- Budget-conscious travelers can enjoy scenic train rides around the world without breaking the bank, with options like Shosholoza Meyl in South Africa and Sri Lanka Railway Observation Saloon.
- The Lhasa Express Sky Train in Tibet and the Goa Express in India offer stunning views and cultural experiences at affordable prices.
- The Devil’s Nose Train in Ecuador and the Trans-Siberian Railway provide budget-friendly opportunities to explore breathtaking landscapes and immerse oneself in the local culture. Myanmar Trains and the GoldenPass Line in Switzerland are also great options for scenic train rides on a budget.
Traveling across foreign land on a train is a relaxing way of enjoying the world. With someone else driving, passengers can focus on seeing what Mother Nature offers. However, many of the world’s most expensive train rides instantly put budget globetrotters off ever seeking this rewarding type of travel. But the good news is that with some research, even the most budget-conscious travelers can find the cheapest train journeys in the world that still offer scenic views without hefty price tags.
Many trains offer cheap snacks, and some have great places to sleep and first-rate views; as such, riding on them can feel luxurious even with a small budget. Some of the best train rides in the world are known to be mega expensive, but there are many that are affordable, allowing tourists to travel to different countries, time zones, and landscapes without denting their pockets. Here are some of the cheapest scenic train rides in the world that let travelers explore some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet from the comfort of their seats, all without breaking their budgets.
Stikland, Cape Town, with the Shosholoza Meyl
This is South Africa’s alternative to the expensive Blue train. The melodious name means “going forward a long way”.
It passes the same route as its competitor and offers high comfort, as passengers are offered a fully licensed restaurant car, cabin service, and private sleeper with soft, crisp linen at a budget price.
Sri Lanka Railway Observation Saloon
ICF coach exported to Sri Lanka
Taking in the beauty of nature from old-fashioned trains is one of the unforgettable things to do in Sri Lanka. For travelers on a budget, the Sri Lanka Railway Observation is another cheap train to enjoy a scenic ride in Sri Lanka.
Glass windows cover the front face compartment, as they do on the side panes to allow a perfect view of the environment within the train. In terms of quality, it is a second-class ride and is designed per international safety standards. The train operates on a first-come, first-served basis and can only be reserved from the Colombo Fort Railway Station at least three weeks early.
The Lhasa Express Sky Train
Train at Lhasa Railway Station
The Tibet train, also known as the Lhasa Express, is one of the many affordable scenic train rides; however, it is a relatively new train. After some controversy and back and forth, the train was completed and commissioned in 2016. Since then, it has been a high, safe, and most reliable compared to flight and road trips to Tibet.
It runs above the Qinghai Tibet Plateau and is well-equipped with services and facilities. Along this scenic ride, passengers can catch a glimpse of the Tangula Mountains, Tibetan architecture, and glaciers before arriving at the Himalayas.
Goa Express, leaving from Dadar
Taking a train in India is an adventure in itself and is one of the most authentic and adventurous ways to see the nation’s beauty. One of the world’s cheap scenic train rides, the Goa Express connects through the coastal region of Vasco da Gama. Travelers get to enjoy phenomenal views of India on this east journey.
Passengers are taken through Rajasthan, the thick Western Ghats jungle, the Dudhsagar Far, and the stunning Goan coastline. India has many trains and railroads, but of all of them, this is the most stunning – one that takes passengers through a waterfall. Remember to purchase some snacks and chai from the passing porters.
Devil’s Nose Train, Ecuador
View from a roof of a train in Ecuador near the Devil’s Nose mountain.
The Devil’s Nose Train allows those aboard to take in the beauty of Ecuador, South America’s most breathtaking country, on a budget-friendly scenic train route. It is an impressive section of Ecuador’s railway that takes passengers through Andes slopes from Alusi town to Simbambe town in the coastal region. The route descends to around 500 meters in a zig-zag maneuver on the mountain.
It is a unique adventure taking passengers through different landscapes, including mountains and vegetation. Andes Valley can be seen along the way. Upon arrival, visitors can immerse themselves in Ecuador’s culture and discover the history of these people while learning about a railroad construction that happened more than 100 years ago.
Out of all the things to know about the Trans Siberian Railway, perhaps the most impressive is that it is the longest railroad in the world, so those who love traveling via trains will enjoy this journey. The route takes around 5 days, spanning eight different time zones.
Along the way, passengers can see the stunning views of the Ural Mountains, a large and deep freshwater lake, ice fields, and Siberian scenery. Besides the spectacular views, travelers are also offered adequate food. There are many extra delights like beer in the railcar and Russian vodka.
Circle line train in Myanmar
Take this scenic, budget-friendly slow train taking travelers 280km via Myanmar’s Northern Shan State Park. The best part of the trip is crossing the Goteik viaduct, which was once the largest railway trestle in the world. Today, it showcases what remains of Myanmar’s highest bridge.
The railroad was completed in 1901, and its epic structure allows travelers to see breathtaking views of the gorge and valley below. It is an exceptional feat of engineering and not for the faint of hearts.
Amtrak California Zephyr
Amtrak California Zephyr stopped in Glenwood Springs
More scenic compared to Southwest Chief, the California Zephyr travels across many beautiful places and is among the most scenic train rides in America. This three-day ride recreates the trail that was used by the initial pioneers who traveled in covered wagons.
Along the journey, visitors can check out the stunning Colorado River, home to the iconic Horseshoe Bend, the Rocky Mountains, and the Nevada desert before they arrive in San Francisco Bay. There are viewing carriages, meals delivered to passengers’ seats, and tour guides.
- Route: Chicago to San Francisco, although it makes several stops
- Distance: 3,397 miles
- Price: from $32
Riding the Reunification express from Hoi An to Hanoi
Reunification Express is another one of the most scenic yet cheapest train rides in the world while offering a journey through history. Most trains passing this route are modern, meaning they are highly priced, but there is no harm in taking this budget-friendly ride on the historic Reunification Express.
The train travels along thousands of bridges and dozens of tunnels. Consider taking this ride to see some of Vietnam’s most beautiful scenery, such as beaches, wetlands, mountains, cities, and jungles. Although the scenery is stunning, the train itself offers a modest, humbling experience; it offers soft seats and wooden benches and allows napping on the floor. There’s also a dining car to purchase drinks and food.
- Route: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City
- Distance: 1072 miles
- Price: from $10
The GoldenPass Line
From the Brünig Pass down to Lucerne on a cog wheel section of the GoldenPass line
The Golden Pass Line is the best way to experience the natural beauty of Switzerland. It is also one of the best scenic train rides on a budget. It is not a direct train but several specialty trains; tourists have to change trains in Interlaken and Zweisimmen sometimes. So, travelers can break the journey into pieces or do certain sections of it.
Along the way, travelers can see the incredible Brunig Pass, the Bernese Oberland, which booms with glacial lakes Gstaad, an upscale resort town, and finally, the beautiful Lake Geneva, which offers many things to do.