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These Sleeper Trains Will Take You on a Grand Tour of Europe

Train Travel
by Rebecca Hughes Morgane Croissant Jun 9, 2023

Experienced travelers know that transportation is not just about getting from point A to B — the journey must be savored. And what better way to enjoy the ride than spending the night in a moving train? Sleeper trains in Europe may not be as ubiquitous as they once were, but there are still enough of them out there to take you on a grand tour of Europe, from the wilds of Scotland to London, Istanbul, and even all way across the Arctic Circle.

Do sleeper trains still exist in Europe?

Yes, there are many sleeper trains in service throughout Europe. Check out our selection of the best overnight trains in Europe to inspire your next trip on the rails.

Are overnight trains in Europe worth it?

Taking an overnight train in Europe can be a good strategy to save money the price of a night in a hotel. It’s also a genius way to optimize your time at a destination instead of spending time in transport during the day when you could be visiting new corners of the continent.

What is the most famous sleeper train?

The most famous sleeper train in Europe is the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, but it’s certainly not the cheapest to ride. The Caledonian Sleeper that runs between London and cities/towns in Scotland is also an iconic overnight train and it is much more affordable.

What are sleeper trains like in Europe?

Sleeper trains in Europe tend to be clean, efficient, and affordable. Railway companies offer several types of sleeping accommodations for every need and budget so you can stay very comfortable during your trip.

What’s the difference between couchette and sleeper?

The difference between a couchette and a sleeper is the quality of the bed and the number of people it can accommodate. Sleepers have better beds and beddings and can accommodate up to four passengers; couchettes have simple bunk beds and can accommodate up to six passengers.

Do sleeper trains have toilets? Do European sleeper trains have showers?

Most overnight trains in Europe have toilets, showers, and sinks. Some sleeper cabins have a toilet and/or shower and/or sink, but it depends on the train operator you’re traveling with and the level of comfort and amenities you opted for while booking.

What do you wear on a sleeper train?

Just like in a hotel, when it’s time to go to bed, you can wear your pajamas. If you’re sharing a couchette with strangers, it may be difficult to change, however. Certainly don’t sleep in the buff or in your underwear/revealing nightwear if you’re sharing the space with strangers. If you have a private cabin, you can do as you wish.

Is there a sleeper train in Germany?

Yes, there are several sleeper train operators in Germany, including Deutsche Bahn’s night train services, Nightjet and EuroNight, and European Sleeper. You should be able to make your way to just about every large city in Germany (and even further afield) in a sleeper train.

Is there a sleeper train from France to Italy?

The overnight train service operated by Thello between France and Italy was suspended in 2020. There are no sleeper trains between the two countries, but you can go from France to Italy very easily by train during the day.

Is there a sleeper train from Paris to Madrid?

There is no overnight train service between Paris and Spain, but the French railway company SNCF runs overnight trains (called INTERCITÉS trains de nuit) that go all the way to the border between France and Spain. From there, you can hop into another train to go all the way to Madrid. This map of the SNCF overnight trains service will help you plan you trip.

Alternatively, you can ride the high-speed train between Paris and Barcelona and then take another high-speed train from Barcelona to Madrid. It’s an easy trip, but it can only be done during the day.

Is there a sleeper train from Paris to Lisbon?

There are currently no overnight trains running between Paris and Lisbon.

The best overnight trains in Europe

The Caledonian Sleeper

If you want to trade London’s museums for Scotland’s distilleries, there’s one way to make the transition as smooth and as enjoyable as a dram of The Macallan: Riding the famous Caledonian Sleeper.

The Caledonian Sleeper runs from London’s Euston Station to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fort William, Inverness, or Aberdeen six nights per week. Of course, it also runs the reverse route, from those very same cities and towns all the way to London, six night per week. The ride takes between 7.5 and 13 hours, depending on your arrival/departure station.

There are four kinds of accommodations available on the Caledonian Sleeper, and prices vary according to the level of comfort you opt for, from the very affordable Seated Coach (a somewhat comfortable seat) to the expensive Caledonian Double (a luxurious double en suite room).

There’s also a lovely dining option on board, the Club Car, where you can try out some Scottish food and drinks specialties.

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

Yes, that’s right, you can travel on the train where Agatha Christie’s most famed murder took place: The Orient Express from London to Istanbul. Unlike when Hercule Poirot was riding this celebrated train, passengers traveling from England must complete the first leg of the journey from London to Paris in the Eurostar via the world’s longest undersea tunnel. After that, they can make themselves extremely comfortable in the refined and beautifully restored 1920s carriages that will take them from Paris to the Middle East.

This particular journey aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express takes eight days and includes multiple stops: in Paris, Budapest, Romania, and Bulgaria before arriving in Istanbul. Other journeys on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express include London to Venice, London to Prague, London to Vienna, among many more itineraries.

Accommodation aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express range from Historic Cabins (bunk sleeping berths) to Grand Suites (double bed), and none them could be qualified as affordable. Those cozy, marquetry-walled private rooms and marble en-suite bathrooms don’t come cheap, but they will leave you in awe.

Needless to say that the cuisine in the exquisite dining car does not disappoint, neither does the bar car and its resident pianist.

Nightjet and EuroNight trains

NightJet train at a train station

Photo: Jesus Fernandez/Shutterstock

Launched in 2016, Nightjet is a branch of the Austrian Federal Railways ÖBB and it’s one that travelers who want to save money by combining transportation and accommodation for the night absolutely love. Actually, NightJet has been so successful that it has partnered with other European railway operators to expand its routes with a service called EuroNight trains. All together Nightjet and EuroNight trains serve 25 cities in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy, Poland, Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Sweden. Check out the map of all current Nightjet and EuroNight routes.

Nightjet trains have three categories of sleeping accommodations, all of which are very affordable: Seating Carriage, Couchette, and Sleeper Cabin, the most comfortable of which is the Sleeper Cabin with its single, double, or triple compartments with individual beds. (Sleeping accommodation on EuroNight trains vary according to railway operators.)

There is no dining car on board Nightjet trains, but snacks and beverages can be purchased on board. Passengers in Couchettes and Sleeper Cabins have some food and drink included in their tickets.

The Santa Claus Express

The Santa Claus Express starts in Finland’s capital, Helsinki, and heads its way north to Lapland. The most important stop is Rovaniemi, the home of Santa Claus (and 63,000 people), where you can visit the man himself and his reindeer at the Santa Village. Rovaniemi is also where the train crosses the Arctic Circle. The final destination of this train route is Kemijärvi, a beautiful and outdoorsy small town. 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.

The Santa Claus Express is a double-decker night train operated by Finland national railway company: VR. The train runs several times daily. The trip takes 11.5 hours if you stop in Rovaniemi and over 13 hours if you go all the way to Kemijärvi.

The journey is very affordable and offers four types of sleeping accommodation, all at a reasonable price: Private compartment for two people; Private compartment for four people; Downstairs Cabin for two people; and Upstairs Cabin for two people (en suite toilet and shower). Cabins feature bunk beds, while Compartments only have seats.

You can preorder your breakfast online during the reservation process. There is a restaurant car on the train where you can purchase a meal, snacks, and drinks. The restaurant car is open until 2 AM and that reopens at 4 AM.

The Arctic Circle Express

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: Nidaros Cathedral. The journey ends in Bodø, and here you can find ferries to the Lofoten Islands. In between Trondheim and Bodø, you’ll cross the Arctic Circle, as well as 293 bridges, and go through 154 tunnels. This is Norway’s longest train journey (over 450 miles), and its most scenic.

Although the journey lasts only 10 hours, if you want to break up the trip, check out Visit Norway’s guide to the best stop along the route of The Arctic Circle Express.

There are three types of sleeping accommodation on this European sleeper train: Standards Seats; Reclining Seats; and Sleeping compartment with two beds (with sink).

The Arctic Circle Express runs twice daily, once during the day and once at night, and can be booked via VY, the national railway company in Norway.

On board, there is a simple bistro car, offering light meals and drinks.

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