Imagine stepping into a room that’s not much bigger than a large closet and instead of despising your landlord, you marvel at its compact beauty.
An efficient use of space isn’t always a virtue, but it’s one of the most impressive features of the Caledonian Sleeper train, as I discovered on my journey from Edinburgh to London last month. In the compartments, beds are tucked beside sinks, there’s a pull-out desk beneath the basin, and a strong magnet draws toilet lids to the wall, which can be dropped down for showering.
The new trains were billed as “hotels on wheels” when they launched two years ago, harking back to an era of luxury travel that began in 1873.
Sleeping while travelling is an efficiency in itself: tucking sleep into the small hours as neatly as the narrow compartments in a carriage. For train lovers, the Caledonian is a stylish experience that doesn’t let you forget you’re on your favourite mode of transport. It’s a desirable place to sleep because, not in spite of that, as you’re rocked asleep by your progress.
Ticket options range from seats to solo or twin bunks and en-suite double rooms. My ‘Club Room’ was functional as could be in 2022, but softened by ergonomic and thoughtful details: dimmable lights, beige plaid Caledonian wallpaper, and the perfect comfiness of two pillows.
What is there to eat and drink onboard?
Laid out on the bed is an ordering card for breakfast which you’re asked to fill out and hang on the back of your door within 30 minutes of boarding. There’s also a ‘Highlander and Lowlander’ food and drink menu in the dining carriage or you can order it as room service. So you don’t need to worry about finding dinner at a late hour in town before boarding.
Given departure is at 11.40pm during the week and 11.15pm on Sundays, it’s likely you’ll have already eaten, but it’s still reassuring to know there’s plenty of midnight snacks and spirits to choose from in the plush Club Car.
There’s a focus on Scottish food, with classic plates of haggis and neep, and full Highland Breakfasts in the morning.
Can you get a good night’s sleep on the Caledonian?
As an excited first time passenger, I was torn between staying up to maximise the experience – nursing a cocktail in the lounge, or simply sitting up with a reading light and book, basking in the novelty of it all – and getting my head down.
There’s no one rule, or lights out moment for the whole train – night owls and early birds can do as they please. Tiredness won out for me, and the reason I was there: to get some good rest.
I’m a light sleeper so didn’t sleep seamlessly; you obviously can’t sprawl in a single bed (the Caledonian Double looks like a different story). But it is extremely cosy, and even when some jolts budged through my dreams, it was soothing to be reminded of where I was. Funnily enough, it actually felt weirder sleeping in moments when the train was still.
I can honestly say I arrived at Euston Station feeling like I was rested and well set up for the day (as much as a night owl ever can at 6.30am).
A more sustainable way to travel
The social acceptability of flying from Edinburgh to London, vice versa, or all domestic flights for that matter, is gradually being withdrawn.
A flight from Edinburgh to London emits 177kg CO2 per passenger, according to Transform Scotland, while trains use around 34kg per person. London North Eastern Railway (LNER) calculates this as even less – closer to 23kg of CO2 emissions. Using the same carbon calculator, a car journey emits 79kg CO2.
And with petrol costs wracked up the energy crisis – rising above £1.60 on average in the UK for the first time yesterday – train travel is becoming much cheaper.
Short-haul flights are a major avoidable cause of global pollution. However it works out exactly, train travel is easily the most sustainable option for getting between the two great cities. And door to door it’s hardly much quicker to fly, with Waverly and Euston stations so centrally located.
As Caledonian Sleeper points out, you’ll also be saving yourself the stress and lost hours of queuing, checking in and paying for baggage.
What are the other perks of travelling by sleeper train?
Back to first impressions and what everyone wants to know: the goodies. Surely even the most seasoned business traveller experiences a small thrill at seeing the bag of freebies laid out on their bunk. Each sleeper is equipped with pillow spray, earbuds, a sleeping mask, and toiletries.
I stayed in a Club Solo room, but the complimentary sleep pack is given to all passengers.
Tips and things to note about the Caledonian Sleeper
- You have more time onboard than you might expect, at both ends. Passengers can board around 30 minutes before departure, to get comfy and enjoy the perks of the train. There’s also guest lounges to wait in at the stations, though only for Double and Club room ticket holders.
- There’s no rush to disembark. Unlike with regular day trains, you’re not hurried out as soon as it pulls into the platform, giving you time to get ready, wash and enjoy breakfast.
- The Edinburgh to London train often arrives earlier than scheduled. We got to London around half an hour earlier than the expected 7.07, but didn’t need to vacate our rooms until 7.30am.
- Showering is free for those in Double and Club rooms, but all passengers can purchase a showering token on board for £5, either for use in your Classic room, or at the station facilities if you’re seated.
- The sleeper train isn’t just for business travellers. Coming back on a Sunday evening, there was a real mix of people: families with young children, couples who had enjoyed a weekend in the Scottish capital, as well as those who looked like they were doing some meeting prep with a whisky.
It’s not the Orient Express. It is, still, just the Edinburgh to London line. But it’s a smooth, comfortable, efficient, and quietly luxurious way to travel. I’ll definitely be back onboard.
How much does the Caledonian Sleeper train cost?
Ticket prices start at £50 for a seat – which has its own ergonomic perks including a footrest, reading light, and even a shoe buffer. You can put your small possessions in your own secure locker for peace of mind, too.
Room prices vary and rise to £345 for a Caledonian Double, so squarely at the more luxurious end. A Classic room is around £170, and twin en-suite Club room £235.
You can book tickets online, over the phone, or at any station ticket office, up to a year in advance. There are plenty of Scottish stations the sleeper travels between, including Aberdeen, Glasgow and Inverness.