In the 1970s, American travel writer Paul Theroux set himself no small task: to travel from England to Asia, entirely by rail. He catalogued his experience into the book “The Great Railway Bazaar,” which became one of the most romantic pieces of writing about train travel ever recorded.
“If a train is large and comfortable you don’t even need a destination,” Theroux wrote. “A corner seat is enough, and you can be one of those travellers who stay in motion, straddling the tracks, and never arrive or feel they ought to.”
In an era when time is a luxury, take a hint from the glamour of yore and indulge in slow-moving, on-the-ground transport. Whether you’re exploring the Andes or dashing through a Japanese island, train travel consistently proves that fly-by country is much more interesting when seen on the ground.
Take it slow on these luxurious train rides through some of the world’s most glamorous destinations.
Cruise Train Seven Stars, Japan
Often referred to as the world’s most luxurious train, Japan’s Cruise Train Seven Stars brings old-school luxury to a technologically advanced railway. It lays claim to being the country’s first luxury sleeper, with its first run in 2013.
With two- and four-day tours around the island of Kyushu, riders on board the Seven Stars will get up close to both mountains and the seaside. But be warned: Booking this trip is not as simple as just putting in your credit card info. The train can only carry up to 28 passengers at a time and demand is so high that prospective riders must enter a lottery. Winners are then invited to purchase their place on an upcoming itinerary.
Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, Europe
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is mythical for a reason. The train runs course from London to Venice, stopping in Paris and Verona on the way. Cars are decked out in Art Deco finery, creating an atmosphere of old-school glamour. Food is sourced along the route meaning that when you sit down to dinner, there’s likely to be lobsters from Brittany or crisp tomatoes from Provence on your plate. After dinner, stop by the champagne bar for a cheers that will transport you back to the golden age of luxury travel.
Belmond Royal Scotsman, Scotland
Explore Scotland’s lochs, castles and countryside on a slow-moving train. As the Royal Scotsman chugs through the highlands, nestle underneath tartan wool blankets in your suite or nurse a scotch in the mahogany dining car. But what makes the Royal Scotsman unique among luxury trains is the on board spa. Book a facial, massage, or manicure at the Haybarn spa car for relaxation with a side of picturesque scenery.
Rovos Rail, South Africa
Get a taste of the diverse landscapes in South Africa on the Rovos Rail journey from Pretoria to Cape Town. The three-day excursion takes passengers on wide-ranging tour of environments, from the grasslands of Highveld to the desert of Great Karoo. The view is particularly exceptional from the train’s open-air balconies on the observation car. The train stops in the Cape Winelands for a parting drink before leaving passengers at the station in Cape Town. Aboard the train, guests can simultaneously experience lavish Edwardian furnishings and modern air conditioning.
Belmond Andean Explorer, Peru
Almost 600 years ago, the Inca Road System was a feat of engineering. Inca used to trek the 25,000 miles of road by foot or by llama. Today, travelers can go in luxury on the Belmond Andean Explorer. The train starts at the ancient capital of Cusco and proceeds through the Andean Plains, up to Lake Titicaca. Because of the high elevation in Peru, this train claims itself as one of the highest in the world. Inside, the cars are festooned with local flair, complete with Peruvian tapestries (made from alpaca wool) on the bed and pisco sours served in the rear observation bar car.
Maharajas Express, India
There are a few reasons why this train is consistently ranked among the most luxurious vacations one can have on the rails. Every car on a Maharajas Express train has a private butler, and at every single train stop, there are fresh flowers garlands and a welcome ceremony. The eight-day “Heritage of India” tour is among the rail line’s most popular offerings, which includes stops in Mumbai, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Agra, and Delhi.
The Presidential Train, Portugal
Portugal’s Douro Valley has become an internationally recognized culinary destination. The Presidential Train brings some of the world’s finest chefs to some of the world’s freshest food as it chugs from Porto to Quinta do Vesuvio, on the eastern coast of the Douro Valley. Michelin-starred chefs board every daytrip for nine hours of gastronomic delight, of course paired with wines from the region. Passengers can relax in private cabins and watch the golden valley through their windows as they wait for meal service.
The Ghan, Australia
Not every journey through the Australian Outback need be one of dust and toil. The Ghan Expedition is one of Australia’s premiere luxury train routes that takes passengers on a four-day journey from Darwin to Adelaide. The train’s been in operation since 1924, although it has been modernized and made more reliable. Onboard meals include local fare like saltwater barramundi and grilled kangaroo fillet, and those who book the Platinum level of service are treated to five-course parades for every meal.
The Canadian, Canada
Journey across the Great White North but stay warm in your cabin. Le Canadien offers services across the country, from Toronto to Vancouver. If you never disembark the train, it will take four straight days to complete the route. Along the way, passengers will see waterfalls, charming small towns and the grand Rocky Mountains. Take the train in winter for the best views of snow-capped peaks and endless fields of white powder. Spring for Prestige to make the trip luxurious. (More budget-friendly options are the sleeper plus and economy classes.)