Travelzoo Picks: Our Favourite Train Journeys
Train travel has long fascinated travellers and we can see why. Not only does your holiday begin the moment you step on board, but you also enjoy free movement throughout the carriages, enjoy chef-prepared three or four-course meals, sleep in luxury accommodations and fully immerse in the surrounding scenery.
Luxury rail routes worldwide offer the chance to step back in time, travel slowly, and explore some of our planet's most remote landscapes. Regardless of your desires, there is a rail journey to satisfy most. From four hours to four days, here is a list of our favourite train voyages and the experiences they offer.
Best Luxury Train: Maharaja Express
India’s Maharaja Express is continually named one of the world’s leading luxury trains. In fact, it was the winner of the World's Leading Luxury Train award at the World Travel Awards for seven consecutive years (from 2012 to 2018). Offering eight sensational tours across India, lasting from two to eight days, these routes visit India’s iconic landmarks and offer the ultimate in elegance, grandeur and opulence. This is 5-star luxury at its very best.
Onboard, 14 carriages offer different levels of comfort, all with a private butler and all considered fit for royalty. Undoubtedly the most impressive of these carriages is the Presidential Suite, spread across an entire carriage with two bedrooms, a separate living area, dining room and a private bathroom with bathtub. Rich tapestries, upholstered furnishings, wall-to-wall carpeting, semi-precious stones, and antiques set the lavish scene onboard while panoramic windows allow you to experience the stunning colours and sights abundant in incredible India. The seven-day Heritage Of India journey tends to be the most popular option stopping in Mumbai, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Agra and Delhi.
Most Exclusive: Seven Stars in Kyushu
Seven Stars in Kyushu is Japan's first luxury train, and it is so popular you can only secure a cabin through a lottery.
With a capacity of just 28 guests, expect attentive service and faultless attention to detail. Choose from eight spacious suites or secure one of their in-demand Deluxe Suites, one with a rear window across the car, allowing for endless views of the surrounding countryside. An emphasis is also placed on connecting passengers to the cultural practices of the island with stops in Onta, a traditional village specialising in pottery and an on-train experience creating geta or wooden clogs made from Hita cedar, sourced from a local city of the same name in Oita Prefecture.
Due to the limited space and the unique travel experience offered, securing a place onboard the Seven Stars can be challenging. Unlike other rail journeys, you first must submit an application to ride, which is then placed in a lottery. With the application period lasting just one month, this is a holiday that requires advance planning and a dose of good luck. The reward for your hard work will be an incredibly unique travel experience that will stay with you long after your return home.
The luxury sleeper train is as exquisite as the journey it takes you on. Touring Japan's third-largest island over four days and three nights, Kyushu is known for its active volcanoes, beaches and natural hot springs. With a year-round tropical climate and a landscape defined by vast mountainous terrain and untamed national parks, Seven Stars celebrates these remarkable landscapes with panoramic windows offering expansive views out over the island.
Best in Winter: The Glacier Express
The Swiss Alps have long been synonymous with glamour, luxury and style. A journey on The Glacier Express through these breathtaking landscapes epitomises all that is desirable about this stunning location.
At one time, wild weather prevented the train from operating year-round. Now, due to the marvels of modern engineering, you can journey between the snow-covered alps and alpine forests, a remarkable experience of exceptional beauty and awe.
Travelling from stylish St. Moritz to sophisticated Zermatt, this incredible journey offers unobstructed views of the iconic Matterhorn, Rhine Gorge, Lake Sils and Corvatsh – all spectacular sights at dazzling altitudes. Not only will you be wowed by the incredible surrounding scenery in the warmth of the carriages, but guests travelling in Excellence Class are also served champagne and amuse-bouches followed by a divine five-course meal paired with exceptional European wines.
This is definitely no Snowpiercer.
Best Of Old-Class Charm: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
Stepping on board the Venice-Simplon Orient Express transports you to the bygone days of the golden age of rail travel when luxury knew no bounds and decadence was commonplace. Travelling from London to Venice, this artisanal rail journey invites you to revel in the decadence of the 1920s with inspired furnishings and design.
Onboard, grand suites pay homage to some of Europe's most desirable cities, and the work of Art Deco designers such as Dufrene, Rousseau, Prou and Lalique is celebrated throughout the carriages. Parisian ateliers have handcrafted the train's fittings and fixtures, and a 24-hour butler service ensures private dinners or late-night cocktails are within easy reach. Fresh seasonal produce is collected along the way and perfectly prepared by world-renowned chefs. In the bar car, elegant cocktails accompany soft melodies offered by the resident pianists on a baby grand piano.
Riding the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is undeniably the experience of a lifetime, and the unparalleled beauty and luxury onboard must be experienced to be believed.
Best Of Modern Chic Design: Train Suite Shiki-Shima
If you’re less than impressed by the old-world luxury of commonly celebrated rail journeys, East Japan’s stylish Shiki-Shima may be the experience you’ve been waiting for. A newcomer to luxury rail travel, the train's champagne-gold carriages clearly showcase the chic design and style-forward approach it is fast becoming known for.
Designed by Ken Okuyama, who is known for his work with Porshe, this train combines traditional Japanese aesthetics and futuristic design, presenting more as a work of art than a means of transport. 17 private suites offer varying degrees of unfaltering luxury, with ultimate opulence found in the two-floor suite housing traditional tatami mats and a specially made cypress bath.
The flawless attention to detail doesn’t end here. An exquisite menu conceptualised by Michelin-starred chef Katsuhiro Nakamura brings together flavours of the region and celebrates the seasonal ingredients of eastern Japan and Hokkaido. Chefs from well-known restaurants also join the train occasionally to share their knowledge of local flavours and display their highly sought-after cooking skills.
Despite launching only in 2017, the Shiki-Shima already boasts a near-cult following, with would-be passengers required to submit an application to a lottery draw and just a lucky few able to climb onboard, similar to the Seven Stars in Kyushu but with a larger capacity.
Best Sightseeing: TranzAlpine, New Zealand
One of the most significant advantages of train travel is journeying through awe-inspiring and, at times, utterly untouched wilderness as you travel between destinations. New Zealand's TranzAlpine states this case perfectly.
Widely regarded as one of the world's most scenic rail journeys, this train connects Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island, with Greymouth, situated on the rugged and breathtaking West Coast. After crossing the Canterbury Plains, you'll travel alongside the beautiful Waimakariri River, headed for the Southern Alps and the alpine Village of Arthur's Pass.
After emerging on the other side of the Alps, the train continues through alpine rainforests, along crystal clear streams and deep sapphire lakes, before reaching your final destination. This trip covers 223km in just five hours, with the standout feature being an open-air viewing carriage allowing you to breathe fresh mountain air while marvelling at the surrounding scenery.
While onboard, passengers enjoy fresh local produce alongside New Zealand's world-famous wine.
North America's Best: Rocky Mountaineer
Canada's The Rocky Mountaineer continues to be one of North America's most impressive rail experiences. It is also the reigning and three-time winner of the World's Leading Luxury Train award at the World Travel Awards (from 2020 to 2022). With four fantastic routes, these journeys take you through the outstanding beauty of the soaring snow-capped Canadian Rockies, the deserts and lush valleys of Kamloops, and the deep lakes of Banff National Park.
Undoubtedly, the jaw-dropping scenery takes centre stage while onboard. Glass dome windows and an outdoor viewing platform immerse you in Canada's extraordinary untouched wilderness and up close to wildlife only visible by rail.
Award-winning chefs are onboard serving three-course meals that celebrate the flavours of Western Canada, while train hosts share the history and folklore of the places the train passes.
South America's Best: Belmond's Andean Explorer
A trip to fascinating Peru will undoubtedly stay with you forever, so why not do it in style? Belmond's Andean Explorer takes you on an unforgettable journey through Peru’s astonishing landscapes in spectacular fashion.
This popular Peruvian Highlands journey boasts one of the highest train routes in the world. This journey leaves Cusco and takes you through the Andes' high plains before arriving at Lake Titicaca's tranquil and reflective waters. This incredible experience ends at the UNESCO World Heritage site, Arequipa, an enchanting colonial city famous for its baroque architecture.
Each cabin onboard the Explorer presents luxurious Peruvian hand-woven fabrics and soft Alpaca textures, while in-built oxygen offers additional comfort at high altitudes. Of course, visiting Peru would only be complete by enjoying a Pisco Sour, served throughout your journey in the bar car.
Another Peruvian Belmond train that deserves a mention is The Hiram Bingham. If you're short on time, this is an excellent alternative. Travelling at a leisurely pace, the route is close to 90km and lasts approximately three and a half hours in each direction. Departing from Poroy, near Cusco, this journey goes through the Sacred Valley of the Incas and then on to Machu Picchu.
On the way, you'll enjoy vast mountainscapes, deep green valleys, and Peru's celebrated llamas roaming freely. On your return, you'll delight in a sumptuous four-course Andean-inspired menu featuring organic produce from the Sacred Valley and tender cuts of meat prepared with delectable Peruvian sauces.
Africa's Best: Blue Train
It is difficult to imagine a better way to traverse the incredible landscapes of South Africa than onboard the famous Blue Train. Carrying passengers since 1946, it is said that the Blue Train defined a new era of luxury rail travel that is just as prevalent today.
Known as a window to the soul of Africa, this incredible journey travels between Pretoria and Cape Town, offering you a desirable front-row seat to South Africa's mind-blowing scenery. This two-night 1600 km trip includes an off-train excursion in Kimberley to visit the Big Hole - claimed to be the deepest hole excavated by hand - and the Diamond Mine Museum.
Dinner onboard is an elegant affair, with passengers requested to dress accordingly. Post-dinner, cognacs and Cuban cigars are enjoyed by guests in the Club Car. Choose to stay in a Deluxe Suite or Luxury Suite, with the latter including a personal butler for your journey, long bathtubs and goose-down bedding. You'll also find two lounge cars and an observation car, perfect for meeting new friends and taking in the surrounding scenery.
While the Blue Train is an iconic fixture of South African tourism, the Rovos Rail is also worth mentioning.
Operating since 1989, Rovos have established a reputation for delivering truly world-class travel experiences. These bespoke rail journeys last from 48 hours to 15 days and are known worldwide for the exquisite experience they offer.
Expect lavish mahogany suites decked out in vintage décor, first-class service and refined cuisine. Smart casual attire is acceptable during the day; however, the evening is a different affair when suit jackets and gowns fill the dining car. Four-course dinners celebrate fresh produce from the region, and contemporary and traditional dishes are paired faultlessly with exceptional South African wine.
With an open-air balcony to soak up the spectacular views, these journeys promise timeless elegance, absolute opulence and the chance to discover the terrains of unmissable Africa.
Rovos’ journeys are slightly more high-end than The Blue Train, which is reflected in their pricing. However, if cost is not an issue, we certainly recommend you climb aboard both.
Asia's Best: The Colombo to Badulla Railway
Asia offers numerous incredible rail journeys from the Trans-Siberian to Belmond's Eastern & Oriental Express, but few have the ability to enliven your senses, like the train ride from Colombo to Badulla in stunning Sri Lanka.
This rail journey is a firm reminder that, at times, the journey is just as magical as the destination. Winding its way through terraced tea plantations, misty mountains and lush forests, this extraordinary journey makes several stops to intimately explore the tea terraces of Nuwara Eliya, the lush hills of Ella or learn about Sri Lanka’s ancient history in Kandy.
While not a luxury rail experience, this journey is comfortable and very affordable. Thanks to its sensational Instagram appeal, this expedition into the heartland of Sri Lanka is making a name for itself and starting to appear on bucket lists worldwide.
Europe's Best: Bernina Express
With so many incredible rail journeys to choose from in Europe, finding the option that fits best can be difficult. However, the Bernina Express is difficult to beat. Travelling along the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Rhaetian Railway, the Bernina Express is Europe's highest and world's steepest rail journey.
This four-hour expedition between Chur in icy Switzerland and Tirano in northern Italy is legendary and takes passengers through the Swiss Alps in spectacular fashion. You'll pass the Morteratsch glacier, the three lakes Lej Pitschen, Lej Nair and Lago Bianco, the Alp Grüm and the Brusio Circular Viaduct, and finish your trip surrounded by the palm trees of Tirano.
Modern panoramic cars offer first-class comfort and provide a front-row seat to some of Europe's most awe-inspiring landscapes. Reaching a maximum altitude of 7392 feet above sea level, this stunning journey celebrates remarkable engineering, passing through 55 tunnels and over 196 bridges - a fantastic testament to the early pioneering days of train travel.
Australia's Best: The Indian Pacific and The Ghan
We admit; we're biased. It's our own backyard so it's really hard to pick a side in the Indian Pacific versus The Ghan fight. Both are exceptional rail journeys that showcase our country's stunningly vast landscapes, and both sit atop many of the must-do lists of Australian travel adventures.
A journey on the Indian Pacific takes you from the Indian Ocean of Perth via Adelaide and delivers you to the Pacific Ocean in Sydney, or vice versa. This epic 4352 km transcontinental crossing takes you across the famed Nullarbor Plain, offers an evening side trip to the Barossa Valley while in Adelaide and journeys on to the dramatic bush-scape of Sydney's Blue Mountains.
Choose between Platinum and Gold Class cabins, with Gold being the more popular service option. Splurge on their Platinum class if you're seeking ultimate luxury, where you'll enjoy a full-size en suite, expansive windows, lavish linens and French champagne on demand.
While the Indian Pacific hosts more of an Australian crowd, The Ghan tends to attract international visitors seeking a luxurious outback experience and the chance to learn more about our indigenous culture. After all, this iconic train journey is argueably the most extraordinary way to do it.
This 2977 km journey from Adelaide to Darwin spans three days and two nights. If you're travelling in the reverse direction, travel will take four days and three nights. If you're leaving from Adelaide, you'll stop in quirky Coober Pedy and the recently added Red Centre stop in Alice Springs, where you can ride a camel and learn about local indigenous culture. The next stop is lush Katherine for a boat cruise through the incredible Gorge, then onto colourful Darwin to discover the vibrant happenings of the Top End capital.
Due to the inhabitable nature of Australia’s centre, this journey gives you the chance to go where few have gone before. Be amazed by our stunning red desert centre, astounding natural wonders and the glittering night sky.
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