around europe by night train
sleeper trains: a different adventure altogether
Warsaw is conveniently close to Berlin and a frequent 6-hour day train brings you to the Polish capital. Once there, you can travel all the way to Prague in the Czech Republic, followed by another night train to Budapest in Hungary. You can even venture further into the Balkans with the Euronight Ister train, which arrives in Bucharest in Romania some 17 hours later. But there your sleeper journey would come to a temporary halt and you would have to make the reverse journey back to Budapest (unless you take an additional 19-hour night train down to Istanbul, which takes you even further away from our loop). This might be an excursion too far and thus many opt instead for Vienna as their next stop. There is a night train to the Austrian capital, bundling along local stops, which means you would be hard-pressed to get any sleep at all, so it might be wise to just take a regular day time connection, which makes the journey in under three hours. In Vienna, the plethora of Austria’s Nightjet services are at your disposal. North to Hamburg? South to Rome? West to Zurich? Travellers are spoilt for choice. Day train Berlin – Warsaw 6 hrs, 5x day www.bahn.de Night 1: Warsaw – Prague 19.20 – 07.56 www.polrail.com/en Night 2: Prague – Budapest 21.56 – 08.35 www.czech-transport.com Day train Budapest – Vienna 3 hrs, +10x day www.thetrainline.com
You can get to the south of France and into the Iberian peninsula by taking a day train from Pairs to Hendaye on the country’s south-western border with Spain, where the night train to Lisbon awaits. A regular day time service from the Portuguese capital travels along the Atlantic coast to Vigo in northern Spain, where the Trenhotel 921 to Barcelona departs. The final leg of this stage is an overnight Intercité de Nuit Couchette back to Paris (Gare du Lyon). Day train Paris – Hendaye 5 hrs, at least 2xday www.sncf.com/en Night 1: Hendaye – Lisbon 18.35 – 07.30 www.thetrainline.comDay train Lisbon – Vigo 6 hrs, several per day www.thetrainline.comNight 2: Vigo – Barcelona 17.55 – 08.49 www.thetrainline.comNight 3: Barcelona – Paris 15.00 – 07.30 www.raileurope.com
The sleeper service from to Venice leaves from Paris' Gare du Lyon. From there, you can either make your way back to Vienna or Munich (once again using the Austrian Nightjets), or you continue even further south to the port of Ancona where a night ferry (which in the summer months metamorphoses into a glorified party boat) drops you off in Croatia’s second city Split. You can board a sleeper to the capital Zagreb, and then connect with another night train to Munich (or Zurich if you have spare cash to burn and crave for some cheese fondue). Night 1 Paris– Venice 19.15 – 09.25 www.thello.com Day train Venice – Ancona 4 – 5 hrs, plenty per day www.thetrainline.comNight ferry Ancona – Split 07.45 – 07.00 www.jadrolinija.hr Night 3: Split – Zagreb 21.52 – 05.48 www.prodaja.hzpp.hr/en/Ticket Night 4: Zagreb – Munich 21.23 – 06.10 www.nightjet.com
Up the Centre: from Munich to Oslo
You might have realised by now, that you could - in theory - connect all these previous sections and do an impressive circumnvaigation of Europe. Such a journey would not come cheap, and it takes at least three weeks of non-stop travel, and quite easily two months if you want to spend a decent amount of time at the respective locations. But in case you would like to finish where this article started out, you can compete this European circle by taking a couple of night trains and one daytime service back to Oslo. Once again, an ÖBB Nightjet, and Swedish Snӓlltåget will take you there. Night 1: Munich - Hamburg 20.50 – 08.36 www.nightjet.comNight 2: Hamburg – Malmo 23.26 – 07.30 www.snalltaget.seDay train: Malmo to Oslo around 7 hrs, plenty a day www.thetrainline.com
Shorter but nonetheless equally adventurous journeys are listed on Inter Rail’s website (see: www.interrail.eu/en/plan-your-trip/trains-europe/night-trains). These are mostly A to B connections, and you might have to make the trip back along the same route to reach your initial point of departure. But they certainly deserve to be mentioned. For instance: The oxymoron-named Hellas Express runs from the Serbian capital Belgrade down to Skopje in North Macedonia and further on to Thessaloniki in Greece. The whole trip takes a cool 16 hours leaving Belgrade at 18.21 and arriving in Greece at 10.21 (see: www.rail.cc/night-train/belgrade-thessaloniki-b335/416). Please note that as of 2019, the Greek leg of the journey (from Gevgelija in North Macedonia to Thessaloniki involves a 2-hour bus journey. But once there, access to several Greek islands is straight forward with multiple links to Crete, the Cyclades, and islands in the north-western Aegean. I would also like to highlight two monumental services, which not only take up a whole night, but parts of the next day as well. The first one is the Euronight Ister, which in a leisurely 17 hours connects Budapest in Hungary with the Romanian capital Bucharest (19.10 – 12.05; see: www.rail.cc/night-train/budapest-bucharest-en-473/120). From Bucharest, a further night train - this time taking at least 19 hour – brings you to the Turkish metropolis of Istanbul (11.00 – 06.20; see: www.rail.cc/night-train/bucharest-istanbul-bosfor/134). And for those spending time in the UK, London offers two night train outfits: The Caledonian Sleeper which connects the capital’s King’s Cross Station with Glasgow and Edinburgh and either Fort William on the West Coast, or Inverness on the eastern side of Scotland (the journey to Fort William takes about 12 hours. See: www.sleeper.scot). Or there is the Night Riviera, connecting London Paddington with the Cornish resort of Penzance (see: www.gwr.com) in a swift 7 ½ hours.
If you go through the cumbersome process of booking tickets individually, these can come at a significant expense, in particular when opting for luxury class. For instance, travelling on the Caledonian sleeper between London and Edinburgh can set you back between 200€ and 350€ depending on the type of accommodation and service. At the slightly cheaper end of the scale the Euronight Ister from Budapest to Bucharest could still set you back around 150€ per person. However, rock bottom prices are offered between Bucharest and Istanbul for about 35€ in a 4-person couchette. But the price of sleeper train tickets become just that little bit more acceptable once you factor in the savings made on hotel accommodation. Still, night trains might be convenient, but most often they are not bargains. This is where Interrail (for European citizens) or Eurail (for non-Europeans) come in. Both services are by and large identical but operate under different websites and apps, so it is crucial to choose the right one. The apps by the way are fantastic tools that provide for a surprisingly seamless process of booking all your train journeys and sleeper tickets. Hats off. Let’s stick with Interrail for now (www.interrail.eu/en/interrail-passes/global-pass): There are four age ranges (Child, Youth 12 – 27, Adult 28 – 59, and Senior 60+). And for each of these age ranges you can choose between first and second class travel. And lastly, you can choose the type of pass. Options include 15 days, 22 days, 2 months, 3 months, four/five/seven days within a month, and 10/15 days within two months. Rather conveniently, night trains only ever take up one day of your allocated allowance. So, if your sleeper train departs on a Thursday night, that is the day of travel, although you might spend most of Friday on that train. Interrail also insists that you reserve all night trains in advance with the price obviously depending on the type of service that you choose (or that is available). For instance, the Nightjet from Vienna to Munich will set you back an additional 15€ for a simple reclining seat, or a further 150€ for a private cabin. At the cheaper end of the scale, additional charges for the night train from Split to Zagreb range from 10€ to 40€. At the budget end of the price range a shorter loop might work best. You can do the ‘Iberian loop’ in five travel days and nights. An Interrail ticket (5 days within one month) for adults aged 28 to 59 would set you back 282€ in second class. Add to this around 250€ for the three sleeper trains, plus meals and additional accommodation when you are not travelling on a train, and you might end up just short of 1000€. Of course, with more money at your disposal, you can stretch out the journey as Interrail allows you a whole month to complete these five travel days. But let us assume for once that you intend to do the whole circle in one go with hardly any breaks (good luck, we will be cheering you on all the way) That would lead you to the one-month ticket, costing 670€ in second and 893€ in first class for someone aged between 28 and 59. The prices for seniors are marginally lower at 603€ and 804€ respectively. But to those under 28, a real bargain reveals itself with charges of 503€/670€. In order to get a bed in a couchette, you might have to add approximately 90€ for every night train journey, plus one night ferry and 13 nights of ‘standard’ accommodation in the places that you come across. This could quickly add up to 3500€ or even 4000€ plus meals and catering. Then again, you would be travelling for one entire month…. Alternatively, you can always take your loved ones on that 2 week, all-inclusive package to Ayia Napa, which I somewhat doubt you are seriously considering since you read this post all the way to the end.