South Africa is a country full of amazing adventures. Bucket list experiences can be had from the safaris of Kruger to the penguins of the Western Cape, and everything in between. For us, it was spending two amazing days on South Africa’s luxury train, The Blue Train known as a window to the soul of Africa. If you are considering ticking this incredible experience off your bucket list, here is how to plan a trip on the Blue Train, South Africa. Think of this as your Blue Train FAQs…
We were hosted on a trip with the Blue Train. All opinions are entirely our own.
- 1 A Little Blue Train History
- 2 How to Plan a Trip on the Blue Train, South Africa
- 3 Where Does the Blue Train Go?
- 4 How Long Does the Blue Train Take?
- 5 Where Does the Blue Train Stop in Cape Town?
- 6 Where Does the Blue Train Stop in Pretoria?
- 7 What Will I See on The Blue Train?
- 8 What is the Blue Train Food and Drink Like?
- 9 What Are the Rooms Like on the Blue Train?
- 10 How Much Does the Blue Train Cost? – Blue Train Price
- 11 What Should I Pack for the Blue Train?
- 12 How Much Should I Tip on The Blue Train?
- 13 How Can I Book the Blue Train?
- 14 Is There Anything Else You Should Know to Plan a Trip on the Blue Train
A Little Blue Train History
The Blue Train has been running, in some capacity, since the 1920’s. Back in 1923, two trains rode these rails, the Union Limited and Union Express. These carried passengers between Johannesburg and their waiting ships in Cape Town, en route to England. In the 1930’s, the iconic blue steel carriages were added, the ones that give the train its name. A couple of years later. luxury dining cars and air conditioning were added, creating a more comfortable journey.
Over the next 70 years, it has been refurbished, enhanced and expanded. Now, in 2019, it is an interesting mix of nostalgia and unbridled luxury.
How to Plan a Trip on the Blue Train, South Africa
Where Does the Blue Train Go?
The Blue Train has several different routes. The most iconic trip runs from Pretoria to Cape Town (and the other way around) and that is the one we will focus on. Alternatively, you can book:
- Pretoria to Kruger National Park.
- Charters can be arranged pretty much anywhere train tracks fun.
How Long Does the Blue Train Take?
In 2019, the schedule was changed so that the journey between Cape Town and Pretoria takes two nights. Previously, it was just a single night excursion. We think this is a vast improvement as it means you can enjoy everything the train has to offer at a leisurely pace. You get to dress up for dinner twice (half the fun) and that means two happy hours too.
It also gives the train a better chance to keep to time.
Where Does the Blue Train Stop in Cape Town?
If you are arriving by foot, bypass the front of the station and progress down the side of the station. You will find the Blue Train entrance half way down the length of the station, marked by a roped off area.
Where Does the Blue Train Stop in Pretoria?
When arriving at Pretoria, there is a special lounge and entrance on the side of the station. This is located just by the Gautrain station (very handy for getting the train to the airport and Johannesburg).
If you are arriving from elsewhere, you will come out of the main entrance.
What Will I See on The Blue Train?
The Blue Train crosses four provinces of South Africa, from Gauteng to the Western Cape.
For much of this time, you will be passing through wide countryside but keep your eyes peeled for these highlights:
Urban life surrounds the train as you leave Pretoria. This very quickly opens up into a wider vista of country.
I believe we sped through the North West overnight so I didn’t get to see it!
A huge lake occupies the train windows, edged by thousands upon thousands of flamingos.
The only scheduled stop along the way is the old diamond mine at Kimberley. The Big Hole has since become a Lake and goes hand in hand with the diamond mine museum.
As Cape Town rolls closer, neat rows of vine come into view. This is wine country where the land is cultivated and dedicated to its production. Head to the Lounge Car and discover what is made locally. We are partial to South Africa’s house dedicated to sparkling wine, J.C. Le Roux.
Finally, Table Mountain looks up and out of the landscape, dominating the window as you arrive into Cape Town.
What is the Blue Train Food and Drink Like?
Food on the Blue Train
The food onboard the Blue Train is plentiful and uniformly delicious. Before you set off, you will be offered light refreshments in the station lounge.
Onboard you are treated to breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. You literally won’t be given the chance to get hungry.
Meals are served à la carte, in the Dining Car with a continental buffet at breakfast to compliment the menu.
Your afternoon tea is served in the Lounge Car, buffet style.
Drinks on the Blue Train
Throughout your journey on the Blue Train, all drinks are included. From your morning coffee to your nightcap in the Club Car, you can indulge as much or as little as you like. The bar is open the entire time and if you want a quiet day in your room, you can ring your butler for a personally delivered cocktail.
Don’t forget to try the Springbok, a local shooter that tastes just like a mint caramel!
What Are the Rooms Like on the Blue Train?
The decor of the Blue Train is reminiscent of an old men’s club in Mayfair. Dark wood, leather and comfortable pillows.
Most rooms come with two big armchairs that convert into twin beds, but one room in each carriage has a double bed. These special rooms also benefit from a bath tub rather than the standard shower. (Yes, an actual bath on a train!) All rooms have an en-suite.
There is a writing desk that can also be used for dining, and handy pull out bed side table. Best of all, there are plugs by the bed and by the mirror!
Finally there is a TV. We don’t suggest you spend the entire time watching films, but there is some music that is nice to listen to as you get ready for dinner or in the morning. (We found some musical theatre in the light classical genre so I was very happy).
Why not watch the video we made on The Blue Train!?
How Much Does the Blue Train Cost? – Blue Train Price
This is not a cheap experience but once you factor in the all-inclusive food and drink, luxury hotel room, the distance covered and the excellent care from the staff, it seems totally worth it. If you are looking to save, travelling off-peak will make your journey cheaper. Avoid September – November to save an average of 20%.
Prices for 2020 start from 20,615 ZAR and go up to 48,200 ZAR. It’s not cheap but boy, is it worth it!
What Should I Pack for the Blue Train?
First and foremost, you will need “elegant evening wear” for dinner. That means a nice outfit for ladies and jackets for gents. You’ll need two variations of this. I took two evening dresses and Mr Fluskey brought one suit but two different shirts, ties and pocket squares.
During the day, the dress code is casual so pack whatever you are comfortable in.
A few other Blue Train essentials to remember are:
- South African plug adaptors
- A book or similar entertainment
- Cash for tipping
How Much Should I Tip on The Blue Train?
This is, of course, entirely up to you, but we recommend £50 (1000 ZAR or so) for two people, for two nights. However, this is baseline and if you can afford more, then go for it!
You are encouraged to drop tips into the gratuities box located at the front of the train, just before the Club Car. This main tip box is split evenly so the staff behind the scenes get an equal share. Doing it this way makes the whole process easier for us Brits, who find the whole tipping thing uncomfortable.
How Can I Book the Blue Train?
It is possible to book through plenty of tour operators and travel companies but we are big believers in going direct. View prices, itineraries and book through the Blue Train website.
Is There Anything Else You Should Know to Plan a Trip on the Blue Train
- If you have arranged a drop-off or pick up, let the Blue Train know. They will keep in contact with these companies to inform them of any delays or changes that may affect you.
- When you book you’ll be asked for any dietary requirements. This gives them time to ensure they can cater for you. Once the train has left the station, so has your chance to influence the menu.
- You’ll be amazed how quickly the time goes. When you are dashing between meals, don’t forget to enjoy it.
- You may smoke on the Blue Train, but only in the designated Club Car at the front of the train. This room is highly air-conditioned. They also serve cigars here after dinner.
- The windows on the Blue Train don’t open for health and safety. You won’t be able to stick your camera out to get that perfect “around the corner” train shot. However, if you hang out in the Observation Car at the back (pictures below) you may get enough of an angle to capture the front of the train on camera.
- You can read the full review of our time onboard the Blue Train – Riding the Rails: Two Magical Nights on the Blue Train, South Africa
That just leaves us with one question. What are you waiting for? It is time for you to work out when and how to plan a trip on the Blue Train, South Africa.