The world’s top 5 luxury rail journeys


When it comes to exploring the world by train, the choice seems never-ending. For many it’s the destination that makes all the difference, be it the Rockies of Canada or Australia’s far-flung outback. But, it’s also the train itself that truly makes the journey truly unforgettable, whether you’re drawn to the glamour of travel’s Golden Age or prefer something more cutting-edge.

Here, we take a look at five of the world’s best rail experiences that showcase both 21 st -century innovations and opulent tradition.

1. Belmond Andean Explorer

Peru as a destination simply begs to be travelled, and the Belmond Andean Explorer – a luxury train with a beautifully contemporary design – makes a visit more tempting than ever. Its interiors are the brainchild of Inge Moor of The Gallery in London, showcased in ivory Alpaca tones, Andean slate greys and knitted textures inspired by the region’s handicrafts, with private cabins that feature oversized headboards and ultra-chic furnishings.

The Andean backdrop influences much more than just the décor, though, with local flavours presented through indulgent menus, taken as the mountain scenery speeds past. The train’s signature journey takes travellers from ancient capital Cusco to UNESCO-listed Arequipa, navigating the Andes’ highest plains in between. It’s a truly luxurious way to experience the country, not least the colonial splendours of Cusco, the ancient landscapes of the Sacred Valley and that world wonder – Machu Picchu.

2. Maharajas’ Express

Few destinations are as enchanting as India. From Agra’s Mughal-empire icons to the royal heritage of Rajasthan, embodied in forts and fairy-tale palaces, its splendours are endless. Accordingly, India’s most iconic rail experience – the Maharajas’ Express – is unapologetically opulent. Guests can expect discrete service from private butlers, gourmet dining and a plethora of excursions that show off the country’s unique traditions, with everything from sundowners in the deserts of Bikaner to champagne breakfasts on offer.

Choose from four-day dashes or in-depth adventures that take in both the north and south – the most popular being in the grand state of Rajasthan. Sightseeing tours will see you explore everything from marbled palaces and sandstone forts to vibrant markets that buzz with rickshaws, camels and bustling traders.

3. The Ghan

From ancient Uluru to the world-wonder Great Barrier Reef, Australia is home to countless icons, many of them thousands of miles apart. It came as no surprise, then, when a luxury train was introduced to do the hard work – in the form of the Ghan. Traversing through miles of remote, ochre outback, it follows the old camel-train route through the heart of Australia’s Northern Territory, taking in off-the-beaten track destinations, otherwise unreachable.

Once on board, guests are treated to private cabins with curated bathroom amenities alongside all-inclusive indulgences that include fine wines and three five-course meals a day. There’s even the chance to upgrade to a spacious berth adorned with ottoman seating and a plush double bed. It’s all a wonderfully luxurious contrast to the vast wilderness outside, whether that’s the tropical vistas and white-sand beaches of Darwin, the south’s dramatic Flinders Ranges or the vast desert landscapes of the Red Centre.

4. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

The very essence of the phrase ‘Golden Age of Travel’, its name echoes with intrigue, decadence and old-word charm. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, each train carriage painstakingly restored to its former 1920s glory, truly takes guests back to a bygone era as it journeys to the likes of Istanbul’s vibrant bazaars, the romantic streets of Paris and Venice’s storied treasures.

Mosaicked lavatories add to the Art-Deco aesthetic and restaurant cars shine with sparkling crystal and dark-wood panels – the setting for dishes such as Brittany lobster and Mont St Michel saltmarsh lamb served alongside sommelier-chosen wines. Come evening, sip on cocktails and vintage champagne, the twinkling of the baby grand in the opulent Bar Car your accompaniment.

5. The Rocky Mountaineer, Canada

When it comes to natural worlds, Canada is up there with the best. It’s unsurprising, then, that the country’s most famous mountain range, the Rockies, is embodied in a luxury rail journey. The Rocky Mountaineer truly puts the spectacular backdrop first, skirting rivers otherwise unreachable, pausing at giant emblematic lakes and speeding over tumbling valleys as it heads deep among the snow-topped Rockies.

Panoramic dome windows and viewing platforms bring it all to life alongside onboard hosts who provide stories and information along the way, with gourmet meals, complimentary snacks and alcoholic drinks all included. The GoldLeaf service’s split-level carriages and separate dining car are an extra special option. And, as a non-sleeper train, there’s even more time to explore. Canada’s national-park greats, Banff and Jasper, are understandably the front-runners, where thunderous waterfalls, gargantuan glaciers and craggy canyons provide ultra-scenic backdrops for excursions such as hikes, gondola trips and even helicopter rides.

Dave Warne is Product Director at The Luxury Holiday Company. The Luxury Holiday Company offers completely bespoke holidays designed to deliver unrivalled luxury, arranged by specialists who have more than 200 years of collective travel experience.

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Comments (11)

  1. Rachel says:

    What a fabulous selection. It would be very difficult to decide which to do first!

    Perhaps the easiest would be in the order you have described them.

  2. Dan Swan says:

    These are the sort of epic opulent rail journeys that Michael Portillo makes television series from!

  3. Ted says:

    Of all of these great trains the Maharajas’ Express would be my first choice. Travel in India can be difficult and slow. In the big cities you are constantly battling with bikes, cars, cows, mopeds, tuktuks and vans to get anyway on the roads. India is a vast and vibrant country with so much to see. The Maharajas’ Express would certainly ease the pressures of travelling. Also with gourmet food you wouldn’t have to worry about the dreaded Delhi Belly.

  4. Jeff G says:

    It’s a pity that the Tran-Siberian Express isn’t a little more luxurious as it is such an epic journey. Perhaps there’s a business opportunity there for an entrepreneur with lots of vision and bags of investment capital.

  5. Jez Brown says:

    Once you start limiting a list to just 5 entries you are always going to prompt controversy and discussion.

    Although it is not a huge journey I would have thought that The Transcantabrico Gran Lujo: San Sebastian to Santiago de Compostela would be worth a shout. A far more sophisticated way of taking a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella than the medieval foot-sore plod.

    Another contender has to be Japan’s Seven Stars. It offers two itineraries: a two-day option, which stays around Fukuoka, or a four-day journey that does a loop of the southern Japan island.

  6. Julie Humphrey says:

    I know it’s a relative shortie but personally I would have had the Belmond Royal Scotsman in there, maybe it would make a Top Ten. It provides glorious views of the Scottish Highlands as you travel in utter luxury.

  7. This is amazing, how adventurous to go on a trip by train. The destination always makes the difference and therefore taking a comfortable and amazing journey as the trip is rewarding. Seriously if you can go on a trip by rail then do it as long as it gives you the spectacular views and gets you to the destination.

  8. Kev says:

    For me the jury’s out on great train rides. I know that Robert Louis Stephenson said something like that it was often better to travel than to arrive. My problem is that I’m just not that good at sitting still for hours on end. Then again, maybe I could be tempted by the luxury and the gourmet food. Ideally I’d want to opt for a journey where you get a lot of trips and excursions.

  9. Your inclusion and description of the Andean Explorer is a little bit confusing. the Andean Explorer (as pictured) is the trip from Cusco to Puno (Lake Titicaca). The equally luxurious trip is the Hiram Bingham train to Machu Picchu.

  10. Kris Logan says:

    I’ve never had the opportunity to travel anywhere by train. Always in planes. And I’m in that stage in my life where I want to explore and experience more. I’ve been thinking of doing a coast-to-coast travel by train in the United States, but maybe would opt for one of these luxurious train trips instead. I want a more laid-back journey with lots of sights and good food along the way.

  11. Tim Odin says:

    I’ve been dying to experience a rail journey since the first time I’ve watched ‘Harry Potter’. The rail rides in the movie seem very satisfying and I didn’t know that there are luxury rail rides even here in Canada. I only see these rail journeys in movies and I can only imagine what would it be like if I was to ride in it. I’ll research more about these rail rides and I can’t wait to experience it first hand.

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