Sleeper trains! Jess and I are big fans, and we’ve taken them in a wide variety of countries. We’ve ridden all sorts of sleeper train, from creaky old eastern European models through to the vintage Orient Express.
But one thing we’d never done is try a sleeper train in the UK. After all, the UK isn’t exactly that big. You can get from London to Edinburgh in under five hours by train, so why would you want a sleeper version?
Well, there are a few reasons. First, you save on the cost of a hotel night by sleeping on a train. Second, you don’t waste precious exploration time stuck on a train – instead, you arrive bright and early in your destination, ready for a full day of adventure. Third, unlike many train services in the UK, this can be booked a whole year in advance, helping you figure out your transport well in advance. And fourth – well, fourth, it’s kind of fun!
In today’s post I’m going to share our experiences of travelling with the Caledonian Sleeper between Edinburgh and London, a journey we did once in each direction. This was due to a kind invite by the folks at Caledonian Sleeper who offered to let us try out their services.
This post will cover the different classes available on board the Caledonian Sleeper, our review of the Caledonian Sleeper service between London and Edinburgh, and provides information on travelling with the Caledonian Sleeper.
First though, let me answer the question:
What is the Caledonian Sleeper?
The Caledonian Sleeper is a train service which operates a number of routes which link London with cities in Scotland, including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness, and Aberdeen. Services run both ways six days a week, with the exception of Saturdays.
A sleeper service has been running between London and Scotland since the 1850’s, although the service has been updated a few times since then – with a major update coming into service in 2018.
It’s been running in it’s current name, the Caledonia Sleeper, since 1996, and in 2016, Lonely Planet named the journey from London Euston to Fort William the best sleeper train journey in the world.
What Sleeping Options Are There on the Caledonian Sleeper?
There are three main options for travel on the Caledonia Sleeper. These are a Sleeper Seat, Standard Class and First Class.
1. Sleeper Seat.
This is generally the most economical way to travel, with prices starting around £35 per person one way. These are reclining seats in a 2 + 1 arrangement, which are similar in layout to first class seats on a normal British train.
As you will be sharing with other people in the same carriage, this is likely to be the least comfortable option, and you won’t be able to lie flat. There’s a counter-service, but the lounge / dining car is off limits to sleeper seat passengers. All Caledonian Sleeper Seat passengers receive a sleep kit which comes with earplugs and an eye mask.
2. Standard Sleeper Room
With prices starting at £70 per person, the Caledonian Sleeper standard cabin is an excellent option if you actually want a lie-flat bed and some privacy – especially if you’re travelling with a friend or as couple or family. The sleeper rooms accommodate two people, with two bunks on the walls – one above the other. You also get a sleep kit with eyemask and ear plugs.
The room also has a sink, towels, bedding, and 4x USB power outlets. If you’re travelling on your own, you will usually be allocated a room with another solo traveller of the same sex. You are also able to access the lounge car, subject to space (priority is given to first class passengers, although it is rarely full), which has a range of seating options as well as a drinks and meal service. You can see an idea of available on board meals here.
The room doesn’t have a toilet, but individual ladies and gents toilets are available at the end of each carriage. There are also no showers on board, but showers can be found at many of the stations along the route – for standard sleeper and sleeper seat passengers there’s a small fee to use these.
3. First Class Sleeper Room
For the ultimate experience, or for those travelling alone who really value their privacy, the Caledonian Sleeper First Class Sleeper room offers you a whole cabin to yourself, with prices starting at £130 per person.
This is basically exactly the same cabin as the standard sleeper room, but the top bunk is folded away, so you have the place to yourself.
As well as all the amenities included in the standard sleeper room, you also get a lovely toiletry kit, access to the first class lounges at departure and arrival stations (some of which have free showers), as well as a free hot or continental breakfast, which you can enjoy either in your room or in the lounge car. You also have priority access to said lounge car on the train and free use of showers at departure and arrival stations.
If you’re travelling as a couple (or with a friend or family member), you can book adjoining sleeping rooms with an interconnecting door, meaning you end up with a pair of rooms that are private from the outside world, with plenty of room for the two of you.
Our Caledonian Sleeper Review
As I said at the start of the post, Jess and I were invited to try out the Caledonian Sleeper on a journey from Edinburgh to London and back again. This is one of the shorter journeys available on the Caledonian Sleeper, lasting around eight hours. This is the “lowland sleeper” route, which operates between London and Glasgow/Edinburgh.
In Edinburgh, which was where we started our journey, the train is available for boarding from 11pm, and the train itself departs at 23.40. We were lucky to have been given first class tickets, so we got on board in plenty of time to take advantage of everything the train had to offer.
On arrival our rooms were allocated and our breakfast order was taken, and after popping our luggage in our rooms, we headed to the lounge car to try out an evening meal from the options available. This was actually very good (and reasonably priced!), even though the current galley is restricted to sandwiches and microwaveable meals, and we enjoyed it.
Then, ready for bed, we headed back to our cabins. Cabins do lock, but only the steward has the keys, so to get back into our cabin we had to find our carriage steward. This isn’t hard as each carriage has a steward at one end, but is something to bear in mind if you find yourself outside your cabin with no way to get back in. There is a steward call button in the cabin, but obviously you have to be in the cabin to use it.
Back into our cabins, we got ourselves ready for bed (I particularly liked the pillow spray that came in the first class cabin, and the provided bottled drinking water), plugged my phone into one of the four (four!) available USB ports, and went to sleep.
I’m pleased to report that we both slept well on the train down to London, although certainly we appreciate this won’t be an experience for everyone. Trains move around and make noise as they travel, and whilst the earplugs certainly help, it’s really down to the individual as to how you will sleep.
I would also add that to get the most sleep you should arrive as soon as the train is ready for boarding, having eaten before hand, and just head straight to bed. Trains arrive into London at just after 7am, and as we wanted breakfast in the lounge car, we had to be up by 6.30am to take advantage of that. A wake up call was available, but we just used my phone alarm.
We woke with my alarm and headed for breakfast. We were particularly impressed by breakfast – Jess had Scottish smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, whilst I went for the full highland breakfast. Then, finding ourselves already in Euston, we offloaded and started our London adventure.
Our return trip was similar, with the exception that on the journey north, the train from London to Edinburgh can be boarded at 10pm, meaning you can get a bit more sleep should you wish – or just enjoy a dram of whisky or two in the lounge car. It still doesn’t leave until just before midnight, so if falling asleep whilst the train is moving is a problem for you, getting on board a little bit earlier might be the best option.
We were also a little disappointed on our northern version of the trip that an issue with food delivery meant that the highland breakfast wasn’t available. Jess again availed of the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, and I went for the bacon bap, which was excellent. It was also particularly nice to have breakfast in the dining car as we headed into Edinburgh, as the scenery on this part of the journey is really lovely, and is an excellent way to start getting excited for your Scottish adventure.
Overall, we’d definitely recommend you consider the Caledonian Sleeper for your transport needs when visiting the UK. You’ll save the cost of an overnight stay, won’t lose time travelling in the day, and will experience one of the world’s great sleeper train journeys.
Things to Know About the Caledonia Sleeper
Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning your Caledonian Sleeper adventure:
Train arrival times
The lowland trains to and from Edinburgh and Glasgow arrive early into their respective destinations. This is great for giving you lots of time to sightsee, but if you are travelling with luggage you will have to factor that in as you’ll have to find somewhere to leave it.
Many hotels will let you leave luggage if you arrive early for no additional fee, otherwise you may have to look at left luggage options. For example, this site provides Baggage services at a number of stations in the UK.
WiFi on the Caledonian Sleeper
There’s no WiFi at all on the Caledonia Sleeper, although if you have a data package on your phone you should get good reception for the majority of the route.
Food / Drink on the Caledonian Sleeper
For travellers in standard and first class, the Caledonian Sleeper lounge car has a range of drink and meal options including full dinners and breakfasts. First class guests can also order meals to their cabin. There is a counter service available to guests in the sleeper seats for snacks and refreshments.
Pets on the Caledonian Sleeper
Pets are welcome on board the Caledonian Sleeper. Assistance dogs are free, whilst all other pets have a charge of £30 at time of writing. If you wish to travel with a pet you need to have a room that is for your exclusive use so as not to inconvenience a stranger – either by booking a standard room for two people, or travelling in first class.
Power on the Caledonian Sleeper
Power is available is the form of 4 USB sockets for each room. Rooms do not have standard power outlets, although if you do need to plug into an outlet, you can find these in the lounge car. There are no power outlets of any kind in the sleeper seat section, so we suggest charging devices before travelling.
Toilets / Showers on the Caledonian Sleeper
There are no showers on board the Caledonian Sleeper, although as previously noted a number of stations offer Caledonian Sleeper passengers the option to shower either on departure or arrival. This is free for first class passengers and there is a small fee for standard sleeper and sleeper seat passengers.
Stations with showers include London Euston, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. You can see all the facilities available for each station on this comprehensive station list.
Toilets are located at the end of each carriage, and unusually for a UK train, can be used when in a station.
Spring 2018 Planned Updates
In 2018 the Caledonian Sleeper will benefit from a massive investment that will see 75 new carriages rolled out across the service. Improvements will include en-suite rooms for first class guests, the option for double beds, free WiFi that will offer films and TV streaming, improved standard class rooms and a new Brasserie Club Car.
We’re looking forward to trying out the new service when it goes live in 2018, and will be sharing our thoughts on it when we do in a new post.
As you can see, we thoroughly enjoyed our trip on the Caledonian Sleeper, and are already looking forward to trying out the new version next year. In the meantime though, here’s a little extra related reading we’ve put together for you on the theme of the UK and trains. Enjoy!
- Click here if you want to book a trip on the Caledonian Sleeper train service
- If you want to read more about our sleeper train experiences, look no further than our luxury voyage on the Orient Express from London to Venice. For a shorter luxury train experience in the UK, you can read about our journey on the Belmond British Pullman. Yes, we like trains.
- For your time in London, take a look at our Two Day London Itinerary to help you see all the highlights of London. There’s also a 1 day version if you’re short on time.
- London transport can be confusing. That’s why we wrote a guide to buying and using the London Oyster Card, and a guide to public transport in London to help you get around without spending too much money
- London’s also photogenic – check out our tips for finding the best Photography Locations in London
- And, to really save money in London, read our full review of the London Pass to help you decide if this can save you money on your visit to London
- Beyond London, we’ve got lots of experience in the UK as well. Take a look at our detailed itinerary for two weeks in the UK, and the 1 week version, for inspiration.
- We’ve written a number of guides to Edinburgh, including a guide to visiting during the August festivals, the Highlights of Edinburgh, Hidden Gems in Edinburgh and a 2 day Edinburgh itinerary, to name a few
- We’ve also visited Glasgow of course – and put together a comprehensive Glasgow guide for you
- Heading even further north in Scotland, here are some ideas, including information on the epic North Coast 500 road trip, exploring the Highlands and Skye, and even whisky tasting!
And that sums up our experience on the Caledonian Sleeper train service! Have you ever considered travelling by sleeper train in the UK? Have any questions for us? Let us know in the comments below!
So you know, Caledonian Sleeper provided us complimentary first class tickets each way from Edinburgh to London Euston for the two of us. We covered the cost of our own evening meal on board. As always, our opinions remain our own – see our code of ethics for more on how we choose to who work with.