The 8 Best Scenic and Luxurious Train Rides in the World
Glass dome ceilings and lots of wine make for superb views.
Imagine the joy of road tripping—namely staring out a window at epic landscapes—minus having to dodge drivers, follow navigation directions, or worry about whatever the absurd price of gas is at this moment. Indeed, there are many enticing reasons to take trains right now. Even planes (faster, sure) are exhausting these days, with TSA, lost baggage, delays, and cancellations. Say you make it through all that, just to get to a crowded main cabin with tight seats that barely recline, far-removed views you have to squint at, and mostly just a whole lot of clouds out the window. That’s where luxury trains swoop in. It’s like getting all the benefits of right-in-your face vistas, kicking back and relaxing on your journey, plus the service you’d get on a cruise ship—but without the icebergs, hordes, and norovirus.
We have to admit, some trains are a cut above others. No one wants to sit on what could amount to a glorified bus for a few hours. Luxury trains evoke a glorious era of opulence while exploring large swaths of land, usually while sipping wine and sleeping in style.
Here are the best of luxury trains on every continent besides Antarctica (sorry, you adrenaline junkies), to indulge in a couple days of slow travel.
Rovos Rail, Southern Africa
Whether you have two nights or 15 days, Rovos Rail is prepared to introduce you to some of Southern Africa’s most spectacular sights aboard their elegant trains. Their journeys cross the lower part of the continent, going as far north as Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania. And don’t worry, there is plenty of South African wine to go around. The train decor is reminiscent of a bygone era, with a smoking lounge, observation car, and a lounge car to keep guests entertained.
At night, guests sleep on board in various suites, while days are filled with adventures through places like Victoria Falls, Etosha National Park, and numerous spots known for iconic African wildlife. This is not only one of the most unique ways to go on Safari, but to experience parts of Africa that are easy to miss otherwise.
The Ghan, Australia
Roughly 85% of Australians live near the country’s coast, but that doesn’t mean the interior isn’t worth visiting. Besides inspiring a generally-disliked steakhouse, Australia’s Outback is stunningly beautiful, with wildlife, landscapes, and culture for seemingly endless miles. The Ghan, operated by Journey Beyond Rail Expeditions, is a luxury train that crosses those miles from Darwin in the north to Adelaide in the south (or vice versa) on their signature four-day, three-night trip.
The route follows the trail of the Afghan cameleers who made a permanent road through Australia’s red center. Stops include Alice Springs and the opal mining town of Coober Pedy, and there are also daily opportunities for excursions to places like Uluru. The train itself offers private, comfortable cabins staffed by attendants, plus three finely crafted meals every day in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant.
Hiram Bingham, Machu Picchu, Peru
Of all the ways to visit the Lost City of the Incas, the Hiram Bingham train is undoubtedly the most stylish. This Belmond train ferries passengers aboard 1920s carriages through Peru’s Sacred Valley, to and from the base of Machu Picchu. A decadent lunch is served on the way there, while a four-course meal is presented on the twilight return. Excellent cocktails are available at the stylish bar—a perfect pairing with the live music for which the train is known. Catch the band in the bar, and groove to the music on the observation deck behind it.
Rocky Mountaineer, Western Canada
The very thing that makes Western Canada so spectacular is also why it’s such a challenge to traverse: the profoundly dense natural environment. Fortunately, Rocky Mountaineer takes away all the struggles created by craggy peaks and thick forests, allowing passengers to enjoy the jaw-dropping sights without ever having to bushwhack. It wouldn’t be uncommon to spot a bald eagle while sipping a glass of Okanagan wine as you’re crossing a bridge over a river. That’s a combination of things difficult to attain without being aboard Rocky Mountaineer.
While the Canadian Rockies can be relied upon to put on a good show, Rocky Mountaineer sure builds upon it. Their GoldLeaf service is a work of art, offering coaches with glass domes for ceilings, which you can enjoy while dining on locally sourced ingredients and sipping that wine, ofc.They offer several routes (including a new one in the U.S.), during which passengers ride the rails during the day and sleep in hotels at night.
Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, Europe
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is a 1920s art deco icon, eliciting nostalgia with its 17 restored vintage carriages, each with its own unique history. It crosses throughout Europe, stopping in historic cities like Paris, Venice, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. There are many journeys to take, but once a year, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express makes a five-night journey between Paris and Istanbu, including overnight stops in Budapest and Bucharest.
Recently, the train introduced additional Grand Suites—named Vienna, Prague, and Budapest—which feature private bathrooms with showers, double beds, and a living area with underfloor heating. The new suites will launch in June 2023. As traveling across Europe goes, this train continues the legacy of the golden age of travel, remaining an excellent journey to this day.
Eastern & Oriental Express, Southeast Asia
Resuming service in 2023, the Eastern & Oriental Express is a Belmond train bringing passengers through the heart of Southeast Asia. The train travels from Singapore to Bangkok without having to transfer at the Malaysia border. Guests sit aboard a green train with a polished wood interior accented by classic, simple design. Meals reflect local cuisines and are served in the ornamented dining cars. These train journeys incorporate off-board excursions, so guests can get the most from their time in the region.
The Japanese rail system is renowned worldwide, but it’s not all punctual commuter and bullet trains. The Shiki-Shima is designed with relaxation and exploration in mind, ferrying passengers in style to Southern Hokkaido, a region renowned for its natural beauty. The train experience is an elegant one, with upscale dining and thoughtfully designed suites that are simple, stylish, and make you aware of the outdoor surroundings. Check out the observation car, which matches the gentle magnificence of the natural world outside.
Maharajas’ Express, India
Enjoy the singular experience of India’s hospitality aboard the elegant Maharajas’ Express. Their three or seven day journeys predominantly tour Rajasthan in northwest and central India. Sleep in comfortable cabins and enjoy the dining and wine services. During the day, guests can explore India’s top tourist destinations like the Taj Mahal, or take in a spa session at a hotel near where the train has pulled in for the day.