In this review we travel across Turkey in a private sleeper compartment on the Dogu Express night train from Kars to Ankara.
Turkey’s most scenic train ride
Having spent an amazing time in the city of Kars, it was time to continue my trip across Turkey.
Although Kars has an airport with flights to both Ankara and Istanbul, you’d be mad to take them as that would mean missing out on one of Turkey’s best travel experiences.
I’m talking here about the Dogu Express (Doğu Ekspresi) train – Turkey’s most scenic railway journey.
The Dogu Express – which translates to ‘Eastern Express’ in English – links the Turkish capital of Ankara with the city of Kars in the far eastern extremes of the country.
I would be travelling the 1310-kilometre distance between these two cities in the reverse direction and I was immensely looking forward to this journey with a duration of almost 24 hours.
Kars to Ankara on the Doğu Express (Eastern Express) train
Private sleeper – Costs: €25
Departure: 8am – Arrival: 7.30am (the day after)
Duration: 23h30m – Distance: 1310km
Dogu Express history
When I travelled on the Dogu Express in the summer of 2018 it still was extremely straightforward to buy a ticket for this train on the Turkish Railways website.
However, recently train tickets for the Dogu Express are much harder to come by and it’s not uncommon for this train to sell out as soon as bookings open.
Historically, Turkish people had a clear preference for the plane or bus when travelling across the country.
For years, the Turkish State Railways (TCDD) had a reputation for running slow, unreliable and old trains on their limited network across Turkey.
Although this was certainly unjustified in my opinion, it did contribute to the general preference for bus travel.
However, in recent years train travel has undergone some sort of a renaissance in Turkey as new high speed lines were opened between Istanbul, Ankara and Konya and the rolling stock was modernised.
Also sleeper trains have become more popular in Turkey in recent years and the Dogu Express in particular seems to have captivated the people’s minds.
Images and videos from the scenic train ride went viral on social media and contributed immensely to the popularity of the Dogu Express – especially so among Turkish youngsters for whom a ride on this train is now a sort of “bucket-list experience”.
As a result, most of the tickets on Ankara to Kars trains get bought up in advance by travel agents – who sell these tickets at inflated prices on the domestic tourism market.
A second “touristic” Dogu Express which is now being run next to the normal night train on the same route didn’t do much to alleviate this from what I’ve heard.
Fortunately, my trip on the Dogu Express was still before this madness started and I easily managed to book my ticket in a private sleeper compartment for just 25 euro.
Enough history and generic Turkish train talk for now – let’s move to my actual travel experience on board the Dogu Express!
With my train departing at 8am, I already arrived at 7.30am at the railway station of Kars.
On my way to the station I stocked up on supplies at a local bakery and supermarket as no restaurant wagon was available on the train when I travelled.
However, according to the latest reports suggest the Dogu Express nowadays runs again with a dining car added to the train.
Although you can get basic snacks, soft drinks and tea there, it doesn’t serve hot meals and alcohol so it’s still best to stock up a bit before departure.
Some 20 minutes before departure, the train rolled into the station
Night train compartment
The Dogu Express night train consists of sleeper cars with 2-bed compartments, couchette wagons with 4 berths in each compartment as well as Pullman seating wagons.
If you book a 2-berth compartment as a solo traveller, you automatically get the entire compartment for private use as the other berth gets blocked out by the system.
That meant that for the grand price of just 25 euro I got a 2-bed sleeper compartment for private use – talk about a steal for a 24-hour-long journey!
The compartment was in day-time mode when I entered it, with the lower bed still folded away.
There are two seats at one side of the compartment and a small fridge and washbasin on the other side.
You simply flip over the seats to turn it into a bed – the mattress and bedding is already attached to the other side of the shell.
Each compartment has adjustable air-conditioning and heating and a power socket, although do note that night trains in Turkey are not equipped with WiFi internet.
Like in most other night trains around the world, you’ll find shared toilets at both ends of the carriage.
Turkish night train amenities
Each sleeper compartment also has a small minibar with complimentary candy bars, crackers, a bottle of water and some juice.
Although that’s certainly a nice little touch, the fridge came in especially handy for keeping my beers chilled on this long journey.
If you travel in a sleeper, you are also provided with a small amenity kit consisting of some slippers and a refreshment towel.
Departure from Kars
The Dogu Express night train departed Kars on time for it’s long journey across Turkey.
I really like these TVS2000 sleeping cars as they are called, but they do have one major downside: I find the seats a bit hard and therefore quite uncomfortable.
If you sit on them for about an hour you really start to get a sore bum – these seats really could do with some better padding!
Fortunately, the mattress and bedding provided on TVS2000 sleeping cars are extremely comfortable and in bedtime mode these compartments are among the best you can get in the world.
As I was still feeling tired and knew the best scenery was only to come at a later point during the journey, I therefore rolled the seats over and turned them into a bed to get two hours extra sleep.
I fell asleep almost immediately thanks to the soft mattress, warm blanket and the slightly rocking movements of the train.
From Kars to Erzurum
When I woke up again, I flipped the bed back into seat mode and ate the breakfast I bought at a bakery before departure.
While enjoying my börek (a flaky filo pastry usually filled with white cheese) I watched the scenery pass by from the window.
The grassy highland plateau slowly gave way to some more diverse scenery as the train traversed its way through some high-altitude pine forests towards Erzurum, the first major stop on the long ride between Kars and Ankara.
As I already wrote in one of the previous chapters detailing my Batumi to Kars bus ride, this part of Turkey saw some ferocious fighting between the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire during World War I.
The Dogu Express passes through the town of Sarikamish, where the Ottoman army was decisively beaten by the Russians during the Battle of Sarikamish in January 1915.
Perhaps more Turkish soldiers died from frostbite and hypothermia than from enemy attacks and if you travel by train between Kars and Ankara in winter you can certainly expect some spectacular snow-covered landscapes and freezing outside temperatures on this particular stretch of railway line.
Only when you travel on a night train like the Dogu Express and you slowly see the landscapes change, you get a true sense of geography, culture and history of the country you travel in, something which for sure counts for this epic ride through Turkey.
Kebab stop in Erzurum
About 40 to 50 minutes out of Erzurum you should definitely look for the beautiful Çobandede Bridge, a 13th century stone bridge across the Aras River.
Erzurum is a major stop for the Dogu Express and perhaps even more people boarded the train here than in Kars.
However, the 15-minute stop at Erzurum is also of importance for the people who already got on board the train in Kars.
Thanks to some research I found out that it’s apparently a big thing for passengers on the Dogu Express to order kebab in Erzurum, which some restaurants will gladly deliver to you right at the station platform.
As I don’t speak any Turkish, I had a local friend call in a kebab order for me, passing on my exact sleeper wagon number so the delivery guy would be able to find me.
Finding the delivery guy turned out to be a bit trickier than I thought as the platform was full of people boarding the train as well as passengers getting out for a smoke.
Moreover, I was hardly the only person ordering kebab as I spotted at least five different food delivery guys with multiple plastic bags in their hands roaming the platform of Erzurum’s train station in search of all their customers who placed an order!
Fortunately, after 10 minutes waiting the kebab guy managed to find me in front of my train wagon.
Having paid the delivery guy for the kebabs, I quickly jumped back on the train just as the whistle for departure sounded.
Erzurum to Erzincan
The kebabs which I ordered at Erzurum made for a great lunch on the train and went well with an Efes beer, which remained perfectly cold in my compartment’s fridge.
Having finished my lunch, I flipped the seats back to bed mode even though I didn’t plan on sleeping.
As I wrote before, the seats in a sleeper compartment on board a night train in Turkey become rather uncomfortable after a while, while the mattress on the other hand is amazingly soft and great quality.
I ended up putting a few pillows against the compartment wall which allowed me to sit upright comfortably on the mattress.
Right after departure from Erzurum the scenery starts to get more spectacular as the terrain gets more hilly.
More interestingly, the railway line now runs directly besides the murky waters of the Karasu, a river which is better known internationally as the Western Euphrates.
A couple of hours later the Dogu Express halted at Erzincan – another major stop on the long train journey from Kars to Ankara.
Interestingly, just before the stop at Erzincan’s station the railway line runs right along the premises of the local airport and from my train window I could clearly see a Turkish Airlines aeroplane taking off.
I couldn’t help but think how much more interesting and nicer my train experience was compared to a domestic flight!
Into the wild
Soon after departure from Erzincan the views from the train change again as the scenery slowly gets more rugged and wild.
As the railway line now moves away from the main roads and settlements, it really feels likes the Dogu Express takes in some of Turkey’s most remote and stunning lands on its journey between Kars and Ankara.
On this beautiful summer day, the contrast between the blue skies, bleak mountains and fertile Euphrates river valley was especially striking.
After a while, the valley of the Euphrates river narrows down as the railway line enters a spectacular gorge.
Called the Karanlik Canyon, this river gorge is one of the most scenic stretches of the entire trip on the Dogu Express train and perhaps one of the most beautiful in all of Turkey.
I was absolutely glued to my compartment window at this point.
The pictures below don’t do justice to the beauty of this stretch as the narrow canyon makes it difficult to photograph the stunning views.
At the other end of the Karanlik Canyon the terrain levels out again.
It looked like the river is dammed here at several points, creating some shining blue artificial lakes in the arid landscape.
As it was about dinner time, I ate the last two kebabs which I bought hours before at Erzurum and opened the bottle of red wine I brought along with me.
When the train called at the station of Sivas somewhere around 10pm, I called it a night and went to sleep.
Arrival in Ankara
I managed to have a great night of sleep on the Dogu Express and woke up about an hour before arrival of the train in Ankara.
Although we more or less travelled on time the entire journey, the train still racked up one hour of delay when it suddenly came to a halt a few times in the suburbs of Ankara.
When we did move, it was at excruciatingly low speeds, which made it look like the Dogu Express was stuck behind another train in front of us on the line.
Travelling on the Dogu Express between Kars and Ankara is not only one of Turkey’s greatest journeys, but one of the most amazing night train trips you can make in the entire world.
No matter which season you are travelling in, you will be treated to a wide variety of beautiful landscapes when you travel on the Dogu Express.
For a long part of the journey, the Dogu Express night train travels right along the banks of the Euphrates river through some of Turkey’s wildest and most spectacular bits of scenery.
What’s also great about the Dogu Express are the costs, as I paid just 25 euro for a well-equipped and comfortable private sleeper compartment making it one of the most affordable night train journeys you’ll ever take.
Whether you are just planning to visit Kars or Ankara on your tour across Turkey or want to use this night train to get close to the border with Georgia, the Dogu Express really is the way to travel!
Trip report index
This article is part of the ‘Khachapuri & Kebabs: A Summer Trip to Georgia and Turkey‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:
1. Review: Wizz Air Bucharest to Kutaisi (Airbus A320)
2. A Day in Kutaisi, the Charming Capital of Imereti
3. Caves, Churches and Monasteries – A Kutaisi Day Trip
4. Review: My Warm Guest House, Batumi, Georgia
5. Beautiful Batumi – The Pearl of Georgia’s Black Sea Coast
6. From Georgia to Turkey: Batumi to Kars by Bus
7. Review: Kars Konak Hotel, Kars, Turkey
8. A Day Trip From Kars to the Ancient Armenian City of Ani
9. Goose, Cheese and Russian Remnants: A Visit to Kars, Turkey
10. Review: Dogu Express Night Train Kars to Ankara, Turkey (current chapter)
11. Review: AnadoluJet Ankara to Izmir (Boeing 737-800)
12. Review: Ege Palas Business Hotel, Izmir, Turkey
13. Izmir: Turkey’s Most Liberal and Liveable City
14. Ancient Ephesus: An Easy Day Trip From Izmir
15. A Visit to the Hilltop Wine Village of Sirince
16. A Beach Trip From Izmir to Cesme and Ilica
17. Foça: A Beautiful Seaside Town to Visit From Izmir
18. Flying Back Home With Atlasglobal and TAROM