Pulling out of Paris’s Gare de l’Est on the City Night Line, my travelling companion and I raised a glass of BYO Bordeaux and toasted the second stage of our rail adventure.
As the French countryside whizzed by, I compared this relaxing experience to flying – belted in with no buffet car to escape to, having spent the previous two hours in airport queues.
In contrast, my buddy and I had spent the day sauntering around Paris following our Eurostar arrival, before arriving at the station minutes before departure.
After picnicking in the cabin, we hunkered down for the night and when we awoke, we were in Berlin.
In these green-conscious times, short-haul flights can seem an increasingly guilty luxury – but who wants to give up the joys of a European mini-break? Factor in the credit-crunch and it seems cut-price airlines are still the best bet if you’re craving Continental fun on a budget.
The secret is sleeper trains. If booked in advance using special discount fares, they’re cheap.
You also save on accommodation by kipping onboard (our Paris-Berlin jaunt involved just two nights in a hostel), and night travel saves precious holiday time. Plus, trains cut out the hassle and hidden expenses of flying.
In most cases you arrive in the city centre, stepping from the train into the heart of town with no commute or expensive taxi trip.
Depending on which type of berth you opt for (see box), you can get a decent night’s sleep on the City Night Line.
But if you don’t, the good news is you’ve already begun the body clock rewiring that’s needed to survive Berlin’s legendary nightlife.
The evening doesn’t kick off till late, with clubs peaking around 4am, and locals often don’t head out until midnight – so an afternoon nap should set you up nicely.
But don’t sleep in too late the next day because Berlin is packed with things to do.
There are more than 170 museums for everything from ancient art (the Pergamon Museum) to punk history (the quirky Ramones Museum), not to mention a glut of well-preserved historic sites that reflect the city’s extraordinary past.
A turbulent 20th century saw Berlin the site of revolution and world wars, while the city’s wall became the most potent symbol of the Cold War years.
A walking tour is a good way to orientate yourself while getting the lowdown on Berlin’s history. Brewer’s Tours have a half-day ‘free’ tour – you pay whatever you want – which covers the highlights in an informative and entertaining way.
After three full days in Berlin and a sleeper train back to Paris, we had another day to enjoy the French capital before our Eurostar back to London.
The final tally of our trip was two days in Paris and three in Berlin, with travel and accommodation coming to £160 each – pretty budget-friendly, and a darn site more carbon-friendly than jetting there.
Sleeper Train Tips
There’s no check-in once you’re on the Continent, just turn up and hop onboard.
The cheapest berth – a seat in a shared compartment – is no worse than sleeping on a long-haul flight – and much better if you’re lucky enough, as we were, to get a half-empty cabin.
Bring a blanket for extra comfort. Spending a little more will get you a couchette berth in a shared cabin with bunks and bedlinen, while a sleeper – the next step up – is more like a hotel room.
For more information see the excellent seat61.com website.