9 Best Luxury Trains for an Opulent Adventure on rails in Asia and Europe

My first exposure to one of the best luxury trains in Malaysia was on the North Borneo Railway by Sutera Harbour Resort in Kota Kinabalu. It was a bespoke experience that took off from Kota Kinabalu to Papar on a 4-hour train ride that featured views of the coast and a tiffin colonial lunch on the way back. 

It was a romantic journey to the past and the coach was done up to great effect which brought its passengers back in time to experience the railway as the aristocrats would have. It was one of the best luxury train rides we’ve been on and exposed us to a world of luxury train rides around the world. 

This list will put you on track towards a greater understanding of luxury trains and what’s available in Asia and Europe

What are Luxury Trains?

Conway Scenic Railroad is a heritage railroad in North Conway, New Hampshire that provides scenic train rides. | Credit: Balazs Busznyak via Unsplash

The first railway carriage with dining and sleeping areas was introduced in 1880 by George Pullman in America before making its way to Europe, revolutionizing train travel and providing passengers with unprecedented comfort and convenience.

Most of you would be familiar with the Orient Express, the setting for the Agatha Christie murder mystery novel, Murder on the Orient Express. Did you know that it was an actual train that ran across Europe in the 1880s and was Europe’s first luxury train? 

As trains waned in popularity as a mode of transport, luxury trains similarly declined and today there are a select few operators who still run luxury train rides around the world. Belmond, formerly known as Orient-Express Hotels, is one such operator with train rides from Singapore to Bangkok and London to Venice. 

Belmond is the only luxury train operator with a presence across a few countries and 7 other countries have their own luxury trains that move within their countries, i.e., the UK, Spain, Russia, Canada, Japan, India, South Africa, and Australia. It is fully serviced on board with all meals provided and tours catered to your preference. You may liken it to an elevated cruise ship with a small group of travellers and highly personalised service and appointed staterooms for you to sleep in.

All this to say, luxury train rides are rarefied experiences that not everyone will be able to enjoy and are once-in-a-lifetime experiences. 

best luxury trains in asia

1. The Eastern & Oriental Express (Singapore to Malaysia)

The Essence of Malaysia journey ends with a day in Penang where you’ll be assigned a trishaw driver. | Credit: Eastern & Oriental Facebook

After a Covid-19-induced hiatus, the Eastern & Oriental Express by Belmond is set to make a triumphant return, offering enchanting trips from Singapore to Malaysia, starting in February 2024. Anticipating the joy of its guests, Belmond proudly revealed that the train’s carriages have been exquisitely restyled for the upcoming season, promising an even more luxurious and immersive experience.

For this exciting revival, guests have the pleasure of choosing from three distinct grades of accommodation, each offering its unique charm and allure. The journey begins with the Pullman cabins, exuding the radiant spirit of Kuala Lumpur. These cabins are adorned with elegant red sofas, harmoniously complemented by blue cushions, drapery, and pelmets, mirroring the dramatic skies of the vibrant city.

Next in line are the State cabins, inspired by the captivating marine beauty of Penang. Bathed in a delightful blend of bright blue and green hues, these cabins transport travellers to the coastal paradise of Penang, evoking a sense of tranquillity and oceanic charm.

For those seeking the pinnacle of opulence and indulgence, the Presidential cabins are an absolute delight. Designed to celebrate regional splendour, these cabins boast hues of resplendent gold and showcase exquisite embroidered decor elements, ensuring an experience fit for royalty.

luxury trains in Asia
The Observation Car is located at the rear of the Eastern & Oriental Express and is where most people go for their first Instagram shot. | Credit: Eastern & Oriental Facebook

There are two journeys to choose from: Wild Malaysia and Essence of Malaysia. Both are four-day three-night affairs with Wild Malaysia heading up from Singapore to Penang with stops at the National Park in Pahang while the Essence of Malaysia trip brings you all the way to Langkawi through Kuala Lumpur. 

On board, guests will indulge in a culinary delight with Peranakan dishes that proudly showcase the multicultural nature of Malaysian food, harmoniously blending flavours from Malay, Chinese, and Indian cuisine.

Though the train has traditionally been known for its Singapore to Bangkok trips, Belmond is still in negotiations with the Thai government to resume trips. Prices for trips start at USD3140 per person and go up in price according to the room chosen. 

All guests receive dedicated 24-hour steward service, a daily four-course dinner, breakfast in your cabin or at the restaurant, three-course lunch, and a selection of alcoholic beverages. Depending on the journey you choose there are personalised experiences and excursions to choose from at each stop.

2. Cruise Train Seven Stars (Kyushu)

You need to win a lottery to get the opportunity to buy a ticket to the Seven Stars in Kyushu. | Credit: Seven Stars

The Seven Stars in Kyushu, an extraordinary luxury train, is a true embodiment of Kyushu Island’s essence. Symbolizing the seven prefectures of Kyushu, namely Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Oita, Kagoshima, and Miyazaki, it also represents the region’s seven major attractions: nature, food, onsen (hot springs), history & culture, “power spots” to rejuvenate mind, body, and soul, humanity, and trains. As a seven-car passenger train, it perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Kyushu.

Securing a seat on this exclusive train is no easy feat. Applications are only open twice a year, in April and October, and a mere 20 passengers are accepted per journey, chosen through a lottery system. Even with financial means, there’s no guarantee of obtaining a seat, making it a challenging endeavour. However, for the fortunate few, three captivating journeys await: the 2-day, 1-night Kyushu tour journey, and the 4-day, 3-night Unzen and Kirishima journey, each offering an unparalleled experience of the region’s scenic beauty.

Throughout the journey, the star attraction remains the picturesque island of Kyushu itself, and the lavishly adorned interior of the train provides the perfect setting to absorb the breathtaking landscapes and immerse oneself in the region’s rich culture and heritage.

The view from the lounge and the suite in the Seven Stars. | Credit: Seven Stars

Having only 7 carriages, Seven Stars can curate each carriage to deliver an exceptional experience. There’s even a traditional ryurei-style tea room with tatami mats. The first car, the lounge car Blue Moon, has live piano being played at night as well as a bar. 

DX Suite A located on the 7th car has a view too so you might want to consider this car if you have the budget for it (and you’re lucky enough to get picked in the lottery).

For foodies, the longer 4 days 3-night journey will bring you on a culinary journey around Kyushu with the best food at each prefecture. 

To secure a coveted spot on the Seven Stars, it’s essential to stay vigilant and keep an eye on their website to find out when the application process opens. Alternatively, engaging a reliable travel agent might increase your chances of successfully booking tickets and fulfilling the dream of embarking on this extraordinary luxury train journey.

3. Maharajas’ Express (India)

best luxury trains
Maharajas’ Express is run by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation which is owned by the government. | Credit: Jenniferknot via Wikimedia

Probably the most opulent luxury train provider in India, Maharajas’ Express began its service in March 2010 and serves four routes across North-West and Central India between October and April. There are 3 different 7-day 6-night journeys and one 4-day 3-night journey.

With an impressive fleet of 23 carriages, the train can accommodate up to 84 passengers, providing an exquisite stay in 20 deluxe cabins, 18 junior suites, 4 suites, and 1 presidential suite. The lavish onboard amenities include two restaurants, two bars, and a spacious lounge area, allowing passengers ample space to leisurely stroll and revel in the grandeur.

For first-time visitors, it’s recommended you take the Heritage of India journey that takes you through 7 stops with excursions at key landmarks such as Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Ranthambore National Park and the Taj Mahal on its itinerary.

best luxury trains in Asia
The hotel is a former palace that was converted into a hotel and maintains much of the palatial decor. | Credit: Hotel Fateh Prakash Palace

When not indulging in the delectable dining experiences on board, passengers on the Maharajas’ Express have the privilege of savouring meals at iconic locations such as the majestic Hotel Fateh Prakash Palace in Udaipur and the opulent Rambagh Palace Hotel in Jaipur. Among the various routes, the “Heritage of India” stands out as the only one featuring two lunch excursions, offering travellers even more memorable culinary experiences.

India’s expansive rail network is the largest in the world, and with the Maharajas’ Express, passengers can embark on a remarkable journey to explore the diverse wonders of the country solely by train.

As of the time of writing, the lowest rate for a ticket is USD3,670 for a single supplement ticket on the 4-day 3-night journey, Treasures of India.

Besides the Maharajas’ Express, India boasts other esteemed luxury train operators, including the iconic Palace on Wheels, which was India’s first luxury train, designed to promote tourism in the vibrant state of Rajasthan. Other esteemed options include the Deccan Odyssey, Royal Rajasthan on Wheels, and Golden Chariot, each providing their unique and captivating journeys through different parts of the country.

And that’s about all the luxury trains in Asia. It’s time to move on to the best that Europe has to offer.


1. Venice Simplon-Orient Express (trips around Europe)

best trains in europe
The Venice Simplon-Orient Express has a Paris to Istanbul route that runs only once a year. | Credit: Venice Simplon-Orient Express Facebook

The illustrious Grand Suite on the Venice-Simplon-Orient Express has hosted an array of distinguished guests, including renowned names like John Travolta, Angelina Jolie, Kate Winslet, and the unsurprisingly sophisticated filmmaker Wes Anderson. With a storied history dating back to the 1900s, the train’s art deco stylings exude an air of timeless regality.

When envisioning old-world luxury and imagining how noblemen and women might have travelled for business or leisure, the Venice-Simplon-Orient Express perfectly fits the picture. It epitomizes the epitome of classic elegance and sophistication.

Specializing in enchanting one-night trips across Europe, the train’s London to Venice route remains one of the most sought-after journeys for discerning travellers.

There are 3 dining cars and one bar car with a maximum occupancy of 108 passengers. There are 3 types of rooms, Historic Twins with Pullman-style beds (one up, one down), Suites with ensuite bathrooms and shower, and the Grand Suite which adds a separate living area. 

Venice Simplon-Orient Express
The Budapest and Venice Suites on board the Venice Simplon-Orient Express come with their own bathrooms and Italian marble shower | Image Credit: Venice Simplon-Orient Express Facebook

There are no showers or ensuite bathrooms in the Historic Twins room but there are shared facilities that, we hear, are kept immaculate. You do get an in-room sink though, which is reminiscent of what you would get in the original sleeper express. 

One remarkable aspect that sets this train apart from others is the ability to open the windows. This allows guests to fully immerse themselves in the breathtaking scenery along the journey, such as the awe-inspiring views of the Swiss Alps en route to Italy and the mesmerizing sights of Venice from the causeway as the train enters the city.

While the train may not have an abundance of lounges for scenic viewing, it compensates marvelously with its exceptional culinary offerings. Led by a Michelin-starred chef, all three restaurants on board provide unique fine dining experiences, thoughtfully curated to reflect the journey’s passage through different countries. The delectable meals add an extra layer of sophistication to an already extraordinary experience on the Venice-Simplon-Orient Express.

2. Northern Belle (UK)

luxury train rides
The Northern Belle is a steam train and on its website, warns tourists of possible breakdowns so do be wary of that. | Credit: Northern Belle

Indeed, unlike some of the more exclusive luxury trains, the Northern Belle offers a unique and inclusive experience with round-trip journeys around the UK, departing from various stations across the country. This accessibility allows travellers from different regions to partake in the splendid adventures the train has to offer.

Adding an element of excitement and intrigue, the journeys on the Northern Belle are thoughtfully themed around both food and destinations. Passengers can delight in experiences like the “Murder Mystery Lunch,” “Classic Afternoon Tea,” “Great British Sunday Lunch,” and an array of other captivating options.

Like the North Borneo Railway we mentioned earlier, the Northern Belle offers elevated short trips around Great Britain. As there are so many to choose from, we did some digging and found the Settle & Carlisle Steam Train Journey as one that you shouldn’t miss. 

The Ribblehead Viaduct was opened in 1876 for the public. | Credit: Mark McNeill via Unsplash

The Northern Belle’s “Settle & Carlisle Steam Train Journey” has garnered recognition on an international level, even being featured in the popular UK program “The World’s Most Scenic Railway Journeys” on Channel 5. The highlight of this remarkable journey is undoubtedly the breathtaking Settle & Carlisle railway line, which showcases the magnificent Ribblehead viaduct, a sight that will leave passengers in awe.

Pair this with a ride on board a genuine vintage steam train, welcome champagne, brunch, lunch, and five-course dinner, the experience of riding in this train is one of the more accessible ones and easily recommended to anyone who is looking for something different to do during their travels to the UK. 

The trip starts at GBP495 per person and you can head here to find dates and departure locations that will suit your needs. For those interested in embarking on this extraordinary journey, the Northern Belle provides various dates and departure locations to suit individual preferences, ensuring a delightful and convenient travel experience.

3. El Transcantábrico (Spain) 

Luxury Train Club wikimedia
The train crosses the Luarca viaduct to enter the coastal city. | Credit: Luxury Train Club via Wikimedia

El Transcantábrico runs between San Sebastián and Santiago de Compostela (or vice versa) and hugs the northern coast of Spain to provide magnificent views of the Spanish Sea. 

Exclusivity is a hallmark of this luxurious train, accommodating only 38 passengers on each journey. The onboard experience includes most breakfasts and dinners served on board, while lunches are enjoyed during exciting excursions to various destinations. Pioneering as Spain’s first tourist train, El Transcantábrico was established in 1983, and it prides itself on offering a hotel-like experience with beautifully refurbished train wagons from the 1920s, exuding a charming vintage ambience.

Unlike some luxury trains that travel during the night, El Transcantábrico remains parked at train stations at night, allowing passengers to enjoy a peaceful and undisturbed sleep. This sets the train apart, offering a restful experience without the noise and motion typical of moving trains during nighttime.

The journey itself promises an array of captivating sights, including the enchanting coastal town of Luarca and the medieval charm of Santillana del Mar, among many others. With its exclusive nature, picturesque views, and delightful destinations, El Transcantábrico offers an unforgettable and truly unique adventure along the Spanish coastline.

Bonus: Luxury Train Safari

Rovos Rail (south Africa)

Travel through the grasslands of the Highveld in the Cape Town journey at Rovos Rail. | Credit: Rovos Rail

The premier luxury train in South Africa, Rovos was established in 1989 by Rohan Cos and remains family-owned to this day. Perhaps, because of the deep love of the founders for the train, Rovos Rail has consistently been rated one of the most luxurious trains in the world.

With vintage wood-panelled coaches, plush emerald green carpets, and a decidedly English sensibility, the coaches of the Rovos Rail easily puts you into the mood for an adventure—a comfortable and relaxing one to be sure.

From short 48-hour journeys to the popular Namibia Safari that goes up to 11 nights, the Rovos Rail is ready to provide all passengers with new discoveries. The Namibia Safari will take you up close with cheetahs at the Cheetah Conservation Fund and live amongst wild animals at the Etosha National Park.

For a longer adventure, join the 14-night Copper Trail journey where you will mingle with elephants and fly into South Luangwa National Park in Zambia for a three-night safari.

The Royal Suite has a Victorian bath, a separate shower, and a dedicated host at all times. | Credit: Rovos Rail

There are 3 room types to choose from, Pullman, Deluxe, and Royal. All of them have en-suite showers, toilets, and basins as standard. The Royal Suite even has a Victorian Bath. Each train has an observation car with an open-air balcony—its signature feature and one that many travellers enjoy.

Luxury trains epitomize the art of refined travel, offering a seamless blend of indulgence, elegance, and cultural immersion. As they traverse picturesque landscapes and historic routes, these opulent locomotives create unforgettable journeys that transcend time and transport passengers to a bygone era of sophistication and romance.

From the sumptuous interiors to the world-class service and gourmet dining experiences, every detail is meticulously crafted to ensure an unparalleled voyage of comfort and pleasure. Whether journeying through the enchanting landscapes of Asia or the captivating destinations of Europe, luxury trains provide a truly extraordinary escape for those seeking a travel experience like no other.

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