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Whilst taking the train from London to Östersund (northern Sweden), which I do quite frequently, I usually plan it so that I get a free day in Copenhagen. It looks like this:

London -> Brussels -> Cologne -> (overnight) Copenhagen -> day of sightseeing in Copenhagen -> Malmö -> (overnight) Stockholm -> Östersund

Anyway, I'm getting pretty bored of Copenhagen, so I was wondering if it was possible to rearrange it in some way so that I could visit e.g. Berlin or somewhere instead, taking the same amount of days of travel (i.e. 2 overnight segments).

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This question has an open bounty worth +50 reputation from Willeke ending tomorrow.

The current answer(s) are out-of-date and require revision given recent changes.

As night trains are more and more being taken out of the time tables and at times just run in the summer holidays period and wintersports period, if that much, the answers to this question are outdated now or will be soon. New answers are needed.

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Night train through Germany are operated by City Night Line. It may help to look at the map in their brochure. Another useful way to visualize your options is Eurail's map with travel times. For train schedules across Europe (except the Balkans and the Russias), everything is conveniently available on the German railways website.

If you do the whole trip by rail, there are several hurdles:

  • From London to the continent, there's only one option: a day train to Brussels.
  • To cross Germany by night, you have to start in the west (not much further than Cologne), and go at least as far as Hamburg (for a very early morning arrival), with a train arriving in Copenhagen late in the morning.
  • From Germany to Östersund by rail, you need to change at Copenhagen and Stockholm. You need to choose between a night trip from Copenhagen to Stockholm, one from Stockholm to Östersund, and spending the day in trains from Copenhagen to Östersund.

So here are a few possibilities:

  • There is one way to finish the trip with a long straight train journey (on most days; check the schedules, especially if you're traveling near a week-end or holiday): take the night train 40447 to Copenhagen arriving at 10:02, change for R2038 to Malmö then X2 534 to Stockholm and X2 590 to Östersund (arriving at 22:20). You need to depart from Amsterdam at 19:01 or Cologne at 22:28 (or other points along the route). The problem with this approach is that since you'll be spending so much time traveling by day that there's no stretch of the journey left with a night train.
    If you're willing to take a ferry, you can cross the North Sea from Harwich to Hoek van Holland by night. You'll be in Holland at 7:45, giving you the best part of the day to catch the 40447 in Amsterdam or Utrecht (1½ hours away).
  • If you hurry along the western part of your journey and to the 40447, you can be in Stockholm at 15:50, then leave at 23:50 for the night train to Östersund. That's not much time to spend in Stockholm, and best reserved for the summer so you at least can spend some of it in daylight.
  • If you take the overnight from Malmö to Stockholm, you can leave Hamburg as late as 15:28. That doesn't leave much time to come from Berlin, unless you want to sample Berlin's night life (which is pretty lively).
    • You could leave London in the afternoon, take the overnight train from Cologne to Hamburg (4am arrival), and spend a bit of time in Hamburg.
    • You could take the night ferry to Hoek van Holland, travel to Berlin by day and spend the night there.
  • A longer and more expensive journey goes via Paris: take a morning Eurostar, spend the day in Paris, take the overnight train to Hamburg, continue via the route of your choice.
  • You can take a ferry from Sassnitz to Sweden. You can even take an overnight train on this route, the Berlin Night Express: board in Berlin at 22:31, alight in Malmö at 08:01 (with a connection to Stockholm arriving at 12:45, in time to be in Östersund in the evening). This lets you bypass Copenhagen. If you don't sleep through it, you'll have the nowadays rare experience of a train loaded onto a ferry.
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via Paris is a very interesting idea. An overnight to Hamburg would presumably leave me enough time the next day to arrive in Stockholm in the evening (I recently went from Vienna to Östersund via Hamburg where I actually had one of those train-on-a-ferry experiences), and thus I could probably do it with two overnight segments. That's actually very smart, thanks for the suggestion. – victoriah Aug 10 '11 at 22:47
@victoriah Yes, if you take the overnight from Paris from Hamburg and go straight on to Stockholm you'll be able to catch the overnight to Östersund. I added a link to by the way, in case you didn't know about it (or for future readers), you'll find all schedules there. – Gilles Aug 10 '11 at 22:56
I am down with and all that stuff, but I just want to say thanks again for this suggestion. I've always wanted to visit Paris and never had the time/opportunity, so even getting to spend a couple of hours there will be extremely awesome for me :) – victoriah Aug 10 '11 at 23:00
A train can be loaded to a Ferry? :O +1! – Rudy Gunawan Dec 7 '11 at 10:45
Yes, the copenhagen-hamburg and copenhagen-berlin trains are driven directly onto a ferry. then you get off, walk around and buy crap for 30 mins or so, then get back on the train and drive off the ferry. – victoriah Dec 22 '11 at 7:05

The source of all knowledge on this sort of thing is The Man in Seat 61, in this case the Sweden page.

The bad news is that from their map, there doesn't look to be any suitable way to get from somewhere like Berlin over to Sweden.

That said, it does look possible to do Copenhagen -> Malmö -> Stockholm in an afternoon, rather than overnight. That would give you the evening and possibly some of the morning in Stockholm for sightseeing, rather than in Copenhagen.

Another option for the route is to take the ferry from Harwich to Esbjerg in Denmark, then on via Copenhagen. However, that doesn't look to get you much time anywhere else.

A final option is to do London to Hamburg in a day, then spend the night there (which would allow a bit of sightseeing). It's then a ~ 12 hour straight trip the next day to get you from Hamburg to Stockholm (via Copenhagan and Malmo). That might allow a bit of sightseeing in Hamburg, especially if you don't mind catching an overnight train for the Swedish leg.

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Why is Seat 61 considered a reference? It's an excellent introduction, but it doesn't nearly cover all the possibilities, especially once you start talking about breaks of journey. – Gilles Aug 10 '11 at 20:40
Seat 61 (now) often has several options, day and night departures, so you can mix and match to get your breaks. – Willeke Jun 7 '15 at 11:39

Just a thought - since you have a route you know well, yet it still travels through several major cities, why not spend a night in Brussels or Cologne?

Brussels has great food to try, a fantastic building heritage and accommodation close to the station. You could even do a trip out to Bruges.

In Cologne, there's the famous cathedral right next to the station, and accommodation close by as well. The view from the top over Bonn and Cologne is fantastic!

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+1 for spending a night in Brussels. Personally, I prefer Bonn over Cologne. It is smalller and more cosy. But that's a matter of taste ... – user766 Dec 21 '11 at 23:34

If for some reason you don't want to stay a night in København, you can get a free day of sightseeing in Germany. I'm sure that you will get through Hamburg during your journey (as I know, this is the only railway to Denmark). This is a big city with many interesting places to go to.

You shouldn't be afraid about the time you will spend there - Hamburg is not very far from København, and getting to Malmö from there is easy - it only needs one change in København, and average time you need to get from Hamburg to Malmö is nearly 9 hours.

Also, you can search for a better train schedule, and get a day in Stockholm - it is a beautiful city.

I don't recommend going to Berlin as it is not on your route and you will spend more time on trains.

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