The real traveler knows that transportation is not just about getting from A to B, it’s a journey to be lived and savored. Sleeper trains are the epitome of “enjoying the ride,” but somehow they’ve almost been forgotten. There aren’t that many services still running in Europe, but it’s worth adjusting a trip to include one. Not only are they more environmentally friendly than planes and cost-effective, but they are unequivocally the most romantic way to travel.
1. London to Fort William on the Caledonian Sleeper
After a jam-packed weekend in England’s capital visiting museums and eating in noisy street markets, the perfect antidote has to be a trip on the Caledonian Sleeper, which whisks passengers away to the beauty of the Scottish Highlands. With a twin room or first-class cabin, you can have access to the lounge car, which serves Scottish and London craft beer, Champagne, and a plethora of whiskies. First class also gets you an evening meal which boasts products from sustainable Scottish sources. Early risers are rewarded with the spectacle of the sunrise over the mountains and lochs before the train arrives at Fort William, right at the foot of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain on the British Isles.
Cost starts from $260 for a twin room.
2. Paris to Venice on Thello Trains
This journey has an air of the Grand Tour about it — leaving the city of elegant boulevards and café culture at dusk and waking up in the mesmerizing floating city of Venice. Unsurprisingly, the train’s dining car takes center stage with its classic French and Italian dishes. From bed, you can watch the snowy Alps glide by and admire the Italian lakes at sunrise. A premium cabin gets you a free breakfast, after which you can hop off the train, wide-eyed into the morning sunshine to explore Venice’s labyrinth of canals and richly decorated palaces.
Cost starts from $97 p/p for a two-bed cabin.
3. Moscow to St. Petersburg on the Red Arrow
The words “Russian sleeper train” conjure up images of plush red drapery, white tablecloths, and lots of curtain tassels. Thankfully, the Red Arrow fulfills that fantasy admirably. A first-class cabin includes bedding, newspapers, and meals; for those looking for modern luxuries too, there’s air conditioning and TVs in the VIP cabins. The Red Arrow is one of Russia’s most famous trains and it even has its own theme song that plays on departure from Moscow. The route takes passengers directly from the capital to the country’s second largest city and cultural center, St. Petersburg. Putting aside the fact that this route starts and ends in two of the world’s most culturally rich cities, the train journey is an experience in itself and is the best way to travel overland in Russia.
Cost starts from $114 p/p for a first-class cabin.
4. Helsinki to Kemijärvi on the Santa Claus Express
The route for this service starts in Finland’s capital, Helsinki, where you can swot up on the latest Scandinavian design trends in its Design District, and visit the Kamppi Chapel of Silence, an icon of minimalist Nordic architecture. The train then winds its way north to Lapland. The most important stop is Rovaniemi, the home of Santa Claus, where you can visit the man himself and his reindeer at the Santa Park. The final destination is Kemijärvi, a place for walking and exploring nature, especially around the beautiful Lake Kemijärvi. The radical change in day length between summer and winter means you can have very different experiences on this journey depending on when you go.
Cost starts from $56 p/p.
5. London to Venice on the Simplon-Orient-Express
Most don’t realize that it was on this Orient Express from London to Venice that Agatha Christie’s most famed murder took place. While passengers will naturally expect a less definitive end to their journey, the novel adds yet more romance and glamor to this extra-luxurious trip. Over the one and a half day journey, you can lounge elegantly among brocaded curtains lit by soft lamplight in this self-proclaimed “icon of art deco design.” The Champagne Bar whisks passengers straight back to the roaring ‘20s, and in the restaurant you can try local delicacies like Brittany lobster. At $4,600 per person, it’s not exactly going to save you money on accommodation, but that does include a Bellini and brunch as you wind through Kent, a four-course dinner upon your arrival in France, breakfast with a view of the Alps, and afternoon pastries as you near the scintillating waters of the Venetian lagoon.
Cost starts from $4,600 p/p.
6. Trondheim to Bodø on Norwegian Rail
The starting point of this train journey is Trondheim, which was the capital of Norway during the Viking Age and is home to Scandinavia’s largest medieval building — the ornately carved Nidaros Cathedral. The journey ends in Bodø, and here you can find ferries to the Lofoten Islands, where little red fishermen’s cabins sit atop snow-dusted rocks. This journey can be done as part of an Interrail trip and is included in the Norway Interrail Pass.
Cost of an Interrail Pass starts at $203.
7. Innsbruck to Cologne on the Nightjet
Clean, modern convenience is the highlight of this service. From Innsbruck in the Tyrolean Alps, an ideal spot for hiking or more serious climbing along the Via Ferrata, this route takes you right through Germany to Cologne. On this route, you’ll want to wake up early in the morning as the train is following the Rhine Valley Line, famous for its castles and vineyards. The train’s sleeping compartments include deluxe double deckers with ensuite bathrooms. Booking a sleeper compartment also gets you a welcome drink, newspaper service, toiletries, and breakfast. Everything is characterized by quiet, understated Austrian efficiency.
Cost starts from $102 p/p in a double compartment.