Neither plane nor boat nor car comes close to the romantic allure and timeless glamor of taking one of the best luxury trains in Europe. With their liveried waiters, fine-dining and bar cars, plush velvet seating, and sumptuous suites, these “old fashioned” trains send you right back in time to the height of 1920s grandeur.
In that sense, luxury train vacations evoke a feeling of wonderment and nostalgia — a throwback to a slower, more genteel and mindful way to explore the world. We’ve curated a list of Europe’s most coveted train rides to add to your travel wish list, so consider this your sign to finally book that luxury train vacation in Europe.
The Allure of Taking a Luxury Train in Europe
It might cost more than zooming through the sky in a plane or take longer than bobbing along the ocean, but the slow journey and high-dollar spend of taking a luxury train in Europe is always worth the money.
Agatha Christie once famously wrote, “Trains are wonderful. To travel by train is to see nature and human beings, towns and churches and rivers, in fact, to see life.” Perhaps nowhere do Christie’s words resonate more than aboard a meticulously restored vintage train, passing with unhurried intimacy through the picture-postcard scenery of Europe.
Take the legendary Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, for example, which is home to the most storied set of carriages in the world. Each is filled with Art-Deco treasures like Lalique glass inlays in the Cote d’Azur and black lacquer panels in L’Orienta. Or there’s the Golden Eagle Danube Express, which is powered by steam. This luxury train makes stops in some of Europe’s most beautiful cities, including Budapest, Prague, Venice, and Berlin.
And of course, you can’t talk about luxury trains in Europe without mentioning the magnificent, Edwardian-style Belmond Royal Scotsman. This stunning train winds its way through the splendid Scottish Highlands, past storybook castles, striking lochs, and glens.
VENICE SIMPLON ORIENT-EXPRESS
What could be more iconic than Belmond’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express with its decadent restored carriages as the inspiration behind the Agatha Christie mystery Murder on the Orient Express? This specific Belmond train has operated since 1982 under the auspices of American James Sherwood who meticulously restored vintage carriages from the original Orient Express trains. The train became a Belmond in 2014.
Nostalgic Vibe: The grand dame of elegance and white-glove service, this romantic Belmond vintage steam train decked out with Art-Deco cars, continues to evoke old-world, 1920s glamor. From the ever-flowing Champagne and resident pianist who performs in Bar Car ‘3674,’ to Chef Jean Imbert’s exquisite cuisine. Chef sources ingredients locally, along the way, so expect delicacies like lobster from Brittany and crisp tomatoes from Provence.
Luxury Train Journey: This Orient Express train route is a classic favorite. It begins in Paris and ends in Venice by way of Switzerland. You have the option to continue to Istanbul.
ORIENT EXPRESS LA DOLCE VITA
The Orient Express train is a legendary railway that redefined European train travel with its opulent interiors, lavish sleeping cars, and elaborate meals. The historic line closed its rail operations for nearly five decades, but has recently made its way back to the tracks — and to Italy specifically. In partnership with the Accor Group, the new Orient Express La Dolce Vita train now welcomes passengers with six trains and iconic itineraries.
Nostalgic Vibe: While the original Oriental Express trains evoked a 1920s glamor, the new Orient Express La Dolce Vita pays homage to the 1960s. This was a legendary time in Italy’s history where wellbeing, enjoyment, pleasure, and living life to its fullest were top priorities. Designed by Dimorestudio, the train’s sumptuous decor gives nods to Italy’s famed cinematic presence (e.g. Federico Fellini, Sophia Loren, and Gina Lollobrigida) and cuisine.
Luxury Train Ride Itinerary: Most of the La Dolce Vita Orient Express train routes occur across 14 regions of Italy, many of which are lesser known. All have a stopover in Rome, where the very first Orient Express hotel, La Minerva, is scheduled to open in 2024. In addition, three dedicated itineraries (crossing eight countries) will connect Italy to Paris, Istanbul, and Croatia.
BELMOND ROYAL SCOTSMAN
The Edwardian-style Belmond Royal Scotsman began its journey in 1985. However, the original carriages were soon retired and replaced with meticulously restored Pullman cars. Today, the famed burgundy Belmond Royal Scotsman train winds its way through the Scottish Highlands, past storybook castles, striking lochs, and glens. Adding to the sense of history and tradition are kilt-clad bagpipers who greet passengers while boarding.
Nostalgic Vibe: Lacquer-polished wooden panels, warm fabrics, and tartan woolen blankets perfect the feel of an Edwardian country house while ensuite baths come complete with steam showers. Visit the observation car where you can sink into one of the cushy sofas or step out onto the open-air veranda with a Scottish whisky. (There are 65 varieties available.) To further elevate this luxury train vacation in Europe, visit the Bamford Haybarn Spa carriage — the first-ever spa rail car — for a mid-journey facial, massage, manicure, or pedi by the renowned UK Bamford skincare line.
Luxury Train Journey: The four-night trip from Edinburgh up the coast to Aberdeen, through Inverness, and out to the beautiful harbor town of Kyle of Lochalsh is an enduring classic. Stops are made along the way to visit castles and distilleries, and the train is silently docked each night so as not to be in motion during sleep. Sleep well in your plush bed fitted with soft Scottish wools and tartans.
THE PRESIDENTIAL TRAIN
Established in 1890, Portugal’s crown jewel, The Presidential Train, hosted kings, queens, popes, and presidents before retiring in the 1970s. Today the train’s home is Portugal’s National Railway Museum where it is a prized exhibit. For a few select dates in autumn (September/October) however, theater and event impresario Goncalo Castel-Branco returns the train to the tracks. He transforms it into a gourmet restaurant on rails complete with acclaimed Michelin-star chefs.
Nostalgic Vibe: Everything about the interior of this opulent vintage train remains the same as it was in 1890, only the engine is ‘new’ (circa 1960s). A maximum of 50 passengers board at Porto’s 100-year-old Sao Bento Station for the 125-mile ride along the Douro River to Quinta and Vesuvio, each curve revealing vistas of vine-covered slopes. Passengers relax and unwind in their private, elegant mint-green walled cabins, before making their way to the dining car and piano bar to indulge in a five-course lunch by a world-renowned chef, paired with Portuguese wine (Douro Valley, of course).
Luxury Train Ride Itinerary: Most passengers book the nine-hour gourmet day excursion from Porto, but we love the longer, three-day option that allows for further exploration of Porto and the Douro Valley. The extension includes a private driver, fine dining in Porto’s top restaurants, and overnights at the Intercontinental Porto – Palacio das Cardosas and Six Senses Douro Valley.
THE TRANSCANTÁBRICO GRAN LUJO
For years, a coal train coined the Hullero transported coal from Leon to the iron and steel works of Bilbao in northern Spain. In 1980, writer Juan Pedro Aparicio traveled rough on the Hullero sharing the stories of the men who drove and rode on the train. His account of that journey started a movement to save the rail line. Today, El Transcantabrico Gran Lujo traverses northern Spain, offering 28 discerning travelers five-star service and luxury accommodations.
Nostalgic Vibe: Chugging slowly along Spain’s Atlantic coast, this elegant vintage blue-and-white train feels more like a five-star hotel. Four of the train’s carriages are original 1923 Pullman coaches decorated to transport you back a century, yet all offer modern-day comforts like sumptuous suites with separate living rooms and ensuite bathrooms. The scenery is spectacular, and the train winds along the lush landscapes and seaside paths of northern Spain’s Cantabrian coast, AKA “Green Spain.”
Luxury Train Ride Itinerary: Opt for the seven-night trek between the Basque city of San Sebastian and World Heritage town Santiago de Compostela — passing by the Bay of Biscay, Cantabrian mountain range, and cultural centers like Bilbao, which includes a stop off at the Guggenheim Museum. Enjoy breakfast daily onboard, with stops for local fare.
GOLDEN EAGLE DANUBE EXPRESS
Golden Eagle luxury trains in Europe were first introduced in 1989, just prior to the end of communism, across the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. This marked the beginning of luxury train travel in this European region. The Golden Eagle Danube Express, which journeys through Europe’s most magnificent and less explored cities, officially became part of the collection in 2015.
Nostalgic Vibe: Classic, elegant, and powered by steam, the sleeping cars come with wood paneling, brass fixtures, heated towel racks, L’Occitane bath amenities, and your own personal butler. Dining cars are also a throwback to a bygone era with white linen tablecloths, crystal glassware, and china — all perfectly setting the stage for a gourmet three-course gourmet Hungarian dinner.
Luxury Train Ride Itinerary: Take the grand European tour, a two-week highlight reel of the continent’s famous cities: Venice, Prague, Berlin, Krakow, Vienna, and Budapest.
THE BRITISH PULLMAN
Meticulously restored to its 1920s grandeur, The British Pullman has transported royalty and made its debut on the Hollywood screen. It now operates as one of England’s favorite dining venues. The historic train — draped in heritage upholstery and Art-Deco decor — peruses the English countryside as its talented culinary team serves up British fare with a twist. Each menu celebrates the culinary highlights of the towns and cities along the route. Enjoy traditional English high tea, a who-done-it murder mystery lunch, or a five-course dinner.
Nostalgic Vibe: ‘Audrey,’ one of the train’s now-resplendent carriages, was damaged in a 1940 air raid at Victoria Station. After a thorough repair, the carriage went on to transport Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and the Queen Mother. Another carriage, Cygnus, made its appearance on the silver screen in the film Agatha, starring Vanessa Redgrave and Dustin Hoffman. In 2021, the famed carriage was reimagined by filmmaker Wes Anderson. Its reincarnation now features symmetrical marquetry, bold rectilinear shapes, and a feast of colors.
Luxury Train Ride Itinerary: The train departs from London Victoria, making its way to Bath, York, or Canterbury. While there are no sleeping compartments, these weekend journeys, with hotel stays along the route, are offered.
THE GLACIER EXPRESS
Often referred to as “the cinematic train,” Switzerland’s legendary Glacier Express snakes slowly between the ski town of Zermatt and St. Moritz. It began running in 1930 as a sightseeing train, and is said to be the “slowest express train” in the world, covering a distance of 180 miles at a speed of 24 mph over the course of seven and a half hours. It passes through remote Alpine villages, deep green pastures dotted with cowbell-clanking cows, and snow-capped mountain peaks. The Swiss landscape, gleaned through panoramic windows, is dazzling.
Nostalgic Vibe: With its original restaurant car, oversized windows, and fairytale views, the train was already luxurious. However, the introduction of an Excellence Class ticket has elevated the experience even more. The carriage is exclusive to only 20 passengers who each receive a single window seat. The wide, creamy leather seats come with an iPad (an interactive map points out highlights along the route), and grooved tables to keep Champagne from tumbling. Other amenities include personal concierge service, a private bar, and for at least a quarter of the journey, passengers dine on a five-course meal, served by white-gloved staff.
Luxury Train Ride Itinerary: The Glacier Express operates in both winter and summer, and each season offers equally stunning luxury train vacations through Europe. The journey can be started from either Zermatt or St. Moritz. The train meanders through 91 tunnels and over 291 bridges, and stops midway near Andermatt for passengers to disembark and take photos.