Seven of the best European sleeper train routes for 2022 and beyond

Europe’s railways are being revolutionised by a new generation of sleeper trains with plush cabins, speedy wi-fi and even handcrafted cocktails. Discover seven of the best new routes for a memorable, sustainable way to explore the continent.

By Stephanie Cavagnaro
Published 6 May 2022, 06:06 BST
Istanbul Grand Suite on board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

Istanbul Grand Suite on board the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

Photograph by Martin Scott Powell

A cry for more environmentally friendly travel is leading to a European sleeper train renaissance. These gilded overnighters once crisscrossed the continent but became nearly extinct with the rise in cheap flights. What remained were mostly luxe locomotives or budget bunks for backpackers. But a raft of new routes — many running on renewable energy — marks an exciting new era of overnight rail travel, with stylish cabins and in-cabin entertainment now par for the course, and luxury operators revamping their offering as well. Riding the red-eye rail is often more peaceful and streamlined, too, allowing travellers to doze off in one city centre and wake in another without long airport queues, liquid limits and lost baggage, while saving on the cost of a hotel room.

1. Amsterdam to Zurich

Nightjet, from Austrian firm ÖBB, has been a catalyst for the sleeper boom since it started rolling out night routes after its launch in 2016. New to its network is a 12-hour overnight route connecting the Netherlands with Switzerland, via Cologne and Frankfurt in Germany. The train also links with the Eurostar in Amsterdam, so those travelling from London can hop on board and snooze their way south. In addition to affordable fares, Nightjet’s accommodation is varied, spanning seating carriages and four-berth couchettes to private en suite sleeper cabins with a Viennese breakfast. Couchette fares from €59.90 (£50). 

2. Paris to Rome

Leap into the lap of luxury on this new route between two of Europe’s most stylish capital cities. Following the expansion of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express in the last two years, Belmond relaunched the train’s Rome route this April after a 14-year hiatus. Guests can board elaborately restored 1920s carriages for a glass of Champagne before tucking into a four-course dinner with cheese board, coffee and petits fours for good measure. The bar car is the next stop for tipples and tunes on the Baby Grand before bed. Private cabins with steward service range from a wood-panelled twin with banquette-turned-berth to a palatial Grand Suite. Twin Cabin from £3,353. 

3. Stockholm to Hamburg

Sweden will feel even closer to the European mainland with SJ’s soon-to-launch sleeper. From September, the SJ EuroNight will be the first daily, year-round night train between Sweden and the rest of the continent. Departing stylish Stockholm around 5.30pm, the train will zip through Malmö, Copenhagen and Odense before arriving the following morning to Hamburg, a port city crossed with canals and fuelled with buzzy cafes. It’s also a sustainable ride: the sleeper will run on 100% renewable energy in Sweden. Choose from seating carriages, six-bed couchettes or cosy sleeper compartments with showers. Second class sleeper from €79.90 (£67.30).

4. Graz to Warsaw

This summer, the existing Vienna-Warsaw Nightjet service will be extended to Austria’s second largest city, set on the fringes of the Alps. Spend time exploring its treasures; climb the forested Schlossberg hill for views over the city’s blushing red rooftops and explore the dizzying mix of medieval, baroque and Renaissance architecture. Departing Graz around dinnertime, the train will call at Ostrava in the Czech Republic and then Krakow before arriving in the Polish capital before 9am. Sustainable travellers can rest easy, as all Nightjets run on electrified lines and use 100% green energy in Austria. Three-bed sleeper from €64.90 (£55) each. 

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express passing through the Brenner Pass, Austria.

Photograph by David Noton Photography

5. Rome to Istanbul

The Orient Express has enjoyed a long luxurious legacy since it sliced across Europe from Paris to Constantinople in 1883. In a murderously exciting comeback, the sleeper is returning to Italy in 2023 with a collection of La Dolce Vita routes, intersecting 14 Italian regions. Two routes will stretch beyond the border to Paris and Split in Croatia, but perhaps the most alluring is the route to Istanbul. This involves an epic overland journey in historic Italian wagons splashed in a bright retro palette; from Rome, the train will stop in Venice before tracing the historic rail route to the peerless Turkish city. After a bed in Rome? The first Orient Express Hotel is set to open in 2024 in a 17th-century palazzo. Fares TBC. 

6. Brussels to Prague

All aboard — a new train is leaving the station this year. European Sleeper is a Dutch-Belgian cooperative launching its first route this summer, which will link Brussels and Prague three times a week. After departing Belgium in the evening, the overnighter will glide through Amsterdam, Berlin and Dresden and arrive 15 hours later in the architectural powerhouse of Prague around 10.30am — leaving plenty of time for a midday Pilsner. A ticket (fares to be announced) will include breakfast, wi-fi and a lie-flat bed. The company has ambitions to introduce a new night train from The Netherlands each year, with Warsaw on the cards for 2023. 

7. Paris to Southern Europe

French start-up Midnight Trains is reimagining the overnight train experience. This affordable ‘hotel on rails’ is set to be a revolutionary ride when it launches in 2024; forget bunking with strangers — travellers will have private compartments in single-, double- or four-bed configurations to share with family or friends. All include en suites, comfy bedding and on-demand films. Opt for room service or slide up to the bar and restaurant for seasonal dishes, craft beers and cocktails. Predicted initial destinations from the company’s Paris hub include Italy and Spain, which will kick-start its ambitious plans to create a network linking the French capital with a dozen major European cities by 2030. 

Published in the June 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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