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What you need to know about taking a night train from Switzerland

After years of neglect and line closures, night trains are now coming back in fashion as environmental issues take centre stage. Here is what you need to know about night rail services from Switzerland.

What you need to know about taking a night train from Switzerland
A sleeper compartment on an Austrian Nightjet train. Photo: SBB

It has been a sad few years for lovers of the night trains in Switzerland with cherished services to cities including Barcelona, Paris and Amsterdam all falling by the wayside.

But it now looks like fears that night trains might disappear altogether may have been exaggerated.

That’s because an environmental push partly spurred on by Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg has seen people more and more people turning away from carbon-heavy air travel.

Read also: Readers reveal – how Switzerland could improve its public transport

While exact figures are a few months off, Switzerland’s national rail operator SBB is already saying that international train travel is one the rise.

The SBB also now hopes to open up new night routes by 2022 and while it is keeping tight-lipped about destinations, these could include Brussels, Rome and Nice, according to Swiss daily NZZ.

Meanwhile, Swiss politicians are calling on the government to draw up measures on how future services could be funded.

But you don’t have to wait years to jump on a night train. There are still a number of direct services on offer – all offering an escape from airports and the joy of going to sleep in one place and waking up in another.

Where you can go?

Focusing on direct services only here (changing train at least once leads to a whole new world of possibilities), there are two night-time connections to Germany, both operated by Austrian rail firm ÖBB.

Firstly, from Zurich and Basel, you can travel direct to Berlin. The train leaves Zurich main station at 8pm (Basel at 9.13pm) and arrives at Berlin Ostbahnhof at 7.54am the next day.

From Zurich and Basel, you can also travel direct to Hamburg. This service departs Zurich main station at 8pm and Basel at 9.13pm before arriving in Hamburg at 7.51pm the following morning.

For Austria, also using services operated by the ÖBB, you can travel to either Vienna or Graz from Zurich without changing. The direct service from Zurich to Vienna leaves at 9.40pm and arrives at 7.55am the next day. For Graz, you leave Zurich at 8.40pm and arrive at 7am the following morning.

Read also: How to get your hands on a real Swiss train

Several major cities in eastern Europe can also be reached from Zurich by night train without the need to change anywhere. These are operated by ÖBB partners and the quality of the rolling stock and sleeping compartments vary.

These destinations include Prague (leaves Zurich at 9.40pm and arrives 10.57am), Budapest (leaves Zurich at 9.40pm and arrives 9.24am) and Zagreb (leaves Zurich at 8.40pm and arrives 10.43am).

The 8.40pm train to Zagreb also stops in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana at 8.13am the next morning.

How can I get more information on connections?

The new portal run jointly by Switzerland’s SBB, Austria’s ÖBB and Germany’s DB provides information on night trains from these countries. The site is not perfect – you have to type in Zürich with an umlaut to get relevant results for the city – but it is a good starting point.

With the site you can search for services – for example from Zurich to Ljubljana – and find all night connections. You can then click on a blue arrow which will take you directly to the German-language version of the booking page of the ÖBB.

If you want to find out more about connections Europe-wide and see how Swiss services link up to the rest of the continent, the best site by far is The Man in Seat 61 run by Mark Smith.

Where can I buy tickets?

You can buy tickets on the SBB website, but your best bet is to go directly to the website of Austrian rail firm ÖBB (all in English here). You then go to ‘book ticket’ in the top-right hand corner of the home page.

The ÖBB website is pretty easy to navigate, but you do have to remember to click ‘OK’ after each option you choose, such as date and time of travel.

What are the prices like?

As you can imagine, night train prices vary considerably depending on factors including when you go, what national railcard you have, and how you much comfort you choose to travel in.

The cheapest option is to book a seat. The more expensive options include couchettes (generally for four to six people) and sleepers (one to three people).

To give you an example of prices in the near future, a discount seat from Zurich to Budapest on Sunday August 4th would cost €69  (date and time fixed and no cancellation possible), a couchette would cost €89 per person and a sleeper would cost €109 per person.

For Zurich–Zagreb on Sunday August 4th, a discount seat costs €59.90, a couchette spot is €79.90 and a spot in a sleeper compartment would cost €109.

Most sleeper compartments on night trains to Germany are booked up well in advance at present but you can buy a seat ticket for Hamburg for €69 on Sunday August 4th. However, this ticket does not allow for changes or refunds.

If you are looking at doing a lot of travelling, another option would be to look at Interrail passes which offer plenty of flexibility.

Read also: Summer travel – 26 things to do in Switzerland's 26 cantons

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