I vividly remember my first trip on a night train. It was from Paris to Berlin after I graduated from university. I don’t want to say what year as that would date me! As a Detroit native (think cars!), I grew up watching films such as Murder on the Orient Express and The Lady Vanishes so I had a somewhat old-fashioned notion of what it meant to travel overnight by train. While the reality of my Paris to Berlin night train didn’t live up to the romance and grandeur of my imaginings, I couldn’t think of anything better than conversing with fellow travelers in my couchette cabin and playing Go Fish with my friend, Carrie, who backpacked around Europe with me.
Carrie and I boarded many overnight trains over our two months together. Unfortunately, I had to return to the United States, where trains are considered the redheaded stepchild of transit. Hopefully that will change with the proposed $80 billion government overhaul of Amtrak, the passenger railway provider in the United States.
Night trains went out of favor in the 2000s for cheap flights as low-cost carriers sprouted up like new heads on Hydra. But with the specter of irreversible climate change on the horizon, sleeper trains have come roaring back in recent years. In 2021 alone, more than 30 night trains connected major cities across the European continent. And major providers, from ÖBB to Snälltåget to Trenitalia to the Caledonian Sleeper, are bringing back old routes and lines due to increased demand for sustainable alternatives to flying.
From Milan to Lecce, Amsterdam to Innsbruck and Paris to Munich, eco-minded and cost-conscious travelers have a variety of routes to choose from but for my money, the Berlin–Stockholm night train is one to look out for in 2022.
Snälltåget, a small provider that formed in 2009, reinstated the Berlin to Stockholm night train in 2021, after a more than 20-year hiatus, purchasing 10 old couchette coaches from Deutsche Bahn and extending the route from Hamburg on the German side (via Wedler Franz Logistik, a Potsdam-based railway company) and Malmö on the Swedish side. Prior to this, there was no overland rail service through Denmark (passengers had to travel by ferry between Sassnitz, Germany, and Trellebord, Denmark, and then take a connection into Stockholm). The ease of the overland journey has made everyone happier although it has increased the travel time significantly.
“We saw there was a demand for international train travel after all the climate change discussions. We calculated that it was a risky business but what we could see already in 2021 was that there was a huge demand for [this night train],” says Marco Andersson, Head of Sales at Snälltåget. “In both the German and the Swedish market, most of the passengers want to go from Berlin to Stockholm or the other way around. This year, we already have sold the [same number of tickets] as in 2018.”
Running daily from early April to late September, the longest part of the night train journey occurs at the start, when the train takes you from the hustle and bustle of Berlin and Hamburg into the flat plains of Denmark, stopping in Padborg for Schengen border patrol. This is the most picturesque part of the trip, as you’ll traverse myriad bridges including the Big Belt Bridge and the Øresund Bridge, the latter being a modern marvel built in 2000 to connect Denmark to Sweden. Admire the scenery in Jutland, Funen, etc. before arriving in Malmö at 7:25 a.m.
The onward journey into Stockholm Central Station consists of eight cars (two of which are sleeper cars only) traveling through Alvesta and other towns before arriving in the late afternoon in Stockholm, refreshed and ready to explore the “Venice of the North.”
Unlike other routes, the Berlin to Stockholm night train only offers seated cabins and couchette berths—sadly no single-berth private compartments, the one demerit if you’re traveling for business. Couchettes feature six beds with extra mattresses and higher-thread count sheets than normal couchette cabins, as well as power outlets and complementary water. If you have a large enough group, you can reserve a full cabin for everyone but I much prefer the spontaneity of meeting new people from all over the world in a shared couchette. Just pick the bottom or middle bunk for convenience.
“We are focused on the leisure market, when you are traveling for your holiday, when you are traveling together,” says Andersson. “We want you to see that the price is quite good, that you can relax in your compartment—it’s very cozy—and you wake up in the morning and arrive in Berlin at 9 a.m.”
Regardless of what ticket you choose, you can feel good about your travel as sleeper trains lower your carbon footprint and Snälltåget uses green energy sources to reduce the environmental impact. I say toppen to that!