When you think of sleeper trains, what comes to mind? Is it Murder On The Orient Express opulence with velvet chaise lounges and waiters coming in with silverware? Or is it the train version of sleeping on the airport floor between flights?
Well, the reality is, it varies. But no matter which sleeper train you take, it’ll be an experience. At their core, sleeper trains are the same, a way to lie flat in a bed and sleep through what would normally be a lengthy train trip overnight. While there are loads of bucket list train routes you should take with your eyes open, travelling via sleeper train is sometimes the least boring and most economical choice.
I took my first sleeper train this year on the Bergen to Oslo route. I was able to book it using a Eurail pass, which gives you the ability to hop on and off a multitude of trains across Europe, and now includes a bunch of sleeper trains, too. My train left at 11.30pm, and arrived in Oslo at 6:45am. I slept through the whole thing.
That was my first sleeper train revelation, here are a few more.
You Save Bulk Cash
Travelling gets really expensive, and even if you’ve saved up majorly before your trip, unless you’re a millionaire, your ears probably perk up at “save money”. Because sleeper trains are essentially the red-eye flight version of train travel, you don’t have to pay for accommodation that night – so if the price is right, you’re combining your place to crash with your transport between destinations. This can become a real money-saver if you’re travelling between cities that are quite a distance apart (for example, Mumbai to coastal Goa in India, via the Mandovi Express) or country-hopping in Europe.
Most train stations will also have luggage storage options when you arrive, but it’s worth checking ahead and seeing if your accommodation can store your bags before check-in, since that’s usually free. In Oslo, there was even a deal where I could have a shower and get a buffet breakfast at a nearby hotel, so check if your rail service has additional options like this that’ll make that first day extra chill.
It's Surprisingly Comfortable
There is a caveat here because no two sleeper trains are alike. Some will provide you with fresh sheets and a private cabin; others will be a three-tier bunk bed situation with absolutely zero frills. But for the most part, sleeper carriages are pretty comfortable, actually. I caught the overnight train operated by VY, and booked a 2-bed sleeper carriage. Groups of friends would want to book the six-bed carriage, which is a little less fancy (but between six can work out to be super cheap).
The bed in my two-bed cabin was soft and comfortable, like nice-hostel level. There were also little spaces to slide my phone (and charge it) plus store other bits and pieces. A window with a curtain meant I could check out the scenery, but to be honest, given it was night-time, there wasn’t a lot to see.
Even the less luxurious sleeper trains mean the ability to lie flat and have a snooze, which is more comfortable than even the nicest of plane seats. I snoozed right through until the announcement system gave us the 15-minute call, letting us know we were arriving at Oslo Central.
You Actually Sleep Like A Baby
There’s a reason we were all rocked into sleep as babies, right? This one is probably the most obvious benefit, but to be honest, at first it can be a little overwhelming trying to fall asleep on a moving train. Most sleeper trains are express services, so they can go really fast – it’s a lot more rocking and rolling than you may expect, and if you haven’t experienced that kind of movement before, it can be a bit jarring.
Don’t anticipate the gentle side-to-side train movements you experience on public transport. This is faster and rougher, kind of like plane turbulence. Still, once you get used to the feeling, it does become soothing—I would say it took me under an hour to adjust and fall into a deep sleep.
You Wake Up Refreshed
Once I fell asleep, I was like, ASLEEP. I had a great snooze and woke up refreshed, which is more than I can say for sleeping on planes. It meant that the day I arrived in Oslo, I could immediately get into my day, as opposed to wandering around in a daze and needing a nap by 3pm.
It is worth figuring out a few factors before you book your sleeper train, though. For starters—will you eat dinner before the train, or on it? Does the train you booked have a cafe on board, and if so, when does it shut? You don’t want to be starving on a moving train; that sounds like hell. Secondly, consider what happens when you arrive. How far is it to your accommodation? Check that the trains/buses operating at that time of the morning, as sleeper trains can arrive before metro transport really kicks in. Lastly, pack a smaller bag that has a change of clothes and basic toiletries in it so you can quickly freshen up on board if, like me, you only wake up with fifteen minutes to spare before arrival.
Read on for the best train journeys across Australia.
Image credit: Eurail