Travelling Turkey – Train Anyone?

Anyone intent on exploring Turkey will find travelling between the towns and cities of the country extremely easy as the country has an indispensable network of intercity buses run by private companies. If you read this blog a lot, you’ll know we’re big fans of Fethiye Otogar (Fethiye intercity bus station) and the buses that use it. Budget airlines are also increasing in popularity – and choice of internal travel routes – and their low prices mean the intercity bus companies of Turkey are also cutting their fares and improving an already fantastic service to try to compete.

Fethiye Otogar - Intercity Bus Station

Functional Fethiye Otogar

However, there is one mode of travel in Turkey that is often overlooked by travellers. The train. If you have never considered rail travel in Turkey, you’re missing out on a memorable journey! It’s cheap, comfortable, takes in amazing scenery and, on some routes, it’s a little piece of nostalgia thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, living in Fethiye, we don’t have a train station for miles, but get yourself into rail road Turkey and you’re in for a treat!
A few years ago, we were in Istanbul with only a couple of days left on our tourist visas and a vague plan of heading into Northern Greece by bus. The plan was so vague that by the time we got to the travel agents to book a bus, we were told there were no buses for three days. That would take us one day over our visa limit. This is where my mass panic set in and the world was going to come to an end.
‘Why don’t you just go by train?’ The woman behind the counter in the travel agents threw us (well, me. Barry doesn’t do panic) a lifeline.
‘Train? Can we get a train? Where from?’ (Don’t forget, we’re living in Fethiye. Fethiye doesn’t do trains. We were in shock.)
Sirkeci Train Station in Istanbul

Enchanting Istanbul Sirkeci Train Station

‘Where from’ was none other than Istanbul’s Sirkeci Train Station; the final destination of the Orient Express before passengers such as crime novelist Agatha Christie disembarked and headed for the equally famous Istanbul Pera Palace Hotel in the 1920s. That was where from.
The following morning, we rolled out of historic Sirkeci train station, leaving the beautifully ornate restaurant and stained glass windows behind. We had our own, private compartment, pull-down sash window, rolling hills, Thracian wetlands…and we had actually considered the bus.

We have done this train journey between Istanbul in Turkey and Alexandropoulis in Greece twice (once in the daytime and once in a sleeper compartment) and it’s fantastic. It’s one of the few occasions where we would gladly forgo the option of the bus. The train’s final destination is Thessaloniki; another city we would love to visit sometime…one day.

All trains to Europe and the European area of Turkey leave from Sirkeci Station in Istanbul.
NB: Trains leaving for the rest of Turkey (the West Coast, Central Anatolia and the East / Southeast) leave from Haydarpaşa Station on the Asian side of Istanbul. Please check with booking agents about the current situation as, sadly, a huge fire engulfed the station at the end of November 2010. At the moment, we are unsure where the train terminates / begins its journey.

Update 1.2.2011 – Please click comments below for more information.

For information about train routes across Turkey (including photos), Europe and the world visit seat61.com (this link takes you to the Turkey page). We’ve used this site a lot as it’s so easy to follow. It’s also updated regularly.

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Comments

  1. We traveled by train to Istanbul from Ankara for New Years weekend. It took us all the way into Haydarpaşa as normal. We couldn’t walk through the building and the Kadıköy ferry doesn’t stop there right now, so if you plan to ferry to the European side, you need to walk over to the other pier.

  2. Thanks so much for this Steph. We can update this post with that information now. 🙂

  3. Incredible. I have been to Turkey a couple of times and have yet ride the train. I’ll be sure to do so during our next trip there!

  4. You cannot beat train travel. There’s still something quite romantic about a long train journey in a distant land, I guess its a bit of an adventure, where you see the countryside pass by and meet lots of interesting people. Just compare it to the hassle of modern day air travel.

  5. @ Patty: It’s really cheap as well so it just makes for an altogether fun journey.

    @ Anonymous: Couldn’t agree more. I’ve never been a huge fan of flying anyway and the traijn just seems so relaxing – when it’s a good train, that is. 🙂

  6. I have been debating going to Turkey so much during these past few days. There is a cheap airfare for NYC to Sabiha Gokcen. It’s good to know that there are train options too!

    So I’m still thinking it, but whether that one or not, I’m sure I’m going to Turkey sometime between this year and next year. 🙂

  7. What a great train trip! Just to be in the Sirkeci Train Station would be a big deal for me. I love train travel – just haven’t done very much of it! This sounds like a wonderful trip.

  8. @ Norbert: We’re down on the Southwest coast. If you do make it to Turkey, it would be good to meet up somewhere. We’re starting to feel the urge to put people’s faces to names! 🙂

    @ Cathy: I think Sirkeci train station helped a long way in making it a big deal for me, too! 🙂 Same as you – we need to do more train travel.

  9. This is exactly what I wanted to read. Like you, I wizz around Turkey by bus, they are so comfortable and lately METRO is absolutely tops. I saw a bus leaving for Athens and thought going next time I’m headed there, but after this post I’ll seriously consider going by train.

  10. Love train travel but for some reason assumed it wouldn’t be that good in Turkey. Good to know!

  11. @ Inka: We love the bus but the train is great. I think you can book all the way to Athens at Sirkeci Station. You change trains at Thessaloniki. We’d love to do that journey as we’ve never been to Athens.

    We used to always use Metro too, but we’ve fallen for the charms of the Pamukkale Techno Bus recently. 🙂

  12. @ Laurel: It’s different Laurel; that’s all I can say. Apart from a couple of new high-speed networks, it;s train travel as it used to be. Rattling along as opposed to speeding along. 🙂

  13. It’s always nice having different overland travel options. I love public transport, particularly overland transport, but only going by bus or by train gets tiring at times. It’s nice to have a change of scenery. I’ll have to keep this in mind for when we inevitably make it over to Turkey.

  14. @ Adam: We’ve only ever travelled in Europe and Turkey and overland is a good option. I think if you’re in the US, Canada and the like, maybe flying is a more sensible option for a lot of people. 🙂

  15. I didn’t like our Metro bus to Fethiye (sorry, enjoyed the rest of the trip!) but I’ve had good runs on Kamil Koç.

  16. @ Stephanie: Glad you enjoyed the rest of the trip! 🙂
    It was a not fantastic run with Metro that made us go back to Pamukkale. We used to use Kamil Koç all the time but we’ve never had anything to complain about with Pamukkale.

  17. I always prefer train travel…good to know there are options in Turkey

  18. @ Andrea: Not much in the way of train lines in the Southwest of Turkey but the option’s there in other areas.

  19. Aaron G Myers says

    I too love the train. But its slow. Six to seven hours to Edirne from Istanbul instead of four and a half by bus. If you have the time though, it can’t be beat. Or if you are tall. The room to roam and stretch out is amazing.
    I do believe that Hydrapasa Station is back open and sending ferries across again. We did it a few weeks back. It was closed for a while after the fire, but is back up and running with a new roof to boot.

  20. @ Aaron: Great if you’re not in a rush and yes, if you’re tall! 🙂
    Thanks so much for the Haydarpaşa information. Not sure when we’ll make it up to Istanbul again but we’re feeling the need to give Haydarpaşa a big hug!

  21. You’re right! I traveled and lived in Turkey for a total of one year and NOT ONCE did I ever take the train. I’m not sure why this is, I LOVE train travel. I guess that option was overlooked in favor for the speed, ease and low-cost domestic flights. Next time, I’m going to make the effort to take at least one train in Turkey! Thanks!

  22. We’ve not done it much, Connie. Would love to do more. Actually, we’ve only used a domestic flight a couple of times, too. I think the lure of Fethiye otogar is too much for us! 🙂

  23. Hi!

    I would like to take the train rom Istanbul to Izmir. Is it possible to take eg the metro or something to Hayderpasa station and from there a train to Izmir? Where can I find a timetable in E´nglish??? Any ideas? 😀

  24. @ Paivi: Thanks for your comment. It depends where you are staying in Istanbul. If you’re in Sultanahmet or other places on the European side, you can get the ferry right to the station entrance. On the Asian side, there will be buses, dolmuses or cheap taxis to Haydarpasa.
    As for train timetables, the website we use all the time is man at seat 61.
    Here’s the info for trains between Izmir and Istanbul. http://www.seat61.com/Turkey2.htm#Istanbul to Izmir
    Hope that helps. 🙂

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