Great Rail Journeys: 9 Luxury Train Trips You'll Never Forget


Rambling across the landscape aboard a luxury train was once the zenith of cutting-edge, sophisticated travel. Trains are no longer the fastest way to reach a destination, but they’re as stylish as a private jet and much more romantic. (Even if Agatha Christie had lived to see the 21st century, can you envision her writing Murder on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner? Of course not.) Top-of-the-line trains continue to clatter across six continents. If anything, losing the speed race to the airlines has made luxury train travel a greater status symbol because it demands a wealth of time as well as money. And make no mistake: Riders place a premium on luxury. If you want the choicest sleeper cabins on a train journey, you might need to book two years in advance.


The Venice Simplon-Orient Express passing through the Brenner Pass, Austria - David Norton
Bar car interior on the <em>Venice Simpson-Orient-Express</em> - Louis C Vest

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express looms large in legend, thanks to Agatha Christie, who chose it as the setting for her 1934 detective novel Murder on the Orient Express. Now part of the Belmond collection of properties and luxury trains, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express offers its classic London-Paris-Venice route (as well as Venice-Paris-London) several times a year. But the route features only one overnight on board. Those who hunger for something longer should consider one of the signature journeys, which follow a route similar to the one that the train debuted with in 1883. Both the Paris to Istanbul and the Istanbul to Venice itineraries are offered once a year and last five nights, with three of those spent aboard the train. Both also include a tour of Budapest, a cruise on the Danube river and a visit to Peles castle in Romania.

The best berth: The 70-square-foot Cabin Suite combines two interconnecting Twin Cabins to provide a pair of lounge areas and a choice of bed configurations at night. Mosaic-tiled bathrooms are at either end of the carriage. In March 2018, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express will debut three new Grand Suites, named for the train’s best-known destinations: Paris, Venice, and Istanbul. Each offers double beds, a living area and private bathrooms with showers, as well as decorative touches that reflect the classic cities. Embossed leather and hand-carved wood enlivens the Istanbul suite; chic, elegant fittings grace the Paris suite; and the Venice suite features silk fabrics and hand-crafted Venetian glass. A one-night London to Venice journey in a Grand Suite costs $6,160 (£5,500) per passenger.

Does the train stop moving at night? No.


The bar car lounge on Golden Eagle Luxury Trains' <em>Trans-Siberian Express</em>
The bar car lounge on Golden Eagle Luxury Trains' Trans-Siberian Express - Golden Eagle Luxury Trains

Completed in 1916 — just before the Bolshevik Revolution — the Trans-Siberian Railway is the longest railway line in the world. Only after communism fell did it gain a train worthy of its legend. The most popular trip offered by Golden Eagle Luxury Trains is the Trans-Siberian Express, a 15-day Moscow to Vladivostok trek that stops at Ulaanbaatar, Lake Baikal and Yekaterinburg. But for a truly Czar-worthy experience, book the Grand Tour of Russia. Offered annually in summer, the 26-day trip includes six nights sailing on the Volga Dream as well as a full-train charter of the Golden Eagle. The Grand Tour of Russia includes all the stops named above plus visits to the Fabergé Museum, The State Hermitage Museum and Peterhof in St. Petersburg; Kizhi Island, home to the Transfiguration church, built in 1714 without nails; Yaroslavl, the first port on the Volga river; and the impressive opera house at Novosibirsk, to name a few.

The best berth: The Golden Eagle’s most indulgent accommodations are its two Imperial Suites. Each measures 120 square feet and is equipped with king-size beds, small libraries, minibars and en suite bathrooms with heated floors.

Does the train stop moving at night? No.


The interior of the bar car aboard Belmond's <em>Royal Scotsman</em>
The interior of the bar car aboard Belmond's Royal Scotsman - Belmond Trains

The Belmond Royal Scotsman, which operates from April to October, offers some impeccably Scottish itineraries. The five-day, four-night Scottish Golf Tour, offered in late June 2017, includes a full round of golf at Royal Dornoch Golf Club with Sam Torrance, a veteran of eight Ryder Cup tournaments, and visits to two other Scottish courses. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society leads the Classic Whiskey Journey, which visits the distilleries of Glen Ord, Glenlivet and Tullibardine as well as the society’s headquarters. The train’s observation car carries more than 50 whiskeys that you can savor as you watch the scenery float by. Better still, all beverages are covered in the ticket price, alcoholic beverages included. And as of April, passengers can avail themselves of a spa car where they can take deep-tissue massages, manicures, pedicures and facials.

The best berth: For the grandest experience, book an 85-square-foot interconnecting cabin, which links a twin and a double cabin. Each cabin is equipped with a private bathroom, a full-length wardrobe, windows that open and a call button.

Does the train stop moving at night? Yes. Spa services are available when the train is rolling and when it is stopped.


The restored vintage cars of the Royal Canadian Pacific
Mount Steven Car on the <em>Royal Canadian Pacific</em>
 - Simon Pielow/Flickr

Royal Canadian Pacific became a private charter-only service in 2013 and has never looked back. Its restored vintage cars from the early 20th century can accommodate as many as 30 guests plus nine staff. Sleeper charter prices start in the low six figures, and your wishes shape the itinerary. While the train is available year-round, most prefer to book between the end of April and mid-October. Onboard activities include drinking in the scenery of the Canadian Rockies; off-train activities include fly-fishing and golf. With Canada celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2017, the year is largely spoken for, but the Royal Canadian Pacific is accepting requests for 2018.

The best berth: Twin bed cabins seem to have an edge over the double-bed cabins. The L-shaped configuration of the twin beds allows the designers to squeeze in a small desk with overhead cabinet along with the standard fittings of a wardrobe, a safe, under-bed storage drawers and an en suite bathroom.

Does the train stop moving at night? Yes.


The Deluxe Double room aboard <em>Rovos Rail</em>
The Deluxe Double room aboard Rovos Rail - Rovos Rail

Sure, you could board a puddle-jumper to traverse South Africa, but a luxury train is so much nicer. Rovos Rail has rolled since 1990 and offers public itineraries and private charters. It also owns its own private railroad station in Capital Park, Pretoria, which contains its headquarters and a working train museum. The company offers service year-round, but its most-celebrated journey is the 15-day trek between Cape Town, South Africa, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which passes through Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia along the way. That trip includes bush walks and stops at game reserves, but Rovos also books safari-focused trips to Namibia and a nine-day Golf Safari that hits five courses while the non-golfers enjoy the wildlife. It is booked through 2017 but is taking requests for next year. (While its rival, the Blue Train, has its fans, Rovos Rail’s private station and museum should win the hearts of diehard train geeks.)

The best berth: Rovos Rail’s four Royal Suites are always in demand. Measuring 172 square feet, they take up half the length of a carriage and come with a lounge area, a stocked bar fridge, a safe, a writing surface, a choice of a double bed or side-by-side twin beds and air-conditioning. The bathroom contains a Victorian tub and separate stall shower.

Does the train stop moving at night? Yes, whenever possible.


The Deluxe Suite aboard the <em>Shiki-shima</em>
The Deluxe Suite aboard the Shiki-shima - Shiki-Shima

The English invented the train, but the Japanese perfected it. In addition to its famous bullet trains, the country offers several ultra-luxe options as well. The Shiki-shima debuted in May and will run year-round in East Japan, offering itineraries that change with the seasons. In March 2018, the Shiki-shima plans a 994-mile (sold out) journey built around Japan’s Doll Festival.

Be warned, however. Shiki-shima’s English services are limited. All passengers must apply for a place on an upcoming journey through the train company’s web site, and if it is oversubscribed (a near certainty — in general, each room has had an average of six potential takers), places are awarded through a lottery.

The best berth: The two-level Shiki-Shima suite spans 215 square feet and features a tub lined in Japanese cypress.

Does the train stop moving at night? No.


The exterior of Belmond's Andean Explorer - Richard James Taylor
Cabin interior on the <em>Belmond Andean Explorer</em> - Richard James Taylor

South America welcomed its first luxury sleeper train in May when the Belmond Andean Explorer debuted. Available in every month except February, the Belmond Andean Explorer’s two-night itineraries travel between the picturesque cities of Cusco and Arequipa, with a stop to explore the beauty of Lake Titicaca and its islands. Its one-night itineraries connect Cusco and Puno, a town near the famous lake. While on the move, you can feast in the dining cars, relax in the library car and sip a Pisco sour in the observation car or the piano bar car, which features a medium grand piano.

The best berth: The 141-square-foot Deluxe Double Bed Cabin features a double bed, a sitting area, a wardrobe and a bathroom with shower.

Does the train stop moving at night? Yes.


The Platinum cabin aboard the <em>Ghan Expedition</em>
The Platinum cabin aboard the Ghan Expedition - Morne de Klerk, Photography Life

If your goal is to ride a luxury train on every possible continent, you will want to book the Platinum service on the Ghan Expedition. Offered between May and October 2017, it’s a four-day north-to-south trip of almost 2,000 miles down the center of Australia. The train departs from Darwin and finishes in Adelaide, with stops in Katherine, Alice Springs and the remote opal-mining town of Coober Pedy, where you can savor a gourmet lunch underground. Visits to an Australian outback cattle station and a fixed-wing flight over Uluru will tempt you to leave the train for a while. Booking Platinum service ensures the highest level of comfort. It includes free transfers for any passengers staying within 30 miles of the terminals and exclusive access to the Platinum Club dining car.

The best berth: Platinum cabins measure almost 644 square feet (not including the en suite bathroom). During the day, the main space is styled as a lounge, with chairs, a table and two ottomans. At night, it converts to a double bed or twin beds. Breakfast and snacks are served in-cabin on request. Platinum cabins also have picture windows on both sides.

Does the train stop moving at night? Only in the early morning, when it might need to make way for a passing freight train.


The observation car on Belmond's <em>Eastern & Oriental Express</em>
The observation car on Belmond's Eastern & Oriental Express - Eastern and Oriental Express/Belmond

The Eastern & Oriental Express provides many elegant options for traveling between Singapore and Bangkok. Both the two-night and the three-night itineraries include a cruise on the River Kwai and a visit to the war museum. The six-day Fables of the Peninsula trip is the E&O Express’ showstopper. It starts with a brief stay at the Harper-recommended Raffles Hotel Singapore and takes in the best of Kuala Lumpur and Penang before arriving at its final destination of Bangkok. Along the way, passengers enjoy in-cabin breakfasts, three-course lunches, afternoon tea and four-course dinners that extend to a cheeseboard, biscuits, chutneys and petits fours. Stewards stand ready to assist at any time of day or night.

The best berth: The Presidential cabins, which measure just under 125 square feet, improve on the already plush standard fittings by offering a bigger en suite bathroom and a bigger seating area. All the cabins are air-conditioned.

Does the train stop moving at night? No.

By Sheila Gibson Stoodley Guest Contributor Sheila Gibson Stoodley is an independent writer and editor who specializes in travel, luxury, art, design, collectibles and many other subjects. She authors The Hot Bid, a blog devoted to intriguing and delightful lots coming up at auction.

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