What’s It Like To Travel On The Ghan Train?

Balanced on its twin filigree rails that stitch their way through the vast desert and scrub of central Australia, the Ghan Expedition train threads its four-day journey from Darwin to Adelaide. But what’s it like to travel on the Ghan?

What's it like on the Ghan train?

Almost a kilometre long, the 36 carriages and two locomotive engines of the Ghan stretches out into the distance along the humid platform in Darwin, Australia’s most northerly city.

We love train travel and have had some amazing experiences on the tracks over the years, but we’ve always wanted to go on the Ghan.

As we wait to board, we admire the shining flank of the train, its iconic insignia of a mounted cameleer glimmering in the morning light.

The Ghan takes its name from the Afghan camel-riders who helped early English explorers find their way through the deserts of central Australia. And their camels—or descendants of them—still roam wild in the Outback.

Check out our video walkthrough of the Ghan Expedition train here:

One of Australia’s truly great journeys, the Ghan will take us through much of the land that those cameleers travelled through—from the tropical Top End all the way down to Adelaide in South Australia.

It’s an epic 3,000km train journey that takes you through some of the most fascinating landscapes and even, at one point, down to the edge of the ocean.

And we watch this less-seen side of Australia roll by from the wide windows and comfort of our sleeper or the boisterous atmosphere of the bar car or the old-world elegance of our on-board restaurant the Queen Adelaide.

Soon we climb aboard our allocated carriage and enter the world of the Ghan.

What's it like on the Ghan train? What's it like on the Ghan train? From Darwin to Adelaide

What Are The Rooms Like On The Ghan?

On the Ghan, everyone has a sleeper cabin. These range from single sleepers to Platinum Class, which have a queen beds and large en suites. During the day, staff transform your bedroom into a lounge, your bed turning into a comfortable sofa.

And then while you’re at dinner, staff come round again and turn your cabin back into a bedroom, even with chocolates on the pillow to match the incredible level of service throughout the experience.

What's it like on the Ghan train? Platinum Room and Bathroom

The majority of the guests—us included—are in the Gold Class cabins. These have bunk beds and a smaller en suite than the Platinum cars. It’s a bit of a tight fit for two people, but that’s part of the adventure, part of the charm.

Also part of the charm is the old-world train travel vibes you get from the details of these rooms. Wood and tan leather finishes, brass fittings, winders for the window blinds and even the decoration around the vanity mirror all add to the Ghan experience.

What's it like on the Ghan train? Gold Class room and bathroom What's it like on the Ghan train? Gold Class cabin bedroom configuration

The Train’s Bar Cars

Interspersed throughout the train are bar cars for guests to relax in at any point on the journey. All drinks are included with the price of your ticket, so these cars are rarely empty!

Matching the old-world quaintness of the sleeper cabins, the bar car, lit with a warm golden light and decked out in ruddy browns to match the horizon that wizzes past the broad windows.

What's it like on the Ghan train? Christina in the bar car What's it like on the Ghan train? old poster of the Ghan

Comfortable booths and leather bucket chairs line the sides of the car, while the bar at the end of the carriage has a few high stools and a table to perch on. The staff here work hard to keep up with the busiest part of the train.

For the Gold Class passengers, our drinks menu is replete with premium beers, wines and spirits. The likes of Coriole and Yalumba wines (Croser and Grant Burge for sparkling wine), Jack Daniels and Stoli in the spirits—even an Aussie craft distillery for the gin—and household names in the beer fridge. There’s even a good range of fortified and dessert wines as well as non-alcoholic options of course.

What's it like on the Ghan train? Christina in the bar car What's it like on the Ghan train? from the window

In the Platinum bar, things are almost the same but with a few upgrades (Glenfiddich and Hennessy, I’m looking at you) and the one big difference being the house pour for sparkling is, impressively, Bollinger!

The Ghan’s Restaurants

All on-train meals (as there are some meals that you have during your excursions) are in your designated restaurant. For us, that’s the elegant Queen Adelaide Restaurant, named after the consort to King William IV, who also gave her name to the southern city we’re heading for.

Here, more than anywhere else, you feel the old-world charm of an Agatha Christie novel—minus any heinous murder of course!

What's it like on the Ghan train? Queen Adelaide Restaurant What's it like on the Ghan train? Christina in the restaurant

Tables for four line both sides of the carriage laid with crisp white tablecloths, sparkling cutlery and all the other accoutrements of silver service dining. Each table is sectioned booth style by sweeping etched glass above the backs of the comfortable bench seating.

Details like the golden panel of ornate pressed tin along the ceiling and the curved lighting and scrollwork decorated with the restaurant’s crest above our heads add wonderful ambience and warmth to this car.

The Platinum passengers’ restaurant, although recently renovated to with beautiful art deco accents, doesn’t quite have the same atmosphere as the Queen Adelaide. Even the staff we speak to tell us they enjoy serving this restaurant the most.

What's it like on the Ghan train? Platinum Restaurant What's it like on the Ghan train?

All breakfasts and most dinners are here, and generally speaking the train’s moving while you eat.

And apart from bringing a challenge to the staff (though the train’s Chef de Partie, Drew Cornelius, admits he prefers cooking when the train’s in motion), seeing the landscape march past as you dine in this unique setting is unforgettable.

What’s The Food Like On The Ghan?

Simply put, the food on the Ghan is awesome.

Each meal you have on board is served a la carte—breakfasts are a two-course affair (not including toast and jams for the table) and dinners are three-courses. Choosing your meal is probably the hardest part of your trip.

What's it like on the Ghan train? Restaurant menus

For example, our first meal—brunch on the morning we leave Darwin—offers a huge full breakfast, halloumi and roasted vegetable salad, ham frittata or fragrant buffalo curry, followed by a choice of either white chocolate and lychee pancakes or wild berry and chia seed parfait.

Breakfast menus are similar but also come with fresh juice and an entree of cereals or things like wild berry and river mint natural yoghurt.

Dinners are even more sumptuous.

Things like crocodile dumplings with savoy cabbage dressed in gochujang, anise myrtle and sesame or tender duck breast with a Kakadu plum and ginger glaze are on the entree menu.

And mains are still more elaborate. Grilled saltwater barramundi with wake seaweed and sweet potato noodles or succulent braised beef with pickled mustard greens, oyster mushrooms and horseradish mashed potatoes.

As for dessert, options like lychee and berry mousse gateau, coconut and raspberry ice cream or a cheese board with matching fortified wine will leave even the greediest of us (me) sated.

What's it like on the Ghan train? The food on the Ghan What's it like on the Ghan train? What to eat on the Ghan - roast barramundi

It’s hard to imagine how such high-quality food is possible on a train, which has just six chefs cooking in three kitchens along the Ghan to feed over 200 guests.

Nevertheless, it’s safe to say you’re not going hungry on the Ghan.

What’s It Like To Sleep On The Ghan?

In short, if you find yourself falling asleep (as a passenger) on long car rides, you’ll have no problem sleeping on the Ghan.

Gently rocked by the motion of the train as it weaves its way through the enormous landscape of the Australian Outback, sleep comes quickly and enduringly to us both. It’s been a while since either of us has slept in a bunk bed, but the comfortable mattresses and cosy covers (as well as our full bellies) lull us into deep, quality sleep.

What's it like on the Ghan train? Good morning!

The majority of the distance that the Ghan travels is done overnight, so invariably you’ll be sleeping while the train is moving.

And there’s another benefit of being on the Ghan Expedition, which runs from north-south from Darwin to Adelaide rather than south to north, other than having a whole extra day aboard.

Because the rainy season in the NT deteriorates the tracks comparatively quickly, the rails in the north are newer and therefore smoother than those in the southern parts of the journey. Starting off with smoother rails gets you used to the motion of the train at night before things get a bit bumpier at the end.

What's it like on the Ghan train? Christina at sunrise

How Much Time Do You Spend On The Ghan?

To give you some perspective, if the train were to travel nonstop from Darwin to Adelaide at its average speed of 85km/h, it would be a day-and-a-half train journey. But because of the various excursions and off-train experiences, the Ghan makes the distance in four days.

What's it like on the Ghan train? Ghan statue at Alice Springs Station What's it like on the Ghan train? Camp fire at Coober Pedy

Most of the travel on the train happens overnight. For the rest of it you’re socialising, getting ready to go on excursions, resting after excursions, or eating and drinking. There’s very little time to get bored on the Ghan.

Indeed, in a way it would be nice to spend a bit more time gazing through the window admiring the seemingly boundless stretches of this vast continent, watching as the wilderness pans past and embracing the romance of one of the world’s great train journeys.

What's it like on the Ghan train?

We travelled on the Ghan as media guests with Journey Beyond Travel Group, but our experiences and opinions remain our own.


  • Reply July 17, 2023


    great story on the Ghan. Our friends are scheduled to travel on the train within the next week and look forward to hearing about their journey. Its not something that I have ever thought about doing. We travelled around Uluru, Olgas, King Canyon, Alice and MacDonnell Ranges last September and thoroughly enjoyed our travels. It truly is an amazing space.

    • Reply July 18, 2023

      Mr Romance

      Thank you Karen! It really is an amazing journey. Some of my friends were asking me how we’d make four days of sitting on a train look interesting or fun, but like we said in the article, you’re not really on the train that much and when you are you’re either sleeping or eating – there’s not as much time to enjoy the changing scenery as you’d expect! I hope your friends thoroughly enjoy their time aboard as much as we did.
      Your travels last September sound amazing! It’s such a fascinating part of the country – completely unique. And now the new drone show above Uluru (Wintjiri Wiru) is up and running (absolutely extraordinary btw), there’s even more reason for us happy travellers to head to the Red Centre!

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