Just when you thought slow travel had been overtaken by the jet age, a series of luxurious new trains is set to seduce slow travel lovers like never before. Here’s our take on the world’s most remarkable train journeys.
There’s nothing quite like train travel to discover a new side to a destination, and if you happen to be on a luxury train, all the better! Once simply a way to get from A to B, with the arrival of the jet age, trains needed to offer something that flying didn’t. Fortunately, the ever-changing scenery, the heritage of the lines, and the old-world romance of slow travel have ensured that train travel still has its diehard followers, and the arrival in Asia, South America, and Europe of a host of new luxury train adventures ensures generations to come with continue to explore new horizons to the sound of wheels on track.
The Rocky Mountaineer
An icon of the Canadian Rockies, and one which has spent the past two decades years taking travelers into the depths of some of North America’s most stunning scenery, The Rocky Mountaineer is always high on traveler’s bucket lists. The all-daylight travel of the two-day itinerary means you don’t miss a single snow-capped mountain peak or mirror-like lake, and the train’s Gold Leaf service, which includes domed cabins and gourmet dining, offers a train experience like no other.
The Rocky Mountaineer follows three routes: Kicking Horse, the track for which was laid out 100 years ago; Yellowhead; and Fraser Discovery, as it journeys from Vancouver to Whistler, Jasper, and Calgary.
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The Grand Hibernian
One of the newest trains to be launched by rail gurus Belmond, The Grand Hibernian is the first luxury overnight train to grace Ireland’s rails in a generation and offers an indulgent way to explore the Emerald Isle. With a distinctly contemporary take on Dublin’s iconic Georgian architecture, the train’s 20 sumptuous cabins cater to just 40 guests; each boasts wardrobes, writing desks, private ensuites, and picture windows through which train lovers can enjoy the ever-changing vista.
On two-, four- and six-night journeys – including the seven-day Grand Tour of Ireland – you’ll have a chance to delve into the true Ireland, from whiskey tastings at the Jameson distillery to learning the art of falconry at Ashford Castle. You’ll also eat well thanks to two elegant dining rooms that serve contemporary Irish cuisine, with ingredients sourced from local producers along the route.
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Traversing the Atlantic coast of Spain, a fertile region known as España Verde, the El Transcantabrico offers a showcase of Green Spain and its vibrant hinterland using beautifully preserved railway carriages, some dating from 1923. All cabins feature high-quality linens, hardwood paneling, picture windows, and spacious bathrooms; for a real indulgence opt for space and luxury with a Gran Lujo Deluxe suite, which boasts a private lounge, steam shower, and hydro-sauna.
Traveling from Galicia to the Bay of Biscay via San Sebastián, the El Transcantabrico opens up one of Spain’s most important centers of gastronomy, with opportunities for guests to visit local restaurants, wineries, and artisanal producers along the way.
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Eastern & Oriental Express
Asia’s most beautiful rail journey, the Eastern & Oriental Express runs between Singapore and Bangkok on two-night three-day itineraries that capture the history and beauty of destinations like Ipoh, Penang, and Kanchanaburi. The journey includes opportunities to leave the train and explore some of Southeast Asia’s most vibrant destinations on guided excursions, and back on the train, you’ll delve into the region’s fascinating foodscape thanks to the experienced culinary team.
Between daily excursions to temples, historic railway stations, and WWII sites, guests can relax in the comfort of their beautifully-appointed colonial-esque ensuite cabins; soak in lush southeast Asian countryside from the open-air Observation Car, or sing the night away in the lively bar car, home to a resident pianist and Asian-inspired cocktails. Read more about our adventures on the E&O here.
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The Orient Silk Road Express
For a rail journey that’s far from the beaten path, explore Central Asia’s ancient trading legacy aboard The Orient Silk Road Express, which takes a grand loop from the Uzbek capital Tashkent to Bukhara, Kiva, and Samarkand over ten nights. The Russian-owned train is dressed in traditional Uzbek oriental patterns and offers an elegant, timeless way to explore these emerging destinations.
Along the way, you’ll visit Tashkent’s Khast Imam Square, home to the Tillya Sheykh Mosque and Kafal Shashi Mausoleum, before delving into the Chimgan Mountains by road, bound for Lake Charvak. The train then whisks travelers south to the Unesco-listed green city of Shakhrisabz and on to the Kyzyl Kum desert, where Bukhara’s old city was a legendary weigh station for caravans hauling spices, furs, and silks.
There’s time to explore the summer residence of the last Emir and visit the magnificent Miree-Arab Madrasah before journeying on to the oasis of Khiva, famed for its countless mosques, minarets, and madrasas. Be sure to add on private tours in Ashgabat in Turkmenistan and the ancient trading city of Almaty in Kazakhstan.
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The Royal Scotsman
Belmond’s The Royal Scotsman is as intimate a train journey as you can find, catering to just 36 lucky souls. Between daily excursions to castles, distilleries, and hamlets, guests can view the passing lochs and towering peaks from the comfort of their private cabin or from the popular Edwardian observation car.
Each night, gourmet meals are served in a candle-lit dining room, followed by whisky tastings 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.
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The Twilight Express Mizukaze
In one of the most anticipated developments in Asian luxury rail, Japan’s JR East and JR West rail companies recently launched two new luxury trains. The Twilight Express Mizukaze departs Kyoto, Osaka, and Shimonoseki stations to explore unspoiled and rarely visited western Japan, with visits to Matsue, Izumo, and Miyajima. There will also be chances for passengers to disembark and take in the natural beauty of the Sea of Japan, Mt. Daisen, and the Seto Inland Sea islands.
Based on the concept of “Superior quality with a touch of nostalgia”, the train has a “nostalgic modern” design, which creates an air of refinement and a relaxing, evocative atmosphere. With luxurious Art Deco lines and the amenities of a five-star hotel, this exciting new train caters to just 30 passengers across six sleeper carriages made up of ensuite staterooms. Each day gourmet meals by acclaimed Japanese chefs Yoshihiro Murata and Hajime Yoneda will showcase the best of washoku (Japanese cuisine) using locally-sourced ingredients.
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Train Suite Shiki-Shima
The other recently launched Japanese train sensation is the Train Suite Shiki-Shima, which operates from Tokyo’s Ueno station and explores the northeastern region of Tohoku and into Hokkaido. With an itinerary that includes the Nikko Toshogu Shrine in Tochigi Prefecture and the Shirakami-Sanchi mountains, the Shiki-Shima offers guests the chance to leave the train and delve into the surrounding countryside on daily excursions.
A maximum of 34 guests is accommodated in 17 lavish ensuite staterooms dressed in Japanese cypress and custom furniture. Each space combines traditional Japanese patterns and wood with Japanese washi paper, lacquers, and stones for a sophisticated atmosphere that is classical yet also modern. Traditional crafts and pieces of artwork from eastern Japan are also applied to interior furniture and fittings within staterooms and also the train’s elegant bar car and restaurant, which showcases local produce.
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Belmond Andean Explorer
South America is presently one of the most sought after destinations by affluent travelers, and the launch of the continent’s first luxury sleeper train, the Belmond Andean Explorer, has made it even easier to explore the region’s stunning landscapes in style. Catering to just 68 guests in sumptuous en-suite cabins, the new train travels one of the highest rail routes on earth, traversing the Peruvian Andes from Cusco to Lake Titicaca and Arequipa on four one- and two-night journeys.
Along the way, travelers take in breathtaking scenery amidst interiors by Inge Moore of The Gallery HBA that take their inspiration from Peru’s hand-woven textile culture, with touches of alpaca wool and Andean slate. After daily excursions to the Colca Canyon and Unesco-listed Arequipa, spoil your taste buds with seasonal menus created by the chefs at Belmond Hotel Monasterio, served in two elegant dining cars. Read more about our adventures on the Belmond Andean Explorer here.
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If you’ve done the luxury-safari thing but haven’t yet sated your passion for Africa, Rovos Rail’s two beautifully rebuilt trains each cater to a maximum of 72 guests and travel far and wide across Southern Africa. Treat yourself to one of the wood-paneled Edwardian styled Royal Suites, complete with king-size bed, ensuite with Victorian bath and separate shower, and complimentary minibar.
An African epic, the 15-day journey between Cape Town and Dar es Salaam traverses South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Tanzania, with time along the way for Big Five viewing at the Madikwe Game Reserve, nights at the Victoria Falls Hotel, and hikes through the Great Rift Valley. In between stops, drink in Africa’s ancient vistas from a leather wing-back chair in the train’s lavish lounge, dine on locally sourced produce in the elegant dining car, or sip sundowners in the open-air Observation Car.
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Australia’s most famous rail journey, The Ghan runs between Adelaide in South Australia and Darwin in the Northern Territories. Originally known as the Afghan Express for the camel caravans that once crossed the Outback, the 2,979km three-day two-night itinerary exposes travelers to a true cross-section of Aussie landscapes, from the lush Barossa Valley to the burnt-orange beauty of the Flinders Ranges and the infinite emptiness of the Outback.
The Ghan’s all-inclusive Platinum Service backs up the captivating landscapes with plenty of luxurious touches, including spacious cabins that convert into double bedrooms featuring full-size ensuites, leisurely in-cabin breakfasts, and access to a dedicated lounge and restaurant, where gourmet meals feature unique Outback ingredients and are matched with local wines. Make the most of your journey by adding a private tour with a WWII specialist in Darwin or nights at iconic wilderness lodge, Longitude 131°.
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The Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express
The Trans-Siberian is a must for any intrepid traveler’s bucket list, but you don’t have to do it without creature comforts. The luxurious Golden Eagle features 12 ensuite sleeper cars in three categories; live like a Tsar in one of the train’s Imperial Suites, home to a double bed, complimentary minibar, large picture windows, and 24-hour butler service. Sip Dom Pérignon as you depart Moscow’s Kazansky Station bound for Vladivostok, 9,288km to the east, on a 15-day itinerary that winds its way through Kazan and Novosibirsk, along the banks of Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake; through Ulan Baatar in Mongolia, and then and across the Siberian steppes.
These landscapes are best enjoyed from the Golden Eagle’s two regal restaurant cars, where authentic Russian cuisine is complemented by international wines and, of course, plenty of locally-sourced vodka. You’ll also enjoy guided excursions during each stop, visiting rail museums, opera houses, local homes, and national monuments. Read about our adventures aboard the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express here.
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The Maharajas’ Express
Regularly awarded the best train in the world, The Maharajas’ Express is the most regal and refined of India’s many luxury train journeys. With insightful itineraries between Delhi and Mumbai and roundtrip from Delhi through Rajasthan, the 19-car train captures the beauty and color of India, with daily guided excursions and behind-the-scenes encounters at timeless temples, ancient forts, and sumptuous palaces.
The seven-day Panorama Journey is a captivating week-long epic through some of Northern India’s most beautiful landscapes and most historic trading and religious cities and includes a private dinner hosted in the confines of the Gwalior Palace, an evening cruise on the Ganges, and opportunities to buy gems from local artisans.
Return to a royal welcome, complete with white-gloved service, insightful regional cuisine by acclaimed chef John Stone, 24-hour butler service, and breathtaking vistas from the lavishly-appointed dining and lounge cars. Delve deeper into Rajasthan’s heritage with private guided tours and stays at some of the region’s acclaimed palace hotels after your train epic.
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Seven Stars in Kyushu
Of course, you can’t talk about high-end rail travel in Japan without mentioning the sumptuous US$34 million Seven Stars. A self-styled “cruise train”, Seven Stars offers a distinctly luxurious if still rather speedy approach to exploring the island of Kyushu. Catering to just 30 guests in 14 beautifully-appointed suites lined with indigenous wood, the Seven Stars is the original Japanese Orient Express, showcasing the very best in local craftsmanship and gastronomy, as well as the less-visited volcanic landscapes of the nation’s third-largest island.
With departures from Fukuoka, spend your days in search of rice terraces, natural hot-spring ryokans, ornamental tea houses, and volcanic peaks, or soak in the beauty of the island landscapes from the intimacy of the Blue Moon lounge or the Jupiter Dining Car, home to delicate Kyushu cuisine. Like other JR Rail trains, reservation is upon application.
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Venice Simplon Orient-Express
A modern incarnation of Europe’s Grand Dame on rails, Belmond’s Venice Simplon Orient-Express continues the luxury train tradition to perfection, traveling on two-day one-night itineraries between Rome and Calais (with an extension to London on the British Pullman and seasonal routes all the way to Istanbul and Scandinavia).
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 Venice-Simplon Orient-Express boasts lavish Pullman-style cabins that feature large picture windows and walnut paneling. After an intimate in-cabin Fortnum & Mason afternoon tea, and sumptuous fine dining in the restaurant car, return to a luxurious turndown service by your dedicated cabin steward that includes signature VSOE
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The Great Southern
Another brilliant Australian train adventure is The Great Southern, which journies between Adelaide in South Australia and Brisbane in Queensland, showcasing spectacular scenery and an unrivaled experience both on and off the train. With a new route traveling through South Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland, the Great Southern is a truly unforgettable journey just waiting to be discovered.
The route traverses rugged coastline, sun-kissed beaches, forested peaks, and exhilarating capital cities over three or four days (depending on direction), with chances to explore the Flinders Ranges, Menindee Lakes, Canberra’s art scene, and the postcard-perfect beach town of Coffs Harbour along the way. Be sure to opt for Gold Service, which includes a comfortable sleeper cabin with private ensuite and access to the all-inclusive Queen Adelaide restaurant.
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