I took the new sleeper train to Berlin – here’s what it was like

The European Sleeper overnight service isn’t perfect (yet), but it’s a dream come true to go to bed in Amsterdam and wake up in Berlin

James Manning
Written by
James Manning
Content Director, EMEA
European Sleeper train passing through fields at golden hour
Photograph: Shutterstock

Yesterday morning, I woke up on a shiny metal carriage rolling through the suburbs of Berlin. I had gone to bed the night before somewhere just outside Amsterdam. In the eight hours in between, I had (mostly) slept like a baby while the wheels beneath me gobbled up the roughly 400 miles between two of Europe’s most spectacularly entertaining cities.

Let’s backtrack. There was much excitement when, in 2021, a brand-new Dutch company called European Sleeper announced plans for an overnight train between Brussels and Berlin – a route that hadn’t seen sleeper trains in donkey’s years. The announcement was hailed as part of the wider revival of European sleeper trains, after decades when the rise of budget airlines had seen many overnight rail routes mothballed. After a few delays, European Sleeper’s ‘Good Night Train’ finally made its debut on May 25 2023. And just a few days later, I hopped on a Eurostar from London to see what the fuss was about.

I left London bound for Brussels, where there’s an easy change to the European Sleeper service at Bruxelles-Midi/Brussel-Zuid station. A Eurostar train from London to Brussels leaves at 15.04 each day, giving you just over an hour at Brussels to grab a beer, change platforms and board the Berlin sleeper in time for golden hour.

European Sleeper train pulls into the platform at Brussels Midi/Zuid
Photograph: James ManningThe European Sleeper train pulls into the platform at Brussels Midi/Zuid

Alternatively, you could catch a train from London to Amsterdam and catch the Good Night Train there. The last connecting Eurostar service each day arrives in Amsterdam at 16.11, leaving you six hours to kill in the Dutch capital – not a difficult task, when Amsterdam has so many incredible things to do

Either way, once you’re aboard you’ll need to find your sleeping quarters. There are seats (the budget option), couchettes (basic sleeping compartments that you’ll share with five other passengers) and sleeper cabins with one to three comfy beds. For maximum privacy you’ll need to book a whole cabin, otherwise you’ll be assigned roommates – and if you’re happy to share, you may as well go with a cheaper couchette.

European Sleeper bed in cabin
Photograph: James ManningA bed in a European Sleeper cabin, with slippers and towel for use on board

To start with, the Good Night Train’s sleeper cars are original stainless-steel carriages from the 1950s, and although they’ve had at least one hefty refurb, they are showing their age in places. The only outlet to charge your phone is a shaver socket above the corner sink, and on our run at least, the toilets kept shuffling out of service and back in again. Luggage storage is way above your head, accessed via a metal ladder – and you’ll want to watch your head when the heavy metal bunks come down at bedtime. (The company, which is a cooperative funded by small investors, says that it ‘will soon be investing in its own carriages with even more comfort, a modern feel and more privacy options’.)

The couchettes are also very much secondhand, with old Slovakian railway posters on the walls. It’s also worth noting that there’s no dining car for now, just drinks and snacks from the train guards, so eat before you board or bring a train picnic.

Still, the cabin beds are genuinely pretty comfy (if not exactly wide), with plush pillows and duvets. There’s a welcome drink included in your ticket price, plus coffee or tea and a continental breakfast box in the morning. The train staff are charming, with an offbeat hipster vibe that adds to the Accidentally Wes Anderson-ness of the whole experience.

And if the cabin interiors feel slightly like being in a submarine, the views are a lot better: sunset over Dutch fields; the Great Church of Dordrecht whizzing by on the right; glimpses of cities, towns, isolated farmhouses and old red-brick stations.

European Sleeper: the view from bed
Photograph: James ManningThe view from a European Sleeper cabin bed

There’s one more big pro. Arriving in Berlin first thing in the morning, with a whole day’s wanderings ahead of you, doesn’t just feel great – it also saves you a night’s accommodation costs, helping to justify the higher prices you’ll pay for travelling in a more conscious and eco-friendly manner. Tickets are charged per person, not per cabin – so our cabin for two cost €438, but if you travel solo, you can book an entire cabin to yourself from around €200. Toddlers (and pets!) travel for free; children get reduced fares; and Interrail passes will be integrated at some point too.

Also, even though this is the rail equivalent of a red-eye flight, you should arrive feeling pretty well-rested. I’m a fairly decent sleeper, and the noise from the train – not to mention my fellow passengers – hardly woke me at all, even without earplugs.

European Sleeper plans to extend the Berlin route to Prague next year, as well as introducing an overnight train from Amsterdam and Brussels to Barcelona. Meanwhile, a second sleeper-train service to Berlin is in the works, giving future travellers even more options. All in all, I’d recommend the experience to anyone. Even budget-flight diehards should give it a go. After years of sitting around in departure lounges and airless tubes, the novelty of the train ride makes the journey part of the adventure rather than a tedious schlep.

No, this isn’t the quickest way from A(msterdam) to B(erlin) – or the cheapest. But, sipping on hot coffee and gazing out as the lakes and trees of Wannsee flashed by the window, the city just waking up, I felt that surely this is the greatest way to travel.

Read more about why your next trip should be a sleeper-train adventure.

And did you see that for some trips, sleeper trains could be cheaper than flying?

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