It’s hard to imagine anything more glamorous than a luxury train ride. Picture this: you’re drinking a glass of Dom Pérignon, sitting on a tufted velvet sofa and staring out the window as the train slowly but surely pushes past snow-capped mountains, castles and turquoise lakes.
At least, that’s how I’d like to imagine it.
While many of us have endured less-than-romantic train rides on Amtrak or budget-friendly railroads, others know exactly what I’m talking about when I’m talking about luxury trains—the ones with crystal chandeliers, butler service, and some of the most beautiful views in the world. Oh, and did I mention champagne? Lots of champagne.
Sign up for our daily newsletter
From Paris to Prague, across the Japanese island of Kyushu and up into the Andes, here are some of the most luxurious train rides in the world.
One of the most glamorous trains in the world, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express perhaps the most famous. When you think of the golden age of train travel, this experience is the image that conjures up the mind. But just because we live in the jet age doesn’t mean you can’t experience that old-fashioned luxury train glamour, as this train offers travel across Europe.
With a schedule that rotates throughout the year, future train travelers with deep pockets can sleep in historic, restored 1920s cabins equipped with single or bunk beds; art deco-inspired suites with private bathrooms; or Grand Suites that draw inspiration from several European cities and offer 24-hour butler service and free-flowing champagne.
Outside the cabins there are beautiful dining cars to take in your meals (or you can have breakfast in bed), custom cocktails served at Bar Car ‘3674’ and even a “midnight brunch” that offers the chance to wash down lobster rolls with a Negroni while listening to a pianist playing all night.
Just know that a journey on a train as glamorous as the VSOE comes with an equally lavish price tag. Single night trips in one of the boarding cabins start at over $3,100 per person, while suites are closer to $6,000 per person. Longer trips — such as the annual five-night trip from Paris to Istanbul — cost over $18,000 per person.
Seven Stars Kyushu
We all know that trains in Japan is better than most places – but mostly we’re talking about the Shinkansen (bullet train). On Kyushu, Japan’s third largest island, Seven Star Train moves at a much more leisurely pace and is designed to show off the island’s beauty (spread across seven prefectures) in an ultra-luxurious environment (spread across seven rail cars).
Available for one or three night experiences, Seven Stars offers guests the opportunity to see historic towns surrounded by beautiful scenery, plus the option to spend a night without the train at a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) during the longer experiences. The train has observatory-style windows that make it easier to watch the world go by, as well as a beautiful wooden interior, a moody lounge car called Blue Moon, and a restaurant car, Juniper, serving fresh, seasonal Japanese dishes all day long.
But while Japan is finally reopening to tourists, don’t think you can just go online and book a ticket for this train – it’s much more complicated than that. With only 14 suites that can accommodate two guests each, space is limited. To get a reservation, you need to sign up online. If there are too many registrations – which is usually the case – potential guests are drawn for a chance to book a trip. A one night trip starts at around $4,500 per person based on double occupancy, while the three night experience costs $8,600 per person.
Another luxury train from Belmond, the Andean Explorer, is a beautiful 16-car train that runs on the world’s highest railway in Peru. With a mix of modern and bright design alongside Peruvian touches like pillows with clear tassels, the train itself feels fresh, fun and accommodating.
With 35 cabins, the train offers plenty of space to spread out. To keep guests safe and comfortable during the high altitude journey, each cabin has special oxygen systems.
For food, guests can enjoy meals in two dining cars, aptly named Llama and Muña, which feel more like the dining room of a New York City townhome than a train. After your meal, enjoy live music from a grand piano in the lounge car while sipping Peru’s classic cocktail, the Pisco Sour. There’s even a covered outdoor area at the back of the train to get some fresh mountain air along the way.
Available itineraries include two-night trips from Cusco to Arequipa via Puno and a one-night adventure from Puno to Arequipa, among other stunning options. Fares vary depending on the routes, but start around $2,400 for double occupancy on a one night trip in a bunk cabin.
Related: 7 Best Ways to Get to Peru with Points and Miles
While most luxury train journeys are more about the experience on the train than the stops you make along the way, The Vietage is Vietnam is a little different.
Created as a luxury way for guests to travel between Anantara Hoi An Resort and Anantara Quy Nhon Villas, the Vietage is a private carriage that can only be booked on a train that travels daily between Da Nang and Quy Nohn. But don’t think it’s exclusive to guests of those resorts. Anyone can ride Vietnam’s most luxurious train experience.
With space for just 12 guests in six cabins, The Vietage offers guests ample opportunities to enjoy three-course meals of Vietnamese and French flavors, sip a custom cocktail from the carriage mixologist, enjoy a shoulder massage, or simply kick back. recline in the comfortable seats and watch the Vietnam landscape rush by. On the return journey in the evening, sleeping cabins are available to pre-book.
To book a one-way ticket on this high-end train, expect to pay $350 per person.
Oriental and Oriental Express
There is no greater train experience in Southeast Asia than Belmond’s Oriental and Oriental Express, which travels between major cities such as Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. With a rich interior filled with wood panelling, silk furnishings and subtle nods to Asian design, the train itself is immaculate.
There is a deluxe dining car with white linen-covered tables where guests can enjoy dishes such as Nyonya curry and fried scallops. In the bar cart, sip signature cocktails in over-the-top gold pineapple cups while a pianist floods the room with music. Or, for a quieter experience, head to the observation car at the back of the train to step outside for a breath of fresh air.
The accommodations range from bunk-bed cabins to the presidential cabin, all with private bathrooms and windows. The Eastern & Oriental Express is currently out of service, but will return in the near future with new routes for 2023.
Related: Malaysia: Southeast Asia’s Hidden Gem
The Great South
While Australian rail company Journey Beyond offers a handful of train experiences that traverse the country, Eric Rosen of TPG has lived the journey of The Great Southern himself. Traveling on the three day trip from Brisbane to Adelaide, Rosen opted for the Platinum enhanced class of service, which included a room with an en-suite bathroom. It was comfortable, although he found the shower on the small side.
For Rosen, “the train felt like a destination in itself.” That makes sense as it has several lounge and restaurant cars serving meals and cocktails to the diners as Australia passes by outside the windows. (Remember that access to these cars is dependent on the service level you book.)
Plus, guests have plenty of options to get off the train and enjoy activities like wine tasting at vineyards and even dolphin-watching excursions.
Rates for travel in 2023 on The Great South start at $2,345 per person for a Gold Twin cabin, but we recommend booking the Platinum category for $4,495 per person.
Train journeys are different Scotland, which conjures up images of beautiful bridges such as the Glenfinnan Viaduct made famous by its appearance in the “Harry Potter” film series. Although the train to Hogwarts is fictional (or so we muggles are told), Royal Scotsman from Belmond is just as magical. With routes ranging from guided tours of Scotland’s scenic wonders to multi-day Scotch malt whiskey experiences, this train is the way to see – and be seen – Scotland.
It may not be a castle itself, but think of this train as a castle on wheels that will take you to a few along the way. With wood-paneled rooms ranging from singles to doubles, plus drafting tables, writing desks and en-suite bathrooms, this train is made for comfort.
As for experiences on the train, they are also nothing short of incredible. Guests can enjoy traditional Scottish food and whiskey in the dining cars while sitting on plush seats next to tables with tablecloths and fine china. Even more magical is the spa car, which has a signature ritual that includes a Swedish back and leg massage, an abdominal massage, and a facial for about $145.
Rates for the Royal Scotsman start around $4,300 per person and sell out quickly.
Related: 6 UK Castles You Can Book For Your Next Royal Vacation
Afternoon tea is quintessentially British – but imagine enjoying it on a glamorous train restored from its 1920s prime. And don’t worry if traditional tea isn’t your thing. You can skip it and instead have a glass – OK, several glasses – of champagne surrounded by tile mosaics as the British countryside rolls by. Both experiences are available on the British Pullmana train fit for royalty.
Operated by the late Queen Elizabeth II herself, this train specializes in one-off events where guests board for a meal, party or special occasion. Fans of Agatha Christie may find the regularly scheduled murder mystery lunches on the train a dream come true. Or, for those interested in Britain’s iconic castles and palaces, there are regular day trips from London to get out and experience those sites in style.
These various trips on the British Pullman sell out quickly, so plan your trip well in advance. Count on about $425 per person.