I understand there's only one company that actually does the North Korea tours (although a lot of other tour agencies will allow you to book through them). I am wondering if they have an option to enter via train instead of by plane, especially considering that the North Korean national airline has a very low safety rating.
Yes you can!. There is a Dutch travel agency that apparently sells a 5-day tour by train into North Korea. Unfortunately their website is Dutch only, but Google Translate seems to produce some understanding text, but then again I might be biased since Dutch is my native language.
There is yet another Dutch travel agency that offers train journeys into North Korea It seems that with both companies you have to combine it with a journey through China or with the Trans-Siberian railroad.
Here's a detailed description of the 2008 trip of two Austrian and Swiss railway enthusiasts to North Korea by train via the (only a few kilometers long) border to Russia, the connection mentioned in Mark's answer.
It's a fascinating read, but I get the impression that the only reason these guys were allowed in was that no Western tourist had tried this before, the North Korean officials were completely surprised and bewildered that someone could and would do it, and since they could not find any explicit order telling them what to do in this case, they decided to stick to the general rules where a valid visa and a valid train ticket allows you entry.
I think the probability is pretty high that such an explicit order has been issued meanwhile. Even if not, another official my decide barring entry in case of doubt is a safer course of action.
Well...assuming you have a visa to get in, and assuming the tour company can meet up with you, and assuming the North Korea government allows you to travel on your own...
Train K27/K28 connect Pyongyang to Beijing in China via Tianjin, Tangshan, Beidaihe, Shanhaiguan, Jinzhou, Shenyang, Benxi, Fenghuangcheng, Dandong and Shinuiju four times a week. There is only one class on the international train between Beijing and Pyongyang: soft sleeper. It can be booked at the station in Beijing, but reservations must be made several days in advance. Your tour agency will usually do this for you, unless you are travelling on work purposes. It has been increasingly difficult to book space on the Beijing–Pyongyang route, so confirm your tickets well in advance.
Once a week train K27/K28 also conveys direct sleeping cars from Moscow via China to Pyongyang and vice versa. The route is Moscow - Novosibirsk - Irkutsk - Chita - Harbin - Shenyang - Dandong - Shinuiju - Pyongyang. Departure from Moscow is every Friday evening, arrival at Pyongyang is one week later on Friday evening. Departure from Pyongyang is Saturday morning, arrival at Moscow is Friday afternoon.
There is also a direct rail link into Russia, crossing the North Korean/Russian border at Tumangan/Khasan. This route is served by a direct sleeping car Moscow - Pyongyang and vice versa and runs twice monthly (11th and 25th from Moscow), arriving Pyongyang 9 days later. However, since the mid-nineties this has not been an officially permitted route for tourists, and KITC refuses to organize trips using this route; two Western tourists have been successful in taking this train into North Korea, but report that further trips on this route would unlikely be successful.
I have to put in a word for another Dutch agency, VNC Travel who arranged my trip in 1999. It was all done via email, in English, and it all went off without a hitch. The train ride was very interesting, much more than the plane would have been. I have fond memories of a middle aged North Korean man, out of the blue, giving me a bottle of beer for breakfast!
P.S. Just to be clear, my train trip was to and from Beijing.
I am the COO of the only American direct provider of North Korea Travel (there are several American resellers and overseas competitors)
Typically, travelers fly into Pyongyang at take the train out of North Korea by way of Dandong China. In the past, this option is not available to Americans. In 2014, Americans may be able to take the train domestically within North Korea, and we plan to begin offering itineraries that include those options.
I travelled to North Korea by train from Dandong in 2012 with DDCTS.
As far as I understand (and I did some extensive research on the topic) visiting North Korea by train from China is no problem and a lot of tour operators provide this option. Travelling from Russia, which I would be very interested in doing, is a different story.
Some already mentioned this trip by two European travellers but this (loophole) option is most likely no longer available (the trains run but it's not sure you'll be allowed to enter the DPRK using this route). While you can travel to Tumangang from Russia by train it's not (yet) possible to continue to Pyongyang from there.
As with everything regarding the DPRK, things change so I would advise on contacting the main tour operators when planning a trip. For example, the guys at Koryo Tours or Korea Konsult should be able to provide you with the latest information. You might also want to contact Mark (The Man in Seat 61) about updates on the Russia route.
While Air Koryo has recently updated its fleet, there were two recent incidents in 2016 and 2017. Personally, I still think the risk of flying with them is overrated. A train journey through North Korea is a unique experience in its own right (rather than just an alternative to flying) as you get to see parts of the country which are off limits otherwise. I would recommend (if you can) to enter the country by train and leave by plane or vice versa.
First, if you are traveling on an American passport, the answer is no. If you're a dual citizen (United States and another country), you can probably enter by rail on your second passport, but mentioning that you're an American would be a very bad idea.
There have been rumors of North Korea opening up domestic trains to U.S. citizens, but I haven't seen this confirmed anywhere.
If you're not an American citizen, or at least not traveling on an U.S. passport, the answer is yes. There are a few tour operators who organize train trips to the DPRK, but it should also be possible to buy a train ticket in Beijing directly. You can find information on the train times here:
It appears that the train runs four times a week and is usually reliable.
Be sure to obtain a visa for travel to North Korea before departing.
As a previous answer mentioned, the story of two Austrians who used the Moscow-Pyongyang sleeper car is widely available on the web, including at http://vienna-pyongyang.blogspot.com/
I thought their journey was fascinating (and extremely dangerous), but I wouldn't recommend attempting to use this route today.
Edit: Air Koryo does indeed have a terrible reputation. However, they've purchased a few new planes which are running on the Beijing-Pyongyang route. Their Tu-204 aircraft are now approved to fly into the European Union, though they don't operate a route to Europe at this time.
A better option than Air Koryo is Air China, which does operate to Pyongyang several times per week. They fly a modern fleet which is considered quite safe.