Paul Theroux said it best, “Anything is possible on a train: a great meal, a binge, a visit from card players, an intrigue, a good night’s sleep, and strangers’ monologues framed like Russian short stories.”
Although, he traversed England to Asia by rail in the 1970s, so today’s version would read more Netflix binge and fewer strangers performing card tricks at your seat. Although, the romance of train travel is all the same, especially if you board one of the glamorous trains we’ve rounded up.
With that said, consider these old-world-elegance rail journeys for your next trip.
Don’t worry, there are no murders on this Orient Express, but there is a world of timeless glamour, packaged in fine art-deco interiors. Think rich wood marquetry panels and grand suites decked out from floor to ceiling in royal blues and creams and luxury decor. The routes span across Europe, with journeys taking travellers from Paris to Prague, London to Vienna, Brussels to Verona, Paris to Florence, and more. Along your journey, expect piano entertainment, craft cocktails, midnight brunch with lobster rolls, and of course, champagne bars. This is not your average rail journey, it’s the crème de la crème of train travel and should be top of your bucket list.
Watch the world go by on the British Pullman, which traverses the bucolic countryside, and tours cities and towns including Cambridge, York, Bath, Canterbury, and more. The restored carriages date back to the 1920s and 1930s, so expect Art Deco interiors, and classically prepared multi-course meals, that are quintessentially British. You can join a themed ride, which includes a murder mystery luncheon, high-tea, and celebrity chef dinners. Before you ask, yes, the British Pullman has served British royalty and government officials for years. This train is the gold standard for luxury rail journeys in the United Kingdom.
In Japan, there’s one train that symbolises the golden age of train travel. No, it’s not the bullet train. In Japan, it’s the iconic red wine train carriages that belong to the Seven Stars. Bringing old-school luxury to a technologically advanced railway isn’t an easy feat, but the Seven Stars success speaks for itself. It was the country’s first luxury sleeper when it embarked on its first journey in 2013.
Today, it remains a luxury sleeper, able to accommodate only 28 passengers at a time. Inside, there are extravagant wood-panelled rooms with fabrics and hand-painted sink basins. Guests can spend time in The Blue Moon lounge car, which has an intricate coffered ceiling, panoramic views and comfortable sofas to enjoy live music in the evenings. The dining car is also a highlight, with local ingredients including seafood sourced from the seas of Kyushu.
Securing a seat is not so easy. Demand is so high, that you must apply to ride. Winners are invited to purchase their place on an upcoming journey.
Be on the same level as South Africa’s incredible, diverse landscapes aboard the Rovos Rail. The journey takes travellers through the grasslands of Highveld to the desert of Great Karoo over two or 14 nights. You can take it all in from an open-air balcony in the observation car or settle into a seat and enjoy the view through large windows. Keep an eye out for wildlife.
Inside the carriages are wood-panelled with plush textiles—it exudes luxury. Dine on South Africa’s best cuisine, with local wines, served on crisp linens. Rovos Rail harks back to a simpler, more elegant era. There are 36 suites on board with a range of itineraries to choose from, including the journey to Victoria Falls—a natural wonder of the world.
Nothing screams luxury quite like having a private butler in each car. The Maharajas’ Express is ranked among the most luxurious rail journeys, and for those who are willing to splurge, it’s well worth it. The impressive presidential suite is by far the best way to travel, but every cabin on the train is just as good. The weeklong curated journeys traverse India, stopping in Mumbai, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Agra, and Delhi. Jump off and visit the Taj Mahal, or stop in the holy city of Varanasi.
There are two dining cars, serving Indian and international fare, with cocktails ad wine. Did we mention the ceiling is hand painted?
Have you ever wanted to drive across the outback? We have the next best thing. Jump aboard The Ghan, one of Australia’s premier luxury train routes, taking passengers on a four-day journey from Darwin to Adelaide. Cross the country’s iconic dusty red outback from the comfort of a spacious and stylish modern cabin with panoramic windows. The dining car serves up local saltwater barramundi and grilled kangaroo fillet.
If there’s one train that you take across Asia, it should be the Eastern and Oriental Express. This opulently-decorated train stops in Asia’s most popular cities—Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Singapore. Expect everything on board to be clad in Thai silk, Malaysian embroidery, and other Oriental patterns and decor. The journey crosses lush rainforests and zooms by ancient temples and rice paddy fields. Take in the landscape from your seat, a cabin, or the open-air observation car. As expected with a luxury journey, the dress code is evening wear for dinner service.
Every train has its identity. The Presidential is known best for its food, although it wasn’t always this way. Built in 1890, the train served the court of King Luís I as the Royal Train, receiving guests of honour such as Queen Isabel II and Pope Paul VI on board. Renamed “Presidential Train” at the beginning of the century, it transported Portuguese Heads of State until 1970, now it’s open to the public.
This rail journey chugs from Porto to Quinta do Vesuvio, on the eastern coast of the Douro Valley. While travellers take in the scenery, some of the world’s finest chefs are in the kitchen, preparing a multicourse delight.
The Belmond Andean is South America’s first luxury sleeper, riding the 600-year-old Inca Road System. On this train, it’s all about the views. The Andean Explorer takes travellers on one of the world’s highest rail routes, with incredible views of the vistas from Cusco to Lake Titicaca. The train’s interior exudes Peruvian flair, with tapestries made from alpaca wool, pisco sours on the cocktail menu, and delicious Peruvian cuisine served for dinner.
The Andean Explorer is a must for spotting the region’s native flora and fauna. Alternatively, take it easy and unwind in our luxurious spa car as the train winds through the Altiplano.