Travel

Book a Ride on the These Trains Made Famous on the Big Screen

These cinematic trains have made appearances in all kinds of flicks, from Westerns to zombie movies.

Tim Graham/Contributor/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Tim Graham/Contributor/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Tim Graham/Contributor/Getty Images News/Getty Images

From the Hitchcock classic North by Northwest to David Leitch’s 2022 film Bullet Train, railway cinema has captivated audiences for decades. There’s something utterly romantic about those old-fashioned choo choos-with their gusty steam engines, long corridors, and well-dressed porters-that provide the perfect setting for love stories and murder mysteries alike. Or, if the train just so happens to be a sleek, high-speed railway á la Snowpiercer, it might just lend itself to a plot that’s far more dystopian.

If you’ve ever dreamed of boarding a train straight out of a film, chances are, that train actually exists-and if it doesn’t, there’s probably a real one that comes pretty close. So whether you’re looking to channel the magic of the Hogwarts Express or finesse a Before Sunrise-style meet-cute on your way to Vienna, here are the most cinematic trains across the globe, along with tips for scoring a cabin.

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

Murder on the Orient Express: Venice-Simplon Orient Express

As far as cinematic trains go, the Orient Express is the blueprint. In 1882, Georges Nagelmackers, motivated by the romantic idea of uniting the East and West, launched a train service that would eventually become synonymous with Old World glamour and intrigue. The locomotive has provided a backdrop for Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express and Ian Fleming’s 1957 Bond story From Russia With Love, both of which were adapted into films. The historic Orient Express harkens back to a golden age of travel-so much so that two luxury hospitality companies are competing to recreate it. Belmond’s Venice-Simplon Orient Express has been operating since 1982, whisking passengers from Paris to Istanbul in restored vintage carriages, while Accor will debut their version in 2024, just in time for the Paris Olympics.

How to Book: While the Venice-Simplon Orient Express typically offers the five-night journey between Paris and Istanbul once a year, they’ll be adding a second rotation in 2024. Tickets are now on sale for May, but consider this a bucket list journey: Cabins start at $19k.

Before Sunrise: ÖBB Railjet

In Before Sunrise (1995), Jesse and Céline set a precedent for railway roulette: What would happen if you struck up a conversation with a stranger on a train, and decided to spontaneously disembark on a European adventure? It’s the chance encounter that’s created an entire genre of travel stories, and if you’re looking to recreate that movie magic-or shoot your shot-ÖBB, Austria’s national railway company, offers that very route from Budapest to Vienna. If you opt for the Railjet bullet train, you’ll have the opportunity to make multiple stops on international routes between Germany, Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, to name a few, and thus increase your chances of finding love.

How to Book: An economy ticket (keep in mind it was a couple’s noisy quarrel that brought Jesse and Céline’s together) on the Railjet high-speed train starts at $32. The Budapest to Vienna train schedule serves 8 departures per day.

Memories Over Mocha/Shutterstock
Memories Over Mocha/Shutterstock
Memories Over Mocha/Shutterstock

The Darjeeling Limited: Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

While there’s no real Darjeeling Limited, The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and what some might call “accidentally Wes Anderson.” The narrow gauge steam railway, established in 1881 to expedite the shipping of goods between the hills of Darjeeling and the plains, runs between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling. Nicknamed the “Toy Train,” it’s a real feat of engineering, making use of zigzag reverses and loops to ascend the Himalayas. Take in the stunning views of the mist-covered mountains and you’ll understand why Wes Anderson sent those three brothers to this neck of the woods for a spiritual journey.

How to Book: Choose between the “Darjeeling Mail” route from New Jalpaiguri to Kurseong and Darjeeling or the “Joy Train” from Darjeeling to Ghum and back, both of which are offered daily. Tickets can be booked online, or in person at the DHR stations of Darjeeling, Ghum, Kurseong, New Jalpaiguri or Siliguri Junction. They start at around $12, and entry to the DHR Railway Museum is included in the fare.

Casino Royale: Czech Railways SuperCity Pendolino

In the 2006 film Casino Royale, James Bond meets Vesper Lynd for the first time on the train to Montenegro, and what ensues is an undeniably iconic tête-á-tête. If you’re interested in recreating the scene, hop aboard the Pendolino tilting train of Czech Railways. The train doesn’t actually go to Montenegro, instead operating on the Czech main line between Prague and Ostrava, Bratislava, and Vienna. But if you’re on the hunt for more of the movie’s locations, stop by the Mill Colonnade in Karlovy Vary, which serves as the train station where Bond and Vesper arrive.

How to Book: Tickets for the route between Ostrava and Prague start at around $10, so you might want to splurge on first class. You’ll receive a small refreshment and a daily newspaper. We can’t promise, however, that the bistro carriage will offer “skewered lamb.”

Nick Fox/Shutterstock
Nick Fox/Shutterstock
Nick Fox/Shutterstock

Harry Potter: The Jacobite Steam Train

Platform 9 and ¾ might not exist, but the Hogwarts Express does. Some of the carriages of the Jacobite Train in the Scottish Highlands, known as one of the greatest railway journeys in the world, are used in the Harry Potter films. Perhaps even more iconic, though, is the sweeping scenery of the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which the train passes through in the movies-particularly in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, when Ron and Harry take a flying car to Hogwarts, swooping in and out of its arches. On the 84-mile journey, you’ll encounter sweeping scenery, like the highest mountain in Britain (Ben Nevis), pause on the viaduct for a photo opp, then end the trip at the charming fishing village of Maillain, nestled between Loch Morar and Loch Nevis.

How to Book: In 2024, the Jacobite will run from March to October, operating seven days a week, with morning and afternoon services. Round-trip tickets start at $82 and you can start purchasing them online now.

Train to Busan: KTX High Speed Train

Yeon Sang-ho’s 2016 Train to Busan proves just how well sliding train cars can move the plot forward-and in this case, that plot is a zombie apocalypse. There’s something eerily sanitized about high-speed bullet trains, which Sang-ho uses as a foil against the hordes of reanimated corpses. But don’t let the paranormal potential stop you: the KTX 101 train from Seoul to Busan is an excellent example of how advanced South Korea’s train systems are. This ride in particular will connect you from the north to the south of the country in less than three hours. As you ride the Gyeongbu Line, you’ll stop at some of the biggest cities in the country-Suwon, Daejon, and Daegu-all while enjoying scenic green mountains and super-fast WiFi.

How to Book: Economy tickets start at $79, while first class tickets go for around $111. Be sure to book online a few months in advance, especially if you plan to travel on a weekend or over the summer, as tickets sell quickly.

FloridaStock/Shutterstock
FloridaStock/Shutterstock
FloridaStock/Shutterstock

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Colorado is the Western movie train, appearing in flicks like Run for Cover (1955), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), and How the West Was Won (1963). But perhaps most popular is its appearance in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), which follows two outlaws on the run after a string of train robberies. Founded by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway in 1880, the narrow gauge railroad was originally constructed to haul gold and silver from the San Juan Mountains. Now it serves as a tourist attraction, chugging through the Cascade Canyon, Animas River, and San Juan Mountains.

How to Book: Tickets are now on sale for the Winter Excursion experience, which takes you to the snow-covered peaks of the Rocky Mountains as you enjoy the comfort of heated coaches. They start at $89.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTikTokTwitterFacebookPinterest, and YouTube.

Jessica Sulima is a staff writer on the Travel team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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