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Trains for Fun Part 1: Luxury Trains

Glacier express in the Albula Valley Glacier express in the Albula Valley by Champer

Luxury Trains–in general

Most people who ride trains want to get somewhere, and they figure a train is the best way. However, in some parts of the world, luxury “land cruise” trains are destinations, in themselves. The typical luxury train experience is more akin to a river cruise than a train trip:

  • You travel in trains specifically designed for land cruising; everybody sleeps in a compartment–typically, a double compartment–with lie-flat beds that may remain beds or convert to seats during daytime hours.
  • Luxury trains generally have onboard shower facilities, and some top-end compartments have private showers.
  • Some trains consist of “heritage” cars, originally built for former famous-name express trains, refurbished with modern safety and convenience features, but still looking like you might encounter Hercule Poirot in the lounge car.
  • Others are of modern design, or as in the case of Indian luxury trains, looking like they were designed as sets for Bollywood costume dramas.
  • Most luxury trains provide elaborate dining cars, featuring outstanding cuisine and lounge-bar-observation cars.
  • Trips can last from overnight to as much as three weeks. You spend most nights and eat most meals on the train, but two-day stays at some intermediate stops may entail a night or two in a hotel and some meals in local restaurants.
  • Some operate straight through; others travel by night and remain at key stops all day for sightseeing; a few run by day and stop at night.
  • To cater to the faux-elegant shtick most operators favor, dress codes are common.
  • Luxury train trip prices are usually all-inclusive and almost always at the industry’s standard “per person, double occupancy” (PPDO) formula, with stiff single supplements. Prices are usually steep, starting at around $1000 per person per day. The least expensive are in India. Prices are often seasonal, but senior and other discounts are rare.

We’ve confined our listing of luxury trains to those that involve at least one night and most meals on trains specifically designed for luxury tours. Other “for fun” trains, which we will be covering soon, include sightseeing trains, such as the Rocky Mountaineer in Canada and Copper Canyon in Mexico; some U.S. rail tours that involve hitching a private car to a regularly scheduled Amtrak run in the U.S.; day-excursion trains such as the Napa Wine Train; and tour packages that include some travel on regular Amtrak, VIA Rail, or other ordinary systems as part of the itinerary.

Europe-Asia Luxury Trains

Three companies operate fleets of several luxury trains in Europe and Asia:

Golden Eagle Luxury Trains operates a large luxury train fleet:

  • Golden Eagle travels the full trans-Siberian line between Moscow and Vladivostok, “Silk Road” trips in Central Asia, and joint Moscow-China trips jointly with the Shangri-La Express, as well as shorter trips in Russia. Portions of the trips use a restored 2-8-2 steam locomotive.
  • Shangri-La Express operates in China and the portion of the Silk Road trips between China and Almaty (Kazakhstan).
  • Danube Express and Prestige Continental Express operate around Europe, mainly in the East.
  • Glacier & Bernina Pullman Express operates around several Swiss narrow-gauge lines with restored 1931 cars.

More information: Golden Eagle Luxury Trains

Belmond (formerly Orient-Express) operates several luxury trains in Europe and Asia.

    • Venice Simplon Orient-Express runs with modernized vintage cars on several routes around Europe, including the classic Paris-Istanbul run once a year.
    • British Pullman, Northern Belle, and Royal Scotsman use modernized vintage cars on excursions around Britain, including some hauled by restored steam locomotives.
    • Eastern & Oriental Express operates year-round one- to seven-night trips between Bangkok and Singapore. A straight-through trip takes only one night, but some tours add sightseeing stops along the way.

More information: Belmond

Renfe, the Spain’s national rail operator, operates three luxury trains:

    • El Transcantabrio, a high-luxury train, runs along Spain’s north coast.
    • El Andalus, featuring updated vintage cars, operates some trips in the north and some around Andalusia, at a lower level of luxury and lower prices.
    • El Expreso de La Robla operates in the same general areas as El Transcantabrio, but with more conventional cars and substantially lower rates.

More information: Renfe

South Africa Luxury Trains

Two operators run luxury trains in and around South Africa.

    • Rovos Rail’s Pride of Africa plies the Cape Town/Pretoria route frequently and operates from Pretoria to Victoria Falls, Durban, Namaibia, on other regional routes, and a few times as far as Dar es Salaam. More information
    • The Blue Train operates regularly between Pretoria and Cape Town. More information

Indian Luxury Trains

Four luxury trains operate in some of India’s most important visitor regions: 

    • Palace on Wheels runs out-and-back seven-night trips from Delhi that make all-day stops at a handful of important visitor centers, including Agra and Jaipur, with Wednesday departures September through April. More information
    • Royal Rajasthan on Wheels operates seven-night out-and-back tours from Delhi, October through March that appear to cover the same itinerary as Palace on Wheels, but with Sunday departures. More information
    • Maharaja’s Express operates a combination of seven-night Delhi-Mumbai trips and out-and-back circle trips from Delhi of three or seven nights, October through April. More information
    • Golden Chariot operates out-and-back circular seven-night itineraries from Bangalore to key visitor centers in southern India including Goa, October through April. More information

Australia Luxury Trains

Great Southern Rail operates Australia’s two best-known long-haul trains:

    • The Indian Pacific operates weekly three-night trips (two per week seasonally) between Sydney and Perth, via Adelaide.
    • The Ghan operates weekly two-night trips (two per week peak season) between Adelaide and Darwin, via Alice Springs.

Neither train fully fits our definition of a “luxury” train; instead, they combine two luxury classes, with all-inclusive meal pricing, along with ordinary sit-up coaches. Both trains provide for optional extended stopover tour packages. More information

Other Areas

For now, we know of no trains in North America that fit our definition of true “luxury” trains. The former American Orient Express apparently stopped operations in 2008 and we have no information about a resumption. Several important sightseeing trips operate in Canada, Mexico and the U.S., but we know of no regularly scheduled trips that involve overnight journeys in luxury sleeper cars.

Similarly, Belmond operates a luxury day-trip train to Machu Picchu, and a train-by-day, hotel-overnight historical train operates in Ecuador, but we know of no overnight luxury trains in South America.

Ed Perkins, editor

For more travel tips from Ed Perkins, see our companion site Ed on Travel

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