So, we might be a little crazy but we are always up for a good adventure. We recently took our kids on a sleeper train from Warsaw to Vienna. It went surprisingly well. In fact, I would do it again… maybe with a few tweaks. If you are considering a sleeper train with kids, here are some things that we learned from the experience.
There are different kinds of bunks in an assortment of price ranges. Lines are going to vary from country to country but most of the time you can purchase a private cabin (which will cost a bit extra) or you can choose to share your bunking experience with strangers. It’s not as creepy as it sounds. It’s really a first class vs. economy type choice. The “sleeper” cars have real bunk beds and a little sink with some towels, etc. It’s more like a tiny hotel room. The other option is the “couchettes” which is what we had. There are 6 bunks: 3 on each side and you are just paying for a bed. There is also a communal bathroom on each car as well as a washing station that has a sink and available drinking water.
What to Expect
Kids usually ride for free until at least 5 or 6 but if you want them to have their own bed, you will have to buy them their own ticket. When we purchased our tickets we were able to request the bottom bunks, which was helpful with children. A sheet, pillow, and blanket are all provided for each bed but we also brought a couple of extra blankets as we had some extra bodies. There isn’t a ton of space, though, so it’s a good idea to try to pack light.
It’s way easier to take a night train than a red-eye flight. Even though it’s small, your kids (and you) have an actually bed to lie down in. Still, it’s not home so we brought things like movies (on our iPad) and little snacks to make the trip go smoother. For our littlest one, I had a bottle all ready with formula so all I had to do was add some water from a water bottle in the middle of the night if he needed it. There’s a small pouch where you can keep a few small items. It’s a good idea to put anything you might need during the night in there before you go to sleep. Once the lights go off, it’s hard to find anything or even get to anything in that little space.
If you do need to get out and stretch your legs or walk around there is a long skinny hallway on every car that connects the rooms. It’s a good place to look out the window for a change of scenery. Some trains even have dinner cars but check before you board so you know if you need to bring your own snacks.
Make sure that you are smart about being safe on your trip. Keep any valuables close to you; within immediate reach on your person. Also, talk to the conductor before you go so you know what to expect. For example, if you can expect any interruptions during the night. People have been known to come by in the middle of the night pretending to be “passport control” etc. So, unless instructed otherwise, lock your bunk once you’re in and don’t open it for anyone until the morning.
Things to Consider
The train itself was just fine. Our kids slept well with no major issues. The problems that we didn’t expect came from our arrival and departure times. We rolled into Vienna at 6:00 in the morning, we couldn’t check into our hotel and nothing was open yet. So, we wandered the empty streets with a couple of grumpy kids for a couple of grumpy hours. We were SO not prepared for that. Also, on the day we left we had to check out of our hotel at noon. They held our luggage for us but our train didn’t leave until 10:30 that night. So, at the end of the day we ran into a similar situation: seeking refuge at a Starbucks. Just something to think about. If you have a choice on timing, think about it carefully. If you don’t, just make sure you plan better than we did. All in all, though, it was a good experience.
I have yet to find a good website on eastern european train travel. But the RailEurope site does a pretty good job in Western Europe and the websites for Train Line and East Coast are both good options for train travel in the United Kingdom. This website also has some pretty useful information on night trains in the U.K. And don’t forget that AMTRAK does sleeper trains in the United States.
Here is just a short list, from The Lonely Planet, of the top 8 European Night Trains:
- Moscow to St. Petersburg
- London to Fort William
- Paris to Venice
- Trondheim to Bodo
- Amsterdam to Copenhagen
- Budapest to Split
- Prague to Kraków
- Sofia to Istanbul
And we would add Warsaw to Vienna to that list. Happy Travels.