(CNN) — As the train pulls out of the station, you slowly drift off to sleep. Several hours later, you wake up in another country, exciting new scenes speeding past the windows.
Welcome on board the sleeper train service.
In more recent years, thanks to the ease and price of air travel, there have been far fewer trains whisking sleeping passengers from country to country through the night.
But things are changing — for one, sleeper train travel comes hand-in-hand with connotations of romance and adventure — and we live in an era where collecting experiences is covetable travel currency.
Plus, there’s the eco-impact — carbon footprints of train travel are way lower than flying.
“But, of course, romance is not something you buy, it’s something that happens. It’s in the eyes of the beholder, as it were.”
Intrigued? These are some of the sleeper services you can currently hop on to traverse Europe.
Caledonian Sleeper — London, England to Fort William, Scotland
But why battle airport security at Heathrow when you could fall asleep in the bustling city center of London and awaken on Rannoch Moor, surrounded by spectacular Scottish scenery?
“You wake up at 30 miles an hour on a single track in the middle of the West Highlands, with deer bounding away from the train,” says Smith.
There are two trains that depart London nightly and both split to take passengers to their various destinations. Depending on the route you pick, you can head to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen, Fort William, Perth or Aviemore.
The Inverness train also makes stops at Gleneagles, home to golf and whisky — and the Fort William service includes a stop off at Corrour, known as the UK’s most remote station.
Traveling London to Fort William takes just shy of 8 hours.
These luxury suites will be introduced on the Caledonian Sleeper later in 2019.
Courtesy Caledonian Sleeper
The Caledonian Sleeper is currently undergoing a makeover, with new trains set to replace the current carriages — built in the 1980s — in summer 2019.
They will include Caledonian Double Rooms with an en-suite toilet and shower and double bed.
Club Rooms are the next ring down, with en-suite toilet and shower.
Those staying in Club Room or Caledonian Double will have access to the club car.
There are also classic rooms and comfort seats.
Trenhotel Lusitania — Madrid, Spain to Lisbon, Portugal
On board, get into vacation mode with wine and hot food from the bar/café.
First Class sleeper compartments are sold as one cabin, so you can nab a whole room to yourself. If you want to splash out, enjoy Grand Class and get an en suite too, plus free newspapers and use of the club lounge.
One of the other advantages of sleeper train travel is arriving in the middle of the city center, in this case, Lisbon’s beautiful Santa Apolonia Station.
As Smith says, it’s the savviest travelers who choose sleeper trains over budget flights: even if the journey takes longer — and is potentially a little pricier — it’s a more economical use of time.
“Flying even a one hour flight ends up taking four hours — by the time you get to the airport, you check in and you check out the other end, and so forth. So a sleeper train can save four daytime hours straight away,” says the Man in Seat 61.
Thello sleeper train — from Paris, France to Rome, Italy
Leave Paris Gare de Lyon in the evening, speed through the Italian countryside, stop in chic Milan and wake up to views of gondolas and watery streets in Venice.
There’s a premium cabin option, which gives you maximum privacy and access to a shower.
The service also has a waiter service restaurant car, but the Man in Seat 61 clarifies that it’s not exactly Orient Express level.
Sometimes, Smith says, it’s preferable to bring your own snacks.
“It’s much better to bring a bottle that you choose yourself and then crack it open — have a midnight feast.”
One of his other top tips is picking a good restaurant near your departure station:
“Researching a good restaurant can often fill the waiting time before a late night sleeper departure — and it gives you somewhere to wait and it just transforms that part of the experience.”
Tolstoy — Helsinki, Finland to Moscow, Russia
There’s a variety of sleeper options on Russian Railways overnight trains.
Courtesy Russian Railways
The restaurant car is kitted out in rich red curtains and seating, which is an experience.
Oh, and for added drama — the train is named after Russia’s most famous writer, Leo Tolstoy.
The train takes roughly 15 hours to cross Northern Europe.
French intercités de nuit — Paris, France to South of France
There’s the budget reclining seat option, six-bed couchette choice or four-bed sleeper.
For Smith, this journey was his first ever sleeper train experience, on a high school French exchange. The students were sleeping in couchettes, but he sneaked a look inside the sleeping cars:
“I thought, ‘This Is the way I want to travel in future,'” recalls Smith. “So when I did my first Interrail a couple of years later, I splurged on paying for a proper bed in the sleeper — and I have never really looked back.”
On board, expect a sleeping bag rather than blanket. You also get a bottle of water, ear plugs and tissues, which sets you up nicely for the night.
Russian Railways — Moscow, Russia to Nice, France
It’s one of the longest passenger trains in Europe — and also makes stops in Berlin, Germany and Warsaw, Poland.
The train’s a spiritual successor to the Nord Express, recognizable from its striking Art Deco posters. This iconic service operated until the World War II, stopping off at cities across Eastern Europe before terminating in Russia.
The cars are pretty modern by sleeper train standards.
As you might expect for a journey of this length, there’s a restaurant car — and for added excitement it switches halfway through the journey. For the first part it’s a Polish restaurant car. When the train reaches Brest, a Russian dining car is added.
If you really want to splash out, you can travel in a VIP First Class deluxe sleeper — which Smith muses is probably for Russian oligarchs. It’s got an en suite shower and toilet, flat-screen-TV and a hot breakfast included.
Santa Claus Express — Helsinki, Finland to Rovaniemi, Finland
This double-decker train travels north into a snowy winter wonderland, across Scandinavia from Helsinki, Finland to Lapland — taking less than 15 hours.
On board, there’s a restaurant car and you can opt for the economy seat, a double sleeper, single sleeper or a double/single sleeper with private bathroom.
Hurtling through the snowy scenes is an unforgettable experience and the double-decker views offer incredible views — you might even spot the Northern Lights.
Austrian Nightjet sleeper trains — Linking Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy
That’s a lot of countries, so the Nightjet logo is one of the most omnipresent on continental European train stations.
According to Smith, that’s largely because the Austrian train service has made the sleeper trains economically viable.
“The Austrians have worked out a way to run sleeper trains that makes economic sense and they’ve got the political — with a small ‘p’ — will to do so,” he says.
The train expert also explains sleeper trains can only run successfully when track access fees are reasonable.
Nightjet operates on train tracks spanning Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy.
ÖBB has even taken over retired routes and operates train services — such as a Berlin, Germany to Zurich, Switzerland sleeper — that don’t even start in Austria.
The success of Austrian Nightjet leaves Smith hopeful for the sleeper train’s future:
“The question is whether someone like ÖBB can expand further and perhaps bringing back sleeper trains that are wholly outside their normal stamping grounds in Austria?”
On board Nightjet, go for a sleeping car or a couchette. Sleeping cars have a washbasin, or an en suite if you book the deluxe version.
You can use this service to travel from Vienna, Austria to Venice, Italy. Other routes include Berlin, Germany to Basel and Zurich in Switzerland.
Sofia-Istanbul Express — Sofia, Bulgaria to Istanbul, Turkey
It’s known for being pretty cheap, with a single sleeper only costing about $40.
It takes about 10 hours and there’s no catering options, so here’s another service where it’s worth stocking up on food and drink beforehand.
Also worth noting — your sleep will be interrupted when you get off the train at the Turkish border to go through passport control.
Additionally, the train’s currently terminating at Halkali, a bit further out of Istanbul, and you have to jump on a bus to complete the last part of the journey.
EuroNight Chopin — Prague, Czech Republic to Krakow, Poland
The real question is, will you look as glamorous as this while on board your sleeper service?
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
There are four and six person couchettes, but also deluxe hotel-style sleeping cars — complete with en suite, slippers and your own breakfast.
There’s also a bistro car with snacks, plus draft beer on tap.
Dovrebanen — Oslo, Norway to Trondheim, Norway
It takes seven hours in total and culminates in the historic city of Trondheim.
You can opt for a standard seat or compartment.
The Night Riviera — London, England to Penzance, Cornwall
You can nab a seat, which train operator Great Western Railways describe as “airline-style,” share a compartment or enjoy one to yourself.
The lounge car is open all night, perfect for midnight feasting, and passengers can also make use of a station lounge at departure station London Paddington.
Baltic Express — Tallinn, Estonia to Moscow, Russia
This eastern European sleeper service takes you from Tallinn, Estonia through the night to Russia, with stops at St. Petersburg and Moscow.
The service offers either a two-berth or four-berth compartment — or, on the cheaper side, there’s an open car with sleeping berths or a carriage with seats.
Smith always advises against going for a regular seat, comparing it on his website to sleeping on a park bench. Most of the time, couchettes are pretty economical and worth paying a little more for as they provide more privacy and security.
This is another train where you’ll go through passport control as you enter Russia.
Berlin Night Express — Berlin, Germany to Malmö, Sweden
The Berlin Night Express is a particularly unusual journey — not only does it transport you across the continent at night, the route also encompasses a sojourn on a ferry.
This summer-only sleeper train has to cross the Baltic Seat between Trelleborg and Sassnitz via ferry. During this four-hour stint of the journey, you can stay on the train or wander around the shops and restaurants on board the ferry.
As for your sleeping arrangements, you can book a bed in a six-person couchette or go for the whole compartment to yourself.
SJ Train –Malmö, Sweden to Narvik, Sweden
You can travel economically in a seat, opt for six-bed couchette, three-bed sleeper or single sleeper with shower. Facilities-wise there’s a restaurant/bistro and bar.
These compartments are particularly well kitted out — think mood lighting and included duvets for the higher end tickets.
First Class passengers can also enjoy the SJ Lounge in Stockholm and Gothenburg.
Snalltaget – Malmö, Sweden to Åre, Sweden
On board there’s a restaurant called Krogen, Swedish for pub, where you can stock up pre-skiing. The service prides itself on serving up food on porcelain plates and dining options include Swedish cheese pie and a cinnamon bun.
There are four different night train options — from a berth in a couchette, private compartment, private compartment plus breakfast or a private compartment for your family.
Kiev Express — Warsaw, Poland to Kiev, Ukraine
The Kiev Express carries passengers from Warsaw, Poland to Kiev in the Ukraine, with options to sleep in a three-person compartment, double sleeper or single.
It takes over 17 hours and there’s no food available, so another service where it’s worth stocking up before you jump on board.
Still you get morning tea or coffee and a snack.
You can also travel within Poland on a few night services — from Swinoujscie, for example, to Warsaw.
Italia Rail Night Trains
There are several night train routes in Italy that’ll transport you around this boot-shaped country.
The services have the usual accommodation choices — sleepers and couchettes and different routes have slightly different carriages. The swankiest option is the Excelsior Sleeper, offering a private shower and including complementary continental breakfast.
At the other end of the spectrum are the couchette carriages, which are pretty standard.
Smith says passengers should remember that not all sleeper trains need to be the pinnacle of luxury.
“The reality is you’ve got comfortable sleeping cars and more economical couchettes on European trains, so it’s not all luxury. It’s just ordinary comfort to get from A to B and it’s great fun being with your friends,” he says.
Venice Simplon-Orient-Express — London, England to Venice, Italy
You didn’t think we’d compile a list of European night trains without including the most famous sleeper service of them all?
The Orient Express is synonymous with glamor and was memorably immortalized in print by Agatha Christie.
The trip takes 24 hours, so you have plenty of time to enjoy the experience.
The vintage aesthetic is captured via the use of sleeping cars from the 1920s, 30s and 50s.
This Orient Express is actually made up of two different train services.
When you reach Kent, in the South East of England, you depart the first train and cross over to France inside the the Channel Tunnel, before boarding restored French blue-and-gold 1920s Wagon-Lits sleeping cars for the remainder of your journey.
These sleeping cars are the real deal, so don’t expect showers or air-conditioning — but the chic wooden paneling and vintage air surely makes up for this.
Worth noting — food’s included but you’ve got to pay extra for drinks. One of the big drawers of the Orient Express is the delicious food — it’s several levels beyond your usual sleeping train fare, with three restaurant cars with fine dining options.
Forget wearing your jeans or sweatpants, there’s a dress code in the evening — and many embrace the Art Deco vibes and go full flapper.
Lovcen Sleeper Train — Belgrade, Serbia to Bar, Montenegro
On the Lovcen sleeper train you can travel from Belgrade, Serbia to Bar, Montenegro.
Courtesy Suzanne Plunkett
It’s almost a shame to book a night berth on this vintage train that rumbles southwest from the Serbian capital all the way to Montenegro’s sparkling Adriatic coastline. That’s because, during daylight hours, this is hands-down one of the most dramatic rail journeys on the planet.
The train clanks through hazy mountain scenery, with dizzying trackside plunges, high railway bridges, long curving tunnels and birch forests hiding deserted Alpine lakes.
On the plus side, the night train is a true retro rail ride, from the ancient sleeper cabins, to the midnight border stops (the route also crosses briefly into Bosnia and Herzegovina). And even by the light of the moon or stars, the scenery is impressive.
Better still, take a return trip. Sleep one way, gawp the other.
Booking isn’t easy though. With no online service, it requires turning up to the station at either end to secure a berth, although it rarely sells out, even in the height of summer.