Timeless Train Travel: How to Make the Most of Slow Travel
We believe that it’s not just about where you go to escape the day-to-day hustle, it’s equally about how you get to the next destination. When it comes to truly exceptional arrival experiences, we look to luxury train travel as a way to remind us to pause and immerse ourselves fully in the journey.
Boarding a beautifully designed train evokes the most desirable qualities of the Golden Age of Travel when the pace was more leisurely and attention to detail more refined. A return to slow travel has taken hold with the trend described by Forbes as one of the most effective ways to make deeper connections to the places we visit. With more discerning travelers shifting gears away from the mad dash to experience as much as they can in any given trip, traveling at a steadier pace has many benefits including decreased travel burnout and reducing our carbon footprint. Our favorite way to partake in slow travel is on the rails. With the help of our friends at Belmond – an LVMH collection of artfully designed hotels, trains, barges, and safaris – check out our guide on how to choose the best luxury train for your needs.
- How to choose the right luxury train for you
- Sleeper Trains
- Day Trains
How to choose the right luxury train for you
There are dozens of factors that go into planning your ideal train trip. And that’s where your SmartFlyer travel advisor comes in to act as your guide. Train travel is an inherently slower experience, empowering you to a full day or even multiple days to reach a destination with elevated onboard cuisine and meaningful sightseeing along the way. For instance, each of Belmond’s stylish trains comes equipped with restaurant carriages that serve up elevated, multi-course local fare. Some luxury sleeper trains even come with full spa cars housing award-winning wellness activations. Belmond also curates off-train excursions that provide deeper insight into a destination, from thrilling mountainside hikes to private guided tours of local indigenous communities.
Something else to consider is how and what to pack. Each train on our list comes with its own dress code, but our SmartFlyer travel advisors recommend packing on the lighter side for these types of trips. When in doubt, adopt the capsule wardrobe mentality. Our TL;DR: bring versatile, neutral-color outfits and accessories that can be mixed and matched depending on the occasion. The one exception to this rule is formalwear: many of these trains strongly recommend (or even enforce) black tie attire. So be sure to leave some room for your more elegant garments!
If you’re looking for fully built-out itineraries, then a multi-day overnight train journey is ideal. Whether it’s a one-night journey to a neighboring city or a multi-stop five-day trip, these luxury sleeper trains are outfitted to provide the ultimate comfort from bedside to barside.
- Andean Explorer, A Belmond Train, Peru
- Royal Scotsman, A Belmond Train, Scotland
- Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train, Europe
Andean Explorer, A Belmond Train, Peru
Who it’s Best for: Families or friend groups looking for a balance of adventure and wellness.
Accommodations: First chartered in the late 20th century, this South American luxury sleeper train glides across the Andean plains. Accommodating just forty-eight passengers total, each of the sixteen midnight-blue carriages is decked out in Andean-inspired interiors. Belmond provides guests with a choice of plush bunk beds, twin beds, and full suites. Larger groups can connect certain cabins depending on their needs. From hand-woven textiles to alpaca wool blankets, these private sanctuaries are sure to keep you cozy between various exciting excursions.
Dining: The cuisine aboard the Andean Explorer reflects Peru’s renowned culinary history. Aboard the dining cars, the train’s onboard chefs craft fresh, seasonal dishes made from native Andean ingredients. If you’re looking for some after-dinner festivities, head to the Piano Bar Car. This convivial space is ideal for enjoying live music while enjoying afternoon teas or evening cocktails. But no matter what time of day you choose to pivot to pisco sours, we highly recommend taking a step onto the Observatory Bar Car and soaking in the stunning mountainscapes.
Wellness: Unique to the Andean Explorer is its Picaflor Spa Car, featuring three treatment rooms named after Peru’s native hummingbirds. All the products used in these treatments are sourced from local botanicals, as well as the iconic Germaine de Capuccini. We recommend their signature Andean Ritual: a clay wrap of local flowers and coca leaves with deep tissue oil massages.
Where it goes: The Andean Explorer makes journeys between Cusco, Puno, and Arequipa on one or two-night routes.
What kind of journeys and excursions are offered:
- Off-train activities include adventures on Lake Titicaca, home to the unique Uros floating islands. These locally inhabited artificial islands – entirely constructed from reeds – are home to a rich culture tied to fishing and textiles. The Belmond team will also set you up with fireside hot drinks at sunrise by the lake.
- Venturing into the iconic Sumbay caves is also another highlight. These yawning cave mouths lead down to stunning grottos decorated with ancient etchings dated over eight thousand years old. A particularly exciting stop is at La Raya, a mountaintop marketplace brimming with stalls of handmade crafts.
What to know before you go: All journeys aboard the Andean Explorer include accommodations, onboard meals and beverages, onboard entertainment, and all itinerary excursions. Belmond welcomes travelers of all ages aboard its well-appointed cabins. Due to the mountain’s rainy season, we recommend riding this luxury sleeper train ride between May and August. The dress code on board is casual elegance. But make sure to leave plenty of room for comfortable shoes and boots for their lake and cave excursions.
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Royal Scotsman, A Belmond Train, Scotland
Who it’s Best for: Couples seeking a Scotland trip filled with natural wonders.
Accommodations: Riding Royal Scotsman, A Belmond Train is one of our favorite ways to traverse the Scottish countryside. This luxury sleeper train’s signature mahogany-clad cars marry Edwardian elegance with the comforts of a modern country house. Its cabins feature a range of sleeping arrangements, from singles to doubles to twins featuring ceiling fans and controlled heating. They also have interconnecting options for groups looking for a full-suite experience. No matter which cabin you select with your SmartFlyer travel advisor, each features plush bedding, soft Scottish wools, and tartans.
Dining: The Royal Scotsman, A Belmond Train, Scotland serves up a memorable dining experience as it ushers you through the Highlands. Whether it’s fresh Scottish produce or tasting handcrafted malt whiskies, their restaurant car menu satisfies a wide range of tastes. With seafood and dairy as key staples to the local diet, this is one of the most unique places to dine on dishes like wild salmon or traditionally-made kedgeree. We also recommend trying their savory pigeon salad for something truly unique.
Wellness: We’d be remiss not to mention the Royal Scotsman, A Belmond Train, Scotland’s spa car. In collaboration with Bamford Haybarn Spa, guests are invited to unwind in two treatment rooms crafted to faithfully replicate the iconic countryside vibes at Haybarn Spa at Bamford’s Daylesford farm. When asked about her design philosophy, founder Carole Bamford says, “We make all our products for the Haybarn Spa at Daylesford organic farm in the Cotswolds, using natural fragrances and ingredients. I love the idea that as you travel through the beautiful Scottish countryside, you feel a part of the surroundings while enjoying a treatment using our organic botanical products.”
Where it goes: Royal Scotsman, A Belmond Train, Scotland makes stops across Scotland, including Edinburgh, Carrbridge, and Kyle of Lochalsh.
What kind of journeys and excursions are offered:
- Their wild swimming through the Drumintoul Loch is ideal for anyone looking for a refreshing dip into the Scottish landscape. Hidden away in this private loch, Belmond invites you to dry off and warm your hands by the water’s edge. Sip on your hot drink of choice while feasting on a delicious picnic using produce from the Rothiemurchus estate.
- Home to some of the largest expanses of dark skies in Europe, the Scottish highlands are also the perfect place to delve into some iconic stargazing. Their expert astronomer takes guests through the Cairngorms to pinpoint various planets, from Mars to the asteroid belt.
- The Royal Scotsman, A Belmond Train also makes stops at some of Scotland’s most celebrated whisky distilleries. A selection of tours is available, including Glen Ord – one of the oldest in the country – and Tullibardine Distillery in Blackford village, where guests can experience a tour led by the master blender. Gain insight into the crafting of casks, and of course, indulge in a wee dram (i.e. a shot of whisky).
- Other excursions include teeing off for some authentic Scottish golfing, white water rafting, and private seal sightings via boat.
What to know before you go: All journeys aboard the Royal Scotsman, A Belmond Train, Scotland include accommodations, 24-hour steward service, and all meals and beverages. The train itineraries run from March through October. This luxury sleeper train welcomes guests of all ages. For daytime excursions and relaxing on board, feel free to come in your best smart casual outfit. Due to Scotland’s climate, we also recommend packing a warm, waterproof jacket, as well as your favorite walking shoes. Belmond also encourages cocktail attire and traditional Scottish garb for formal dinners.
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Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train, Europe
Who it’s Best for: Anyone celebrating life’s most treasured milestones, from birthday blowouts to anniversaries and more.
Accommodations: When it comes to luxury sleeper trains, it doesn’t get more iconic than the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train, Europe, a true art deco dream. The train has luxurious accommodations to take a rest after a day’s adventure on the rails. In addition to its Historic Twins and Suites, the Grand Suites are some of the most extravagant accommodations on a luxury sleeper train anywhere in the world. The Grand Suites come with spacious marble en suites, lounge areas, 24-hour butler service, private in-cabin dining, and free-flowing champagne.
Dining: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train, Europe also features three different dining cars, each offering a distinct atmosphere depending on the time of day. Chef Jean Imbert is the mastermind behind the dining philosophy that ties all three cars together. This French chef – who’s collaborated with the likes of Pharell Williams – composes everchanging menus that source ingredients from local purveyors. Each dish embodies the various destinations the train stops in. Whether it’s high tea or dinner – or even lobster rolls and truffled sandwiches for their midnight brunch – this luxury train has something for every craving.
Where it goes: Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train, Europe makes stops in London, Paris, Venice, Verona, Amsterdam, Budapest, Istanbul, Vienna, Geneva, Rome, Florence, Prague, and Cannes depending on the journey you and your SmartFlyer travel advisor select.
What kind of journeys and excursions are offered: The possibilities are seemingly endless aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train, Europe. Whether it’s five nights from Paris to Istanbul or an overnight journey from London to Prague, this luxury sleeper train has you covered. For longer itineraries, consider bookending your trip with a stay in various Belmond properties throughout Europe. You can also enjoy private tours through your connecting cities, as well as exclusive access to landmarks like 19th-century palaces. With every stop, the Belmond team welcomes you with sparkling cocktail receptions and dinners. The Belmond team also offers a variety of seasonal events, including Traveling With Pride with a focus on LGBTQIA+ arts and travel.
What to know before you go: Journey aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train, Europe from March through December. Your time aboard includes accommodation, four-course dinners, three-course lunches, French breakfast, and dedicated steward service. There are also complimentary transfers offered. Belmond welcomes guests of all ages and is more than able to accommodate larger groups with the train’s interconnecting cabins.
When it comes to packing, this is the train where we encourage leaving the jeans and athleisure at home. For daywear and lunchtime, think smart casual with jackets, button-downs, skirts, dresses, and trousers. When nighttime rolls in, this train is a black-tie event where glamour is king.
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Looking to spice up your existing itinerary? Look no further than the day trips aboard the following Belmond trains. These trains are the ideal way to make a day of absorbing the local culture while enjoying overnights in the comforts of your hotel.
- British Pullman, A Belmond Train, England
- Hiram Bingham, A Belmond Train, Machu Picchu
British Pullman, A Belmond Train, England
Best for: Cinephiles wanting to experience a piece of Hollywood history.
Overview: The British Pullman, A Belmond Train, England is a restored luxury train with design elements that evoke the 1920s. The train is most famously known for being the setting for iconic films, from the 1945 British romance film Brief Encounter to the modern marvel Paddington 2. Also used for the 1972 film Agatha starring Dustin Hoffman and Vanessa Redgrave, guests can now live out a pastel dream aboard the British Pullman, A Belmond Train, England.
“They are keeping something special alive. An endangered species of travel which is nevertheless very suited to our time.”
Silver screen royalty continues to grace this train with Wes Anderson spearheading the redesign of their 1950s Cygnus carriage. When asked to share more about this collaboration, Anderson shared, “I have often had the chance to invent train compartments and carriages in my movies. So I was very eager to make something new while also participating in the process of preservation that accompanies all the classic Belmond train projects. They are keeping something special alive. An endangered species of travel which is nevertheless very suited to our time.”
Where it goes: Departing from London Victoria Station, the British Pullman takes guests on trips through the British countryside from Kent to Surrey.
What to know before you go: Journeys aboard the British Pullman, A Belmond Train, England run from March through December and depending on the trip type, include wine, three-course brunches, four-course dinners, and champagne afternoon teas. Belmond welcomes guests of all ages aboard this train, with designated quiet areas for those looking for maximum relaxation. When it comes to packing, we recommend leaving your t-shirts, jeans, and trainers at home. You can never be overdressed aboard this luxury train.
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Hiram Bingham, A Belmond Train, Machu Picchu
Who it’s Best for: Nomadic souls seeking new discoveries at a Wonder of the World.
Overview: The Hiram Bingham offers both roundtrip and one-way day journeys to and from Cusco and Machu Picchu year-round. Launching in 2003, this train is one of our favorite ways for guests to experience Peru’s history within a day. The dining experience onboard the Hiram Bingham is our personal highlight. Emphasizing Peru’s diverse gastronomic origins, the onboard chefs provide menus ranging from hearty lunches to immaculate four-course dinners. Their bar menu is a modern reflection of classic Peruvian cocktails, mixed and matched by the renowned Aaron Diaz.
One of the most notable aspects of the train ride is how expertly Belmond designed the timing of the journey. Guests will board the Hiram Bingham in the afternoon which leads you into lunch service. Post-lunch, enjoy lively on-board entertainment – pisco sour in hand – before disembarking at Machu Picchu just as day tripper buses depart. You’ll also pair the Hiram Bingham with a stay at Sanctuary Lodge, a Belmond Hotel, granting you access to the Wonder of the World at its quietest times: late afternoon and early morning. Brace yourself for an epic celebration on the train ride back to Cusco – dining, dancing, and relishing the memories made.
Where it goes: Andean Explorer, A Belmond Train, Peru makes stops in Cusco and Machu Picchu, with stops in between the two destinations along the Peruvian mountain range.
What to know before you go: Journeys aboard the Hiram Bingham include welcome drinks at the station, onboard meals and drinks, onboard entertainment, private guides, private ground transfers, entrance to the Machu Picchu Sanctuary, and afternoon tea at the Sanctuary Lodge, A Belmond Hotel. If you are looking for a truly customizable experience for your group, then work with your SmartFlyer travel advisor to organize a buyout and you can tailor, everything from the menus served onboard to the excursions upon reaching Machu Picchu. Due to Peru’s mountainous terrain, we recommend packing your favorite hiking gear when making a journey to the Sacred Valley.
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Ready to ride the rails? Contact your SmartFlyer travel advisor to begin planning your epic train trip.