For the 32nd annual Readers’ Choice Awards survey—yes, more than three decades—a record 600,000 registered voters weighed in. And beyond their rankings of the best hotels in the world and best cities in the world were their thoughts on train travel. Harking back to a time of relaxed glamour and elegance, these 10 luxury train excursions were picked by Conde Nast Travelers readers as the best in the world. The ultimate scenic route experience, these locomotives transport rail-riders everywhere from the peaks of the Andes and Canadian Rockies to “Britain’s Garden” and South Africa’s grasslands. Here are the routes and rides they loved the most this year:
1. Belmond Andean Explorer
Weaving through the Peruvian Andes at 14,000 feet, the Belmond Andean Explorer transports passengers between Arequipa and Cusco on one- and two-night journeys. Sleeping up to 48 passengers, this cushy choo-choo is outfitted with alpaca wool blankets and handwoven fabrics. Two dining cars and two bar cars serve the whims of every guest with bites like alpaca tortellini and (of course) Champagne. The train also makes excursions to Lake Titicaca, where guests can learn about local customs, visit Incan ruins, and take in breath-taking views.
2. Golden Eagle Danube Express
The Golden Eagle Danube Express connects the European jewels of Budapest and Prague. This intimate hotel-on-wheels is decked out in sprawling, Old World-style—think king-sized beds, full-length sofas, and panoramic picture windows opening onto idyllic views. Classically appointed dining cars—white linen tablecloths, crystal glassware, and uniform-clad staff—serve Continental cuisine, and premium wines and cocktails. When you’re not lounging or taking in the views, the journey offers travelers a chance to stretch their legs with stops in cities like Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital, where you can disembark to explore the medieval castle; wander through Vienna or Krakow; enjoy a boat ride on Lake Balaton, or even take in a show at Lichtenstein Palace.
3. The Ghan
Completed in 1929, The Ghan runs through the heart of the Australian continent from Adelaide in the south to Darwin in the north. It may have only started running its current route in 2004, but its history dates to 19th century, its name harkening to the Afghan camel trainers and riders who first helped chart a course through the country’s interior. The three-day journey sees the train lilting its way through diverse landscapes—Tarcoola’s (pop. 38) expansive former goldfields, the ridges of the MacDonnell Ranges, and through the opal town of Coober Pedy.
4. Rocky Mountaineer
Experience Canada’s wild, wonderful interior in style. The Rocky Mountaineer delivers spectacular views of passing wilderness—think sky-scraping peaks and passing wildlife, like bighorn sheep and elk—alongside modern amenities. Large, glass-enclosed cabins offer near 360-degree views of the lush, verdant Rockies, while each car’s designated “host” offers anecdotes, history lessons, and stories about the surrounding landscape. The train offers three distinct routes through the Canadian Rockies, all promising their own memories.
5. Belmond Hiram Bingham
Named after the U.S. explorer who supposedly “discovered” Machu Picchu in 1911, the Belmond Hiram Bingham train line is as grand as the man’s claims. The round-trip journey connects the city of Poroy (just west of Cuzco) to the Lost City and Sacred Valley of Machu Picchu. The Belmond Hiram Bingham turns on the turn-of-the-20th-century charm, from gleaming polished wood and brass surfaces to lavish meals and accommodations, which offer plenty of space to stretch out: the perfect setting for viewing the mountains and rivers zooming past the window.
6. Belmond Royal Scotsman
Trek through the majestic Scottish Highlands in style aboard the Belmond Royal Scotsman. Here, indulge in Edwardian-inspired elegance after departing from Edinburgh—each cabin is outfitted with Scottish wool tartans, generously sized picture windows, and dressing tables inviting you to take your time and enjoy the view. The train itself hosts equipped with the Bamford Haybarn Spa, fully decked out treatment rooms that allow an escape from your escape. Roll through the Highlands while getting a full-body massage, or a scrub made with natural botanicals.
7. Belmond British Pullman
We won’t bury the lede: The Belmond British Pullman takes passengers directly to Highclere Castle, of Downton Abbey fame. Channel the flawed-yet-lovable Crawley family while touring the 5,000-acre manor house and ground, just one of the many excursions available on the world-class luxury line. When you depart London, you’ll embark on a journey through the bucolic British countryside, touring cities and towns like Cambridge, York, and Canterbury along the way. The restored carriages date back to the 1920s and 1930s, so expect Art Deco touches, polished interiors, and classically prepared multi-course meals—this is the same train line that has served British royalty and government officials for years, after all.
8. Rovos Rail
This extravagant railway has been traveling throughout Africa for 30 years. The experiences start before you even board—when departing from Cape Town, Rovos Rail travelers are granted exclusive access to a private lounge, where Champagne, canapés, and a live band greet them—and a strict “no cellphone” rule is maintained for your own good. Enjoy the moment(s) provided by this line, which range from cozy digs to formal-attired evenings, to full-sized, freestanding tubs in the most grand compartments. Outside, the grassy highlands of the Highvelds and the horizon-spanning expanse of the Great Karoo lazily roll by, while excursions to the Diamond Mine Museum and Big Hole punctuate the journey.
9. Palace on Wheels
India’s best known train, the Palace on Wheels, offers a number of trips that range from a couple days to week-long excursions. Embarking from New Delhi through the Land of Kings, trips take you through the famed Pink City of Jaipur, in Rajasthan, where guests are greeted by majestic UNESCO sites like the Amer Fort, as well as 16th century palaces. You can also visit Agra, home to the Taj Mahal and the perfect stop for a tour of some of the country’s most iconic sites. Along the way, enjoy regional cuisine in well-appointed, colorful carriages decked out in Indian textiles.
10. Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
Perhaps the world’s most famous luxury train, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express takes decor cues from elements of Paris, Venice, and Istanbul, and no expense is spared on its offerings—right down to the complimentary caviar upon your arrival. All thoughts towards Agatha Christie-esque shenanigans are unavoidable, but they typically fade once you’re onboard, enjoying the never-ending supply of Champagne. All the while, the polished woods, sumptuous fabrics, and 1920s glamour will cocoon you as you ramble from London through the European countryside toward iconic destinations like Paris, Venice, and Verona.