6 of Europe’s most luxurious rail journeys


While there are myriad ways to experience Europe’s heritage-filled cities, spectacular landscapes and world-class gastronomy, we think it’s all perhaps best showcased with a luxury rail journey. Expect centuries-old tradition and five-star service framed by iconic views that range from the rolling hills of the Scottish Highlands to the coastal charm of Spain’s north. See below for our pick of Europe’s very best luxury rail journeys.

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express: London to Venice

The original route on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express remains an icon to this day. Amid 1920s-restored carriages and discrete white-gloved service, it all starts with brunch and Bellinis to a backdrop of the rolling Kent countryside, before guests are invited to dress to the nines for multi-course gourmet dining alongside some of the world’s finest wines and vintage champagne. After a convivial night in the bar car accompanied by the sound of the baby grand, guests settle in to wood-panelled cabins that are expertly transformed into sleeping berths by their personal butlers. It all culminates at the train’s eponym where, via private water taxi, guests are whisked away to one of the city’s best hotels. It makes for a fitting finish to a truly iconic journey.

Belmond Royal Scotsman

From the people who brought us the Orient Express comes the Belmond Royal Scotsman, a luxury offering that traverses through the very heart of the Scottish Highlands. It all feels rather movie-set-esque as you trace ancient viaducts and river-side trails, fuelling up on Michelin-standard dining and open-bar drinks – including 30 whiskies – before finishing the evening with traditional Scottish entertainment. Alongside taking in the vistas there’s plenty of opportunities to engage in traditional excursions, like stately home tours, hikes among waterfalls and afternoon tea in historic castles.

The Presidential

Portugal’s Presidential was lovingly restored in 2010 and is the most luxurious way to discover the very best of the Douro Valley – with gourmet food and wine to match. It all starts among Porto’s colourful crumbles before traversing past emblematic terraces and centuries-old vineyards as lunch is served. The multi-course menu – prepared by a Michelin chef, no less, is served among luxury interiors alongside sommelier-paired wines and, naturally, a selection of vintage ports. Guests even enjoy exclusive access to a grand winery for wine tasting and wine-making through traditional foot treading. This is all about seasonal gastronomy, so departures only embark in spring (April-May) and harvest (September-October), making it all the more exclusive.

El Transcantábrico Gran Lujo, Spain

This magnificent eight-day journey is a truly unparalleled way to experience Spain’s lesser-visited north coast and UNESCO-listed charms. Restored to its luxury best, expect stained-glass windows and gleaming wood-clad carriages that are reminiscent of their 1920s heritage alongside included, multi-course dining paired with complimentary fine wines from the region, all while sleeping in what are some of the world’s largest train suites. And, you’ll experience a whole host of Spanish delights, from San Sebastian’s colourful coast to medieval fishing villages as well as Bilbao and Santiago’s national parks. Each day culminates with tea-room fineries as well as drinks among the lavish furnishings of the bar car, with included tours throughout that range from spa visits to traditional Spanish performances.

Belmond Grand Hibernian

Ireland’s rolling hills and sweeping vistas are simply made to be viewed from a train – and this is undoubtedly the finest way to see it all. It’s all taken in from en-suite cabins and opulent lounges before live music-accompanied drinks in the convivial bar car prelude gourmet, all-inclusive menus. Alongside visits to Cork and Galway, two of Ireland’s most charming cities, guests enjoy included excursions that showcase the best of the region, from lough boat rides and rare whiskey tastings to horse and carriage rides.

Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express, Russia

As the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express rolls out of Moscow, there’s a palpable feeling of anticipation in the air that only comes with being on such a once-in-a-lifetime journey. Traversing all the way to Vladivostok with a wonderful 12 nights on board, Russia’s vast landscapes are rarely visited in such depth and as you skirt the Ural Mountains, speed past iconic Lake Baikal and even call in to Mongolia, you’ll join as many included excursions as you wish, from visiting Mongolian villages to walks around Lake Baikal. Then, taken in the red-and-gold furnishings of the dining carriage, the likes of caviar and local specialties are a perfect prelude to pianist-accompanied nightcaps in the bar car – charmingly open until the very last guest leaves. Travel in March to enjoy the magic of winter that comes in the form of snow-dusted cities, ice fishing on frozen Lake Baikal and horse-drawn sleigh 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 (15)

  1. Elaine Rogers says:

    I’ve never been on any of these, I think I’m missing out! I know of the Presidential in Portugal but I never knew it was limited in the times of the year it travels doing only a couple of months for spring and autumn. That does make it rather exclusive. I wonder how busy it gets?
    The inside of the Belmond Grand Hibernian looks very swish and classical. It’s good you get to go on excursions that sound quite varied and still touristy enough that you can say you’ve experienced plenty of must see and must do things in Ireland. How long are the trips usually with that train? Is it a predetermined deal like with the 12 nights with the Golden Eagle in Russia, or can you choose different types of vacation options and durations?

    • Dave Warne says:

      The Presidential certainly gets booked up several weeks in advance as it’s such a popular way to see the Douro Valley.
      In terms of the Belmond Grand Hibernian, trips range from two-six nights, so you can pack in as much or as little as you wish!

  2. Roger says:

    There comes a time in life when one feels old enough and sufficiently mature for one of these great railway journeys.

    Although I may not be able to spell it and certainly won’t be able to pronounce it the one that interests me the most is the Transcantabrico Gran Luja. Apologies also for any missed accents.

    Like most Brits I have made many visits to Spain but save for a trip to Madrid most of these have been around the peripheries of the country – mainly for the beaches and sunshine.

    I feel that the time has come to get to know more of the country and to do so in the utmost style. The idea of attending some Spanish performances particularly appeals.

    • Dave Warne says:

      El Transcantábrico Gran Lujo is one of my favourites too. It’s such a great way to experience the local food, wine and experiences in true luxury!

  3. Claire Smith says:

    Within the hour I will be disembarking from my luxury river cruise. A little to my surprise it had been the perfect way to see some great sights.

    I would anticipate that a luxurious rail journey would have more or less the same benefits. I expect that you just pull into a station and your tour transport is already and waiting to go. On my cruise we’ve had the very best guides and I would anticipate it would be top drawer on these famous trains too. Then back onto the train for afternoon tea and dinner, my sort of lifestyle.

    • Dave Warne says:

      That sounds great Claire, where was your cruise? A rail journey certainly has many of the same benefits, like off-train excursions to explore the region you’re in and gourmet meals come evening.

    • Claire Smith says:

      I did a Danube cruise but it wasn’t quite as luxurious as these trains. The food was great but I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it was gourmet. Once I’ve rebuilt the finances I need to start planning a train trip.

  4. Peter Ryan says:

    I nearly did the Siberia Express a long time ago back in my early twenties. I can remember buying the guide book, reading it with excitement but getting no further than that, mainly because I couldn’t get anyone to travel with me.

    Though from what I remember the train I was looking at was nowhere near as luxurious as this. When I finally get to do the Siberia Express I’m pleased that it will be in luxury. It’s been a travel treat well worth waiting for.

  5. Julia says:

    The Orient Express is so iconic, such a famous landmark experience. When Agatha Christie has even honoured it with a murder on board it’s got to be up there in the pantheon of railway greatness.

    It has been a long held ambition of mine to take a ride on the Orient Express. And note to my family, I won’t be fobbed off with a quick shunt into the Kent countryside for afternoon tea. I want the full works. I’m worth it and I deserve it.

    • Dave Warne says:

      Agreed Julia, it’s a true icon. It’s great how many city options there are too, from Venice to Budapest, Paris, Verona and many more! Which would you pick?

  6. Rob says:

    For how long will The Presidential be able to keep to it’s April – May and September – October only principles?

    I can only imagine that demand for such a luxurious experience will grow and grow. Surely it can’t be beyond creative chefs to come up with a delicious gourmet menu for products that are seasonal in summer? From my experience northern Portugal is good at cooking up winter dishes too, no reason not to have winter journeys either.

    • Dave Warne says:

      This is true Rob, it would make for a wonderful journey at any time of year. But, it’s perhaps the exclusivity that makes it extra-special.

  7. S. Goodman says:

    I’ve been on land tours and cruises, but this is really one of thing I want to tick off on my travel bucket list. I’ve always wanted to tries the Orient Express because it’s iconic. The destination is also spot on for where I want to go, London and Venice. I also like the Royal Scotsman as it looks pretty much like the Hogwarts Express from Harry Potter!

    • Dave Warne says:

      It’d be a tough choice between the two. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is certainly iconic, while traversing through the Scottish Highlands is so unique and yes, very Harry Potter-esque!

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