The best new European train journeys for 2023 | Travel by rail

YesYou might expect European train timetables for 2023 to launch on January 1, 2023. This is not the case. The new schedules come into effect on December 11 this year, bringing a myriad of new travel opportunities for the year ahead. Highlights include Genoa and Dresden which both provide new international overnight services, a new daily train between Poland and Lithuania and improved connections between Oslo and Stockholm.

Night trains have been in the spotlight for a year or two. A collective determination to limit thefts has boosted demand for night trains, but there is another key factor. The pandemic has encouraged us all to rethink the importance we place on personal space, and suddenly the possibility of comfortable overnight travel in a private compartment takes on particular appeal, whether it’s a solo or twin bed or a sleeper compartment for the whole family.

Nightjet from Stuttgart to Venice and Rijeka

The Nightjet service also serves Venice. Photo: Seng Chye Teo/Getty Images

Stuttgart was once a major hub for European night trains: 50 years ago it was served by the Orient Express. The south-west German city escaped nighttime timetables but came back with a bang with a new daily night train departure at 8.29pm, which will carry sleeping cars to Venice, Vienna, Budapest, Ljubljana and Zagreb. The roll call of attractive destinations is completed with a sleeping car to Rijeka over Christmas and Easter, then again from mid-May to early October 2023. Stuttgart to Rijeka takes just under 15 hours, culminating in a wonderful ride through the hills of Istria before a steep drop to the Gulf of Kvarner. An overnight journey with crisp white sheets in the comfort of a sleeping car starts at around £73 to Vienna, Venice or Budapest and a little more to stations in Slovenia or Croatia. With such good connections from London via Brussels or Paris to Stuttgart, travelers from the UK can use the 20:29 from Stuttgart as a gateway to adventures around the Adriatic in the summer of 2023.

This month also saw a new night train from Prague and Dresden to Basel. The train continues beyond Basel to Zurich, offering travelers to the Czech capital the choice of two completely different overnight routes to Zurich – the traditional via Linz, crossing Liechtenstein in the middle of the night, and the new service via the Saxony. For travelers from London, this service offers a credible new route to Dresden and Prague, via Paris to Karlsruhe where the night train to Prague departs at 23:07. Arrival in Dresden is at 7:05 a.m. and in Prague at 9:38 a.m.
Book it: services for night sleepers will be in time all bookable from night jet, although some are not yet available. A good alternative to night trains, and indeed to many other European trains, is Rail Europe. For the new night train from Prague to southwestern Germany and Switzerland via Saxony, the cheapest fares can be Czech Railways

Manarola, Five Lands.
Manarola, Five Lands. Photography: Aliyah

Austria’s national rail operator, ÖBB, announced months ago that it would run trains to Liguria from the end of 2022, and everyone assumed that just meant Genoa. But it came as a last-minute surprise in November, with the news that the Nightjet from Munich will continue beyond Genoa, serving the Cinque Terre coast en route to its final destination in La Spezia. The new route was launched on December 11. It offers the option of having an early dinner in Munich, then boarding a comfortable overnight train and alighting the next morning in Rapallo at 10:14 a.m. or Levanto at 10:46 a.m.

With such civilized schedules, the route will surely attract travelers heading to Tuscany. The existing night train from Munich arrives in Florence at 6:18 am, which is far too early for most travelers. How much nicer it will be to enjoy a gentle train cruise along the Ligurian coast, disembarking the Nightjet at 11:10 a.m. in La Spezia, which has good connections to Pisa and other Tuscan towns.

The new service from Munich to Liguria is complemented by a similar offer from Vienna, leaving the Austrian capital at 7.18pm for an evening journey on the remarkable Semmering railway. The carriages from Munich and Vienna are reunited in the early morning at Villach in Carinthia, from where the train continues its journey south into Italy, stopping at Milan and Pavia en route to Genoa and the coast. One-way fares from Munich or Vienna to any destination in Liguria start at €30 for austere overnight travel in a seat, but couchette travel costs from €50 and sleeping car accommodation from €70.

Bordeaux to the Black Forest

Bordeaux at sunset
Bordeaux has won a direct train to Freiburg in southwestern Germany. Photography: Mehdi33300/Alamy

In France, the rail headlines this month have, as in the UK, been all about strikes, but national operator SNCF is quietly introducing additional long-distance trains into the 2023 timetable. There are additional TGVs between Paris and the city of Freiburg in southwestern Germany. No big surprises there, but a brand new French destination will appear on departure boards in Friborg on December 17, with the launch of a weekly service to Bordeaux. From Germany’s Black Forest region to Bordeaux in less than eight hours would have been impossible a generation ago. It may be a route for wine lovers, but that’s not what’s driving demand; rather, it is a theme park just north of Friborg that is very popular with French visitors. He now has a dedicated station called Ringsheim/Europa-Park, where from mid-December you can take not only a weekly train to Bordeaux but also a direct TGV to Marne-la-Vallée-Chessy, for Disneyland Paris. This itinerary is sure to appeal to those looking to experience Europe’s two major theme parks in one trip. One-way fares from Friborg or Ringsheim to Bordeaux start at €59.
To book: through SNCF or Rail Europe

Lithuania reconnected

People watch a light installation during the
The Festival of Light in Vilnius in January this year. The city was recently connected to Warsaw and Krakow. Photography: AP

Last spring, transport activists challenged European authorities over the complete lack of cross-border rail services to Lithuania at a time when Kaunas was in the limelight as the European capital of culture. Fortunately, the Polish and Lithuanian authorities reacted by introducing, on July 1, a bi-weekly local service from Białystok to Kaunas. Now this service is upgraded to Intercity status, with daily departures from Krakow and Warsaw to Lithuania.

The train leaves Krakow at 4:01 a.m., when sane travelers should still be sleeping. Departure from Warsaw is at 7:35 am, giving late afternoon arrivals in Kaunas and Vilnius. One of the curiosities of the new service is that an easy change of trains between platforms is required at Mockava, a small station just inside Lithuania, where passengers change from Polish to Lithuanian trains. It’s a guaranteed connection and there are direct rates. A one-way ticket for the nine-hour journey from Warsaw to Vilnius starts at 120 złoty (about £22).
Book it: the new direct trains from Warsaw to Lithuania can be booked with Long Distance PKP


Oslo city center.
Services from Oslo (pictured) to Stockholm have been improved. Photography: Leonid Andronov/Getty Images

As I discovered on a trip from Norway to Sweden in the fall, rail connections between the two countries are dismal. But a welcome upgrade to services on the Oslo-Stockholm route began on December 11. The number of direct trains has increased to five per day and the comfortable and modern SJ3000 trains are making their debut on the road. Journey times are reduced, with the fastest services now taking just over five hours. One-way fares start at 385 SEK Swedish Krona (£30).
Book it: the best option for trains between Stockholm and Oslo is Swedish Railways SJ

… and losers

Schedule changes are not always good news. Trains axed from December 11 included direct once-a-day trains from Dresden to Vienna, Marseille to Madrid and Lyon to Barcelona.

Nicky Gardner is a Berlin-based writer. The 17th edition of his book Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide is available from the Guardian’s Library. She is co-editor of Hidden Europe magazine.

This article was last modified on December 15, 2022. A previous version misspelled the Italian town of Rapallo as “Rapello”.

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