Train travel in Europe is experiencing resurgence, thanks to Greta Thunberg encouraging people to fly less. Germany is making long-distance fares cheaper, and there are plans to introduce more night trains across the continent.
If you’re planning on travelling around Europe by rail, night trains are the perfect way to get around. Not only do you get to wake up in a different city or country, but you’re also saving money on accommodation, and getting around in a much more sustainable way. Here are our top tips for travelling across Europe by night train.
There are usually three different kinds of accommodation on sleeper trains.
If you’re looking for comfort and privacy, a sleeper compartment is your best option. These compartments usually come in one, two, three or four berth options and can be privately booked for you and your travel companions. In some trains, the beds convert into seats for travelling during the day, although some of the trains are designed for night travel only (such as Finland’s Santa Claus Express).
Compartments usually come with freshly made-up beds, washbasins and towels, and there will sometimes be an option for a deluxe room with private shower and toilet. If you only book one bed in a sleeper for more than one person, the other beds will be sold to travellers of the same gender. Compartments are the most expensive option.
Couchettes are a more affordable option similar to a hostel. They usually have four or six bunk beds per compartment and can usually be converted into bench seating during the day. The beds in couchettes are more basic, and you usually have to convert the seats into beds and make up the beds yourself. Compartments are usually mixed gender, but some trains offer women-only options. Booking a top bunk can give you more privacy and luggage space but can also be more cramped than the lower beds.
If you’re on a budget, it is possible to book a normal seat on a night train and to try to make yourself comfortable. If the train isn’t fully booked, you could stretch out over several seats, otherwise it’s a similar experience to trying to sleep on an airplane. If you are planning on saving money and choosing this option, invest in earplugs, a sleep mask and a blanket to try to get as much sleep as possible.
Travelling around Europe on night trains in generally seen as being safe. If you feel worried, book a private compartment that you can lock yourself inside. Solo travellers can feel safer by opting for sleeper compartments or couchettes that are shared with people of the same gender. If you’re worried about your luggage, keep your valuables under your pillow and invest in a cable lock to secure your bags to the luggage rack while you sleep.
When to book
Always book in advance to secure the best deals – there are often a limited number of cheaper tickets available, and prices will inflate once these have sold. Most trains in Europe put their tickets on sale between 30 and 120 days in advance – you can check a particular route on Seat 61, an excellent website that provides helpful information on exploring Europe by train.
Pay attention to your route
Be sure that you know your route before boarding the train. Some trains split in the night, with half the cars going to a different destination. The end destination will be stated somewhere in each carriage, and you can always check with a member of staff if unsure. It’s also worth being vigilant when booking your tickets, as some routes may require you to disembark in the middle of the night to change trains.
Emma Lavelle is a UK based writer and photographer and has her own blog Field and Nest.