In the 1970s, American travel writer Paul Theroux set himself an impressive goal: to travel from England to Asia entirely by rail. He catalogued his experience in the book “The Great Railway Bazaar,” which is regarded as one of the most romantic pieces of writing about train travel. By
“If a train is large and comfortable you don’t even need a destination,” Theroux wrote. “A corner seat is enough, and you can be one of those travellers who stay in motion, straddling the tracks, and never arrive or feel they ought to.”
In an era when time is a luxury, take a hint from the glamour of yore and indulge in slow-moving, on-the-ground transport. Whether you’re exploring the Andes or dashing through a Japanese island, luxury train travel proves that fly-by country is much more interesting when seen on the ground.
Take it slow on these luxurious train rides through some of the world’s most glamorous destinations. Note that pricing and schedules are subject to change.
British Pullman, A Belmond Train, England
Fans of director Wes Anderson can embark on a vintage train adventure inspired by his distinct style and eye for detail. One of his most famous films, The Darjeeling Limited, speaks to the director’s love for luxurious train travel. On the British Pullman, A Belmond Train, guests can ride in the “Cygnus” carriage built in the 1950s, on exciting routes across England. With themed rides, including a murder mystery luncheon, or star guest-chef dinners, this ticket is sure to transport passengers back into the glamorous past.
Cruise Train Seven Stars, Japan
Often referred to as the world’s most luxurious train, Japan’s Cruise Train Seven Stars brings old-school luxury to a technologically advanced railway. It lays claim to being the country’s first luxury sleeper, with its first run in 2013.
With multi-day tours around the island of Kyushu, riders onboard the Seven Stars will get up close to both mountains and the seaside. But fair warning — the train can only carry up to 28 passengers at a time. Demand is so high that prospective riders must enter a lottery, and winners are then invited to purchase their place on an upcoming itinerary.
Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, Europe
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is mythical for a reason. The train runs from London to Venice, stopping in Paris and Verona on the way. Cars are adorned in Art Deco finery, creating an atmosphere of old-school glamour. Food is sourced along the route, meaning that when you sit down to dinner, there’s likely to be lobsters from Brittany, or crisp tomatoes from Provence on your plate. After dinner, stop by the champagne bar for a celebration that will transport you back to the golden age of luxury train travel.
Belmond Royal Scotsman, Scotland
Explore Scotland’s lochs, castles, and countryside on a slow-moving train. As the Royal Scotsman chugs through the Highlands, nestle underneath tartan wool blankets in your suite or nurse a scotch in the mahogany dining car. But what makes the Royal Scotsman unique among luxury trains is the onboard spa. Book a facial, massage, or manicure in the spa car for relaxation with a side of picturesque scenery.
Rovos Rail, South Africa
Get a taste of the diverse landscapes in South Africa on the Rovos Rail journey from Pretoria to Cape Town. The three-day excursion takes passengers on a wide-ranging tour of environments, from the grasslands of Highveld to the desert of Great Karoo. The view is particularly exceptional from the train’s open-air balconies on the observation car. The train stops in the Cape Winelands for a parting drink before leaving passengers at the station in Cape Town.
Belmond Andean Explorer, Peru
Almost 600 years ago, the Inca Road System was a feat of engineering, where locals used to trek the 25,000 miles (40,233 kilometres) of road by foot or by llama. Today, guests can travel in luxury on the Belmond Andean Explorer. The train starts at the ancient capital of Cusco and proceeds through the Andean Plains, up to Lake Titicaca. Because of the high elevation in Peru, this train claims itself as one of the highest in the world. Inside, the cars are festooned with local flair, complete with Peruvian tapestries (made from alpaca wool) on the bed and pisco sours served in the rear observation bar car.
Maharajas’ Express, India
There are a few reasons why this train is consistently ranked among the most luxurious vacations one can have on the rails. Every car on a Maharajas’ Express train has a private butler, and there’s an impressive presidential suite for those willing to splurge. The eight-day “Heritage of India” tour is among the rail line’s most popular offerings, which includes stops in Mumbai, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Agra, and Delhi.
The Presidential Train, Portugal
Portugal’s Douro Valley has become an internationally recognised culinary destination. The Presidential Train brings some of the world’s finest chefs to some of the world’s freshest food as it chugs from Porto to Quinta do Vesuvio, on the eastern coast of the Douro Valley. Acclaimed chefs board every day for ten hours of dining delight, paired with wines from the region. Passengers can relax in private cabins and watch the golden valley through their windows as they wait for meal service.
The Ghan, Australia
Not every journey through the Australian Outback needs to be a dusty adventure. The Ghan Expedition is one of Australia‘s premier luxury train routes, taking passengers on a four-day journey from Darwin to Adelaide. The train has been in operation since 1924, but has been updated to fit modern travel needs. Onboard meals include local fares like saltwater barramundi and grilled kangaroo fillet.
The Canadian, Canada
Journey across the Great White North all while staying warm in your train cabin. The Canadian offers services across the country from Toronto to Vancouver. If you never disembark the train, it will take four straight days to complete the route. Along the way, passengers will spot waterfalls, charming small towns, and the grand Rocky Mountains. Take the train in winter for the best views of snow-capped peaks and endless fields of white powder.
The Transcantábrico Gran Lujo, Spain
If you like your luxury with a dose of history, book a trip on the Transcantabrico Gran Lujo, where four of the cars are original 1923 Pullman cars. The trains are decorated to evoke the feeling of stepping back almost 100 years ago. Passengers can experience some of Spain’s best vistas from the panoramic viewing car. Service goes across the northern coast of the country from San Sebastian to Santiago de Compostela.
Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express, Russia
The Trans-Siberian Express is now more than 100 years old — and you don’t get to be a centenarian train route without offering an impressive repertoire of luxury services. The train runs from Moscow all the way to Vladivostok on the eastern coast. Along the way, passengers can take Russian language lessons, dance to a live pianist, or just spend as much time as possible in the bar — it won’t close until the last person leaves. The lengthy 15-day journey starts at USD 17,695 (INR 13,12,064) per person.
Eastern & Oriental Express, Asia
Since 1993, this elegantly-decorated train has been making stops in three of Asia’s most glittering cities — Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Singapore. The interiors of the Eastern & Oriental Express were inspired by the 1932 Marlene Dietrich film “Shanghai Express,” and come with high-end details such as Thai silk, Malaysian embroidery, and cherrywood panelling. The rich design is enhanced by the views when the train passes through lush rainforest or ancient temples. Be sure to pack apparel worthy of the scene — evening wear is required for dinner.