Moules in Brussels, pastries in Prague: a break on European Sleeper’s night train

Despite the maxim, the magic of travel is rooted in both the journey and destination. And so, 10 months after European Sleeper launched its first service from Brussels to Berlin, the overnight “Good Night Train” service has been extended some 175 miles (280km) from the German capital to Prague via Dresden, connecting four European capitals from end to end.

Leaving Brussels on Monday evening, the inaugural extended service reached Prague on Tuesday. I board it for its first return journey, leaving the Czech capital at 6.04pm that evening, stopping at Dresden, Berlin, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Antwerp before rolling in to the centre of Brussels on time, just before 9.30am on Wednesday, some 15 and-a-half hours later.

European Sleeper launched its first service from Brussels to Berlin in May 2023 (Photo: Ksenia Kuleshova/Bloomberg via Getty Images
European Sleeper launched its first service from Brussels to Berlin in May 2023 (Photo: Ksenia Kuleshova/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Connecting from the Eurostar service to Brussels, it means British travellers can have lunch in London, moules-frites in Brussels, and wake up for pastries in Prague, with just one platform change between.

Running three times a week, the extended service reflects increasing demand for train travel as an alternative to flights, which emit around three times more CO2.

The Prague extension also brings an upgrade to the European Sleeper experience, as newly refurbished carriages phase out older, often temperamental and non-air conditioned carriages that are being gradually removed from service until the end of the year.

Passengers can choose between seats (from €49), standard compartments with six couchettes (from €79), comfort compartments with five couchettes (from €99), and sleeper compartments for one, two or three people (from €109), all of which can be booked as private compartments.

The newer stock mean that previous issues with the service, such as inconsistent electricity supply in the compartments and a lack of air-conditioning, are being rectified. However, don’t expect Wi-Fi anytime soon. Costing around £10,000 per carriage to install, it is prohibitively expensive.

Rolling stock for the Good Night Train is being upgraded (Photo: Ksenia Kuleshova/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Rolling stock for the Good Night Train is being upgraded (Photo: Ksenia Kuleshova/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The company is also yet to acquire carriages that allow access for non-foldable wheelchairs. European Sleeper’s co-founder Chris Engelsman explained, “we would rather have them but there just aren’t the carriages available.”

Still, the extension represents an important step forward for the privately-funded, open-access co-operative, which Engelsman launched in 2021 with co-founder Elmer Van Buuren. Despite its start-up status (it only has 15 employees and is yet to break even), there are plans to extend the service to Barcelona in 2026, and further beyond in Europe too.

“Sales for the Brussels to Berlin route were reasonable, certainly for the first year, and summer was very good. But we knew the East to West connection was missing,” he tells i. “The Czech Republic, specifically Prague, is very valuable as a tourist destination, so we expect high demand for this route.”

A couple of days in Prague proves why it’s worth the route investment, and the time investment for passengers.

On a sunny spring day, the former heart of Bohemia, Prague Castle, shows itself to be intricately gorgeous in a way that one shouldn’t dare to expect from the largest ancient castle complex in the world. Gazing upon the city centre from the Old Town Hall’s tower above the Astronomical Clock, down to the depths of the nuclear bunker-turned-spy facility discovered under Hotel Jalta (now the Cold War Museum), Prague is undeniably enchanting.

Art Nouveau features in Prague's train station (Photo: Pete Rowbottom/Getty Images)
Art Nouveau features in Prague’s train station (Photo: Pete Rowbottom/Getty Images)

I head east to the city’s main train station, with its Art Nouveau motifs and statues representing Czech cities, to board the sleeper train. I am in a comfort-level couchette, shared with two rather than four other people. I love the convenience of hopping from city centre to city centre without military-level logistics at unsocial hours. I revel in reading more of Lessons in Chemistry than I have in the last two months.

But do I get a good night’s sleep on the Good Night train? Not quite. I sleep decently between the last train announcement around midnight and the first at 6.45am – not as long as I’d have liked, but I at least get enough shut-eye for a day of beer tasting in Brussels, before returning to London for 9pm.

Other passengers also accept that sleep is a compromise for catching the train. Ine Dejong, 35, from Ghent in Belgium is returning from a weekend break in Berlin. “I’m not a big fan of flying – both because I don’t enjoy it, and also for ethical reasons. So even without great sleep, I much prefer catching a night train to flying,” she tells me.

Breakfast on board the Good Night Train service (Photo: Ksenia Kuleshova/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Breakfast on board the Good Night Train service (Photo: Ksenia Kuleshova/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

In another carriage, Win van Wambeke, 57, shares a similar sentiment. Co-incidentally, he is also returning from a long weekend in to Berlin from Ghent. A fan of slow travel, he gets sick when he travels by air. “My soul doesn’t travel that fast,” he explains.

This is his first time on a sleeper train for years, though he has taken overnight ferries and had planned an epic Trans-Siberian Railway trip before global events put that to a stop. “I’m romantic about the idea of travelling by night train, and I’d like to do more of it. My only disappointment here was that they sent me an email on the day of our travel downgrading our compartment. We had booked a private sleeper, but we had to share with another two people instead.”

The extended European Sleeper route connects four capital cities
The extended European Sleeper route connects four capital cities

Others on the train have different motivations. Jakub lives in Prague but works in Brussels, so the extended route is a dream for him. “It’s good value for money for me, especially as I booked it while it was cheap. I also save on hotel costs,” he says.

The service is cheaper than other European counterparts – such as the 16-hour sleeper train from Berlin to Stockholm, which costs Skr1,499 (£112) for a berth in a shared compartment, rather than €79 for 15.5 hours on the European Sleeper.

Start or end the journey in Brussels (Photo: Sylvain SONNET/Getty Images)
Start or end the journey in Brussels (Photo: Sylvain SONNET/Getty Images)

However, less than a year in operation, European Sleeper hasn’t yet landed on its long-term pricing structure. “Right now, we want this to be an attractive product for a broad audience,” says Engelsman. “We also have a very high capacity on the train, with 15 coaches, so there are price breaks with that.”

As it stands, for those seeking another perspective on European travel, the extended European Sleeper proves to be a very doable proposition. And given its green credentials, it’s one that’s on the right tracks.

European Sleeper tickets between Brussels and Prague on the Good Night Train start at €49pp.