Sleeping pods and cocktail bars: Europe's night trains aim to lure more solo travelers

Europe's night train operators are aiming to make rail travel so much more enjoyable for passengers than simply getting from A to B.

Sleeping pods and cocktail bars: Europe's night trains aim to lure more solo travelers
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Night train operators in Europe are stepping up their game to compete with short-haul airlines by introducing exciting new additions like cocktail bars, private showers and restaurant-quality menus. However, one operator is taking it a step further by introducing sleeping pods that cater specifically to solo travelers in need of complete privacy and a good night's sleep.

The allure of a sleeper train lies in the anticipation of waking up in a new city, refreshed after being lulled into a restful night's sleep by the rhythm of the train and the changing landscape. However, night trains aren't always as comfortable as you'd expect, so the reality is often far less romantic. Especially if you're traveling solo and sharing your space with another person. There are some inconveniences that a sleep mask and ear plugs simply can't fix.

the legendary Venice Simplon Orient Express is ready to depart from Ruse Railway station
The revamped Orient Express is all about the journey rather than the destination with luxury private cabins and dining cars © Shutterstock / Roberto Sorin

Europe's trains add hotel-like amenities 

Recognizing this, night train operators across Europe are continuously expanding their offerings to enhance passenger experiences. In the UK, for instance, the Caledonian Sleeper train has undergone a complete revamp, featuring double bed or bunk bed cabins designed by Scottish interior designer Ian Smith. These cabins provide all the amenities and comforts of a hotel room, including WiFi, room service, and en-suite bathrooms in the pricier cabins.

On the luxury end, the soon-to-be-revived Venice Simplon-Orient-Express will transport passengers from Paris to the French Alps from 2024 in Art-Deco cabins reminiscent of an Agatha Christie novel with marble en-suites and jewel-toned velvet furnishings. To add to the opulence, there's a cocktail bar onboard that will host nightly live jazz performances. Then in 2025, a new rail operator, Midnight Trains, will debut as a "hotel-on-wheels," offering private rooms with en-suite showers for customers departing from its Paris hub to cities like Barcelona, Milan and eventually Copenhagen. Passengers can mingle and enjoy meals made with seasonal ingredients in the dimly-lit restaurant carriage or order room service to their private cabins. 

Privacy and comfort like this come with a hefty price tag and while Midnight Trains have yet to reveal their fares, a ticket for the Orient Express can cost thousands (approximately $3,600 per person) and a ticket for a private room with en-suite in the Caledonian Sleeper will set you back about $430 one way.

A collage image. The pic on the left shows the inside of a single-person sleeping pod on a night train. The second pic shows a woman curled up in a blanket on the bed in the sleeping pod.
The Mini Cabins are compact but fitted with basic amenities that provide privacy and comfort © ÖBB / Harald Eisenberger

A new budget-friendly fleet launches 

However, a more immediate and arguably more affordable upgrade is on the cards and it comes from Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB), the largest sleeper train operator in Europe. Next month it will debut a new fleet of trains for its 'Nightjet' service, which connects Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. The new generation of carriages will feature a sleek and stylish range of compartments notably featuring mini cabins designed exclusively for solo travelers. This is an exciting development, considering that solo cabins are notably lacking from other operators offering budget-friendly options. Individuals traveling alone often face the inconvenience and expense of booking an entire two- or four-person compartment to secure privacy.

To cater to the needs of solo travelers, each Nightjet mini cabin is equipped with essential amenities such as a reading light, power outlets, and free WiFi. There's also an adjustable table for use as a workspace, along with storage lockers for hand luggage and shoes. While the compact space does not include a private bathroom (unless splurging on the Single Plus option), shared toilets and washroom facilities are conveniently located at the end of the corridor.

Collage of two images. The first shows a bunk-bed cabin on a night train. The second image shows a four-person bunk-bed room with four young people chatting across their beds.
The Nightjet features a range of accommodation options including a two-person Comfort Plus cabin and the four-person couchette © ÖBB / Harald Eisenberger

The Nightjet upgrade benefits not only solo travelers but also larger groups or families. It offers four-bed couchettes or family rooms, including wheelchair-accessible and female-only options. These can be shared with fellow passengers or exclusively booked for your own family or group. Traveling with a companion? There are two-person options as well. The Comfort option offers a two-bed room with a washroom and retractable shower hose, while the Comfort Plus provides a slightly more spacious two-bed cabin with an en-suite bathroom and separate shower cubicle. Both options include the convenience of room service.

Austria's minister for Climate Action, Leonore Gewessler, emphasizes that expanding Europe's train network contributes to climate protection. "This is particularly true for night trains," she said in a statement. "Boarding in Vienna in the evening and waking up refreshed in another European metropolis the next morning. This will be even easier and more comfortable in the future. This makes it clear that the future of short and medium-haul travel belongs to the train." 

The first Nightjet service with the new fleet runs from December 10 from Vienna to Hamburg and to the Alpine resort of Innsbruck, just in time for winter ski season, before they're rolled out across other routes in Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland.

How to book tickets on Nightjet's new service 

Tickets are on sale now and on average, you can expect to pay around €58.20 for a bed in a couchette, from €99 for a bed in a double room, from €159 for a private mini cabin or from €198 to include a private shower. 

For families or small groups, there is an option to book a whole private four-berth couchette compartment at a flat rate of approximately €199.

If you're looking for the most affordable option, fares start at €29.20 for an overnight seat. Keep in mind that prices may fluctuate, so it's advisable to check for the most up-to-date fares when making your reservation.

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