These are not your Grandma’s train trips – unless your Grandma happens to be in the market for one of the most epic vacations of her life! From the most expensive train ride on the planet to the rail line that traveled to Constantinople on its inaugural journey (and is still operating), these seven trips belong on your bucket list.
1. The Blue Train
Region: South Africa
The Blue Train, tagline “A Window to the Soul of South Africa”, is a five-star hotel train that travels from Pretoria to Cape Town. The 994-mile (1,600 km) trip takes twenty-seven hours, including an off-the-train excursion in either Kimberley (historic diamond mining region) or Matjiesfontein (the entire nineteenth century village was restored and declared a National Historic Site) depending on whether you’re headed north or south. Enjoy some champagne, soak up the views of South Africa’s wine country, or—speaking of soaking—relax in your bathtub (equipped in all deluxe suites ).
The Blue Train: +27-21-449-2672, rates range from $1,447 to $2,479 each way.
2. Darjeeling Himalayan Toy Train
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, also called the Toy Train due to its short length, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. Instead of creating a monstrous rail system that could conquer Darjeeling’s mountainous environment, the chief engineer simply designed a tiny train. The five-car Toy Train is able to make the 55-mile trip from Siliguri, 400 feet above sea level, to Darjeeling, 7,200 feet above sea level, with creatively simple loops and zigzags.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway: +91 354 200 5734, rates range from $42 to $247 each way.
Travel by train through the world’s longest fjord, Sognefjord! During the 12.4-mile-long ride, the Flam Railway cuts through Norway’s deep ravines, hugs steep mountainsides and passes by dozens of cascading waterfalls. The path is one of the world’s steepest for a standard-gauge railway (gradient of 5.5%).
Flam Railway: +47 5763 21 00, adult tickets are $45 USD each.
4. Glacier Express
Proudly hailed as one of the world’s slowest trains, the Glacier Express takes almost eight hours to travel 168 miles. Not to worry—you won’t be anxious for this trip to end. The alpine route winds through 91 tunnels and crosses 291 bridges as it traverses the Swiss Alps, connecting two popular resort towns, Zermatt and St. Moritz. Scenery interpretation is available in German, French, English, Italian, Japanese and Chinese via headphones.
Glacier Express: +41 (0)27 927 70 00, rates range from $146 to $250 per adult.
The Orient-Express has defined the standard for luxury train travel since its inaugural journey to Constantinople in the nineteenth century. You can still travel that same itinerary (though we now call the destination Istanbul). The sophisticated style of the train’s interior could be part of an Agatha Christie novel – oh wait, it was (check out Murder on the Orient Express, published in 1934).
Today, the Orient-Express’s portfolio also includes luxury beach resorts, safaris and restaurants – often paired with their elegant train excursions.
Orient-Express: 1-800-524-2420, rates begin at $4,190 per person.
The Royal Scotsman traverses the Scottish countryside on two- to seven-night itineraries. Only 36 passengers can take this luxury ride at a time. Though small, the venue provides ample indulgences including comfy armchairs, five-star dining and an open-deck observation car. The train’s vintage cars were built in the 1960s, except for the Dining Car Number Two named Victory, built in 1945. Inside, the cars are lined with varnished woods, polished brass and fine fabrics.
The Royal Scotsman: 1-800-524-2420, rates range from $3,710 to $14,230 per trip.
7. Trans-Siberian Railway
The 6,000-mile Trans-Siberian Railway is not so much a tourist line as it is a real working railway. There are many companies that travel these rails, but none are known for luxury as much as the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express. This trains travels 6,600 miles from Moscow to Vladivostok in fifteen days for the eye-popping price of $15,495 to $29,995 USD. If your pulse is starting to race, don’t worry, there are much, much more affordable options out there. But think Amtrak, not power showers and underfloor heating.
Golden Eagle Luxury Trains: +44 0161 928 9410, rates begin at $15,495 per adult.