Travelling by train is something of a luxury. Although it takes far more time to reach a destination by rail than by plane, it provides passengers with the unique opportunity to take in their surroundings. It’s particularly easier to appreciate the scenic landscapes from a comfortable seat, beverage in hand, and a gourmet meal before you. Enter: luxury rail journeys; a slow, glamorous and stylish way to travel from city to city – and these are some of the best luxury rail journeys in the world.
World’s best luxury rail journeys
Rovos Rail, South Africa
Rovos’ two beautifully rebuilt trains, each catering to a maximum of 72 guests, travel far and wide across Africa. Accommodation ranges from elegantly panelled Pullman Suites through to Deluxe and Royal suites (most outfitted with king-size beds). All staterooms have ensuites, minibars and plenty of storage. Lounge cars are furnished with deep sofas, although the most popular spot is usually the Observation Car, where guests can take in the sights and sounds of Africa.
Cruise Train Seven Stars, Japan
Japan’s Cruise Train Seven Stars fuses technology with old-school opulence. Staking claim to the title of the country’s first luxury sleeper train, it takes passengers on multi-day tours around the island of Kyushu, past mountains and shoreline. The interior is a celebration of Japanese art, with delicate imagery and patterns spread across walls, furniture and fixtures. However, this luxury rail journey can only carry up to 28 passengers at a time, so applications to ride are required.
Golden Eagle, Russia
The Trans-Siberian route from Vladivostok to Moscow now has a luxury option. Unveiled by Prince Michael of Kent, the Golden Eagle features 12 ensuite sleeping cars with DVD/CD players, LCD TVs, power showers and under-floor heating. Dining is in a beautifully appointed restaurant car and is complemented by international wines and, of course, plenty of locally sourced vodka. With this luxury rail journey delving into Siberia and connecting with the Trans-Mongolian from Beijing via Ulan Bator, and the Trans-Manchurian via Harbin, seasonal routes visit Mongolia’s Naadam Festival, the Russian Crimean, the Caspian Sea and the Arctic Circle.
Belmond Andean Explorer, Peru
Starting at the ancient city of Cusco and chugging through the Andean Plains to Lake Titicaca, this luxury rail journey claims to be one of the highest in the world. The Belmond Andean Explorer train cars themselves showcase local design with Peruvian tapestries spread across the beds, there’s even a spa car for a reviving Andean ritual and soothing massage, and sweet libations served in the rear observation car.
Maharajas’ Express, India
Consistently ranked as one of the best luxury rail journeys in the world, the Maharajas’ Express offers routes stopping at Mumbai, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Agra, and Delhi. Every car throughout the train has its own private butler, and for those willing to pay for the experience, there’s a presidential suite available. However, every car has spectacular old-world charm, with curlicue wooden furniture and regal upholstery.
Rocky Mountaineer, Canada
An icon in the Canadian Rockies, this train has spent the past 20+ years taking travellers into the depths of some of North America’s most stunning scenery. The all-daylight travel means you don’t miss a single snow-capped mountain peak or mirror-like lake, and in its Gold Leaf service, which includes seating in a dome-like cabin, as well as meals and drinks, you’ll be in total comfort.
The Transcantábrico Gran Lujo, Spain
Four of the cars within the Transcantábrico Gran Lujo locomotive are original 1923 Pullman cars, and the interior of the train is designed to reflect the history and nostalgia of the era. The panoramic viewing car gifts passengers views of Spain’s most beautiful landscapes as it traverses a route over the northern coast from San Sebastian to Santiago de Compostela.
Hiram Bingham, Peru
Operated by Belmond and linking Cusco and the ancient city of Machu Picchu, the Hiram Bingham ensures guests travel in absolute style. The train caters to 84 passengers and epitomises the elegance of the Pullman trains of the 1920s, complete with timber panelling and polished cutlery. The one-day journey includes brunch on the way to Machu Picchu, a guided tour, afternoon tea at Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, cocktails and dinner on the way back to Cusco, and South American wines. A newly built station means guests can spend a night at the Hotel Rio Sagrado.
The Ghan, Australia
In operation since 1929, The Ghan is one of Australia’s best luxury rail journeys. Passengers are taken on a four-day trip from Darwin to Adelaide in comfort, with onboard meals showcasing local fare such as saltwater barramundi and grilled kangaroo fillet.
The Heritage Palace on Wheels, India
When it comes to identifying luxury rail journeys, a name such as the Heritage Palace on Wheels is a dead giveaway. Boasting 14 luxurious cabins with contemporary amenities and an aesthetically astounding dining zone. The website claims ‘On board, you’ll feel like an erstwhile monarch, travelling in regal splendour’.
Venice-Simplon Orient-Express, Europe
The Orient-Express is the original Grand Dame of the European rails. Its modern incarnation, the Venice-Simplon Orient Express, continues that tradition, travelling between London and Venice, with seasonal routes all the way to Istanbul. Made up of reconditioned carriages that once hosted the German surrender at the end of WWI and later the French surrender to the Nazis, today’s train has lavish cabins incorporating large picture windows, walnut panelling and silver service in the dining car.
Indian Pacific, Australia
Operating on one of the longest stretches of rail on the planet, Great Southern Rail’s iconic Indian Pacific reaches from Sydney down to Adelaide and then across to Perth, a distance of 4,352 kilometres, including the longest stretch of straight track in the world at 478 kilometres. The new Platinum Service offers an enhanced level of comfort, including spacious private ensuite cabins, dining in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant and on-call cabin attendants. The three-day luxury rail journey is best broken up with sightseeing tours to remote outback towns or a visit to Barossa Valley vineyards.
The Royal Scotsman, Scotland
The Royal Scotsman is as intimate a train journey as you can find, catering to just 36. Guests can view the passing lochs and towering peaks from the comfort of their private cabin or from the popular Edwardian observation car. For dinner, gourmet meals are served in a candle-lit dining room, before guests come together for whisky and story-telling. Alternate formal nights are a chance to dress up and celebrate and with the train stabled at night, guests are guaranteed a good night’s rest. The train offers a range of itineraries to Scotland’s west, north and highlands, including a seven-night Grand Tour.
Belmond British Pullman, United Kingdom
Travellers looking for an unconventional day out from London should look no further than the Belmond British Pullman. A series of themed day journeys perfectly complements any London-based itinerary, and serves as an ideal introduction to the operator’s extensive collection of great train journeys. With options such as The Golden Age of Travel, Murder Mystery, Historic Bath and Valentine’s Day Lunch, no two experiences will be the same.
Great Southern, Australia
The three-day Great Southern luxury rail journey showcases the Grampians and Australia’s capital of Canberra on its route from Adelaide to Brisbane, where beachside dining is sure to be a highlight. On the return four-day itinerary, travellers will explore the vineyards of New South Wales’ Hunter Region and see the Twelve Apostles along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road.
Coastal Pacific, New Zealand
Across the ditch in New Zealand, the five-hour Coastal Pacific is back in the Great Train Journeys portfolio after a two-year suspension due to earthquake damage. The daily service runs in the warmer months between Christchurch and Picton via Kaikoura, where travellers can then easily connect to the TranzAlpine in Christchurch and the Northern Explorer via the Interislander service. The rugged Kaikōura Coastline, Canterbury Plains, marine wildlife and the South Island’s bush-clad mountains provide a memorable backdrop for this indulgent luxury train journey.
Tren Crucero, South America
Tren Crucero travels between the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Quito and Guayaquil in South America. Spanning four days and nights, highlights of the journey include traversing the wild Pacific Coast, the hair-raising (but thoroughly scenic) Devil’s Nose Pass and marvelling at the Avenue of the Volcanoes in the Ecuadorian Andes. Departures are Tuesday from Quito and Saturdays from Guayaquil.
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