Sleeper trains

"Soft" sleeper on the BeijingLhasa train.
Couchette of the Trans-Siberian railway.

Sleeper trains combine travelling with a place to sleep. Before the breakthrough of air travel, sleeper trains were the preferred way of travelling long distances overland. A few trains, including an "Orient Express" which formerly ran from Paris to Istanbul, became famous through film and literature. Both the rise of aviation (now cheaper than many long train journeys) and high speed trains (slashing travel times) as well as financial concerns on the part of the operators have made sleeper services disappear.

A few new sleeper services have been introduced for leisure travellers in recent years. These offer a level of comfort and sightseeing not possible while flying. Tourist railways may bring them back for nostalgia. In some cases, they may also be the cheapest or only way to reach certain places.


Sleeper trains often have different categories of accommodation. The exact details vary from train to train, but will typically be one or more of the following, at different prices:

On many trains – especially those that run more than one night – cabins have a "day" and "night" mode with bed either converted to seating or folded away in the day mode. During the daytime the bunks are folded up, with the lowest bunk forming a seat. You will usually get help from the train staff in converting your cabin to night mode and may even ask for a wake up service.

Usually a carriage of couchettes or sleeper cabins will have an attendant who will check your ticket and show you to your berth. In Europe, if the train crosses an international border, the attendant may take your passport to show to officials, or you may be woken at the border. If you are in a seat you may be woken for ticket checks as well as border crossings. In the Schengen area border crossings may not be noticeable in any way, but there are still often controls on all international trains.

Rail systems with sleeper trains

Sleeper trains normally appear on long journeys which cannot realistically be completed in a single day:


Unlike daytime trains, sleepers usually must be booked in advance.

While most railways allow you to simply book sleeper trains the same way you book any regular train (i.e. at ticket counters, online or via phone), you often have to get a seat or in this case berth reservation, which often includes the surcharge for sleeper service. Often passes, like Interrail, only cover the price for a "standard seat" in second class and the sleeper surcharge has to be paid on top of that.


Most sleeper trains also have a dining car, while almost all of the others offer food at your cabin. However the dining car can have limited supplies which may run out if the train is running late, so you may wish to bring some food with you as a backup. Many train companies post their menus (including prices) on-line and you can usually rely on these being at least somewhat accurate. However serving sizes are often smaller and prices often higher than comparable food outside a train.


The tap water on a train is usually not fit to drink – in Europe this is usually clearly indicated either by a pictogram or in so many words (usually in more than one language), in other places it might be apparent from context. You may want to bring some bottled water with you, as it will be cheaper to buy this in the station (or a regular supermarket) than on the train. In the rare cases of catastrophic air conditioning failure, you might get free drinks to ease the heat. But as sleeper trains travel mostly at night, this is rather unlikely.

In some countries you are not be allowed to bring your own alcohol, as the train is "licensed premises" like a pub. On some trains all alcohol is prohibited, but in most countries this rule only affects commuter trains and has not yet spread to sleepers.


While some people love the rumbling and bumbling of the train that "rocks them to sleep" others hate the noise and cannot sleep. While some countries invest a lot in their rail networks to reduce bumps, in other countries you are definitely in for a bumpy ride. Your mileage as to sleeping may certainly vary. In bunk accommodation that is shared with several other people snoring may also be a problem, so bring something to cover your ears.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, October 19, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.