The only thing better than a glass of wine is enjoying it while riding the rails and watching the scenery roll past.
“All aboard!” These words are music to the ears of anyone who appreciates the romantic nostalgia of a train excursion. And who wouldn’t? No other mode of transportation allows you to experience the varied landscapes of a country so intimately. Now imagine this journey with a glass of wine in hand, accompanied by hors d’oeuvres or a multi-course meal, and you have a recipe for a delicious adventure. Plus, it’s a responsible way to imbibe since you don’t have to worry about driving around wine country. From the California coast to the Deep South, through Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley and up to Canada, each of these trains not only offers stunning scenery, but an unparalleled wine-tasting experience.
1. Napa Valley Wine Train: California
(Napa Valley Wine Train)
This list wouldn’t be complete without mention of Napa Valley’s finest luxury train. With its polished reputation and carefully curated menus, it’s no wonder that Napa Valley Wine Train is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Step back in time as you board the retro coaches that were once used on the Northern Pacific Railway, and prepare to drink and dine in splendor with a variety of different tours, from an Italian-themed Legacy tour that includes a visit to Robert Mondavi winery to an Estate tour that focuses on French winemaking traditions. Tours generally run between three to six hours, and each option includes a multiple-course lunch or dinner along with a tasting at one or more wineries.
From $150 for the gourmet express lunch train; winetrain.com.
2. Wine on the Rails: Tennessee
A collaboration between local music-festival producer Muddy Roots Music and the Tennessee Central Railway Museum, this is a wine train ride that won’t easily be forgotten—thought the details may be fuzzy, depending on how many glasses you've had, that is. As you depart Nashville, sit back and enjoy a tasting on this 1950s passenger train while live music accompanies your voyage. Spontaneous dancing has been known to erupt in the aisles, and as you reach your destination the revelry continues with a tasting at the Del Monaco Winery in the tiny town of Baxter. (Population: 1,200ish.) Passengers are encouraged to dress in vintage attire, making the experience all the more unique.
From $60, which includes a commemorative wine glass and other goodies; wineontherails.com.
3. Grape Escape Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad: Ohio
This wine train takes you through the beautiful Cuyahoga National Park between Cleveland and Akron, delivering spectacular scenery along the way, from forests to rolling hills and the winding Cuyahoga River. Each Saturday, two-hour excursions offer tastings of five different wines paired with light appetizers. Themed tours take place on select Saturdays, during which you can sample wines from Africa or South America, or stick a little closer to home with some of Ohio’s best wines on a Buckeye State of Wine tour. For beer-drinkers, there’s also an Ales on Rails journey.
From $60; cvsr.com/take-the-train/grape-escape-ales-on-rails.
4. Cross-Canada VIA Rail: various routes across the country
The VIA Rail, the only passenger train that travels the length of Canada year-round, is often referred to as Canada’s best window, and it is easy to see why, as breathtaking views are easily the main attraction on every route. A Sleeper Plus ticket allows you to enjoy complimentary tastings of Canadian beer and wine as well as musical acts and special cultural presentations. For those with more of a champagne budget, a Prestige Class ticket also includes a personal concierge who will ensure that your journey is beyond memorable.
From $479 for a Sleeper Plus ticket on the Winnipeg-Edmonton route, with other routes available; viarail.ca.
5. New Hope and Ivyland Railroad Grapevine Express: Pennsylvania
Late summer and early fall are ideal times to enjoy a leaf-peeping foliage tour, and luckily, the Grapevine Express operates from August through the end of October. As you board this vintage diesel locomotive and make your way to the first class parlor car, you’ll be offered a glass of wine and a spread of gourmet cheeses, fruit, and artisan crackers. The hour-long nonstop round-trip excursion begins about 40 miles outside of Philadelphia and travels through the historic Bucks County woods. The adventure is both educational and entertaining, and you'll learn about the history of the area through on-board narration.
From $75, which includes two glasses of wine and a souvenir wine glass; newhoperailroad.com/grapevineexpress.
6. San Diego Winery Train Tour: California
Take in the magnificent scenery of the California coast from the comfort of your seat as you travel to several urban wineries and wine bars in San Diego. The green and eco-friendly train runs along the city’s coastal route, following the same path as the local commuter train, and makes four stops for a total of 15 tastings. The trip lasts approximately five hours and includes a light Italian lunch as well as a behind-the-scenes view of the wine-making process and a presentation on wine appreciation, sometimes from one of the winemakers themselves. You'll also have an opportunity to soak up some culture on a guided, historic walk to each winery. There's a beer train trolley tour as well, which stops at four local breweries.
From $98, plus the cost of the train ticket; sandiegobeerwinespiritstours.com.
7. Royal Gorge Route Railroad Wine Dinners: Colorado
This leisurely three-hour ride on Colorado’s scenic steamliner route takes guests on an epic adventure along the mighty Arkansas River deep within the granite cliffs of the Royal Gorge. A selection of themed wine dinners is offered throughout the year, each featuring meticulously chosen entrees paired with award-winning wines. And this is serious business—every year the team scouts the best wines across the United States and the world, selecting those that best complement their style of Colorado cuisine.
From $199, which includes the five-course dinner with wine pairings; royalgorgeroute.com/dining/wine-dinner.
8. The Winery Train: New Jersey
Journey along the Delaware River to one of New Jersey’s smallest wineries: the charming Villa Milagro Vineyards. Once there, you’ll enjoy a tour with hors d’oeuvres and tastings, but you’ll also likely be distracted by the panoramic views. On the train ride back, you’ll have the option of stopping at the Ol’ Susquehanna Mine to relax in the grove and enjoy a picnic, so you might want to pick up a bottle or two while you're at the winery. Trains operate from May through October and they run every 90 minutes, so you can stay as long as you like and get on board a later train.
All-inclusive tours from $35; 877trainride.com/winery.htm.