Are you planning a Euro Trip and wondering how to move efficiently around Europe? Why not to take a night train? There are many options to get from A to B while having your beauty sleep. So what do the European railways offer and how does it feel to be in a sleeping car of a night train? Let me present you my experience from riding the night train Prague – Budapest EN 477 Metropol.
EuroNight = European night train
Europe itself is a little bigger than the USA, so travelling between the cities can be sometimes a lengthy and exhausting exercise. There is always an option to use the budget airlines to travel around Europe. But the low cost airlines are not so low cost anymore. That is when taking a night train may come in handy.
If you want to see what train options are there for travelling around Europe at night, check out here.
My experience with night trains is mostly from the route (Berlin) – Prague – Budapest. The code of the night train is EuroNight EN 477 Metropol and it leaves Prague shortly before midnight and arrives to Budapest around 8.30 in the morning.
Buying a night train ticket
First, you need a ticket, of course. I have always been cross checking both the destination and the departure city railway companies, because (and this is my little travel hack for riding any train in Europe) the whole online ticketing system is interconnected for all the countries and they get just a limited number of seats/beds per category. So if they are sold out for let’s say the Czech Railways, there is a chance there would still be some available from the Hungarian quota.
In that case, it is more advantageous to buy the ticket on a Hungarian website. This of course applies to any other departure and destination country. However, if the online tickets are sold out, you have to go to an international ticket office at a train station and make a reservation there.
There are several travel options that you can choose from: normal wagon, couchette and sleeping car. I have no experience with driving overnight in normal wagon. The downside of it is that you can get easily robbed as there is nobody looking after you when you sleep. Also, insomniac fellow travellers can easily disturb you, as these are usually open space wagons.
I also never took the couchette, but was several times considering it. There are 6 places in one compartment and they are mixed gender.
This article is intended to be mainly about sleeping car of the night trains. When buying ticket, always check that you indicated your gender correctly. You can choose 3-bed, 2-bed or single bed compartment.
If you travel with friends or family, it is possible to share together the room and thus mix genders. However, it is not possible to buy an empty bed to fill up the compartment as the conductor has the right to fill the spot by any traveller, if the place is unoccupied. (I never tried arriving to a night train and asking on the spot if there is bed available, but theoretically, it should work.) So if you travel in a couple, get a 2-bed compartment, which should anyway be cheaper than buying out 3 spaces in a 3-bed one.
How the night train sleeping car looks like
When you board the train, every sleeping car is assigned with its own steward. They usually helped me with my luggage to the train. They can also assist you in finding the correct bed and compartment. When the train leaves, they collect from you the train ticket and if the train is crossing the border and is departing outside of the Schengen area, they take your passport too. For travel from Prague to Budapest, as both the countries are in Schengen, no passport is necessary.
The steward will handle all the ticket controls as the train passes through different countries. So in case of Prague to Budapest night train ride, you collect 3 stamps from the Czech republic, Slovakia and from Hungary. Nobody wakes you up at night to check on you.
You will get your ticket back together with breakfast. Breakfast?!? Yes, part of night train ride is a breakfast, which is very plain – coffee/tea and croissant, but as my granny says: “Better than to get a wire into your eye.” I do not know exactly whether the breakfast is a JLV specialty or whether it is a common service for any night train. So do not get overly excited for it.
The steward also explains you how to lock the compartment and asks when do you want to be woken up and whether you want to have a coffee or tea for breakfast.
Everybody gets his own bed. Your ticket indicates, which bed you are assigned to if you stay in double or triple bed compartment (top, center, bottom). Every bed has a little reading light and storage pocket, where you can put things that you want to have at hand when you wake up in the morning. Also, there is an electric socket (with standard European 220V).
There are also little foldable seats so you do not have to spend the whole day in bed. They come handy when having the breakfast in the morning. The compartments are very small and especially when you share them with 2 other travellers, they can get very crowded. So, pack wisely to be able to easily grab your stuff and set yourself to sleep.
The beds are already made up, so no need to worry about trying to figure out on how to fit the sheets on the bed. There is also a towel and a bottle of water. Nice gift. Here are some pictures of how it actually looks like in the compartment:
I always prefer to take with me a sleeping mask and earplugs. I rarely use them, but you never know, with whom you will be sharing the compartment. Also, do not forget to take some sort of pyjamas with you. I already travelled in the night train with people coming from different countries and you do not want to cause them a cultural shock.
Bring slippers as sometimes the compartments do not have their own shower, but it is in the corridor. If you plan to take a shower in the morning, it may come handy to have slippers too.
The general rule is that the night train compartments once you hand in your ticket to the steward should be closed at all times. There are usually 2 or 3 locks. This is to prevent robbery and to enhance your safety while asleep. So always get familiar with the closing mechanism and the way to enter the compartment if you have to leave it during the night. Some locks have an entrance card, some need a code to be opened. The steward explains everything when you board the night train.
There are special safety rules for driving in tunnels. If your trip is scheduled to go through a tunnel, make sure you read the safety card placed in every compartment, example here:
The steward is there to assist you during the trip, so if you are used to have a cacao before sleep or fancy a beer or late night snack, you should be able to buy it from him.
Before your travel companions fall asleep, make sure you agree with them on the level of heating and whether the light can be switched on or whether you should have just the reading light on not to disturb them, if you are not planning to fall asleep immediately. Especially when taking the night train in winter, heating is crucial to your good sleep.
Morning in the night train
The steward wakes you up in the morning as you indicated when boarding the night train and brings you back your ticket and breakfast.
Depending on your compartment, you would either have a shower inside or in the corridor. If you want to have a shower, make sure you reserve enough time for it as there may be a queue.
What sleeping car am I assigned to
The pictures in the post come from 2 different sleeping wagon types. Are you curious on what will your sleeping wagon look like? When you have your reservation, you already know the wagon number, so based on the order of wagons of a particular nigh train, you are able to see what type of sleeping wagon it will be. I usually look at this webpage for details. If you want to see a 3D virtual tour of a sleeping wagon (lůžkový vůz) and the couchette wagon (lehátkový vůz) operated by JLV on the route Berlin – Prague – Budapest, click here.
If you are an adventurous traveller or just need to get from point A to B, do not hesitate to try taking the night train. I find it incredibly romantic and I always had a very good sleep when taking the night train. You also have the feeling you are getting something for your money. So this is worth a try!
When taking the night train, be respectful to other people sharing the compartment with you. Nobody is interested in loud music or cute cat videos at 3 am in the morning when you feel insomniac. Always use your headset and adjust the volume level too.
Always make sure the door is locked. If the steward needs to talk to you, first check through the peep-hole who is behind the door and only then open. If you leave the compartment, make sure you have the entrance card or code to be able to return.
Already tried taking the night train from Berlin or Prague to Budapest? How was your experience? Ever tried couchette wagon? Do you have any funny stories from taking the night train? Please comment below, I would be very curious to know how other national companies are running the night train service!
First edit: 18/5/2016
Last update: 16/3/2018
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