London to Tehran overland?

  Tehran railway station sign, Iran

The train to Iran:  The rails stretch all the way from London to Tehran, apart from a ferry across the Bosphorus & Lake Van.  Photo courtesy of PhiliptheBill

If you can get a visa, it's now possible once again to travel by train from London, Paris or anywhere in Europe to Tehran in Iran.  The weekly Istanbul-Tehran Trans-Asia Express was suspended in 2015, but a new overnight train from Van in Turkey to Tabriz in Iran was reintroduced from 18 June 2018.

On this page...

Istanbul-Ankara-Tabriz-Tehran eastbound train times

Tehran-Tabriz-Ankara-Istanbul westbound train times

The Van-Tabriz train

How to buy tickets

Getting an Iranian visa

Train travel within Iran including Tehran-Esfahan.

Tehran - Damascus train service


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+3½ hours (GMT+4½ late March to late Sept, as from 2011).  Dial code +98.

Currency:

£1 = 44,000 Iranian Rials,  $1 = 29,000 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.  See the advice on www.lonelyplanet.com/iran/visas, which has (or used to have) a list of 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.fco.gov.uk.

Page last updated:

15 June 2018


Istanbul to Tehran by train

Latest update 2018:  Train travel possible once again between Turkey & Iran...

In March 2001, a comfortable weekly train called the Trans-Asia Express was introduced 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.

The good news is that from 18 June 2018 a weekly overnight train has been re-introduced between Van and Tabriz.  With train connections Istanbul-Ankara-Van and Tabriz-Tehran, it is once more possible to travel between Istanbul and Tehran by rail.  The total distance from Istanbul to Tehran is 2,968 km excluding the 90 km length of Lake Van.

Istanbul & Ankara Tabriz & Tehran  (eastbound)

Teheran & Tabriz Ankara & Istanbul  (westbound)

The Van - Tabriz train...

 Istanbul ► Tehran

   

   

 Tehran ► Istanbul

 Van-Tebriz Tren, eastbound... 

 Tebriz-Van Tren, westbound...

 Van

depart

21:00

Tuesdays

 Tabriz

depart 

23:30

Mondays

 Kapikoy (border)

arr-dep

23:00-00:30

Tues/Wed

 Razi (border)

arrive

03:05

Tuesdays

 Razi (border)

arr-dep

02:10-03:40

Wednesdays

 Kapikoy (border)

depart

03:15

Tuesdays

 Tabriz

arrive

07:25

Wednesdays

 Van

arrive

06:45

Tuesdays

 Fares

Fare per person, including couchette:        

Van to Tabriz:

€8.60 (= 39 Turkish lira)

What's the train from Van to Tabriz like?

The Van-Tabriz train uses several comfortable Iranian couchette cars with 6-berth compartments.  The fare includes a sleeping berth.  At present I have no pictures of this new train, if you get any, please get in touch!

How to buy tickets:  eastbound from Istanbul

How to buy tickets:  westbound from Tehran

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.  See the advice on www.lonelyplanet.com/iran/visas which has (or used to have) a short list of travel agencies who can help you get a visa, such as 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.

Travellers' reports...

None received as yet about the new train.  But reports about the old Trans-Asia Express were very positive.


Train travel within 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

 

Ecery 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.


Iran to Syria by train

Tehran - Tabriz - Aleppo - Damascus by train...

There was a weekly train with couchettes/sleeping-cars and restaurant car from Tehran & Tabriz via Lake Van in Turkey (where passengers leave the Iranian train, take a ferry and join a Syrian train at the other side) to Aleppo & Damascus in Syria - but not surprisingly, this train is currently suspended due to the conflict in Syria.  Times and fares are/were available at www.tcdd.gov.tr (click 'English' then 'passenger' then 'trains to the Middle East').  Also try www.raja.ir and www.cfssyria.org

Traveller's reports...

Traveller Pol O Gradaigh reports "The Syrian sleepers were fairly wrecked; in a couple of the compartments it was impossible to resurrect the seating, and only the beds could be used. On the other hand, the beds were extremely comfortable. Also, the compartments each had two beds but side-by-side compartments have a connecting door, so a party of three of four could travel together  The Syrians provided food free of charge, but it was mostly composed of packets of biscuits, packed croissants etc. The exception was lunch the first day, which was some sort of chicken curry out of the fridge, very partially warmed up. Teabags were provided but not hot water! The moral of the story seems to be to bring your own food, especially if you feel the need for fruit or vegetables. There are shops selling drinks and sandwiches just outside the station in Aleppo, and grocery and vegetable stalls just outside the station yard in Meydan Ekbez.  On the Iranian train, full meals were available for about $2.00 each (according to the Iranians, they are free on the Tehran-Damascus return run). The train crossed the Iranian border about 1.00am. All this involved was an Iranian policeman coming on board, collecting the passports and coming back with them after a while. The Syrian border was similar. At the two Turkish border crossings it was necessary to get off the train. All the crossings were painless except for entering Turkey, which involved extremely rude officials and delays while the customs officers (oddly, responsible for collecting the visa fee) hunted for their forms and stamps."

Traveller David Kennedy reports on an Aleppo-Tehran train trip in 2007:  "We booked, though were not allowed to pay for, our onward sleeper from Aleppo to Tehran a week ahead.  Our names were entered onto an official-looking form by the international train ticket sales chap and we were told to return by 10am on the morning of departure.  On our return a week later there were a few hundred people in the booking hall waiting for the Tehran train.  All the sleeping berths had long since been allocated and we were still just in time to bag a pair of seats.  So a week in advance is too early and the morning of departure is too late to guarantee a berth or seat.  The carriages are fairly wretched, but luckily our car was primarily made up of Syrians also going to Iran for a fortnight's holiday.  There was a great party atmosphere and to some extent this made up for not having the expected sleeper berths.  We left around two hours late.  The Syrians were intrigued and somewhat amused by our notion that there was a timetable - the RAJA printout a good ice breaker in fact.  The Aleppo-Tehran train leaves on Monday and that's all you need to know.  Two hours out of Aleppo one of the two old US diesels broke down and so half the train decamped to picnic and we were welcome to join in.  Food is also provided just as Pol O Gradaigh reports, but take additional water, fruit and veg if you don't care for cold tinned processed meat.  It was well after dawn the next day when we got to Malatya in Turkey and the scenery from here on through to Mus is spectacular.  Worth the price of admission alone I'd say.  We got to Tatvan about six hours behind schedule.  We'd missed the boat and no one cared if it reappeared that night or the next morning.  Being up-tight London commuters, unable to accept such a lack of info and keen to avoid another night in uncomfortable seats, we rather harangued the Turkish guards billeted watch over us until we got an answer.  The boat was coming with in the hour, we crossed lake Van that night and I can report that the deck of the lake Van ferry is more uncomfortable and a not a little cooler than an air conditioned train.  The Syrian's partied on, singing, dancing and eating.  We arrived in Van at dawn.  The Iranian trains are modern, clean four-berth compartment sleepers.  There is a restaurant car.  The reservation you get given in Aleppo bears no relation to the train so you sit/sleep where you will.  The guards, in an effort to avoid having Muslim women in together with unrelated men will lump random single men in with obviously western women.  If you don't care for this simply stand your ground, they're not fierce.  We received a small rebate and a free tin of tuna as the in-compartment entertainment system, complete with LCD TV, had failed throughout the train.   I'd like to tell you what the trip was like from here on but after two nights without sleep we nodded off all the way to Tabriz.  To change money, the easiest place would seem to be your first major stop, Tabriz.  There's a bank staffed by Eng Lit masters.  They quoted T.S. Eliot as I changed my money.  You'll find Iran is a bit like that if you've not been before.  We arrived in Tehran at dawn the day after we were scheduled to arrive, around twelve hours late.  In Tehran we wanted to book a train back through to Istanbul in three week's time but were told that, as it was holiday season, all the trains (and almost all flights) were full.  It seems  one could use a local agency to book train tickets in advance from the UK.  We used Mohajeri on Nejatolahi street in Tehran (mohajeri.com +98 (21) 8882 1990 -  beware Iranian phone numbers change constantly) to get us out of the country via the weekly flight out of Tabriz (our tickets subsequently voided at the gate but that's another story) and they told us they could have got Iranian train tickets ready for us if we'd called ahead from the UK.  We had partial success getting tickets for travel around Iran whilst we were there.  In this regard, outside of Tehran, a little Farsi goes a long way and it isn't half as difficult as Arabic.  The standard of trains is high, the run to time and they are exceptionally cheap so, as you'd expect then, they get fully booked.  


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 & health card

 

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

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

Never travel without proper travel insurance from a reliable insurer with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover.  It should also cover loss of cash & belongings (up to a limit), and trip cancellation.  An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheapest even for just 2 or 3 trips a year - I have an annual policy myself.  However, 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, 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, see www.JustTravelCover.com - 10% discount with code seat61.

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

  If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

Get 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 ww.nhs.uk.  It doesn't remove the need for travel insurance, though.

Carry a spare credit card, designed for 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.

 


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