European night trains are becoming something of an endangered species, but these 10 overnight sleeper trains are still holding strong on the continent
Night trains are cost effective (passengers save money on a hotel room), environmentally friendly (trains produce far less CO2 per passenger than planes) and one of the most romantic ways to travel between two European capitals. But with high-speed trains having made night trains unnecessary on some routes and hefty track access fees, many night trains are chugging into the red.
Here are 10 of the best night trains in Europe that still operate today:
1. London to Fort William
One of Britain’s best loved trains, the Caledonian Sleeper secured major investment in 2014 and looks safe for now. Rolling out of London under the cover of darkness, passengers can enjoy dinner and a few drams in the dining cart before retiring to their cabin and waking, 804km (500 miles) later, in Fort William, Scotland. Much of the scenery is veiled by night, but watching sunrise over the Highlands is one of life’s great pleasures.
2. Moscow to Nice
A journey through the heart of Europe, the Moscow-Nice train first departed the Russian capital in 1864 and was popular with tsars seeking sun on the Côte d’Azur. The curtain fell on the service during WWI, but the 2,607km (1620 miles) train was revived in 2010. Scything through eight countries – Russia, Belarus, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, Monaco and France – the service leaves Moscow Thursday evening and pulls into Nice 51 hours, and a lot of vodka, later.
3. Paris to Venice
Passengers aboard the Thello have the enviable opportunity to fall asleep in Paris and wake up in Venice, two of Europe’s most romantic cities. As you would expect from a train operating between these heavyweight gastro destinations, the service has a dedicated dining cart serving French and Italian fare. There’s also a short but sweet wine list, naturally.
4. Budapest to Prague
An old faithful amongst inter-railers, this classic overnight service whisks passengers between two of Eastern Europe’s prettiest cities, Budapest and Prague. Rolling out of the Hungarian capital in the early evening, the service arrives in Prague bright and early the next morning. Wipe the sleep from your eyes and do a bit of sunrise sightseeing, before the madding crowd arrives.
5. Trondheim to Oslo
Hop aboard this sleeper service in the dark winter months and Norway’s epic scenery will be completely wasted on you. Jump aboard in summer, however, and the midnight sun will illuminate everything that is great about rural Scandinavia: shimmering lakes, scented pine forests and rugged mountains. The cities bookending this splendid 7-hour train journey are another story.
6. Madrid to Lisbon
Attempting to send passengers back to the golden age of rail travel, the Madrid-Lisbon overnight service, operated by Trenhotel Lusitania, nearly succeeds. Passengers booking into its luxury class cabins can enjoy private showers and marvel at the fact that it still takes less than 11 hours to travel from Madrid to Lisbon by train.
7. Berlin to Malmö
Run during the summer by a private rail operator, the Berlin Night Express links the German capital with the city of Malmö in Sweden. But what about that huge body of water between the two countries called the Baltic Sea? Not a problem. Unusually, the train boards a ferry and travels over water before picking up the rails again in Sweden.
8. Zagreb to Split
Passengers have plenty of time to wine and dine in the Croatian capital before hotfooting it to the Dalmatian Coast on a late-night sleeper train. Wake up early and catch a glimpse of Croatia’s little-explored countryside at sunrise before pulling into the coastal town. The service, which operates between April and October, will see you arrive in Split just in time for breakfast on the seafront. Alternatively, you could catch an early ferry to the popular islands of Brač, Hvar and Šolta.
9. Prague to Krakow
Connecting two of Europe’s biggest party towns, the nightly train from Prague to Krakow slips silently away from the bars and clubs northwards across the vast Czech countryside. While much needed R&R may be the order of the evening, the cosy 4- or 6-berth cabins encourage sociability so you may find the party atmosphere following you along the tracks.
10. Rome to Palermo
Scenically snaking along the laces of Italy’s shoe-shaped peninsular, the 13-hour night train from Rome to Palermo is perhaps the most romantic way to experience the country’s southern region. Slumbering passengers are woken by a gentle thud as the train boards the ferry to cross the Strait of Messina into Sicily – the perfect backdrop for breakfast as the sun rises lazily over the Mediterranean.
This article was updated on 15 May 2018