Night train trepidation

My wife and I will be traveling via train in April and early May 2013, stopping for several days in the cities of Hamburg, Berlin, Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Munich and Frankfurt (not necessarily in that order). I'd like to go via night train during one or more legs--perhaps the Berlin-Prague and/or Prague-Budapest segments of the trip. We've traveled by train on several prior trips in first and second class (Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and Italy) sometimes relatively late in the evening, but never on a "sleeper"/night train. During one of our later evening jaunts, we were on a train at Gare du Nord next to a night train. My wife took one look at the cabin in the night train next to us and formed an image that traveling this way can be pretty "communal". That is to say, you're sleeping (or trying to sleep) with anyone that shows up in the cabin with you, and you probably share a sink and toilet with everyone else on the car. I have to admit, the scene wasn't a particularly "wish I was there" moment. Optimist that I am, I'm assuming there is some type "private" cabin a couple can reserve on a night train, hopefully with a private lavatory and toilet. Is this so? I Hope my assumption is correct as I'll not get her on a night train otherwise. If such a cabin is available, how far in advance does one have to make a reservation? As we will be purchasing a multi-country pass, is such a compartment an add-on that can be purchased on Rick's site-or must the reservation be made in Europe?

Posted by Adam
Boston
2633 posts

You have, generally, the right ideas about couchettes in a shared compartment versus a private compartment. Private compartments are not always offered, and amenities offered vary e.g. you may get a sink but no toilet. Of the two routes you are considering, Berlin-Prague is only about 5 hours, so you really would be sleep deprived the next day even were you to fall right to sleep and stay that way the whole trip. Prague-Budapest is 8-1/2 hours.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2702 posts

Hi, For Berlin-Prague I suggest taking the early day train from Berlin since the ride is 4+ hrs. You'll be in Prague by the early afternoon. You could do Berlin-Vienna night. Of the cities you listed, I've done 2 routes by night train, Hamburg-Munich on the CNL, Frankfurt-Vienna on an EC. Lots of people take night trains, tourists and locals. They do sell out, particularily on week-ends. Having a Pass still means that you have to reserve on a night train, even for a seat in a six seat compartment, ie., the sleeper and couchette are extra.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

have a look at the man in seat 61's descriptions. I've now ridden my last night train. If you search around this helpline (use the search button at the top of the page) you will find plenty of previous discussions about night train sleepers

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2393 posts

The above comments are pretty accurate. What your wife saw before was a couchette that can bunk 4-6 people. Usually those couchettes are bi-gender though you can book single-gender cabins. I've taken a lot of night trains, mostly couchettes and never had an issue with my bunk mates. Met some nice people even. But it's not for everyone. A private cabin offers most of the privacy you desire but comes at a higher cost and usually get reserved far in advance. You can reserve them online. Most people do not sleep well on night trains. The beds are not large or comfy, the ride can be jarring, starts and stops along the way might wake you, noise from the hall, stations or other sources can be distracting. Private cabins do nothing to eliminate those issues. If you are light sleepers or the grumpy type when you don't get enough sleep, re-think your plan. Usual disclaimer about it costing more to buy passes than buy single tickets in advance, especially if you know well ahead what your schedule will be.

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6840 posts

The Deluxe sleepers on the City Nightline trains are amazing! You get your own shower/toilet/sink, table/chairs, cabinets for your gear, and the beds are configured so you can see the scenery go by while horizontal. They are very modern and clean. It was very comfortable beds were big, and I got a good night sleep: http://citynightline.ch

Posted by Monte
Genesee, ID
1376 posts

We have taken four night trains and I didn't like any of them. One, a first class, in Czech Republic had a sink. None had a private toilet. One, a third class, had squat toilets. One was ninteen and a half hours long, in a four place cabin but we were the only ones in it. The conductor opened it up to new passengers after we had rolled up the bedding and had breakfast. Don't assume there will be dining facilities, although there may be. I suppose if you are young and adventurous it might be interesting, but for me the novelty wore off about an hour into the first night train experience. That was when I found myself staring down into a squat toilet watching the railroad ties whizzing past. Pun intended.

Posted by JB
Redding, CA, USA
1568 posts

We took a night train from Paris to Zurich several years ago and was not impressed. Had to keep the window open because no A/C. We were not impressed and will not take another one.

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
1970 posts

Before the TGV existed, when we lived in France we often took second-class couchettes in night trains from point A to point B because the day trains were just as slow. At least er could lie down on some of those long trips that stopped everywhere. That was in the 1970s. I always came down with a cold from sleeping in those old compartments with the dusty heating systems or open windows. Six people, mostly strangers, had to compromise on temperatures and wind blowing in. We got some sort of sheet and maybe a blanket (don't remember) on a padded plank and had to use a sweater as a pillow. For the lowest bunk, the plank was the one everyone sat on during the day, the middle bunk was the seat backrest during the day, and the top bunk was relatively untouched during the day. My husband never slept a wink. First class Wagon-Lits had the comfy beds with sheets, blankets, pillows, and passengers actually changed into nightclothes. In second class, everyone slept in their clothes. If you are a train buff, you'll have to try it. You'll probably have to spring for first class, at least for your wife.

Posted by jeff
naches, wa, usa
182 posts

i have taken four or five night trains. only first class in my own room. one trip from frankfurt to genoa i had to use the communal shower. all others i had the shower and full bathroom. small as it is. really an engineering marvel. with the communal, it was clean and well done but i was the first one in at around 5 in the morning. otherwise i have had exceptional lodging and meals going from barcelona to granada, munich to rome and prague to amsterdam. the spanish hotel trains are just amazing and all of the german trains are on the button as you would expect. i always figure it is the train travel plus a night at a hotel or b&b. splurge. be safe. eat well. and arrive rested and ready to go. have fun, be safe. jeff