Most train journeys involve a poorly flushing toilet, the lingering perfume of a Greggs sausage roll and a coffee made with UHT milk – but there are some that transcend mere transportation.
As travellers increasingly take to slow travel, luxury train journeys are an ever-popular way of experiencing the world, where you can see the landscape unfold from an entirely different perspective than the skies or motorways. Plus, with a healthy dose of old-school glamour, these trains prove that the journey is far more important than the destination.
The Orient Express has blazed the trail (and rails) of luxury train journeys since the days of Jane Eyre and smallpox, but there are plenty more convoys to get your fix of frippery. From traversing the outback on the Ghan to carving the Andes aboard the Belmond Explorer to soaking up K-Wave culture in Korea, these train journeys provide a once-in-a-lifetime getaway with every chug.
So, if you’re looking for a locomotive with a fully stocked bar, Michelin-starred chefs helming the kitchen and gasp-worthy views, take a look at our pick of the best luxury rail journeys to jump abroad in 2024. Choo choo!
Luxury rail journeys to try in 2024
BELMOND VENICE SIMPLON-ORIENT-EXPRESS
Luxury train journeys, you say? Agatha Christie wrote about them. Countless movies have been inspired by them, from Strangers on a Train to Darjeeling Limited and, of course, Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. There’s something thrilling about high-spec train travel, and Belmond’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is the quintessential luxury rail experience. Anyone with a bulletproof bank account wanting to breathe a bit of luxury’s living history should buy a ticket and take this ride. There are multiple routes throughout Europe, but you’ll want to jump on from Paris to Venice (traditionally, it was London-Venice, however sadly, that’s come to an end because of, you guessed it, Brexit) and get swept away in Art Deco elegance on a journey that threads the needle through high alpine passes straight out of The Sound of Music to arrive on the shoulder of the Adriatic in one of the world’s most mesmerising cities.
From £3,210 per person per night; belmond.com
THE GHAN AUSTRALIA TRAVERSE
The Outback. It’s big. It’s beautiful. It’s best seen by train. The Ghan, which has been operating since 1929, will glide you through some of Australia’s most gasp-worthy scenery, on a four-day adventure that embarks from Darwin and ends in Adelaide. Over the course of the journey, you’ll cover 1,851 miles of ground, witnessing some of the most remote and captivating areas Down Under in the utmost style and comfort. And, while there may not be warm stubbies onboard, there’s plenty of fine, local wine and regionally-inspired food to sink your teeth into. Trip highlights include dinner under the stars at the historic Telegraph Station, exploring Nitmiluk Gorge’s powerful natural wonders and rich Indigenous culture and venturing into the underground opal mining town of Coober Pedy. Operating April to October, the trip is all-inclusive of meals, wine and beverages and includes all accommodation, so planning-induced migraines are a thing of the past.
From £1,950; journeybeyondrail.com.au
BELMOND ANDEAN EXPLORER
Meticulous readers will have clocked that Belmond has made an appearance three times in this list, but when you’re really good, you’re really good, and Belmond has made an indelible mark on high-end rail travel experiences. Guests are invited to kick back, relax and alight on one of the world’s highest-altitude railways, taking in everything from the ancient city of Cusco to the Sacred Valley and, for all of those tittering schoolboys in the back of the class, Lake Titicaca. Refreshments are prepared by one Diego Muñoz. The internationally acclaimed Peruvian chef will be applying his Michelin-star talent to exceptional dishes expressive of the landscape through which you’re travelling. Pisco sours and some of the world’s best ceviche in an Art Deco carriage, you say? We’re jumping on that train.
From £2,149 per person per night; belmond.com
BELMOND BRITISH PULLMAN
If you’re faced with the all too common predicament of wanting a top-class, old-school luxury train journey, but only have one night to spare, what do you do? You point it to London Victoria, that’s what you do, where it’s all aboard the Belmond British Pullman, and the champagne isn’t the only thing that’s vintage. The company has recently partnered with Dom Pérignon for a series of catchthem- while-you-can pop-up dinners with a gang of British female chefs that’s already seen the likes of Lisa Goodwin- Alan and Anna Haugh take over the kitchens, with Angela Hartnett, Nieves Barragán Mohacho and Sally Abé onboard, too. The train carriages have been given an impeccable facelift that channels William Morris's Victorian-era opulence as much as it does fin-de-siecle Paris. So dust down your black tie and make sure to explore The Belmond British Pullman as it chugs through Surrey and Kent on a one-night extravaganza. It would be a sad thing to miss the carriage designed by Mr Wes Anderson.
From £595 per person; belmond.com
CONTIKI K-WAVE TOUR OF SOUTH KOREA
Attention: Gen-Y and Gen-Z-ers. Put down that TikTok and take a look at the Contiki K-Wave tour – a railway journey that is designed specifically for you. This youth-focused, nine-day trip begins and ends in Seoul, featuring an itinerary that splices K-Wave cultural hotspots with traditional sites so you can soak in the best of fascinating South Korea. The trip plunges you headfirst into the powerhouse of popular culture. Discover Busan by night on a private yacht. Star in your very own K-pop music video. Watch a baseball game. Visit behind-the-scenes music video locations, and, of course, make the pilgrimage to Gangnam – the neighbourhood made famous by Psy’s smash hit single. You’ll also be immersed in traditional Korean culture and history as you visit Jeonju – a Unesco World Heritage town – and the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), where you can look across the border into North Korea. There will be plenty of authentic cuisine on the way (Korean BBQ and soju for the win), alongside navigation, accommodation, transport and guided tours taken care of by Contiki.
From £1940 per person; contiki.com