The renaissance of Europe’s night trains means that travel across the Continent need not rely on flights. Now, thanks to deregulation that has brought more competition and investment in sleeper routes, there is a growing collection of long-distance options that can transport you overnight from hubs in Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam (where you could add a night for a double city break) to further reaches of Europe. Such journeys come at a fraction of the carbon cost of air travel – and without the tedium of baggage reclaim and flight delays.
Here, we suggest 12 European cities that can be reached within 24 hours from London by rail and make for appealing breaks. Each begins with the Eurostar and uses a sleeper train for part of the journey. Tickets are available from raileurope.com or thetrainline.com, unless otherwise indicated.
Leave Paris in the evening and wake up between the sea and the mountains on the Côte d’Azur. Among the highlights of a trip to Nice are its markets, including Cours Saleya. Stall-holders sell fresh food and flowers Tuesday to Sunday, antiques on Mondays, and arts and crafts in the summer. A stroll along the four-mile Promenade des Anglais and a visit to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (€10/£8.70 adults, free for under-18s) might also be included on a city break.
Hôtel Florence Nice is a 10-minute walk to Nice Ville station and serves honey produced from its rooftop beehives. Doubles from €85, hotel-florence-nice.com
Getting there Take the Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord, then cross the city to Paris Gare d’Austerlitz to catch the overnight SNCF Intercités de Nuit train. Departs just after 9pm. Paris to Nice from €58 return in a second-class couchette.
La Ville Rose is the gateway to the Pyrenees. Walking in the city is pleasurable thanks to the ongoing pedestrianisation of its centre: stroll along medieval streets and the banks of the Garonne.
Logis Hôtel Villa du Taur is 20 minutes’ walk from the railway station and sits at the foot of the 11th-century, Unesco-listed Saint Sernin church. Doubles from €154, villadutaur.com.
Getting there Take the Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord, then cross the city to Paris Gare d’Austerlitz to take the overnight SNCF Intercités de Nuit. Departs 9.40pm. Paris to Toulouse from €58 return in a second-class couchette.
After taking the night train to Nice, watch the scenery of the French Riviera flick past over breakfast. The morning train offers glimpses of rocky inlets, coves, and yacht-filled marinas as it wends its way across the French-Italian border to the port city of Genoa.
The Central Hotel Bologna is an eight-minute walk from the station and two minutes to the Palazzo Reale Museum. Doubles from €90, hotelbologna.genova.it.
Getting there Catch the Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord, then cross to Paris Gare d’Austerlitz to take the overnight SNCF Intercités de Nuit train, arriving in Nice just after 9am. Catch the train from Nice Ville at 10.23am, change at Ventimiglia and arrive at Genoa Piazza Principe just after 2pm. Paris to Nice from €58 return; Nice to Genoa €22.
It is possible to reach Barcelona in a day, but it requires checking in at St Pancras before 8am to make the 9.24am train to Paris. The overnight alternative is to leave London in the afternoon and take the sleeper from Paris to Latour de Carol on the French-Spanish border, followed by a local train through the Pyrenees to Barcelona.
Stay five minutes’ walk from Place de Catalunya at the boutique hotel Hostal Grau. Doubles from €124, hostalgrau.com.
Getting there Take the Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord, then cross to Paris Gare d’Austerlitz to take the overnight SNCF Intercités de Nuit train departing just after 9pm. Next, catch the train from Latour de Carol at 10.25am, arriving at Barcelona Sants just before 2pm. Paris to Latour de Carol from €70 return in a second-class couchette; Latour de Carol to Barcelona €12. Book tickets from Latour de Carol to Barcelona at renfe.com.
Roll in to Zagreb mid-morning after a scenic ride along the Sava river on the sleeper from either Stuttgart or Zurich. Croatia’s compact capital is packed with museums, live music and coffee houses.
Stay at Amadria Park Hotel Capital and feast in its grand Art Nouveau and Art Deco restaurant, five minutes’ walk from Ban Jelacic Square. Doubles from £94, capitalzagreb.com
Getting there Take the Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord, then either walk the short distance to Paris Gare de l’Est and take the 3.55pm train to Stuttgart, or cross the French capital and take the 12.22pm train from Paris Gare de Lyon to Zurich – then board the overnight train. Paris to Stuttgart costs from €79.80 return, Paris to Zurich from €58 return. Both Stuttgart and Zurich to Zagreb in a four-berth couchette cost from €118 return.
The launch of the European Sleeper train from Brussels to Berlin earlier this year means it is possible to take the afternoon Eurostar from London to Brussels, change platforms to board the sleeper, and arrive in Berlin the following morning by 7am. The train runs two or three times a week, calling at Antwerp, Rotterdam and Amsterdam.
The Circus Hotel is at the crossroads of the lively Rosenthaler Platz and 10 minutes on tramline M8 from the railway station. Doubles from €75, circus-berlin.de.
Getting there Take the Eurostar to Brussels, then the European Sleeper to Berlin. From €158 return in a six-berth couchette, europeansleeper.eu.
From 25 March 2024, the European Sleeper will continue past Berlin and call at Prague, so you will be able to take the afternoon Eurostar from London to Brussels, change platforms to board the sleeper service and arrive in the Czech capital the following morning. Alternatively, there is a sleeper service from Karlsruhe that you can connect with via Paris.
Stay at Botanique Hotel, around 20 minutes’ walk from the old town. Doubles from €70, hotelbotanique.com.
Getting there Catch the Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord then walk the short distance to Paris Gare de l’Est and take the 5.55pm train arriving in Karlsruhe at 8.25pm. Next, take the sleeper train departing at 11.07pm. Paris to Karlsruhe costs €79.80 return, Karlsruhe to Prague costs from €99.80 return in a six-berth couchette.
For the European Sleeper (from March 2024): catch the Eurostar to Brussels, then the European Sleeper departing Brussels at 7.22pm, arriving at Prague Hlavni 10.56am, see europeansleeper.eu for prices.
Lakeside Lucerne, an hour by train from Zurich, is also a convenient base from which to visit central Switzerland – including the nearby mountains of the Rigi, Pilatus and Stanserhorn. It is possible to reach Lucerne in the day from London on a high-speed TGV-Lyria train from Paris via Basel, but you can opt for the more leisurely overnight journey on the Nightjet sleeper from Amsterdam to Zurich, then enjoy the scenic route passing the lakes to Lucerne.
Stay in the Old Town at Hotel Stern Luzern, a 14th-century townhouse 10 minutes’ walk from the railway station. Doubles from £95, sternluzern.ch.
Getting there Take the Eurostar to Amsterdam to catch the sleeper at 8.28pm, arriving in Zurich at 8.05am, then the 9.35am train from Zurich to Lucerne (£12.84). Eurostar to Amsterdam from £98 return, sleeper from Amsterdam to Zurich from €119 in a four-bed couchette, nightjet.com.
The Hungarian capital can be reached in less than 24 hours thanks to the Kalman Imre sleeper train that travels direct from Stuttgart. Divided by the Danube River (Buda to the west, Pest to the east), the city is filled with Art Nouveau architecture and thermal baths.
Enjoy views of the city at the Rooftop City Residence, six minutes’ walk from Budapest-Keleti railway station. B&B from €68, rooftopcityresidence.com.
Getting there Take the Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord then walk to Paris Gare de l’Est and take the 3.55pm TGV train to Stuttgart. Next, board the overnight Kalman Imre train (departs Stuttgart at 8.30pm). Paris to Stuttgart from €79.80 return; Stuttgart to Budapest in a four-berth couchette from €98 return.
The centre of Slovenia’s capital, car-free for more than 10 years, is a joy to walk round. A castle dating to the 12th century overlooks the city and can be reached on foot or by funicular railway.
Stay at B&B Hotel Ljubljana Park, certified by Slovenia’s green ecolabel, a 10-minute walk from the railway station. Doubles from £77, hotel-bb.com.
Getting there Take the Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord then walk the short distance to Paris Gare de l’Est and take the 3.55pm train to Stuttgart, from where you catch the overnight Lisinski train leaving Stuttgart at 20.29pm. Paris to Stuttgart costs from £79.80 return, Stuttgart to Ljubljana from €98 return in a four-berth couchette.
In the birthplace of Mozart, a city dominated by the eastern Alps, make the most of walks out to the mountains to enjoy views of the historic district, the River Salzach and countryside.
Green Hotel zur Post offers doubles from €79 and breakfast on the terrace, hotelzurpost.info.
Getting there Take the Eurostar to Brussels Midi, then the overnight Nightjet (which departs three times a week) leaving Brussels Midi around 7pm. Tickets from €99.80 return at nightjet.com.
Vienna’s city centre is home to architectural landmarks including St Stephen’s Cathedral and the grand Imperial Palace.
Stay at the oasis of Boutiquehotel Stadthalle (15 minutes by tram 18 from the station). It generates as much energy, via its groundwater heat pump and solar, as it consumes. Doubles from €128, with a 10 per cent discount for arrivals by train, hthotelstadthalle.at.
Getting there Take the Eurostar to Brussels Midi, then the Nightjet (which departs three times a week) leaving Brussels Midi just after 7pm. Tickets from €99.80 return, nightjet.com.
Richard Hammond is the editor of greentraveller.co.uk and author of The Green Traveller (Pavilion Books, £18.99)