Curl up in crisp clean sheets, read by the glow of your bunk light as the steel wheel whizzes on the steel railing below you – for over a century, the night train has been the most romantic way to cross Europe . Once common, they have struggled in the shadow of low-cost airlines since the 1990s. Their climax came in 2016, when the largest operator, Deutsche Bahn (German Railways), pulled the plug from its City Night Line sleeper network, arguing that it was impossible to operate sleeper trains commercially.
However, a much smaller operator stepped in and took a huge risk: ÖBB (Österreichische Bundesbahnen, Austrian Railways) bought DB’s sleeping cars and took over many of its routes, renaming them and their own sleeper routes “Nightjet”. The bet paid off. ÖBB is now the largest dormitory operator in Europe and the Nightjet network is in the black. As climate-conscious travelers increasingly seek a time-effective alternative to flying, ÖBB has cautiously expanded its sleeper routes, restoring sleeper berths from Vienna to Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and Berlin and from Amsterdam to Zurich. .
They often come out in full. ÖBB is now investing in new trains and earlier this month I was at the Siemens plant in Vienna when the first of 33 new Nightjets was unveiled to the media. These new smart trains feature toilets and showers in all single and twin berths, traditional four-bed berths for families and friends, and innovative individual ‘mini suites’ reminiscent of Japanese capsule hotels for those who want a bed and privacy on a budget.
ÖBB is not the only operator to restore sleepers. France has restored night trains from Paris to Nice and Lourdes. Italy orders new sleeper trains. And a few days before the Vienna event I spearheaded the inaugural departure of the new Hamburg-Stockholm sleeper, which was purchased by the Swedish government to provide a time-efficient rail link between Western Europe and Flygskam’s home. “).
It was not without teething problems: Rolling stock to expand sleeper services is scarce and refurbished sleeping cars weren’t ready on time. But the bunks were comfortable and my travel companion and I chatted over some wine until midnight, slept well and woke up in the sunlit Swedish countryside before arriving in the Swedish capital on time. He reminded me why I love sleepers and why I’m happy they’re here to stay. A much more enjoyable experience than flying with a fraction of the emissions, and starting in the evening and arriving the next morning take fewer daylight hours than flying. And the bunk beds on a train, what’s wrong?
Here are seven of the best night lines – two in Britain and five beyond.
Fall asleep in London, wake up in Cornwall
Imagine your favorite Cornish B&B, on wheels. Departing from Paddington Station before midnight every day except Saturday, the Night Riviera has cozy rooms with one or two beds, a convivial car lounge and great staff. Wake up at Truro Cathedral and Mount San Michele before stepping into sunny Penzance.
The details: From £ 114.90 for a single room, £ 104.90 per person for a double (gwr.com).
Fall asleep in London, wake up in the West Highlands
The Caledonian Sleeper leaves London Euston at 9pm Monday to Friday and 9.15pm on Sunday for Fort William at the foot of Ben Nevis. Enjoy haggis, neeps and tatties in the lounge as you leave the Big Smoke, then wake up amidst gnarled oaks, bubbling burns, and deer leaping off the train. The Caledonian double rooms also boast a double bed, toilet and shower.
The details: From £ 140 for a single room, £ 170 for a double (sleeper.scot).
Fall asleep in Paris, wake up in Nice (or Cannes)
Intercités overnight, today’s incarnation of the legendary Train Bleu, leaves Paris Austerlitz at 9.20pm, with four-berth first-class berths and six-berth second-class berths. Wake up among rocky headlands, bays full of yachts and millionaires’ villas as the train snakes along the French Riviera to reach Cannes at 08:38, Nice at 09:08.
The details: From € 29 (£ 25) in a second class sleeper, € 69 (£ 60) in a first class sleeper, (sncf-connect.com).
Fall asleep in Paris, wake up in Salzburg
Take the 14:31 Eurostar from London to Paris Nord and stroll to Gare de l’Est. A Nightjet berth departs Paris Est at 7:58 pm on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays arriving in Salzburg at 7:26 am, with four- and six-berth berths and one-, two- and three-bed berths, some with shower and toilet.
The details: Eurostar from £ 52 one way (eurostar.com). Nightjet from € 59.90 (£ 52) with berth, or € 159.90 (£ 139) in a berth, including breakfast (oebb.at).
Fall asleep in Milan, wake up in Sicily
The longest sleeper ride in Western Europe, the InterCity Night for Sicily leaves from the magnificent Milano Centrale station every night at 8:10 pm, with sleeper and couchettes for Palermo, Catania and Syracuse, arriving the following afternoon. The train is diverted onto a ferry to cross the Strait of Messina to Sicily, a unique experience.
The details: From € 39.90 (£ 35) in a four-bed berth or € 89.90 (£ 78) in a single berth (trenitalia.com).
Fall asleep in Brussels, wake up in Vienna
Leave London on the 3:04 pm Eurostar for Brussels, arriving at 6:05 pm. A Nightjet berth departs Brussels at 19:32 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, arriving in Vienna at 09:19, with four- and six-berth berths and one-, two- and three-bed berths, some with shower and toilet.
The details: Eurostar from £ 52 one way (eurostar.com). Nightjet from € 59.90 (£ 52) with berth or € 159.90 (£ 139) in a berth including breakfast (oebb.at).
Fall asleep in Hamburg, wake up in Stockholm
Introduced on 1 September this year, the SJ EuroNight train departs Hamburg Altona at 21:55 each day, arriving in Stockholm Central at 09:55 the next morning. It has four and six berth berths, one and two berth sleepers will be added later. In Stockholm, the incredible Vasa Museum (vasamuseet.se) alone is worth the trip.
The details: From € 44.90 (£ 39) in a six-berth berth, € 69.90 (£ 61) in a four-berth (sj.se).