These luxury sleeper trains bring back the romance of rail travel

Sip martinis as the world’s great cities and landscapes pass by right outside your window.

By Chris Ashton, February 28 2022
These luxury sleeper trains bring back the romance of rail travel

Slow travel is one of the fastest growing trends in tourism – and it’s not going to slow down. More than just easing back on the accelerator pedal, it’s about travellers taking the time to learn, to experience, and to really get to know the destinations and cultures they visit.

Although rail travel is generally seen as a way to get from A to B, the upper end of the spectrum offers a perfect chance to soak up the countryside – without concentrating on the road. Add in gourmet cuisine, stylish interiors and a few late-night negronis in the lounge car, and you have a holiday that feels out of time yet exactly what we all need right now.

From Venice to London, Udaipur to the Outback, these luxury rail trips are worth slowing down for.

The Ghan – Alice Springs to Darwin

This experience requires little introduction. The Ghan is the grand dame of the Australian luxury rail scene; an icon that has invited curious travellers to explore the beating heart of Australia in style since 1929 – and its new owners are already counting down to The Ghan’s centenary.

The Ghan with the MacDonnell Ranges in the distance
The Ghan with the MacDonnell Ranges in the distance

Originally just from Adelaide to Alice Springs, it was extended to Darwin in 2004 and is now a truly transcontinental experience. Travelling amid fiery desert sands and remote townships, it’s a journey that gives passengers a greater appreciation for the wonders of the outback.

Embrace all-inclusive life in a Gold Service twin cabin
Embrace all-inclusive life in a Gold Service twin cabin

Choose Gold Service to enjoy all-inclusive dining and drinks, with an ensuite cabin that features upper and lower berth beds, or dial up the indulgence with Platinum Service and enjoy a cabin that converts from lounges by day to beds by night, with views from both sides of the train.

Breakfast with a view in the Platinum Service cabin
Breakfast with a view in the Platinum Service cabin

Platinum guests also have access to the exclusive Platinum Club bar and restaurant.

Platinum Service guests enjoy an exclusive bar and dining experience
Platinum Service guests enjoy an exclusive bar and dining experience

Rather than just watching the landscape pass by from your window (or the dining cart) you can get amongst it, with included off-train experiences such as a Nitmiluk Gorge cruise or walking tour of Simpsons Gap, as well as exclusive off-train dinners under the stars on select trips.

Seven Stars in Kyushu – Kyushu Prefecture Loop

It’s one of the world’s most luxurious trains, yet most travellers outside of Japan have no idea the ‘Seven Stars in Kyushu’ train even exists. But exist it does – and it is stunning.

Seven Stars in Kyushu is one of the world's top luxury rail trips
Seven Stars in Kyushu is one of the world's top luxury rail trips

Launched in 2013, the seven-car JR Kyushu passenger train is like the golden age of travel reinvented for the modern era.

Travelling along the 3,000km Hisatsu Orange Railway line, the port-red train takes guests on a four day round-trip through the seven prefectures of Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s main islands. Lush forest, scenic coastline, and historic cities are just a few of the trip highlights.

Impressive views require an equally impressive observation window
Impressive views require an equally impressive observation window

And on board? That’s the real star. The train blends elements of Japanese and Western design to create a timeless and elegant meeting of the old and new.

The Deluxe Suite features a blend of Western and Japanese design
The Deluxe Suite features a blend of Western and Japanese design

Think delicately-carved wood detail and polished brass, nightcaps in the Blue Moon lounge car, a pianist tickling the ivories in the background, and the starry night sky viewable through panoramic windows overhead.

Midnight Trains – Europe

Not all overnight trains need gold trim or faux-walnut panelling. European startup Midnight Trains hopes to reinvent the experience for modern travellers, complete with on-demand movies and high-quality bedding, plus a seasonal menu available à la carte or as room service.

The Midnight Train is described as 'a boutique hotel on wheels'
The Midnight Train is described as 'a boutique hotel on wheels'

Founded by two French entrepreneurs, with advisors drawn from the ranks of Eurostar, Accor and European rail operators SNCF and Thalys, the company says it will take cues from boutique hotels to create "a more comfortable, seamless and sustainable alternative."

Cabins on the Midnight Train feature clean lines and reflective surfaces
Cabins on the Midnight Train feature clean lines and reflective surfaces

Midnight Trains has already mapped out an ambitious network radiating from Paris to the UK, Spain, Italy, Germany and Denmark, with the service scheduled to begin in 2024.

Passengers can dine a la carte, or relax with room service
Passengers can dine a la carte, or relax with room service

Train Suite Shiki-Shima – Japan

The Japanese are renowned for their flair for innovation and technology – but even they have outdone themselves with the Champagne-gold Train Suite Shiki-Shima.

Making its debut in 2017, this exclusive JR East train operating throughout central Honshu is a thing of rare beauty.

The Champagne-gold train carves an exquisite path through the landscape. © East Japan Railway Company
The Champagne-gold train carves an exquisite path through the landscape
© East Japan Railway Company

Acclaimed Japanese industrial designer Ken Kiyoyuki Okuyama, known for his work with the Ferrari Enzo supercar, brought his signature style to the 10-car sleeper train, giving it the feel of a luxury vehicle or yacht. With just 34 guests onboard, there's plenty of space for passengers to relax.

The first and last carriages on the Shiki-Shima train are observation cars. © East Japan Railway Company
The first and last carriages on the Shiki-Shima train are observation cars
© East Japan Railway Company

Cypress wood bathtubs, floor-to-ceiling windows, working fireplaces… it's like no idea was off-limits, yet it remains a masterclass in restraint and subtlety too.

Colour and texture abound in the Deluxe Suite Room. © East Japan Railway Company
Colour and texture abound in the Deluxe Suite Room
© East Japan Railway Company

Each cabin, from the slate-grey and timber Suite Room to the two-floor Shiki-Shima Suite with tatami mat floors, is finished to an exceptional level of detail.

And, with menus designed by a Michelin Star chef, you’re in for an experience that tastes as good as it looks too.

Treat your tastebuds to Michelin-quality cuisine. © East Japan Railway Company
Treat your tastebuds to Michelin-quality cuisine
© East Japan Railway Company

Belmond Venice Simplon-Orient-Express – Venice to London

Created in 1883 by the Belgian company Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (CIWL), the original Orient Express once operated luxurious rail journeys through Europe and Asia between London and Istanbul. It ceased operations in 2009. However, its spirit lives on.

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express preparing to leave the station
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express preparing to leave the station

The Venice-Simplon Orient Express by Belmond – which utilises some of the original CIWL carriages from the 20s and 30s – transports guests back to an age of glamour and nostalgia, with spellbinding one to four-night itineraries visiting London, Paris, Venice and Istanbul.

The aptly-named Grand Suite onboard the VSOE
The aptly-named Grand Suite onboard the VSOE

Featuring grand single, twin, double and interconnecting suites, as well as a dining car serving exceptional local produce, there’s no better place to try out your Hercule Poirot impression.

Enjoy impeccable service and attention to detail
Enjoy impeccable service and attention to detail

Maharajas’ Express – India

There’s something about India that fires the imagination. Historic gardens, jewelled palaces, and towering hillside forts, and that’s just what you can see in a five minute rickshaw ride.

Now imagine witnessing these captivating sights from the comfort of one of the world’s most awarded luxury trains: Maharaja’s Express. That’s a holiday you won’t forget in a hurry.

The 23 carriage-long Maharaja's Express is your ticket to the heart of India
The 23 carriage-long Maharaja's Express is your ticket to the heart of India

Ranging from three to seven nights, its itineraries are mainly centred around the royal state of Rajasthan, with stops including the famous tiger-spotting destination of Ranthambore; Udaipur, known for its artificial lakes and elaborate City Palace complex; and the ‘pink city’ of Jaipur.

With cabins ranging from Deluxe through to a spacious Presidential Suite, two decadent dining venues – Mayr Mahal and Rang Mahal – and two classic bars to relax and recount the day's adventures, this is a rail journey that’ll take you right to the very heart of India.

Belmond Royal Scotsman – Scotland

Self-described as a “grand highland fling”, Belmond Royal Scotsman invites guests to get swept up in the wild romance of the Scottish landscape, taking in soaring peaks and deep valleys, mirror lochs and crumbling castles that could look right at home in Game of Thrones (BYO dragons).

Step aboard the Royal Scotsman and rekindle the romance of travel
Step aboard the Royal Scotsman and rekindle the romance of travel

Featuring ten intricately designed carriages, including the Bamford Spa, its mahogany-clad cars mix Edwardian elegance with the pomp of a country manor, or a palace on wheels. As you’d expect, cabins feature liberal use of tartan, giving them an authentic Scottish atmosphere.

Decor aboard the train would be right at home in a country manor
Decor aboard the train would be right at home in a country manor

Instead of just admiring Scotland through a window, each day presents opportunities to hop off and explore, from visits of Eilean Donan Castle and the historic Culloden Battlefield, to wild swimming and enjoying a dram or two at some of the country’s world-class distilleries.

After that, all that’s left to do is relax, order another cocktail and enjoy the views that unfold.

QFF

12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1451

And how about Red Arrow service from Moscow to St Petersburg?

Delta Air Lines - SkyMiles

16 Oct 2017

Total posts 150

At the moment I think not.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2011

Total posts 363

How could you miss The Blue Train in South Africa?

Delta Air Lines - SkyMiles

16 Oct 2017

Total posts 150

Rovos rail is a longer and more interesting trip in SA, also goes to Vic Falls.

23 Jul 2017

Total posts 91

Nice to see the list included The Ghan. Though enjoyable it is to ride on her, you simply can't compare it with the grandeur of the Belmond Venice Simplon Orient Express. Nevertheless it's good to see the Australian train got a guernsey.

The romance of sleeper trains was not about luxury, it was about adventure. You can have an adventure for a lot less, on some of the quirky overnight trains. The now discontinued Thessaloniki to Istanbul overnight service was one example of this. The drinks service consisted of the conductor with a supermarket shopping trolley. ;-) https://blog.tomw.net.au/2008/07/excellent-thessaloniki-to-istanbul.html

Delta Air Lines - SkyMiles

16 Oct 2017

Total posts 150

Trains with a bit of adventure include Helsinki to Rovaniemi (home of Santa) and Winnipeg to Churchill ( polar bears and beluga whales).  Both quite comfortable too.

Jetstar Airways - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Feb 2022

Total posts 6

I know you cant mention them all - but so many amazing journeys missed your list! The Blue Train in SA would have been #1 for me! Luxury and Adventure! 

BOF
BOF

15 Mar 2016

Total posts 18

The Belmond Venice Simplon Orient Express is not exactly the pleasurable experience it's sold as. No disputing that the train is beautiful and the food wonderful. The British Pullman part from London to Dover is excellent, but the actual Orient Express part from Calais to Venice seems more biased to ‘getting the numbers through’ than providing excellent service.

To make matters worse, there is only one bar car, and it is far too small for the number of people on the train. There are two services for dinner and a good quarter of the people on the train need to pass through the bar car to get to their allocated restaurant car. So between services almost everyone is trying to either be in the bar car, or pass through it. Rather than an elegant sojourn, you get a rugby scrum in dinner jackets and evening dresses!

Had a much more pleasurable and relaxing journey on The Ghan.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

15 Jun 2022

Total posts 1

I've travelled in Gold Class on both The Ghan and the Indian Pacific.  It was an outstanding experience.  One improvement they could make is to install a forward looking camera in the cab of the locomotive and relay this to the cabins and lounges which already have TV screens.

I suggested this to Great Southern Rail via a train manager but she thought the problem was with the locomotives which were not owned by the train company.  I'm sure this could be overcome.  It would be great to have the drivers view of the track ahead.  Some may argue that you would not like to see the train hit wildlife on the track. Then don't watch.

I love the cameras on board Emirates flights which lets you watch the view ahead.

 


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