Updated: Jul 12, 2021
There are still trains running today where you can enjoy a luxurious travel experience from a by-gone age.
Let's be honest. We're kind of obsessed with trains, aren't we? As kids, we get train sets for Christmas, we sit glued to the television to see Thomas the Tank Engine, and there is not a child on this earth that does not want to hear the sound of a train whistle. When it comes to trains, however, we often idealise what they look like, and what it would be like to travel on them. Of course, loads of people have sat on the Tube, the Metro, or the Subway, but less have actually taken trains that go the distance. And, if you have, you may still be wondering whilst you sit in your seat (that in most respects resembles a coach); what happened to the real trains? Where's the dining car? Where's the cabins? Even if you bought a first class seat, on most rail lines, this doesn't bring you any nearer to what you had in mind when it comes to travel by train.
Funnily enough, the reason we romanticise train travel (especially, I would guess, in North America) is because most of our exposure to this mode of transport comes from films, books, or TV. It's strange because when you really start to think of it, train travel is so often depicted as it was, and not as it is today. Now this might have to do with the abundance of period dramas streaming at the moment, but I think it also probably has a lot to do with the fact that this mode of transport was so vital for so long, and remained relatively unchanged for so long, that it began to embed itself in our cultural psyche.
For example, how many people wish they could ride the Hogwarts Express? Well, simply take away the magic part, and you're left with a mid-century train car. The Hogwarts Express is actually a perfect example of the way we still envision train travel. J.K. Rowling published the first Harry Potter book in 1997, and if you ask her what she imagined the magical train to look like, I don't think she would say the Thameslink! The magical train carriage seen in the films is actually known as the British Railways Mark I, which was produced between 1951 and 1974.
I know I for one enjoy traveling by train as it offers a more relaxed mode of transport. You can sit back and let someone else do the driving, and, though it may take a little longer than flying, there's less hassle and more leg room! I have however, always imagined what it would be like to undergo a long journey by train where one could enjoy (real) food onboard, spend the night in a cosy cabin, and wake up to countryside views.
Now, there are actually some long distance trips you can undertake via rail which include all of the above, albeit in a modern setting, and for vintage lovers, I know that just doesn't cut the cake! So, if you're like me, and have dreamt of a luxurious vintage travel experience, look no further! There are actually quite a few options out there for those of us longing for a return to the golden age of rail...
You've probably heard of Hilton, and of Fairmont--the names synonymous with high-end hotels, but Belmond is the #1 name in first class rail experiences. Explore the Scottish Highlands in comfort and style with Belmond's Royal Scotsman, which offers whiskey tours, castle tours, and even stops for golf and clay-pigeon shooting!
Most importantly though, this rail service offers a unique opportunity to forget the modern world & immerse yourself in the Edwardian era, a time well known for its opulence and a love of leisure among the upper class.
The Palace on Wheels is really an exclusive luxury travel experience. A seven night, eight day tour that runs from New Dehli and stops at the Indian cities of Jaipur, the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, Chittorgarh Hill Fort (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bhatarpur Bird Sanctuary, and finally Taj Mahal, one of the 7 wonders of the modern world!
While on board, you get to enjoy 24/7 service, a luxurious bedroom suite, and even wifi (in case you're not ready to completely give up the modern world!).
3) Napa Valley Wine Train - California, USA
If you're looking for a classic carriage and a vintage dining experience, this could be the train for you. While it's not an overnighter, this train will take you through California's wine country and its restaurant boasts many fine dining selections. The rail cars on this line were originally built in 1915!
Cue fine china & silverware, champagne and complimentary bathrobes, the Venice-Simplon is synonymous with elegance in travel. Possibly one of the most romantic journeys one can undertake, this Belmond train allows you to choose from a variety of routes, from Venice to London, for example, or Paris to Istanbul! Exquisitely maintained carriages are period authentic and luxuriously comfortable, and the lounge room even boasts a pianist!
5) Rovos Rail - Cape Town, South Africa
Set off from Cape Town and see Africa in a whole new way! With multiple journeys available to select from (even including a Safari!) this is a thoroughly enjoyable way to experience South Africa's stunning beauty. Multiple suites are available, and just like the VSOE, the Rovos carriages maintain authentic period decoration throughout!
The carriages on this train were originally built to transport the British monarchy from Calais to the French Riviera, a massively popular British holiday spot in the late 19th and early 20th century. Dripping with opulence, the Al Andalus offers a truly one-of-a-kind luxury experience where you can literally travel like royalty!
Thank you for reading this list! I hope you found it inspiring, and that maybe you will consider one of these amazing rail journeys on your next vacation!