There’s something timeless about traveling aboard a luxury train: the white-glove service, the exotic scenery rushing by, the rhythm of the rails rocking you to sleep in your own comfortable private berth. While luxury train trips operate all over the world, only a few rise to the top as being truly unforgettable.
Luxury Train Trips
Below I’ve picked the six best luxury train trips, taking you to places as far-flung as Bangkok, Cape Town, and Moscow. These trains provide all accommodations in private compartments for two or more, plus inclusive dining and other onboard services.
Legendary: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
Easily the top of the top, this modern incarnation of the world’s most famous train, the Orient Express, evokes images of the colorful Middle East, mysterious Eastern Europe, and, of course, classic mystery with Agatha Christie character Hercule Poirot. Recently reopened rail connections allow the train to complete its original itinerary between Paris and Istanbul, which it does once a year; overnight stops include Budapest and Bucharest. The base price for Paris-Istanbul is about $20,300 (per person, double occupancy). Unlike other luxury trains, the Orient Express does not have onboard showers, so the five-night schedule involves three nights on the train and two in hotels along the way.
The train is owned and operated by Belmond; it consists of historic cars restored to modern requirements. Twin cabins, with upper and lower berths, include washbasins; lavatories are at either end of the car.
If you don’t want to go as far as Istanbul, Belmond offers dozens of routes around Europe and the U.K., on itineraries lasting from overnight to six days. Pricing generally starts around $3,500 per person for a two-day, one-night trip, although Belmond offers occasional promotional deals.
Distance Champ: The Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express
Eight times per year, May through September, this luxury train trip takes you between Moscow and Vladivostok over 12 nights by way of Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Lake Baikal, and Ulaanbaatar. The train stops for local sightseeing at several places along the way. The base price in 2020 starts at $16,995 per person, double occupancy.
The Golden Eagle train consists of modern equipment with three cabin classes, all including private toilets and showers. Silver cabins offer either small double beds or bunks; higher categories are larger with full beds.
The Golden Eagle folks run four different trains over a range of other itineraries, including several through the “Silk Road” areas of central Asia. They also run a separate Danube Express on a wide variety of European itineraries. As with Belmond, pricing generally starts at around $1,000 per person, per day. Some trips include use of steam locomotives over part of the journey.
Most Varied Attractions Along the Way: Pride of Africa
On the Pride of Africa train, Rovos Rail provides five luxury train trips a year on a 15-day itinerary from Cape Town to Dar Es Salaam or the reverse, passing through Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Tanzania, and including stops at a game reserve and Victoria Falls. Prices for the trip start at $12,820 per person (double occupancy).
The Pride of Africa uses mainly older equipment updated to current standards. All compartments include double or twin beds, toilet, and shower. Some trips are pulled by steam locomotives.
Rovos Rail operates the Pride of Africa on a wide range of other itineraries in South Africa and adjacent countries, some including safari stops.
High Altitude: The Andean Explorer
The Andean Explorer, another Belmond operation, runs weekly two-night trips linking Cusco with Arequipa via Lake Titicaca, with a lake excursion included. Prices start at around $2,100 per person for the two-night, three-day trip. This is literally the highest of the deluxe trains, reaching altitudes up to 14,000 feet along the way, however, so you might want to skip this one (or bring medications) if you have problems with altitude.
The Andean Explorer train includes three levels of cabin, all with private shower, plus an observation lounge, and spa cars. Belmond also operates the deluxe day train Hiram Bingham between Cusco and Machu Picchu.
Exotic Asia: Eastern & Oriental Express
Belmond’s East Asian luxury train travels between Bangkok and Singapore twice monthly. The two- and three-night itineraries run through some of Thailand’s top scenic areas and take a detour to the famous River Kwai bridge. Prices start at $3,630 per person for the trip. You can also start or end the trip in Kuala Lumpur rather than Singapore.
The Eastern & Oriental Express train consists of modern cars built to luxury standards. It offers three levels of cabin, all of which include private shower and lavatory, plus dining and observation cars. Belmond also runs other regional excursions with the train.
Most Frugal: Palace on Wheels
The Palace on Wheels and its four siblings cruise through northern and southern India. The Palace on Wheels, Maharaja’s Express and Royal Rajasthan on Wheels cover mainly seve-day loop itineraries to and from Delhi, with a few Delhi-Mumbai trips; most include a stop at Agra for the Taj Mahal. The Deccan Odyssey and Golden Chariot operate similar patterns centered on Bangalore and Mumbai.
Pricing is seasonal, starting at $500 per person, per night, on the Palace on Wheels. The several trains also run occasional promotions, such as seven nights for the price of five and 50 percent companion discounts.
Deluxe Indian trains use modern equipment, generally with decor inspired by Bollywood’s best extravaganzas. All cabins include a private toilet and shower.
What to Wear on Your Luxury Train Trip: