The Haghia Sofia, Istanbul

The incredible Haghia Sofia (above) & beautiful Blue Mosque (below), both just 10 minutes walk from Istanbul's Sirkeci station...

Istanbul's famous Blue Mosque

 

London or Paris to Istanbul by train in 3 nights...

Istanbul is Europe's most exotic city, at the edge of Europe where east meets west.  Can you still travel from London or Paris to Istanbul by train?  Of course!  The train journey is remarkably straightforward, safe & comfortable, see the video guide.  Yet it's also an epic 2,000 mile 3 or 4-night adventure, rediscovering some of the mystery, intrigue and romance of long-distance train travel through the Balkans.  On this page you'll find an easy step-by-step guide to planning, booking & making a train journey between London or Paris and Istanbul, one-way or return, eastbound or westbound, with schedules, fares, what the journey is like, suggested stopovers and how to buy tickets.

Routes, train times, fares & how to buy tickets...

  Which route to choose?

  London-Paris-Munich-Budapest-Bucharest-Istanbul  - 4 nights

  London-Paris-Munich-Zagreb-Belgrade-Sofia-Istanbul - 3 nights

  New!  Video guide:  London to Istanbul by train...

  Optional variations to these routes via Amsterdam, Brussels, Zurich

  London to Southern Turkey via the Greek islands

  London-Paris-Ancona or Brindisi-ferry-Turkey  Alternative by ferry from Italy.

  Tailor-made holidays & tours from the UK to Turkey by train

  Danube Express & Venice-Simplon-Orient Express luxury trains to Istanbul.

  Onward travel from Istanbul to other destinations in Turkey

  Useful country information - dialling code, time zone, currency

  Hotels & accommodation in Istanbul including the famous Pera Palas Hotel.

Information on other pages...

  Train travel within Turkey:  Istanbul to Ankara, Konya, Izmir, Eastern Turkey

  General information for train travel in Europe

  Luggage on trains & left luggage at stations   

  Taking your bike   Taking dogs  

  Railpass guide    InterRail pass guide

  Buy an add-on train ticket to London from other UK towns & cities

  The Orient Express, the truth behind the legend

  Istanbul-Aleppo-Damascus-Jordan by train & onwards to Cairo & Egypt

  Istanbul-Tehran by Trans-Asia Express train

  Istanbul-Thessaloniki-Athens by train

  Istanbul-Cyprus by train+ferry

  Istanbul-Odessa (Ukraine) by ferry

Route map...

Map showing train routes from London & Paris to Istanbul & Turkey

Sponsored links...

 

Useful country information

Train operator in Turkey:

TCDD (Tόrkiye Cumhuryeti Devlet Demiryollan) www.tcdd.gov.tr

Train travel within Turkey     Istanbul-Athens     Istanbul-Sofia/Belgrade 

All-Europe online train times      Istanbul-Iran     Istanbul-Syria/Jordan

   

Railpasses:

Beginner's guide to European railpasses    Buy a rail pass online

Time zone:

GMT+2 (GMT+3 from last Sunday in March to last Saturday in October).

Dialling code:

 

+90

Currency:

£1 = 2.6 Turkish Lira  $1 = 1.6 TL.  Currency converter

Tourist information:

www.turizm.gov.tr     www.turkeytravelplanner.com    

Recommended guidebooks    Map of Istanbul

Hotels:

Hotels in Istanbul including the famous Pera Palas Hotel.   Tripadvisor

Visas:

If you are a UK or EU citizen, see the see the visa information below.

Turkey has a new e-visa system, buy your visa online at www.evisa.gov.tr.

Page last updated:

3 July 2014.  Train times valid 15 June to 13 December 2014.


Which route to choose?

London to Istanbul via Bucharest, or via Belgrade & Sofia?

First up, you need to decide on a route.  There are unlimited possibilities between London and Istanbul, but they all boil down into via Bucharest or via Belgrade & Sofia, as shown in the route map above.  That's because just one train a day links Europe with Istanbul, an overnight train with two portions, the Bosfor from Bucharest and Balkan Express from Sofia, which combine into one train at Dimtrovgrad in Bulgaria before heading overnight to Istanbul.  Here's an assessment of the two routes to help you choose:

  Sofia to Istanbul train
 

The rail-replacement bus from Cerkezkφy to Istanbul, boarding at Cerkezkφy...

IMPORTANT UPDATE 2014

The last part of the train journey into Istanbul is affected by engineering work on the line from March 2012 until further notice, while they revamp the tracks in connection with the Marmaray tunnel project to link the rail networks in Europe & Asia, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marmaray.

One of two possible arrangements will apply to the Bucharest/Sofia-Istanbul train until further notice, either the 'Bus from Cerkezkφy' arrangement or the 'Terminate at Halkali' arrangement.  As I am getting fed up with re-writing this section every time they change their minds, I am going to show both possible scenarios below, and indicate which arrangement I think applies at the moment.  Unfortunately, there is no reliable way to confirm which one currently applies online, as neither the bahn.de online timetable nor the Turkish railways website tcdd.gov.tr is kept fully updated, so I have to reply on emailed reports from travellers.

Scenario 1, Bus Cerkezkφy-Istanbul...

When does this arrangement apply?  This arrangement applied until December 2013, then it applies again from 1 February 2014 until further notice, and still applies now.  However, it is possible that this will change back to the Halkali scenario at some point in 2014, if and when this happens I will update this page.

Eastbound:  When this Cerkezkφy arrangement applies, the eastbound Bosfor from Bucharest and Balkan Express from Sofia terminate at Ηerkezkφy at 05:44, 115km (72 miles) short of Istanbul Sirkeci. Passengers change onto an air-conditioned bus chartered by Turkish Railways for the onward transfer to Istanbul Sirkeci station, where it arrives at a similar time to the scheduled arrival of the train, around 08:00.  Rail tickets and passes are valid on the bus.

Westbound:  Similarly, in the westbound direction a bus chartered by Turkish Railways leaves Istanbul Sirkeci station every night at 22:00 for Cerkezkφy, where it connects with the sleeper train to Sofia & Bucharest leaving at 00:02. 

The bus replacement works very smoothly, rail tickets are accepted, so don't let it put you off...

Ηerkez-where? Ηerkezkφy station is where the Orient Express was famously snowed in for several days in 1929, in the incident which gave Agatha Christie the plot for her 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express. Compare the station building in the background in this photo with the station building when you get there, it hasn't changed much!

Scenario 2, train running to/from Halkali..

When does this arrangement apply?  This arrangement applied at certain periods during 2013, then it applied from 1 to 31 January 2014.  However, it looks set to apply again from some point in 2014, but I don't yet know when.

Eastbound:  When the Halkali arrangement applies, the Bosfor from Bucharest and Balkan Express from Sofia run all the way to Halkali, a suburban station just 28km (16 miles) west of Istanbul.  The combined train arrives at Halkali at 07:06. 

Westbound:  When the Halkali arrangement applies, the train departs from Halkali at 22:38 for Sofia & Bucharest.

How to travel between Halkali & central Istanbul:  No special bus is laid on, but you can use the regular local buses between Halkali & central Istanbul, or take a taxi (though there isn't a taxi rank at Halkali), or pre-arrange a private transfer.  There are few facilities and no ATMs at Halkali, so have some Turkish currency with you to pay for the bus or taxi, and some food and drink wouldn't go amiss, either.

Istanbul's Sirkeci station is now closed...

Istanbul's historic Sirkeci station was permanently closed to mainline trains as from 1 March 2013, to allow lines to be rebuilt in connection with the Marmara Tunnel project.  It's long-term future is in doubt, it may become a museum, and it may or may not lose its train tracks.  It is possible that the mainline international trains will permanently terminate at Halkali, although once the project is complete you'll be able to use a suburban train between Halkali and a new underground station in central Istanbul near Sirkeci.

Additional bus on Bucharest-Istanbul route until 13 August...

On the Bucharest-Istanbul route from 10 April until 13 August 2014, a bus is also temporarily replacing the train between Gorna Orjahovitsa & Dimitrovgrad in Bulgaria.  In other words, until mid-August the Bucharest-Istanbul train has become a train from Bucharest to Gorna, a bus to Dimitrovgrad, a train to Cerkezkoy, then a bus to Istanbul (and vice versa westbound).  Although these trains & rail-replacement buses all work very smoothly, you might prefer the Belgrade-Sofia-Istanbul route rather than the route via Bucharest during this period, as the Sofia-Istanbul train is not affected by the Gorna-Dimitrovgrad work, only by the Cerkezkoy-Istanbul work, as shown in this section.

And more buses?  There may now (June 2014) be another rail replacement bus between Dimitrovgrad and Kapikule as well as they dig up more track to improve, and this will affect both the Sofia-Istanbul and Bucharest-Istanbul route.  I give up, I'm not going to keep up with what's happening today or this week, so don't ask me what's going on, just go and see.


London to Istanbul via Bucharest

The route via Paris, Munich, Vienna, Budapest & Bucharest is arguably now the most comfortable route from London & Paris to Istanbul, even if it now takes 4 nights rather than 3, and it's a wonderful way to reach Turkey overland.  This section explains the train times, the cost, what the trains and the journey are like, and how to arrange tickets.  For the faster 3-night route via Belgrade & Sofia, click here.  If you'd prefer to travel via Brussels & Cologne rather than Paris & Munich, or would prefer to take a ferry via Harwich-Hoek van Holland instead of Eurostar, no problem, see here for details

In this section...

London to Istanbul train times, eastbound 

Istanbul to London train times, westbound

How to buy tickets   - Visas for Turkey

 

How much does it cost?

What are the trains like?

What's the journey like?

 

How to book using an InterRail pass

Can I stop off on the way?

Tailor-made travel arrangements

London ► Istanbul

Istanbul ► London

Can I stop off on the way?  Suggested stopovers...

Of course.  The train times shown above assume you are travelling straight through without stopovers, but as each train is ticketed separately and runs daily, you can book each leg of the journey for whatever date you want.  So feel free to spend some time in Paris, Munich, Vienna, Budapest, Sighisoara or Brasov (for Dracula's castle) in Transylvania, Bucharest or Veliko Tarnovo (Bulgaria's ancient capital) on the way, it makes little or no difference to the cost.  Just remember that most of these trains are 'reservation compulsory', so you need to have made a seat, couchette or sleeper reservation before you board each train, you can't just hop on without a reservation.  You make all the reservations in advance in the UK, or you can stay flexible and make reservations at station ticket offices as you go along, it's up to you.  If you choose to make reservations as you go, you will hardly ever find any of these trains fully booked, places are normally available even on the day of travel.  There is only one daily train from Bucharest to Istanbul, but on most of the other stages (for example, London-Paris, Paris-Munich, Munich-Vienna, Vienna-Budapest & Budapest-Bucharest) there are other trains as well as the ones suggested above.  You can check train times for each stage using www.bahn.de, although bear in mind that its timetable data is not 100% reliable for trains east of Bucharest.

What are the trains like? 

London to Paris by Eurostar:  See the Eurostar page.

Paris to Munich by City Night Line sleeper train...

The Paris-Munich overnight train is one of the German Railway's excellent City Night Line sleeper trains.  Called the Cassiopeia, it has a modern Comfortline sleeping-car with 1, 2 & 3-berth deluxe compartments with private shower & toilet, or 1, 2 & 3-berth economy compartments with washbasin.  There is a shower at the end of the corridor for passengers in economy sleepers, and all sleepers have power-points for laptop computers.  It has modern air-conditioned couchettes (choose between a berth in a 4 or 6-berth compartment), and ordinary seats (not recommended for an overnight trip).  The sleeping-car fare includes a light breakfast. More pictures & information about this City Night Line train

Dinner before boarding?  For a good meal in a classic Parisian brasserie before boarding the sleeper train in Paris, catch the earlier 14:01 Eurostar & dine at the Brasserie Terminus Nord directly across the road from the Gare du Nord.  Alternatively, you can have a meal or beer at the Brasserie Flo at the Gare de l'Est whilst waiting for your sleeper, it's just inside the entrance in what was once the left luggage office.  For a cooked breakfast in Munich or evening meal before boarding the Paris-bound sleeper on your return, try the typically Bavarian Mongdratzerl restaurant, located in the hauptbahnhof itself.

Sleeping-car compartment (1 2 or 3 berths)   4-berth couchette compartment on Paris-Munich overnight train   6-berth couchette compartment on Paris-Munich overnight train  

The sleeping-car on the Paris-Munich overnight train boarding at the Gare de l'Est

1, 2 or 3 bed sleeper: The most comfortable option, economy with washbasin or deluxe with toilet & shower.

 

4-berth couchettes:  Ideal for families, much more space per person than 6-berth couchettes.

 

6-berth couchettes:  A very economical option, far better than a seat for just a few euros more...

 

"Night train to Munich":  The Comfortline sleeping-car of the Paris to Munich sleeper train boarding at Paris Gare de l'Est...

More pictures & information about this train...

Munich to Budapest by RailJet...

RailJet is Austria's brand-new high-speed train, linking Munich, Vienna & Budapest.  It will soon also link Zurich, Innsbruck & Vienna.  Designed to run at up to 230km/h (143 mph) on sections of upgraded track, it currently reaches 200km/h on part of the route, but in other parts snakes around beautiful scenery at a more sedate pace.  Look out for great views of Salzburg citadel & castle on the right as you cross the river Danube approaching Salzburg.  RailJet has three classes, Economy (2nd class), First (1st class), and Business class (€15 supplement over normal first class).  From 1 March 2012 Business class replaced Premium Class with the same seating but a reduced surcharge and free drinks but no free meals.  The Railjet has a bistro car providing drinks, snacks and hot dishes, which are served on proper china at your seat in first and premium classes.  TV screens in each car tell you the train's speed, show maps of the train's location, and display a list of next station stops and times.  There's even a small children's TV area for the kids.  A great way to travel - simply order one of the regional beers from the bistro, sit back and enjoy the scenery...  More pictures & information about this RailJet train.

The morning RailJet train has arrived in Vienna.   Premium class seats on the Munich-Budapest RailJet train   Economy class seats on the Munich-Budapest RailJet train

The RailJet has landed...  Train RJ 63, the morning RailJet from Munich has arrived spot on time at Budapest's historic Keleti station, built 1881-1884...

 

Business class costs €15 more than normal 1st class...

 

Economy class on RailJet, comfortable open saloons with large picture windows.  Some seats are arranged around tables, some are unidirectional.

Budapest to Bucharest on the EuroNight sleeper train Ister...

The Ister from Budapest to Bucharest has a modern air-conditioned Romanian sleeping-car with carpeted 1, 2 or 3-berth compartments with proper beds & washbasin, plus several deluxe 1, 2 or 3 bed compartments with private toilet & shower, see the photos below.  Travelling in the sleeping-car is safe, comfortable & civilised.  The Ister also has a Romanian couchette car with 6-berth & 4-berth compartments, each berth with rug, sheet & pillow, berths converting to seats by day.  Couchettes are fairly basic, and a proper bed in the sleeper is much more comfortable and secure yet costs very little extra, so is the recommended option.  There's a modern Romanian restaurant car serving dinner and a cooked breakfast, but taking some supplies of your own is always a good idea.  The Ister also has air-conditioned seats cars, but a mere seat is not recommended.

Traveller Philip Dyer-Perry reports:  "Budapest to Bucharest on the Ister is an absolute pleasure. I booked online with MAV and travelled in the new sleeping car, which was comfortable, smooth, and clean. There is a shower, but obviously not intended for use as most of the hose assembly was missing.  There was a dining car, and if you ask you can get a menu, but it's better to ask the man what he's got and negotiate a price.  If you have hard (non-Romanian) currency there is a certain amount of flexibility.  In the evening it was chicken & potatoes, next morning it was a rather tasty omelette.  Just be aware that the main purpose of the dining car is as a place for the traincrew to smoke!  It's good though, and a world away from Western Europe.  The Ister was around 20 minutes late on arrival in Bucharest, but the sleeping car attendant assured a fellow traveller that he would make the connection to Istanbul. In fact he even phoned his colleague on that train.  Once we pulled in we both ran, he to the Istanbul car, me to the Sofia portion, and we made it..."

En suite toilet & shower on EuroNight sleeper train Ister to Bucharest      Single-berth sleeper on the EuroNight sleeper train 'Ister' to Bucharest   EuroNight sleeper train 'Ister' from Budapest to Bucharest

Deluxe sleeper...  The en suite toilet & shower in a deluxe sleeper from Budapest to Bucharest.  Photo courtesy of Andy Brabin.

A sleeper set up as a  single-berth compartment with the middle & top berths folded away against the wall.  Photo courtesy of Andy Brabin.

 

The EuroNight sleeper train Ister:  This is the train's modern air-conditioned Romanian sleeping-car.  The letters above the windows say 'Voiture-Lits - Sleeping-car - Carrozza Letti - Vagon de Dormit'...  Welcome to your hotel on rails:  Some compartments have an en suite toilet & shower!  Photo courtesy of Andy Brabin.

Couchette car on the Ister EuroNight train from Budapest to Bucharest   6-berth couchettes   Romanian couchette car from Vienna to Bucharest

The vagon cuseta (couchette car) on the Ister, at Budapest.

 

6-berth couchettes.

 

4-berth couchettes.

Bucharest to Istanbul by sleeping-car on the Bosfor...

Travelling in the comfort & security of a sleeper is the recommended option.  The sleeping-car on the Bucharest-Istanbul train is operated by CFR (Romanian Railways) and is usually of a type bought second-hand from German Railways.  Each compartment can be used for 1, 2 or 3-person occupancy, and each room converts from a bedroom with washbasin at night to a private sitting room with sofa and coffee table by day (though you might have to fold away the bunks yourself, and the seats may be a bit dusty!).  There's even a shower at the end of the corridor which may or may not be working, although even if it is, temperature and water pressure could be better.  Compartments are single-sex, unless all berths in the compartment are occupied by people travelling together.  All rooms have both a normal lock on the door, and a security lock which cannot be opened from outside even with a staff key, so you'll be both safe and snug.  More information about travelling in sleepers.  The Bucharest to Istanbul train also has a Turkish 6-berth couchette car, but couchettes are far more basic and not a lot cheaper, so a bed in the sleeper is recommended.

Bucharest-Istanbul sleeper, daytime mode with beds folded away   Bucharest-Istanbul sleeper, beds folded out   The Bucharest-Istanbul sleeping-car at Giurgiu.

A sitting room by day, with sofa & table. The seats might be a bit dusty!

 

A bedroom at night...  Set up here as a 2-berth, with top berth unused.

 

 

The Bucharest-Istanbul sleeping-car (vagon de dormit), seen at Giurgiu on the Bulgarian/Romanian frontier...

Panorama photo inside a sleeper compartment

What's the journey like?

Travelling in the comfort & security of the sleeping-car, the journey from Bucharest to Istanbul is a pleasant, leisurely and enjoyable journey.  A few hours after leaving Bucharest the train calls at the Romanian border point, Giurgiu, then crosses the Danube into Bulgaria on a 2.5 km long steel bridge, the longest steel bridge in Europe, built in 1954 and now fitted with a road deck above the railway.  The Bosfor now spends a lazy afternoon meandering along pleasant river valleys across rural Bulgaria.  Relax in your private sleeper, pour yourself a beer or glass of wine (remember to bring your own food & drink), read away the hours & enjoy the trip.  After a late-night passport check at the Bulgarian border at Svilengrad, the train reaches the Turkish frontier at Kapikule well after midnight, around 01:25.  Here you will need to leave the train briefly to get your passport stamped, and if you haven't already bought a Turkish e-visa you'll need to buy a visa from the visa office first, see the visa information below.  The train used to make a dramatic entry into Istanbul, passing through the Byzantine Walls of Theodosius and skirting the Sea of Marmara underneath the very walls of the Topkapi Palace, but as you can see above, you are currently taken the last few traffic-choked miles by bus due to engineering work on the line.  However, you still arrive at Istanbul's historic Sirkeci station built in 1888 in the heart of the city, walking distance from all the sights, where you can hop into a taxi to the famous Pera Palas Hotel.  Expect an arrival an hour or two late, so allow for this and enjoy the ride...  Map of Istanbul showing Sirkeci station.

Brasov station, Romania   Scenery approaching the Carpathian mountains

Across Romania...  Brasov station in Transylvania.

 

After Brasov, the train climbs into the Carpathian mountains...

More Transylvanian scenery   Predeal station, Romania

Scenery between Brasov & Predeal...

 

Predeal station, with Carpathian crags visible behind...

Veliko Tarnovo station, Bulgaria   Scenery in the Shipka Pass, Bulgaria

Across Bulgaria...  Veliko Tarnovo station.

 

Lush green scenery as the train descends the Shipka Pass...

Craggy scenery in Bulgaria   The Bucharest to Istanbul train in Bulgaria

Crags near Veliko Tarnovo...

 

The Bosfor in Bulgaria...

The Turkish border at Kapikule   Sunrise over Turkey

Entering Turkey:  At Kapikule after midnight you must get off to have your passport stamped....

 

Good morning Turkey!  Dawn breaks as the train speeds east towards Istanbul...

Istanbul Sirkeci station, modern part   Istanbul Sirkeci station, old part, showing bus arrived from cerkezkoy

Journey's end, Istanbul Sirkeci station...

 

Istanbul Sirkeci, the old part alongside the tracks...

How much does it cost? 

There are two different ways to ticket a London to Istanbul train journey, (a) buying normal point-to-point tickets, or (b) using an InterRail pass.  If you are under 26 years old, the cheapest option is to use an InterRail pass as shown here.  If you are over 26, point-to-point tickets are the cheapest option, assuming you book cheap advance-purchase tickets and buy each tickets from the cheapest source.  However, it's still worth considering a pass, especially for a return trip, because of the extra flexibility it offers.  With a pass, you can make side trips or change your itinerary or route on the hoof.  If you live outside Europe, you don't qualify for InterRail, only for the more expensive Eurail pass instead, which definitely makes point-to-point tickets the cheaper option.

 Approx total cost...

 Approximate total cost from

 London to Istanbul by train, including

 a couchette in 6-berth Paris-Munich

 & bed in a 3-bed sleeper

 Budapest-Bucharest

 & Bucharest-Istanbul...

 Point-to-point tickets...

 assuming cheapest fares, bought from cheapest source...

 £265 one-way

 £520 return

 Using an InterRail pass - Adult...

 5-travel-days-in-10-day-period InterRail for one-way,

 10-travel-days-in-22-day-period InterRail for a return,

 plus couchette & sleeper supplements:

 £352 one-way

 £562 return

 Using an InterRail pass - Youth under 26...

 5-travel-days-in-10-day-period InterRail for one-way,

 10-travel-days-in-22-day-period InterRail for a return,

 plus couchette & sleeper supplements:

 £273 one-way

 £460 return

 Using an InterRail pass - Senior over 60...

 5-travel-days-in-10-day-period InterRail for one-way,

 10-travel-days-in-22-day-period InterRail for a return,

 plus couchette & sleeper supplements:

 £330 one-way

 £535 return

The cost, if you use point-to-point tickets...

Calculating the cost of a London to Istanbul train journey is something of a black art.  You're not buying a London to Istanbul ticket, as there's no longer any such thing, you're buying a separate ticket for each train you take right across Europe.  The price for each ticket varies depending on where you buy it and how far in advance you book.  So get a calculator and add up the fare for your chosen class or type of sleeper for each leg of the journey.  Fares for the Eurostar, City Night Line & Railjet work like air fares, varying depending on how popular that date & train is and how far ahead you book.  Budapest to Bucharest also has some limited-availability offers if you book online direct with Hungarian Railways.  From Bucharest to Istanbul, the price shown below is fixed and is what you pay whenever you book, even if you bought at the station on the day.

 1. London to Paris

 by Eurostar...

 From £39 one-way, £69 return 2nd class.

 From £107 one-way, £189 return 1st class.  Child, youth, senior fares 

 

 2. Paris to Munich by

 sleeper train, per person...

In a

seat

In a couchette

Economy sleeper

Deluxe sleeper

6-bunk 

4-bunk 

3-bed 

2-bed 

1-bed 

2-bed

1-bed

 Savings fare one-way from:

€43

€59

€69

€84

€104

€144

€134

€174

 Savings fare return from:

€86

€118

€138

€168

€208

€288

€268

€348

 Full price one-way:

€154

€169

€179

€194

€214

€254

€300

€340

 Children under 15*

€4

€20

€30

£71

€65

€105

€65

€105

 Child under 6 without berth:

Child under 6 sharing a berth travels free

Berths are sold individually, so one ticket means one bed.  Other beds in your compartment will be sold to other passengers.

For sole occupancy, book 1 ticket in a 1-berth sleeper, 2 tickets in 2-berth sleepers, 4 tickets in 4-berth couchettes & so on.

* Children under 15 travel free if accompanied by a fare-paying adult, but must pay the berth supplement shown here.

Savings fare = advance-purchase fare, price varies, limited availability, no refunds, no changes to travel plans.

Full price = fully flexible, refundable, buy any time.

Youth fares: 25% off full price (not Savings fares) using uk.voyages-sncf.com if you're under 26, Savings fares usually cheaper!

Senior fares: 20% off full price (not Savings fares) using uk.voyages-sncf.com if you're over 60, Savings fares usually cheaper!

 3. Munich to Budapest

 by RailJet...

 Economy class fares from €39 each way.

 First class fares start at €69 each way.

 If you book at www.bahn.de, accompanied children under 15 go free.

  

 4. Budapest to Bucharest

 on the Ister...

 Bought online at MAV-start.hu...

 From €39 with a bed in a 6-bunk couchette;

 From €59 with a bed in a 3-bed sleeper;

 From €97 with a bed in a 2-bed sleeper;

 From €182 with a single-bed sleeper

 All per person, berths sold individually, you don't need to fill the whole compartment.

 Booked in the UK...

 £87 each way in 6-berth couchettes.

 £95 each way in 4-berth couchettes.

 £99 each way in 3-bed sleeper

 £112 in 2-bed sleeper

 £198 in single sleeper.

 £162 each way in 2-bed deluxe sleeper with shower, £209 in single-bed deluxe.

 All per person, berths sold individually, you don't need to fill the whole compartment.

 

 5. Bucharest to Istanbul

 on the Bosfor...

 Booked in the UK...

 £76 each way in 6-berth couchettes, although a sleeper is the recommended option.

 £89 each way with a bed in a 3-bed sleeper.

 £102 each way with a bed in a 2-bed sleeper.

 Bought at the station in Bucharest...

 €43 for a 2nd class ticket + one of the following couchette or sleeper supplements:

 €9 supplement for a couchette in 6-berth compartment

 €23 supplement for a bed in a 3-berth sleeper.

 €33 supplement for a bed in a 2-berth sleeper.

 Travel in a single-berth sleeper requires €60 1st class fare + €77 sleeper supplement.

 Bought at the station in Istanbul...

 €37 for a 2nd class ticket plus one of these couchette or sleeper supplements:

 €9.40 supplement for a couchette in a 6-berth compartment

 €15.40 supplement for a bed in a 3-berth sleeper.

 €23.10 supplement for a bed in a 2-berth sleeper.

 Travel in a single-berth sleeper requires €56 1st class ticket + €54 sleeper supplement.

 The train is priced in euros, but you will be charged in Turkish lira.

The cost, if you use an InterRail pass...

Using an InterRail pass is the most flexible way to make a train journey from London or Paris to Istanbul.  It's cheaper than using point-to-point tickets if you're under 26 years old, and although it usually costs more than point-to-point tickets if you're over 26, the extra flexibility can be worth it, especially for a return trip.  But after buying the pass, you still need to pay for a Eurostar ticket and sleeper or couchette supplements, so here's the breakdown:

How to book a London-Istanbul journey using an InterRail pass...

  1. Step 1, plan your trip.  Decide which type of InterRail pass you need, by reading the information about InterRail passes above and on the InterRail page.  Decide which route you want to use, and make a list of which train reservations you want on which specific dates.   This may help: How to plan an itinerary & budget

  2. Step 2, buy the InterRail pass...  You can buy online from www.myinterrail.co.uk or uk.voyages-sncf.com (UK residents only) or www.internationalrail.com, I recommend checking prices at each of these sites as sometimes one is cheaper than the other (and definitely try www.myinterrail.co.uk, a new site provided by the British train operating companies collectively, as it's often the cheapest).   Or buy by phone, from International Rail on 0844 248 248 3, lines open 09:00-17:00 Monday-Friday, overseas callers +44 844 2482483.

  3. Step 3, buy your Eurostar ticket online from www.eurostar.com.  You can't buy passholder fares online, but as above, regular fares are cheaper if you're booking in advance.

  4. Step 4, some reservations can be booked online...  You can make the Paris-Munich sleeper train reservation and Budapest-Bucharest sleeper train reservation online at uk.voyages-sncf.com, whoever sold you the pass itself.  First click 'Rail Passes' above the journey planner.  Then select 'Reservation' and close the pop-up box which appears.  Now book from Paris to Munich selecting an evening departure time, book  a couchette or sleeper.  Do the same again for Budapest to Bucharest.  A seat reservation from Munich to Budapest is unnecessary, but optional.  Note that if you want a single or 2-berth sleeper on the Budapest-Bucharest train you'll need to pick up the phone.  You cannot book the Bucharest-Istanbul train online, only by phone.

  5. Step 5, otherwise, make your reservations by phone, from International Rail on 0844 248 248 3, lines open 09:00-17:00 Monday-Friday, overseas callers +44 844 2482483.  Alternatively, try other agencies including Rail Europe, 0844 848 4078;  www.europeanrail.com on 020 7619 1083 (lines open 08:30-18:00 Mon-Fri, 09:00-13:00 Saturdays, £35 booking fee);  Or DB's UK office on 08718 80 80 66 (lines open 09:00-20:00 Monday-Friday, 09:00-13:00 Saturday & Sunday, no booking fee, 2% credit card charge).

How to buy point-to-point tickets...

Option 1, buy tickets online...

You can buy tickets online for the London-Bucharest part of the journey in either direction, and this is the cheapest way to book because you can see all the cheap deals direct from the train operators and don't pay any booking fees.  However, you'll still need to book the Bucharest-Istanbul train by phone because this cannot be booked online.

Option 2, buy from Erail by email...   Click here for booking form

Let's make buying train tickets to Istanbul easy, even if you're not a dab hand with the internet.  Click the button (or click here) and a booking form will appear which lists all the specific trains you need to book.  Fill in the form & email it to sales@europeanrail.com.  European Rail will make the reservations and call you back to confirm the cost.  If you're okay with the price you can give them your credit card details and they will send you the tickets.

European Rail is an experienced agency whose staff are used to making more exotic bookings like this.  They are equipped with the German Railways reservation & ticketing system, so can access all the cheap fares for travel via Germany.  They charge a £35 booking fee which includes postage to any UK address, or they can send to any address worldwide if you pay the courier fee.  European Rail will normally book your journey as a series of point-to-point tickets, unless you specify that you'd prefer to use an InterRail in the 'special requests' section.  Seat61 gets some commission if you buy tickets using this form.  How to buy tickets, the full story Buy a special add-on ticket from almost any station in Britain to London International (St Pancras).

Option 3, buy tickets by phone....

Alternatively, you can buy all your London-Istanbul tickets by phone.  But please don't phone up a ticketing agency, say "I want to book a train ticket from London to Istanbul" and expect them to know which route and trains you want and to work it all out for you.  You aren't buying a ticket from London to Istanbul as such tickets no longer exist, you're buying 5 separate tickets for 5 separate train journeys.  So use the train times on this webpage to prepare a list of the specific trains you want to book between specific cities on specific dates (you may find the technique shown on How to plan an itinerary & budget helpful).  When you're ready to book, contact one of these agencies:

Option 4, buy tickets at stations as you go...

If you like, you can stay flexible and buy tickets as you go.  However, I'd strongly recommend buying the Eurostar ticket well in advance at www.eurostar.com, because prices rise steeply as departure date approaches, like air fares.  I'd also suggest pre-booking the Paris-Munich train, using either uk.voyages-sncf.com or www.bahn.de (check prices on both!) as there are also cheap deals if you pre-book.  The Munich-Vienna-Budapest train doesn't require a reservation and there are always places available, but again it might cost just €39 if you book in advance, but three times this if you leave it until the day of travel.  From Budapest to Bucharest and from Bucharest to Istanbul, buying at the station can actually be cheaper than pre-booking from the UK, as (a) the price is the same whether you buy in advance or buy on the day, and (b) the station in Budapest can sell you a ticket for these journeys using cheaper local tariffs, whereas UK agencies can only sell tickets using the standard international tariff.  There are almost always places in the sleeping car available, even on the day of travel, although of course nothing is 101% certain if you leave it till the day of departure, so buying as you go is probably a good option only if you have plenty of time and/or are planning to stopover en route anyway..

Option 5, tailor-made train travel & hotel arrangements, the hassle-free option...

If putting the trip together yourself seems too complicated (even with the booking forms and advice I provide!), one experienced company offers a compete tailor-made travel service with all your rail tickets expertly booked for you and good quality hotels arranged at stops along the way.  You simply tell them where you want to go and where you'd like to stop off on the way, and they will do the rest.  Contact www.railbookers.com, on 020 3327 0761.  US residents can call them on (646) 770 2894 (please quote seat61) and Canadian residents on (416) 800 0732 (please quote 'seat61').  Australian residents can call their Australian office, www.railbookers.com.au on 02 8096 0550.  Railbookers get very positive reviews, and they look after their customers very well.  Browse suggested holiday itinerary to Istanbul & prices.  At the time of writing, they offer a 7-night train journey to Istanbul with hotel stops in Budapest & Belgrade for around £699 including a flight back, but they can arrange return trips by train with whichever routes and stopovers you like, just ask them!  One or two other companies offer this service too, see the details here.

  UK call 020 3327 0761, www.railbookers.com

Call toll-free 1-800-408-3280 or see website.

Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, www.railbookers.com.au

  New Zealand call toll-free 0800 002 034 or see website.

If you're in Istanbul, and want to buy tickets to western Europe...

There are occasions when you might want to buy train tickets from Istanbul to western Europe, including Amsterdam, Paris or London, when you're already in Istanbul (perhaps just arrived from Iran or Syria, say).  Here's how:

Bosphorus ferry   View over Istanbul from the Galata Tower

Ferries sail frequently across the Bosphorus from Europe side to Asia.  They also run occasional cruises through the Bosphorus to the edge of the Black Sea, well worth taking...

 

The Haghia Sofia (left) & Blue Mosque (right) seen from the top of the Galata Tower.  The equally famous Topkapi Palace is just out of shot to the left.


Turkish visas...

 

E-visa for Turkey

 

Buy an e-visa for Turkey at www.evisa.gov.tr



London to Istanbul via Belgrade & Sofia

The traditional route from London or Paris to Istanbul is via Belgrade & Sofia rather than Bucharest, that's the way the Orient Express would have gone in the 1920s and 1930s.  It's still possible to travel this way especially if you want to stop off and see Belgrade and/or Sofia.  It's certainly a fascinating & scenic ride, see video of the Belgrade-Sofia-Istanbul train journey.  If you use the journey suggested below you'll find modern high-quality air-conditioned trains all the way from London as far as Belgrade, but once past Belgrade the trains get much more basic.  BDZ (Bulgarian Railways) lacks serviceable sleeping-cars so there is only a basic couchette car, not a proper sleeper, on the overnight train between Belgrade and Sofia, and the same story again between Sofia and Istanbul, although as you can see from the photos below and the video, the couchette cars are comfortable enough.  However, I you insist on the extra comfort and privacy of a proper sleeper, you'll need to use the route via Bucharest set out above.  For variations to this route via Zurich or via Vienna & Budapest, see here.

London ► Istanbul

  • Day 1:  Travel from London to Paris by Eurostar, leaving London St Pancras at 10:25 (11:01 on Saturdays) arriving Paris Gare du Nord at 13:47 (14:17 on Saturdays). It's a 10 minute walk from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de l'Est.  By all means take an earlier Eurostar if you'd like more time in Paris or if it has cheaper seats available.

  • Day 1:  Travel from Paris to Munich by 200 mph double-decker TGV Duplex on the new TGV-Est high-speed line, leaving Paris Gare de l'Est at 15:25 and arriving Munich Hauptbahnhof at 21:36.  Cafe-bar available.  In Munich, you can have a late dinner or a beer at the typically Bavarian Mongdratzerl restaurant located inside the Hauptbahnhof while waiting for the sleeper to Zagreb, it's open until late.

  • Day 1:  Travel from Munich to Zagreb overnight on the sleeper train Lisinski, leaving Munich Hauptbahnhof at 23:40 and arriving at Zagreb at 08:53 next morning (day 2).  The Lisinski has a smart modern air-conditioned Croatian sleeping-car (1, 2 & 3 bed compartments with washbasin), and ordinary seats (not recommended).  From early April until late summer, it also has a modern Croatian couchette car (4 & 6 berth compartments).  Watch the Croatian sleeper video.

  • Day 2:  Travel from Zagreb to Belgrade by air-conditioned EuroCity train, leaving Zagreb at 11:10 and arriving Belgrade station at 17:31.  This train has modern air-conditioned Serbian carriages with comfortable 2nd class seats (no 1st class).  There's no dining-car, so bring along a picnic and maybe some beer or wine.  You have an evening to explore Belgrade & have dinner - see map of Belgrade showing station.

  • Day 2:  Travel overnight from Belgrade to Sofia, leaving Belgrade station at 21:50 and arriving Sofia central station at 08:02 next morning (day 3 from London).  In theory, this train should have a Serbian or Bulgarian sleeping-car and couchettes, but as the Serbians and Bulgarians are short of serviceable sleeping-cars, it currently consists of just one Turkish couchette car with simple flat sleeping bunks in 6-berth compartments.

  • Day 3:  Spend a free day exploring Sofia, there is a left luggage office at Sofia station, or trying asking a hotel for a day room, such as the Hotel Favorit 10 minutes walk from the station, www.hotelfavorit.bg, for around €40.

  • Day 3:  Travel from Sofia to Istanbul on the Balkan Express, leaving Sofia central station at 19:15 and arriving Istanbul Sirkeci station at 07:50 next morning (day 4 from London).  This train consists of just one couchette car with 6-berth compartments.  There is no restaurant car, so again, take you own food, water and beer or wine.  Note that you cannot reserve this train from outside Bulgaria, though there are always places available on the day.  Be prepared to get off the train at the Turkish border at Kapikule late at night to buy a tourist visa and get your passport stamped, you arrive Kapikule 01:45 and depart at 02:55.  Note that this train used to come through from Belgrade, leaving Belgrade in the morning, but the Belgrade-Sofia day train is currently cancelled.  All this makes the London-Istanbul route via Bucharest the superior option!

  • IMPORTANT:  Bus replacement for last part of the journey into Istanbul:   See the Update panel above.

Istanbul ► London

  • Day 1:  Travel from Istanbul to Sofia by sleeping-car on the Balkan Express, leaving Istanbul Sirkeci station at 22:00 daily and arriving at Sofia central station at 10:55 next morning (day 2).  This train consists of just one Turkish couchette car to Sofia with 6-berth compartments.  There is no restaurant or buffet car, so take plenty of food, snacks, beer or wine.  You'll need to alight briefly at Kapikule at the Turkish border late at night to have your passport stamped.  Kapikule is reached around 02:52, departing 04:05.  Incidentally, this train used to have through cars beyond Sofia to Belgrade, however, the daytime Sofia to Belgrade train to which they were attached is currently cancelled indefinitely due to various problems.

  • IMPORTANT:  Bus replacement for first part of the journey out of Istanbul:   See the Update panel above.

  • Day 2:  Spend a free day exploring Sofia, there is a left luggage office at Sofia station, or trying asking a hotel for a day room, such as the Hotel Favorit 10 minutes walk from the station, www.hotelfavorit.bg, for around €40.

  • Day 2:  Travel overnight from Sofia to Belgrade, leaving Sofia central station at 20:30 and arriving Belgrade station at 05:10 next morning (day 3).  This train should have a Serbian or Bulgarian sleeping-car and couchettes, but as the Serbians and Bulgarians are short of serviceable sleeping-cars, it currently consists of just one Serbian couchette car with simple flat sleeping bunks in 6 berth compartments.

  • Day 3:  Travel from Belgrade to Zagreb by air-conditioned EuroCity train, leaving Belgrade station at 11:00 and arriving Zagreb at 18:15.  This train has modern air-conditioned Serbian carriages with comfortable 2nd class seats (no 1st class).  There's no dining-car, so bring along a picnic and maybe some beer or wine.  You've now time for dinner in Zagreb.

  • Day 3:  Travel from Zagreb to Munich overnight on the sleeper train Lisinski, leaving Zagreb at 21:20 and arriving in Munich at 06:10 next morning.  The Lisinski has a modern air-conditioned Croatian sleeping-car (1, 2 & 3 bed compartments with washbasin), and seats (not recommended).  From early April until late summer, it also has a modern Croatian couchette car (4 & 6 berth compartments).  Watch the Croatian sleeper video.  In Munich, you can have breakfast at the Mongdratzerl restaurant inside the Hauptbahnhof.

  • Day 4:  Travel from Munich to Stuttgart by high-speed ICE, leaving Munich Hauptbahnhof at 09:46 and arriving Stuttgart at 12:01.

  • Day 4:  Travel from Stuttgart to Paris by high-speed double-decker TGV Duplex, leaving Stuttgart at 12:55 and arriving Paris Gare de l'Est at 16:35.

  • It's a 10-minute walk from the Gare de l'Est to the Gare du Nord.

  • Day 4:  Travel from Paris to London by Eurostar, leaving Paris Gare du Nord at 18:13 (19:13 on Saturdays), arriving London St Pancras at 19:39 (20:39 on Saturdays).

Can you stop off?

Of course.  Each train is ticketed separately, so it makes no difference to the cost if you want to spend some time in Paris, Munich, Zagreb, Belgrade or Sofia - although even travelling non-stop in 3 nights you get an evening in Belgrade and a whole day between trains to explore Sofia.  Just book each train for whatever dates you like.

Point-to-point tickets or InterRail pass?

There are two completely different ways to ticket a London to Istanbul journey, (a) buy normal point-to-point tickets, or (b) use an InterRail pass.  If you are under 26 years old, the cheapest option is to use an InterRail pass as shown here.  If you are over 26, point-to-point tickets are a fraction cheaper for a one-way trip, assuming you get the cheapest deals for each train, but even so, the extra flexibility of an InterRail pass can make the pass option worthwhile as you can make side trips or change your itinerary or route on the hoof.  For a return journey, an InterRail pass is definitely the cheapest option assuming you will be spending less than 22 days away from home (giving you up to two weeks in Turkey), but if you plan to be away for more than 22 days, so cannot use a 10-days-in-22-days InterRail pass, point-to-point tickets are likely to be cheaper than two 5-day or one 1-month InterRail passes.  If you live outside Europe, overseas visitors don't qualify for InterRail, they must buy the more expensive Eurail pass range instead, which makes point-to-point tickets the cheaper option.

How much does it cost using point-to-point tickets?

Each train is ticketed separately, so add up the price for each leg of the journey.  At the western end, fares work like air fares, varying depending on how popular that date and train is, and how far ahead you book.  From Zagreb onwards, prices are fixed, and the price shown below is what you pay whenever you book, even if you bought at the station on the day.

 1. London to Paris

     by Eurostar...

 From £39 one-way, £69 return 2nd class.

 From £107 one-way, £189 return 1st class.  Child, youth, senior fares 

 

 2. Paris to Munich

     by TGV Duplex...

 From £34 one-way, £68 return in 2nd class

 From £53 one-way, £106 return in 1st class.

 Limited availability, book in advance to get these fares.

 Full fare £81 one-way, £142 return.

 

 3. Munich to Zagreb

 on the Lisinski...

In a

seat:

In a couchette

In the sleeping-car

6-berth

4-berth

3-berth

2-berth

single

 Savings fare one-way, from:

€29

€49

€59

€69

€79

€139

 Savings fare return, from:

€58

€98

€118

€138

€158

€278

Savings fare = Advance-purchase fare, price varies, no refunds, no changes to travel plans.

Berths are sold individually, so one ticket means one bed.  The other beds in your compartment will be sold to other passengers.  For sole occupancy, simply book 1 ticket in a 1-berth sleeper or 2 tickets in a 2-berth sleeper or 4 tickets in a 4-berth couchette & so on.

 3. Zagreb to Belgrade

     by day train...

 £44 each way.

 

 4. Belgrade to Sofia

     by overnight train...

 £44 each way plus £10 couchette supplement

 

 5. Sofia to Istanbul

     by overnight train...

 Bought locally at the Rila office at Sofia station:

 €20.20 for the ticket plus €9 couchette supplement

How much does it cost using an InterRail pass?

Using an InterRail pass is the most flexible way to make a train journey from London to Istanbul, and often the cheapest.  But after buying the pass, you still need to pay for a Eurostar ticket and various sleeper or couchette supplements, so here's the breakdown:

  • 1) The InterRail pass itself... 

    For a one-way trip to Istanbul, a 5-days-in-10-days flexi InterRail pass gives a total of 5 days of unlimited 2nd class train travel in all the countries you pass through within an overall period of 10 days, which is plenty to make the journey, even with a day or two in Zagreb or Belgrade if you want.  It costs £148 if you are aged under 26, £225 if you're aged 26-59, or £203 if you've over 60.  Children 4-11 inclusive £113.

    For a return trip to Istanbul, a 10-days-in-22-days pass costs £216 if you are aged under 26, £321 if you're aged 26-59, or £289 if you're over 60.  Children 4-11 inclusive £161.  This gives a total of 10 days of unlimited 2nd class train travel in all the countries you pass through within an overall period of 22 days, which is enough to make the outward and return journeys, even with a day or two in Zagreb or Belgrade if you want, with up to two weeks in Turkey, as long as you complete both your outward and return journeys within the 22 day period covered by the pass. 

    If you plan to be away for longer than 22 days, you'll need either a 1-month continuous InterRail, or you could buy one 5-days-in-ten-days flexi pass for the outward trip and another 5-days-in-ten-days flexi pass to cover your return trip, and spend however long you like in Turkey and the middle east.  The only limiting factor is that you can only buy InterRail passes a maximum of 2 months before their start date.

  • 2) Eurostar ticket from London to Paris:  InterRail passes do not cover Eurostar, so you still need to buy a Eurostar ticket.  You can buy a normal Eurostar ticket at www.eurostar.com as far in advance as possible from £39 on-way, £69 return, no refunds, no changes to travel plans, or there's a special passholder fare, £82 one way £144 return, refunds and change of travel plans allowed.  Clearly, you'd only buy a Eurostar passholder fare if all the cheaper regular fares had sold out.

  • 3) Paris-Munich TGV reservation:  With an InterRail pass, the passholder supplement for the Paris-Munich TGV is around €10.

  • 4) Munich-Zagreb sleeper or couchette supplement:  Expect a couchette in 6-berth to cost around €13, couchette in 4-berth €20, bed in 3-bed sleeper €22, bed in 2-bed sleeper €33.  Bed in single-bed sleeper (1st class ticket or pass required) around €77.

  • On the Zagreb-Belgrade daytime train, a seat reservation is optional.  No fee to pay for passholders, just show your pass.

  • 5) Belgrade to Sofia couchette supplement:  A couchette in a 6-berth compartment costs around €10.

  • 6) Sofia to Istanbul couchette supplement:  A couchette in a 6-berth compartment costs around €10.

  • Remember the after 19:00 rule for using InterRail flexi passes on overnight trains:  Overnight trains leaving after 19:00 count as the following day, as long as the overall 10 or 22-day pass validity period has started.  For example, if you left Paris at 20:05 on 1 January on the sleeper to Munich using a 5-days-in-10-days InterRail, you should ask for a pass which starts it's 10-day validity period on 1 January, but as the sleeper train leaves Paris well after 19:00, you would write '2nd January' in the first of the 5 'unlimited travel day' boxes printed on your pass.  This free travel day would then cover both the Paris-Munich sleeper and the Munich-Budapest train next day.  You don't need to use up a free travel day for the Eurostar, as Eurostar passholder fares don't require a pass day to be used, and you will probably end up buying a normal (non-passholder) Eurostar ticket anyway as these are usually cheaper.  Similarly, travelling westbound, if you left Istanbul at 22:00 on 1 January on the Bosfor, you'd need a pass which was dated to start its 10-day validity period on 1 January, but the first date you'd write on it would be 2 January, as you're leaving on a sleeper train after 19:00.  It's not rocket science!

  • More information about InterRail passes & how they work.

How to book, using an InterRail pass...

  1. Step 1, plan your trip using the information above.  This may help you plan your trip: How to plan an itinerary & budget

  2. Step 2, buy your InterRail pass...  You can buy online from either uk.voyages-sncf.com (UK residents only) or www.internationalrail.com, try both sites as sometimes one is slightly cheaper than the other.   Or buy by phone, from International Rail on 0844 248 248 3, lines open 09:00-17:00 Monday-Friday, overseas callers +44 844 2482483.

  3. Step 3, buy your Eurostar ticket online at www.eurostar.com, as that's the cheapest way, passholder fares usually being more expensive than normal cheap fares. 

  4. Step 4, some reservations can be made online.  You can make the Paris-Munich TGV train reservation, and possibly the Munich-Zagreb sleeper train reservation & the Zagreb-Belgrade seat reservation online at uk.voyages-sncf.com.  First click 'Rail Passes' above the journey planner.  Then select 'Reservation' and close the pop-up box which appears.  Now book from Paris to Munich selecting an afternoon departure time.  Try the same again for Munich to Zagreb & Zagreb to Belgrade. 

  5. Step 5, alternatively, you can make all these reservations by phone, from International Rail on 0844 248 248 3, lines open 09:00-17:00 Monday-Friday, overseas callers +44 844 2482483.  Alternatively, try other agencies including Rail Europe, 0844 848 4078;  www.europeanrail.com on 020 7619 1083 (lines open 08:30-18:00 Mon-Fri, 09:00-13:00 Saturdays, £35 booking fee);  Or DB's UK office on 08718 80 80 66 (lines open 09:00-20:00 Monday-Friday, 09:00-13:00 Saturday & Sunday, no booking fee, 2% credit card charge).

  6. Step 6, you cannot book the Sofia-Istanbul train online anywhere, or even book it by phone outside Bulgaria, so simply book this train at the Rila agency at Sofia station when you reach Sofia.  There are always places available, so don't worry.  When I last travelled there were just 8 of us in a 60-berth couchette car.

How to buy point-to-point tickets online...

  • If you live in the UK, the first part of the journey can be booked online, but the rest will need to be booked by phone:

    (1)  You can book the London-Paris Eurostar online at www.eurostar.com.  You can book direct from 130 UK towns and cities this way, not just from London.

    (2)  You can book the Paris-Munich TGV at www.bahn.de.

    (3)  The Munich-Zagreb & Zagreb-Belgrade trains cannot be booked online, so book them by phone, calling International Rail on 0844 248 248 3, lines open 09:00-17:00 Monday-Friday.  Alternatively, you can call Deutsche Bahn's UK office on 08718 80 80 66 (lines open 09:00-20:00 Mon-Fri, 09:00-13:00 Sat & Sun, no booking fee) or www.europeanrail.com on 020 7619 1083 (lines open 08:30-18:00 Mon-Fri, 09:00-13:00 Saturdays, £35 booking fee).

    (4)  The Belgrade-Sofia night train cannot be booked online either, so either buy it by phone as above, or arrange it via Mr Popovic in the Belgrade Wasteels office which may be slightly cheaper, but make sure his office will be open when you arrive in Belgrade to collect the ticket.

    (5)  The Sofia-Istanbul night train cannot be booked online or indeed booked by phone anywhere outside Bulgaria, so simply buy the ticket in person at the Rila agency at Sofia station when you get there, this is easy and there are always plenty of free places.  I had a 6-berth couchette to myself last time!

  • If you don't live in the UK:

    (1)  Book the Eurostar at www.eurostar.com.

    (2)  Book the Paris-Munich TGV at www.bahn.de.

    (3)  You may be able to book the Munich-Zagreb sleeper at www.raileurope-world.com (Tip: click 'fare details' to see if the price they show is for a seat, couchette or sleeper).

    (4)  You may also be able to book the Zagreb-Belgrade daytime train at www.raileurope-world.com.

    (5)  The Belgrade-Sofia night train cannot be booked online, so buy this ticket at Belgrade station or arrange it via Mr Popovic at the Belgrade Wasteels office making sure it will be open when you arrive to collect the ticket.

    (6)  The Sofia-Istanbul night train cannot be booked online or indeed booked by phone anywhere outside Bulgaria, so simply buy the ticket at the Rila agency at Sofia station when you get there, there are always plenty of free places - I had a 6-berth couchette to myself last time!

How to buy tickets by e-mail...  Click for booking form

Simply edit this special booking form and email it to sales@europeanrail.com. Seat61 gets some commission if you buy using this form. European Rail is an experienced London-based booking agency who use the German Railways reservation system and whose staff are familiar with complex bookings like this. When they get your form, they will make all the reservations (without obligation) and call you back to confirm the price and take your credit card details. There's a £35 booking fee per transaction.  They can send tickets to any UK address, and can also send tickets overseas.

How to buy tickets by phone....

Alternatively, you can buy all your London-Istanbul tickets in one go by phone or email.  But please don't phone up a ticketing agency, say "I want to book a train ticket from London to Istanbul" and expect them to work it all out for you.  You aren't buying a ticket from London to Istanbul, such tickets no longer exist, you're buying 6 separate tickets for 6 separate train journeys. So use the train times on this webpage to prepare a list of the specific trains you want to book between specific cities on specific dates (you may find the technique shown on How to plan an itinerary & budget helpful). When you're ready to book, contact one of these agencies:

  • European Rail Ltd (www.europeanrail.com) on 020 7619 1083 - please quote 'Seat61', lines open 08:30-18:00 Monday-Friday, 09:00-13:00 Saturdays. From overseas call +44 20 7619 1083, tickets can be sent outside the UK if necessary.  European Rail is an experienced London-based booking agency who use the German Railways reservation system and whose staff are familiar with complex bookings like this.  There's a £35 booking fee per transaction.  It may be better to use this booking form as explained above.

  • International Rail on 0844 248 248 3, lines open 09:00-17:00 Monday-Friday.  Overseas callers call +44 844 2482483.  Unlike some other agencies, International Rail are equipped with the French, German & Italian rail ticketing systems, so can sell the cheapest fares for all these trains from the UK to Italy and within Italy.  They charge a £10 booking fee for bookings under £100, £20 for £100-£300, £30 above £300. 

  • Deutsche Bahn's UK office on 08718 80 80 66, lines open 09:00-20:00 Monday-Friday, 09:00-13:00 Saturday & Sunday. They also (obviously) use the German Railways reservation system so charge the same prices as European Rail but on the plus side don't charge a booking fee, just a 2% credit card fee. Tickets can be sent to UK or Irish addresses, or (for a fee) overseas addresses. Just be aware that their staff aren't always familiar with complex bookings like this and may need gentle persuasion. You will need to talk them through exactly what train bookings you want, and be polite but persistent if necessary. For booking a journey to Istanbul, the booking fee charged by European Rail can be worth the extra few pounds.

What are the trains & scenery like?

London to Paris by Eurostar:  See the Eurostar page.

Paris to Munich by TGV Duplex...  Click for TGV Duplex video guide

Sit back with a glass of red and enjoy the ride - book an upper deck seat for the best views.  The train has power sockets for laptops & mobiles at all seats in both classes, and a cafe-bar serves drinks, snacks & microwaved hot dishes.  First class passengers on this route are given a simple but tasty meal box with a small bottle of beer or wine served at their seat, included in the fare.  The train soon leaves the Paris suburbs behind and speeds across a vast wide open plateau of woods and farmland at up to 200mph, past picturesque French villages of the Champagne region.  After an hour or two, the train leaves the high-speed line and slowly meanders through pretty wooded hills, the countryside eventually flattening out towards Strasbourg.  On leaving Strasbourg, look out for Strasbourg cathedral on the left with its famously missing second tower.  Minutes afterwards you rumble across the river Rhine into Germany, before heading on to Stuttgart and Munich.

TGV Duplex at Paris Gare de l'Est   Upper deck second class on board a TGV Duplex.

TGV Duplex at Paris Est. These impressive 200 mph double-deck trains link Paris & Munich, a relaxing journey with reading book & glass of wine...

 

2nd class seats on TGV Duplex upper deck.  There's a mix of unidirectional seating and tables for 4 like this...

First class on board a TGV Duplex   An TGV Duplex to Munich at Paris Est.

1st class seats on the upper deck, with a 'club duo' on the left, a 'club quatre' on the right.

 

A TGV Duplex.  The red near the door indicates 1st class, pale green indicates 2nd class.

Munich to Zagreb on the sleeper train Lisinski...   Watch the video

This modern sleeper train is a pleasure to travel on, whether in the privacy of your own sleeper or in economical couchettes.  There's time for dinner in Munich before boarding, I recommend the typically Bavarian Mongdratzerl restaurant located inside the Hauptbahnhof, open until late.

The 'Lisinski' sleeper train from Zagreb to Munich, at Zagreb main station   Sleeper compartment in the Croatian sleeping-car from Munich to Zagreb

The sleeping-car on the Lisinski:  The modern air-conditioned Croatian sleeping-car of the Lisinski from Munich to Zagreb has 10 compartments with washbasin, each of which can be used as a 1, 2 or 3 berth room, with toilets at the end of the corridor.  Soap, towels and fresh clean bedding are provided.  Above left, the sleeper has arrived at Zagreb.

 

The couchette car on the Lisinski has modern air-conditioned 6-berth and 4-berth compartments.  Above right, the train is seen boarding at Munich. See panorama photo.

Scenery between Ljubljana, Zagreb & Belgrade

Wake up to scenery like this between Ljubljana & Zagreb, along the river Sava...

Zagreb to Belgrade by air-conditioned train...

This is a spacious and comfortable air-conditioned Serbian train, with modern 2nd class seats - there's no 1st class.  There's no restaurant car, so take a picnic and some beer or wine with you.  On arrival in Belgrade, you have time to wander into town, perhaps visit the fortress overlooking the confluence of Danube and Sava, have a coffee at the Hotel Moskva (free WiFi!) and perhaps dinner at the basic but remarkably cheap Zelturist restaurant in the corner inside Belgrade station.

2nd class seats in a Serbian air-conditioned train   The train from Belgrade to Zagreb & Zurich, about to leave Belgrade

Belgrade to Sofia by overnight train...     Watch the video

East of Belgrade, you leave modern fripperies such as air-conditioning behind...  The Belgrade-Sofia night train now only has a couchette car, no sleeper.  It's an elderly Serbian Railways couchette car with lockable 6-berth compartments looked after by a couchette car attendant from Zelturist, Serbian Railways' sleeper and catering subsidiary.  But it's comfortable enough, and seldom ever full.  Clean sheets, pillow and blanket are provided.

The Serbian couchette car on the Belgrade to Sofia train   A 6-berth couchette compartment on the Belgrade to Sofia train

Sofia to Istanbul by overnight train...       Watch the video

Again, this train now has a couchette car but no sleeping-car, as Bulgarian Railways now has no serviceable sleeping-cars left.  Each compartment has seats by day convertible to 6 bunks at night, arranged as upper, middle and lower on each side of the compartment.  But even in a couchette it's a safe and comfortable journey, even if sleep is interrupted by the border checks at Svilengrad and Kapikule.  Clean sheets, a pillow and a blanket are provided.  As you can see, on this occasion there were only 8 or so passengers in the whole car so we were able to spread out and I had a 6-berth compartment all to myself (pictured the morning after, lower left).  You're more likely to find German, Dutch, Australian or British passengers aboard, than locals.  It gives a feeling of space & freedom that a bus or plane seat simply does not.  Bring your own picnic and a bottle of wine, as there's no catering on the train.

Sunrise in Turkey, approcahing Cerkezkoy

Good morning Turkey!  Dawn breaks as journey's end approaches...

A 6-berth couchette compartment on the Sofia to Istanbul train   The Turkish couchette car on the Sofia to Istanbul train

Video guide:  London to Istanbul by train...

Taken in 2013, the video features the bus replacement between Cerkezkφy and Istanbul, just remember that the train now runs all the way to Halkali, just 28km short of Istanbul.


Variations via Amsterdam, Brussels or Zurich...

Variation via Amsterdam & the Harwich-Hoek ferry:  The ferry alternative to Eurostar...

This is worth knowing about if you need to travel at short notice when Eurostar is expensive, or if there are any problems affecting the Channel Tunnel or Eurostar, if you want to avoid the Tunnel, or simply want to travel via Amsterdam.  Simply book an overnight journey from London (or any Great Anglia station) to Amsterdam by Dutch Flyer train+ferry service as shown on the London to the Netherlands page.  Spend the day in Amsterdam.  Then take the City Night Line sleeper train from Amsterdam (depart 20:31) to Munich (arriving 07:10), booking this sleeper train at www.bahn.de (look for the direct CNL train with 0 changes).  From Munich onwards, the route is exactly the same as the main route via Bucharest shown above.

Variation via Brussels & Cologne...

If you prefer, you can travel London-Brussels-Cologne-Vienna instead of London-Paris-Munich-Vienna, it makes little difference to the time or cost, just an hour or two longer, that's all.  It avoids the walk between Paris Nord and Paris Est if that's a problem for you.  You take the 12:58 Eurostar from London to Brussels, a connecting high-speed Thalys train to Cologne, the Austrian EuroNight sleeper train from Cologne to Vienna and a connecting Railjet train to Budapest.  From Budapest onwards the journey is the same as that described above See the London to Hungary page for full details of train times & fares between London and Budapest via the Brussels & Cologne route.  You can buy tickets for this route in exactly the same way as that suggested above.

Variation via Zurich...

If you plan on taking the route via Belgrade & Sofia, you can take a TGV from Paris to Zurich and direct Croatian sleeping-car from Zurich to Zagreb, instead of TGV Paris-Munich and Croatian sleeping-car Munich-Zagreb.  The disadvantage is that (a) it takes an hour longer, as you need to leave Paris 14:23 instead of 15:25, you arrive Zagreb two hours later, so don't get a chance to have breakfast there, and (b) it usually costs more, as there are usually cheap fares available Munich-Zagreb but very few if any on the Zurich-Zagreb route.  However, you get into your cosy sleeper at Zurich at 20:40 instead of having to stay up till 23:40 at Munich and you see great scenery in Austria which you pass through at night on the Munich-Zagreb run.

Variation via Budapest-Belgrade...

If you want to see Vienna & Budapest, but then go onwards via Belgrade & Sofia, no problem.  There are two options for travel from London to Belgrade via Vienna & Budapest, set out on the London to Serbia page.  From Belgrade onwards, just follow the route shown above.


London to Turkey by ferry from Italy

In 2010 there were two ferry companies sailing from Italy (Brindisi or Ancona) to Cesme in Turkey, about 50 miles or one hour by bus from Izmir.  The companies were Marmara Lines (www.marmaralines.com) and Meslines (www.ferries.gr/mesline/brindisi-cesme.htm).  The voyages took 2 days.  See the London to Italy page for train travel from London or Paris to Ancona or Brindisi.  However, neither company ran in 2011 or 2012, and they don't seem to be operating in 2013.


London to Turkey via Greece

London to southern Turkey via Italy, Athens & the Greek Islands...

If you're heading for southern Turkey, for example, Bodrum or Marmaris, this can be a better route than heading to Istanbul overland by train.

  • Step 1:  Travel from London to Athens by train & ferry via Bari in Italy, see the London to Greece page for full details.  The journey takes 2 nights.  I'd recommend spending at least 1 night in Athens.

  • Step 2: Take a ferry from Piraeus (the port of Athens, 25 minutes from central Athens by metro) to either Kos, Lesvos (the port on Lesvos is Mytilini), Samos (the port is Vathi) or Rhodes (Rodos in Greek).  For Piraeus-Lesvos (Mytilini) see www.hellenicseaways.gr to check sailing dates, times, fares and to book online.  The voyage takes 9.5 hours.  For Piraeus-Kos or Piraeus-Rhodes see www.bluestarferries.gr to check sailing dates, times, fares and to book online.  Ferries normally sail Piraeus-Rhodes overnight, often calling at Kos very early, with cabins available.  For Piraeus-Samos see www.kallistiferries.gr.

  • Step 3, take an onward ferry to southern Turkey.  Ferries from Rhodes to Marmaris sail several times a week, see www.marmarisferry.com or rhodes.marmarisinfo.com for details.  Journey time 1 hour by catamaran, 2 hours by car ferry.  Ferries sail from Lesvos (Mytilini) to Ayvalik in Turkey daily Monday-Saturday, crossing 1 hour 10 minutes, fare €30.  Ayvalik is a few hours by bus north of Izmir.  A hydrofoil sails around 15:30 every afternoon from Kos to Bodrum, fare €28, crossing 1 hour, see www.bodrumexpresslines.com.  Ferries sail from Samos to Kusadasi at 08:30 & 17:00 from April to October, 1 hour 15 minute crossing, fare €30 (€50 open return), see www.meandertravel.com/ferrytosamos to check times, dates & fares.

  • I recommend using this technique to plan out your itinerary to make sure everything works, and you book the right trains and ferries for the right dates!


Holidays to Istanbul by train...

  Inside the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque...

  Inside the Haghia Sofia, Istanbul

Inside the Haghia Sofia...

Travel to Turkey by train, with tickets, sleepers, stopovers & hotels all sorted...

Many travel agencies offer holidays to Turkey by air, but if you want to go by train, you've always had to organise the journey yourself.  For many people that's a daunting task.  But two experienced agencies, Railbookers & Erail, have created the following holiday packages combining one-way or return train travel from the UK to Istanbul with stopovers & accommodation in key cities along the way.  It's the easiest way to see Istanbul & Turkey without flying:  Just tell them your departure date and they'll do the rest.  Please double-check the price & itinerary when you call them, as they may vary from the examples shown here.

You can leave on any date you like, unescorted using the same scheduled European trains that you'll find described above and on the Austria & Romania pages, but with tickets, accommodation & itinerary all provided for you by Railbookers or Erail.

   Railbookers London to Istanbul packages...

London to Istanbul with stopovers in Budapest & Bucharest...

  • Available from Railbookers UK, www.railbookers.com, call 020 3327 0761 or from the USA or Canada call toll-free on 1-800-408-3280.

  • Also available from Railbookers Australia, www.railbookers.com.au, call toll-free 1300 971 526 or from New Zealand 0800 002 034.

  • Railbookers can arrange a train journey from London to Istanbul (or vice versa) for you to your own specification, with all your train tickets, reservations, stopovers, transfers and good-quality hotels booked for you.  Their website shows some suggested itineraries and prices. 

  • London to Istanbul one-way in 7 nights with stopovers in Budapest (2 nights) & Bucharest (1 night) costs from around £889 per person for 2 people sharing, including private 2-berth sleepers and a one-way flight back from Istanbul to the UK (they can also arrange it without the flight at reduced cost).  Daily departures on almost any date you like.  The price includes lunchtime or morning Eurostar to Brussels, Thalys to Cologne, 1 night sleeper on the overnight train from Cologne to Vienna, 2 nights at the 4-star Novotel in Budapest, 1 night sleeper on the overnight train Ister from Budapest to Bucharest, 1 night 4-star Hotel K & K Elisabeta in Bucharest and 1 night in a sleeper on the Bosfor to Istanbul, plus flight back to the UK  Upgrades to first class on Eurostar or deluxe sleeper with shower on the Cologne-Vienna train are possible at extra cost.  You can vary the route, add extra stopovers or extra nights to meet your own requirements, just tell them what you want.

  • London to Istanbul round trip by train in 14 nights with 1-night stopovers outward in Munich, Budapest, Bucharest, 3 nights in Istanbul, then 1-night stopovers on the return in Brasov (for Dracula's castle), Vienna and Nuremburg.  Daily departures on almost any date you like, from £1,549 per person.

  • Epic 14-night trip from London to Budapest, Bucharest, Istanbul, Izmir and Kusadasi, out overland by rail, back by air, from around £1,349.  They can easily arrange both ways by rail at extra cost if you like.  Daily departures on almost any date you like.

London to Istanbul round trip...

  • Railbookers can also arrange a round trip by train to Istanbul, with a similar journey in the return direction at a similar price.  You can vary the stopovers on the return if you like.

How to arrange a trip through Railbookers...

  UK call 020 3327 0761, www.railbookers.com

Call toll-free 1-800-408-3280 or see website.

Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, www.railbookers.com.au

  New Zealand call toll-free 0800 002 034 or see website.

Erail tours to Istanbul   Erail's London-Istanbul packages...

Tour 1:  London to Istanbul one-way, with stopovers in Vienna & Brasov...

  • Available from Erail, call 020 7619 1080 (or email sales@erailtravel.com) quoting "Seat61 London to Istanbul one-way tour with stopovers".

  • London to Istanbul in 6 nights (7 days) with stopovers in Vienna (2 nights) & Brasov in Transylvania (1 night.)

  • Daily departures.

  • Prices from around £505-£642 in 2-berth sleepers, per person.

  • The price includes lunchtime or morning Eurostar to Brussels, Thalys to Cologne, 1 night sleeper on the EuroNight sleeper train from Cologne to Vienna, 2 nights at a 4-star hotel in Vienna, 1 night sleeper on the direct overnight Dacia Express from Vienna to Brasov in Transylvania (16 miles from Dracula's castle at Bran), 1 night 4-star hotel in Brasov and 1 night in a sleeper on the Bosfor to Istanbul.  Upgrades to first class on Eurostar or deluxe sleeper with shower on the EuroNight are possible at extra cost.

Tour 2:  Istanbul to London one-way, with stopovers in Budapest & Munich...

  • Available from Erail on 020 7619 1080 (or email sales@erailtravel.com) quoting "Seat61 Istanbul to London one-way tour with stopovers".

  • Istanbul to London in 6 nights (7 days) with stopovers in Budapest (2 nights) & Munich (1 night)

  • Daily departures.

  • Prices from around £550-£650 in 2-berth sleepers, per person.

  • The price includes 1 night sleeper on the Bosfor overnight train from Istanbul to Bucharest, 1 night sleeper on the Ister overnight train from Bucharest to Budapest, 2 nights at a 4-star hotel in Budapest, travel by air-conditioned RailJet train from Budapest to Munich, 1 night at a hotel in Munich, 1 night sleeper on the City Night Line overnight train from Munich to Paris, and Eurostar back to London.  Upgrades to first class on Eurostar or deluxe sleeper with shower on City Night Line are possible at extra cost.

Tour 3:  Istanbul to London & back by train with 2 nights in Istanbul...

  • Available from Erail, call 020 7619 1080 (or email sales@erailtravel.com) quoting "Seat61 Istanbul Return Tour with 2 nights in Istanbul".

  • A 14-day holiday from London to Istanbul & back by train with no flying necessary...

  • Stopovers in Vienna, Brasov, Budapest & Munich;  3 days in Istanbul.

  • Daily departures.

  • Prices from £924 to £1,120 in 2-berth sleepers, per person.

  • The price includes outward travel to Istanbul with stopovers in Vienna & Brasov as per option 1, two nights at a hotel in Istanbul, then train travel back to London with stopovers in Budapest & Munich as per option 2.

Tour 4:  Istanbul to London & back by train without accommodation in Istanbul...

  • Available from Erail, call 020 7619 1080 (or email sales@erailtravel.com) quoting "Seat61 Istanbul Return Tour without accommodation in Istanbul".

  • From £1,105 in couchettes or £1,240 in 2-berth sleepers, per person.

  • The price includes outward travel to Istanbul with stopovers in Vienna & Brasov as per option 1 and train travel back to London with stopovers in Budapest & Munich as per option 2.

  • No accommodation is included in Istanbul, so you can choose your own accommodation and stay as long as you like, visiting other parts of Turkey or even neighbouring countries such as Syria before your booked journey home.


London to Istanbul by cruise train...

  The Danube Express
 

The Danube Express from Budapest to Istanbul

Two companies run private luxury cruise trains to Istanbul with all the facilities of a good hotel, although they don't run very often:

Danube Express:  Click here for the Danube Express page

The Danube Express is a luxury cruise train which runs on various dates in summer from Budapest to Istanbul and back, taking 3 nights & 4 days.  Meals, drinks and off-train excursions all included.  See the Danube Express page for more information.  You can easily add regular train travel from London to Budapest, see the London to Hungary page.

Venice Simplon Orient Express:  www.orient-expresstrains.com

The Venice Simplon Orient Express runs from Paris to Istanbul once a year, usually in August, with vintage 1920s Wagons-Lits sleeping-cars, restaurant cars and lounge.  The journey costs around £5,000 per person, but it's very popular and normally leaves fully-booked, so buy tickets as soon as you can.  To find out more about this train, see the Venice Simplon Orient Express page.  To check prices & to book online, go to www.orient-expresstrains.com.


Train travel within Turkey...

There are some excellent modern train services in Turkey.  For train travel within Turkey, including onwards express trains from Istanbul to Ankara, Konya, Izmir, Cappadocia and Pamukkale, see the separate Train travel in Turkey page.

For trains from Istanbul to Aleppo & Damascus in Syria, see the London to Syria page.

For trains from Istanbul to Tehran in Iran, see the London to Iran page.

For trains between Istanbul, Thessaloniki & Athens, see the Train travel in Turkey page.



The European Rail Timetable & maps

Thomas Cook European Timetable -  click to buy onlineTraveller's Railway Map of Europe - buy onlineThe European Rail Timetable (formerly the Thomas Cook European Timetable) has train & ferry times for every country in Europe plus currency & climate information.  It is essential for regular European train travellers and an inspiration for armchair travellers.  Published since 1873, it had just celebrated 140 years of publication when Thomas Cook decided to pull the plug on their entire publishing department, but the dedicated ex-Thomas Cook team have set up a private venture and published the first edition of a reborn European Rail Timetable in March 2014.  You can buy it online with worldwide shipping at www.europeanrailtimetable.euMore information on what the European Rail Timetable contains.

A Traveller's Railway Map of Europe covers the whole of Europe from Portugal in the west to Moscow & Istanbul in the east, Finland in the north to Sicily & Athens in the south.  On the back are detailed maps of Switzerland, Benelux & Germany, plus city plans showing stations in major cities.  Scenic & high-speed routes highlighted.  Click to see sample.  Buy online for €13 + €5.50 postage worldwide at www.treinreiswinkel.nl/railway_map_of_europe.

 


Guidebooks

Lonely Planet Turkey - click to buy onlineLonely Planet Middle East - click to buy onlineThe Man in Seat 61 book - click to buy onlineTo get the most out of your trip, definitely take a good guidebook - I'd recommend the Lonely Planets guides as about the best out there for independent travellers.  The Middle East guide is less detailed, but covers Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iran, Israel and other countries as well as Turkey.

Buy Lonely Planet Turkey online

Buy Lonely Planet Middle East online

My own book, an essential handbook for train travel to Europe based on this website called "The Man in Seat 61", is due to be published in June 2008, and Amazon will let you pre-order now.

 


Find hotels in Istanbul & Turkey

 

◄◄ 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.

Personal hotel recommendations in Istanbul...

Without a doubt, the famous and historic Pera Palas Hotel, where Agatha Christie, Mustafa Kemal Attaturk and even King George V have stayed, is the most interesting place to stay, see the section below.  It wasn't that expensive, by grand hotel standards, although prices have risen after its recent complete refurbishment.  The nearby Grand Hotel de Londres offers similar affordable grandeur, www.londrahotel.net, just 35 euros for a basic single, 50 euros for a double, more for a renovated room.  It's apparently a favourite with archaeologists working in Turkey!  Alternatively, the Yasmak Sultan is a good choice.  For a good cheap hotel in the Sultanahmet travellers' area, try the Park Hotel.  If you are on a tight budget and want a backpacker hostel room or dorm bed at a rock-bottom price, see www.hostelbookers.com.  For independent reviews of Istanbul hotels, see www.tripadvisor.com.

The Pera Palas Hotel, Istanbul.   Click to book the Pera Palace

Easily the most famous and historic hotel in Istanbul is the Pera Palas, built in 1892 by the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits to accommodate the passengers arriving by train on the Orient Express from London and Paris.  It was closed for refurbishment for several years, but reopened in 2010 with its delightfully faded grandeur fully restored.   If your budget will stretch (prices after refurbishment will start at around €200 a night for a double room, up from around €100 in its previously faded form), it's a wonderful and historic place to stay.  The hotel's own website is www.perapalace.com.  One of it's rooms has been kept as a museum to Turkish leader Ataturk, another room (411) was regularly used by Agatha Christie, and can actually be booked by guests.  Book the Pera Palace online...

The Man in Seat 61 says:  "Istanbul's famous Pera Palas hotel is a classic, one of my favourite hotels anywhere - admittedly much pricier after its refurbishment, but now a true 5 star hotel with helpful & friendly staff.  It's a special place for my wife and I, it just happens to be where I told my wife she was pregnant with our first child, after the hotel's duty manager translated a certain Turkish word..."

Pera Palas hotel main entrance   The Pera Palas Hotel, Istanbul

The Pera Palas hotel, main entrance...

 

The Pera Palas hotel, after its recent refurbishment.

Pera Palace Hotel, lobby   Pera Palas Hotel, main lounge   Pera Palace hotel lift

Pera Palace Hotel, lobby...

 

The main lounge...

 

The old lift...

Pera Palas Hotel, Istanbul:  Typical bedroom.   Agatha Christie's room 411 at the Pera Palas Hotel

Bedrooms have been elegantly refurbished.  This is a corner suite, with sitting room next door...

 

Agatha Christie's room 411 where she wrote Murder on the Orient Express (taken before refurbishment)

 


Travel insurance & health card...

 

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

Get travel insurance, it's essential...

Never travel without insurance from a reliable travel insurer with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover.  It should also cover loss of cash (up to a limit) & belongings, and cancellation. An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheapest even for just 2 or 3 trips a year (I have an annual policy myself).  Don't expect travel insurance to bail you out of every missed connection, though, see the advice on missed connections here.  Here are some suggested insurers, Seat61 gets a little commission if you buy through these links, and feedback from using insurance for rail & ferry travel is always welcome.

In the UK, use www.confused.com to compare prices & policy features across major insurance companies.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65 (no age limit), see www.JustTravelCover.com.

        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 an EU health card, it's free...

If you're a UK citizen travelling in Europe, you should apply for a free European Health Insurance Card, which entitles you to free or reduced rate health care if you become ill or get injured in many European countries, under a reciprocal arrangement with the NHS.  This replaced the old E111 forms as from January 2006.  The EHIC card is available from www.ehic.org.uk.  It doesn't remove the need for travel insurance, though.

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

Taking out an extra credit card costs nothing, but if you keep it in a different part of your luggage you won't be left stranded if your wallet gets stolen.  In addition, some credit cards are 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.

You can avoid ATM charges and expensive exchange rates with a Caxton FX euro currency Visa Card, or their multi-currency 'Global Traveller' Visa Card, see www.caxtonfx.com for info.

Get an international SIM card to save on mobile data and phone calls...

Mobile phones can cost a fortune to use abroad, and if you're not careful you can return home to find a huge bill.  Consider buying a global pre-paid SIM card for your mobile phone from www.Go-Sim.com, which can slash costs by up to 85%.  Go-Sim cuts call costs in 175 countries worldwide, and you can receive incoming calls and texts for free in 75 countries.  It's pay-as-you-go, so no nasty bills when you get home.  It also allows cheap data access for laptops & PDAs.  A Go-Sim account and any credit on it doesn't expire if it's not used between trips, unlike some others, so a Go-Sim phone number becomes your 'global phone number' for life.

 


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