The Dogu Express to Kars on the Euphrates river

En route from Istanbul to eastern Turkey by train, to cross into the Caucasus...  Photo courtesy of Conor Meleady

   

The Caucasus by train?

You can travel from western Europe to Georgia, Armenia or Azerbaijan, and once there you can use trains to travel safely and comfortably between these countries.

Information on this page...

London to Georgia, Armenia or Azerbaijan by train via Istanbul.

Istanbul to Tbilisi (Georgia) by train & bus

Train service Tbilisi (Georgia) to Yerevan (Armenia)

Train service Tbilisi (Georgia) to Baku (Azerbaijan)

More information...

Train travel in Turkey

Train travel in Russia

If anyone has more information or photos that would be useful for this page, please e-mail me!


Useful country information

Train operators:

 

Georgia: www.railway.ge/?web=0&lang=eng.

Armeniawww.ukzhd.am

Azerbaijan: www.railway.gov.az

 

 

Time:

 

Georgia, Azerbaijan:  GMT+4 (GMT+5 from last Sunday in March to last Saturday in October)

Armenia:  GMT+4 (all year, as no daylight saving time)

Currency:

 

£1 = 2.6 Lari (Georgia), 587 Dram (Armenia), 1.23 Manat (Azerbaijan)   Currency converter

Visas:

 

Georgia:  No visa required for UK, US, Canadian and most EU citizens.  Azerbaijan:  Visa required, see www.visaforazerbaijan.org.ukArmenia:  As of 2013, no visa is required for UK & EU citizens.

Page last updated:

 

14 November 2016


London to the Caucasus by train

This page explains how to travel overland by train from London (or indeed anywhere in western Europe) to Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus.  It also covers train travel between Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and travel by train from Istanbul and Ankara in Turkey to these countries.  For overland travel from London or western Europe to the Caucasus, you have two basic options:

London to Tbilisi (Georgia) & onwards to Yerevan (Armenia) or Baku (Azerbaijan)...


Istanbul to Tbilisi (Georgia), Armenia, Azerbaijan

It's easy, cheap and comfortable, not to mention very scenic, to take a sleeper train right across Turkey from Istanbul or Ankara to Erzurum or Kars, then transfer by bus to the Georgian border at Sarp/Batumi for an onward train to Tbilisi.  Although the border between Turkey and Armenia is closed, you can easily travel from Istanbul to Tbilisi, then take a train on to Yerevan in Armenia.  There's also a train from Tbilisi to Baku in Azerbaijan.

Istanbul Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan

 Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia Istanbul

On board the train from Istanbul to Erzurum or Kars...

Taking the train to Kars via the Euphrates river   The Dogu Express to Kars on the Euphrates river

Two views from the Dogu Express, along the Euphrates river between Sivan & Erzurum.  Away from road development, you'll see great scenery from the comfort of your train.  Photos courtesy of Conor Meleady.

 

A private 1 or 2 bed sleeper, in daytime mode with beds folded away.  Photo courtesy of Heather Williams.

 

Above:  The same compartment, looking towards the door to the corridor.  Photo courtesy of Heather Williams.

View from restaurant car in Turkey   Makhindjauri station, Georgia

View from the Dogu Express dining car in Turkey.  Photo courtesy of Mark Dennett...

 

Makhindjauri station, near Batumi, Georgia. It has now been replaced by a new station closer to downtown Batumi. Photo courtesy of Mark Dennett...

   

The daytime train from Batumi to Tbilisi.  Lovely scenery, many tunnels.  Free water & assigned seats in 1st class - there may also be wifi.  Photos courtesy of Discoverbyrail.com

Travellers' reports...

Traveller Emily Shirley travelled to Tbilisi in 2010:  "There are several hotels in Erzurum. The posh Guzelyurt restaurant appears to be the only one serving wine and other alcoholic drinks. There is a blues night club down the hill serving beer which has live bands.  To get to the border with Georgia, you need to locate the office of Artvin bus company. They have buses every 3 hours or so to Hopa. The coaches are modern and comfortable with free drinking water distributed in small cartons and handwash liquid.  The stop for lunch/supper can be brief so be alert about grabbing your grub in the cafe a.s.a.p.  Coach departures are announced through a speaker in the tree.  The bus passes through a series of deep gorges where blasting is going on for the new railway to Baku.  Once you are dropped at a junction in Hopa, you need to find your way to the border, 15kms away.  Cadge a lift, take a taxi or if you have a folding bike with you: cycle there. It is completely flat along the shore of the Black Sea.  You will find a warm welcome to Georgia on the border if you are European or American. On the other side there are taxis and buses and ATMS to get you to Batumi about  23 kms away.  Few people speak English so knowledge of a Slav language can be helpful even though their own language is not Slav. Most people to admit to understanding Russian even though the Red Army has invaded South Ossetia and Abkhezia.  Georgian Railways run a puntual comfortable service from Batumi to Tbilisi. It is advisable to take this rather than the dangerous " Mashrutkas" minibuses often 40 years old with bald tyres. You are risking your life in such death traps.  From Batumi there is also a train to Yerevan, Armenia which stops at Tbilisi.  In typically glitzy Armenian style the curtains are gold satin.  Sleeper cabins are cheap, colourful and comfortable. Tbilisi station is modern with many shops and fast food restaurants.

Traveller Gregory Heilers travelled to Tbilisi in 2009:  "(1) From Erzurum, take the Artvin Express mini bus, which runs twice daily at 07:30 & 18:00 taking 5.5 hours from Gurcu Kapi district of Erzurum to Hopa (via Artvin, hence the name).  Fare 30 TL. (2) Travel from Hopa to Sarp by dolmus - you can get dropped off there which the driver did for me after the mini-bus attendant understood I was headed to Georgia (Gurcistan in Turkish).  Cost 3.5 TL.  (3) In Sarp, walk across the border- there was a line 2km long of vehicles waiting to cross that included the buses from Turkish cities to Batumi/Tbilisi and beyond... I was glad to have not taken a direct bus.  (4) Take a Georgian dolmus (marshutka) from the frontier to Batumi, cost 1 lari.  Pretty much the only direction you can go as I saw, so even if you can't understand the writing or language- may as well try.  (5) Travel from Batumi to Tbilisi train, fare 40 lari.  It departs 22:30 and arrives Tblisi 06:45."


Tbilisi (Georgia) to Yerevan (Armenia)

Tbilisi ► Yerevan

From late September to mid-June, the Tbilisi-Yerevan train (train 371) runs every second day, departing Tbilisi at 20:20 and arriving Yerevan at 06:55 next day.  The train reaches the Armenian border around 23:00 (00:00 Armenian time).  If you need a visa, visas can be bought for US$10, although since 2013 UK & EU citizens don't need a visa for Armenia.  Check times locally.

From mid-June to late September, train 202 runs daily and starts in Batumi (the station is called Makhindjauri) leaving Makhindjauri at 15:35 and Tbilisi at 22:16 arriving Yerevan at 07:25. 

See www.ukzhd.am (click the UK flag, then look for passenger transportations then schedule).  Check exact times locally.

It has 1st class spalny vagon 2-berth sleepers, 2nd class kupé 4-berth sleepers, 3rd class platskartny open plan sleepers.  The fare is around 75 laris (about £27 or $45) in 1st class sleeper, 56 laris (£18 or $31) in a 2nd class sleeper, 35 laris in a 3rd class sleeper. 

You can buy tickets from the helpful English-speaking lady at counter 14 (more recently reported to be window 2) at Tbilisi's main station.  You can check times at the Georgian railways website  www.railway.ge/?web=0&lang=eng, click 'Passenger operations' then 'Traffic schedule' then 'International trains'.

Yerevan ► Tbilisi

From late September to mid-June, train number 372 leaves Yerevan at 22:00 every second day, arriving Tbilisi at 08:20 next morning.  Check times locally.

From mid-June to late September, train 201 runs daily, leaving Yerevan at 15:30 and arriving Tbilisi at 00:12 (just past midnight) and Makhindjauri (Batumi) at 07:10. 

See www.ukzhd.am (click the UK flag, then look for passenger transportations then schedule).  Check times locally.

Check times locally, as times may vary - a display board at Yerevan station shows times, prices and berth availability each day for the next month.  The train has 1st class spalny vagon 2-berth sleepers, 2nd class kupé 4-berth sleepers, 3rd class platskartny open plan sleepers.  The fare is 16,880 Armenian drams (about £29 or $45) in 1st class sleeper, 12,250 Armenian drams (£21 or $32) in a 2nd class sleeper, 8,060 drams in a 3rd class sleeper. Staff at the station don't speak English, though there may be someone able to translate or try writing down what you want.  However, apart from this buying a ticket is quick and efficient . The ticket office is on the left hand side near the platforms.  There's an ATM outside the ticket office to get out cash.

The Tbilisi to Yerevan train   Tbilisi to Yerevan train.

Above:  The sleeper train from Tbilisi in Georgia to Yerevan in Armenia.  Photos courtesy of John Samuelson

Corridor, Tbilisi-Yerevan sleeper train   4-berth sleeper on Tblisi-Yerevan train   2-berth sleeper on Tblisi to Erevan train

Above:  Inside the sleeper train from Tbilisi to Yerevan in Armenia, with 4-berth & 2-berth compartments.

Corridor photo courtesy John Samuelson.  4-berth photo courtesy of Paul Carey.  2-berth photo courtesy of Eugene Maguire.

Travellers' reports...

Traveller Billy Hicks reports (2016):  "Yerevan railway station now has an extremely useful digital display screen showing full times and prices for every Yerevan-Tbilisi train for the next month as well as the number of beds remaining in all three classes for each train. I purchased the lowest-priced third class sleeper (AMD 9,200) in English without any language difficulties, there is an ATM right outside the ticket office to acquire the cash.  Being a weekday in November the train was half empty and I was easily able to buy my ticket a few hours before departure.  Third class is essentially a hostel on wheels, 54 beds in the carriage with the upper bunks being slightly cheaper than the lower bunks. A great option if you're cash-strapped like me and feeling social as you meet plenty of people from everywhere in the world, and conversation was plenty throughout for the few of us in the carriage while still being quiet enough to able to sleep when needed. Passport control on both borders went with no problems, no visas or forms required for British citizens for either country. A great journey and two wonderful cities!"

Traveller John Walker reports (September 2016):  "A wonderful journey. This journey is worth it just for the sunrise view of Mount Ararat that you may be lucky enough to witness as the train approaches Yerevan. We booked our tickets at the friendly and helpful counter service in Tbilisi Central station. We could not pay for the tickets by card...cash only for international ticket purchases. The price was 56 Lari (£18) for a bed in a 2nd class, 4 berth cabin. On-board, the female carriage attendant was stern and obviously took pride in her work, she was also very helpful and spoke reasonable English. Sheets, pillows and a towel are provided, all are clean and comfortable. Tip: If you want to turn the cabin music off, the volume dial is hidden behind the curtain! Visa procedures were swift and amiable (we were two UK nationals travelling). As previously mentioned, the view of Ararat is spectacular as it is bathed in sunrise light- a wonderful sight to wake up to and a most fitting prelude to arrival in the Armenian capital."

Traveller Alexander Bainbridge reports (2015):  "We bought our tickets at Tbilisi's central railway station (now essentially a shopping centre). The ticket office is on the 2nd floor.  English-speaking employees are there to direct travellers towards the right window.  We paid GEL 104 (£29) per first-class "spalny vagon" (SV) berth going to Yerevan, and AMD 20,750 (£29) for the return.  Children travel half-price.  Passports are essential for booking, and great care must be taken when the names are transcribed into Russian: a serious mistake could be fatal at the border and lead to much hassle.  The train leaves Tbilisi at 22:16, arriving in Yerevan at 07:00; return trip 15:30-00:15.  The carriages seem to have been refurbished a couple of years ago but remain very soviet-era, and the voluminous plastic curtains in every compartment are absolutely hideous.  Pop music is piped through over speakers in the corridor most of the time, but the volume is kept blissfully low.  Only the upper sections of a few windows in the corridor can be opened, but the air conditioning does actually work.  The loo and bed linen are basic but quite clean, all things considered. The carriage's attendant - a ruthless, unsmiling Armenian woman who doesn't speak a word of anything besides Armenian and Russian - runs her carriage with an iron fist: passengers are an inconvenience to be dealt with.  Almost all the passengers in first class are foreign tourists.  The only perk is a small half-litre bottle of water, so bringing even the most basic supplies for the journey is absolutely essential.  The border is a formality, and takes around an hour. The Armenian border guards at Sadakhlo/Ayrumi have portable computers capable of scanning passports in situ; the Georgian ones collect all the passports and return them a short while later.  Passengers needing an Armenian visa at the border must leave the (guarded) train and pay a fee in a small low building by the platform, which is rather mysteriously named (in Russian) "Centre for the effective use of technology and aesthetics" (sic). The return journey is largely in daylight with some amazing (if bleak) views of Armenia.  Yerevan railway station has a fun little railway museum, open daily from 10:00 to 18:00.  A taxi from Yerevan railway station to the centre should not cost more than AMD 1,000-1,500; in Tbilisi no more than GEL 5-10.  Beware the drivers at the station, it's probably best to ignore them and to strike out for taxis on the main avenue."

Traveller David Roberts reports from a Tbilisi-Yerevan journey in May 2014:  "I purchased a first-class ticket for 72.69 GEL, ($41.28). When I boarded, I decided that I wanted my own room, so I paid the attendant 17,000 AMD, ($41).  The train still operates every other day and leaves the Tbilisi station at 2020 hours. It arrives in Yerevan at 0700 hours. The rooms are rather spartan, (think Soviet-era) and the beds are rather hard, (especially compared to Western Europe, US and the Trans-Mongolian lines).  I decided to take the train, instead of hiring a driver, because I love travelling by rail. The only drawback is that most of the trip is in complete darkness, so there is not any sightseeing.  As the other readers stated, the border process is rather easy. At the Georgia border, they take your passports and return them a few minutes later. At the Armenia border, those that need a visa, (not needed for EU residents) are taken to a small room to complete the paperwork and pay seven dollars. It is quite painless.  Not many of the train personnel, (and border agents) speak English, so I used a translator to buy tickets and it helped to know a little Russian when I was on the train."

Traveller James Merriman reports on a Tbilisi to Yerevan train journey in 2013: "You can’t buy tickets online for this service so it’s best to purchase the ticket direct at the station a day before travelling if possible. Within Tbilisi station, look for counters 14-16. The person based here when I was there spoke good excellent English. I again elected for 1st class “Spalny Vagon” for the journey and the ticket cost 64.19 GEL (roughly £26). The process took 10 minutes to complete. Make sure you bring your passport too. The train itself left at 20.20 but you can board up to an hour earlier if you like. The cabin was old but still in a good condition. The train crew are mostly Russian and their English isn’t very good. They provide clean bed lining once the train departs Tbilisi. We got to the border at 10.30pm. Border formalities are straight forward and take nearly 2 hours in total; 1 hour for each side of the border. The Georgian guards collect your passport and return it within the hour with the stamp in place and the Armenian officials stamp your passport there and then whilst they walk through the train. The journey took nearly 11 hours and the train was surprisingly 2 minutes early (arrived at 6.58am instead of 7.00am). The ride was very comfortable with excellent pillows! For me the choice was either the train or shared taxi. I definitely think I made the right choice taking the train."

If you have any more feedback on this or any other route, please e-mail me.


Tbilisi (Georgia) to Baku (Azerbaijan)

Tbilisi ► Baku

There's an overnight train from Tbilisi to Baku in Azerbaijan every night.  Train 37 leaves Tbilisi daily at 16:30 arriving Baku at 10:20 next morning.  The train has 1st class 'spalny vagon' 2-bed sleepers, 2nd class 'kupé' 4-berth sleepers.  The distance is 551km, the fare is 113 laris (£43 or $72) in a 1st class sleeper, or 58 laris (£22 or $37) in a 2nd class sleeper.  Buy a ticket at the station.

Baku ► Tbilisi

Train 38 leaves Baku every day at 20:45 arriving Tbilisi at 11:40.  The train has 1st class 'spalny vagon' 2-bed sleepers, 2nd class 'kupé' 4-berth sleepers.  The distance is 551km, the fare is 47 Manat (£43 or $72) in a 1st class sleeper, or 25 Manat (£22 or $37) in a 2nd class sleeper.  You can buy a ticket at the station (your passport will be required), or (if it's working) buy online at http://railway.gov.az - you may need Google translate to translate the booking pages.

To buy a ticket at the station your passport will be required.  If there are no sleepers left, don't worry, buy a seats ticket and you may be able to upgrade on the train.

To buy a ticket online:  (1) This is only possible for journeys starting from Baku going to Tbilisi, not from Tbilisi to Baku and (2) in summer 2015 one report said that the online ticketing system is 'broken' but another says it works fine as long as you can enter your name in Russian (Cyrillic) letters, yet another report says that even if you do that, it only works for a few nationalities.  But give it a try, feedback would be appreciated.  Go to the Azerbaijan Railways website http://railway.gov.az and click 'Onlayn Bilet Satisi' on the right.  Note that it only sells tickets between 07:00 & 23:00 Azerbaijan time.  On the next page, click 'EN' top right for English.  You need to register (which is self-explanatory, except for 'series' where you should enter the country that issued your passport, e.g. 'United Kingdom').  'Baki-Sern' is Baku, 'Tbilisi-Sern' is Tbilisi, select the Baki-Tiflis train (Tbilisi = Tiflis, same place, an alternative name), under 'Wagon number' any number with 'KP' is obviously kupé 4-berth, any wagon number with 'SV' after it is obviously spalny vagon 2-berth, so pick any wagon of the type you want.  You must collect the ticket at the station at least an hour before departure.

   

The Tbilisi to Baku train...  The train now has modernised air-conditioned sleeping-cars, all non smoking.  Above centre, the 2-berth Spalny Vagon even comes with a flat-screen TV!  Above right, 4-berth Kupé.  Photos above courtesy of Mark Thalgott, photo below courtesy of James Merriman...

Train from Baku to Tbilisi

Travellers' reports...

Traveller James Merriman reports from a Baku to Tbilisi train journey in 2013:  "The Azerbaijan Railway website is a good starting point for this trip as you can easily book a ticket online for the train.  I opted for the “Spalny Vagon” which cost 49.12 AZN (About £41). When arriving at Baku station, look for counter 22 which is specifically for foreigners.  The person based here when I was there spoke good English.  Hand them your booking confirmation email and your passport then they’ll act as translator for one of the other booking clerks in the station.  The whole process takes 5-10 minutes.  The train itself left at 20.45 but you can board up to an hour earlier if you like.  The cabin had been recently re-furbished and was in great condition, just a little stuffy to start with.  I was lucky in that I was the only person in my 2-berth cabin for the journey.  The train crew are mostly Russian but do speak basic English.  They provide a remote control for the TV (1st class only and it’s Russian channels) and clean bed linen.  We got to the border the next morning close to 10am.   Border formalities are straightforward and take nearly 2 hours in total; 1 hour for each side of the border.  The Azerbaijani officials take a picture of your using their brick of a laptop and the Georgian guards collect your passport and return it within the hour with the stamp in place.  The journey took nearly 18 hours and the train was 45 minutes late (arrived at 12.15pm instead of 11.30am) but the ride was comfortable and managed to get a decent amount of sleep.  All in all, a thoroughly worthwhile trip."

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Find hotels...

 

◄◄ Hotel search & price comparison.

www.hotelscombined.com checks all the main hotel booking sites at once to find the widest choice of hotels & the cheapest seller.  It was named as the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site at the World Travel Awards 2013 and I highly recommend it, both to find hotels in even the smallest places and to check that another retailer isn't selling your hotel for less!

www.booking.com is my favourite booking site.  It's really clear and you can usually book with free cancellation and so confirm your accommodation at no risk months before train booking opens.

Backpacker hostels...


Travel insurance & health card...

 

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

Take out decent travel insurance, it's essential...

Never travel overseas without travel insurance from a reliable insurer, with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover.  It should also cover cancellation and loss of cash and belongings, up to a sensible limit.  An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheaper than several single-trip policies even for just 2 or 3 trips a year, I have an annual policy myself.  Here are some suggested insurers.  Seat61 gets a small commission if you buy through these links.

In the UK, try Columbus Direct or use Confused.com to compare prices & policies from many different insurers.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65, see www.JustTravelCover.com - 10% discount with code seat61.

        If you live in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the EU, try Columbus Direct's other websites.

  If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

Get a spare credit card, designed for travel with no currency exchange loading & low or no ATM fees...

It costs nothing to take out an extra credit card.  If you keep it in a different part of your luggage so you're not left stranded if your wallet gets stolen, this is a form of extra travel insurance in itself.  In addition, some credit cards are significantly better for overseas travel than others.  Martin Lewis's www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-travel-money explains which UK credit cards have the lowest currency exchange commission loadings when you buy something overseas, and the lowest cash withdrawal fees when you use an ATM abroad.  Taking this advice can save you quite a lot on each trip compared to using your normal high-street bank credit card!

 


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