Paris – Stockholm by train

Taking the train between Paris and Stockholm is a great experience, and one I’d recommend.

The new Hamburg – Stockholm night train has made the journey quick and easy.

My train journey Paris – Stockholm – Copenhagen – Paris

I used to live in Stockholm 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 regularly go back there and always with great pleasure.

Up to now I’ve always flown there, but this time, I wanted to go there by train, to have the opportunity to visit Hamburg and Copenhagen along the way and also for ecological reasons, because it’s 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 had two objectives:

  • Visit Hamburg, a dynamic, rich yet little-known port city.
  • Take the new night train from Hamburg to Stockholm, inaugurated by Swedish Railways less than a year ago.

Map Paris to Stockholm by train

On the way back, I passed through Gothenburg and Copenhagen using daytime trains. I tell the story in two articles:

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.

Paris 7.55 am – Cologne 11.15 am

It’s the day of the big departure and, as always, I’m excited to return to Stockholm, my old home.

Thalys: a train I know well!

The first, of the many trains I’ll be taking, is very familiar to me: it’s the Thalys (since October 23, Thalys has been rebranded Eurostar), which I took many times when I lived in Amsterdam. I leave from the Gare du Nord in Paris as if I was going to the Netherlands.

The travel experience remains the same as the one I described in my article “ Traveling by Eurostar (ex-Thalys) Premium Class “. But this time I’m in Comfort class. The seat is similar, but in exchange for a lower rate, no breakfast is served. You have to buy your coffee at the bar in the middle of the train. That suits me perfectly.

Thalys Comfort class

We’re speeding along at over 300 km/h all the way to Bruxelles-Midi through the Picardy countryside, which we see as if in an accelerated film.

Picardy countryside from the Thalys

In Brussels, instead of continuing towards Antwerp, we branch off towards Liège, which we reach in just over 30 minutes.

Liège-Guillemin station is a new building with a splendid glass roof. Right now it’s multicolored. Artist Daniel Buren has brightened up the immense transparent dome with patches of color that play with the light. This ephemeral work has been removed at the end of October 2023. I have time to go down to the platform to admire it.

Liège Guillemin

Our Thalys continues on its way to Cologne at a senator’s pace through a more undulating landscape. The “grande vitesse” or”high speed” as we know it in France is over and I’ll have to get used to slower routes to my destination.

After a brief stop in Aachen, whose station looks very run-down, we arrive in Cologne, the final destination of our Thalys. Our journey from Paris took 3 hours and 20 minutes.

A brief glimpse of Cologne and its famous cathedral during my connection

I could have taken the first connecting train to Hamburg, but on the one hand, I wanted to discover the famous cathedral and on the other, I didn’t want to stress if my Thalys, for whatever reason, had been late.

Long connections are a golden rule of train travel. Furthermore as stations are usually located in the city center, it gives the opportunity to make an interesting visit.

I leave my luggage in an automatic locker, which is a bit of a surprise. I have to deposit them in a box that takes my bag into the bowels of the basement! I hope this sorter doesn’t break down when I get back. Sometimes technology isn’t very reassuring…

The cathedral can be seen from the station through its glass roof. It’s so big!

Cologne station for Thalys arrival
Cologne Hbf railway station
Left-luggage office Cologne station
Esplanade Cologne Hbf railway station

The cathedral is a superlative. It is the third largest in the world and took over 600 years to complete! With six million visitors, it is Germany’s most visited monument.

As a landmark during the Allied bombing raids of the Second World War, it was the only building left standing in a town that had been completely destroyed . The aerial photograph taken in 1945 is shocking.

Cologne in 1945

Despite the long construction period, the cathedral’s original Gothic style has been preserved. As Aurélien Delahaie explains in his interesting article on the cathedral, (in French) it represents a symbol of German unification. First belligerently with the Prussians, now more peacefully.

Cologne Cathedral
Cologne Cathedral
Cologne Cathedral
Cologne Cathedral

I then stroll through Cologne’s pedestrian center and along the Rhine, whose banks have been pleasantly landscaped for onlookers.

The wrought-iron Hohenzollern railway bridge is also an impressive sight, with its six railway tracks.

Pedestrian zone Cologne
Cologne on the Rhine
Departure Cologne Hbf railway station
Cologne railway bridge

Cologne 2.09 pm – Hamburg 5.53 pm

After nearly three hours strolling through Cologne’s city center, I return to the main station.

DB has acquired a reputation for being unpunctual. This is confirmed by several trains displaying delays on the notice board!

Delays Cologne station

Fortunately, my train is scheduled to arrive almost on time, just 10 minutes late.

Deutsche Bahn (DB) ICE 2 : the German TGV

To get to Hamburg I’ll be taking the ICE, the German-style TGV.

For a French person, the ICE philosophy is rather disconcerting: seat reservations are not compulsory but recommended.

The other special feature is that the trains run at regular intervals, meaning that ICEs leave at the same time every hour, or less, depending on the volume of traffic. From Cologne to Hamburg, for example, there is a train that departs nine minutes after each hour.

ICE frequency is high, but speed is low. The 356 km from Cologne to Hamburg is covered in almost four hours! The routes are interspersed with numerous stops that take into account the highly decentralized geography of this country, with many major cities that don’t stand out from one another.

The ICE means more frequencies, more stops, and slower speeds than the French TGV.

Departure ICE Cologne

ICE 2 First Class: a failed seat!

There are several versions of the ICE, and the one I’m discovering this time is the ICE 2.

Thanks to my interrail pass, I can board in First Class. The cabin is spacious and bright. I like glass partitions.

First-class ICE 2

On the other hand, I discover my seat and the least we can say is that the ergonomics are all wrong. It doesn’t recline much, and napping is out of the question, as the seat is rather uncomfortable. Working on the computer is impractical because the tablet is too far away. and you have to move your back away from the backrest, which makes you feel like you’re sitting on a stool!

First-class seat

The seats are in leather, a material I don’t like, because it doesn’t regulate body temperature well: too cold in winter, too hot in summer. I find the black and gray tone of the armchairs rather austere.

A comfortable second class

Paradoxically, the ICE 2’s second class looks more comfortable and successful than the first. The blue color also lends a more cheerful air.

It is advisable, however, to reserve your seat well in advance to avoid having to travel standing up, which happens regularly on German ICEs for travelers without foresight.

Second class ICE 2

A real dining car, just like in the old days!

I visited the dining car and it was a pleasant surprise. The menu is rich and the service is done in porcelain dishes and real glasses.

DB menu

You can even sit at tables. What’s more, you can choose between a restaurant and a bar. We are clearly above the level of SNCF, the French railways, and its TGVs with their uncomfortable bars.

ICE 2 restaurant car

ICE 2 bar car

Between Cologne and Hamburg: a rich agricultural landscape

The landscapes have become flat, but it’s June and the nature is at its best. The German countryside is rich. We cross vast stretches of farmland with fields of wheat, rapeseed, and other crops .

German countryside between Cologne and Hamburg
German countryside between Cologne and Hamburg
German countryside between Cologne and Hamburg
German countryside between Cologne and Hamburg

Hamburg Hauptbahnhof: Europe’s second-largest railway station

We arrive at Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, my final destination for the day. I’m careful not to take the wrong station, as my train continues to Hamburg Altona.

Arrival from Cologne to Hamburg

Getting off the ICE, I discover the station’s immense glass roof. To get out of the station, passengers have to climb to a higher passage, rather than descend into underground passages as is often the case.

Seen from above, Hamburg’s Hauptbahnhof is a beehive of activity. With 550,000 passengers a day, it’s Europe’s second-busiest station after Paris’s Gare du Nord. I’m impressed by its traffic and spend a moment simply observing it.

To increase capacity, two trains can be simultaneously positioned on the same platform. For the uninitiated, this means a considerable risk of getting on the wrong train!

Hamburg Hbf railway station

Same-day connection with Hamburg – Stockholm night train possible

If I had wished, I could have continued the same day to Stockholm, because A year ago, Swedish Railways reintroduced the night train between the two cities. By arriving at 5.53 pm I had a three-hour connection, which would also have allowed me to have dinner before catching my train. Nice! Do you agreee?

Hamburg: « Das Tor zur Welt » or « Gate to the World »

I came to Hamburg in 2014 but by plane. It’s a city I already know, but one I like. So I decided to stay for three days to rediscover it. With its port and Airbus assembly plants, the city is open to the world. Situated on the banks of the Elbe, it’s full of lively and interesting districts.

I’ll present it to you in a future article. Be patient!

Hamburg Elbphilarmonie



Hamburg 9 pm – Stockholm 1:11 pm D+1

From Hamburg, I continue my journey to Stockholm by night train.

Statens Järnvägar (SJ) night train

At the request of the Swedish government, Swedish Railways (SJ) reintroduced a Berlin – Hamburg – Stockholm night train just one year ago.

It’s certainly the most convenient and comfortable way to travel on this route, which is still a long way to go in a day. I couldn’t wait to try it out, especially after my excellent experience of the ” Paris – Vienna Night Train ” with Austrian railroads Öbb.

But my journey doesn’t get off to a very good start, as SJ completely confuses me with a very poor management of my train’s schedule information.

Very poor communication of train schedule!

A reflex I’ve adopted every time I travel, whether by train or plane, is always to check the schedule on the carrier’s website two or three days beforehand. From experience, I know that changes are always possible.

This time, I’m not at all reassured when I go to the website, as it specifies that my train is closed to sales due to track work and that it doesn’t operate that day.

Message on the SJ website

I contacted SJ customer service several times by chat and received contradictory information.

Finally, the day before I was due to leave, SJ sent me an official e-mail informing me that due to track work, my train would leave at 8.15 pm instead of 9 pm, and would arrive the next day at 1.11 pm instead of 10 am. A much longer trip than expected, but at least I’ve been warned.

Mail SJ and chat with SJ

But when I went to Hamburg station at 7.45 pm on the day of departure, I wasn’t very reassured to see that the notice board didn’t indicate any trains to Stockholm at 8.15 pm!

I speak to a German railway agent, who curtly replies that he has no information, as DB does not manage private trains. It’s a bit surprising when you consider that SJ is a national company just like DB and that the train is jointly operated, at least on the German side.

At 8:30 p.m., our train is finally displayed at platform 5 at its normal 9 p.m. time, but with an announced 70-minute delay!

Hamburg billboard

In the end, there are no delays, as the green and blue SJ train pulls into Hamburg station at 8.55 pm. The 70-minute delay has disappeared! Communication was poor at all levels, to say the least.

Sleeping car with private shower and WC

With my interrail pass, I was able to reserve the best cabin in the sleeper car, but as I entered the one allocated to me, it was awfully hot. The steward tells me that the air-conditioning has broken down and that he can, fortunately, offer me the same cabin in the other sleeper. If the train had been full, I don’t know what it would have done.

My cabin can accommodate three passengers, with daytime seats that are quite comfortable. There’s plenty of storage space, and I’ve even got a wardrobe!

WL Première SJ day version

The night version. The supplement I paid guarantees that I have the cabin to myself, so it’s very spacious. For the same price, we could have traveled two or three travelers.

I have a private shower and toilet. The ultimate in comfort!

WL Premiere SJ night version

An old, obsolete train

On the other hand, the entire train set is outdated and far less well maintained than Amtrak’s American trains, which also date back some thirty years and which I recently took between Washington DC and San Francisco. Cleanliness is also a little limited, especially in the washrooms.

Outdated SJ train

As on the trains of the past, you can open the windows to breathe in the outside air. It has its charm and reminds me of the travels of my youth!

Open window SJ

Other ways to travel on the Hamburg – Stockholm night train

The train is very short, with only two sleeping cars and four couchettes.

Second-class sleeper cars are available.

They are designed for a maximum of two passengers. The cabin can be either private or shared. The beds are a little narrower than in First class, and the toilet and shower are at the end of the corridor. A washbasin is located in the compartment.

Second class sleeping car SJ

SJ also offer berths in compartments of six. No washbasin in the compartment.

SJ bunks

I didn’t see any seat cars on my train. However, they do exist, as you can reserve them on the SJ website. A mystery?

A disillusioned steward

It’s a good thing I’d planned to buy my dinner, as the food and drink on offer are pretty poor compared with what SJ offers on domestic routes, where dining cars are available. The train’s only steward sells snacks to all passengers. One gets the impression that the purpose of this new link is above all political, and not a marketing move on the part of the company. Too bad.

I chatted a bit with the steward, who is German. He tells me that he hates his job, as it’s too demanding in terms of working hours. He lives in Hamburg and his rotation is as follows:

  • Day 1: in service on the Hamburg – Berlin train from Stockholm. Then, on the same day, service from Berlin to Stockholm, via Hamburg.
  • Day 2: rest on arrival in Stockholm.
  • Day 3: in service on the Stockholm – Hamburg section.
  • Day 4: new steward for the Hamburg – Berlin leg.

He doesn’t feel considered by the SJ, and his service suffers as a result. He does minimum service and his dress is very sloppy: his shirt is wide open and poorly tucked into his pants. I mistook him for a customer at first!

A quiet, restful night

It’s June and the sunset in northern Germany is endless, with beautiful orange colors.

North Germany

We pass over the Rendsburg transporter bridge, which is over a hundred years old.

Rendsburg bridge

It’s around 11 pm, at the border with Denmark, when I go to bed. I have a good night because I’m used to night trains and I like railway noises like the changing of points or the distinctive thud when you pass another train. But compared with the Nightjet of Öbb, the Austrian railways, I find the sleeper less stable and less soundproof.

The next morning I wake up around 8.00 am, but in Malmö where we’ve been stationed for two hours! Our route is completely disrupted by the weekend’s extensive work on the Danish and Swedish rail networks.

My grumpy steward brings me my breakfast. It’s included in the price of the reservation, but is very frugal, to say the least. Here too, we’re a long way from Õbb standards. I complement it, for a modest price, with surprisingly good pancakes.

Breakfast SJ

The Swedish countryside: lakes, forests and fields

I spend the morning observing the Swedish countryside. It’s wilder than the German. Lakes follow forests and meadows. I’m struck by the drought in Sweden this June, with a powerful anticyclone that just don’t go away.

Lake in Sweden
Hamlet in Sweden
Farm in Sweden
Landscapes Sweden
Lake in Sweden
SJ train

Arrival at Stockholm Centralstation!

We’re finally approaching the Stockholm suburbs, which are still lush and green, with plenty of water.

Stockholm suburbs

Then, after a long tunnel, we arrive in the heart of Stockholm. Just before Central Station, I see the historic district of Galam Stan on my left, and on my right, the island of Kungsholmen with its majestic town hall, my old neighborhood. Welcome home!

Arrival in Stockholm

When I get off the train, I go to the front of my train to greet my train’s locomotive. It has a vintage look that I like!

SJ locomotive

Like many of Europe’s major railway stations, Stockholm Centraal’s concourse has an attractive wrought-iron arch.

Stockholm Centraal station concourse

The SJ First Class lounge in Stockholm: a pleasant surprise

It’s Sunday at 1 p.m. and I’m off to the SJ First Class lounge, which I can access even with my interrail pass. DB refuses this generosity, keeping access to its lounges open to full-fare First customers. The customer experience is rather inconsistent when traveling by train from one country to another, even with a joint ticket.

The lounge is a nice surprise, with a very respectable lunch offer that’s far from French railways standards, which only offers water and hot drinks to their best customers.

Lounge SJ Stockholm

Paris – Stockholm by train: I recommend it!

Paris already seems far away for me. Traveling to Stockholm by train adds a whole new dimension to your trip, compared to a short two-hour flight.

I had high expectations of the Hamburg – Stockholm night train journey, but I was a little disappointed as the train was obsolete and the service still seemed to be in its trial phase. We’re not up to the standard of domestic night trains in Sweden.

Even so, this night service is a great improvement, making it easy to get to Stockholm from Paris by train. I heartily recommend it!

Stockholm: my city of hearts

I lived in Stockholm in 2012 and 2013. Along with Paris and New York, it’s one of my favorite cities. These are the three cities for which I have a real passion.

This time, I stayed for a week, with a trip to the archipelago, which is a must for Stockholmers who have a country house there or dream of having one!

I’ve written four articles about Stockholm:

Return by train via Göteborg and Copenhagen

I took the train back via Copenhagen. A very different travel experience from the outward journey, which I describe in two articles: Stockholm – Copenhagen via Göteborg by train “and Copenhagen – Paris by train “.




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