Overnight sleeper trains are making a HUGE comeback, and now that I’ve taken one, I can absolutely see why!
We spent 3 months in the UK last fall and immediately after arrival I started researching where sleeper trains could take us. Being Canadian, we really don’t have a wide variety of train travel options, so I was very excited to see what the UK had to offer. That is when I came across GWR’s newly renovated Night Riviera Sleeper Train. It’s an overnight train that leaves from Paddington station in London and travels to the sub tropical town of Penzance. Yes please!
Was the Night Riviera everything I thought it would be?
I LOVED every second of it. GWR’s train was my gateway drug into rail transportation…I’m totally hooked! If you haven’t been on a sleeper train before, you are missing out an exceptional way to travel!
What you’ll learn in this blog:
Renovated Night Riviera Sleeper Train
We actually got the renovated train for the journey BACK to London from Penzance. (Which is fortunate, because my heart was broken when the ‘old’ one picked us up in London for the journey out to Penzance.)
Upon boarding, my husband and I were like kids in a candy store! We couldn’t believe the difference from the old style. It felt so much bigger, brighter and definitely more modern.
Everything in the cabin was changed, top to bottom! The wall panels, carpet, sink, mirror, beds…everything! The even changed the lighting, call buttons, climate control, and window shade. All the colours are refreshed making it look more like a hotel room than a train car.
The old trains didn’t have plugs or USB ports in the cabins, so you always had to board the train with a full battery. Now there are plugs and ports in the room so we were able to charge our devices while sleeping! They do promote Wi-Fi on the trains, but inside the cabin with the door closed, we couldn’t find a connection. We did however get a signal in the dining car.
Just like in a hotel, we were given keycards to get into the cabin, which was a much needed upgrade from the old system. On our first GWR ride we had to ask the stewardess to lock our door behind us when we went to the dining car. Then when heading back to the room, we had to find her again to get our door opened. The keycards are way less hassle!
YAS! Other than the decor, this is my favourite upgrade to the Night Riviera! In the old cabin, the top bunk didn’t move at all. So if you wanted to hang out in your cabin, you were forced to lay down, as sitting on the bottom bunk wasn’t possible. Now, the top bunk stows away, opening up the bottom bunk to act as a sofa. A tray folds down from the wall so you have a place to put your drinks or snacks while sitting on the lower bunk. It made the perfect spot for relaxing after departure, as we weren’t quite ready to sleep.
They made the space under the bed larger to accommodate more personal items/luggage, although we still had to put our luggage in the storage car lockup. They also designed a small wardrobe where you can hang up a few shirts without getting them wrinkled.
I was really impressed with the amenity kit provided in each cabin on board the Night Riviera! It’s a solid keepsake box that opens up to reveal goodies to compliment the overnight journey. It came with lip balm, a luxury soap, a linen washcloth and even a plastic baggie to put the soap back in so we could bring it with us. Trevor still has his GWR box and uses it to keep small items organized while we travel.
Cost of the Night Riviera Train
In November 2017 we paid £89 for 2 tickets to Penzance and £119 for 2 tickets to London. (£208 roundtrip.)
The prices can vary a lot depending on if the train is full or not. Booking well into advance will help keep the costs down.
London Hotel Travel Hack
London is home to some of the most expensive hotels in the world, but you can use the Night Riviera as the ultimate London hotel hack.
Our tickets from London to Penzance only cost £89, which makes sleeping on the train one of the cheapest accommodations you can find in the city! The train leaves the station just before midnight, so you won’t need to book any hotels that night. Plus don’t forget, that includes the lounge and of course transportation to Penzance!
To put it into perspective, you could stay at the Hilton Paddington Station for £200 (which trust me, you don’t want to!) or on the Night Riviera for half the price. They even bring you breakfast in bed as you pull into the station.
Pretty cool, right!?
How Long Is The Ride From London to Penzance?
The trip will vary from 7 to 9 hours from station to station. Other non-sleeper trains can do the journey in just over 5 hours, but this train takes it’s time. Which is nice, because who wants to rush their time on a sleeper train? Not this girl!
GWR - Departing From Paddington Station
Another perk of booking a cabin on the Night Riviera is the included access to the lounge. A few hours prior to boarding, we were welcomed into the First Class Lounge at Paddington Station. The lounge is divided into 2 sections, one being the new modern area and the other being a portion of the original Queen’s lounge of the 1800’s. I personally loved the architecture and history in the older part of the lounge, but it seemed everyone likes to hang out in the modern space. Probably because they hand out free wine (only some nights) and a bigger variety of snacks. I get it.
Either way, it’s a nice place to sit down and relax before boarding the train.
GWR - Departing From Penzance
As of November 2017, the Penzance station left a LOT to be desired. I’m sure during the day it’s more lively, but at night it resembles an eerie ghost town. When we got there around 8pm, there wasn’t even an onsite bathroom open, nor any place to eat. Just an empty room to sit and and stare at the wall until the train came.
However, GWR has stated that in 2018 the new lounge will be open in Penzance, so hopefully that is still happening.
Can You Actually SLEEP on the Night Riviera?
Like a baby. Both Trevor and I were out like a LIGHT both times. There is something about the white noise of the engine, along with the slow rocking movement of the train. The two glasses of wine might have helped as well, but I’d like to think it was the magic of the sleeper train. When I read reviews of people saying they couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t fathom why not! Hands down one of the most relaxing and soothing experiences of my life.
How to book GWR’s Sleeper Train
We went directly to GWR’s site and booked our tickets online. The sleeper train is usually the last departure of the day from either station and is clearly marked in purple saying ‘sleeper service’. Just a heads up: Just because you are booked on the Night Riviera, doesn’t mean you have a sleeper cabin. They also sell normal seats on this train, so if the price seems too low, you might be in a chair instead of a cabin.
The OLD GWR Train - What the Night Riviera USED To Look Like!
We had the old style cabin on the way to Penzance from London. The worst part was, almost every other car on our train had been renovated except for ours. We peeked into several of the other cars where people were ooo-ing and aww-ing over their classy cabins, while we retreated back to our ancient relic.
Because the top bunk doesn’t flip up, we spent some time in the dining car chatting with other passengers before retiring for the night.
The old cabin wasn’t horrible by any means, but I can see why they invested into updating them. They really needed a facelift.
Tips For Riding the GWR Riviera Sleeper:
- When departing from Penzance, make sure you have your own water/snacks while waiting for the train.
- Go to the dining car and have a wine. Or better yet, get some snacks too. They sell everything from champagne to sandwiches on board.
- They do provide bottled water for the cabin. You also have your own sink to brush your teeth before bed.
- The washrooms are at the ends of each car. They are decently clean, but you will have to leave your room to access them.
- If you have large luggage, there is a storage car at the front of the train with a lockable cage. It won’t fit in your cabin.
- You have access to the First Class Lounge before departure, take advantage!
- If noise bothers you at night, bring earplugs. Depending on where your cabin is, you might hear noise from the breaks.
Let me tell you, if I lived in the UK I would be taking this train all the time. It’s the perfect way to escape to Cornwall and insanely cheap compared to regular train travel.
It was also nice to kill two birds with one stone and use the train as a ‘hotel night' as well as transportation.
If you are headed to LONDON, check out '12 Ways To See London Like Never Before' Travel Guide!