4 Regions to Travel By Train

Few forms of transportation are as relaxing and romantic as train travel.

Given the interconnected, information-saturated lives we lead, traveling by train allows us to experience the refreshing simplicity of vacationing in real time at a human pace. Stellar scenery, tasty meals, good company, room to move … why not settle into the gentle rhythm of a luxurious trip by rail?

Frankenstein Trestle in Crawford Notch State Park, N.H.

Photo: Conway Scenic Railroad

New England in the Fall

Autumn in New England is one long photo op. Seriously, if the colorful leaves could be considered one of nature’s boldest fashion statements, then New England, from the parks of Boston to the peaks of Vermont, is the official catwalk for leaf watching.

Cameras at the ready, travel by train through flaming stands of maple from leaf-laden Massachusetts to Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Of course, we’re touting train travel here, but views from the road (or even on a boat) aren’t bad either. When you reach the whitewashed lighthouses of Maine, you’d be crazy not to pause for a steaming bowl of New England clam chowder paired with lobster, fresh from the sea, drenched in butter.

On the Conway Scenic Railroad, you’ll catch views of New Hampshire’s rolling White Mountains. Then chug along Lake Winnipesaukee to the white-water rapids of Quechee Gorge, Vermont’s “Little Grand Canyon.” All the while, a dizzying maelstrom of ruby reds and fiery oranges streams by your window.

Marvel at the vibrant hues of a New England fall tour from three scenic trains, a lake cruise and a deluxe motor coach.

View from the TranzAlpine

Photo: Thinkstock

Kiwi Connection

Travel through time and space to the land of The Lord of the Rings. Step aboard New Zealand’s TranzAlpine to experience for yourself the bewitching landscape of the award-winning film, shot near Springfield. It’s just one of the many sights that will draw you in as you travel by train between Christchurch and Greymouth.

A mosaic of towering viaducts, beech forests, patchwork farmland and the rushing glacial-fed Waimakariri River appear out your window as you travel by train from one side of South Island to the other.

After you reach the highest point, the glittering 6,000-foot-plus peaks of Arthur’s Pass, the long Otira Tunnel delivers a slow descent through subtropical rainforest, past beautiful Lake Brunner and on to Greymouth. Middle-earth has nothing on this trip.

Hofburg Palace, Vienna, Austria

Photo: Thinkstock

Travel by Train Through Classic Europe

The most authentic way to soak up the romance of Mitteleuropa is, without a doubt, through traveling by train. All you need is a rail pass and you’re ready to rail-hop from one imperial capital to the next.

Vienna is fit for royalty, from the grandeur of Hofburg Palace, where beloved Empress Sisi once resided, to Schönbrunn Palace, cloaked in decadent gilt and crystal. But manners are optional while you devour a dark, rich, chocolatey slice of Sachertorte in a Viennese café. Speaking of cafés, you could spend hours just soaking up the coffeehouse culture here.

First-time visitors to Budapest should own up to doing “that really touristy thing” and ride the wooden funicular up to imposing Buda Castle. Then dip into the mosaic-lined Gellért Baths for a soak and a steam. As you wander the city, you can’t miss the Hungarian Parliament building, where the glittering Holy Crown, commissioned by Pope Sylvester II for King Stephen’s coronation in 1000 A.D., is on display. (Come back at night when the building is aglow with fairy lights.)

Spies and shadowy figures lurk behind every corner of Prague’s stormy history. Set out to discover a thousand years of imperial history and Cold War intrigue woven into a tapestry of real events and myth. Or, to lighten the mood, raise a glass of Pilsner by the ancient cobbled Charles Bridge of Prague.

Christmas in Zurich, Switzerland

Photo: Thinkstock

Europe by Rail: Holiday Edition

The most magical time of the year? November and December, when steaming cups of mulled wine, giant iced gingerbread cookies and buildings decked out in their holiday best warm our hearts. Meanwhile, the rest of our body is left to brave the winter weather.

This year, spend your holiday Christmas market hopping traveling by train aboard the famously punctual rails of Switzerland. The Wilhelm Tell Express, Bernina Express and fabled Glacier Express ferry revelers to the sparkling festivities, including the largest outdoor Christmas market in Montreux, an hour’s journey along Lake Geneva.

Enjoy a magical evening walking tour under the Old Town arches in Bern. Feast on sausages and choucroute in Basel, home of the longest illuminated Christmas street, and stop in the French town of Mulhouse. Then on to Zurich, a city seriously dedicated to lights, music and the pursuit of the perfect Glühwein recipe. Don’t miss the “Singing Christmas Tree,” a laddered choir nearly two stories high.

Browse popular European rail routes and reserve your passes online. Or call 877-396-7159 for assistance from a AAA Travel Counselor.

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Heidi Kazemi, AAA Travel Counselor, Roseville, Calif.

Customization is always my top priority when planning a client's vacation. I ask about their family and where they've been before. Their preferences guide our planning so the vacation is perfectly tailored for them.

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