Glamour, heartbreak and the occasional murder: train journeys have long been the source of romance and drama in popular culture. And while travelling by rail no longer necessitates the appearance of Poirot, it can still be a wonderfully fulfilling way of moving around. This sense of adventure is increased tenfold with sleeper trains, and the beguiling prospect of going to bed in one place and waking up in another.
Forget endless queues and bland plane food; this experience is all about evening night caps, cosy bunker cabins and soaking in the scenery. Even the names of sleeper trains are enough to conjure up excitement and intrigue, whether it's the Red Arrow or the Caledonian Sleeper.
From the modern efficiency of the City Night Line from Copenhagen to Prague to the opulence of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, we round up the best, most inspiring sleeper train routes to suit all tastes and budgets. All aboard for journey of a lifetime...
The Caledonian Sleeper
From: London Euston to Fort William, Scotland
Time: 12 hours
The longest sleeper journey you can take in Britain comes courtesy of the wonderful Caledonian Sleeper, which will cart you off from London to the shore of Loch Linnhe in around 12 hours. The train gets progressively smaller as it heads through Scotland on the overnight service, arriving in Edinburgh around 4am, with six carriages heading onto Inverness, four to Aberdeen, and two running the final leg to Fort William.
Fort William is a gorgeous standalone destination, located as it is in the shadow of the mighty Ben Nevis in the heart of the Scottish highlands. But it's not the only reason this train service is beloved by all who travel on it. As the Sleeper chugs through Scotland, the evermore rugged and dramatic landscape (including a stop off at the highest station in Britain) makes it a journey in the true, old-fashioned sense of the word.
Then there's the cabins to consider, all of which are comfortably kitted out with a seated sleeping option tailored to those on a budget. Grab a malt whiskey night cap before retiring to your abode with a complimentary toiletry pack and a wake-up hot or continental breakfast delivered direct to your room.
From £112 for a standard bed single from London to Fort William, sleeper.scot
The Red Arrow
From: Leningradskaya Station in Moscow to Moskovskaya Station in St. Petersburg
Time: 8 hours 25 minutes
There are few more romantic overnight routes to traverse than that of Moscow to St. Petersburg on The Red Arrow (or Krasnya Strela). This iconic red train has been rolling its way between Russia's two major urban hubs since 1931 (only briefly suspended from 1941-43 during the Nazi siege of Leningrad).
The reigning king of the Russian rail road, it even has its own theme tune – Hymn to the Great City – which is played over the loudspeakers when the train departs St Petersburg before midnight every evening.
The cabins look like something out of a vintage movie set, with plush red curtains and upholstery and all manner of amenities, from slippers and bathrobes to in-room snacks of hot waffles with honey and cream. The top-end LUX compartments are the blingest of all, with individual WCs and shower cabins, an LCD screen with CD-DVD system and heated flooring.
Visitors can sit back and soak in the train's retro charm and Russia's extraordinary scenery over a vodka nightcap. The train, which was Russia's most popular route during the Soviet era, departs one city at just before midnight and arrives in the other at 8:25am next morning.
From 6,000 roubles (£99) for a two-berth compartment, russiantrains.com
The Night Riviera
From: London Paddington to Penzance, Cornwall
Time: 8 hours 15 minutes
Time: 8 hours 08 minutes
It's not as well-known as the Caledonian Sleeper, but The Night Riviera, from London Paddington to Cornwall, is every inch as delightful. This Great Western Railway service runs six days a week and is a popular journey for commuters and holidaymakers.
Guests depart the fug and chaos of the capital at a quarter to midnight and arrive in the beautiful seaside town of Penzance at just before 8am the next day. There's bucolic coastal scenery in spades and you can stop off at any number of lovely towns along the way, from Truro to St Austell.
Cabins are currently being modernised with keyless hotel-style door entry, WiFi, USB charging points, and a host of other improvements, and you can choose to pay for a single cabin or a twin cabin. Each comes with a wash basin, towel, complimentary vanity pack, and bottled water and you’ll be woken up in the morning with an in-room breakfast of a bacon roll (or whatever you prefer). Other snacks and alcoholic treats are available at the Sleeper Cafe.
It's the journey that really wins here; what better way to whisk between London and the Cornish Riviera? Banish the M4 forever.
Single cabins are available from £60 on top of the cost of your return train ticket, gwr.com
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
From: London Victoria to St Mark's Square, Venice
Time: two days, one night
If you want to push out all the stops and re-live a golden epoch of travel, book yourself a place on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.
This glorious train has been lovingly restored from its 1920s heyday, with historic Wagons-Lit carriages and Art Deco features (think oval tinted windows and mirrored vanity closets) throughout. It takes a night and two days to get from London to Venice. You travel by a British Pullman to the coast and then pick up the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express at a village near Calais, journey through Paris during dinner, breakfast with the Swiss Alps rushing by and roll into St Mark's Square in Venice at noon.
The whole thing is too Agatha Christie to be true – there's even an Agatha Christie cocktail served in the live piano bar, in a nod to the author's best-seller, Murder On The Orient Express. Dinner is a very decadent affair, where you dress to the nines to enjoy delights such as Alaska royal crab, avocado tartare, and petit fours served on bespoke china, with champagne in crystal goblets.
The cabins are the best bit. As they're original, they're also small with no air con, but are resplendent with retro details such as brass bells and burgundy side lamps. Afternoon tea is served as you cross the Austrian-Italy border and there are champagne cocktails to sip as you write your postcards home (the train sends them for free).
From £1,975 per person from London to Verona or Venice or vice versa on the Venice Simplon Orient-Express, belmond.com
Main image: Rex Features