Train Travel in Turkey: Journeys for Avid Explorers
In the last year, train travel in Turkey has made an unexpected comeback as the most popular domestic tourism trend and word is spreading among international travellers. Particularly embraced by the younger generation, many have likened the revival to exotic vibes of the old Orient Express, the 19th-century long-distance train journey from Paris to Istanbul that evoked a legacy of murder and intrigue through books and films.
While passengers on the Orient Express were wealthy, upper-class members of society, one reason why travelling by train in Turkey has seen a comeback is low ticket prices, making it ideal for students and young people on a budget. This has also, in turn, sparked an Instagram trend as youngsters’ clamber to feature rail destinations on their profiles.
Unfortunately, the revival has evoked high demand and tickets on some overnight journeys are hard to come. If you are prepared to wait, once you do get onboard, expect to witness some of the best landscapes views in Turkey, all from the comfort of your train seat.
4 Long Distance Leisure Train Journeys in Turkey
Lake Van Express
The 24-hour Lake Van Express shows off the best of the eastern Anatolian region, bordering Iran, Armenian, Iraq and Georgia. Trains weave their way through mountainous landscapes giving off spectacular views of Mount Nemrut, Mount Ararat and Lake Van. Other notable destinations include Kayseri, Ankara, Sivas and Malatya.
The Lake Van train has eight cars that carry up to 320 passengers, two days a week, and staff serve refreshments and snacks at every stage of the journey. As well as carrying passengers travelling for business or family reasons, the stunning landscapes are attracting Turks in their droves to explore the lesser known areas of their country.
Initially, cancelled five years ago, the Lake Van Express leaves Ankara and makes the Tatvan region of Bitlis its final destination. Along the way, passengers can get off for quick exploration at a few of the planned 60 stations stops.
Eastern Express: Ankara to Kars
The Eastern (Dogu) Express running from the capital Ankara to the northeast city of Kars, near the Armenian border can wholeheartedly take credit for the revival of train travel in Turkey. The 1000 kilometres (850 miles) train ride takes 24 hours to complete and is a ridiculously cheap way to explore places rarely seen in mainstream travel guides.
Sleeping coach reservations for two or four passengers that include toilets and refrigerators are available, otherwise, book a one seat ticket for Turkey’s most popular long-distance train journey. To cope with demand, TCDD, Turkish State Railways company increased their cars from five to eleven, but eager passengers still have a wait to buy tickets.
In 2017, 300,000 people managed to bag themselves a seat on the Eastern Express passing through farmlands and across rivers to give passengers, front row seats of the northern, eastern Anatolian plains in all their glory. Such is the popularity of the Dogu Express, rumours say plans are in place to introduce a second train.
Guney Kurtalan Express: Ankara to Sirt
Another 24-hour journey is the 1212-kilometres Kurtalan Express that started in 1944. Also running from Ankara, demand is not as high as the Eastern Express and passengers stop by 70 stations along the way including Diyarbakir, Sivas and Batman.
Carrying 15,000 passengers every year, sleeping car reservations, as well as a restaurant provide everything an adventurous explorer would want. Leaving five times a week, with services on Saturday and Sundays as well, travelling on the Kurtalan Express will be the feature theme of many nostalgic stories in the future.
Pamukkale Express: Denizli to Eskisehir
If train travel in Turkey entices you to spread your wings, but you don’t want an overnight journey, look at the Pamukkale Express running from Denizli to Eskisehir, and passing through Afyon, Sandikli, Kutahya on the way.
The journey, leaving at 08.00 a.m, arrives in Eskisehir at 4.30 p.m, making it an ideal alterative for travellers who just couldn’t hack 24 hours of the other long-distance routes. Denizli is home to Pamukkale, otherwise known as the white cotton castle, of which the calcium pools are one of the top visited tourist attractions in Turkey. Eskisehir is also rising in popularity as travellers seek to get away from well-known tourist spots for a more authentic and cultured experience.
For more routes and timetables, see the Turkish State Railway website here - http://www.tcddtasimacilik.gov.tr/trenler
You Might Also Be Interested In…