Sleeper trains in the UK
Green Traveller's guide to the two main overnight rail services in the UK
Travelling overnight on a train is a great way to travel long distances without having to stay in a hotel en route. There are two main overnight services in the UK: 1. The Caledonian Sleeper between London and Scotland and 2. The Night Riviera between London and Cornwall.
Caledonian Sleeper between London and Scotland
The Caledonian Sleeper stops off a several Scottish railway stations and is actually the collective name for several overnight services from London Euston to Scotland – The Lowlander travels direct to Glasgow and Edinburgh (the train splits in the early hours of the morning, taking passengers to Edinburgh Waverley or Glasgow Central), whereas The Highlander travels further, connecting London with popular destinations like Aberdeen, Inverness, Aviemore, and Fort William.
You can also board the train for both services from Watford Junction, Carlisle, Crewe and Preston. It’s a brilliant way to travel up from England to the mountainous fresh and wild of Scotland, and vice-versa.
The Caledonian Sleeper is operated by Serco on behalf of Transport Scotland. It runs every night, except Saturday night.
One of my favourite trips by Caledonian Sleeper is get off at Corrour station (4 stops before Fort William) and walk a mile to the wonderful off-grid Loch Ossian hostel on the northern edge of Rannoch Moor (pictured below). Another is to continue further up to Fort William and catch the connecting train to Mallaig from where you take a ferry over to the beautiful Knoydart Peninsula – a fantastic place for wild camping and walking - and home to The Old Forge pub, the most remote pub on mainland Britain.
The Night Riviera between London and Cornwall
The Night Riviera service runs six days a week from London Paddington Railway Station to Penzance Railway Station at the far western tip of Cornwall: it takes just over 8 hours (8 hrs 5mins) on weekday services, and just under 9 hours (8 hrs 59mins) on Sundays.
The Night Riviera calls overnight at Plymouth, Truro, and St Erth en route to its final stop at Penzance. There is a range of options on board, from standard seats to double-berth sleepers. Prices range from £25.50 to £135 depending on the type of accommodation and when you book.
[NB. Due to engineering work, the Night Riviera service isn't running between Monday and Thursdays from 24th January – 17th March 2022. The normal timetable is due to resume from Monday 21st March 2022.]
One of the great things about the Night Riviera service is that you can use it to connect with the ferry service from Penzance to the Isles of Scilly. It’s just a 10-minute walk from Penzance railway station to the check-in at Penzance Harbour for the Scillonian ferry departure to Hugh Town on St Mary’s; just enough time to grab yourself a pasty and set off for one of the best flight-free adventures in the country.
Booking sleeper trains through TheTrainline
Booking a sleeper train in the UK require a bit more work than a usual train ticket. Here's a step-by-step guide to booking the ticket through the website of TheTrainline train ticketing agency:
Go to Advanced Search Journey Planner
Enter where you're travelling to and from, for instance, London to Penzance.
Important: make sure you select a departure time in the evening, preferably after 20:00 (this will filter out the day-time services from the results)
Sleeper services have 'sleeper' written underneath the number of changes on the journey. The cheapest (seated) fares are shown first, by default.
To see the full list of accommodation options available, click on 'View all single tickets' below the price matrix.
Select your desired berth and check out. And away you go!