Fall asleep in London Paddington and wake up in Penzance with the sleeper train to Cornwall! Here’s my guide on taking the GWR Night Riviera train.
I wheeled my suitcase through a decidedly empty London Paddington station; somewhere I often transit through, when I travel from my home in Devon to visit family in London.
But this was the first time my journey west was starting at 11:00 pm.
I’ve travelled all over the world searching for its most alluring sleeper train journeys, taking them across China and through Turkey, but thus far, hadn’t taken the one that connects the city I grew up in and the area of the country where I live.
My family are Cornish, but they gradually moved east, some settling in Devon and my parents ultimately moving to London. When learning more about my Cornish roots, I discovered how at home I feel in the West Country, and settled in Exmouth, where my grandma lived for 40 years.
So, I spend a lot of my time taking trains across South England, usually opting for the 2 hour 11 minute fast train from Exeter St David’s to London Paddington.
But tonight was different. I was trying out Great Western Railway’s Night Riviera Sleeper Service (and taking it all the way to Penzance), to see how it compared to great rail journeys across the globe.
The night sleeper train to Cornwall is a sustainable, convenient alternative to spending all day stuck in traffic while journeying west.
Here’s everything you need to know about taking it!
This blog post may contain affiliate links.
Is there a sleeper train to Cornwall?
Yes! The Night Riviera Sleeper Train by GWR connects London Paddington Station with a few stations in Cornwall, terminating in Penzance.
Most of the train is taken up by sleeper cabins; although there is one carriage with seats. It’s much cheaper to sleep on one of the seats, but the cabins are obviously miles ahead in terms of luxury and comfort.
About the overnight train to Cornwall
One of just two sleeper trains in the UK, the overnight train to Cornwall traverses between Britain’s capital and its furthest south west region.
The Penzance sleeper train departs London Paddington every evening at 11:50 pm. It takes eight hours to reach Penzance, although it stops at a few of Cornwall’s best destinations en route, including:
- Liskeard (from here you can take a train to Looe)
- Bodmin Parkway
- Par (from here you can take a train to Newquay)
- St Austell
- Truro (from here you can take a train to Falmouth)
- St Erth (from here you can take a train to St Ives)
It pulls into Liskeard, its first Cornish station, at around 6:12 am and finishes its journey Penzance at about 7:54 am.
My review of the Paddington to Penzance sleeper train
I took the night train to Penzance purely to review it for this blog; so if you want an unbiased, thorough review (I paid for the ticket in full and am not working with GWR), here’s absolutely everything you need to know!
From the South East, the usual journey back to where I live is a quick 2 hour 11 minute train journey. But the idea of a night sleeper across my own country enticed me.
I researched taking the night sleeper from London to Exeter, then quickly vetoed that idea when I realised I’d get into Exeter at 3:00 am.
So how about going all the way to Cornwall?
Being a Cornwall travel blogger, I always have a reason to visit the UK’s most southwesterly region.
In fact, I was in need of another trip to Penzance to update this blog post; so I decided to take the night rivera sleeper all the way from London to Penzance, spend a few hours there, and then turn around and come back again later that afternoon.
Take a look at my YouTube video of the journey or read on for my full written review!
Getting to London Paddington Station
Any frequent travellers from London to the West Country know London Paddington Station well.
It’s the terminus for all GWR trains, including the night train to Cornwall. Sitting in the west of the city, it’s accessible via the Hammersmith and City and Circle Line.
The station was all but deserted when I arrived at around 10:30 pm on a Sunday night; and quietened even more when most of the day trippers at the station boarded a train to Reading.
I strolled over to platform one, where I saw the Night Riviera Sleeper ready, waiting for me.
Services at Paddington
Anyone with a valid sleeper ticket for the Night Riviera is welcome to relax in the GWR First Class Lounge, so this was my first point of call before checking into the train.
This lounge is in two parts; a modern area and a more old-fashioned seating area which used to be the private waiting room of Queen Victoria!
Part of the waiting room still has the original Victorian detailing.
Here, you can enjoy free WiFi, snacks and drinks.
“We’re actually closed”, the receptionist informed me when I checked in. “The waiting room’s being refurbished, so you can have your complimentary snacks on the train”.
They gave me a quick tour and then pointed to the slumbering train. “They’ll be happy to serve you on there”.
The sleeper train to Cornwall officially starts boarding one hour before departure, but the doors were open and I clambered on board at 10:30 pm, some 80 minutes before the official leaving time.
Matching my ticket on the GWR app with the cabin door, I settled my bags on the floor, located the light switch, and illuminated the cabin. I was in “Coach E seat 15L”; which meant that it was in the room labelled 15/16 in Coach E and I had the lower bunk (which was the only bed that was made up).
“Claire Martin?” I heard from outside the door I’d just closed. The train attendant was waiting outside, ready to explain all I needed to know about the room (he also checked my ticket to ensure that I was indeed Claire Martin!).
- the sink that was hidden away in the bedside table (so efficient!)
- where the lights, plug sockets etc. were
- where the drinking water was
- where the nearest toilets were
- how the keycard worked (all cabins are lockable)
- my breakfast order!
Service was very friendly; the attendant answered all of my questions and told me where he would be if I had any more.
The cabin was practical, but extra features like fresh linen, USB sockets and neatly folded towels on the bed exuded an essence of luxury.
They can be made for double or single occupancy, but as I was travelling solo, mine was made up just for one person. If two people were sleeping in the cabin, there would be another bed made up above.
The bed is made up as you go in, but it can be changed to make a sofa – perfect for early risers who want to watch Cornwall unfold before them in the morning!
There was space to store luggage underneath the bed, along with a wardrobe with space for a coat, and a bedside table that I lifted to reveal a sink, and the bin was underneath.
I took a seat on the comfortable bed, laying my head on the squashy pillows and enjoying the comfort of a mattress topper and fresh white linen.
While I found it very comfortable, it was a little narrow – I move around quite a lot in my sleep and the narrowness plus the fact that the train was moving meant that I almost rolled off a few times in the night!
But generally, I really enjoyed the cabin bubble, and looked forward to encapsulating myself in it while I journeyed west.
I grabbed my keycard – which had been left in the room – and exited the cabin, the door automatically locking behind me. To open again, I just needed to tap it on the card reader.
Cabins don’t have their own private bathrooms, but there are bathrooms at either end of each carriage.
I used these a few times throughout the night, and they were always clean, spacious and fully stocked with paper. Of course, for brushing your teeth and washing your face, you can use the sink in the bathroom.
There are no showers on board, but Night Riviera passengers are welcome to use showers at Penzance, Truro or Paddington. You can book showers in advance.
The dining cart
Once I had settled into my cabin, I made my way to the dining cart, where passengers in the sleeper cabins were welcome to a complimentary hot or soft drink (I had a hot chocolate) and light snacks, including biscuits and cakes.
There are also alcoholic drinks available to purchase.
I sipped on my hot chocolate and enjoyed the thrill of a trip ahead of me. While this one was a shorter journey than many of my other night trains around the world, it was a voyage nonetheless; when I woke up, I’d be more than 250 miles west, at the edge of the UK.
The dining cart is swish and modern; all seats have access to a table and there is space for groups, couples and solo diners. Again, the service was exceptionally friendly.
After spending some time in the dining cart, I checked out the seated class to see how different it was. It’s around £50 cheaper to book a seat only – but of course, you get none of the amenities of my cosy cabin.
If you’re seriously on a budget, it could be an option. The seats were a little more spacious than standard train seats and had chargers and trays (although this usually comes as standard on GWR trains).
However, on the seated cabin, you’ll be with a cabin of other people, won’t have a bed and have limited space to put your belongings. Most people will probably get a bit of sleep, but it won’t be as good quality as the sleepers.
Plus the night sleeper to Penzance takes a lot longer than daytime trains to the West Cornwall town – usually, it takes around six hours, but this route is eight!
In a cabin, the extra hours are great, as it gives you more time to sleep – but if you’re in a seat and can’t get a proper night’s sleep, I imagine that it can be quite uncomfortable.
However, the tickets for seated class on the sleeper service to Cornwall are usually more affordable than daytime trains, so if you are on a budget and can sleep anywhere (a skill I wish I had!), it could be the best option.
Taking the night train to Devon?
The only time I could imagine myself taking seated class on the Night Riviera is if I was disembarking in Devon.
Now I’ve experienced the night train once, I might consider taking the seated cabin to Exeter the next time I go out in London in the evening and want to get home on the same night.
It doesn’t get to Exeter until 3:00 am, but it would mean that I might be able to have a bit of a snooze on the train and still be home by 3:30!
There isn’t a first-class coach on the Cornwall sleeper train; the sleeper coach basically is first class.
We pulled out of London Paddington on time, leaving the bright city lights behind us as we ploughed into the darkness of the midnight countryside.
As I’d had an hour and a half to explore the train already, I was happy to get ready for bed as soon as the train pulled out of the station, making use of the cabin’s sink to do my skincare.
As I watched the train chug out of London and into the darkness of Berkshire, I pulled the blackout blind down, promising myself I’d be awake by the time the sun rose over Cornwall.
I sunk into the comfy bed, immediately appreciating how soft it was, and fell asleep almost right away. I could fully stretch out on the mattress (not that that’s usually a challenge, given that I’m only 159 cm/ 5 ft 2 inches!).
But at one point in the night, the train lurched, and I lurched with it – I’m used to a much bigger bed and tend to move around quite a lot in my sleep, which meant that I nearly fell out.
This happened a couple of times; but if you’re a still sleeper, chances are you’ll be fine.
Generally sleep quality was good and I felt well-rested – even waking up before my alarm.
Wake-up and breakfast
I opened my eyes to pitch-black darkness at 6:30 am. I still had an hour and a half on the train, but wanted to watch Cornwall slowly come to light around me as we made our way even further west.
The train attendant knocked on my door at 7:00 am and told me that my breakfast had been left outside.
For breakfast, I could choose a hot drink (I opted for black coffee) along with a pastry, bacon sandwich or porridge. I chose the pastry, and that and a packet of biscuits were in my breakfast bag.
Wrapping the duvet around me, I sat next to the window and took in the lightening skies of Cornwall.
It was a cloudy day, but I always love being back on this side of the Tamar, even if it’s just for a few short hours.
Once we’d stopped at St Erth, I knew that the Penzance station was next; and soon, I could make out the tidal island St Michael’s Mount (one of the best things to do in Cornwall!) as the train skirted Mount’s Bay before pulling into Penzance, its terminus, at around 8:10 am.
This was slightly late (it was scheduled for 7:54), but that didn’t matter at all to me – I was cocooned in my cabin and could have easily stayed on for longer – if I wasn’t already in the most southwesterly major town in the UK of course!
Service at Penzance
The train slowed as it reached Penzance: the end of the line. I grabbed my bags and stumbled off the station, offering a cheery farewell to the train attendant as I disembarked.
Feeling refreshed but in need of coffee, I ambled into the lounge, which is free to use for anyone who’s using a sleeper cabin (there’s also one in Truro).
The lounge boasts pre-bookable showers, coffee, tea, biscuits and cake bars, restroom facilities and comfortable seats.
Baggage storage near Penzance station
Unfortunately, there isn’t any baggage storage at Penzance station. If you are staying in a hotel in Penzance, you can store your bags there before checking in (usually check-in is from 2 or 3 pm).
However, if you aren’t staying in a hotel in Penzance for any reason, I successfully located luggage storage near Penzance station (after scouring a few old forums on the internet!).
Ride On E-bikes offers bag storage for £5 per day (from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm). They’re an e-bike rental company, but you don’t have to rent anything with them to be able to use their luggage storage service.
They’re located near the Dolphin Tavern, which is about a 10-minute walk away from the station.
From the Dolphin Tavern, walk up Quay Street and after a short distance you’ll see an opening to a yard (this is Trinity Yard). Ride On E-bike has an office here, marked by the flag/ sign in front of it.
From my research, Ride On seem to be the only people currently offering this service in Penzance – initially, I thought that the Longboat Inn could help, but their website states that they no longer do.
If you know of any others do let me know (Instagram is the best way to contact me) and I’ll add them to this post to help future travellers!
How to book the sleeper train to Penzance
You can book the Night Riviera train to Cornwall on the GWR website or app. If you use the app, then you’ll have the e-ticket stored on it and won’t need to worry about printing your ticket off.
Just a word of advice – make sure you remember your login email and password for the GWR app, as mine logs me out quite a lot (I use it on a weekly basis as my local trains are all GWR).
Booking the night train
To book the tickets, simply look at trains running from London Paddington to Penzance or anywhere in Cornwall late at night – the train usually leaves at 23:50, and there will be a note to say that it’s the Night Riviera sleeper service.
Bear in mind that the first price you see will be the price for a seat only – if you want a sleeper (you don’t have to have one, but I’d recommend it!), you’ll pay an extra surcharge.
Make sure that you select one of the “cabin options” rather than “standard class“; then, you’ll be taken onto a screen where you can select a screen or a cabin.
Go for the cheapest of these “cabin options“; you’ll need to pay a supplementary fee on the next page.
If you’re booking two seats together, you’ll have the option to book a double cabin which is much cheaper than booking 2x single occupancy cabins.
On a random date that I tested, a single occupancy cabin was £65.00 and a double occupancy cabin was £97.50.
Get a railcard!
If you are aged under 31 or over 60, often travel with a partner (or a friend or colleague) or are otherwise applicable, I’d recommend using a railcard.
You’ll save 30% off your rail fare (not the supplementary fare for a cabin), and as it only costs £30 for a year, you can make savings if you do a journey that costs a similar rate more than once.
Once you buy a railcard, you can download an app which has a virtual card stored on it.
When you book trains, make sure that you add on a railcard to get the 30% deduction on your ticket. You need to add it at the time of booking.
When you show your ticket, you might need to show your railcard.
Where to get breakfast in Penzance
Feeling peckish? The small breakfast on the train didn’t sustain me for all that long, which resulted in a traipse around Penzance to find something suitable for brunch!
There’s a cafe close to the station called Helly’s Bistro, which offers breakfast ciabattas, full fry ups and fresh coffee. It’s only a couple of minutes’ walk away.
If you want to immediately feel like you’re in Cornwall, Rowes and Warrens Bakery are both well-established Cornish pasty chain restaurants (they are dotted all over Cornwall) and they both have branches on Market Jew Street; this is the main shopping street of Penzance and is located about five minutes walk from the station. The branches open at around 8:30 – 9:00 am.
My favourite place to get breakfast in town is Honey Pot, a lovely cafe serving a range of healthy, homecooked breakfasts, brunches and lunches – this is where I ended up after taking the night train!
I savoured a halloumi and squash ciabatta, made with fresh bread from St Ives bakery, along with an oat milk cappuccino.
Where to go from Penzance
Is your journey not ending at Penzance? Don’t forget that while the overnight sleeper train terminates in Penzance, you can disembark in nine other Cornish towns.
Or, if you’re venturing further west (to destinations like Mousehole, Lamorna, Porthcurno, Sennen or St Just) or to destinations close to Penzance (such as Praa Sands, Marazion or Porthleven), you can take a variety of buses from Penzance bus station, including:
- The M6 bus runs from Penzance to Mousehole and takes just 20 minutes, also calling in at Newlyn on the way.
- The Land’s End Coaster runs once every hour in the summer and once every two hours in winter, and connects Penzance with Porthcurno, Land’s End, Sennen, Pendeen, Zennor and ultimately St Ives.
- The U4 bus runs from Penzance to Falmouth, calling in at or near Marazion, Perranunthoe, Prussia Cove, Praa Sands and Porthleven. It runs every hour.
Of course, you can stay in town and check out all of the best things to do in Penzance too!
Things to pack for the overnight train to Cornwall
Here are a few recommended items for the night train to Cornwall. You can click on the item to go through to a listing on Amazon.
- Eye mask: There are blackout blinds, but the cabins still have a little bit of light in them. If you like complete darkness, take an eye mask. I use this one.
- Ear plugs: The train wasn’t too noisy, but it’s still a train! Putting earplugs in will help to improve your quality of sleep. I’ve used these before.
- Slippers: These are useful for when you’re going to the bathroom. I have these memory foam slippers – and now I don’t know how I lived without them!
- Pyjamas: You’ll want something comfy but also appropriate for using the bathroom if you get up in the night! These pyjamas are suitable for anyone.
- Snacks, herbal tea etc: English breakfast tea, coffee, hot chocolate and limited snacks are included but if you want something in particular I recommend packing it. Check out these lotus biscuits and these peppermint tea bags.
FAQs about the GWR Penzance sleeper
Do you still have some questions about the GWR sleeper train? I should have answered them all below – if not, feel free to reach out and ask me on Instagram!
How long does the sleeper train take from Paddington to Penzance?
The sleeper train from Paddington to Penzance takes eight hours and four minutes, which is longer than the daytime trains – but it does give you a bit of extra time to sleep and means that you don’t arrive in Penzance too early!
How much is the sleeper train from London to Penzance?
The Cornwall sleeper train costs range; it cost me about £80 for the ticket and cabin reservation for a solo traveller. If I was travelling with someone it would have been cheaper, and seat-only prices were about £25. I travelled in the winter; expect prices to rise in summer.
How much is the sleeper train from Penzance to London?
The sleeper train from Penzance to London costs around the same as the opposite journey; you’re looking from around £80 to £150 for the ticket of the journey plus the extra cost for the sleeper cabins. Prices are higher in summer (peak season).
How long does the sleeper train from Penzance to London?
The Penzance to Paddington sleeper train takes seven hours and 19 minutes, leaving Penzance at 9:45 pm and then calling into other stations in Cornwall, before arriving in London Paddington at 5:04 am, when things are starting to open in London.
What time does the sleeper train arrive in Penzance?
The sleeper train to Penzance arrives at 7:54 am, although ours was around 10 minutes late, so I would recommend adding some leeway if you want to book any transfers or trips. You can use the lounge once you arrive.
How do I book the sleeper train to Penzance?
You can book the overnight train to Penzance on the GWR website or app. I’d recommend using the app because then you get your ticket delivered straight to your phone and you don’t need to worry about printing tickets at the station.
Is there a sleeper train from Edinburgh to Penzance?
There is no direct sleeper train from Edinburgh to Penzance. You’ll need to take a train from Edinburgh to London (some of these are high-speed and only take about four hours) before transferring to the sleeper train to Cornwall from London Paddington.
Is there a sleeper train to St Ives?
The Penzance sleeper train doesn’t call in at St Ives, but it does stop at St Erth which is close by. From St Erth, you can hop on a scenic 10 minute train to St Ives (there is a connection at 7:50 am, if you miss that you’ll need to wait until 8:38 am).
Everything you need to know about taking the night train to Cornwall
Whether you want to check out Cornwall’s best beaches or learn a little more about its history and culture, this review of the Night Riviera sleeper train has hopefully demonstrated how you can travel between the UK capital and its furthest southwesterly region in a time-efficient, eco-friendly and comfortable way.
Definitely consider booking this train when planning your next trip to Cornwall!