The idea of travelling aboard a night train holds an almost mysterious allure, conjuring images of moustachioed Hercule Poirot aboard the Orient Express or stepping into the high heels of Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis as they bunk down with Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot. And while your accommodation may not be as luxurious or spacious as many hotels, the compact nature of your cosy cabin just adds to the adventurous atmosphere and when you wake up in a completely different city to the one you fell asleep in, it's like some kind of magic has taken place. So in honour of this endangered form of transport, we'd like to introduce you to the best night trains in Europe.
1) Starting on home turf we have the Caledonian Sleeper, which will whisk(y) you from London Euston to the depths of the Scottish Highlands in just over thirteen hours. There was some uncertainty about the Caledonian Sleeper's future a few years ago, but with significant investment in 2014 and a new fleet having taken to the rails just this year, it seems safe to say there's still plenty of time if you're looking to organise a journey. Your night on board will also be a fantastic precursor to your time north of the border, as the further you travel the more the cities and suburbs thin to reveal the glorious British countryside. And if you decide to grab a bite to eat before you hit the hay, you'll be able to enjoy a menu chock-full of Scottish specialties and a bar well-stocked with whiskies that make for the perfect nightcap.
2) In a little over eight hours you can go from the hosbodys (or beer houses) of Prague to the ruin bars of Budapest on a fast-paced Imperial city break, waking up to scenic stretches, such as the landscapes that lie between the border towns of Štúrovo, in Slovakia, and Vác, in Hungary, and which follow the flow of the mighty Danube right through the heart of twin cities of Buda and Pest. There are multiple options for seating as well, whether you choose to go all out and experience what first-class has to offer or don't mind snoozing in your seat, none of which will save the back - advance booking isn't even a necessity, as long as you don't mind bunking up with some inter-railers on their gap years of course!
3) Lisbon is right at the top of many traveller's European wish lists right now, and for excellent cause; its renovated palaces, vibrant culture, incredible food scene, temperate climate, magnificent churches, impressive castle…we could go on and on! But it's just one city after all, and if you're not someone who enjoys hiring a car abroad, (and let's be honest, who ever really is?) then you can too can now enjoy a bit of a 'road' trip and tick off two fantastic capital cities while you're at it. And what a road trip it is. Lasting for eleven hours, you can book a gran clase sleeper cabin, to ensure the best nights' sleep possible, which comes with your own toilet, shower, toiletries and complimentary bottled water - all for under €200. A visit to the café bar won't disappoint either. It may come in a plastic glass but they often sell local wines at a snip compared to over here, we recommend some Portuguese vinho verde (green wine) whose name derives from the age of the grape used, not the colour, and which isn't produced in many other countries.
4) Whether it's the midst of a long Norwegian winter or the height of summer under the midnight sun, there's no bad time of year to make the overnight rail journey from the Viking capital of Trondheim to Bodø, gateway to the Arctic. Over the space of seven hours you may prefer to peer into the darkness for a sighting of the often illusive northern Lights from the warm and comfort of your carriage, or perhaps stay up and marvel at the soft dusky light spreading its warmth across scented pine forests, rugged mountains and glimmering fjord lands at 1am. Whichever you pick, this journey is all about escaping into nature as well as offering the chance to make some new Scandinavian friends. And in a country that has a bit of reputation for the overpriced this trip is practically a bargain, costing around £100 per person.
5) If the opulence of the Trans-Siberian Express or Tsar's Golden Eagle Train are a little out of your price range, then despair not as there are other trains aboard which you can explore the vastness of Russia. And while The Red Arrow may not be the most luxurious rail experience available in the former Soviet Union, it delivers a comfortable and more authentic journey between the two great cities of Moscow and St Petersburg. Slightly contrarily, it departs Leningrad Station in Moscow and arrives at Moscow Station in St Petersburg and has been doing so since 1931. Lasting for around eight hours, you have the choice of not only first and second class carriages, but also VIP carriages and if you're still on the fence then just know that this train even has its own theme tune - which plays every time it depart a station. You're welcome.