-plus miles of trails.
Inside Book a bedroom cabin or a berth on the Canadian to gain access to the dome of the Park lounge car, with 360-degree views of the Rockies (continental breakfast included).
888/842-7245, viarail.ca, 30-day Canrailpass—good for 12 days of travel—from $557, upgrade to a sleeping berth from $83, single cabin from $183.
Copper Canyon in Mexico
On the 408-mile trip from Los Mochis to Chihuahua, El Chepe (from ChP, short for Chihuahua al Pacífico) traverses Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon), a canyon complex that is 14 times the size of the Grand Canyon. Work on the railway started in 1861 and took 100 years to complete, but the actual train ride only takes about 16 hours.
Outside The route crosses 37 bridges—including one almost 2,000 feet long—and runs through 86 tunnels. At La Pera (The Pear) tunnel, the train makes a sharp 180-degree turn on an incline inside a mountain. Stop over in Creel, one of the highest towns on the route at over 7,850 feet in elevation.
Inside Sit on the southern side of the train for the best views of the rivers and canyons (that's the right side if you're traveling northeast from Los Mochis to Chihuahua).
chepe.com.mx, one way $77, first class $154, which allows you to get on and off.
Trans-Siberian Railway in Russia
One of the most famous and most romanticized train lines in the world, the Trans-Siberian Railway journeys along the 6,000-mile run (that's eight time zones!) from Moscow to Vladivostok over six days.
Outside Covering about a quarter of the globe, you'll pass cities like Novosibirsk, the biggest metropolis in Siberia, and natural wonders like Lake Baikal, the world's largest freshwater lake, and the taiga, a vast subarctic coniferous forest. Along the way, there will be babushkas selling cooked dishes at the stations where the train stops: fish, meat pies, vegetables.
Inside There are no showers, so bathing is a challenge—all the more reason to make an overnight stop or two along the way.
waytorussia.net, first class $964, second class $461, third class $161. (rates based on April 2011 travel).
Glacier Express in Switzerland
Possibly the slowest express train going: It takes eight hours to travel 180 miles from St. Moritz to Zermatt, at the foot of the Matterhorn.
Outside The train follows an engineering marvel of a route, passing 291 bridges and 91 tunnels (count 'em!). The Landwasser Viaduct, with six arches that each span 65 feet, is more than 210 feet above the valley below—those afraid of heights will want to keep their eyes on the seat in front of them.
Inside The panorama cars in first and second class have extra-tall windows to maximize the views of the Swiss Alps. Three-course meals are available in the dining car or at your seat.
011-41/31-378-0101, glacierexpress.ch, second class from $140.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in India
You may recognize it from The Darjeeling Limited—or maybe you've heard Mark Twain's comment about the ride: "It is the most enjoyable day I have spent on earth." The Darjeeling is a World Heritage site and is nicknamed the "Toy Train" because of its narrow gauge of two feet.
Outside The 55-mile journey from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling takes just over seven hours and includes several switchbacks and four loops as the track climbs more than 7,000 feet. Along the way, the scenery ranges from jungles to tea plantations. The train stops in Trindhara long enough for passengers to take a tea break and observe one of the zigzag sections of track by which the train climbs sharply in short distances. With the Batasia Loop, the tracks spiral up, through a tunnel, and over a hilltop. Aside from being an amazing feat of engineering, the loop provides a panoramic view of Darjeeling, with the Kanchenjunga mountain—the third-highest in the world—in the background.
Inside Riding the DHR is like taking a step into the past—11 of the 17 locomotives are coal-fired engines between 82- and 121-years-old.
011-91/354-200-5734, dhr.in, first class $5.