The European sleeper train is back, baby, and this femme d’un certain âge is on board the Nightjet. After a too-long hiatus due to competitively cheap airfare and the pandemic, the Austrian Railway gods have come to their senses and dusted off the romantic, environmentally friendly, old-fashioned sleeper train.
I bought my tickets to Vienna online about a month before my journey. Travel days and seating options are limited, so book early for this under-rated, beautiful and historical city. I’d studied there as an exchange student but hadn’t been back in years.
The Nightjet train leaves Paris at 8 p.m. from the Gare de l’Est and arrives at Vienna’s Hauptbahnhof 14 hours later. I booked a solo sleeping cabin on the way there and a ladies-only couchette on the way back.
My first impression? The train is a little shabby. It could use a coat of paint and the inside is dated, not sleek like the Eurostar or TGV. There is no wifi, no USB plugs, no snack cart rolling by, and no dining car. Ce n’est pas l’Orient-Express.
But it has its own advantages. To help you decide which class is right for you, I’ll compare the important qualities: food, service and romance-friendly opportunities.
Traveling alone? Click here to read Yvonne Hazelton’s take on how to date yourself in a new city like Paris.
SEATING CARRIAGE: You get what you paid for
Seating situation Standard train seats, 6 per cabin, with luggage racks overhead.
Sleeping situation You’re already there. I did not choose this option because my neck d’un certain âge could not take it.
Service None to speak of.
Food and drink You can order from a menu or bring your own.
Toilet/washroom Standard train bathrooms.
What to bring Food and drinks (if you don’t want to bet on train fare), a hand towel, a pillow and blanket if you’ve got room.
Can you do the Deed? Please god no.
COUCHETTE CARRIAGE: Bed bunking
Seating situation There are two padded benches, rather narrow, with no armrests because the bench is where you sleep and the back is going to be hoisted up to make the mid-level bed come nightfall. There’s a ladder in the middle of the cabin to access the top bunks, but we heaved it onto an upper bunk to get more legroom while seated. My cabin mates were two lovely young women, and one of them made the journey regularly. She showed us where to put our luggage, either under the seats or in the storage space over the door.
Sleeping situation My cabin mate pulled the middle bunks out at bedtime and distributed the linens stowed on the stationary upper bunk—a flat sheet, a scratchy blanket of dubious textile origin, and a pillow the size of a dinner plate. No wonder she got on board with a blanket roll and travel pillow. There was a mesh pocket on the wall in my bunk to keep my glasses and book.
Service The steward took our tickets and scurried around getting people settled. There was an electrical outlet under the seat for phone charging.
Food and drink There were four small water bottles provided in our cabin. You can order from the menu for dinner, but breakfast is provided. I was famished and wolfed down the whole thing.
Toilet/washroom Standard train bathroom, a little stinky and spattered by morning. There was only a hand dryer, so if you wanted to wash your face or brush your teeth (and please do perform this community service, these are tight quarters) you have nothing to dry off with. I was wearing layers, as do most femmes d’un certain age, so I dried off using my t-shirt.
Cost €109-159 for a single seat, but for €279 you can book the whole cabin for privacy.
What to bring Dinner (unless you want to order from the menu), water (hydrate or die-drate), a hand towel, and a blanket and pillow if you don’t want to use the ones that come with your bunk.
Can you do the Deed? I suppose you could, but I don’t advise it. The doors are plexiglass, so you’d have to use the top bunks for privacy. It would also require cooperative or unconscious cabin mates, and there’s no guarantee of that. I’d wait.
SLEEPING CABIN: Need I say more….
This is the sweet spot, folks.
Seating situation Standard train seats, three in a row. There’s a small table secured to the wall in front of the seats.
Sleeping situation When you’re ready, the steward shoves the seats down into the floor and pulls a bunk out of the wall. He makes the bed for you with white sheets, a comforter, and pillow. There are two upper bunks.
Service Broderick took care of me quite well, appearing and disappearing when I needed something. There was a bag with eye shade, slippers, water bottle, ear plugs, and a hand towel. Broderick served me a tiny bottle of champagne on departure and let me back into my cabin when I locked myself out. Not my fault—the lock was broken.
Food and drink I ordered goulash and bread for dinner. Quite tasty, and a bargain for less than €5.
Toilet/washroom My cabin had a sink and mirror area, spaces to store toiletries, and an electric outlet. There was a toilet on one end of the car and a shower room on the other, for which Broderick gave me a full-sized towel. Good water pressure, and it was very entertaining to shower while being slammed into the walls when the train rounded a corner.
Can you do the Deed? Heck yeah.
They give you champagne, there’s a solid locking door, and the cabin is yours till morning. Chug-a chug-a choo choo.
From Vienna, the Nightjet’s hub, you can travel all around Europe, waking up in a different city or a different country. Many countries offer their own sleeper train routes. It’s a solid travel option that I’ll be sure to use more of. Bon voyage!