Travel the world on 10 of the best luxury trains

Train travel carries with it the reputation of slow travel through the countryside, but in our exploration of some of the world’s most iconic rail experiences, there is also plenty of luxury on board. Here are 10 of the best.

The Ghan

Let’s start in Australia with our most famous north-south train, The Ghan.

It owes its unusual name to a combination of Australia’s love of contracting words and a bit of light-hearted irony. It was originally nicknamed the Afghan Express because it traced the route Afghan cameleers used to open up Australia’s interior and the fact that it was anything but ‘express’ – it was once stranded for two weeks. Over the years, it was shortened to the ‘Ghan’ and when modern diesel-electric engines replaced steam trains, the route lost its reputation for unreliability.

The Ghan travels the 2929km distance between Adelaide and Darwin in just over 53 hours, slicing through some of Australia’s most stunning outback landscapes.

The current ‘off train’ experiences including a bush walk near Alice Springs and a cruise down the Nitmiluk Gorge in Katherine, although these are subject to change depending on conditions.

As for food and drinks, expect plenty of local fare, including kangaroo and barramundi complemented by fine Australian wines. Dining options include the Queen Adelaide Club restaurant, a more casual bar atmosphere in the Outback Explorer Lounge or Platinum Service guests can enjoy the Platinum Club, a relaxed lounge during the day and elegant dining car at night.

The Blue Train

Africa’s Blue Train was established to service the country’s extensive mining interests but slowly took on carrying more passengers and eventually became a passenger-only luxury service. It gained its distinctive name due to its blue and cream livery painted in 1937.

It was decommissioned during World War II but revived in the 1970s and has carried dignitaries from Nelson Mandela to our own Kylie Minogue.

It travels two routes: Pretoria to Cape Town, taking 31 hours to travel 1600km, and Pretoria to Kruger National Park, a 19-hour journey during selected months of the year. This latter route offers the chance to enjoy combination safari packages.

The suites all come with a butler service and an ensuite and the luxury suites have a bath so you can watch the stunning African landscape slide by while you’re up to your ears in bubbles.

Venice Simplon Orient Express

No listing of the great luxury train journeys of the world is complete without the Orient Express.

However, it’s no longer just one route. Passengers can choose from a variety of step-on and stop-off points across Europe from London to Istanbul, from one night to the iconic Paris to Istanbul, although this is scheduled only once a year.  

It’s glamour on wheels. The Art Deco interior honours the train’s original era, and the levels of service would only be rivalled by some of the best five-star hotels.

The seasonal food is sourced along the route, so you could be tasting the produce from the country you pass through.

Read: To do or not to do of rail travel

Rocky Mountaineer

Take in some of Canada’s most jaw-dropping landscapes on this train designed to allow you to enjoy the outdoors from inside.

Each train on the Rocky Mountaineer routes has glass domed coaches, ideal for viewing the stunning scenery, and there is an outdoor viewing platform for a more al fresco experience. Maybe not advisable during winter.

The Rocky Mountaineer trains travel only by day, so you don’t miss any of those spectacular Canadian views. Accommodation options are provided by partner hotels included in the packages. Visitors can also choose from a variety of sightseeing and side tours.

The Presidential Train

The clue is in the name – Portugal’s Presidential Train carried various heads of state for almost a century from when it was built in 1890 to when it was retired in 1970

Restored and reborn in 2010, it has been refitted to offer passengers a taste of royal life.

The train now travels a leisurely 10-hour, return day trip through the Douro Valley from Sāo Bento station in Porto with a stop at Quinta do Vesuvio station with gourmet food and wine along the way.

Two and three-day packages are also available.

Read: Five rail travel mistakes to avoid

Cruise Train Seven Stars

Pass through Japan’s diverse landscapes on a journey that covers several prefectures on the island of Kyushu.

The carriage interiors were designed to combine the best of the west and the east, and many windows are oversized to take in those views. Food and beverages also take in the world, from delicious Japanese sushi to lavish French meals.

Itineraries include day trips and overnight stays, but good luck getting on. The train takes only 28 passengers and is so popular there is an application and lottery process to secure a ticket.

Rovos Rail

Rovos Rail links some of Africa’s greatest destinations with a variety of off-train excursions.

From Cape Town in the south to Dar Es Salaam in the north, Rovos explores Africa’s varied and stunning landscapes from the comfort of a Rovos Rail train.

Each train has dining cars, lounge car and an observation car with an outdoor balcony. Confident the scenery will be enough, the company has a policy of no televisions on board. The interior is old school vintage with wood paneling and plenty of brass and chrome.

The excursions encompass city tours, wildlife sanctuaries including the world-famous Kruger National Park, gourmet food and wine, historic sites and even golf sessions.

Belmond Andean Explorer

As South America’s first luxury overnight sleeper train, the Andean Explorer is setting new standards.

Travelling on one of the world’s highest rail routes, and climbing up to 4800m, the Belmond Andean Explorer delivers a stunning, ever-changing backdrop.

Start your day with a local delicacy from the dining car and end it with a pisco sour on the observation deck.

There are four itineraries of one or two days, visiting Puno, Cusco Arequipa and Lake Titicaca

And there is an Australian link. The trainset was refurbished from the former Great South Pacific Express which ran between Kuranda and Sydney, ceasing operations in 2003. The set was shipped to Peru for refitting in 2016.

Eastern and Oriental Express

The Eastern and Oriental Express travels to three of Asia’s most vibrant cities with itineraries between Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok and Bangkok to Singapore.

And while the destination might be modern Asia, the trip is a step back in time. Carriage interiors include vintage décor incorporating timber inlay paneling, lush soft furnishings and old-world light fixtures.

Dining looks European with crisp white tablecloths, crystal glassware and sparkling cutlery, but the menu might offer anything from delicious grilled seafood to a nyonya curry.

Read:Extraordinary train stations to travel through

Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express

One of the world’s greatest train journeys is also one of the most luxurious.

Golden Eagle’s philosophy is to provide for the traveller who wants to visit fabulous and often remote destinations but to do it in style, comfort and safety.

The Trans-Siberian Express travels between Moscow and Vladivostok, taking in some of Russia’s most iconic attractions, including Yekaterinburg, founded by Peter the Great in 1723, and Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest lake.

However, it isn’t for the faint-hearted as the signature Moscow-Vladivostok route clocks in at 15 days. It’s so long the company offers free Russian lessons on board.

Not feeling up to half a month on board a train? There is also shorter option to Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia at 11 days.

Have you travelled on any of these trains? What was your experience? Why not share your memories in the comments section below?

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Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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