Europe’s night trains: The pleasures; Germany’s newest; how to book

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Night trains in Europe

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries of hidden europe magazine report for EuroCheapo on the pleasures and value of European night trains:

Do you know Tczew? Perhaps not. It’s an unexciting sort of spot. Poland, top right, more or less. We had never imagined that we might enjoy a leisurely breakfast of caviar, crackers, and coffee at Tczew. Sitting in a Russian railway carriage, which lingered for an hour or two in Tczew. Waiting for a connection perhaps? Who knows. Night trains are like that.

The pleasures of the night train

Night trains are extraordinary. They rattle past factories and canals, disturb the deer that graze at the forest edge in the evening. In the wee small hours of the night, they screech round sharp curves in some foreign town. A listless child stirs in her sleep in a house next to the railway tracks, while last night’s unwashed crockery trembles on the scullery table. And then the train is gone, an emissary from another world, and silence returns to the unnamed town. Night trains get to places that other trains never reach.

Night trains are the stuff of poetry, but they can also be extraordinarily good value. There is something undeniably civilized about being able to sip a good malt whisky in the evening, as the night train from London to the Scottish Highlands weaves its way out through the northern suburbs of the metropolis. Supper on the train and then to bed in crisp clean linen to awake in the morning as the train climbs up onto Rannoch Moor. Book well in advance, choose the right day, and you can even travel from London to the Scottish Highlands for £l9 (yes, that’s less than $40).

Germany’s new night trains

The Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s national rail network, capitalizes on its location bang in the middle of Europe to run the continent’s most extensive network of night train services. Revamped for the 2008 season, the trains are quiet, comfortable and often a great value. Trains head from Copenhagen or Prague to Basel in Switzerland, from Amsterdam to Milan or Vienna, and dozens of other connections across Europe.

The comfort of the night train is a quiet retort to the frenzy of modern air travel. They’re also an antidote to the breakneck speed of the fastest daytime express trains. Why not try one next time you visit Europe?

Booking a night train

“Special fares apply” says the admonition in the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable, a monthly publication that is the bible for all savvy rail travelers in Europe. That might imply hefty surcharges. But no, night trains are often cheaper than daytime services. From Switzerland to Denmark overnight in a couchette from just €49 cannot be matched by any discount airline or day train. Choose carefully, and you can travel overnight between European cities in a comfortable sleeping berth for €69.

Most European night trains use a global price system with one all-in charge covering both the train fare and the fee for on-board accommodation. Holders of Eurail and other passes don’t often secure great advantage. The best value all-in fares that Europeans buy locally may cost little more than the supplements that pass holders must pay to secure a couchette or bed. It’s a market which rewards travelers who book well in advance, committing them to traveling on a specific day. Find out more about German night trains, now marketed under the “City Night Line” banner, at

About the author


About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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6 thoughts on “Europe’s night trains: The pleasures; Germany’s newest; how to book”

  1. Thank you, that is very useful information. I love sleeping on trains, so I think it is a good way to see any country, but my husband may disagree.
    Thanks for your prompt reply.

  2. Kay (above)
    Criss-crossing France by night train is very easy. There are ten ‘relations radiales’ (ie. connecting Paris with the regions) and a similar number of ‘relations transversales’ (connecting two provincial regions). Some of these trains serve a dozen or more stations en route, so the total number of stations served by night trains run to about 170. You can see a map of routes at Note that some services do not run daily.

    The fares for night train journeys in France are not related to distance. Book well in advance and you can get a reclining seat for €20 or a couchette for €35. Occasionally there are special offers that undercut these fares. For example, this summer there has been a €15 one way fare.

    So, fear not, Kay. You don’t labor in vain. There is a very good network of French night trains, most of them running under the Corail Lunéa brand. You can find out more at You could travel overnight from Paris to the Pyrenees and the Basque region, then hop overnight to the Riviera, then go to Alsace, etc, etc.

    Whether spending night after night on trains is a good way to see France is quite another matter.

  3. I’m busily trying to figure out how we can get through all of France using night trains instead of staying overnight in hotels, but I suspect I labor in vain.
    Am bookmarking your site, however, because we’re going to be in France, Benelux, and perhaps Switzerland in the spring.

  4. Thanks for the tips. I’d love to ride that Scottish train, it must be wonderful views. I must check out your links more. On our wish list to go, is just some parts of Europe by train.

    I hope we’ll go some day…. *dreamy look in my face*

  5. Pingback: France Night Train Alert: €15 couchettes through July 14 » Budget Travel Tips - EuroCheapo

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