Cover photo: Rovos Rail/Facebook
THE ROMANTIC AGE of air travel is dead. Even in business or first class, airlines are trying to get you to your destination as cheaply as possible. But you can still enjoy the silver service once offered to travelers — on trains. For the price of a first-class ticket (or for less, in many cases), you can experience some of the most amazing train journeys in the world with champagne in hand and some of the most beautiful scenery in the world outside of your window. Here are nine train trips that will make you rethink ever getting on an airplane.
1. Rovos Rail from Pretoria to Victoria Falls
The Rovos Rail from Pretoria to Victoria Falls is a classic, vintage-style journey. Starting in South Africa, you will travel across the Tropic of Capricorn and into Zimbabwe, where you will visit the impressive Victoria Falls. The train caters to no more than 70 or so people at a time, so you won’t be overcrowded. While luxurious, this is an older train and it has been known to run slowly on occasion, so you’ll travel unhurriedly and be able to take in every minute of the journey. Rates start from $1800 per person for a Pullman Sleeper on this four-day journey, but you can occasionally pick up a special deal on the official website.
2. The Rocky Mountaineer between Vancouver and Banff
The Rocky Mountaineer is one of the most famous scenic train journeys in the world, although the company actually offers four different routes. The most popular trip through the Rockies, the First Passage to the West, takes you from Vancouver to Kamloops and Lake Louise, and then all the way to Banff. Instead of sleeping on the train, you’re transported to elegant hotels, dependent on your booking class — GoldLeaf or SilverLeaf. While it might not be the fanciest train on our list, it’s designed to offer scenic views for all passengers — regardless of booking level — and early booking/last minute discounted fares are often available. Prices start from $1500 for a four-day journey (SilverLeaf Class) from Vancouver to Banff.
3. The Eastern & Oriental Express between Bangkok and Singapore
The Eastern & Oriental Express is a luxury train that runs in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. It is fully air-conditioned, and has all the amenities of a five-star hotel. Trips are of various lengths, with the most popular route being Bangkok to Singapore over three or four days, with an excursion to the bridge on the River Kwai in Thailand. Breakfast and afternoon tea are delivered to your compartment, and dinner is served in one of the two dining cars. If you can spring for the extra price to book a stateroom, do so — you’ll end up with a lot more room, and two floor-level beds, instead of bunk beds. If there are no discounted fares available on the official site, try contacting RailBookers — they have been known to secure reduced rates. Prices start at around $4,600 for a four-day, three-night journey from Bangkok to Singapore.
4. The Royal Express between Yokohama and Shimoda City
While Japan is famous for its shinkansen (bullet train) service, an enterprising company has embraced the luxury travel movement and launched a Japanese luxury rail trip. The Royal Express train service runs between Yokohama and Shimoda City on the Izu Peninsula, a popular destination for its hot springs. While the train journey is relatively short — around three hours — you’ll have many amenities to enjoy on board, including a bar, dining car, live music, a play area for kids, and a special carriage, which can be used for weddings or parties. You’ll enjoy some fabulous cuisine on board, and at around $227 for a one-way trip, it won’t break the bank. Tickets are only bookable through the official Japanese language website.
5. The Ghan between Adelaide and Darwin
If you’re keen on seeing the outback but a little hesitant about camping (dingoes, anyone?), you have the option to see it from the comfort of a railway carriage. Run by Great Southern Rail, the Ghan service runs between Adelaide and Darwin, and you’ll see Australia’s famed Uluru on the way. First operated in 1929, it takes around three days to cross Australia north to south (or vice-versa), and it stops for a few hours on the way in Alice Springs. To get the most out of your experience, book a Platinum or Gold ticket, and enjoy all-inclusive food and drinks in the Outback Explorer Lounge and the Queen Adelaide Restaurant. Platinum customers even have a double bed in their compartment, along with a full ensuite bathroom. A Platinum fare for the three-day journey starts at $3,070 per person. If you book over six months in advance through the official site, special discounts (dependent on availability) are available for Platinum and Gold class.
6. Maharajas’ Express from Mumbai to Delhi
The Maharajas’ Express is India’s premier train journey, and has been designed to take tourists across the country in opulent style. Every carriage includes a butler to wait on guests, and the red carpet is rolled out at certain stations to welcome your arrival. On its eight-day Heritage of India journey, you’ll have a chance to see sites such as the pink city of Jaipur, the Taj Mahal, and the colonial city of Jodhpur. Trains can sometimes be over one kilometer in length, so you’ll need to plan that trip to the dining car wisely! The eight-day/seven-night Heritage of India journey costs $6,840 in a Deluxe Cabin (double occupancy), and discounts are regularly available on the Maharajas’ Express official site.
7. Andean Explorer from Cusco to Arequipa
Launched in 2017, the Andean Explorer Peruvian Highlights trip crosses Peru from Cusco to Arequipa, stopping along the way in Puno. One night is spent in a luxury hotel, and another on the train. The bunk sleeper cabins are luxurious as the train was completely refitted prior to its launch. There’s even a spa on board, if you need even more of an excuse to relax. Prices start at $1,600 per person for a sleeper bunk (double occupancy) on a three-day, two-night journey. You can book through the official PeruRail website, and promotions are occasionally available.
8. Royal Scotsman Round Trip from Edinburgh
With two, three, four, five, or seven-night journeys, there are multiple options available for travel on the Royal Scotsman. One of the most popular options is the Grand Taste of the Highlands, a five-day trip visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia, Culloden Battlefield, and Strathisla Distillery. The train stops at night, making sure you get a comfortable sleep, and the interior is decidedly vintage — all wood panel and pheasant engravings. Prices start at an eye-watering $10,000 per person in a double-occupancy, two-person cabin, but the British company Railbookers is often able to get cheap fares for passengers, so it’s worth an email if there are no special offers on the official site.
9. Golden Eagle Silk Road from Moscow to Beijing
Traveling from Moscow to Beijing, this 21-day train trip takes you through Russia, China, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The journey is so long, that you need to change trains halfway — at the Chinese border — but both trains offer a luxurious experience, with several classes of comfort available. All of this comes at a cost – from $25,000 for the 21-day journey, not including the cost of the five visas you will need — but it will be the experience of a lifetime. You will get the best deal by booking directly through the official site, but if the thought of acquiring all those visas put you off, an agent can help you with the booking and visa processes.
Credits: Belinda Birchall