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European Trains: Night Trains

Night Trains

Most major European cities that are at least 7 hours apart by rain are connected by night trains. Not only do night trains save you the price of a hotel, they give you mode time to sight see. And some night trains even have hotel-style amenities, such as private bathrooms with showers. We recommend taking night trains whenever possible.

The average European night train will have sleeper cars, which sleep between one and four people; couchettes, which are affordable compartments for four to six people with less-comfortable, but serviceable bunk beds; and airline-style reclining coach sears. True cheapskates can sleep in coach seats on train that offer this option, but because a berth in a six-bunk couchette costs passholders only $32 on most trains, there is no need to give your self a neck cramp. Keep in mind that some trains require that you have a first-class pass to sleep in certain types of cabins. Except in France and Italy, however, there are no first-class couchettes, you can go second class only. Note that we’ve had enough reports about substandard conditions in second-class couchettes in several countries (and theft issues in certain countries) that we recommended you stick to either first-class couchettes or to sleeper cars. Note: Couchettes, except in a few countries (see below), are not gender specific.

Sleepers offer a somewhat more posh travel experience than other train sleeping arrangements: You have a steward to deliver snacks, drinks, and (possibly) a complimentary breakfast to your room. All sleeper cabins also have sinks (and some have bathrooms with showers), while couchette cabins don’t.

Whether you’re travelling in a couchette or sleeper, the compartment you sleep in will start out with benches or sofas during the evening (unless your departure is after 10pm). At some point after dark, an attendant will come by to snap down the bunks and make them up as beds (or give you the necessary equipment to make your own), with sheets included. The attendant will also take your passport if you’re travelling across a border with passport control so there’s no need to wake you for it later (this doesn’t apply at Eastern European borders).

After the bunks are down, everyone’s expected to be quiet. In couchettes, nobody undresses; just stash away your shoes, curl up under the covers, and let the rocking of the train lull you to sleep. (Be sure to cuddle up with your valuables or you may wake up without them!).

The attendant will wake you up in time for your stop, but if you want to have control over your morning, you can bring your own alarm clock. Forget sleeping in: When morning comes around, the attendant will return to the car to turn the bunks back into seats.

All sleeping compartments are supposed to have locks, but with the number of strangers coming in and out of a couchette, you shouldn’t count on the lock to protect your valuables. Lock you bags and chain them to seats or bunks if possible.

Parents concerned about their children’s safety in bunk beds can request “safety nets” on French sleepers at no charge; this webbing prevents the kids from rolling out of bed. Still, if you want complete control over tour environment, get a sleeper rather than couchettes or reserve the entire compartment (note: you will need a ticket for each berth in that case).

Luxury Sleepers

Night Trains

A few luxury sleeper services don’t have couchettes, which mean you either have to settle for a reclining seat or shell out for a bunk in a four berth room. Here’s a selection of some of the best luxury options in Europe:

Elipsos Trenhotel. The bank of the budget traveller, but absolutely perfect for someone looking for a high-end rail travel experience, this super-classy overnight service is available between Madrid and Paris/Loire Valley; Barcelona and Zurich/Milan/Paris. The train has a full restaurant on board and individually air-conditioned sleepers. Opt for the top “Gran Class” and you’ll get all meals and a private bathroom with shower. The minimum passholder fare on those routes during the tourist high season is $26 for a second-class (Tourist Class) reclining seat; to stay in a second-class (Tourist Class) four-bed sleeper; the price runs $117 and climbs to $227 for a single Gran Class cabin. Find out more, check out Elipsos page or directly at Elipsos website.

Artesia Night Train. This train runs between major French and Italian cities, including Paris, Chambery, Dijon, Rome, Milan, Florence, and Venice. Six-person couchettes begin at $36 for passholders. Single sleepers in first class begin at $160 for passholders.

CityNightLine. These trains run various routes through Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Austria. The trains offer deluxe single and double sleeper cabins with private bathrooms and showers, as well as economy six-bed cabins with shared bathrooms and reclining seats. All cabins have electronic locks, and are air-conditioned and non-smoking. Passholders can get a reclining seat reservation staring a $38. A bed in a four-berth sleeper starts at $64 for passholders; double sleepers start at $103 a person. To find out more, check out City Night Line.

Other luxury night trains include Swedish night trains (Oslo-Stockholm/Malmo), Spanish night trains (Madrid-Barcelona/Santiago de Campostela and Barcelona-Malaga/Granada/Seville), the Lusitania Trenhotel (Lisbon-Madrid), and Paris-Germany night trains (Paris to Munich, Hamburg, Berlin or Hannover). For more information, check out RailEurope.

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