The 10 Best European Night Trains
The advantages of traveling by Europe's network of overnight sleeper trains are myriad. You awake in the center of your destination, not some distant, airport, an $80-cab-fare away. You save on a hotel room. And let's not forget the atmosphere and the romance of this fast-fading form of travel.
You can book the itineraries that follow through the individual rail lines, but if you plan to make several train trips, and especially in adjoining countries, simplify your plans by purchasing a Eurail Pass, valid in most of Europe.
Who travels this way? If you're the sort of person who is happy to buy a bottle of wine and some local cheese at the train station to enjoy on-board, stare transfixed out the window at the rolling countryside, or buy a complete stranger a beer in the café car, you will love Europe's night trains. All aboard!
Dovre Railway: Oslo - Trondheim
Oslo's original 1882 train station is now a dining-and-shopping complex attached to the new station, so you can have dinner at leisure, then walk unhurriedly to your 10:46 p.m. train bound for Trondheim, the ancient capital of the Vikings. As the train glides up and over the Dovrefjell mountains on its northbound journey, socialize in the café car, choose something tasty from the menu (shrimp ciabatta, Norwegian stew with smoked ham and root vegetables), have a glass of Trondheim-brewed Hoppy Blonde ale, and put the free wi-fi to good use. Back in your cabin, you'll take comfort in the high-quality mattress, quilt, and pillow, as well as the gentle swaying of the sleeper car as it rolls down the highland tracks. In the morning, just before 7, find yourself among the cobbled alleys and pedestrian shopping streets of one of Scandinavia's prettiest cities, less than a five-minute walk from the doors of Trondheim's Central Station.
The Night Riviera: London – Penzance
Since you've booked a first-class sleeper, avail yourself of the Great Western Railway's VIP lounge at Paddington Station and its complimentary coffee, tea, and snacks. Board the Night Riviera at 11 p.m., stow your luggage in your sleeper, then grab a comfy chair in the lounge car and have a drink to toast your departure. Sleep that night under a snuggly duvet—but not before requesting a wake-up call—and rise to a warm breakfast sandwich and tea. You're in Cornwall now. Out the window, the sun climbs from behind St. Michael's Mount, and the blue-green expanse of the English Channel stretches out before you as your journey ends some eight hours later in the erstwhile pirate lair of Penzance.
Caledonian Sleeper: London - Edinburgh
First-class passengers can use the lounge at London's Euston Station, a comfortable place to relax and wait for your just-before-midnight departure. The lounge car is the place to be as the train pulls out (first-class passengers have priority here). Take a late-night supper of haggis, neeps, and tatties (or, for the less adventurous, maybe some mushroom stroganoff), chosen from a menu that emphasizes the food and bev of Scotland. Or forget the eats and just enjoy a Scottish craft beer or whisky from an emerging brewer or distiller. You could get a standard-class double-berth cabin, but consider instead booking two first-class single sleepers with a communicating door for an even roomier experience. In the morning, take breakfast with your fellow passengers in the lounge or—why not?—ask the steward for breakfast in bed, all the better to savor the creamy Highland porridge with Caithness honey and an Ayrshire bacon roll. After that, the train crew may have to roll you out of your bed and into Edinburgh's Waverley Station.
Santa Claus Express (Helsinki – Rovaniemi)
From the moment you step into Helsinki Central Station, the 1919 Nordic Art Nouveau treasure designed by Eliel Saarinen, you feel as if you're embarking on an adventure—in this case, to (nearly) the top of the world, in Finnish Lapland. As with most overnight trains, you're wise to drop your bags in your sleeper and make for the diner straightaway before the rest of the crowd settles in. Here you'll enjoy hot meals, snacks, and drinks as you watch the passing starlit forests of pine, spruce, and downy birch; lakes; wetlands; and remote northern villages. By now it's midnight as you race toward Rovaniemi (yes, the "official home of Santa Claus," according to someone's hyperactive marketing department). Back in your roomette, pull out the bathroom sink to reveal a hidden shower. Or wait until morning; there's no rush, since you don't arrive until 10:40 a.m.
Berlin Night Express: Berlin - Malmö
You're entering a John Le Carré novel as you board this Swedish-bound train, wondering if each rotund man who accidentally bumps you in the corridor is really George Smiley, super-spy. For a while you contemplate the moonlit farms, fields, and forests of western Pomerania rushing by until you're swayed to sleep. Then something amazing occurs: midway through this 12-hour excursion, the Night Express snakes slowly into the Baltic settlement of Sassnitz, where it rolls aboard a gargantuan Stena Line ferry bound for Trelleborg on the opposite shore. Eat a hot breakfast in the ship's buffet, then return to your sleeper—now set up as a bench seat for comfortable daytime travel—and look to the horizon for the clean-lined circa-1856 Romanesque station at Malmö with its handsome bell tower.
Nightjet Italy: Vienna – Rome
The taxi from your Vienna hotel passes by the Belvedere. You hurry through the Hauptbanhof, wondering if a 14-hour train ride will be simply…too much—until, that is, you enter your gorgeous two-bed deluxe sleeper with en suite WC and shower. A practical toiletries kit is there on your bed, including fresh towels, slippers, and a "small surprise," which might be anything from sweets to a vest-pocket bottle of prosecco. Order room service if you're hungry, maybe a Caesar chicken wrap or some warm goulash, then speak with your car attendant about what you'll have for your complimentary breakfast in the morning, as well as your preferred wake-up time. After you've showered, dressed, and finished your morning meal, you'll arrive at Rome's Termini Station, so refreshed you just may walk the mile distance to your hotel on the Via Veneto.
Swedish State Railways (SJ): Stockholm – Narvik
Entering the grand, Victorian-influenced Central Station in Stockholm is an appropriately auspicious way to kick off a 20-hour journey through Sweden's interior, up to and beyond the Arctic Circle, and ending in Narvik, Norway, wilderness experiences and the midnight sun await. Much of the trip finds you in the region of Norrland, traditionally a place of foreboding in Swedish literature and film (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is partly set here). But the dining car will be cozy, and the menu offers local eats like reindeer stew and mashed potatoes. You'll pass along the shores of Torneträsk, a glacial lake, and tight valleys with steep mountainsides. Afterward, settle down for the night in your first-class cabin with attached shower and WC. Breakfast (expect something along the lines of yogurt, bread, cheese, ham, and juice) is included for first-class passengers. When you begin to catch a glimpse of the fjords in the distance, just as you finish your second cup of coffee, you'll know you're nearing the ancient port of Narvik.
Russian Railways: Moscow – Nice
No other European train route offers such a breadth of sights: castles and villages, Alps and vineyards, across the expanse of eight countries. Over the course of 47 hours and some 2,000 miles, passengers are provided with an encyclopedia of European landscape and architecture outside their windows, on a rail line in use since 1864, primarily by Russian nobility. After ceasing operations at the outbreak of World War I, the line renewed operations in 2010. The dining car features white and gold tablecloths and a broad menu of hot plates, sides, and beverages. VIP luxury sleepers, where you'll spend much of your time, have their own shower and WC, specially trained staff, drinking water, tea, armchair, TV and DVD player, bathrobes, complete toiletries kit, and berths that fold down into upholstered benches for daylight travel. Don't spend all your time in your cabin, though, because oh, the people you'll meet in the bar car. When you arrive in Nice, you may just want to book a return trip on the outbound train.
Thello: Paris – Venice
What's a fitting way to bid Paris adieu? How about gin fizzes in the lounge of the Gare de Lyon's ornate, fin-de-siècle restaurant, Le Train Bleu, which has been serving passengers since 1901. Once on board the train, mere steps away, take command of your double-berth sleeper and stow luggage over the window or above the doorway. Towels and toiletry packs for each passenger are stored in a cupboard, with sink below. The lower bunk folds into a bench seat for daytime travel, and there is a power outlet and reading light for each berth. Departure is at 7 p.m., so you have plenty of time for dinner in the waiter-service restaurant car. Watching the scenery shift between France and Italy is one of the joys of this route, and there's no better time to soak it in than over a breakfast of juice, coffee, and pain au chocolat.
Trenhotel Lusitania (Lisbon – Madrid)
One of the more luxurious night trains still in operation, the Trenhotel leaves Lisbon's Oriente Station (pictured here) at around 10:30 p.m. and arrives in the Spanish capital some nine hours later. In between, first-class passengers revel in the comfort of their two-berth cabins (with WC, shower, plenty of storage, good reading lights, and larger-than-normal beds). The café car is a hub of activity and an excellent place to meet other world travelers in a convivial setting. Back in your room, tuck yourself up in your cozy, comfortable bed. Outside your cabin window, the broad expanse of Spain's arid countryside and its distant villages beneath starry skies are a more effective sleep aid than any tranquilizer your doctor might prescribe. In the morning, say good-bye to your train mates, grab a taxi, and head straight for the 122-year-old Chocolatería San Ginés, the finest place in all Madrid for a breakfast of churros con chocolate.
More European Overnight Sleeper Trains
If you're eager for more alternatives, additional night-rail service can be found on the Eurail site. Some of these lines include such tempting train trips as these:
City Night Line: A broad network of rail lines extending from Amsterdam to Munich, from Cologne to Warsaw, and from Zurich to Berlin. The service, long operated by Germany's Deutsche Bahn, is being taken over by Austrian Railways in 2017, so expect some route changes and possible discontinuations.
Euro Night: The EN services are run as a partnership of various national railways, so the destinations are much broader than the Germany-centric City Night Line service. Some EN trains will be rebranded as Nightjet trains as Deutsche Bahn backs away from overnight service in favor of Austrian Railways. Some current EN routes include Romania to Hungary, Czech Republic to Poland, and Austria to Slovenia.
Intercities du Nuit: These lines, primarily in France, connect Paris, Luxembourg City, and Lyons with the French Alps, the Mediterranean coast, and the Atlantic.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.