Inspiring landscapes, a comfy lie-flat seat, and no long security lines? In a time when flying with kids can be a monumental hassle, relaxing family vacations might sound far-fetched. But it’s a travel experience that’s both closer and more affordable than you might think, and hassle-free travel is just one of the joys of kid-friendly train trips.
2024’s Best Train Trips for Families in the U.S., Canada, and around the World
Families have a lot of flexibility when it comes to train travel. Rail journeys span the globe, trip lengths range from a few hours to full-day trips to two or more days, and there are abundant opportunities to get off and explore places en route to your final stop. In 2024, the best train trips for families will help you slow down, enjoy the world, and have a multigenerational vacation that everyone—from babies and toddlers to teens and grandparents—can enjoy.
1. Winnipeg to Churchill on Via Rail Canada
An ideal train trip for patient younger travelers or families with teens
It’s possible that Manitoba has never made it on to your bucket list of must-see travel destinations, but that might change once you discover the town of Churchill, also known as the Polar Bear Capital of the World. Via Rail’s two-day, two-night train trips from Winnipeg to Churchill are the perfect way to experience the dense forests and vast arctic tundra of the Manitoba wilderness. The route is the northernmost route of Via Rail Canada and departs two days a week from Winnipeg.
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There’s more than just polar bears on this scenic train trip, too. Churchill is a scientifically significant Arctic gateway that’s also one best places to experience Arctic activities like seasonal kayaking with beluga whales, bird watching, and marveling at the Aurora Borealis, which is visible about 300 nights per year. Located on the Hudson Bay, Churchill is remote, and the train ride offers both the only dry land passage to Churchill and the most climate-friendly option for getting there, a major plus if you’re a fan of polar bears and other wildlife affected by climate change.
2. California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco on Amtrak
A good introduction to train trips for families of all ages
Amtrak’s California Zephyr route is among the most scenic train trips in the United States. Traveling from the San Francisco Bay Area to Chicago, you’ll take in the beauty of the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountain ranges, cross the Colorado River, be amazed by the vivid Utah desert, and glide through the Great Plains. Covering much of the original transcontinental railroad route, the California Zephyr the perfect rail vacation for American history enthusiasts of all ages.
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While the Zephyr travels from San Francisco to Chicago in just over two full days, heading to Colorado (from either starting point) offers a great 24-hour introduction to train trips for younger travelers. With five Colorado stops, including stations that service Denver, Aspen, and Rocky Mountain National Park, you’re likely to find a good mix of train ride and on-the-ground activities if you only want to spend one night on a train.
3. Switzerland’s Glacier Express Scenic Train Trip
A one-day sightseeing trip by train through the Swiss Alps
Weaving through the Swiss Alps, dipping into valleys, crossing 291 bridges, and passing through 91 tunnels, Switzerland’s Glacier Express offers the ultimate in relaxed mountain sightseeing. You’ll be glad not to miss a moment of scenery on this single-day train journey. The only direct train from Zermatt to St. Moritz, The Glacier Express offers nonstop scenery along the 300-kilometer, eight-hour ride through one of the best family vacation spots in Europe.
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With views of the Matterhorn and a trip into the Rhine Gorge, known as the Grand Canyon of Switzerland, this family-friendly train trip offers ever-changing entertainment from comfortable seats in the fully sealed panoramic view cars. Families not wanting to spend the full eight hours on the train can hop off at one of the several stops along the way, making it easy to break up the trip into parts, or only travel part of the route.
4. Vietnam Railway Reunification Line: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City
A spectacular lesson in the joys of train trips that get off the beaten path
The Reunification Express is a 30-hour train journey running north-south through Vietnam from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. The train travels through bustling urban neighborhoods, lush farmland, sleepy fishing villages, and dense jungles. For families with teenagers old enough to enjoy the adventure, the Reunification Express offers a spectacular lesson in the joys of getting off the beaten path.
Not to be missed is the three-hour section between Hué and Danang along the Hai Van Pass. With jungle pushing in from one side of the tracks and tropical beaches lining the other, the stunning scenery gives you a glimpse into a Vietnam that would be entirely missed from an airplane.
5. Alaska Railroad
A comfortable window into Alaska’s natural splendor
Alaska can be a daunting destination to plan for, which is what makes Alaska Railroad’s train trips extra appealing. Convenient, scenic, and close to all that spectacular nature, this is a rail journey that can be tailored to any age and family size. Single day excursions and multi-day train trips, stops along the way or direct train journeys—however you want it, you can build it. With packages that range from two to 10 days, it’s easy to find a schedule that suits you.
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The Alaska Railroad offers service to many of Alaska’s top tourist destinations, including Anchorage, Denali National Park, Kenai Fjords National Park, and Fairbanks. Additionally, the train is often the only way to get to certain places in Alaska, including the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop in the Chugach National Forest. Onboard narration enriches the experience by telling the stories behind the sights. Hop the train as a way to get somewhere specific, or choose a summer or winter exploration package and let Alaska unfold around you.
6. Great Journeys of New Zealand on Kiwirail
Train trips to experience New Zealand’s most stunning sights
With the longest journey clocking in at just 12 hours and a multi-day Scenic Rail Pass option, Kiwirail’s Great Journeys of New Zealand routes have something for everyone in the family. Lord of the Rings enthusiasts will want to ride the Northern Explorer line from Wellington to Auckland, and travel through the volcanic heart of New Zealand. A stop at Tongariro National Park is a must as travelers can scale an active volcano and see Mount Doom from the movies.
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For the beach and nature lover, the Coastal Pacific route offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore picturesque beach towns and the ecologically significant destination of Kaikōura, where animals outnumber people. It’s the perfect spot to glimpse humpback, blue, sperm, and orca whales.
7. Train Trips Through Europe on Eurail
Introduce the next generation to Europe by train
Ready to explore Europe by train? While it’s not a single route, the train trips possible with a Eurail pass are nearly endless. With a convenient booking app and one of Europe’s best travel deals for families with younger kids—each paying adult can add two child passes (ages four to 11) to their ticket at no additional cost—the Eurail pass is a must for any family looking to simplify their European vacation.
The Eurail pass works across a variety of train systems in 33 European countries (including the previous mentioned Glacier Express) with more than 40,000 destinations. A Eurail pass gives families the flexibility to plan a train trip that is just right for their family, whether that’s an overnight from Paris to Rome, tooling around Spain, or adding a Greek Island Ferry Pass as a way to explore the Greek Islands. It’s good to know that some train trips, including high-speed and sleeper trains, do require a seat reservation.
8. Auto Train from Washington, D.C., to Orlando on Amtrak
Reinvent the family road trip with a train journey mixed in
Pack the car, small boat, or even a jetski on your next train trip. With Amtrak’s Auto Train, you and your ride—packed with everything you need—can hop on board and travel from the Washington, D.C., to Orlando metro areas, taking in two of the most popular family vacation spots in the country on one trip. The 17-hour train journey is perfect for families who want to experience the fun of overnight train trips but also want their vehicle when they get to their destination.
Since the train departs at 4:00 p.m. (vehicle loading is earlier), and arrives the next morning at 9:00 a.m., your family’s onboard time can focus on fun of the train, including the dining car and sleeping at a time that works for kids. It’s a long family road trip by car that turns into a time to play and sleep when you’re traveling by train. Florida-bound families have easy access to Disney and Universal theme park lands like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And with your car, it’s easy to turn that vacation into a road trip and visit other family-favorite Florida attractions like Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center on the Space Coast.