Night trains in Europe

Train enthusiast Jeroen shares with Trip By Trip his experience with night trains in Spain and Portugal. In this first blogpost, he explains where his love for night trains comes from.

As a child, Jeroen took night trains to Germany and Austria. He went to Munich, Zell am See or Klagenfurt, departing from Brussels-Midi/Zuid in Belgium. “It left a lasting impression on me. Growing up, we travelled more by day and using high speed trains which were being introduced throughout Europe. But I couldn’t forget the charmes of nightly travel so when I reached adulthood, I chose to travel by night train again.


Jeroen travelled to Vienna, Copenhagen, Berlin, Zürich and Munich. Often departing in Amsterdam, sometimes in Cologne. Instead of being operated by the Belgian railway company NMBS / SNCB, those trains were operated by CityNightLine.

German enterprise

CityNightLight was a joint venture between several operators, but it the end only Deutsche Bahn (DB) kept the night trains. But DB couldn’t make it work financially, despite having a vast network and even merging with DB AutoZug didn’t help.

It was a sad day when DB announced it would stop running night train.


Luckily the Österreichische Bundesbahnen (ÖBB) stepped in and under the brand NightJet, operates night trains inside and outside Austria. “But due to a strike in Germany, I decided to travel to southern France“, Jeroen tells.

That trip left him wanting more, and thus he planned a trip to Spain and Portugal.


“Spain and Portugal are special cases”, Jeroen explains. “The Iberian gauge (1,668 mm) is about 20 cm wider than the standard gauge (1,435 mm), which makes the Iberian peninsula a ‘rail island’ in Europe.”

Trains in Spain are operated by Renfe, short for Red Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Españoles. The Comboios de Portugal (CP) organises rail travel in Portugal.

At the Hispano-French border points of Port Bou / Cerbère at the Mediterranean Sea and Irún / Hendaye at the Atlantic Ocean, complex installation make it possible to change bogeys. But this process takes so much time air travel is the preferred mode of transportation.



The Spanish company Talgo found a solution: trains where the wheelbase is changeable.

This technology allowed the start of train links between Paris and Madrid and between Barcelona and Geneva.

As Russia also has a different gauge (1,520 mm), the Talgo trains were sold to the Russians.


Photos provided by Jeroen.

64 Comments Add yours

  1. Sartenada says:

    Very interesting post. Thank You. We have travelled by night trains only in Finland. We love them, because it is refreshing to wake up in the morning. We love them due to their own toilet and shower. Mainly we have travelled to Rovaniemi which at the arctic Circle. Because these trains are also car trains, it is easy to continue road tripping far beyond the Arctic Circle.

    Have good day!


    1. Timothy says:

      I recently learned there are night trains in Finland. Must try them! Thank you for your input.

      Have a great day.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sartenada says:

        You are welcome.

        Liked by 1 person

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