Ultimate Train Travel Guide for Turkey

This guide provides all the information you need to know about train travel in Turkey, including details about the country’s railway network, international trains, and night trains.

Trains in Turkey

It’s a real pleasure to travel by train across Turkey thanks to the country’s rapidly expanding high-speed rail network and the availability of highly convenient sleeper trains.

A decade or two ago, it was not uncommon for locals and travel guides to suggest buses and domestic flights over the train, as the Turkish railway network had a reputation for its slow speeds, delays, and old trains at that time.

Although that reputation has always been a bit unfair, train travel in Turkey has made remarkable progress, and the Turkish railway network continues to grow larger and more efficient every day.

That being said, while trains can be a fantastic way to travel across Turkey, rail connections to neighbouring countries aren’t always great.

Therefore, you might still need to incorporate a flight or a bus or two into your Turkish itinerary.

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Turkish express train at the railway station of Ankara. ©Paliparan

The Turkish railway network

Turkey is a vast and mountainous country, which means that its railway network isn’t as dense as in other countries across Europe and beyond.

Although there are quite a few railway lines that are more useful for Turkish locals than they are for the average international tourist, and there are some important tourist destinations across the country which are not connected by train, the national rail network does connect most regions and major cities across Turkey.

The tourist destinations on Turkey’s Mediterranean coastline such as Antalya, as well as Trabzon on the Black Sea coast, are perhaps the primary destinations that aren’t served by the Turkish rail network.

Considering the sheer size of Turkey and the often challenging terrain which the railway lines traverse, travel times by train can be long, unless you opt for a high-speed train operating on a dedicated high-speed line.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, as the scenic views from the window ensure that train travel in Turkey is far from boring.

Turkey has rail connections to all its neighbouring countries, but only a few of these cross-border lines see passenger traffic, with some even being entirely closed.

You can find more details about the current status of Turkey’s cross-border rail connections in the dedicated chapter below.

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Map of the Turkish train network showing the most important railway lines and stations. ©OpenStreetMap/Paliparan

The Turkish high speed rail network

Turkey has a rapidly growing high-speed rail network, with new lines either under construction or in the planning stage.

High-speed trains in Turkey are known as Yüksek Hızlı Tren (YHT), with the Turkish capital of Ankara being the main hub of the high-speed rail network.

Where conventional railway lines often wind through river gorges with many curves, high-speed lines are constructed as straight as possible, incorporating numerous tunnels and bridges to allow the trains to reach speeds of up to 250 kilometres per hour (160 mph).

These are the dedicated high-speed railway lines currently operational in Turkey:

– Istanbul-Eskişehir-Ankara
– Ankara-Yozgat-Sivas
– Ankara-Konya-Karaman
– Istanbul-Eskişehir-Konya-Karaman

Currently, the Turkish State Railways operates both Spanish-built high-speed trains (the TCDD HT65000) and German-built trains (TCDD HT80000), the latter commonly known as the Siemens Velaro and identical to the ICE high-speed trains you’d find in Germany.

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The two types of Turkish YHT high-speed trains at the railway station of Ankara. ©Paliparan

Train operators

Almost all passenger trains in Turkey, including the high-speed trains, are operated by TCDD Taşımacılık, with TCDD standing for Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Devlet Demiryolları, or simply the Turkish State Railways.

The only exception is İZBAN, the suburban rail network around the city of Izmir, which operates as a separate entity and is partly owned by TCDD and the local municipality.

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Inside an İZBAN commuter train. ©Paliparan

Train types

Trains in Turkey can broadly be categorised into four different types, namely:

– YHT trains
– Express trains
– Regional trains
– Local trains

Top of the pecking order are the YHT trains, which refers to high-speed rail services.

Next up are the express trains (Ekspresi Trenler), which are the premium cross-country train services operating on the conventional railway lines.

These express trains can refer to both daytime trains, as well as night trains with berths in shared couchettes or private sleepers.

All Turkish express trains are named services, meaning that each train service has its own special name.

For example, the Doğu Ekspresi (Eastern Express) refers to the night train linking Ankara with Kars, while the ’17 Eylül Ekspresi’ (17 September Express) is the morning service from Bandırma to Izmir Basmane station.

Regional trains (Bölgesel Trenler) are the next highest train category, typically covering shorter trips across the country.

However, given the size of Turkey, some of these trains can still traverse railway lines of a few hundred kilometres long, taking many hours to cover the distance.

These trains are all named after the routes they traverse, with for example the Basmane-Denizli service referring to the regional trains between Izmir Basmane station and Denizli, stopping en-route in places such as Selçuk (the station closest to both Ephesus and Kuşadası).

Local trains are the lowest category, with these services referring to the suburban trains in cities such as Istanbul and Izmir.

They are typically known by the name of the city’s suburban rail network or a specific local line.

For example, İZBAN trains traverse the suburban rail network in Izmir, while the Marmaray trains are the commuter trains in Istanbul that run on the Marmaray Line from the European side of Istanbul to the Asian side via the tunnel under the Bosphorus.

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A Turkish high-speed train arrived at Istanbul Söğütlüçeşme. ©Paliparan
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A Turkish express train at Izmir Alsancak station. ©Paliparan

Seat reservations

On Turkish YHT high-speed trains, as well as express trains, seat reservations are compulsory and included for free within the price of your ticket.

The same counts for night trains, although you need to pay a supplement if you want to reserve a couchette or sleeper instead of a standard seat.

Depending on the exact service, Turkish regional trains can have carriages with reserved seats, carriages with unreserved seating, or a mixture of both.

Numbered train carriage on a regional service indicate reserved seating only, while unnumbered cars offer free-for-all seating for passengers who bought a ticket without seat reservation.

On local trains, seat reservations are never possible, so you can simply take any available seat.

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Yours truly getting comfortable in his sleeper compartment on a Turkish night train. ©Paliparan

How to book Turkish trains

Tickets for Turkish high-speed trains, express trains, as well as regional services with reserved seating, can be booked online through the TCDD website.

Make sure you select “sales” and not “booking” when you perform a search, as the latter refers to tickets that still need to be paid for and picked up in person at a Turkish railway station within a few days after you make the reservation.

It is possible to select your exact seat on the train from a handy seat map during the online booking process.

When you have completed the online transaction, you will be issued an e-ticket in PDF form, which you can either display on your mobile phone to the train conductor, or print out at home.

Of course, you can also buy your train ticket at the railway station in Turkey on the day of travel, though it’s worth noting that tickets can sell out in advance, especially those for night trains and high-speed services at peak times.

Note that regional trains with unreserved seating cannot be booked online (nor do they feature in the online search tool), as tickets are for these trains are only sold at the station on the day of travel.

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You can select your exact seat from a handy seat map when you book your tickets. ©Screenshot TCDD

Buying tickets for local trains

Local (suburban) trains in cities such as Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara cannot be booked online.

For these trains, you need to purchase a special contactless transport card from a machine or ticket booth at a local station, which you can then top up and use to open the barriers at the platform.

In Istanbul, you need to buy an Istanbulkart to travel on the city’s suburban trains, while the card for local transport in Izmir is called the İzmirim Kart, and AnkaraKart is used for transportation in the Turkish capital of Ankara.

In addition to trains, you can use these cards as well for the metro, trams, buses, and ferry boats within each city.

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Travel cards for local transport in Istanbul and Izmir. ©Paliparan

Booking tips

While the TCDD website does have an English version, it isn’t the most user-friendly for foreign tourists, and it has a few quirks that you need to be aware of.

It’s important to note that if no trains appear in your search request, it typically means that bookings have not yet opened.

Turkish trains usually go on sale either 30 or 15 days before the day of travel, so don’t stress out if trains on a date in summer do not yet show up in the online search system when you check in winter.

Also note that for some routes, tickets can only be purchased at the station at the day of travel, which is the case for Turkish regional trains with unreserved seating, so that could be another reason why no trains show in your search results.

When traveling to or from Istanbul, you should be aware that the city has multiple railway stations, and some trains may only stop at a few of them, thus not showing up if you search for departures from another Istanbul station.

Take for example the high-speed trains between Istanbul and Ankara, as the stations in the Asian part of Istanbul such as Söğütlüçeşme and Pendik have the greatest choice of train departures, while only a handful of services are extended across the Bosphorus to serve Bakırköy and Halkali in the European side of Istanbul.

If you are staying in the European part of Istanbul and need to travel to Ankara, the most convenient option is likely to book a train from Istanbul Söğütlüçeşme to Ankara, and to use one of the frequent local trains on the Marmaray line to travel from the historic heart of Istanbul to get to Söğütlüçeşme.

Eskişehir railway station
Eskişehir railway station. ©Paliparan

Ticket prices

Most foreign tourists will find that train ticket prices in Turkey are highly affordable, and even opting for a first-class Pullman seat on a high-speed train or a private sleeper compartment on a night train won’t break your budget.

For example, at the time of writing, a one-way ticket on a YHT high-speed train from Istanbul to Ankara costs 430 Turkish lira (€12.39) in second class and 645 lira (€18.59) in first class.

A private sleeper on the night train between Izmir and Konya costs 1,215 Turkish lira (€35).

Note that discounts are available for children aged 7 to 12, youths aged 13 to 26, as well as passengers older than 60 years.

Children up to 6 years old can travel for free on unnumbered cars with free-for-all seating on regional trains, but they would require a ticket on any other train if they occupy their own seat, while when seated on your lap they can travel for free, regardless of the type of train.

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The Dogu Express arrives at the train station of Kars. ©Paliparan

How are Turkish trains like

Turkish high-speed trains, along with express and night trains, offer high levels of comfort and modern amenities.

Regional trains can also be modern and comfortable, although on these services you could easily end up in older, less-impressive carriages as well.

Local trains are generally similar to those you find in metropolises around the world – with Istanbul’s Marmaray or Izmir’s İZBAN comparable to urban lines in cities like London or Tokyo.

On daytime express trains, as well as high-speed trains in Turkey, the travel classes are usually categorised as ‘2+2 Pulman Ekonomi’ and ‘2+1 Pulman Business’.

Pulman Ekonomi is equivalent to second class, with seats arranged in a 2+2 configuration, while Pulman Business is comparable to first class, offering more comfortable seating in a spacious 2+1 configuration.

On regional trains, you typically find seats designated as ‘DMU 2+2’, which also indicates 2nd class seats in a 2+2 configuration.

You’ll find more details about night trains in Turkey in the dedicated chapter below.

Although Turkish high-speed trains are equipped with Western-style sit-down toilets, express trains typically offer both Western-style and squat toilets (one of each in every carriage), whereas older regional trains may only have squat toilets.

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Second class seats on a Turkish high-speed train. ©Paliparan
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First class seats on a Turkish high-speed train. ©Paliparan

Dining cars on Turkish trains

Turkey’s YHT high-speed trains all feature a dining car where passengers can buy non-alcoholic beverages like coffee, tea, and soft drinks, along with a basic selection of snacks such as sandwiches, crisps, and sweets.

If you travel in first class on a high-speed train, you will be served a complimentary light meal at your seat, consisting of a sandwich, some cake, a bottle of water, and some juice.

Some express and night train services in Turkey also feature a dining car, which resembles more of a proper sit-down restaurant wagon.

In these dining cars, you can also buy hot food items such as chicken kebab and köfte, along with a selection of snacks and non-alcoholic drinks.

They will also serve you a traditional Turkish breakfast.

Of course, you are free to bring your own supply of food and drinks, which is advisable on long-distance trains, especially if you’re unsure whether there will be a functioning dining car.

Unlike trains in Europe, consuming your own alcohol on Turkish trains is not permitted, unless done so discreetly within the privacy of your own compartment on a night train.

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The dining car on a Turkish YHT high-speed train. ©Paliparan

How are Turkish night trains like

On Turkish night trains, the following travel classes are available:

– First class Pullman seats
– Couchettes
– Sleepers

Travelling in a sleeper compartment is by far the most comfortable option, as you have all the comfort and privacy you could want.

Turkish sleeper wagons only have 2-bed compartments, which can be booked as a double or single sleeper.

If you travel solo and choose a sleeper on a Turkish night train, the second bed will automatically be blocked for sale by the booking system, ensuring that you always have the compartment for private use without needing to pay for both beds.

When you are travelling with a companion, you can of course use both beds in a sleeper compartment, but make sure you book your tickets together in one transaction.

Each sleeper compartment has a washbasin and a fridge, which doubles as a complimentary minibar stocked with water, juice, chocolates, and other snacks – all included in the price of your ticket.

Next in the pecking order are couchettes, which feature 4 berths per compartment.

Solo travellers are always allocated to compartments with passengers of the same sex, meaning that you will always share their compartment with other female passengers as a woman.

As a mixed-gender group or family, it is of course possible to sleep together in one couchette compartment, provided that all tickets are purchased in a single booking.

During the online booking process, you can select your couchette or sleeper berths on a handy seat map, ensuring that you are all travelling in the same compartment.

Turkish night trains also feature 1st class Pullman seats just like those found on daytime express trains.

These Pullman seats do slightly recline and have a spacious 1+2 configuration, still making it a better option than bus travel, although they don’t quite match the comfort of a bed in a couchette or sleeper compartment.

You can also self-assign these seats from a seat map during the booking process.

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A sleeper compartment on the Doğu Express from Kars to Ankara in daytime mode. ©Paliparan
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The seats in the sleeper compartment can be converted to a proper bed. If there are two of you travelling, the upper berth will be lowered as well. ©Paliparan
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Sleeper compartments feature a small washbasin ©Paliparan
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Each sleeper compartment has a fridge with some free drinks and snacks. ©Paliparan

Turkish night train routes

The following domestic night trains are currently operating in Turkey:

– Ankara Ekspresi (Istanbul-Ankara, daily)
– Izmir Mavi Tren (Izmir-Eskişehir-Ankara, daily)
– Konya Mavi Tren (Izmir-Konya, daily)
– Doğu Ekspresi (Ankara-Erzurum-Kars, daily)
– Güney Ekspresi (Ankara-Diyarbakir-Kurtalan, five days a week)
– Van Gölü Ekspresi (Ankara-Elazig-Tatvan, two days a week)
– 4 Eylül Mavi Tren (Ankara-Sivas-Malatya, two days a week)

There is no real difference between Express and Mavi Tren night train services, as Mavi Train (which means ‘Blue Train’ in Turkish) is simply the historic name given to Turkey’s premium sleeper train services.

The Ankara Express, Izmir Mavi Tren, and the Konya Mavi Tren all offer sleeper compartments with one or two beds, as well as 1st class Pullman seats.

On the other hand, the Doğu Express and 4 Eylül Mavi Tren only feature 4-bed couchettes alongside carriages with 1st class Pullman seats.

The Van Gölü Express and Güney Express have the full range of travel classes, as you’ll find sleeper compartments with one or two beds, 4-bed couchettes, as well as 1st class Pullman seats.

Besides the Doğu Express, there is also the Turistik Doğu Ekspresi which runs on the Ankara-Erzurum-Kars railway line.

The Turkish State Railways introduced the Turistik Doğu Express in response to the overwhelming popularity of the regular Doğu Express among Turkish travellers, as travel agencies began purchasing all available tickets as soon as the booking window opened.

The Turistik Doğu Express runs three times a week in each direction and has sleeping cars only, with tickets being sold by travel agencies using dynamic pricing.

All other night trains can simply be booked online through the TCDD website or at a railway station in Turkey.

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Watching the scenery go by from the comfort of my bed in a sleeper compartment on the Doğu Express. ©Paliparan

Travelling by train to and from Turkey

Although Turkey has railway links to all its neighbouring countries, a lot of international train services are currently suspended, which makes overland travel a bit of a challenge.

Due to ongoing conflicts and a volatile political situation in some of Turkey’s neighbouring countries, it remains unclear when international trains to destinations such as Damascus, Baghdad, and Tehran will resume.

Below, you can find a country-by-country overview detailing the current status of rail connections between Turkey and all its neighbouring countries.

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View from a local ferry across the Bosphorus in Istanbul. ©Paliparan

Turkey to Armenia

While there is a railway line connecting Kars in Turkey with Gyumri and Yerevan across the border in Armenia, it has been closed for decades due to strained diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Indeed, not only is the rail border closed, but the entire land border between Turkey and Armenia is shut.

With Turkey and Armenia still at odds over the Armenian Genocide and Turkey’s support of Azerbaijan in the Karabakh War and some smaller border conflicts, the prospects of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Armenia thawing appear slim.

If you want to travel between Turkey and Armenia, you therefore must travel via Georgia or Iran, the former being the most convenient option by far.

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The Akhurian River marks the modern-day border between Turkey and Armenia, which is still firmly closed for cross-border traffic. ©Paliparan

Turkey to Austria

During the extended summer season (mid-April to mid-November), a weekly sleeper train operated by Optima Tours connects the city of Edirne in the far-western part of Turkey with Villach in Austria.

The Optima Express, as this train is called, is a so-called motorail service, which means that this train also carries cars and motorbikes on special vehicle transporter wagons.

However, you don’t necessarily need to bring your car to use this train, as also passengers travelling without their own vehicle are more than welcome to travel on the Optima Express.

Passengers can choose between a place in a 4-berth couchette or a sleeper compartment, both of which can be booked on a shared basis or for private use.

Each sleeper compartment can be occupied by up to two adults and a child.

The Optima Express also has its own dining car, although you are of course free t o bring your own food an drinks on board as well.

Note that the Optima Express only carries passengers travelling between Austria and Turkey – it is not possible to get on or off the train at an intermediate point on its epic route across Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, or Bulgaria.

Turkey to Azerbaijan

The historic railway line linking Turkey with Azerbaijan runs through Armenia, but given the conflicts Armenia has with both Turkey and Azerbaijan, this route hasn’t seen any cross-border train traffic for a long time.

Therefore, Turkey decided to build a new railway line linking Kars with Akhalkalaki across the border in Georgia, thus connecting the Turkish railway network with Georgia.

With the completion of that railway line, trains can now run all the way from Istanbul and Ankara to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and the Azerbaijani capital of Baku.

Although a night train linking Ankara with Baku was supposed to start running in 2019 and brand new sleeper carriages for this new link have already been acquired by Azerbaijan Railways (ADY), there is no sign yet of this service to finally commence as of May 2024.

If you want to travel from Turkey to Azerbaijan, it’s therefore easiest to travel via Georgia – see the Turkey to Georgia chapter for more details.

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The modern railway station of Baku, Azerbaijan. ©Paliparan

Turkey to Bulgaria

Although there are no daytime trains linking Turkey with Bulgaria, there is a year-round, daily night train which links Istanbul (Halkali station) with Sofia.

This night train, which is operated by the Turkish State Railways (TCDD), features both 4-berth couchettes, as well as 1 an 2 bed sleeper compartments.

Between Istanbul Halkali and Sofia, this night train also calls at Edirne in Turkey, as well as at a couple of Bulgarian stations such as Dimitrovgrad and Plovdiv.

There is also a seasonal night train (daily from mid-June to mid-October) linking Istanbul Halkali with Bucharest in Romania, which stops at the Bulgarian stations of Veliko Tarnovo and Ruse.

If you want to travel from Istanbul to Veliko Tarnovo or Ruse outside these summer months, you will need to take the Istanbul-Sofia night train until Dimitrovgrad, and change there to a domestic Bulgarian train on the railway line north to Veliko Tarnovo and Ruse.

The Istanbul-Bucharest night train only features 4-berth couchettes.

Tickets for the Istanbul-Sofia night train, as well as for the Istanbul-Bucharest night train, cannot be booked online, so you need to buy your ticket at a railway station in Bulgaria or in Istanbul.

Especially tickets for the sleeper carriages to Sofia sell out fast, so don’t rely on getting a same-day ticket at the station during peak travel months.

However, Andy Brabin from the reliable booking agency Discover by Rail can arrange these tickets in advance for a small fee and will deliver them to your hotel in Sofia, Bucharest, or Istanbul, or arrange a personal handover at the station in these cities.

You can inquire about this service by e-mailing Andy at tickets@discoverbyrail.com.

If you plan to take the train between Turkey and Bulgaria, make sure you also read our guide about train travel in Bulgaria.

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Bulgarian train at the railway station of Sofia. ©Paliparan

Turkey to Cyprus

Although there is obviously no railway line across the Mediterranean Sea between Turkey and Cyprus, you can travel by train across Turkey towards the port from where you can catch a ferry to reach Cyprus.

To get to Cyprus, you must first travel by train across Turkey to the regional hub of Karaman, where you have to switch to a bus to reach Silifke.

Once you arrive at the bus station of Silifke, you change transport mode again, this time to a dolmus (minibus) to the small Turkish port of Taşucu.

The ferry company Akgünler Denizcilik operates both a fast catamaran and a slower conventional ferry between Taşucu and Girne (Kyrenia) in Northern Cyprus.

Do note that the Cypriot Government considers Girne an illegal entry point, as it is located in the northern (Turkish occupied) part of the island.

If your goal is simply to visit Northern Cyprus, this will likely not have any direct consequencess, but if you also intend to cross into Southern Cyprus, you could potentially face fines, refusal of entry, or be prevented from crossing back into Northern Cyprus

Make sure that you read the official travel advisories issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus and the British Foreign Office (or those of your own country) before planning to enter Cyprus through a point of entry on the northern half of the island.

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Checkpoint in Nicosia between the Greek part of Cyprus in the south, and the Turkish part in the north of the island. ©Paliparan

Turkey to Georgia

In 2017, a new railway line was completed between Kars in Turkey and Akhalkalaki in Georgia, fully linking the Turkish railway network with the Georgian one.

Although an Ankara-Tbilisi-Baku night train was supposed to start running across this new railway line in 2019, there is no sign yet of this service to finally commence as of May 2024.

If you want to travel by train between Turkey and Georgia, there is still a gap that you have to bridge by bus.

As Turkey and Georgia have deep economic and touristic ties, it is of course possible to take a direct bus from cities in Turkey such as Trabzon to Batumi or Tbilisi in Georgia, as there are frequent connections.

Even Ankara and Istanbul have direct buses to Georgia, although you would then be in for a very long (and uncomfortable) bus ride!

If you want to travel overland between Turkey and Georgia, it’s therefore a much better option to take the Doğu Express from Ankara to Kars, which is a highly scenic train ride.

Kars itself is a pleasant and interesting city to break up your journey – make sure you also visit the stunning ruins of the ancient Armenian capital of Ani just outside of town while you are there.

From Kars, you can then take a bus to the town of Hopa just a few miles away from the Turkish-Georgian border, where you can change to a dolmus that will take you to the Georgian border at Sarp, and on to Batumi.

Read our article on travelling from Batumi to Kars by bus for more information on what the trip is like (spoiler: A highly scenic ride as well!).

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Buses to Georgia at the otogar (bus station) of Trabzon. ©Paliparan
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View over Tbilisi, Georgia. ©Paliparan

Turkey to Greece

Although there is a railway line linking Turkey with Greece, there are currently no train services operating across it.

There used to be a night train (called the Dostluk Ekspresi – or Friendship Express) between Istanbul and Thessaloniki – a slow but epic ride through the scenic river valleys of Thrace – although this service has been sadly suspended.

If you want to travel overland between Turkey and Greece, you can of course take the bus, with companies such as Ozikizler, Arda Tur and Alpar Turizm offering multiple departures each day between Istanbul and Thessaloniki.

However, there are also multiple ferry links between Turkey and Greece that are worth considering.

Almost every Greek island located close to the Turkish coastline has a ferry link with Turkey, although many of these ferries are seasonal and only operate in the summer season.

The possibilities are nearly endless, as you can take a ferry from Bodrum to the Greek island of Kos, between Kaş and Kastellorizo, from Marmaris or Fethiye to Rhodes, or from Ayvalik to Lesbos, just to name a few options.

However, from a railway point of view, it’s best to take a ferry from Izmir or the nearby port of Çeşme to Greece, as Izmir boasts excellent rail connections to destinations all over Turkey, thus saving you from a long bus journey.

There is a twice weekly seasonal ferry (summer only) operated by Levante Ferries linking Izmir with Mytilene on the Greek island of Lesbos and Thessaloniki.

From Çeşme, which is an 80-kilometre bus trip away from Izmir, there is a daily, year-round ferry to the Greek island of Chios.

If you take the morning ferry from Çeşme to Chios, you can easily connect there to the daily overnight ferry to Piraeus (the port city serving Athens), although the island of Chios is well worth a longer stay than just a few hours!

The ferry between Çeşme and Chios is operated by Erturk, while the Chios-Piraeus route is operate by Blue Star Ferries.

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On the ferry from Çeşme to Chios. ©Paliparan

Turkey to Iran

Ankara used to be linked with Tehran by the weekly Trans-Asia Express Train.

In fact, this service comprises two separate night trains: A Turkish sleeper train linking Ankara with Tatvan, where you would embark on a ferry to cross Lake Van to the city of Van on its eastern shore, and then board an Iranian night train to reach Tabriz and Tehran.

Sadly, this international rail link has been suspended during the pandemic and has not been resumed since.

You therefore have no choice but to take a bus or minibus if you want to travel from Turkey to Iran.

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Sunset view over the main square in Isfahan, Iran. ©Paliparan

Turkey to Iraq

In the glory days of train travel, Istanbul and Baghdad were linked by a direct sleeper train called the Toros Ekspresi (Taurus Express).

This train was routed via Adana, Nusaybin, and Mosul, traversing a line that was part of the famous Berlin to Baghdad railway.

Sadly, train services between Turkey and Iraq have been suspended for nearly two decades due to security reasons, with no signs of traffic on this railway line being restored any time soon.

Turkey to Romania

In the summer months, there is a direct sleeper train linking Istanbul (Halkali station) with Bucharest in Romania.

This night train is called the Bosfor Ekspresi (Bosphorus Express), and is operated by the Turkish State Railways (TCDD).

On its long but scenic trip from Istanbul to Bucharest, the Bosphorus Express stops in Bulgarian cities such as Veliko Tarnovo and Ruse, making it not only a convenient train for those traveling between Turkey and Romania but also for travel to Bulgaria.

The Istanbul-Bucharest night train only features 4-berth couchettes.

It is possible to book the Bucharest-Istanbul night train online on the website of the Romanian Railways – but remember that you have to collect your ticket at the international ticket desk at Bucharest Gara de Nord or another station in Romania.

Buying your ticket online therefore only works if you travel from Romania to Turkey, as it won’t be an option if you take the train one-way from Istanbul to Bucharest.

In that situation, you will have to buy your tickets from the station in Istanbul.

However, Andy Brabin from the reliable booking agency Discover by Rail can arrange tickets for the Bosphorus Express in advance for a small fee and will deliver them to your hotel in Sofia, Bucharest, or Istanbul, or arrange a personal handover at the station in these cities.

You can inquire about this service by e-mailing Andy at tickets@discoverbyrail.com.

If you plan to take the train between Turkey and Romania, make sure you also read our guide about train travel in Romania, as it will tell you all you need to know about onward rail connections from Bucharest.

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Gara de Nord, the main station of the Romanian capital of Bucharest, and the terminus of the Bosphorus Express from Istanbul. ©Paliparan

Turkey to Syria

There used to be a direct sleeper train linking Istanbul with Aleppo in Syria, which in fact were through carriages attached to the weekly Istanbul-Baghdad Toros Ekspresi (Taurus Express).

Sadly, this train connection has been discontinued, and with the security situation in Northern Syria still far from great, it is unlikely to be restarted any time in the near future.

If you want to travel overland between Turkey and Syria, your best bet is to try to catch a bus or minibus from cities such as Adana and Antakya to Aleppo, from where you can catch an onward train to Damascus.

aleppo citadel syria
The impressive citadel of Aleppo. Before the start of the Syrian civil war, it used to be possible to take the train between Turkey and Syria. ©Paliparan

Interrail and Eurail in Turkey

Interrail and Eurail passes are valid for train travel in Turkey.

On YHT high-speed trains, as well as on express trains, a seat reservation is required for Interrail and Eurail pass holders.

Although a seat reservation is free of charge, you can’t book it online, so you have to get it at a railway station in Turkey.

For night trains, you need to pay a supplement to get a couchette or a sleeper, which can only be booked in person at the station.

For regional trains, seat reservations are not required for unnumbered cars with free-for-all seating, but they are necessary if you travel in numbered carriages with reserved seating.

It’s best to inquire at the station beforehand whether or not you require one when taking a regional train.

Note that you can’t use Interrail or Eurail passes for commuter trains in cities like Istanbul or Izmir, as you need a local transport card to pass through the ticket barriers.

istanbul sirkeci international ticket office
The window for international ticket sales at Sirkeci station in Istanbul. ©Paliparan

Scenic railway lines in Turkey

Given the rugged and mountainous nature of most of the Turkish landscape, it’s no surprise that train travel in Turkey offers highly scenic views.

The rolling hills you see when you take a train in the European part of Turkey make for the least interesting views, while the most stunning railway lines can be found in the Anatolian heartland of the country.

The Doğu Ekspresi (Eastern Express), which traverses the railway line from Ankara to Kars, is considered to be the most beautiful of all railway lines in Turkey, making this train a must for rail travel enthusiasts.

However, there are many other railway lines in Turkey known for their stunning scenery, such as Konya to Adana, Sivas to Samsun, or Ankara to Van.

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On board the Doğu Express as it winds through the mountains on the railway line from Kars to Ankara. ©Paliparan
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You can enjoy some superb scenery when you travel across Turkey by train. ©Paliparan
dogu express night train turkey ankara kars
The Dogu Express enters the Karanlik Canyon. ©Paliparan

Turkish railway stations

Turkish railway stations vary greatly in form and size, ranging from hypermodern glass structures like Ankara’s high-speed railway station to smaller, classic provincial stations such as those in Erzincan or Kars.

Istanbul’s railway stations deserve special mention, as ongoing construction works have created a somewhat peculiar situation.

Historically, Istanbul used to have two great terminus stations, with Sirkeci serving as the railway terminus on the European side of the city, and Haydarpaşa as the primary train station across the Bosphorus on the Asian side.

However, when construction started on the Marmaray project – the railway tunnel underneath the Bosphorus Strait – both of these historic termini lost their status as the primary train stations of Istanbul.

Both Sirkeci and Haydarpaşa were closed for reconstruction and renovation works, and while Sirkeci has reopened for some local services, Haydarpaşa remains closed.

At the moment, Halkali on the European side and Söğütlüçeşme on the Asian side are Istanbul’s most important stations, both of them being rather basic and inconveniently located, lacking the big city grandeur of Sirkeci and Haydarpaşa.

erzincan train station
Erzincan station. ©Paliparan
ankara high-speed railway station turkey
The modern high-speed railway station of Ankara. ©Paliparan
istanbul Haydarpaşa station
Istanbul Haydarpaşa station. ©Paliparan
istanbul sirkeci station railway turkey
Sirkeci station, the main station on the European side of Istanbul, and once the terminus of the famous Orient Express. ©Paliparan
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The Orient Express Restaurant at Sirkeci station in Istanbul. ©Paliparan

Tips for train travel in Turkey

In general, you shouldn’t expect much in terms of facilities at Turkish railway stations, so it’s best not to rely on station shops if you want to buy supplies before your trip.

Please note that security personnel at Turkish railway stations conduct a security check before allowing access to the platform level, requiring passengers to put their bags through an X-ray scanner and present their train tickets.

These checks are much quicker than those at an airport – there’s no need to take anything out of your luggage, and there are no rules for liquids – so there’s absolutely no need to arrive early, as they likely won’t even open the checkpoint until about 20 minutes before departure.

However, you are still well-advised not to leave it to the very last minute!

It’s also advisable to bring along some toilet paper on longer train journeys, especially on night trains or older regional trains.

Although toilets on Turkish trains are generally kept clean, it is not uncommon for them to run out of toilet paper about halfway through the journey.

turkey railway station security check
Security and ticket check at Istanbul Söğütlüçeşme station. ©Paliparan


It’s a real pleasure to travel by train across Turkey, as the country has a good rail network and some amazingly scenic railway lines.

The Turkish railway network is rapidly modernising, and the country now boasts some dedicated high-speed lines that are up to all modern standards, with fast and comfortable trains.

Given the size of the country, taking a night train is a highly convenient way to travel long distances across Turkey.

Turkish night trains offer comfortable beds in Pullman seats, shared couchette compartments, or private sleepers.

Whatever route you choose to travel, Turkish train ticket prices are inexpensive.

For instance, a high-speed train from Istanbul to Ankara costs just €12 in second class, while even a private sleeper compartment on a night train is perfectly affordable at around €35.

However, there are still some challenges when it comes to travelling by train across Turkey.

Apart from Izmir, almost all major tourist destinations on both the Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts of Turkey are not yet connected to the railway network.

Rail links with neighbouring countries, especially towards the Middle East and the Caucasus, are poor or even non-existent.

As great as train travel can be in Turkey, you are therefore still likely to require a bus or two when visiting the country.

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Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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