• Sun. Oct 17th, 2021



The Most Epic Overnight Train Journeys In The World / By Sarah Baxter / Lonely Planet

There’s something enduringly romantic about train travel. The slower pace, the gentle rhythm, the ability to surrender responsibility and just gaze out of the window.

Young woman lies on the bed and looks through the window of the sleeper train crossing picturesque Tibet. Female tourist observing the landscape while traveling along the Trans-Himalayan railway.

Night trains not only save a night in a hotel, but they are better for the environment than flying © Flystock / Shutterstock

If you have a long way to go, don’t unthinkingly jump on a plane. An overnight train ride is a far more fun, immersive and eco-friendly way to travel – better for you and for the planet.

It’s true of all – well, most – rail journeys. But it’s especially true of the sleeper train, the hotel-on-wheels aboard which you can bed down in one country and wake up in another. On which you can spend long hours admiring the view, chatting to new compartment-mates, sharing bread/biscuits/tea/vodka, watching sunrises and sunsets as you roll ever on.

Of course, it’s generally quicker to fly. But if you don’t have to, why rush? Train travel is far less damaging to the planet: it releases the least amount of greenhouse gases of all forms of transportation.

And it’s a more organic way to go. Roving by rail, covering each inch of land overground, means you’re better able to understand the connections that exist between places, see the segueing of scenery as cities become suburbs, which become farmland, which become foothills or deserts or plains.

Image of a second class sleeper car on an overnight train in Thailand
Second class overnight accommodations on an express train © Phoderstock/ Shutterstock

Such journeys can be done in style. There are luxe overnighting locos that channel the bygone glamour of the Orient Express or the opulence of a maharaja’s palace, their wood-paneled carriages toting pianos and butlers. But you don’t need such accouterments.

The greatest joy is the journey itself; even a frustratingly slow, overcrowded overnighter has its own appeal – and will certainly make memories. Squeezed into a second-class Indian bunk, unfolding your couchette as you bump across Europe or lazing back in a super-fast intercity service in China, you might not get a lot of actual sleep on your sleeper, but you’ll get a dream of a ride.

An aerial photograph of a train crossing a small bridge along a heavily forested section of coastline; a deep blue sea sits off the rocky shore that meanders in and out of the image.
The Reunification Express runs by the South China Sea just north of Hai Van Pass, between Hue and Hoi An © Matt Munro / Lonely Planet

Nicknamed the Reunification Express when it resumed service after the Vietnam War, this 1072-mile (1726km) ride between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City runs the length of the country, providing a perfect Vietnamese diorama: historic towns, bustling suburbs, rice paddies, emerald hills and the glittering South China Sea.

Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

How: Choose from hard seat (cheapest) or soft, hard berth (six-bed compartment), soft berth (four-bed) or VIP cabin (two beds; book in advance). Tickets can be booked online

Duration: About 35 hours.

A silver train car with a glass rooftop viewing area sits at a station platform; emblazoned on the side is California Zephyr and Silver Lariat.
A classic car from the California Zephyr train on display in the Golden State © Let Go Media / Shutterstock

Chicago to San Francisco, USA

On its epic 2400-mile (3900km) journey, the California Zephyr tackles sheer gorges, hot desert, snowy mountains and a tonne of tunnels and switchbacks. In 1869, these tracks were the first to cross the Continental Divide, linking the Atlantic and the Pacific.

How: The Zephyr leaves Chicago at 2pm daily. Book early for the lowest fares and best availability; tickets can be booked up almost a year ahead.

Duration: The entire journey to San Francisco takes 52 hours non-stop.

Women walk along the gravel verge beside a stopped train; they carry bowls on their heads and sell drinks and food through the windows of the train.
Sustenance for the Tazara Railway journey can be bought through the windows whenever the train makes its regular stops © guenterguni / Getty Images

Kapiri Mposhi to Dar es Salaam, Zambia and Tanzania

A sleeper train? Or a rolling two-day safari? The Tazara Railway crosses rivers, gorges and some impressive feats of railway engineering while trundling through the enormous, wildlife-filled expanse of Selous Game ReserveTanzania. You might spot elephants, rhinos, lions and more from your window.

How: Tickets can’t be bought online; buy them at stations in Dar es Salaam or Kapiri Mposhi or via a local travel agency.

Duration: About 44 hours.

A skyline shot of Brisbane at sunset with a purple sky; the scene looks over a river and large rail bridge, with the cityscape as a backdrop.
The Spirit of the Outback train service runs from the tropical metropolis of Brisbane to the quaint outback town of Longreach © f11photo / Shutterstock

Brisbane to Longreach, Australia

Most of Australia‘s overnight trains are multi-day journeys across the continent, such as the Ghan that runs through Australia’s “Red Centre” between Darwin and Adelaide, and the Indian Pacific that links Perth and SydneyThe Spirit of the Outback, however, is just over a day-long jaunt from Brisbane to Longreach. After flirting with the coast the train turns inland to reveal a changing landscape as it heads into the outback.

How: The tickets can be booked online. The train departs Tuesdays at 6:10pm and Saturday at 1:55pm.

Duration: The 1325km journey takes 26 hours.

People walk across a zebra crossing in Rome towards the camera; behind them is a large building with huge glass windows with large white letters that read: Roma Termini
Night trains link Rome’s Roma Termini station with Siracusa station in Syracuse, Sicily © Will Salter / Lonely Planet

Rome to Syracuse, Italy

To get from the Italian capital to the historic Sicilian city of Syracuse, this overnight loco has to board a boat. Having traced the Calabrian coast, it’s lifted on to a ferry to cross the Straits of Messina, before being lifted back off to continue on its way.

How: Two sleeper trains leave Rome nightly at around 9.05pm and 11pm. Tickets can be ordered online.

Duration: About 12 hours, including 30 minutes at sea.

The Caledonian Sleeper train crosses Rannoch Viaduct on the scenic West Highland Line railway in the Scottish Highlands; the image is taken from the train on a curve, so you see the train arching ahead through a barren looking section of rolling hills..
The Caledonian Sleeper links London with various destinations in Scotland © Joe Dunckley / Shutterstock

Europe’s other top sleeper services

Europe is a particular treasure trove when it comes to night trains, with services such as the Caledonian SleeperBerlin Night Express and the Red Arrow, so we’ve compiled a specific list of the continent’s other top sleeper trains. https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.481.0_en.html#goog_1328867855

The world’s most amazing scenic train journeys

From the varied terrain aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway to the endless green Scottish Highlands views on the Jacobite, see more of the world by train on these scenic train journeys.

You might also like: 
10 of the world’s most amazing train journeys
The world’s most iconic sports bars
How to pack for a big trip – tips from experienced travelers

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