Slow train travel – 7 of the world's greatest railway routes

Breath-taking scenery, historic routes, and time to savour – these 7 luxury train journeys hark back to simpler, more elegant, and sustainable times

With sustainability at the forefront of people’s minds, slow travel is having its day in the sun.

Spotlighting immersive experiences, more sustainable forms of travel, and a focus on savouring each moment, slow travel invites travellers to connect both with nature and with local communities – people, culture, food, and music.

It relies on the idea that a trip is meant to educate and have an emotional impact; and is ultimately about the joyful experience of travelling through, rather than flying over, while connecting with a region and supporting local businesses along the way.

No other mode of transport quite captures the art of slow travel like the train journey does. Harking back to the golden age of travel, one that was simpler, slower, and arguably more meaningful, rail journeys fuse sustainability, living in the moment, and old-school luxury.

Recreate the romance of yesteryear and immerse yourself in nature with these luxury railway journeys.

CANADA

The Canadian

Toronto to Vancouver, 4 days

Credited with being one of the longest train journeys in the world, taking four days (86 hours) to complete and crossing four Canadian provinces and three time zones, this voyage – aboard Canada’s vintage 1955 stainless-steel carriages – delivers jaw-dropping scenery, wow-factor wildlife, and nostalgia in bucketloads. Journey across the Northern Ontario Lakelands, wide-open prairie grasslands, and snowy peaks of the majestic Rockies, with stops en route (if you wish) in Winnipeg, to see the Polar bears; Jasper, for the National Park; and Edmonton, to explore the Rockies. Inside the train, discover vintage styling, class-specific sleeper cars, an observation car with glass ceiling, and free wine tastings and live music in The Canadian’s signature car. Feast on only local produce like Canadian lake trout and maple duck.

Highlights Reaching Mount Robson, the highest point in the Canadian Rockies. Travelling in the Panorama dome car – think total outdoor immersion with an unobstructed glass canopy. The train’s ‘artists on board’ initiative delivers musical entertainment along the way.

SOUTH AFRICA

The Pride of Africa

Pretoria to Cape Town, 4 days

Step back in time to a simpler, more elegant era on this three-night (31 hours) African exploration. Following an old pioneering trail, the Pride of Africa meanders through a kaleidoscope of landscapes, from the rolling grasslands of Highveld to the vast desert of Great Karoo, traversing the mountain ranges and winelands of the Cape and the stunning Hex River Valley. Edwardian opulence meets African safari aboard the train’s vintage coaches which offer three stunning suite styles, with the Royal Suites delivering private lounge areas and Victorian baths. The wood-panelled dining cars are equally grand – think fine China and crisp white linen – with a dress code that is formal (smoking jackets and cocktail dresses) and a menu dishing the finest local fare, from fine South African wines to seasonal game.

Highlights Exceptional views from train’s open-air balconies on the observation car. A stop-off at Kimberley, the diamond boomtown, home to the Big Hole and De Beers.

AUSTRALIA

The Ghan Expedition

Darwin to Adelaide, 4 days

The world’s longest north-south train journey, this legendary 4-day (47 hours) transcontinental trek through the vast outback takes in Australia’s wide-open spaces, from tropical rainforests to the spectacular Red Centre, passing through the outback and via gold mining towns, wine country, and the majestic Flinders Ranges. Enjoy two full-day excursions on stop-offs in Alice Springs, to dine beneath the stars; and in quirky Coober Pedy, the world’s Opal capital where half of the residents live underground. Travelling across Australia for more than 90 years, The Ghan is steeped in history, having transported servicemen for deployment to WW1. Choose from Platinum or Gold service – both come with sleeping cabins and all-inclusive drinks and dining. Feast on South Australian produce, like saltwater barramundi and grilled kangaroo fillet in the retro-Edwardian dining room.

Highlights The Lounge with its panoramic windows which offer spectacular views. The multiple off-train excursions on offer, including a helicopter flight over the ancient red MacDonnell Ranges. Access to journey audio commentary.

EUROPE

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Grand Tour

Paris to Istanbul, 6 days

Arguably the world’s most luxurious train, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express transports you back to the golden age of luxury travel. Made up of 17 ornate carriages, awash in art deco styling, this 1920s train features authentic coal-heated sleeping cars and windows that open. On the once-a-year, 6-day voyage from Paris to Istanbul, journey through 7 countries, including Switzerland, Austria and Hungary, and enjoy breath-taking vistas from the train’s many look-out points. Enjoy 3 nights on board, and 2 at five-star hotels, in Budapest and Bucharest, along with city tours, a Danube cruise, and a Romanian palace visit. Food is sourced en route, guaranteeing local, fresh fare, and dished up by French chefs in one of three opulent 1920s restaurant cars. The train will add 8 new suites in 2023.

Highlights Dancing to 1920s tunes played by the resident pianist and sipping cocktails in the Bar Car before indulging in a midnight brunch. The many luxury details – think stained glass windows, Lalique crystals, white-gloved butler service, and the Champagne Bar.

SCOTLAND

Royal Scotsman Western Tour

Highland Roundtrip, 4 days

Fancy a Highland fling in high style? Look no further than the Belmond Royal Scotsman, which offers 1 to 7-night tours of the Highlands. For sheer remote and rugged Highland beauty, take the classic 3-night Western tour which travels at a leisurely pace through beautiful glens, stunning lochs, and mile after mile of unspoilt coastline. Experience country-house luxury aboard the 10-coach train with its rich mahogany panelling and Highland wool furnishings. Indulge in seasonally led three-course lunches and four-course dinners, including scallops and venison; enjoy an exclusive spa treatment; and then kick back in the stunning Edwardian observation car where a local Highlander will regale you with stories of life in Scotland in centuries gone by. Or simply watch the world go by from the open-air observation platform.

Highlights The Drum Major who pipes you aboard. The formal dinner dress code (Kilts and cocktail dresses). The Scottish Whisky menu of 30-plus different types. The journey is intimate with a maximum of 36 guests.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

Eastern & Oriental Express

Singapore to Bangkok, 3 days

Adventure through the heart of Southeast Asia from Singapore via the Straits of Johor, Malaysia, to Bangkok on this 3-day luxury sojourn. Step aboard decadent carriages featuring cherrywood panelling and Thai silk embroidery and soak up the sights and surroundings from rice paddies to jungle scenery to mountains. Head to the observation car to catch the golden hour and kick back with a cocktail. There are four cabin types to choose from, each oozing opulence and vintage décor, along with two dining and two bar cars, where you can sip cocktails while a pianist provides the soundtrack. Feast on award-winning locally inspired dishes, from dim sum to meat-bone soup. Stop-offs include at the famed River Kwai Bridge station, and in Kuala Kangsar where you can take a hill trek or visit a local village.

Highlights The train sometimes welcomes internationally acclaimed chefs for the journey. The Saloon Car, which offers a cosy nook to retreat with in-house library and board games.

PERU

Andean Explorer

Cusco to Arequipa, 3 days

Travelling along one of the highest train routes in the world, across the giant peaks and wide-open spaces of the highest plains of the Andes, the Belmond Andean Explorer gives you a front row seat to some of the world’s most breath-taking scenery. The journey begins in Cusco, the ancient city of the Inca Empire, and travels across the Andean plains to the white volcanic stone city of Arequipa, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Take in the region’s spectacular highlights, including Puno, Lake Titicaca and Colca Valley. Breathe in the Andean air and soak up the scenery from the open deck of the observation car. Inside, there is a distinct Peruvian flavour, from the décor (Alpaca wool tapestries and linen-covered walls) to the cuisine, all made from locally sourced ingredients. Retreat to the Spa Car for a botanical-infused massage, to the library for some stimulus, or the Piano Bar for cocktails and canapes.

Highlights Peruvian Pisco Sour cocktails served in the observation car. Sunrise at the stunning Titicaca Lake and star watching in Saracocha. The in-built oxygen offers guests additional comfort in the high elevation.

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