I was in Czech Republic when I experienced my first sleeper train. I was travelling from Prague to Vienna, Austria. The trip usually takes 4-5 hours by train, but I really didn’t want to commit a half day of my trip just to get from A to B. I therefore decided to take one of the slower night trains, which are also called sleeper trains, and arrive in Vienna in the morning.
I loved my experience on my first sleeper train so much, that they have become my favourite type of train rides. So much so in fact, that I am on one right now to Nice, France, as I write this post.
How sleeper trains work
You usually arrive at the train station between 9pm and midnight, depending on how long your trip is going to be. You will have been assigned a sleeper compartment, and a bed. If you aren’t very familiar with European trains, think about the trains in the Harry Potter films – a narrow hallway along one side of the train leading to individual compartments on the other. These compartments have windows and curtains, doors that lock, and two long seats facing each other.
When the train arrives at the station, the conductor will take your ticket and show you to your sleeper compartment. If you are on an exceptionally long train ride that leaves early in the evening, the seats will still be set up as seats. When it is time to sleep, the tall backrests of the long seats lift up to become a “shelf”. Some backrests will become two “shelves”. These shelves create the beds for the evening.
You will be given pillows and sheets. The beds are relatively comfortable. The train travels pretty slowly so you actually do get a good night’s rest.
In the morning, the conductor himself will wake you up with breakfast about a half hour before your arrival. In my experience, this is coffee, tea, hot chocolate, juice and chocolate filled croissants (Europeans aren’t big on hearty breakfasts).
There are many advantages to taking the sleeper train. Firstly, you wake up in a new city, a new country, or perhaps even a new continent! You can multitask by sleeping and travelling at the same time, instead of committing a half day or more just in transit.
Sleeper trains also save you the cost of sleeping in a hotel or hostel for the night. Plus, you get a bit of breakfast in the morning too.
These really have more to do with your personal lifestyle and habits. Sleeper trains don’t give you 100 % privacy as you will likely have others sleeping in the same compartment as yourself. Also, if you can’t get to sleep unless it is absolutely silent, pitch black, you have 3 pillows, etc., then you may find sleeper trains just aren’t for you. But if you have backpacked before and stayed a night or two in a hostel (and in general, just aren’t too picky), then a sleeper train is definitely the way to go.
Overall, I do love sleeper trains and try to take them when they are offered. They are much more comfortable then trying to sleep on a bus (if you’ve travelled on a student budget, then you’ve tried this one before…) and it is quite exciting to wake up in a new city.
Well, it looks like it’s time for me to head to bed now. See you in Nice!