The 7 most scenic train journeys provide not only beautiful sceneries at terminus cities, but also charming views outside the trains' windows on the way. Instead of seeing the same sea of clouds on an airplane, your trip is enhanced by seeing different landscapes through a train's windows.
Read on to see which train route you want to start your journey with.
1. Chengdu to Kunming — "Geological Museum" Route
- Length: 1,096 km (681 mi)
- Duration: high-speed train: 6 hours approx; normal-speed train: 19 hours approx.
- Price: 487.5 yuan (72 USD) for a second class; 372.5 yuan (60 USD) for a soft sleeper
- Train schedule: 3 high-speed trains and 4 normal-speed trains per day (departure from 08:51 to 16:06)
- Scenery: mountains and cliffs, deep canyons, great rivers in southwest China, long bridges
This railway line has been in service since July 1970. It was praised by the United Nations as one of the three wonders of humanity's conquest of nature in the 20th century, along with the former Soviet Union's Sputnik 1 in 1957, and the Moon rocks brought back by the United States' Apollo.
It runs through southwest China, which has 56 complex geographical regions of mountains and rivers. From Chengdu's plains area, with an altitude of about 400 meters, the train goes up to altitudes of about 2,000 meters, traveling through tunnels and across mountains. The complex geography along the railway line gives this route the name of "geological museum".
Recommended Bullet Train's Timetable and Price
- Departure station: Chengdu East Railway Station
- Terminal station: Kunming South Railway Station
|Business class||First class||Second class|
|G2883||08:37||14:29||5 h 52 min||133 USD (917.5 yuan)||118 USD (814 yuan)||72 USD (497.5 yuan)|
|G2887||15:07||21:31||6 h 24 min||138 USD (953.5 yuan)||108 USD (846 yuan)||75 USD (517.5 yuan)|
Please note: the prices for the first and second class train tickets saw a 6% increase in 2023, but the price for business decreased by around 55%. It is now much more cost-effective to take a business class seat.
- Chengdu's must-sees: Giant Pandas, Jinli Old Street, Magical Face Changing
- Kunming's must-sees: the Stone Forest, Western Hills Park
- Recommended tour: 6-Day Yunnan Ethnic Minorities Tour
2. Beijing to Shanghai — High-Speed Train in Prosperous Cities
- Length: 1,318 km (819 mi)
- Duration: 5 hours approx.
- Price: 553 yuan (89 USD) for a second class seat
- Train schedule: 45 high-speed trains (depart from 06:20 to 21:21)
- Scenery: endless wheat fields, the Yellow River, countryside scenery with colorful roofs, the Yangtze River
Beijing and Shanghai are two of the most popular cities for first-time travelers to China. This high-speed train route is very popular and definitely worth a ride during your China trip. It is a trip that combines some of China's main urban landscapes with cultivated countryside scenery and mountains in between. The new and modern facilities on the train ensure you have a comfortable journey.
The scenery is not as spectacular as the Chengdu–Kunming route, but the thing to admire is China's infrastructure and expansive urban areas. The route gives a ground level view of the core of China along with some beautiful scenery including the agricultural areas.
Recommended Direct Trains' Timetable and Prices
For this route, we suggest that you leave Beijing before noon for the best scenery. Before noon, there are 15 G class trains that depart from Beijing from 06:43 to 12:00.
The fastest G1, G3, G7, G11 and G21 trains departing from Beijing (or G2, G4, G8, G10 and G22) departing from Shanghai) takes 4 hours and 28 minutes with one stop in Nanjing South. G1/G2 leaves at the ideal time of 09:00, so if you want a fast trip with the best scenery, they are the best two to take.
|Second class||First class||Business class|
|G5 departs from Beijing||09:00||13:37||4 h 37 min||96 USD (662 yuan)||154 USD (1,060 yuan)||336 USD (2,318 yuan)|
|G8 departs from Shanghai||09:00||13:27||4 h 27 min|
"Fuxinghao" High-Speed Trains Between Beijing and Shanghai
"Fuxinghao" is the newest type of high-speed trains, with the top speed of 350 km/h. The trains are equipped with WIFI abd each seat has a power socket. Currently, 35 out of 45 Beijing-Shnghai high-speed trains are Fuxinghao, and 32 out of 42 Shanghai-Beijing trains are Fuxinghao.
- Beijing must-sees: the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, Temple of Heaven
- Shanghai must-sees: the Bund, Yu Garden, the Jinmao Tower
- Recommended tour: 3-Day Essence of Shanghai and Watertown Tour
- See Beijing–Shanghai High-Speed Train for the timetable, price, and transportation guide.
3. Xi'an to Urumqi — Silk Road Journey in a Vast Desert Landscape
- Length: 2,526 km (1,570 mi)
- Duration: 30 hours approx. (1 night and 1 day or 2 nights and 1 day on the train)
- Price: 734.5 yuan (106 USD) for soft sleeper
- Train schedule: 10 normal-speed trains (depart from 03:46 to 13:03)
- Scenery: the Yellow River, Jiayuguan Fortress, the Gobi Desert
Xi'an has a long history, being the first of China's four Great Ancient Capitals. There are many historical buildings and heritages. Urumqi is the largest city in Western China, with colorful Uyghur ethnic group culture and the Silk Road culture.
This is a Silk Road journey, as well as an adventure journey. It is full of Western China's scenery and delicious food on the way. You will be in the wilderness of the Gobi Desert.
Recommended Direct Train's Timetable and Price
- Departure station: Xi'an Railway Station
- Terminal station: Urumqi Railway Station
|Hard seat||Hard sleeper||Soft sleeper|
|Z41||08:43||09:38 (next day)||24 h 25 min||40 USD (273.5 yuan)||67 USD (463.5 yuan)||106 USD (734.5 yuan)|
- Xi'an's must-sees: the Terracotta Army, Ancient City Wall, Muslim Food Street
- Urumqi's must-sees: Urumqi Grand Bazaar, Heavenly Lake, Red Hill
- Recommended tour: 2-Day Essence of Xi'an Tour
4. Dali to Lijiang — Most Relaxing Route
- Length: 159 km (99 mi)
- Duration: 2 hours approx.
- Price: 80 yuan (12 USD) for a soft seat
- Train schedule: 1 normal-speed trains and 2 high-speed trains (depart from 12:19 to 18:15)
- Scenery: snow-capped mountains, Erhai Lake, blue sky without air pollution
You can see snow-capped mountains from the train, and appreciate Erhai Lake's beautiful scenery. The blue sky, green mountains, and clear water form a great watercolor painting of nature. You can put on your earphones to listen to quiet music. This is a relaxing way to enjoy your vacation.
Recommended Direct Train's Timetable and Price
- Departure station: Dali Railway Station
- Terminal station: Lijiang Railway Station
|Second Class||First Class|
|D8213||12:19||14:30||2 h 1 min||12 USD (80 yuan)||19 USD (127 yuan)|
- Dali must-sees: Three Pagodas, Erhai Lake, Dali Ancient City
- Lijiang must-sees: Lijiang Ancient Town, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Tiger Leaping Gorge
- Recommended tour: 3-Day Essence of Ancient Lijiang Tour
5. Hefei to Fuzhou — Most Beautiful China Countryside Scenery
- Length: 808 km (502 mi)
- Duration: 4½ hours approx.
- Price: 357 yuan (57 USD) for a second class seat
- Train schedule: 22 high-speed trains (depart from 08:26 to 17:43)
- Scenery: the Yangtze River, historical memorial archways, wetland views
This train route passes through many scenic sites in southeast China, mostly natural scenery and countryside scenery. It also passes through cities with three World Heritage sites — the Yellow Mountains (Huangshan City), Mount Wuyi (Wuyishan City), and Mount Sanqingshan (Shangrao City). Thus, it's regarded as "the most beautiful rail line" in China. The comfortable environment on the high-speed train makes this tour a more impressive one.
Recommended Direct Train's Timetable and Price
- Departure station: Hefei South Railway Station
- Terminal station: Fuzhou Railway Station
There is a lot of beautiful scenery at the stations along the way; you can get off at one of them and enjoy your trip. We recommend that you get off at Huangshan North for spectacular views of the Yellow Mountains. Picturesque villages, famous for quaint architecture and spring scenery, can be seen nearby.
|Hefei South||-||08:26||Mount Jiuhua|
|Chaohu East||08:47||08:49||Chaohu Lake|
|Tongling North||09:09||09:11||Tongling Yangtze River Bridge Park|
|Huangshan North||10:07||10:12||The Yellow Mountains|
|Shangrao||10:59||11:03||Mount Sanqingshan National Park|
|Nanping City||11:32||11:34||Mount Wuyi|
- Recommended tour: 4-Day Trekking Tour in the Yellow Mountains
6. Xining to Lhasa — Way to the Sky
- Length: 1,956 km (1,215 mi)
- Duration: 22 hours approx.
- Price: 781 yuan (113 USD) for a soft sleeper
- Train schedule: 7 normal-speed trains (depart from 12:20 to 23:20)
- Scenery: snowcapped mountains, a great lake view, grassland
This train route is popular for travelers who want to visit Tibet — the roof of the world. It is the longest high altitude train trip in the world, and the scenery is beautiful, stark, and almost otherworldly — it is named as the "way to the sky". Most of this route is over 4,000 meters and it goes above 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) several times.
See more about the Qinghai-Tibet Raiwlay
The reward of the route is to see a starkly beautiful part of the world that was almost inaccessible. Instead of city views, you'll see mostly desolate wilderness or pastures. After the train has left Xining Railway Station for about 1 hour, you can see the boundless blue lake — Qinghai Lake. The stunning views outside the train's windows will impressive you during your trip.
See more about Scenery along the Qinghai-Tibet Raiwlay
Recommended Tibet Tour:
|Hard Seat||Hard Sleeper||Soft Sleeper|
|Z21||15:20||12:29 (next day)||21 h 09 min||33 USD (224 yuan)||72 USD (495 yuan)||113 USD (781 yuan)|
- Xining must-sees: Qinghai Lake, Kumbum Monastery
- Lhasa must-sees: Jokhang Temple, the Potala Palace, Bakhor Street
- Recommended tour: 5-Day Lhasa Classics and Holy Lake Yomdrok Tour
Travel Tips for This Route
Summer is the best time to travel by train: We recommend that you take the train in summer to enjoy better scenery and to see the native people out and about and camping alongside the train tracks with their yak herds. But it is very hard to get tickets on a tibet train from June to Octobet. We suggest that you book tickets on tibet trains as early as possible.
Each cabin is supplied with oxygen that comes out of little vents or, if you prefer, you can insert a tube to inhale it.
All foreign travelers are required to apply for a Tibet Entry Permit. See more detailed requirements and how to apply for the Tibet Permits for Traveling in Tibet.
Read more about Tibet Trains.
7. Lhasa to Shigatze — Travel to Mount Everest by Train
- Length: 253 km (157 mi)
- Duration: 2½ hours approx.
- Price: 82.5 yuan (13 USD) for a soft seat
- Train schedule: 3 high-speed trains (depart from 11:07 to 18:10)
- Scenery: the Lhasa River, Brahmaputra Grand Canyon
This railway is an extension of the Qinghai–Tibet railway, with an average altitude of 3,500 km (2,174 mi). It makes Tibet travel more convenient for travelers, especially those who want to see Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world.
The train runs through the Brahmaputra Grand Canyon with magnificent views of the Brahmaputra River through the train's windows. Along the railway line, you can see local farmers and yaks. And most of the time, you can appreciate a plateau landscape of mountains and meadows.
2 Direct Trains' Timetable and Prices
- Departure station: Lhasa Railway Station
- Terminal station: Shigatze Railway Station
|Second Class||First Class||Business Class|
|C891||08:20||10:42||2 h 22 min||10 USD (64 yuan)||15 USD (103 yuan)||33 USD (225 yuan)|
|C923||14:55||17:25||2 h 30 min|
- Shigatze must-sees: Mount Everest, Tashilhunpo Monastery
- Recommended tour: 8-Day Lhasa and Everest Base Camp Tour