5 Epic Train Trips from Movies — and how you can take them

Getty Images | Stefan Tomic

Hollywood has long had a love affair with train travel — as have other movie-making epicenters. Whether in sweeping romantic sagas or dystopian murder mysteries, some of the most epic trains of all time have been depicted in all their glory on the big screen.

Here, we take a look at 5 of them — and tell how you, too, can experience these grand adventures, on the rails or off.

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Quirky filmmaker Wes Anderson hardly gets better than this. The charming, funny, and at times surprisingly touching film about three brothers travelling across India stars Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman. But the three fine actors, who are utterly convincing as brothers in all their love/hate relationship glory, are often upstaged by the jaw-dropping scenery of India. The film features stunning footage of the blue city of Jodphur and the magical lakeside Udaipur (my personal favourite city in India).

Palace on Wheels India
Photo by Palace on Wheels India

How you can do it:

Like most movies, this one takes liberties with real life. Though the train is called the Darjeeling Limited and its later scenes are supposed to be in the Himalayas of Northern India, they were actually shot outside of Udaipur, in Rajasthan some 1,750 kilometres away. You can take the luxury Palace on Wheels train — a truly unforgettable journey — along the Golden Triangle route between Agra (the Taj Mahal), Jodhpur, Udaipur, and other cities in Rajasthan. On a much lower budget, you can still experience an epic Indian train journey (a must for any visit to the country) via the regular Indian Railways.

And although none of the movie was actually filmed in Darjeeling, there is a famous toy train in that mountain city known worldwide for its tea. The historic rail cars run by Darjeeling Himalayan Railways have travelled their narrow gauge tracks since 1880 and are still operating today. You can ride anything from the short round-trip “joy ride” between Darjeeling and Ghum (the highest altitude station at 2,225 metres), to the full circuit that goes all the way to New Jalpaiguri. Mark Twain said that his trip on the toy train was “the most enjoyable day I have spent on earth.” I did this on my trip to Darjeeling back in 2010 and I have to agree!

Darjeeling Himalayan Railways
Darjeeling Himalayan Railways – photo taken by author Shelley Seale on her 2010 journey

Murder on the Orient Express (1974, 2017)

This classic Agatha Christie novel has been adapted into film twice, both with star-studded casts. The story centres around what is possibly the world’s most famous train journey — only the Orient Express gets marooned in Eastern Europe by a blizzard, and a passenger is murdered. Over the next few days while the train is stranded, private detective Hercule Poirot attempts to identify the murderer.

How you can do it:

Christie herself travelled on the Orient Express in 1928 on her first solo trip abroad, and it inspired her to write one of her most popular books. Sadly, the renowned train that began operating in 1883 between Paris and Constantinople (now Istanbul) is no longer in service. However, the Venice-Simplon Orient Express train, which runs between London and Venice, still services that legendary Paris-to-Istanbul route, using original 1920s-30s railway carriages from the historic Orient Express. Like India’s Palace on Wheels, this is a luxury experience including five-star dining, so it doesn’t come cheap. There are also regular trains that service the destinations, such as Deutsche Bahn UK.

 

The series of books by J.K. Rowling about young wizard Harry Potter and his friends, and the movies made from them, are some of the most beloved around the world. Hogwarts Express is the fictional train that was used to transport students of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from London.

How you can do it:

Of course, neither the Hogwarts Express nor its final destination, Hogsmeade Station, actually exist. However, the London King’s Cross station where Hogwarts students embarked is very much real; in fact, it’s one of the busiest railway stations in the United Kingdom. Start your journey there, exploring the historic, restored 1852 building and the many shops and restaurants it offers — including the Harry Potter Shop at Platform 9-3/4.

That non-existent platform from the books is marked by a plaque between platforms 9 and 10, next to the shop, and a luggage trolley placed to appear stuck halfway through the wall (photo opp!). There is also a memorial to actor Alan Rickman there, created by fans. From King’s Cross, you can take any number of trains to explore London; perhaps including a stop at the National Railway Museum, where you can see the wrought iron ‘Platform ​9 3⁄4’ gate from the film set.

Before Sunrise

This sweet romance follows one night in the life of American Jesse and French Celine, who meet on a train going from Budapest to Vienna. After developing a connection through long, beautifully-written conversations on the train, they decide to spend the night roaming the streets of Vienna together, before Jesse leaves the next morning.

Before Sunrise
Before Sunrise, photo provided by Bruno Chatelin on Flickr

How you can do it:

Check Eurail for the two-and-a-half hour trip between Budapest and Vienna. The Westbahnhof station in Europaplatz is where Jesse and Celine got off the train in Vienna; from there you can visit Maria Theresien Platz, where you might take in the Museum of Natural History, Kunsthistorisches Museum of art or the Museumsquartier complex with ongoing art and educational exhibits, events, live concerts, cafes and outdoor lounges.

The Wurstelprater amusement park in Leopoldstadt — just called the Prater locally — is another must-visit, as the Wiener Riesenrad Ferris wheel is where Jesse and Celine shared their first kiss. It’s one of the oldest Ferris wheels in the world, and quite unique with its spacious red cars. Other spots around the city that the couple visited in the movie include Kleines (Little) Café, Café Sperl, the 14th century Maria am Gestade church, and the Albertina Museum, where they say their last goodbye before Jesse board his train again.

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

One of the most sweeping, romantic sagas ever to grace the big screen, this classic film follows the joys and tragedies of Lara and Zhivago, who is fleeing from the Bolsheviks with his family during the Russian Revolution. One of the most iconic cinematic images in history is that of Julie Christie as Lara, with smoke billowing from the train as it moves into the snowy Ural Mountains.

Trans-Siberian Express
Trans-Siberian Express, photo by Martha de Jong-Lantink on Flickr

How you can do it:

Well, you might not want to. Most of the film takes place is the desolate and forbidding Russian countryside, and the train that played such a pivotal role in the plot is a cattle train. However, you can travel on the Trans-Siberian Express, the railway trip that would most closely capture the scenes of the film — in warm comfort, of course. If you want an epic train journey, you can’t top this one; the Trans-Siberian is the longest uninterrupted train route in the world, crossing 6 time zones and a multitude of different terrain ranging from forest to mountain to desert to steppe.

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