A night train in Europe travels from well before midnight (usually after 7 p.m.) until morning, which is generally understood to mean after 6:00 a.m. Passengers do sleep on night trains, whether in sleeper carriages or in their seats.
Night trains usually have sleeper compartments, which should be reserved in advance and which add cost to a Eurail pass or European train ticket, even one for a night train. You can also sleep in a regular seat on a night train at no extra cost. An example of a night train is the popular route from Rome to Munich, which leaves Rome at 9:30 pm and arrives in Munich at 8:30 am.
What's a Sleeper Carriage Like?
A sleeper carriage turns your train into a hostel or hotel, depending on how much money you're willing to splash out. If you book an overnight train while you'll be traveling in Europe, you'll be given the option to upgrade to a couchette or sleeper carriage, where you'll get to lie flat and sleep in a bed overnight, rather than trying to sleep in a seat.
Keep in mind that sleepers aren't separated by gender, so you'll most likely be sharing your compartment with both guys and girls, so it's a smart idea to bring pajamas and change into them in the train bathroom. Or to just sleep in your normal clothes if you don't care.
Privacy is important, so don't worry about your fellow passengers staring at you as you sleep -- your bed will have a curtain you can draw across it so that you have full privacy. The main door to your compartment is also lockable, so random strangers can't access your room while you're sleeping.
You can also buy a sleeper compartment that sleeps two -- a double -- or a sleeper compartment for one -- a single. Singles are very expensive, and not all night trains even offer singles. If you really want your own room on a night train, you may have to buy an entire double sleeper.
Does a Night Train Sleeper Cost More?
An overnight train typically costs more than one that runs in the daytime, and especially if you'll be opting for a sleeper carriage. If you're happy to attempt to sleep upright in a seat, though, you can expect to pay a similar amount to a day train.
On some European trains, you'll have the option to book a couchette instead of a sleeper car. A couchette compartment is basically like a dorm room in a train -- there'll be six or more bunk beds in a compartment, and they're way more affordable than a sleeper carriage, which is the priciest option. Sleeping in a couchette compartment will likely be a minimum of $32 on top of your Eurail pass or single train ticket.
Do Night Trains Save You Money?
It depends how much you value your time because taking an overnight train definitely saves you time. Whether it saves you money depends on where you'll be traveling.
The night train from Rome to Munich leaves Rome's Termini Station at 9:37 p.m. and arrives in Munich's Hauptbahnhof at 8:31 a.m. You've got a whole day in front of you, you're well rested and ready to start exploring.
However, a European hostel can be as low as $10 per night, and as much as $30. If time is more important than money, take the night train and use an overnight sleeper -- if sticking to a budget is paramount, stay in a hostel and travel by day to see the scenery tick by.
Will an Overnight Train Use Two Days on my Train Pass?
According to Eurail, "A travel day is a 24 hour period within which you can travel on trains with your Eurail Pass. It lasts from 12:00 a.m. (midnight) to 11:59 p.m. on the same calendar day. On each travel day, you have access to the train networks where your Eurail Pass is valid."
What this means is that you'll most likely use up two travel days on your overnight journey. The one exception, however, is the 7 p.m. rule.
The 7 p.m. rule means that if you board a train after 7 p.m. and it arrives at your destination before 4 a.m., you'll only use one travel day from your pass. If your train arrives after 4 a.m., your journey will count as two travel days.
Do I Need to Make Reservations?
The simple answer is yes.
While you might be able to find space on an overnight train, the chances of it being a sleeper carriage are pretty low. It's best to head to the train station as soon as you arrive in a city and buy your onward train ticket then -- that way you know you'll be guaranteed a bed on your overnight train when it comes time to leave.
Overnight trains are surprisingly popular because they get you where you need to be without you having to spend money on a night's accommodation. Because of this, even if you're happy to have a seat rather than a bed on your journey, it's best to still reserve in advance.
This article has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff.