Tehran railway station sign, Iran

Iran by train:  The rails stretch from London to Tehran, apart from a ferry across Lake Van.  Photo courtesy Nicholas Brooke

London to Tehran overland?

If you can get an Iranian visa, it's possible to travel by train from London, Paris or anywhere in Europe to Tehran in Iran.  The weekly Ankara-Tehran Trans-Asia Express was suspended in 2015, but resumed in August 2019.  Then suspended again due to Covid-19.

UPDATE 2023:  The Turkey-Iran international trains remain suspended due to Covid-19.

On this page

small bullet point  Istanbul-Ankara-Tabriz-Tehran eastbound train times

small bullet point  Tehran-Tabriz-Ankara-Istanbul westbound train times

small bullet point  How to buy tickets

small bullet point  Getting an Iranian visa

small bullet point  What's the train like?

small bullet point  What's the journey like?

small bullet point  Train travel within Iran including Tehran-Esfahan.


Useful country information

Train operator in Iran:

IRR Iranian Islamic Republic Railways (Raja Trains).  For train times & fares in Iran see www.raja.ir, but it's often better to use www.iranrail.net, a helpful unofficial site in English with times & fares for trains in Iran.  Map of Iranian rail network.

 

Time zone & dialling code:

 

GMT+3 hours (GMT+4 late March to late Sept, as from 2011).  Dial code +98.

Currency:

1 = 52,000 Iranian Rials,  $1 = 42,000 Iranian Rials, but check as rates can change significantly.   Currency converter

Visas:

Required by everyone.  Visas are (or were) becoming easier to get, but are still not granted to independent travellers - you must go on an escorted tour or employ an officially-recognised full-time guide.  Check the current situation for your nationality.  There are travel agencies who can help you get a visa, such as www.magic-carpet-travel.com, www.iranianvisa.com or www.persianvoyages.com.  There is now an Iranian embassy in London, see http://london.mfa.ir/?siteid=234.

Travel advice:

Check Foreign Office advice for south eastern Iran at www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.

Page last updated:

26 January 2023


Istanbul to Tehran by train

In March 2001, a comfortable weekly train called the Trans-Asia Express started running between Ankara & Tehran.  It was actually two trains, a Turkish one from Ankara to Tatvan pier, then a ferry across Lake Van, then an Iranian train from Van pier to Tehran.  However, after security incidents in Eastern Turkey the train was cancelled indefinitely in August 2015.

In June 2018 a weekly overnight train with one elderly couchette car was restored between Van and Tabriz, replaced in June 2019 replaced by a weekly direct Van-Tabriz-Tehran train with air-conditioned first class sleepers and catering.  Finally, in August 2019, the fully-coordinated Trans-Asia Express service has resumed, with comfortable sleepers & a connecting ferry provided across lake Van.

The total distance from Istanbul to Tehran is 2,968 km excluding the 90 km length of Lake Van.

UPDATE 2023:  The border between Turkey & Iran was closed in 2020 due to Covid-19 and remains closed.  Please check latest situation.

Timetable eastbound

 Ankara ► Tabriz, Tehran

 1. Ankara to Tatvan by Turkish sleeper train:  Cancelled

 Ankara

depart

14:25

Wednesdays

 Kayseri

depart

21:09

Wednesdays

 Tatvan ferry pier

arrive

14:26

Thursdays

 2.  ferry connection is provided between Tatvan & Van:

 Tatvan ferry pier

depart

??:??

Thursdays

 Van ferry pier

arrive

??:??

Thursdays

 3.  Van to Tabriz & Tehran by Iranian sleeper train  Cancelled

 Van ferry pier

depart

21:00

Thursdays

 Kapikoy (border)

arr-dep

23:19-01:20

Thurs/Fri

 Razi (border)

arrive

??:??

Fridays

 Tabriz

arrive

09:50

Fridays

 Tehran

arrive

23:20

Fridays

Timetable westbound

 Tehran, Tabriz ► Ankara

 1. Tehran to Van by Iranian sleeper train:  Cancelled

 Tehran

depart 

21:55

Wednesdays

 Tabriz

depart 

11:00

Thursdays

 Razi (border)

arrive

??:??

Thursdays

 Kapikoy (border)

depart

18:00-18:30

Thursdays

 Van ferry pier

arrive

21:23

Thursdays

 2. A ferry is provided from Van to Tatvan across Lake Van

 Van ferry pier

depart

??:??

Thursdays

 Tatvan ferry pier

arrive

??:??

Thursdays

 3. Tatvan to Ankara by Turkish sleeper train:  Cancelled

 Tatvan ferry pier

depart

05:50

Fridays

 Kayseri

arrive

01:08

Saturdays

 Ankara

arrive

07:43

Saturdays

How much does it cost?

 Fares

 Fare per person in euros (priced in euros, but paid in local currency)

 Ankara to Tabriz:

31 + 9.90 couchette supplement.

 Ankara to Tehran:

41.60 + 9.90 couchette supplement.

How to buy tickets eastbound

How to buy tickets westbound

Visas for Iran

Before booking, check that you can get an Iranian tourist visa.  Iran only grants tourist visas to UK or US citizens if you travel with an escorted tour or use an officially-recognised guide all the time you are in Iran.  Check what the current visa situation is for your specific nationality.  The Lonely Planet website used to have a short list of travel agencies who can help you get a visa, this included www.magic-carpet-travel.com or www.persianvoyages.com.  You may be able to find an agency who will tailor-make arrangements for you, allowing you to arrive in Iran by train.  There is no problem reported in crossing the border into Iran by train, border officials are reported to be very friendly!  The point of entry into Iran is Razi.  Feedback on the visa situation for Iran, on any tour agencies prepared to make arrangements incorporating arrival via train, and on the train itself, would be very welcome.  Note that www.iranianvisa.com, although legitimate, has recently had some reports of slow service.

How to plan out your trip

If you are new to independent travel, it may seem daunting to plan a trip like this, but it's really not that difficult.  It can help to plan your itinerary using a simple spreadsheet, to work out a budget and make sure you book the right trains on the right dates.  How to plan an itinerary & budget.

Currency

The Lake Van ferry accepts both Lira and Rials, and it is reported that Lira can be exchanged for Rials on board the ferry.  Rials are freely available at banks and exchange bureaux in Ankara and may be available in Istanbul.

What are the trains like?

The Trans-Asia Express is actually two trains, separated by a ferry.  A Turkish sleeper train links Ankara & Tatvan, at the western end of Lake Van.  A ferry shuttles passengers across the lake from Tatvan to Van.  An Iranian train then links Van and Tehran.

The Turkish train

The Turkish train between Ankara & Tatvan is composed of modern TVS2000 air-conditioned 4-berth couchettes, shown below centre in daytime mode with the berths folded against the wall & below right in night mode with beds folded out although not made up -  Pillows, sheet and blankets are supplied, you make up the berth yourself.  There are toilets and washrooms at the end of the corridor.  The train also has a restaurant car serving hot dishes, drinks and snacks.

Turkish couchette car   4-berth couchette compartment   4-berth couchette compartment
Restaurant car on Turkish train   Cafeteria on Lake Van ferry

Restaurant car.  Photos courtesy of Reto Kaiser.

 

Cafeteria on the Lake Van ferry.  Courtesy of Reto Kaiser

The Iranian train

The Iranian train between Van, Tabriz & Tehran is a comfortable Iranian sleeper train, with 4-berth compartments which convert from armchairs to sleeping-berths will all necessary bedding provided - see larger photo.  Meals are served to your compartment.  This is the current Van to Tehran train in 2020.  Photos courtesy of Reto Kaiser.

 

What's the journey like?

More scenery from the Tatvan to Ankara train

Mountains, desert, rivers, in eastern Turkey.  Courtesy Nicholas Brooke...

Scenery from the Tatvan to Ankara train

More scenery in eastern Turkey.  Courtesy Nicholas Brooke...

Scenery from the Turkey-Iran train

Scenery in Iran.  Courtesy Julie Carroll...

Lake Van ferries

Arriving at Tatvan Pier for the ferry across Lake Van.  Courtesy Julia Carroll...

Lake Van ferries

Tatvan is as far as the Turkish train goes, you can see the train from Ankara in the background, terminated in the platform.  Passengers are now on board the ferry across Lake Van.  It's a train ferry, you can see a wagon loaded on board.  But only wagons are ferried across the lake, not passenger trains  Courtesy Julia Carroll...

Van railway station

Van station, Turkey.  It's now an Iranian train to Tabriz & Tehran  Courtesy Nicholas Brooke...

The Iranian train at Razi, the Iranian border station.  Courtesy Reto Kaiser...

Scenery from the Turkey-Iran train

Scenery in Iran.  Courtesy Julie Carroll...

Train arrives at Tehran

The Iranian train at Tehran.  Courtesy Julie Carroll...

Tehran railway station

Tehran railway station.  Courtesy Nicholas Brooke...

Travellers' reports

Traveller Julie Carroll reports:  "My partner and I left Ankara at 2.25pm on Wednesday 23 October 2019 heading for Tabriz.  We had a 4 berth compartment to ourselves all the way - there weren't many people on the train from Ankara, I think only 2 carriages used from a 6 car train.  The train had a buffet car, the menu was in Turkish but limited offerings, though the toasted cheese sandwich was good.  Western toilets on the train & hot water in WC. Lovely views in Turkey while the sun was out and we could see.  The line has been changed to greater heights as a dam was put in further up stream so the old rail line was way too low.  Arrived Tatvan station 3.30pm Thursday and Tatvan Wharf at 4.00pm.

Onto the ferry, the 6 hour crossing was extremely smooth.  The ferry took both currencies at the cafeteria but once again there were limited offerings, but cheese toastie lovely.  Hot water in the bathroom so I washed my hair in the ladies basin.

The train on other side was late so we stayed on the ferry & boarded the train at midnight.  Stopped at Van where a large number of people got on, mainly Iranians.  The Iranian train hospitality was amazing. Juice, bottle of water, biscuits and cake as soon as you arrived in the compartment, then tea and coffee were brought around.  All free.

Arrived at the Turkish border crossing (Kapikoy) at 3am on 25 October Took till 5.30am to clear the other side into Iran.  You get off the train leaving your bags on the train, passports are stamped, you wait inside until everybody has finished then you're allowed back on the train.  The train travels a short way then it's the same procedure at the Iranian  border, Razi.  All of us had to wait in a small area after passport control before being allowed back on the train, and it was cold!  We could go on the station which some did but the heaters kept a lot inside.  Foreigners didn't have to open their bags for customs and were waved through to passport control before the locals.  Only 1 Iranian guy was working, it took a while as they have to look up the equivalent date in their Persian calendar for your passport expiry and so on!

They woke you before your station but only just, so there was a bit of mad scramble to get out.  We'd been up most of the night so slept in in the morning.  We arrived at Tabriz at 9.50am on Friday 25 October."


Train travel in Iran

Iran has a good and growing rail network linking the main cities.  Many trains have air-conditioning.  First and second class is provided, usually converting to 4 or 6 berth sleepers for overnight travel.  Iranian Railways has franchised on-board service to a variety of private operators, with different operators managing trains on different routes.

To find train times in Iran:  www.raja.ir or www.iranrail.net...

Tehran to Esfahan...

One of the most historic and beautiful cities in Iran, train service to Esfahan is shown below:

 Tehran ► Esfahan  

 

 

 Esfahan ► Tehran  

 

Every 2 days

 

Every 2 days

 Tehran depart:

22:50

 Esfahan depart:

22:40

 Esfahan arrive:

06:00

 Tehran arrive:

06:20

This train has air-conditioned first class 6-berth sleepers and 2nd class seats.

There is a daily train every afternoon from Tehran, arriving Esfahan around midnight en route to Shiraz - but as it's not on the system for Tehran-Esfahan you need to book and pay to Shiraz.  It has more comfortable cars than the night train.

You can buy tickets at the station, remembering to take along your passport, fare 315,000 riyals with a sleeper.

Tehran to Esfahan by train is 494km.

It's reported that this train often fills up several days or even a week or two before departure, so don't leave booking to the last minute, buy a ticket in advance.  It's also reported that tickets are best bought through any travel agency rather than at the station.  In Tehran, there is a travel agency very near the main station, you walk straight across the big square in front of the station and it is a few hundred metres up the avenue heading north (Vali Asr Avenue), on the left. In Isfahan there are several travel agencies around Azadi square in the south of the city and also in the city centre.

Farak train in Iran

A long-distance Tehran-Shiraz train run by Fadak Trains, www.fadaktrains.com See virtual tour inside a Fadak sleeper train.


Recommended guidebooks

Lonely Planet Middle East - click to buy onlineAlways take a good guidebook - I've found that the Lonely Planet or Rough Guides are easily the best out there for independent travellers.  They seem to be researched in much greater depth than most other guidebooks, and unlike many other books which seem to be tailored to one end of the market or the other, the Lonely Planets offer a range of suggestions for low-budget, mid-range and up-market travellers.

Buy Lonely Planet Middle East at Amazon.co.uk

This covers Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iran, Israel and several other countries.

 


Travel insurance & other tips

 

Staysure travel insurance

 

Columbus Direct logo

Always take out travel insurance

You should take out travel insurance with at least 1m or preferably 5m medical cover from a reliable insurer.  It should cover trip cancellation and loss of cash & belongings up to a reasonable limit.  These days, check you're covered for covid-19-related issues, and use an insurer whose cover isn't invalidated by well-meant but excessive Foreign Office travel advice against non-essential travel. An annual policy is usually cheapest even for just 2 or 3 trips a year, I have an annual policy with Staysure.co.uk myself.  Don't expect travel insurance to bail you out of every missed connection, see the advice on missed connections here.  Here are some suggested insurers, I get a little commission if you buy through these links, feedback always welcome.

UK flag  www.staysure.co.uk offers enhanced Covid-19 protection and gets 4.7 out of 5 on Trustpilot.

UK flag  www.columbusdirect.com is also a well-know brand.

US flag  If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

 

Maya.net logo

Get an eSIM with mobile data package

Don't rely on WiFi, download an eSIM with a European mobile data package and stay connected.  Most newer mobile phones can download a virtual SIM including iPhone 11 & later, see device compatibility list.  There's no need to buy a physical SIM card!  Maya.net is a reliable eSIM data retailer with a 4.5 out of 5 Trustpilot rating and a range of packages including unlimited data.

 

Curve card

Curve card

Get a Curve card for foreign travel

Most banks give you a poor exchange rate then add a foreign transaction fee on top.  A Curve MasterCard means no foreign transaction fees and gives you the mid-market exchange rate, at least up to a certain limit, 500 per month as I write this.  The money you spend on your Curve card goes straight onto one of your existing debit or credit cards.  And you can get a Curve card for free.

How it works:  1. Download the Curve app for iPhone or Android.  2. Enter your details & they'll send you a Curve MasterCard - they send to the UK and most European addresses.  3. Link your existing credit & debit cards to the app, you can link up to two cards with the free version of Curve, I link my normal debit card and my normal credit card.  4. Now use the Curve MasterCard to buy things online or in person or take cash from ATMs, exactly like a normal MasterCard. Curve does the currency conversion and puts the balance in your own currency onto whichever debit or credit card is currently selected in the Curve app.  You can even change your mind about which card it goes onto, within 14 days of the transaction.

I have a Curve Blue card myself, it means I can buy a coffee on a foreign station on a card without being stung by fees and lousy exchange rates, just by tapping the Curve card on their card reader.  The money goes through Curve to my normal debit card and is taken directly from my account (in fact I have the Curve card set up as payment card on Apple Pay on my iPhone, so can double-click my phone, let it do Face ID then tap the reader with the phone - even easier than getting a card out).  I get a little commission if you sign up to Curve, but I recommend it here because I think it's great.  See details, download the app and get a Curve card, they'll give you 5 cashback through that link.

 

Express VPN

Get a VPN for safe browsing.  Why you need a VPN

When travelling you may use free public WiFi which is often insecure.  A VPN encrypts your connection so it's always secure, even on unsecured WiFi.  It also means you can select the geographic location of the IP address you browse with, to get around geoblocking which a surprising number of websites apply.  See VPNs & why you need one explainedExpressVPN is a best buy with a 4.7 out of 5 Trustpilot ranking which I use myself - I've signed up as an ExpressVPN affiliate, and if you go with expressvpn.com using this link you should see a special deal, 3 months free with an annual subscription.  I also get some commission to help support this site.

 

Anker Powerrbank

Carry an Anker powerbank

Tickets, reservations, hotel bookings and Interrail or Eurail passes are often now held on your mobile phone.  You daren't let it run out of power, and you can't always rely on the phone's internal battery or on being near a power outlet.  I always carry an Anker powerbank which can recharge my phone several times over.  Buy from Amazon.co.uk or Buy from Amazon.com.

Touring cities?  Use hill walking shoes!

One of the best things I've done is swap my normal shoes for hill-walking shoes, in my case from Scarpa.  They're intended for hiking across the Pennines not wandering around Florence, but the support and cushioning for hiking works equally well when you're on your feet all day exploring foreign cities.  My feet used to give out first and limit my day, now the rest of me gives up before they do!

 


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