Goodbye Flygskam! Sleepers For A New Era of Train

Nick Nomi

Senior Contributor

Connecting capitals across the continent with cinematic views that cascade from busy inner cities to stunning mountain vistas. Crossing invisible borders accompanied by the scent of regional cuisine and the sound of steel against steel echoing long into the night, before travelling into the busy morning traffic of another city, all while sleeping (well, not entirely). Whether developing a feeling of flygskam (or flight shame), pursuing a more leisurely mode of travel or simply because train travel is fabulous, these are some of Europe’s newest sleeper train routes for travelling green and shame-free in 2021 and beyond.

Brussels To Vienna

Using the central European location to their advantage, Austria and more specifically ÖBB is quickly positioning itself as the night train hub of Europe. And by 2022, ÖBB plans to enhance its 27 overnight services with all new cars, that along with the usual (but enhanced) en-suite sleeper cabins, come with futuristic ‘mini-suite’ pods for couchettes, that close for added privacy, finally bringing European night train travel into the 21st century (and by 2024 — to Paris!). 

The latest addition (in service as of writing) for 2020 is the Brussels to Vienna route, newly resumed (after a 17-year hiatus), running in either direction and arriving early enough for morning meetings, if one intends to travel for work. 

But what makes the proposition most interesting is that Londoners and the Viennese can now travel, with ease, directly between London and Vienna with just one change. From London, simply take the Eurostar to Brussels and after an afternoon of gorging oneself on the sights and chocolates of the European capital, board the sleeper in the evening to arrive in elegant Vienna in time for a morning coffee in the city’s “public living rooms” — its grand cafes.

It’s this kind of convenience that’s at the centre of train travel. Apart from the obvious benefits to climate and as a replacement for air travel in trying times, the sleeper train offers so much that short-haul flights just cannot compete with: a chance to slow down, admire the scenery from the window, inhale the timeless romance of the railways, and travel directly to, and from, the centres of major cities, while, and this is crucial, avoiding Heathrow.

France’s Blue Train

The legendary Blue Train was suspended in 2017, but as of 2020, is due to make a comeback. Although it hasn’t been called the Blue Train for years, the route is more or less the same, once again linking the great cities of Paris and Nice with an overnight sleeper route, thanks to a promise made by President Macron to revitalise France’s railways. And while it will be interesting to see what the promised renaissance of French night trains will bring, the wait to travel overnight to the riviera will be a long one, as the revitalised service isn’t due to make an appearance until 2022 (with quite a few more: see below). Until then, travellers can utilise the efficient but much less romantic high-speed day trains.

The Yellow Train From Prague via Ljubljana to Rijeka

The initial launch of the Regio Jet Prague to Rijeka route in June 2020 was so successful that by July the service increased from 3 times a week to daily. The Czech have embraced the service as a convenient, safe route into Croatia (one usually travelled by car) and as such the service has flourished and will return for the 2021 summer season in May, a little earlier than planned.

Births have simple seat and bed options, some in silent cars, and while it’s not the most glamorous or modern option, the journey from Prague into the greenery of Slovakia and Hungary, the stunning Disney-like vibrancy of the Slovenian countryside and to the dramatic northern coast of Croatia (a good spot to connect to a private yacht) makes it more than worthwhile.

Amsterdam to Vienna via Munich and Innsbruck

The Nightjet sleeper from Dusseldorf to Munich, Innsbruck & Vienna was scheduled to add daily connections to Amsterdam in December 2020, but due to travel restrictions, has been pushed back to 2021. But the route is a glorious one, cutting an arterial sleeper route through the very heart of Germany, the train dividing at Nuremberg — one way to Munich and the other over the border into Austria, passing darkened mountains and fields full of sunny Rapeseed on their way. And while the Nightjets don’t have the luxury appeal of the Simplon and others, slow travel lovers, and anyone watching their carbon footprint will be thankful for ÖBB’s current cars, that are some of the most modern night trains in Europe — with spacious double suites and en suite showers as well as double beds available on some routes. 

The Future: Malmo — London

Sweden looks set to follow along the rails of Austria’s grand achievements, with ambitious plans to link Malmo to Brussels by 2022, thereby creating an overnight route to an exciting itinerary of European destinations such as to London via the Eurostar in time for lunch (it currently takes 48 hours by land). As of writing, it’s all a little vague, with various issues to overcome before launch, but if all goes to plan, trains will link Malmo, Gothenburg, Copenhagen and more to Brussels, London and beyond, ushering in a new era of night trains in Europe.

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