What are night trains like?

Night trains can be a smart way to save money and time on your trip. Leave a city in the evening, spend the night on the train and wake up in another city and maybe even another country on the following day. Although many night trains have been withdrawn during the last years, there are still lots of options available, connecting many cities and countries all over Europe.

When travelling on a night train, you first have to choose what kind of accommodation you would like to use. Most night trains offer three different categories: Regular/reclining seats, couchettes and sleeper accommodation.

With an Interrail Pass


Most European night trains are included in the Eurail passes. You’ll just need to reserve and pay for your preferred sleeping accommodation type in addition to your pass.

New in 2019: Taking a night train is now easier than ever. You only need to use a single travel day, no matter what time you arrive the next day.

Find out more about Interrail night trains.

Accommodation options

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Seats/reclining seats: This is the most basic and cheapest category. On most night trains you will find regular coaches which are also used for daytime services. These either offer six (sometimes eight) seats in a compartment or seats in an open-plan layout with seats facing each other as well as airline style arrangements. On many trains these seats can be reclined slightly, the seats in some compartments can even be reclined almost fully so that you can lie down if the compartment isn't full. However, you have to expect to sit during the whole night so travelling in a seat is not that comfortable.
Reclining seats are more comfortable than regular seats as they are specifically built for the use on night trains, however there is only a small number of trains using such seats. You will find them on certain trains in the UK, Spain and France. 
Seats and reclining seats are usually 2nd class. Only a few number of night trains conveys 1st class seating too. Instead you will sometimes find 1st class coaches being classified as 2nd class – this is usually indicated at the entrance doors. With a 2nd class Interrail ticket you can use 2nd class seating (of course), if you want to travel on 1st class seats this is usually possible upon payment of the difference between 2nd and 1st class standard fare – we don't recommend doing this though, better invest your money for a couchette or sleeper reservation. With a 1st class Interrail pass you can use both 2nd and 1st class seats.
Seat reservation is compulsory on many night trains. Detailed information for each individual night train is available at the list of night trains.
As you usually can't lock compartments from the inside, take special care of your luggage: keep all valuables close to your body (get a small pouch to store passport, ticket and cash) and get a small steel cable and padlock to fix your backpack/trolley to the luggage racks.
In compartments you can usually turn off the lights however in many open-plan coaches the lights remain on during the night so take a sleeping mask with you (earplugs are recommended too). Wearing comfortable clothes (jogging pants, sweater) also helps to spend a more comfortable night.

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Couchettes: Couchettes are more expensive than regular seats but since you can lie down are a much more comfortable option. In a couchette you will typically find nine or ten compartments with six berths, three on either side. Most night trains with couchettes offer bookings in either a 4-bed or a 6-bed couchette. A 4-bed couchette offers more space as the two unused berths are folded away to the wall. Night trains in Italy offer 4-bed couchettes only. CNL trains in Germany offer 5-bed couchettes only – the sixth berth is usually folded down too and can be used as luggage rack.
To travel in a couchette, a 2nd class Interrail ticket is enough (you can of course also use a 1st class ticket) but you will need an additional reservation. The price ranges from about 8€ to 40€, depending on the train.
Many couchette cars (especially in central and western Europe) are air-conditioned and have electrical plugs too. In eastern Europe, couchettes are usually still of an older type without air-condition and plugs. Linen and blankets are provided. On some night trains, ladies-only compartments are available. Compartments can be locked from the inside. However it is recommended to store valuables (passport, ticket, cash) close to your body.

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Sleeper: The most comfortable but also most expensive accommodation on a night train are sleeper cars. They usually offer up to twelve compartments with three beds each and a washbasin. Similar to couchette compartments, the beds are mounted to one wall of the compartment and can be folded up if not needed. Some sleepers only offer one/two bed or four bed compartments. The beds have proper mattresses, linen, duvet are provided. Depending on how many persons travel in one compartment, the price varies: cheapest options are called „T4“ and „T3“ (four or three persons in a compartment), „Double“ is a compartment for two and „Single“ is a compartment for one person. Some sleepers have a public shower at the end of the carriage as well as „Deluxe“ compartments with ensuite shower and WC.
To travel in a sleeper, a 2nd class ticket is sufficient to travel at least in a T3 or Double cabin on most connections. Single cabins require a 1st class sometimes. Deluxe accommodation can require a 1st class ticket on certain routes too. You will find detailed lists of available accommodation types and required tickets for each night train at the country information for night trains.

Ticket inspection

When entering a couchette or sleeper coach, usually the attendant of the car waits at the entrance to check your ticket and show you to your compartments. When you enter the train at the departure station you can then get yourself comfortable in the compartment. After the departure, the attendant will return and collect your tickets for inspection by the train conductor – you will get back your tickets the following morning. This happens as the train conductors can change during the journey (for instance if the train crosses a border, a new conductor of the national railway company gets in charge of the train) and have to check tickets again – otherwise they would have to wake you during the night. If you are travelling in a regular seated coach, just enter the train and wait until the conductor comes to check your tickets. 

With an Interrail Pass


When travelling with Interrail you will need to buy an additional reservation to travel in a reclining seat, couchette or sleeper. To travel in a regular seat you sometimes need a reservation too but on many night trains you can also just hop on without a reservation. Details about reservations including costs can be found in the detailed information of each night train.

Find out more about Interrail night trains.

Food and drinks

In sleeper accommodation, a basic breakfast is included in most night trains. Quality and offer can vary: Sometimes you get a coffee or tea and a croissant/roll, sometimes you get a full breakfast with coffee/tea, orange juice, croissant/roll, butter, jam, cheese, ham etc. Almost always included is bottled water.
In couchette accommodation you often get a free bottle of water but breakfast is included only in a few night trains.
On many night trains you are able to buy drinks and snacks from the couchette or sleeping car attendant (also available for passengers in 2nd class). The offer available differs from country to country – water, coffee/tea, beer, chips and chocolate bars are available on most trains while proper (warm) food are available on certain connections only. In some country you can even find restaurant cars.

Safety

In general, travelling on night trains is safe if you consider a few basic safety measures.
Keep the most important valuables close to your body: passport/ID, ticket and cash. Fix your luggage with a steel cable and padlock to the luggage racks. Couchette and sleeper compartments can be locked from the inside, always do that during the night.

Tips

  • Book well in advance. 
  • Wear comfortable clothes, especially when travelling in regular seats: jogging pants and a hoodie are a good idea. Have a change of clothes in an accessible place.
  • Earplugs and eye-mask are essential when travelling in a seat but can also be handy in couchette or sleeper accommodation. You'll get them for free on some night trains and sometimes can also be purchased from the staff, but the safest is to bring them along yourself.
  • Schedule a 'chill day' for your arrival day. This will give you time to recharge, if you did not sleep well on the night train.
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