Overnight rail journeys take me straight back to my childhood. My dad drove the car onto a vehicle carriage, I snuggled into a bunk bed, and in the morning when I woke up, we were either in the snowy mountains or in the sunshine somewhere in southern Europe. Then, with the onset of cheap flights, that all petered out, and some of the magic of travel was lost.
Luckily now, with sustainable travel as well as slow travel more in the forefront of people’s desires, Europe has revived many of its old overnight train routes, making travel across Europe greener and much less stressful, all the while adding that sprinkle of magic again. There are nearly countless options between the various capitals — depending on comfort levels — that are cheaper than flights and probably faster when you think of getting to and from the airport, the waiting time at either end of the flight, and the flights themselves.
Here are some of the best new European sleeper train routes:
1. Hamburg To Stockholm
I will start with a personal favorite because I spent many nights on a ferry between Travemünde — about an hour’s drive from Hamburg — and Stockholm in my childhood. It was the only non-fly option between my hometown of Hamburg and regular family stays for Swedish summers and winters. Now, I can hop on a SJ EuroNight train at either Hamburg’s main train station or the Altona stop in the city. In fact, the train already comes from Berlin by the time it arrives in Hamburg, making it an even better option for overseas visitors. It connects the German capital with the Swedish one while traversing Denmark at night.
The train leaves Hamburg around 10 p.m. (Berlin around 6 p.m.) and arrives in Stockholm at around 10 a.m. On board, you have various options, depending on your budget, from seating cars to couchettes and private sleeping cabins with en-suite bathrooms and breakfast included. There is no vehicle transport option on this route, but there is a bistro and restaurant carriage — which is in various shapes and sizes — available on all trains.
2. Stuttgart To Croatia
This OBB NightJet journey is so scenic that it is nearly a shame to suggest you’d do it in your sleep. Leaving the southern city of Stuttgart at around 8:30 p.m., the train arrives at various stops along the Croatian coast between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. The train travels through Augsburg, Munich, into Austria via Salzburg, Slovenia via Ljubljana, and then to Croatia, with the final stop in Rijeka. If you wish to detour to Zagreb, there is a local direct train, as well as the very popular and budget-friendly Flixbus option. The additional trip takes around 2 hours.
If you prefer an overnight train directly to Zagreb, then there are options on the EuroNight train from Zurich, Switzerland; Feldkirch, Austria; and also Stuttgart and Munich, Germany. In this case, you can take the connection to the coast from there.
The overnight trains have all the options, from seats to private sleeper cabins, with no vehicle transport option between Stuttgart and Croatia. Between Zurich and Zagreb, however, it is available.
3. Paris To Vienna
Want to connect between two of Europe’s most beautiful capital cities? Try Paris to Vienna overnight. The ÖBB/SNCF NightJet leaves Paris Gare de l’Est on Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday at 7 p.m., arriving in Vienna after a lie-in and breakfast at 10 a.m. You’ll travel via Strasbourg in France, Munich, and Salzburg while having the usual three options of seats, a couchette, or a private sleeping cabin, but without vehicle transport options. If you want to go to Vienna from London, just add on the Eurostar connection between London and Paris and change from Gare du Nord to Gare de l’Est in Paris. Both stations are close together, making it a relatively easy connection.
4. Vienna To Italy
Once you’ve explored Vienna and want to move on, why not opt for the NightJet taking you across the Alps to Italy? The train also runs from Munich, if that is where you find yourself instead of Vienna. Stops along the way include Verona, Milan, Genoa, and La Spezia, from where it is a skip and a jump to Cinque Terre. Or you could stay on board and head to Ancona, a resort on the Adriatic on Italy’s east coast. While La Spezia gives you easy access to Cinque Terre, and places such as Lucca and Pisa, Ancona lies just south of San Marino and is a port city with ferries connecting you to Zadar, Croatia.
5. Prague To Zurich
Czech Railways has recently restaged the previously popular Canopus overnight route, which takes travelers from Prague to Zurich. It has been suspended since 2016. The revived sleeper train leaves Prague at around 6:30 p.m. and takes you through Austria’s Alps with stops in Linz, Salzburg, and Innsbruck. It arrives in Zurich’s city center around 8:30 a.m. in time for breakfast.
This train offers you options of seats, couchettes, and one-, two- and three-person bed cabins with either private washing facilities, or in some cabins, private showers. The deluxe cabins, with private showers and toilets, are no doubt the best. But there are only three of these cabins on board, so make sure you book early. All sleeper options provide a breakfast box with coffee or tea, bread, butter, and jam — basic, but it fills the first hole. The trains also have a bistro car, and if you have a cabin, they offer “room service” — just don’t get too excited over the choices.
6. London To Berlin
One of the most anticipated sleeper train launches in 2023 is the one connecting the hippest two European capitals: London and Berlin. It is a Eurostar connection between London and Brussels on the so-called “Good Night” train via Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Yes, this involves a quick change in Brussels, but it is comfortable and easy. The Eurostar leaves London in the afternoon around 3 p.m., reaching Brussels around 3 hours later. The sleeper train then departs in the early evening around 7:30 p.m., when you can snuggle down and wake up in Berlin. As with all these trains, you have various budget and comfort levels available.
7. Munich To Rome
This is another sleeper train I am hesitant to suggest because the route — across the Alps through Austria and the Italian countryside — is nearly too good to take while sleeping. But maybe you can do one journey asleep and then return during the day? Either way, it is a worthwhile night train. The OBB NightJet once again, it is cheap, easy, comfortable, and saves you not only endless hours at the airport but also money and carbon footprint. Leave Munich after dinner at around 8 p.m. and wake up in Rome at around 9 a.m. with plenty of time to leave your luggage at the hotel before heading out for a pasta and spritz lunch.
More On Sleeper Trains
Please note that many of the modern versions of sleeper trains come without the option of taking your car, which, to be fair, is not so much of a problem for overseas visitors as for Europeans. But it still needs to be taken into consideration if you are on a road trip through Europe.
Please check each individual route. Despite most being run by NightJet, they all have their own guidelines and schedules for vehicle transport, and not all connections run every day.