Booking couchettes & sleeping compartments

Booking night trains in Europe can be a bit confusing, so we've created this guide to explain the differences in types of accommodation, the way berths are numbered and how to book a private or a single-gender compartment. 

IN THIS ARTICLE

What is the difference between a sleeper and a couchette on a night train?

There are two main types of sleeping accommodation on European night trains: sleepers and couchettes. There is some variation between trains, so for information about a specific services see our Train Guides. In most cases, however, the differences can be summarised as follows:  

Sleepers

✓ 1-, 2-, or 3-person compartment
✓ Bed with linen
✓ Private wash basin
✓ Towels
✓ Shared or private toilet facilities

Sleepers include a bed and usually a private wash basin, towels and bed linen. Sleepers can accommodate up to four passengers in single, double, or 3-person compartments. In most cases, you will use shared toilet facilities at the end of the carriage. However, some modern sleeper trains include a private toilet, which will be stated in the description. 

Depending on the departure time, you may find the beds made-up when you board, or in the upright position, serving as your seat. The attendant will come to make your bed as evening approaches. 

Couchettes

✓ 4- or 6-person compartment
✓ Bed with linen
✓ Shared toilet and washbasin facilities

Couchettes offer simple overnight accommodation that sleep up to six people on bunks, with a pillow and blanket provided. There is a small shared bathroom at the end of each carriage. Note that since there is generally no gender distinction, you should pack appropriate clothing or sleep in your day clothes. 

The bunks fold down to create seating during the day. The attendant may assist you to put the bunks up/down but you should make your own bed with the linen provided. 

Are we in the same compartment?

Travellers who book together are placed in the same compartment by default, so it isn't usually possible to reserve berths in separate compartments without splitting your booking. You can review the seat/berth numbers you have been assigned on the basket page prior to checkout. 

We often receive emails from customers concerned that their reservations on the night train aren't in the same compartment. In most  cases,  they are but the numbering system for berths in sleeper compartments and couchettes causes some confusion. 

On most European night trains berth numbers aren't consecutive for reservations in 2-, 3- or 4-berth sleepers; for  example  12 and 16 are an upper and lower berth in the same 2-bed sleeper.

The numbering convention is designed on the basis that six  berths  are counted in every compartment, even if only two or four of the berths are in use. In 6-berth  couchettes,  this makes sense since every  bunk is  accounted for. For example, all berths from 11 to 16 are in the same compartment. See the seating plan for a typical night train below:

6-berth couchette

Things get confusing for couchettes or sl eepers when fewer than six berths are in use  as the numbers aren't altered to reflect the change. 

4-berth couchette 

When used as a 4-berth couchette, only four of a possible six berths are used, so the number convention skips the middle bunks, for  example  11,12 & 15,16 are in the same 4-berth couchette. 

Sleepers (1-, 2- & 3-bed compartments)

When used as a 2-berth, only the top and bottom berths are used, for example 11 & 15, or for 3-berths just the odd numbers 11, 13 & 15 with the other 6 from the sequence in the next door compartment. 

Private occupancy of a compartment

Depending on availability, travellers who book together are placed in the same compartment by default, so if there are enough of you to fill the compartment you can be assured of sole occupancy. Therefore, if you want the whole compartment to yourself, we recommend selecting an appropriate compartment size for your group (e.g. if there are two passengers, you can book a double sleeper). 

If this isn't possible, or if you have a group slightly smaller than your preferred accommodation (e.g. a family of five in a 6-berth couchette) you can ensure sole occupancy by adding an additional passenger to your booking. 

The cheapest way to book a private compartment is to add an extra child passenger. We call this the "phantom child" technique.

In France, it's possible to pay a supplement to obtain what's called " espace privatif", which is explained below. 

Night trains in France

Domestic night trains in France (known as Intercites du Nuit) have a fare supplement called "espace privatif" which guarantee sole occupancy or "private space". However, this fare is only available directly the French website Voyages-SNCF.com, and isn't available on Loco2 or any other website outside of France. Based on feedback from customers, we understand that the price difference between adding an extra child versus paying the "espace privatif" supplement is negligible. If you know more about this please contact us. 

It's possible to book a light breakfast on an Intercites de Nuit journey. After you've made your booking, head to SNCF's Intercites de Nuit page and click "Commander". The very light meal will be delivered to your seat or couchette in the morning.

Night trains in Spain

Renfe's website states that a discount may be available for customers booking entire compartments, but we have not found evidence that this is possible to book successfully online, nor whether it is cheaper than using the "phantom child" technique. We recommend booking an additional child ticket to secure the whole compartment.

Night trains between France and Italy (Thello)

Please note that the "phantom child" technique is not possible on the  Thello train, and if you do book extra child tickets in order to secure the whole compartment, the train manager may re-sell the free spaces in your compartment to other passengers. 

Single-gender compartments

Some night trains offer single-gender compartments, most commonly booked by women travelling alone who prefer not to sleep in a mixed compartment. However, compartments are available as men- or women-only, or you can reserve an entire compartment for your group or family. 

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