The Handbook
The Handbook

The Best Luxury Sleeper Trains In The World

Travel
By Phil Clarke | 21st January 2020

If you’re reading this while eating a soggy egg mayo on Govia Thameslink into Biggleswade, look away now… Everyone else, let’s indulge in our mutual fantasy – no, not that one, the luxury train one. We’ve all watched Poirot wobbling his way down the corridor of the Orient Express and thought, gosh I’d love to do that. Not the murdering, but the travel in extreme luxury. The Orient Express still trundles between Paris and Istanbul, albeit at an eye-watering cost, but the age of proper train travel doesn’t end there, here are some of our absolute favourites from around the world.

The Orient Express, Paris to Istanbul

It’s the gold standard, the legendary and most widely known sleeper train in the world. Even with the jeopardy that a dozen fellow travellers may stab you to death in your sleep doesn’t put people off (oh, spoiler alert if you’ve never read Murder on the Orient Express). And all the hype? It’s deserved.

This palace on wheels softly glides in a whirl of sophistication between Paris and Istanbul (they also do part legs, like London to Venice) and a trip on the train is truly a once-in-a-lifetime event, and it comes at once-in-a-lifetime prices, too. But if your pockets are deep enough, consider it; after all a five day trip comes in at around the same as a private jet charter for the same trip, and I know which I’d rather…

Istanbul to Paris: £15,500 per person or £30,000 each if you fancy a suite

Website: www.belmond.com

The Maharaja's Express, India

Two of the world’s greatest romances, railway travel and the subcontinent collide (metaphorically) in The Maharajas’ Express. Although seemingly harking back to a time gone by, The Maharajahs’ Express actually launched in 2010 to provide luxury rail travel throughout North West India. As you’d expect no expense is spared in providing guests with every possibly amenity, from roll-top baths to a choice of two onboard restaurant cars. The lavish half-mile train, set over 14 carriages, takes in the sights of Rajahstan and generally runs from Bombay to Delhi or loops out of Delhi.

Prices range between £3,350 per person for a Deluxe Cabin to £11,220 per person for a Presidential Suite (based on two people sharing)

Website: www.maharajaexpress.co.uk

Trans-Siberian Express, Russia

Steppe up, we’re going to Russia. Probably the only ‘trans’ welcome in Putin’s Russia, the Trans-Siberian Railway vies with the Hogwarts Express for title of world’s most famous railway. Slicing through the truly vast continent that is Russia, the route starts at Moscow in the West and ends on the Eastern coast at Vladivostok. The Trans-Siberian Express, operated by Golden Eagle is the epitome of luxury, all cabins are en suite with the latest mod cons, which contrasts with the locomotive hauling the 20 car train the breadth of the worlds widest country, which is a beautiful steam train heightening the out-and-out romance of a route that travels over the Urals, the magnificent steppe and along the shore the world largest freshwater lake.

Prices from East to West come in at £13,000 per person for ‘Silver Class’, while an Imperial Suite is around £27,000 per person (based on two sharing)

Website: www.goldeneagleluxurytrains.com

Seven Stars in Kyushu, Japan

Named after the seven prefectures of Kyushu, the southern island of Japan which is often known as the ‘Gateway to Asia’, the Seven Stars is the perfect gateway to Japanese luxury culture. With just twelve suites, each with its own bathroom and sitting room, travel aboard is a predictably intimate and special experience. Billing itself as a ‘cruise train’ Japan’s first luxury train emulates the grace of cruise liners, with fabulous food, a lounge and dining car offering panoramic views of the island’s active volcanoes, beaches and natural hot springs.

Trips start from around £4,000

Website: www.cruisetrain-sevenstars.jp

The Ghan, Australia

Launched in 1929 to connect the far flung cities of Darwin and Adelaide, Australia’s weekly sleeper train, The Ghan, is one of the truly great railway journeys and takes travellers deep into the heart of this great continent. Traversing deserts and breath-taking sceneries, The Ghan is a unique way to enjoy Australia. With regular stops en-route, Australia’s vastness is punctuated with sightseeing and excursions and, no doubt, kangaroos.

The three day trip from Darwin to Adelaide starts at £1,114.04 per person and rises to £2,100 based on two people sharing

Website: www.journeybeyondrail.com.au

The Royal Scotsman, Scotland

If your experience of British rail travel is a cold bacon butty and a polystyrene cup of milky PG Tips then think again. The Royal Scotsman is the epitome of all the best British luxury traditions, trains, dinner and old stuff. Each of the vintage Pullman carriages have been fully refitted to high modern standards; so high, indeed, that there are even two spa rooms on this luxury hotel on wheels. The restaurant car menu is the best of Scottish cuisine and perfectly cooked for a fine dining experience, surrounded by the Edwardian splendour of the Belmond Royal Scotsman. All, of course, distractions from the main event: the stunningly beautiful Scottish scenery.

A week spent enjoying the Grand Western Scenic Wonders costs £10,450 per person based on two sharing a twin cabin

Website: www.belmond.com

Rovos Rail, South Africa

Travelling at a steady (if not heady) 37 mph through some of the world’s most stunning scenery, Rovos Rail bills itself as the most luxurious train in the world and it might well be right. Surrounded by wood panelling and waited upon hand-and-foot guests can soak up Southern Africa in style, from South Africa to Namibia and Tanzania. Operating various routes and taking in some of the world’s most notable sites (including Victoria Falls) guests can  relax, enjoying the luxury of their ensuite cabins (some feature Victorian style bathtubs), or sink into sofas in the observation carriage waiting for the next meal, taken in the pre-1940s dining carriage.

A tour of Namibia ranges from around £4,000 to £8,600 per person based on two sharing cabins or suites

Website: www.rovos.com

Rocky Mountaineer, Canada

Although not strictly a sleeper, the Rocky Mountaineer does deserve mention. With no cabins, the entire train is given over to fine dining and scenery-watching, while guests instead stay in stunning 5* hotels en-route. The train carves through the Canadian Rockies allowing travellers the chance to view some of the most inaccessible sites on the planet, from the comfort of a luxury train.

As the mountains and canyons go by sip on cocktails or indulge in the dining car on food specially made from locally sourced ingredients from the Pacific Northwest and cooked by a team of onboard chefs. Each night guests stay in some of Canada’s most beautiful hotels which are definitely, to borrow a ghastly but appropriate phrase imported from North America, ‘upscale’.

A 12 night round trip from Vancouver, taking in  costs between £4,500 per person and £6,700 per person depending on class of travel and hotel options

Website: www.rockymountaineer.com

Deccan Odyssey, India

Fans of The Darjeeling Limited can star in their own Wes Anderson film on the Deccan Odyssey as it traverses India from Bombay to Calcutta via Darjeeling. India’s broad gauge railways allow for more space than their European counterparts, making extra room in the spacious cabins, or for the on-board spa, bar, lounges, two dinging cars and even a conference car. Guests can enjoy sights from the Taj Mahal to Varanasi on what they call their ‘limousine on rail’. All the food is provided by the Taj Group so guaranteed to be some of the best in India.

An eight day (seven night) trip between Mumbai and Delhi amounts to £7,325 per person, to £5,500 per person (based on two sharing)

Website: www.thedeccanodyssey.com

Belmond Andean Explorer, Peru

To South America, where the Belmond Andean Explorer glides from Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire, across the lofty Andean plains to the white city of Arequipa, all while you relax, dine and enjoy the view. Take in the region’s spectacular highlights en route, including Lake Titicaca and Colca Canyon from the Andean Explorer’s beautiful carriages, which used to operate in Australia as the Great South Pacific Express.

Now fully refitted, the opulent surroundings inside are nearly as impressive as out, while the muted palate oozes luxury inside and contrasts with the vibrant colours outside. The two restaurant cars serves local dishes created by chef Diego Muñoz.

A three day, two night, trip ranges between £2,600 and £3,700 (the difference between bunk beds and a presidential suite)

Website: www.belmond.com

Shiki-Shima, Japan

In a country that embraces technology and design like I embrace scotch eggs, it should come as no surprise that the Skiki-shima isn’t your ordinary sleeper. While other luxury trains focus on rekindling faded glories, the Shiki-Shima is ultra modern, a magnificent ten-car double-decker modern palace, designed by Ferrari and Maserati industrial designer Ken Kiyoyuki Okuyama.

Throughout the train, no expense is spared, the suites include maisonette sitting rooms while the restaurant menu was devised by Katsuhiro Nakamura, Japan’s first Michelin-starred chef. The modern geometric patterns of the windows contrast with the calming traditional artisan created interiors. Relax with a cocktail listening to the pianist in the piano bar and watch Japan sail by.

We’re not going to beat around the bush: we don’t speak great Japanese so can’t be sure on pricing, but we think it’s around £2,000 and £6,500 per person for a three night trip. Either way, if you’ve got it, do it, it looks incredible!

Website: www.jreast.co.jp

Victoria Express, Vietnam

Forget being squashed into your fellow-Londoner’s armpit on the Circle Line, this is the perfect commute. Reviving the golden age of travel, the stylish Indochina-inspired Victoria Express offers a daily overnight service between Hanoi and Lao Cai, allowing travellers to arrive perfectly refreshed and ready for a full day of sightseeing or business meetings. The train is elegantly wood panelled throughout and the onboard restaurant “Le Tonkin” features traditional Vietnamese and Western cuisine under the direction of Chef Nguyen Tien Duc. It’s owned by Victoria Hotels, who can, of course, put you up at either end in their bricks-and-mortar luxury hotels.

The one night trip costs just £173 each way per cabin. A snip compared to the rest and sure, although perhaps it’s a tad less lux, it’s still got real style!

Website: www.victoriahotels.asia