UK to Syria by train?

  The magnificent gate to the citadel in Aleppo, Syria.

The magnificent gate to the citadel in Aleppo.

Syria was a wonderful country to visit and Syrians were amongst the most hospitable people you would meet anywhere.  I've been there twice, travelling from London to Damascus and back by train on both occasions.  Until recent events, it had always been a very safe country for travellers, safer than most western countries in fact.  It was easy to reach Aleppo and Damascus overland from London or any other city in Europe, using a daily sleeper train from Istanbul to Adana in southern Turkey, then by daily bus or weekly sleeper train to Aleppo.  I've left this page untouched since the war started, it'll at least show you how things used to be...

small bullet point  London to Syria overland by train

small bullet point  Istanbul to Aleppo & Damascus by train or train+bus

small bullet point  Hotel in Aleppo - the famous Baron's Hotel

small bullet point  Aleppo-Homs-Hama-Damascus by train

small bullet point  Aleppo-Latakia by train

small bullet point  Things to see in Syria

small bullet point  Damascus to Beirut (Lebanon) by bus

small bullet point  Damascus to Amman (Jordan) by bus or Hedjaz Railway train

small bullet point  Damascus to Tehran (Iran) by train

CURRENT CIVIL WAR IN SYRIA.  With the civil war going on, it's not the time to visit Syria.  I wrote this page years before the current problems, and I have not updated it for the current status.  I hope they sort their problems out soon, I will update the page once the dust settles.  In the meantime, check current travel advice at

large bullet pointUseful country information

Train operator:

CFS (Chemins de fer Syriens)

(in Arabic, translate using Google language tools)


Time zone & dial code:

GMT+2 (GMT+3 last Sunday in March to last Saturday in October).  Dial code +963.


£1 = 67 Syrian Pounds,  $1 = 46 Syrian pounds.  Currency converter

Tourist information:

See advice at Tripadvisor Syria page   Recommended guidebooks

Recommended hotels:

Hotels in Aleppo    Hotels in Damascus


UK citizens need a Syrian visa. Either buy in advance from the Syrian embassy at 8 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8PH, tel. 020 7245 9012, or buy at the frontier for about $52.

Page last updated:

30 December 2012 - not being regularly updated at present.

large bullet pointLondon to Aleppo & Damascus...

Step 1:  Travel to Istanbul...

First, you need to reach Istanbul.  For journeys starting in London, Paris or Vienna, see the London to Turkey page for train times, fares and how to book.  The train journey from London to Istanbul takes 3 nights with daily departures all year round.  For journeys starting in other European cities, find train times with

Step 2:  Istanbul to Syria...

Once in Istanbul, it's easy to travel overland to Aleppo & Damascus in Syria, taking a daily air-conditioned sleeper train leaving Istanbul late at night, travelling through great scenery in southern Turkey next day and arriving in Adana in southern Turkey in the early evening.  This is a relaxing journey in the comfort and privacy of a modern air-conditioned sleeping-car.  Spend the night in Adana, then take daily buses or a taxi from Adana to Antakya and from Antakya to Aleppo, arriving in Aleppo in the evening.  Times, fares & information here.

It's a good idea to plan out an itinerary and budget for a journey like this: How to plan an itinerary & budget.

Incidentally, there's also a twice-weekly train from Gaziantep in south eastern Turkey to Aleppo, but the problem is that all Turkish domestic trains to Gaziantep from either Istanbul or Ankara are still suspended due to long-term engineering work, rendering this new train pretty useless for travellers from Europe or Istanbul to Syria.

Background on trains from Istanbul to Syria:  A brief history of the Taurus Express...

Agatha Christie's novel, Murder on the Orient Express, doesn't start in Istanbul, or on the Orient Express.  It opens on the platform at Aleppo, next to the two blue-and-gold Wagons-Lits sleeping cars of the Taurus Express bound for Istanbul.  The Taurus Express was inaugurated in February 1930 by the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, the same company that operated the Orient Express and Simplon Orient Express, as a means of extending their services beyond Istanbul to the East.  It ran several times a week from Istanbul Haydarpaşa station to Aleppo and Baghdad, with a weekly through sleeper to Tripoli in Lebanon.  After the second world war, the Wagons-Lits company gradually withdrew and operation of the Taurus Express was taken over by the Turkish, Syrian and Iraqi state railways.  Up until the late 1980s, a twice-weekly Istanbul-Baghdad service was maintained, with weekly through seating cars from Istanbul to Aleppo.  For political reasons, the through service to Baghdad was suspended and the main train curtailed at Gaziantep, but the weekly through seats cars Istanbul-Aleppo were maintained.  In 2001, the Aleppo portion of the  Toros Express was speeded-up and given a proper Syrian sleeping-car instead of the two very basic Turkish seats cars.  You could once again travel in the security and comfort of a proper sleeper from Istanbul to Syria, and it was a great way to go. Unfortunately, long-term engineering work meant this weekly direct sleeping-car and indeed the main Istanbul-Gaziantep 'Toros Express' was suspended indefinitely from June 2008, and as at 2011 shows no sign of being reinstated.

large bullet pointIstanbul to Aleppo by train

Until June 2008, a direct sleeping-car used to run from Istanbul to Aleppo once a week, attached to the Istanbul-Gaziantep Toros Express.  Both the Toros Express itself and this Istanbul-Aleppo sleeping-car have been cancelled indefinitely since June 2008, due to long term engineering work in Turkey.  While this weekly sleeping-car remains suspended, here's how you can travel from Istanbul to Syria, using a comfortable daily air-conditioned sleeper train for a night and a day across great scenery to Adana in Southern Turkey, a hotel in Adana for the night, then daytime bus travel from Adana to Aleppo in Syria.  Total journey time 2 nights, 2 days. There was also a weekly train from Adana to Aleppo on Friday nights in summer 2010, although this has now stopped running.

Istanbul Aleppo via Adana...

Aleppo ► Istanbul via Adana...

How much does it cost?

How to buy tickets, southbound...

How to buy tickets, northbound...

What's the journey like?

Your journey starts on an evening ferry across the Bosphorus, from the European side to Haydarpaşa station on the Asian side.  The ferries sail from the Karaköy ferry terminal on the Galata side of the Galata Bridge every 10-20 minutes, the crossing takes 20 minutes, and the fare is 1.50 YTL.  Enjoy the wonderful views of the Istanbul skyline, with the Haghia Sofia, Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace reflecting the evening light.  At the historic Haydarpaşa station, if you haven't yet stocked up with supplies for your journey, there are snack kiosks at the station, so now is your chance.  The train ravels overnight, then the following day snakes through great Turkish scenery towards the Taurus mountains.

Scenery seen from the Istanbul to Adana train on the way to Syria

The snow-capped Taurus Mountains, seen from the Istanbul to Adana train on the way to Syria.  Photo courtesy of Conor Meleady.

What is the Istanbul-Adana sleeper train like?

The Içanadolou Mavi Tren uses modern air-conditioned TVS2000 coaches, as good as any in western Europe.  Quiet and smooth riding, the train has reclining pullman seats, a sleeping car (shown below) with 1 & 2 bed compartments convertible to a private sitting room for daytime use.  The air-conditioned restaurant car features tablecloths, proper china & metal cutlery (do you get that on a long distance bus or even a plane??), and serves cheap hot meals, wine & beer as the train snakes its way through the mountainous Turkish scenery.  Highly recommended!

  TVS2000 sleeper in night mode, Istanbul-Ankara, Istanbul-Denizli, & Izmir-Ankara night trains.  Courtesy of Shigeki Murao   TVS2000 sleeping-car in day mode, Istanbul-Ankara, Istanbul-Denizli, & Izmir-Ankara night trains.

A 2-berth sleeper in night-time mode (above centre), with upper and lower berths folded out, and (above right) in daytime mode with beds folded away.  Centre photo courtesy of Shigeki MuraoMore sleeper photos.

Inside a TVS2000 restaurant car   Trains in Turkey:  A TVS2000 restaurant car

The restaurant car serves inexpensive meals & beer.  A 3-course meal and a half-bottle of wine cost only about TL11 (£5 or $8).  Eating in these elegant restaurant cars on proper china beats balancing food on your knees on a bus, any day...

Travellers' reports...

Traveller David Earley reports from a trip in 2008: "The trains from Istanbul to Ankara and on to Adana were excellent [Baskent Express then Cukurova Mavi train].  At least 8 other people were travelling on the train who had booked for the Toros Express.  We took a cab to the bus station at Adana and they put us on a bus to Antakya. They were obviously anticipating people wanting to travel to Aleppo, as they had two taxis to meet us at Antakya.  We were then driven at a suicidal speed to our destination!  Interestingly, Turista seemed to be encouraging us to take a bus all the way from Istanbul to Aleppo. I am glad we did not do this as we heard from another traveller that this is a dreadful experience and there is nothing to see on the journey.  We also enjoyed the Aleppo-Damascus train service – really excellent."

large bullet pointHotels in Aleppo

Baron's Hotel, Aleppo

When you arrive in Aleppo, whatever your normal budget, the most wonderful and historic place to stay is the Hotel Baron, on Baron Street.  Opened in 1909, it was one of the most famous hotels in the middle east, used by Agatha Christie, Roosevelt, Mutafa Kemal Attaturk, Lindbergh and T. E. Lawrence.  It will cost you all of $45 for a single room or $55 for a double to stay there, an experience in itself!  Email the hotel on or call Telephone (00 963) 21 211 0880.  For more information and booking, see TripAdvisor's Barons Hotel page.

The Baron's Hotel, Aleppo   Baron's Hotel, Aleppo:  The lobby   The Hotel Baron, Aleppo:  Bar

The Baron's Hotel, Aleppo.


The lobby...


The bar...

Some rooms have now been modernised to western hotel standards, other rooms have been restored with older furniture and tile floors - ask for a restored room if possible.  The lobby, lounge, bar and restaurant have not changed for decades, and exude faded grandeur par excellence...  Lawrence of Arabia fans will want to book TE Lawrence's room, room 202.  You may get to meet the larger-than-life hotel manager, Mr Walid, who can arrange visits or cars to local sites such as St Simon's church (highly recommended), or even long-distance day trips to Krak des Chevaliers or Palmyra (both unmissable).

Click for hotels in Damascus.

large bullet pointAleppo - Damascus by train

If you need to travel between Aleppo and Damascus, take the train.  It's fast, very comfortable, and unbelievably cheap.  There are several daytime air-conditioned trains between Aleppo and Damascus, also an overnight train with a sleeping-car with 1 & 2 bed compartments.  All the trains shown here run daily.

 Aleppo ► Damascus


 Damascus Aleppo

 Train number:






Train number:

























 Damascus (Kadem)



































 Damascus (Kadem) 














1,2 =  1st & 2nd class with buffet car.     Sleeper = Sleeping-car with 1 & 2-bed compartments with washbasin, plus 1st & 2nd class seats.

Always double-check train times locally.    Aleppo to Damascus is 367 km (229 miles). 

You can check Syrian train times and fares at (in Arabic only, but you can easily translate using Google language tools).  Another good resource for checking Syrian train times is

Damascus Kadem station is located 3-4 kilometres (2-3 miles) southwest of Damascus city centre, a taxi to or from the centre costs about 100 Syrian pounds ($2) and takes 25 minutes when traffic is busy.  It's reported that there's a free shuttle bus which leaves the Hedjaz station an hour before the departure of each Aleppo-bound train from Damascus Kadem, but please confirm this at the Hedjaz station ticket office.  Allow plenty of time to catch a train, as for some reason they may want to check your passport and X-ray your bags!

Homs stations:  It's reported that Homs now has two stations, Homs 1 (nearer the centre) & Homs 2 (on the outskirts), trains normally serve Homs 2, some may still serve Homs 1, please check locally.


 Aleppo-Damascus by modern express (trains 7-13)

1st class = 240 Syrian pounds (£4 or $5)

2nd class = 200 Syrian pounds (£3 or $4)

 Aleppo-Damascus by older train (trains 170, 173)

1st class = 180 Syrian pounds (£3 or $4)

2nd class = 140 Syrian pounds (£2 or $3)

 Aleppo-Damascus sharing 2-bed sleeper (train 230/231):

505 Syrian pounds (£6 or $9)

How to buy tickets...

You must buy tickets in person at the station, you cannot buy them online.

In Aleppo, you can buy your ticket on the day of travel or the day before (but not further ahead than this) at the main railway station in the city centre.  It's a three stage process, so bring your passport and allow plenty of time.  The stages are:  1. Get your passport checked by an official;  2. Buy your ticket;  3. Take your passport and ticket to a security man who will check them and write the details down in a book.  Easy!

In Damascus, you can buy your tickets on the day of travel or the day before travel (but not further in advance than this) at the ticket window inside the old historic Hedjaz station in the city centre, even though this station now has no trains (the area at the back where the narrow-gauge Hedjaz Railway tracks once were has been a building site for several years).  This saves you trekking all the way out to Damascus Kadem station outside the city centre, although one recent report says they had to go to Kadem to book the overnight sleeper as the Hedjaz station ticket office couldn't book it.  Alternatively, you can of course buy tickets at Damascus Kadem on the day of travel, but allow plenty of time and expect to have to show your passport.

New 100mph trains Aleppo-Damascus...

Trains 7 to 16 use new 100 mph air-conditioned diesel trains delivered from South Korea in late 2006.  3-D tour of new train interior3-D photo of new train cafeteria.  The number of Syrians using trains is increasing:  Passenger numbers in 2010 are expected to be double those carried in 2006, at over 4 million passenger journeys.  Though reports suggest these new trains are now often being hauled by locomotives - clearly the purchase deal didn't include maintenance!

New 100mph Syrian diesel train   1st class seats on the Aleppo-Damascus train

Above:  One of the new 100mph Syrian express trains at Damascus...  Courtesy of Olly Lambert


Above:  1st class seats in the new train...

Photo courtesy of Olly Lambert

View from the cab   Bar car.   Another view from the cab

Above:  The view from the driving cab...  Photo courtesy of Olly Lambert


Above:  The cafe car


Above: Crossing the desert from Aleppo to Damascus.  Courtesy Olly Lambert

The overnight sleeper...

The Istanbul-Aleppo sleeping-car.   A 2-berth compartment in the Istanbul-Aleppo (Syria) train.   A 2-bed sleeper in the Istanbul-Aleppo train, with beds folded away and seats folded out.

Above:  An air-conditioned Syrian Railways sleeping-car as used from Aleppo to Damascus.

3D virtual tour of a sleeper compartment.


A 2-bed sleeper compartment with the beds folded out...


2-bed sleeper, beds folded away to form a private sitting room...

Travellers' reports...

A traveller on the Damascus-Aleppo overnight sleeper says, "I was a woman in her mid-twenties and was a little conscious of travelling on my own. The actual service was surprisingly good.  I was ushered in and told the procedure about tickets and not to open my door for any other knocks till the morning.  The cost one way was 290 Syrian pounds (about £3), pretty good value considering I had the whole room to myself for no extra cost."

On daytime trains, the air-con in first class is almost too good, the armchairs are comfortable and reclining with loads of legroom.  A girl came round soon after departure handing out a complimentary sweet to each passenger.

If you have any further feedback, please e-mail me!

large bullet pointAleppo & Damascus - Latakia

 Damascus, Aleppo ► Latakia


 Latakia Aleppo, Damascus

 Train number:






Train number:




























































Please double-check all train times locally.  All train are daily.  There is some spectacular mountain scenery on the Aleppo-Latakia route, with the best views from the north side of the train.

Fare Aleppo to Latakia:  On fast modern trains 41-45, Aleppo to Latakia is 135 Syrian pounds 1st class,105 Syrian pounds 2nd class.  On older trains 242-246, Aleppo to Latakia 70 pounds 1st class, 50 pounds 2nd class.  Bring your passport when buying tickets.  As a foreigner, it's reported that you may have to get your ticket stamped at another ticket window after buying it.

Fare Damascus-Latakia:  120 Syrian pounds 1st class, 80 Syrian pounds 2nd class.

Trains 41 to 45 & train 22 use the same modern air-conditioned trainsets as used on the Aleppo-Damascus line, see the photos above.

Trains 242-246 & train 25 use older but still comfortable cars like this:

Express train from Damascus to Aleppo   1st class seats on the Aleppo - Damascus express train.

Above:  Trains 242-246 from Aleppo to Latakia use cars like this, some now painted in this smart new colour scheme.


Above:  1st class cars are air-conditioned with comfortable reclining armchairs. 

See 3D virtual tour.

Trains also run Damascus-Latakia, Latakia-Tartous, and Hama-Tartous - see for times and fares (in Arabic only, but you can easily translate using Google language tools).

large bullet pointThings to see in Syria


In many ways, Aleppo is a nicer and more relaxed city than Damascus, and it's a wonderful place to spend a few days.  Using the historic Baron's Hotel as your base, explore the souks (covered market), the citadel with its famous gateway, and the main mosque.  The small ruined church of St Simeon, just outside Aleppo, is well worth a visit for its windswept peaceful location on a remote hilltop, with the ruins of St Simon's pillar in the centre.


A pleasant town, famous for its 'nurias' or waterwheels.  It can be reached by train, on the Aleppo-Damascus main line.

A nuria (waterwheel), Hama, Syria   The citadel of Aleppo, Syria

A nuria (waterwheel) in central Hama.


The entrance to the citadel of Aleppo.


The famous ruined Roman city in the desert, and one of the highlights of a visit to Syria.  It can be reached by bus from Homs or Damascus, journey time from Damascus 3-4 hours) or by hired car and driver.  There are reportedly no direct buses between Aleppo and Palmyra.

Krak des Chevaliers

This is the best-preserved crusader castle in the Middle East, and one of the highlights of a visit to Syria.  British castles tend to be either ruins or converted into stately homes, but Krak is the closest you'll get to a castle as it was when it was in use by the crusaders.  It can be reached by bus or taxi from Hama or Homs (it can help to know that the village next to the castle is called Hosn, minibuses go there from Homs), or as a long-distance day trip from Aleppo or Damascus with hired car and driver for around $100.  Fans of T E Lawrence will also want to visit - Lawrence visited and studied the Krak during his pre-war tour of the castles of Syria.

Krak des Chevaliers, Syria   Inside the Krak...

Above:  Krak des Chevaliers...


Above:  Inside the Krak.


Syria's capital is busy and grubby, but there's a fair amount to see.  Martyr's Square is the centre of the modern town, a short walk from the souks leading to the ruins of the Roman Temple of Apollo and the Umayyad Mosque.  Visitors can enter the mosque for 50 Syrian pounds.  Outside the mosque is the tomb of the crusader's most famous adversary, Saladin.

Temple of Apollo, Damascus   Umayyad Mosque, Damascus   Tomb of Saladin, Damascus

The Temple of Apollo.


The Umayyad mosque, Damascus.


The tomb of Saladin.

No flying was involved in the taking of these photos:  All travel from London to Aleppo & Damascus and back was overland by train...

For 3D panorama photos of Syria's attractions, see

large bullet pointSyria to Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt

Damascus to Beirut (Lebanon)...

There is no railway to Beirut, but buses link Damascus with Beirut (Charles Helou bus station), 115km, journey time 5 hours, a whole range buses daily.  Buy tickets and check exact times locally, as the bus companies do not have any website.

Damascus to Amman (Jordan) & Egypt...

There used to be a twice-weekly Damascus-Amman train over the famous Hedjaz Railway, but it was cancelled due to track damaged.  It's been partly reinstated, see the Jordan page.  Alternatively, there are several daily buses from Damascus to Amman taking about 4 or 5 hours.  For times, fares photos and information, see the Jordan page.  For onward travel to cairo in Egypt by bus or by bus & ferry, also see the Jordan page.

large bullet pointSyria to Iran

Damascus & Aleppo to Tabriz & Tehran...

There is a weekly train with sleeping-cars and restaurant car from Damascus & Aleppo every Monday via Lake Van in Turkey (where passengers leave the Syrian train, take a ferry and join an Iranian train at the other side) to Tabriz and Tehran in Iran.  Fares are not expensive.  Times and fares are available at (click 'English' then 'passenger' then 'trains to the Middle East').  Also try (click the house logo then 'English' top right) and Between Syria and Lake Van the train has 1- and 2-bed Syrian sleeping cars.  Between Lake Van and Tehran the train has Iranian 4-berth couchette cars, all air-conditioned.  There's a traveller's report on this train on the Iran page.

large bullet pointRecommended guidebooks

Lonely Planet Middle East - click to buy onlineLonely Planet Middle East - click to buy onlineTo get the best out of a trip to Syria, you'll need a good guidebook, and I've found the Lonely Planets and Rough Guides to be about the best out there for the independent traveller.

Click the images to buy online at

Or buy direct from the Lonely Planet website, with shipping worldwide.



large bullet pointFind hotels along the way to Syria

Find hotels at Booking.comMy favourite hotel search site: is my favourite hotel booking site and I generally prefer booking my hotels all in one place here.  You can usually book with free cancellation - this allows you to confirm your accommodation at no risk before train booking opens.  It also means you can hold accommodation while you finalise your itinerary, and alter your plans as they evolve - a feature I use all the time when putting a trip together.  I never book hotels non-refundably.  I have also come to trust their review scores - you won't be disappointed with anything over 8.0.

Tip:  It can pay to compare prices across multiple hotel sites: is a price comparison site which compares hotel prices on,, Expedia, Accor, Agoda and many others.  Though if there's not much in it, I prefer keeping all my bookings together in one place at

Other hotel sites worth trying...

Backpacker hostels...

large bullet pointTravel insurance & VPN


Staysure travel insurance 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 use an annual policy 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 offers enhanced Covid-19 protection & covers you even if the FCDO advises against non-essential travel.

UK flag

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

UK flagYou can use to compare prices & policy features across major insurance companies.

 Australian flag New Zealand flag  Irish flag    If you live in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the EU, try Columbus Direct.

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


Curve card

Get a Curve card to save on foreign transaction fees...

Banks often give a poor exchange rate, then charge a currency conversion fee as well.  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 balance 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 app for iPhone or Android.  2. Enter your details & they'll send you a Curve MasterCard - they send to most European addresses including the UK.  3. Link your existing credit & debit cards to the app.  4. Now use the Curve MasterCard to buy things online or in person or take cash from ATMs, just like a normal MasterCard. Curve does the currency conversion and puts the balance onto whichever of your debit or credit cards you choose.  You can even change your mind about which card it goes onto, within 14 days of the transaction.

I use a Curve Blue card myself - I get a little commission if you sign up to Curve, but I'm recommending 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, too.


Express VPN

Get a VPN for safe browsing.  VPNs & why you need one explained...

When you're travelling you often use free WiFi in public places which may not be secure.  A VPN means your connection to the internet is encrypted & always secure, even using unsecured WiFi.  In countries such as China where access to Twitter & Facebook is restricted, a VPN gets around these restrictions.  And lastly, you can select the geographic location of the IP address you browse with, to get around geographic restrictions which some websites apply - for example one booking site charges a booking fee to non-European visitors but none to European visitors, so if you're not located in Europe you can avoid this fee by browsing with a UK IP address using a VPN.  VPNs & why you need one explainedExpressVPN is a best buy and I use it myself - I've signed up as an ExpressVPN affiliate, and if you go with using the links on this page, you should see a special deal, 3 months free with an annual subscription, and I get a small commission to help support this site.


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