“Life in the Seven Kingdoms is never dull . . .” 

–Jen McConnel, School Library Journal


Is the Night Train the Right Train for You?

If you’ve ever been tempted to travel by sleeper car, this post is for you. Car travel can give you independence, but an adventure by train has an old-school flavor of romance.

Flying Above The Clouds in the Night Train

sunrise from the night train

Magical Village Appears . . . Just Like Brigadoon 🙂

T.S. Eliot’s Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat expresses the feeling of the night train far better than I can. I didn’t see Skimbleshanks on board, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t there.

I keep telling people about the differences between the SNCF night train (French) and the Nightjet (Austrian). 

For both trains, it was surprising how much they changed during the night. I went for a stroll in the morning and discovered that most of the train was gone. Just like airline travel, night train travel requires skills. Lucky for you–I’m here to tell you what they are. 🙂

I remember the kids going on the first plane trip and figuring out the window shades, the bathrooms, the headphones, and reading the emergency cards. (This is why I’m convinced the nine- to twelve-year-olds of the world will save us all.)

A night train is much more like a more comfortable overnight plane trip than a hotel on wheels.

Before I forget, I’ll jot down my impressions here:

French (SNCF) Night Train to Nice

upper bunk on French night train
  • Big pillow

    The SNCF French train had a bigger pillow, and a fascinating sleeping bag with one side a thick quilt and the other a thinner sheet. It seemed odd until we realized that flipping the sleeping bag--quite the trick while you're inside it--gives you either a thin cover or a warm quilt. Your choice. 🙂

  • Charger plug

    The charger was conveniently close, but ringed with a bright orange light. Unfortunately, it was right next to your face. Fortunately, they included eye masks (and earplugs, 2 tissues, a disposable wipe washcloth, and a bottle of water.) The neon strip lights along the tracks outside feel like lightning--maybe because the train is rumbling gently (or less gently). Those eye masks are given to you for a reason. Enjoy them. 🙂

  • Unreliable washrooms?

    There were extra rooms off the main corridor, with sinks to wash in, but our car had no water. The toilet didn't have any either. A sign said the toilet doesn't work in stations or in tunnels. But a Frenchwoman who asked to borrow an extra pillow of ours for the grandma (mais oui!) and told us that the toilets "never work". But the one on the other end of the car did work, so it wasn't terrible.

  • Private compartment

    SNCF trains only allow private compartments for fewer than four people in the First Class. There were four beds in our compartment, but we paid an extra fee and got the whole compartment. All four beds were "made" with water bottles and other accoutrements. Hence our extra pillow.

Austrian (ÖBB) Nightjet to Münich

upper bunk on Austrian night train Nightjet
  • Small pillow

    We were in the Austrian middle class--the couchette (French) or Liegewagon (German)--not in the First Class, so maybe Austrian First Class pillows would be the same as the French First Class pillows. If you find out, you can let us know. 🙂 Instead of SNCF's sleeping bags, we got fleece blankets and a sheet sewn like a bag. We slept on the bottom bunk and propped the middle bunk up on a special extra hook, to have more headroom. The steward showed us how to do it.

  • Steward

    Our elegantly dressed steward brought us tea in the evening and asked whether we wanted coffee or tea (with our fresh rolls and butter) for breakfast. Later on, he also gently reminded the passengers who were laughing--loud and long--that this was a quiet area. Do we all behave slightly better when there's someone watching? I think I do.

  • Beautiful mountain views

    Our train from Genoa to München (Munich) was delayed by about 2 hours in one of the train stations. We were evidently waiting for the other part of our night train, coming from Rome. It was the best thing that could have happened! We saw the sun rise in the beautiful mountains and valleys.

control panel for light, heat, internet in French night train
train route sign Nice Ville
Bumpity Boulevard card with water bottle with Nightjet slogan Dream now, enjoy tomorrow
view from top bunk of French night train
magical train travel

The Night Train is right for us.

luggage loft inside private sleeper cabin on French night train
Genoa main train station

Planning an adventure with the kids?

Everyone have enough to read? (Is there a bedtime story in the house?)

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