On the Night Train: How to Jump On Board One of European Travel’s Hottest Trends
Europe is banning short hopper flights in a battle against emissions. The move is sparking a rail revival – and particularly a renaissance of night trains. This is something to celebrate, if you love rail journeys as much as we do.
Not just for the reduction in greenhouse gases; although Eurostar says that flying from London to Paris emits 14 times more CO2 than traveling the same route by train.
But also to renew our acquaintance with the rhythm of the rails and the soothing clackety-clack that can give you (especially with proper beds and premium bedding) some of your best sleeps ever!
You may be torn about night trains, with a fear of missing out on one-of-a-kind vistas famously delivered on some of Europe’s most scenic train routes. But if you think about it, you wouldn’t have seen that scenery if you flew between European cities on your travels, either.
Plus, some new sleeper train routes are long enough for you to get the best of both worlds, with daylight travel time on either end. And you can mix your European odyssey up, planning sleeper trains for some routes and reserving daylight itineraries for the most spectacular.
Another bonus of train travel is that you arrive in the heart of Europe’s city centers, saving yourself the time, hassle and expense of airport transfers.
From start ups that shake up the formula of night trains with sleek, contemporary designs and local gastronomy, to national rail companies developing new offerings specifically for the new boom in sleeper rail travel around Europe, here are some new and upcoming rail journeys that may open your eyes to why you should embrace the European rail renaissance and ask your trusted travel advisor about some of your best options for your next trip.
Vienna – Salzburg – Munich – Paris
Vienna – Genoa and La Spezia onwards to Monaco, Nice, and Cinque Terre
Austria’s national railway is leading the pack in the return of sleeper trains, growing a network of night trains to over two dozen cities in more than a dozen countries on its service called NightJet, which has been around, anticipating the rail revival, since 2016.
Countries connected via this large and growing Austrian sleeper train network include Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland. The overnight Vienna – Paris journey takes about 14 hours.
Until recently, there have been three classes of service in single, double or triple cabins with either a sink or a powder room, or couchettes for four or six passengers and shared facilities, with breakfast for sleeper cabin guests.
In 2023, new trains bring first-class service including charging stations and included wifi, sports equipment storage and private compartments with their own showers and lavatories.
Stockholm – Copenhagen - Hamburg
Sweden’s SJ Trains debuted renewable-energy-powered EuroNight service in 2022 from Stockholm to Hamburg, Germany. In its inaugural season, the train departed at 5:30 p.m. and arrived at 6:30am, passing through Copenhagen en route.
Overnight accommodations range from a seat in a carriage to a bed in a shared couchette to private compartments for two with a sink or a private compartments for three with a shower, toilet and even breakfast. Some compartments are also pet friendly.
Prague to Zurich
Czech national rail company CD launched new sleeper train service between Prague and Zurich via Frankfurt and Basel in late 2022. You can take your pick of deluxe sleeper compartments with private toilets and showers or six-person couchettes for your 14-hour night train to Switzerland.
Brussels – Amsterdam - Berlin
The new Belgian-Dutch ‘social cooperative,’ European Sleeper, launches in spring 2023 with its first route: Brussels to Berlin via Amsterdam, with service extending further east to Prague in the following year.
Rome – Paris/ Split / Istanbul
With the legendary name of Agatha Christie fame, the Orient Express (not to be confused with ultra-luxury Belmond’s Venice-Simplon Orient Express) launches in 2023 with six new trains in Italy offering six scenic itineraries through Italy’s best landscapes - plus three international itineraries through eight countries, linking Rome to Paris, Istanbul and Split, Croatia.
The rail experience is inspired by Italian mid-century glamor, with deluxe cabins, suites and a restaurant with fine dining and award-winning Italian wines.
Paris – Venice / Milan
This French start-up is bringing next-gen, upscale, ultra-modern sleeper cars to 13 European cities from its hub in Paris beginning in 2024, reportedly starting with service to the northern Italian cities of Venice and Milan.
The company says the experience will offer choices of all-private cars with compartments - including facilities - designed for solo travelers, couples or family/ groups traveling together. As the train pulls out of the station in Paris mid-evening, guests can relax in a dining room, bar or even their rooms with room service to enjoy local and seasonal cuisine, craft cocktails, beer and wine.
Following a luxurious night’s sleep embraced by premium bedding, you’ll arrive downtown in cities like Barcelona, Berlin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, Milan, and Venice the next morning.
Eyes Wide Open: New Daytime Trains to Watch
Slovenia – Graz - Budapest
Launched in late 2021, Hungarian Railways’ train itinerary from Ljubljana, Slovenia to Budapest via Graz, Austria leaves at dawn and again later in the morning for an approximately 8-hour scenic daylight rail journey to Hungary.
Milan - Paris
The Italian national train operator's high-speed rail division Frecciarossa launched upscale service between Milan and Paris in late 2021. The new, 7-hour rail journey is both faster and cushier than prior train service between the two destinations, especially if you splurge on the highest class of fares that gets you a plush armchair for your journey.
Madrid - Valencia
France national railway-owned Ouigo debuted high-speed rail service between Madrid and Valencia in late 2022. It has plans to add more Spanish destinations including Cordoba, Seville, Malaga and the Costa del Sol.
Start Your European Trip!
By: Lynn Elmhirst, cruise/ travel journalist and expert.
Image: Artur Sniezhyn / Getty Images
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