Australia's best railtours and train travel destinations

Australia's best railtours and train travel destinations

Last Updated: 17 May 2024
Holly Younge
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Australia’s first railway opened in New South Wales in 1831 and since then a further 20,000 kilometres of track has been used to connect urban centres and allow regional areas and rural towns to prosper.

These trains were used primarily to haul freight but also became the luxury travel alternative to horse and carriage and were subsequently decked out in glorious splendour for wealthy travellers. Many of these trains have been renovated allowing guests to relive the glory days of rail and travel the historical routes from coast to coast, attracting train enthusiasts from around the world.

We reviewed five iconic Australian train journeys with prices ranging from $290 for a day trip from Melbourne to Adelaide, to $7,000+ for luxurious overnight coast-to-coast journeys.

The Indian Pacific

The Indian Pacific is Australia’s most iconic rail journey and the only one running coast to coast from Perth on the Indian Ocean to Sydney on the Pacific.

This incredible 4,352km three-night experience was first made available to passengers in 1970 after the finalisation of gauge conversion projects, meaning passengers no longer had to change trains when transferring from Western Australia to South Australia. It includes the longest stretch of straight railway track in the world (478km) making it a bucket list experience for global train enthusiasts.

The train departs Perth every Saturday at 4.30 pm and arrives in Sydney the following Wednesday at approximately 12.25 pm. Or passengers have the option to disembark for the Blue Mountains off-train experience (8 am – 1.15 pm) and then catch the NSW Train Link via private charter to Sydney in the afternoon. The return trip departs Sydney at 2.20 pm on Wednesday and arrives in Perth at 1 pm on Saturday. You also have the option to stop in Adelaide and hop back on the return train or continue your journey a week later.

When departing from Perth, the first day passes through the beautiful Avon Valley and the Wheatbelt, stopping overnight in the historic mining town of Kalgoorlie. On day two you’ll cross the famous Nullarbor Plain into South Australia, making an overnight stop at a small ghost town called Cook. The train arrives in Adelaide on the third day and passengers have time to explore the town before departing for Broken Hill in the afternoon. Before long, the train continues overnight and on the final day you get to wake up to the stunning scenery of the Blue Mountains before reaching Sydney in the afternoon.

Single and double cabins are available with ticket prices for a double starting from $7,000 per couple, depending on where you embark and your choice of cabin. Visit https://www.australian-trains.com/indian-pacific for availability and bookings.

The Ghan

The Ghan is the sister train to the Indian Pacific and is named after the Afghan cameleers that used to travel the same 2,979km journey in large camel trains.  Starting in Adelaide, the Ghan takes guests from Adelaide through the great spinifex plains and salt pans of central Australia, over the MacDonnell Ranges and into the tropics before arriving in Darwin.

The standard Ghan journey includes 47 hours of train time spread over three days and two nights,  with stopovers at Alice Springs and Katherine. Off-train tours provide the opportunity to take in some magical destinations including Palm Valley, Uluru, The Olgas/Kata Tjuta andKing’s Canyon.

If travelling from Adelaide to Darwin, excursions include Alice Springs Desert Park and the Simpson Gap Discovery Walk, the Spirit of Mt Gillen Helicopter Flight, Pyndan Camel Tracks and the Alice Springs & Surrounds Fixed Wing Scenic Flight. In Katherine, you can choose either the Nitmiluk Gorge Cruise, the Nitmiluk First Gorge Art Cruise or the Katherine Outback Experience. You can even upgrade to a Nitmiluk Gorge helicopter flight if you’re more of a thrill-seeker.

If you are departing from Darwin, there is the option to embark on the Ghan Expedition, which is the same train but takes four days and three nights and includes a full day in Alice Springs, Coober Pedy and an afternoon in Katherine. Additional tours include an off-road trip to the Desert Park and the Uluru Fixed Wing Scenic flight which includes an outback BBQ dinner. At Coober Pedy, you get the chance to explore the town and the surrounding opal mines for the opportunity to hunt for opals to take home.

The cabins are similar to the Indian Pacific, with Gold, Gold Premium and Platinum services available. Tickets for a Gold service twin cabin from Adelaide to Darwin start from around $7,000 in March next year. Visit Journey Beyond Rail for availability and bookings.

The Overland

The Overland has been travelling between Adelaide and Melbourne for 135 years and in 1886 became the first direct service connecting the two state capitals.

Unlike some of the other great train journeys in Australia, The Overland is a day trip and covers the 828km journey in about 10.5 hours. The train departs Adelaide on Sundays and Thursdays, making stops at Murray Bridge, Bordertown, Nhill, Dimboola, Horsham, Stawell, Ararat and Geelong before reaching Melbourne. The return trip departs from Melbourne on Mondays and Fridays.

This journey is great for a long-weekend getaway, travelling by train on the Thursday and spending two days in either Adelaide or Melbourne before returning home on Sunday via train, or for a faster trip home Via plane.

On the train, there are two services available, Red Standard and Red Premium Service. Every day prices for these services are $185 and $295, respectively. On a Red Premium Service level, you will be provided all-inclusive meals, semi-reclining seats, extra legroom, a maximum of 50kg of luggage and a range of different dining options. Red standard offers 60 seats per carriage and access to the Café 828 Carriage where passengers can buy food and drinks.

The Great Southern

The Great Southern is an amazing four-day long journey from Brisbane to Adelaide and perfectly suited for lovers of stunning coastal views, fine food, wine and (of course) luxury train travel.

Running in the warmer months of January, February and December, The Great Southern takes in the best of the New South Wales and South Australian coastlines with stopovers at Coffs Harbour, the Hunter Valley region, regional Victoria and Melbourne, providing plenty of opportunity to indulge in food and fine wines from the region.

If departing from Brisbane, your first stop will be Coffs Harbour, where passengers enjoy a seafood dinner with stunning ocean views. The Great Southern then continues to the Hunter Valley region where passengers can get a taste of local wines. Following the wine tour is a stop at Port Stephens Newcastle, where passengers can wander through town and explore the beautiful waterways and beaches.

Toward the end of the journey, the train stops in Melbourne giving passengers the chance to explore the city or if a day in the countryside inspires you, you can visit Clyde Park in the Moorabool Valley for some wine tasting and a scenic lunch. The Moorabool Valley tour takes a total of five hours. After a day of exploring, passengers will reunite on the train and enjoy a dinner whilst en route to their final stop, Adelaide.

As with the Ghan and the Indian Pacific, there are three levels of Service which at the time of writing included Platinum ($6990), Gold Premium Twin ($4890), Gold Twin at ($4090) and Gold Single ($3690). Each of these are the everyday prices for 2025.

The Spirit of the Outback

The Spirit of the Outback is one of five awesome rail journeys in Queensland and takes passengers on a 1325km journey from Brisbane to Longreach.

Running twice weekly, the Spirit travels along the east coast from Brisbane to Rockhampton before turning inland to Blackwater, Emerald, Barcaldine and Longreach. The train departs Brisbane every Tuesday at 6.10 pm and Saturday at 4.10 pm and the return trip departs Longreach every Monday and Thursday at 8.10 am.

While the travel time is just 26 hours, there are plenty of amazing places to hop on and off so your journey can take a couple of days or even a couple of weeks. After seeing central Queensland, you might even decide to catch the return train back to Rockhampton and from there you have the choice to either continue north via the Spirit of Queensland, a coastal railway, or head south to Brisbane via the Tilt Train.

There are three options for sleeping arrangements, Economy seats for $141 or $235, First Class Single Sleeper for $427 or $529 (a seat and fold-down bed) and the First-Class Twin Sleeper, also ranging from $427 or $529 (two seats that convert into two lower single beds).

All passengers have access to shared unisex bathrooms and showers and beds are made up by the onboard team while passengers dine in the evening. Travellers have the option to leave a ‘please prepare my sleeper for travel’ tag on their cabin door and the cabin team will ready your seat while you enjoy the restaurant carriage for breakfast.

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