Copenhagen – Paris by train: in the footsteps of Nord-Express

Traveling by train between Paris and Copenhagen used to be easy, thanks to a night train. It was the Nord-Express!

Today, reaching the Danish capital in a single day is difficult.

In this article, I recount my return journey from Copenhagen to Paris, with a stopover in Frankfurt. It’s the end of a rail journey that took me to Stockholm.

My train journey Paris – Stockholm – Copenhagen – Paris

I’ve lived in Stockholm in the past and it’s a city I love because of its fantastic natural setting, at the crossroads of a lake and the sea, and the lifestyle of its people. I’ve been going back regularly ever since, with great pleasure.

Until now, I’ve always flown there, but this time, I wanted to try to get there by train, to have the opportunity to visit Hamburg and Copenhagen en route, and also for ecological reasons, as this is the mode of transport that emits the least CO2.. So I was curious to try out train travel between the two capitals.

Traveling by train requires a different approach to time. The aim is no longer to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, but as pleasantly as possible. For this reason, I decided to make two different routes between the outward and return trips, with tourist stops of varying lengths.

On the outward journey, I passed through Hamburg and took the night train from Hamburg to Stockholm. I tell the story in an article entitled ” Paris – Stockholm by train “.

On the way back, I wanted to try another route via Gothenburg and Copenhagen, taking only day trains. I tell it in two parts:

– The Stockholm – Copenhagen route via Göteborg, Helsingborg, and Helsingør in the first article.

– The Copenhagen – Paris route via Hamburg and Frankfurt in this one.

I’ve also included a review of my Scandinavian rail journey at the end of this article.

Stockholm to Paris by train

The distance between Paris and Stockholm is 2000 km. Naively, I thought it would be an easy trip to organize, as we’re in the part of the world with one of the most developed rail networks.

We’ll see, however, thatyou need to be well-prepared and flexible during the journey. But if you follow my advice in the article ” Going to Scandinavia by train: a practical guide ” that I wrote on the subject, it’s within everyone’s reach.

All texts in color coral indicate an internal or external link.

The Nord-Express, night train between Paris and Copenhagen

It was much easier to get to Copenhagen and Stockholm by train in the 80s thanks to the existence of an overnight train, the Nord-Express, on which I worked as a steward in the sleeping cars!

A special feature of the trip was that the train boarded a ferry in Puttgarden, Germany, to reach Rødby in Denmark. During the crossing, you could go out on deck and smell the sea air. It was a great trip and I’m still nostalgic about it!

80s Paris-Copenhagen train via Puttgarden

Copenhagen is about the same distance from Paris as Rome, Madrid, Berlin, or Vienna. In the past, all these cities were linked to Paris by night train. Today, only Vienna remains!

In the age of the European Union and the need to reduce CO2 emissions, I think this is very regrettable.

Distances from Paris

Is it possible to get from Copenhagen to Paris in a single day?

I realized that today, Copenhagen is certainly one of the most difficult capitals in Western Europe to reach by train from Paris.

In theory, it’s possible to make the trip during the day. When I searched on the SNCF or DB websites, I found some proposals, but you have to organize them with at least two connections, if not three or four, and between 14 and 15 hours of travel time if all goes well! Unless I left Copenhagen early, between five and six in the morning, there was a great risk that I would miss the last connection and have to sleep unexpectedly en route.

For my return to Paris, after much research and hesitation, I decided to take two days with a one-night stopover in Frankfurt. It’s not the most economical solution, but it’s the price of tranquility. And even though I like trains, 15 hours of travel seems a bit much in a day!

Copenhagen 6.05 am – Fredericia 8.38 am / 8.46 am – Hamburg 12.05 pm

It’s very early, at six o’clock when I go to Copenhagen Central Station. Fortunately, my accommodation is only a ten-minute walk away.

Copenhagen station

As I enter the station, I discover a magnificent wooden vault.

Copenhagen station

The old Danske Statsbaner (DSB) diesel train

The route I’ve chosen involves changing trains in Fredericia. The direct train to Hamburg is either too early, at five o’clock, or too late, at nine o’clock with old German trains.

So it’s two old Danish diesel trains in succession that will take me to Hamburg. Not very environmentally friendly!

It’s quite incredible that such a strategic rail link between Scandinavia and continental Europe should be so underserved by 2023!

Train Copenhagen Fredericia

Comfortable First Class

It’s a good thing I made a seat reservation because the train from Copenhagen is full. The train will empty at Odense, where many passengers disembark.

The first class is not very large, but the seats are spacious and well-spaced.

However, they all face each other. It’s a provision often favored by rail companies, and I’ve never understood why. Unless you’re traveling as a couple, it’s pretty unpleasant to share your intimacy with a stranger who’s watching you during the journey and with whom you have to be careful not to step on each other’s toes!

A hostess brings us a loaf of bread with jam for breakfast. Hot drinks and water are available on a self-service basis. The atmosphere is peaceful, with a mix of business people and tourists heading for Germany.

Due to track work, our train is running behind schedule and I’m afraid we’ll miss our connection at Fredericia. The ticket inspector reassures me that the train to Hamburg will be waiting for us, as many of us will be using it.

We leave the island of Seeland via a tunnel followed by a bridge to reach the island of Fionie. It’s an 18 km stretch of impressive engineering structures for crossing the Great Belt Strait by car or train. On the rail side, it has only been operational since 1997. It used to be compulsory to take a ferry to Denmark and Sweden.

In Fredericia, our train to Germany is waiting across the street on the same platform. It comes from the town of Aarhus and is a carbon copy of the one we left behind.

At the border, the Danish crew of the DSB leaves us to be replaced by Germans from the DB. The beverage service only offered by Danish railways is withdrawn. There is no continuity of service even on a train operated jointly by DSB and DB. Geographical boundaries are well respected, and too bad for customers.

A sign of the dilapidated state of our train, two out of three toilets are out of order!

Landscapes between Copenhagen and Hamburg

Our train doesn’t catch up and we arrive in Hamburg at 12:30 pm instead of 12:05 pm. If I’d followed the DB or SNCF itinerary, i.e. Hamburg – Mannheim – Paris, to get to Paris on the same day, I’d have known then that it was no longer possible.

Indeed, to get the last train to France from Mannheim, I had to take the 12:24 pm. ICE from Hamburg to Mannheim. If I arrived at 12:30 pm, I would have missed my connection. and I would have had to rebuild the rest of my trip with an extra night in Germany anyway. So I’m glad I anticipated it with a clear head instead of having to do it in a hurry at a busy station.

Having a seat reserved on the 2:24 pm ICE to Frankfurt, I have plenty of time to go and have lunch in a pizzeria near the station with a friend who lives in Hamburg. As the stations are in the city center, long connections are never a source of boredom, unlike at airports.

Hamburg Hbf railway station

Hamburg 2:24 pm – Frankfurt 6:44 pm

Given the crowd I see on the platform, I expect my train to be ultra-crowded. In Germany, it’s not compulsory to reserve a seat, but I’m glad I did, for the modest sum of 5.9 EUR. If not, I’d either have to change seats at every station or, in the worst-case scenario, stand!

Deutsche Bahn’s (DB) ICE 4

It’s an ICE, but it’s different from the one I took on the outward journey between Cologne and Hamburg, which was an ICE 2. This is a more modern ICE 4, but paradoxically its top speed is only 265 km/h instead of 280 km/h for the older ICE 1 and 2. In practice, this doesn’t make much difference, because, unlike TGVs, ICEs make frequent stops and their average speed is not fast .

From Hamburg to Frankfurt, the journey time is usually 3 hours 36 minutes, but due to track work until December 2023, I’ll be taking 4 hours 20 minutes with five stops for just under 400 km.

ICE Hamburg Frankfurt

ICE 4: a pleasant surprise in First class

The ICE 4 is a pleasant surprise in First Class. While I found the seat unpleasant and poorly designed from an ergonomic point of view with the ICE 2, it’s very comfortable on the ICE 4.

ICE 4 in First class

As with the ICE 2, there’s a real dining car. The passages between the cars are particularly well executed.


As far as Hanover, we cross the bleak plains of northern Germany, which are not very interesting. The view is often obscured by noise barriers.

A storm of hail in Kassen

At Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe station, we’re held up for a long time by a violent hailstorm. There’s a lot of drumming on our train!

The storm is rather unusual and I receive a warning message from the public authorities warning me of the danger.

Fortunately, our ICE and the railroad line to Frankfurt are undamaged, and we’re left with just a thirty-minute delay. For once, DB, renowned for its numerous delays, will not be blamed!

Port Helsingborg

The Essen region

Gradually after Hanover, and even more so after Kessel, the landscape becomes more undulating and pleasant to look at. We are in the Essen region.

Frankfurt: “Finanzmetropole

It’s been over twelve hours since I left Copenhagen, and I’m very happy to have arrived!

Arrival in Frankfurt

Hotel prices in this business city are overpriced, but I managed to find an inexpensive room in a beautiful building on the banks of the Main. A little exhausted, I just do a little shopping in a nearby supermarket for a light supper before going to bed.

The next day, I set off on a quick tour of the city. The city was badly damaged during the Second World War and is not the prettiest in Germany. But it is interesting.

I start my walk along the banks of the Main, which are quite pleasant, especially on the south bank in the middle-class district of Sachsenhausen.

Then I continue to old Frankfurt, around the cathedral, which is a reconstruction of what the city looked like before the bombings. Despite the city’s best efforts, the district lacks patina and has not regained its historic charm.

Right next door is the pedestrian zone with its many stores, as in many German cities.

Before heading back to the station, I cross the downtown area with its skyscrapers, just like in the USA, but not as good, because the whole thing is rather architecturally unsuccessful. It was the Americans who pushed the Germans to reproduce their urban model after the war.

The station area still doesn’t seem very well known, with its sex shops and junkies shouting at each other.

This first tour of Frankfurt didn’t quite win me over. Perhaps I should have stayed longer. In fact, my host said to me: “Frankfurt is a very nice city with a second view! A city without charm at first glance, but a great place to live thanks to its high quality of life.

Main River
Frankfurt Cathedral
Old Frankfurt
Downtown Frankfurt
Downtown Frankfurt
Old Frankfurt
Opera Frankfurt
Sex shop Frankfurt
Old Frankfurt

Frankfurt 12:56 pm. Paris 4:54 pm

Frankfurt’s main railway station, with its large vaulted ceiling, is a fine example of architecture. Like Hamburg, it is ultra-crowded and on the verge of saturation. The cab rank is very poorly organized. We’re a long way from the epinal image of a disciplined, efficient Germany.

Frankfurt station

The SNCF TGV duplex: a real high-speed train at last!

Back home! I catch the last train of my long journey from Stockholm on a familiar SNCF, French railways, duplex TGV.

This is an opportunity to compare it with the German and Swedish express trains and the Thalys I took on my trip.

The comfort of the velvet seat is good and, on the upper deck, the cabin is very quiet even at high speed. The ICE and X2000 are noisier, even though they go more slowly.

The cabin harmony, in violet and red colors, is rather pleasing to the eye, but as it changes very often from train to train, you never really recognize the SNCF brand identity.

TGV Première

On the whole, the TGV Duplex is a success, but it does have two weak points. First, the toilets are too narrow. What’s more, I hate the hand-drying fan system, whereas all the other rail companies provide paper towels that are much more hygienic and effective.

The second weak point is the bar-car and catering offer. The pay-what-you-want menu is poor, and the central bar is quickly saturated, with long queues to buy your SNCF sandwich or coffee. The last straw for a company that represents the land of gastronomy!


In three-quarters of an hour, we reach Mannheim to the south, then turn west towards Saarbrücken. The vineyard landscapes are full of charm. Then we continue, at a snail’s pace, through beautiful gorges.


It’s only after Metz that our TGV is finally able to unleash the full power of its horses to reach speeds of up to 320 km/h. We often criticize the SNCF, but let’s not forget that, along with Spain, we have the most highly developed high-speed network in Europe.

TGV at 318 km/h

The landscapes become more familiar, with, among other things, our characteristic suburban areas. We cross the Moselle and continue through vast wheat fields.

Saarbrücken railway station
French suburban houses
Fields in France

Then we reach the Gare de l’Est in Paris, twenty minutes late with no explanation. I’m used to this now, as very few of the trains I’ve taken to Stockholm have been punctual.

The Interrail First Class pass gives access to the SNCF’s Grands Voyageurs lounges. To complete my travel experience, I’d like to visit it on arrival. I’m kindly greeted by a hostess at the Gare de l’Est train station, but I almost run out of there, as it’s completely saturated, with passengers sitting on the floor and having to overlap to get around. What a shame!

My assessment of the Paris – Stockholm train journeyCopenhagen – Paris

Taking the train to Stockholm or Copenhagen requires some preparation. It’s still a complex trip because you have to use several different rail companies, but I’m glad I did it because it’s a great travel experience.

A journey with many interesting stops

I discovered lots of new cities, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Cologne, Gothenburg, Helsingor, and Frankfurt on the way. Stops ranged from a few hours to a few days but were always exciting.

Other equally interesting stops would have been in Brussels, Dusseldorf, Hanover, Bremen, Lund, Malmö or Linköping. That’s for another time!

So I heartily recommend that you take the train to Denmark and Sweden. You won’t regret it, and I’ve concocted an article to make your trip easier with my practical advice, which I invite you to read now.

The route between Hamburg and Copenhagen is today’s weak point

Today, traveling to Scandinavia by train means taking the line between Hamburg and Copenhagen. By the summer of 2023, supply will be insufficient, with old trains, some of them diesel-powered, under-capacity with demand. Journey times are long, not always direct, and there are too many delays. This is clearly a bottleneck for rail links to northern Europe.

Fortunately, two projects will improve service quality:

  • In 2024, the DSB will receive new Talgo trains, with electric propulsion, which will increase current capacity and offer more comfortable and environmentally-friendly travel conditions.
  • In 2029, a new Fehmarnbelt tunnel will provide a more direct route between the two cities, reducing the journey time from the current four to six hours to two and a half!

Germany Scandinavia by train

My dream: The return of the Paris-Copenhagen night train!

Today, there is talk of relaunching a Paris – Berlin night train in 2024. This could also be an opportunity to think about rescheduling a Paris-Copenhagen night train with a common section between Paris and Hamburg, to improve the profitability of both lines. It’s an opportunity I hope Midnight trains will be able to make use of one day!

A Paris-Copenhagen night train with a solid partnership agreement, on fares and connection guarantees, with SJ would bring the whole of Sweden, and even Oslo, within easy train reach of France.

Better coordination between railways would be beneficial

Getting to Stockholm means traveling with many different rail operators – SNCF, Thalys, SNCB, DB, DSB, and SJ – all of which are not coordinated.

Fare rules, services, and timetables are so disparate as to make it difficult to plan a route.

European railways have indeed created Interrail to simplify travel between countries, but the pass is complex and its rules of use vary according to the railways, which may or may not require reservations.

All it would take is for the railways to talk to each other more. Why don’t rail companies take a leaf out of the book of airlines, which have invented alliances and code-shares to make it easier for their customers to travel beyond their own destinations?

This would require a cultural revolution in companies that are sometimes too conservative.

Railway logos



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