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 to Istanbul in 3 days by train...

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 & tickets...

  Which route to choose?

  London-Paris-Munich-Budapest-Bucharest-Istanbul

  London-Paris-Munich-Belgrade-Sofia-Istanbul

  Video guide:  London to Istanbul by train...

  Optional variations via Amsterdam, Brussels, Zurich

  London to Southern Turkey via the Greek islands

  London to Southern Turkey via ferry from Italy

  Custom-made journeys & tours to Turkey by train

  Venice-Simplon-Orient Express to Istanbul

  Useful country information - dial code, currency, etc

  Hotels in Istanbul including the famous Pera Palas

Information on other pages...

  Train travel in Turkey: Istanbul to other destinations

  General information for train travel in Europe

  Luggage on trains & left luggage at stations   

  Taking your bike   Taking dogs  

  Railpass & Eurail guide   

  InterRail pass guide

  Starting your journey from other UK towns & cities

  The Orient Express, the truth behind the legend

  Istanbul-Aleppo-Damascus-Jordan & on to Cairo

  Istanbul-Tehran by Trans-Asia Express train

  Istanbul-Thessaloniki-Athens by train

  Istanbul-Cyprus by train+ferry

  Istanbul-Odessa (Ukraine) by ferry

Route map:  London to Istanbul by train...

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.tcddtasimacilik.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+3. No longer any daylight saving time, as of 2016.

Dialling code:

 

+90

Currency:

£1 = 4.2 Turkish Lira  $1 = 3.3 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:

12 June 2017.  Train times valid 11 June to 9 December 2017.


Which route to choose?

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

First 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 Dimitrovgrad in Bulgaria before heading overnight to Istanbul (currently stopping short of Istanbul at Halkali, as explained in the update box).  Here's an assessment of the two routes to help you choose:

IMPORTANT UPDATE 2017

The last part of the journey into Istanbul has been affected by engineering work since 2012, 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.  Slightly different arrangements have applied at different times, but this is what is happening from 20 Feb 2017 onwards, until I hear otherwise...

Train now running Sofia - Istanbul....

  Eastbound to Istanbul... 

Coming from Sofia, starting 20 February 2017, the Bosfor Express with sleeping-car & couchettes leaves Sofia central station at 21:00 and arrives next morning at Istanbul Halkali at 07:00.  Halkali is a suburban station some 25km west of central Istanbul. 

You then travel from Halkali into central Istanbul by taxi or by frequent local bus (the BN1, one hour traffic permitting), as the suburban railway into Istanbul is still under reconstruction.  Make sure you have Turkish lira with you, as there are no ATMs at Halkali station.

Coming from Bucharest, a seats-only train leaves Bucharest at 12:55 for the scenic trundle across Bulgaria to Dimitrovgrad where you change into the above-mentioned Bosfor Express to Istanbul Halkali.  You can approach the sleeper or couchette attendant and ask to pay the supplement for a berth in the sleeper or couchette car, there are almost always beds available.  In the winter period the Bucharest-Dimitrovgrad is a series of connecting trains rather than just one, with changes at Ruse and Gorna Orjohavitsa.  A direct Bucharest-Istanbul Halkali train with sleepers & couchettes is expected to be reinstated in June.

  Westbound from Istanbul...

First make your way from downtown Istanbul to Halkali, a suburban station some 25km west of Istanbul Sirkeci.  You can take a taxi or use the regular local bus service BN1, the bus takes 60-90 minutes depending on traffic.  Take supplies with you as there are few facilities at Halkali.

Starting 20 February 2017 the Bosfor Express leaves Istanbul Halkali at 22:40 every night and arrives next morning at Dimitrovgrad at 05:04 and Sofia central station at 08:30.  It has safe & comfortable sleeping-car and couchettes.

For Bucharest, change at Dimitrovgrad and take a train (in winter, in fact a series of trains) across Bulgaria to Veliko Tarnovo & Bucharest arriving Bucharest Nord at 18:58.

  Return of sleepers & couchettes Bucharest-Istanbul in June?  Bulgarian Railways have said that sleepers & couchettes will resume between Bucharest & Halkali between June & September 2017.  I'll post more here when confirmed...

Istanbul Sirkeci station is now closed...

Sadly, 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.

Back to top


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?

  Can I stop off on the way?

 

  How to book using an InterRail pass

  Custom-made travel arrangements

London ► Istanbul

Istanbul ► London

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

What are the trains like? 

London to Paris by Eurostar:  See the Eurostar page.

Paris to Munich by TGV Duplex...  Watch the 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.  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.  Book an upstairs seat for the best views...

 

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 Budapest by sleeper train Kalman Imre...  Watch the video

Cosy & inviting, this is the modern air-conditioned Hungarian sleeping-car of the Kalman Imre at Munich Hauptbahnhof...  The sleeping-car 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.  The fare includes a light breakfast of coffee, juice & croissantWatch the Hungarian sleeping-car video.  There's time for dinner in Munich before boarding, for a Bavarian meal & a beer or two try www.augustinerkeller.de at Arnulfstrasse 52, to the north side of Munich Hbf.

The sleeper train to Budapest   Sleeper compartment in the Hungarian sleeping-car from Munich to Budapest

The Kalman Imre, about to leave Munich...

 

2-berth sleeper...

6-berth couchettes on train to Budapest   4-berth couchettes on train to Budapest   Couchette car on the Kalman Imre to Budapest

6-berth couchettes...

 

4-berth couchettes

 

Hungarian couchette car at Munich

Good morning Budapest!

City of Budapest & the Danube

Budapest to Bucharest by 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.

Dimitrovgrad to Istanbul on the Sofia-Istanbul Express...

Daytime trains will get you from Bucharest to Dimitrovgrad, but from February 2017 you can travel between Dimitrovgrad and Istanbul Halkali in the comfort of a sleeper or couchette on the new Sofia-Istanbul Express.  A direct sleeping-car and couchette car, probably Romanian, are expected to run between Bucharest and Istanbul between June and September.

 

1 & 2 bed sleepers:  Above right, an air-conditioned Turkish TVS2000 sleeping-car as used on the Sofia-Istanbul Express.  Comfortable, carpeted, with compartments bookable as singles or doubles.  Above right, a sleeper compartment shown with beds folded away and seats folded out.

 

4-berth couchettes:  The Istanbul-Sofia Express usually has two couchette cars.  One is an air-conditioned Turkish TVS2000 couchette car with comfortable 4-berth compartments, shown above left with beds folded away and seats folded out.  Exterior shots courtesy of Paul Bateman

BDZ Bulgarian couchette car on Istanbul-Sofia Express  

6-berth couchettes:  The other couchette car is an older non-air-con Bulgarian couchette car (above left) with 6-berth compartments (above right).  Old-school comfort with opening windows.  Courtesy Philip Dyer-Perry & Ken.

Sunrise in Turkey, approcahing Cerkezkoy

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

The transfer bus from Halkali outside Istanbul Sirkeci station.

The free transfer bus from Halkali to Istanbul, arrived outside Istanbul Sirkeci station.  Journey time about 50 minutes.  Courtesy of Philip Dyer-Perry.

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 28 years old, the cheapest option is to use an InterRail pass as shown here.  If you are over 28, 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 well 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...

 Very 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 - all ages...

 assuming cheapest fares, bought from cheapest source...

 £241 one-way

 £450 return

 Using an InterRail pass - Adult...

 5-travel-days-in-15-days InterRail for one-way,

 10-travel-days-in-1-month InterRail for a return,

 plus couchette & sleeper supplements:

 £302 one-way

 £475 return

 Using an InterRail pass - Youth under 28...

 5-travel-days-in-15-days InterRail for one-way,

 10-travel-days-in-1 month InterRail for a return,

 plus couchette & sleeper supplements:

 £245 one-way

 £405 return

 Using an InterRail pass - Senior over 60...

 5-travel-days-in-15-days InterRail for one-way,

 10-travel-days-in-1-month InterRail for a return,

 plus couchette & sleeper supplements:

 £278 one-way

 £445 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 or couchette for each leg of the journey.  Fares for the Eurostar, TGV, Kalman Imre & 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 £44 one-way, £58 return 2nd class.

 From £112 one-way, £168 return 1st class.  Child & youth fares 

 

 2. Paris to Munich

     by TGV...

 From €39 each way in 2nd class

 From €69 each way in 1st class.

 The price varies, book in advance to get these fares, full-price €139.

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

 

 3. Munich to Budapest

 on the Kalman Imre

In a  

seat:

In a couchette

In the sleeping-car

6-berth

4-berth

3-berth

2-berth

single

 Saver fare one-way:

€29

€49

€59

€69

€79

€139

 Saver fare return:

€58

€98

€118

€138

€158

€278

 Flex price one-way:

€95

€109

€115

€120

€139 

€209

Saver fare = advance-purchase fare, price varies, no refunds, no changes to travel plans. 

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

 Or 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...

 189 Lei (€42) 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...

 €37.20 for a 2nd class ticket plus one of these couchette or sleeper supplements:

 €14 supplement for a couchette in a 6-berth compartment

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

 Travel in a single-berth sleeper requires €55.80 1st class ticket + €77 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 28 years old, and although it usually costs more than point-to-point tickets if you're over 28, the extra flexibility is often worth it, especially for a return trip.  But after buying the pass, you still need to pay for a Eurostar passholder fare and sleeper or couchette reservations, so here's the breakdown:

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

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.

  • When does booking open?  Booking usually opens 92 days ahead for most trains, but 120 days ahead for Eurostar and 60 days ahead for Budapest-Bucharest.  However, I strongly recommend waiting until 92 days so you can buy most tickets together, doing a dry run on all websites first to check times and prices before booking for real.  Hotel accommodation can be booked before booking your trains risk-free if you use a site such as www.booking.com with free cancellation.  Before you start, I recommend making a list of the specific trains and dates you want to book, as each train is effectively a separate booking.

  • Step 1, book the Eurostar:  Go to www.eurostar.com to book your Eurostar tickets between London and Paris.  Use the Eurostar times above as a guide, but by all means book an earlier Eurostar outwards, or a later Eurostar on the way back, if this has cheaper seats available of if you'd like to stop off in Paris for a while.  You print out your own ticket. 

    If you don't live in London, www.eurostar.com, allows you to buy cheap 'through tickets' from 130 other UK towns and cities to Paris.  If your town isn't listed, you can buy a separate ticket up to London to connect with Eurostar, see the advice on buying connecting tickets from other UK towns & cities here

    If you want to choose your exact seat on Eurostar, book & pay at www.eurostar.com then use the 'Manage a booking' link on their home page which allows you to choose an exact seat from a numbered seating plan.  See tips on choosing the best seats on Eurostar.

  • Step 2, book the Paris to Munich TGV:  You can do this at either www.loco2.com or the German Railways website www.bahn.de.  By all means check prices at both sites.  If you use bahn.de, I strongly recommend registering when prompted, so you can easily retrieve your bookings and re-print tickets at any time.

  • Step 3, book the Munich to Budapest sleeper train:  Use www.bahn.de for this.  Use the journey planner to bring up the Munich-Budapest sleeper train marked EN with 0 changes, and buy the ticket.  It will show if any cheap special fares are available in each type of couchette and sleeper.  You simply print out your own online ticket.

    If you want to take the Railjet rather than the sleeper between Munich and Budapest, you also book this at www.bahn.de.  If you want to stop off in Vienna for (say) a day, simply click 'add stopovers and and enter 'Vienna' in the via box and '24:00' in the 'hh:mm stopover' box.  It'll then book you a 24 hour stopover in Vienna, but still let you buy a cheap €39 fare from Munich to Budapest if it's available.  You can even spend a few hours in Salzburg on the way as well, by entering 'Salzburg' in the via box and (say) '04:00' in the stopover box, then clicking 'add another stopover' and entering 'Vienna' & '24:00'.  All still for €39!

Option 2, buy from Traintours4u 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@traintours4u.co.uk.  Traintours4u 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.

  • Traintours4u (formerly 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.  Traintours4u 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 storyBuy 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:

  • Traintours4u (www.traintours4u.co.uk) on 020 7619 1080 (please quote 'Seat61', lines open 08:30-18:00 Monday-Friday, 09:00-13:00 Saturdays).  From overseas call +44 20 7619 1080, tickets can be sent outside the UK if necessary.  It may be better to edit this special booking form and email it to sales@traintours4u.co.uk.  Seat61 gets some commission if you buy using this form.  Traintours4u (formerly European Rail) is an experienced London-based booking agency 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.

  • 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 line on 08718 80 80 66, lines open 09:00-20:00 Monday-Friday, 09:00-13:00 Saturday & Sunday.  They charge the same prices as Traintours4u but 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 Traintours4u can be worth the extra few pounds.

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 TGV, using either www.loco2.com or www.bahn.de (check prices on both!) as there are also cheap deals if you pre-book.  The Munich-Budapest Railjet 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, custom-made train travel & hotel arrangements, the hassle-free option...

  • If putting the trip together yourself seems too daunting (even with advice I provide!), one experienced company offers a compete custom-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.  Railbookers get very positive reviews, and they look after their customers very well.  One or two other companies offer this service too, see the details here.

      UK call 020 3327 0761, www.railbookers.co.uk

      US call free 1-888-829-4775, see website.

      Canada call free 1-855-882-2910, see website.

      Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, see website

      New Zealand call toll-free 0800 000 554 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, say).  Here's how:

  • Go to Istanbul's Sirkeci station, ticket window 4.

  • They can sell open travel tickets to destinations as far away as Budapest (189 Turkish lira, £82 or €94), Vienna (245 lira, about £105 or €120) or Munich (392 lira), valid 2 months and allowing unlimited stopovers at places on the way within that period.  You can find the cost of tickets from Istanbul to these and other cities at www.tcddtasimacilik.gov.tr (click 'English' top right, click 'PASSENGER' then 'Trains' then 'International trains').  However, they can't sell Eurostar tickets or tickets for any other western European train with reservation-based ticketing.  They can only make reservations on direct trains leaving Istanbul as far as Bucharest, Sofia or Belgrade, because they have no reservation computer linked to the reservation system for the rest of Europe, so can't book any trains beyond Belgrade or Bucharest.

  • So buy an open ticket from Istanbul to Budapest or Vienna, and ask for a sleeper reservation from Istanbul to Bucharest.  One report suggests they are only willing to sell tickets as far as Bucharest, so be polite but persistent, feedback would be appreciated.

  • Then go to an internet cafe, check they have a printer, and book the sleeper train from Budapest to Munich and the TGV from Munich to Paris online at www.bahn.de, with cheap fares available if you book in advance.  You can buy a Eurostar ticket from Paris or Brussels to London online at www.eurostar.com.  If you simply turn up in Budapest or Munich, you can of course book these trains on the day if there are spaces available (and there usually will be), but you'll pay the full fare, no cheap deals available at the station on the day of travel.  Eurostar can also be booked on the day at the station in Paris or Brussels if all else fails, but you'll pay a much more expensive price than if you-pre book in advance online.

  • On arrival in Bucharest, approach the sleeper attendant on the Bucharest-Budapest train and ask if he has any spare berths.  You'll already have the open travel ticket, so you'll just need to pay him the sleeper supplement, about €35-€45.

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.

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Turkish visas...

 

E-visa for Turkey

 

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

  • UK citizens don't need a visa for Hungary, Romania, Serbia or Bulgaria, but they need a tourist visa to enter Turkey. 

  • You can buy your Turkish visa in advance online, or buy it at the Turkish border at Kapikule.  Either way, Kapikule is one of the only borders in Europe where passport control is not done on board the train, you have to get off and go to the office marked 'Passports' on the platform.  The eastbound train from Sofia & Bucharest arrives at Kapikule at around 01:50 and leaves again at 02:56, so there's plenty of time for this, but don't worry, you'll soon be back in bed.

  • Option 1, buy a Turkish e-visa in advance online - the recommended option.  Turkey introduced an e-visa system in April 2013, and getting an e-visa is likely to become compulsory at some point in the future.  If you plan to visit Turkey you can easily buy an e-visa online and print it out for $20 at www.evisa.gov.tr.  It's very simple to use, you can print your e-visa within seconds of applying.  You'll still need get get off the train at Kapikule (remembering not to leave any valuables in your compartment, but you can leave your larger bags), and follow everyone into the office marked 'Passports' on the platform to have your passport stamped.  Then you can get back on the train.  Your passport will then be checked again on board the train before the train leaves.  If you have an e-visa, there's no need to go to the visa office first to buy a visa as you used to.

  • Option 2, buy a visa at the Turkish border:  Until further notice, it's still possible to buy a visa at the border if you prefer, although please check as the Turkish government plans to phase out this option and make e-visas compulsory at some point in the future.  You must take cash in pounds sterling or euros with you for the visa, in 2015 the visa costs £20, payable in pounds sterling or euros (Scottish banknotes not accepted).  On arrival at Kapikule, leave the train with everyone else (remembering not to leave any valuables in your compartment), but don't blindly follow the other passengers into the passport office, because you will be turned away when you get to the front of the queue if you don't have a visa.  You must buy your tourist visa first, by going to the visa office in the set-back building block towards the front of the train, marked 'Vezne Vissa' with a Turkish flag in the window, then go to the office marked 'Passports' (where by this time the queues should be very short or gone) to get your visa checked and passport stamped.  The train stops at Kapikule for plenty of time for this to be done, so don't worry, it doesn't leave again until 02:56.  Your passport will then be checked again on board the train before the train leaves.

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London to Istanbul via Sofia

The more traditional route...

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 Sofia & Istanbul (and not even that, just seats, at times when the bustitution starts at Kapikule, please read the update box).  Although as you can see from the photos below and the video, the couchette cars are comfortable enough.  For variations to this route via Zurich or via Vienna & Budapest, see here.

>>>>>>  IMPORTANT UPDATE 2017  <<<<<<<

Serbian Railways have just announced that from 1 February until 1 June and from 18 September until 2018, the Belgrade-Sofia train is in effect cancelled in both directions due to lack of money to hire diesel locomotives from its own freight subsidiary, 'go figure' as they say. 

The train will in fact run Belgrade-Nis and Dimitrovgrad-Sofia, but will not run between Nis and Dimitrovgrad.  However, in the period when it's cancelled, it is still possible to take the 06:20 from Belgrade main station, change at Nis (arrive 10:38, depart 11:15) and Dimitrovgrad (arrive 14:47, depart 17:18) to arrive at Sofia at 20:10.  In the other direction, you leave Sofia at 09:40, change at Dimitrovgrad (arrive 10:30, depart 11:23) & Nis (arrive 14:39 depart 16:57) and arrive Belgrade Centar (note not main station!) 20:35.  Obviously, check that your connections in Belgrade still work with this revised schedule.

London ► Istanbul

  • Day 1:  Travel from London to Paris by Eurostar, leaving London St Pancras at 10:24 on Mondays-Fridays & Sundays arriving Paris Gare du Nord at 13:47, or at 09:24 on Saturdays arriving Paris Gare du Nord at 12:47.  By all means take an earlier Eurostar if you'd like more time in Paris or if it has cheaper seats available.  In Paris it's a 10 minute walk from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de l'Est.

  • Day 1:  Travel from Paris to Munich by 200mph double-decker TGV Duplex, leaving Paris Gare de l'Est at 15:55 Mondays-Fridays & Sundays arriving Munich Hbf at 21:36.  On Saturdays you leave Paris Gare de l'Est at 13:55, change at Stuttgart and arrive Munich Hbf at 19:27.

    Travel tip:  In Munich, there's time for dinner while waiting for the sleeper to Budapest, for local Bavarian food and a beer or two try www.augustinerkeller.de at Arnulfstrasse 52, to the north side of Munich Hbf.

  • Day 1:  Travel from Munich to Zagreb overnight on the sleeper train Lisinski, leaving Munich Hauptbahnhof at 23:35 and arriving at Zagreb at 08:36 next morning (day 2).  The Lisinski has a smart modern air-conditioned Croatian sleeping-car (1, 2 & 3 bed compartments with washbasin), a smart modern Croatian couchette car (4 & 6 berth compartments) and ordinary seats.  Watch the Croatian sleeper video.

  • Day 2:  Travel from Zagreb to Belgrade by air-conditioned EuroCity train, leaving Zagreb at 11:07 and arriving Belgrade station at 17:37.  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.

  • Stay the night in Belgrade.  I highly recommend the famous Hotel Moskva, 10 minutes walk from the station, at the start of Belgrade's main pedestrianised street.  You have an evening to explore Belgrade & have dinner - see map of Belgrade showing station.  Make sure you wander through Belgrade to the fortress at sunset, overlooking the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers.

  • Day 3, travel from Belgrade to Sofia on the Balkan.  From 1 June to 17 September, you leave Belgrade station at 09:25 and arriving Sofia central station at 20:10.  This train is 2nd class only, and has no catering car so bring your own picnic and supplies of wine or beer...

    See the update above.  Until 31 May and from 18 September onwards, you travel from Belgrade to Sofia like this:  Take the 06:20 from Belgrade station, changing at Nis (arrive 10:38, depart 11:15) and Dimitrovgrad (arrive 14:47, depart 17:18) to arrive at Sofia at 20:10.

    From 4 June to 17 September 2017 a direct couchette car from Belgrade to Istanbul Halkali will run in this train, leaving Belgrade at 09:25, it is detached from the Balkan in Sofia and attached to the Sofia-Istanbul Express, arriving Istanbul Halkali at 07:00 the following morning.  The couchette car is an air-conditioned Turkish Railways TVS2000 car with comfortable modern 4-berth compartments.  Recommended!

  • Stay the night in Sofia.  In theory, you arrive in Sofia at 20:10 and can leave on the night train to Istanbul at 21:00, but this is not always a robust connection in this part of the world so it's better to build in a 24h stopover in Sofia.  For a good inexpensive hotel 10 minutes walk from the station, I suggest the Hotel Favorit, www.hotelfavorit.bg.  Spend the next day exploring Sofia.  Obviously 4 June to 17 September when the direct Belgrade-Istanbul couchette car operates you won't need to plan any overnight stop unless you want to.

  • Day 4, travel from Sofia to Istanbul on the Sofia-Istanbul Express, leaving Sofia central station at 21:00 and arriving Istanbul Halkali station at 06:49 next morning (day 5 from London).

    The Sofia-Istanbul Express has two safe & comfortable Turkish air-conditioned sleeping-cars, one Turkish air-conditioned 4-berth couchette car and a non-air-con Bulgarian 6-berth couchette car.  You cannot reserve this train from outside Bulgaria, but there are always places available on the day if you buy tickets at Sofia station.  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 02:00 and depart at 02:55.  If you get any interior or exterior photos of this train, please let me know!

    Halkali station is a suburban station some 25km west of Istanbul Sirkeci station, the line from Halkali into Istanbul is still being reconstructed in connection with the Marmaray Project.  TCDD (Turkish Railways) run a free transfer bus from Halkali to Istanbul Sirkeci in connection with this train, leaving Halkali at 07:30 and arriving Istanbul Sirkeci around 08:30.  Rail tickets and passes are valid on this bus.  Alternatively, you can make your own way by taxi or frequent local bus (bus number BN1) from Halkali to downtown Istanbul.  Allow at least an hour for this.  Make sure you bring some Turkish lira with you for the bus or taxi as there is no ATM in or near Halkali station.  A taxi will cost around 60 YTL (€16).

Istanbul ► London

  • Day 1:  Travel from Istanbul to Sofia on the Istanbul-Sofia Express, leaving Istanbul Halkali station at 22:40 every day and arriving at Sofia central station at 08:45 next morning (day 2).  The Istanbul-Sofia Express has two safe & comfortable Turkish air-conditioned sleeping-cars, one Turkish air-con 4-berth couchette car and a Bulgarian 6-berth couchette car.  Be prepared to get off the train at the Turkish border at Kapikule late at night to have your passport stamped, it arrives Kapikule at 02:52 and leaves again at 03:20.  If you get any interior or exterior photos of this train, please let me know!

    Halkali is a suburban station some 25km west of Istanbul Sirkeci station, as the line from Istanbul Sirkeci to Halkali is still being reconstructed in connection with the Marmaray Project.  TCDD (Turkish Railways) run a transfer bus from Istanbul Sirkeci to Halkali in connection with this train, leaving Istanbul Sirkeci station at 21:30 and arriving Halkali around 22:25.  Rail tickets and passes are valid on this bus.  Alternatively you can make your own way from central Istanbul to Halkali by taxi or frequent local bus.  Bus BN1 from near Sirkeci station around 90 minutes depending on traffic.  A taxi should take an hour & cost around 60 YTL (€16).  Buy food & drink in Istanbul as there are few or no facilities at Halkali.

    The situation changes occasionally, so feedback would be appreciated!  A same-day connection with the 09:40 to Belgrade is possible, but there may be delays so I'd build in a stopover at Sofia, as shown below.

    From 2 June to 15 September 2017 a direct couchette car will run from Istanbul Halkali to Belgrade in this train, leaving Istanbul Halkali at 22:40 attached to the Istanbul-Sofia Express, at Sofia it is then attached to the Balkan, arriving Belgrade at 18:14 the following day.  The couchette car is an air-conditioned Turkish Railways TVS2000 car with comfortable modern 4-berth compartments.  Recommended!

  • Day 2:  Spend the day exploring Sofia and stay there overnight.  Try the Hotel Favorit, 10 minutes walk from Sofia station, www.hotelfavorit.bg.  A same-day connection is theoretically possible, arriving from Istanbul at 09:10 and departing for Belgrade at 09:40, but this is not a robust connection so it's better to build in a 24h stopover in Sofia.  Obviously from 2 June to 15 September when the direct Istanbul-Belgrad couchette car operates you won't need to plan any overnight stop in Sofia unless you want to.

  • Day 3:  Travel from Sofia to Belgrade on the Balkan.  From 1 June to 17 September, you leave Sofia central station at 09:40 and arriving Belgrade station at 18:14.  This train is 2nd class only and has no catering car so bring your own picnic and supplies of wine or beer...

    See the update above.  Until 31 May and from 18 September onwards, you travel from Sofia to Belgrade like this:  Take the 09:40 from Sofia, change at Dimitrovgrad (arrive 10:30, depart 11:23) & Nis (arrive 14:39 depart 16:57) and arrive Belgrade Centar (note not main station!) 20:35.

  • Stay the night in Belgrade.  I highly recommend the famous Hotel Moskva, 10 minutes walk from the station, at the start of Belgrade's main pedestrianised street, great for an evening wander.

  • Day 4:  Travel from Belgrade to Zagreb by air-conditioned EuroCity train, leaving Belgrade station at 10:55 and arriving Zagreb at 18:13.  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 some beer or wine.  You've now time for dinner in Zagreb.

  • Day 4:  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 smart modern air-conditioned Croatian sleeping-car (1, 2 & 3 bed compartments with washbasin), a smart modern Croatian couchette car (4 & 6 berth compartments) and ordinary seats.  Watch the Croatian sleeper video.

  • Day 5:  Travel from Munich to Stuttgart, leaving Munich Hbf at 07:46 on Mondays-Saturdays by InterCity train arriving Stuttgart at 09:59, or at 07:27 on Sundays by ICE train arriving Stuttgart at 09:45.

  • Day 4:  Travel from Stuttgart to Paris by 200 mph double-decker TGV Duplex, leaving Stuttgart at 10:54 and arriving Paris Gare de l'Est at 14:19.   In Paris, 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 16:13, arriving London St Pancras at 17:39.

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 4 nights as shown above you get an evening in Belgrade and a whole day 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 28 years old, the cheapest option is to use an InterRail pass as shown here.  If you are over 28, 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 £44 one-way, £58 return 2nd class.

 From £112 one-way, £168 return 1st class.  Child & youth 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.

 Flex 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

 Saver fare one-way, from:

€29

€49

€59

€69

€79

€139

 Saver fare return, from:

€58

€98

€118

€138

€158

€278

Saver 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 day train...

 Bought in the UK, £44 each way.

 Bought at the station in Belgrade, around €30.

 

 5. Sofia to Istanbul

     by overnight train...

 Eastbound, bought locally at the ticket office at Sofia station:

 €18 for the ticket +

 €10 for a couchette or €15 for a bed in a 2-bed sleeper

 Westbound, bought locally at Istanbul Sirkeci ticket office:

 €18.48 for the ticket + one of these supplements:

 €9.40 for a couchette in 6-berth.

 €10 for a couchette in 4-berth.

 €34 for a bed in a 2-bed sleeper.

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-15-days flexi InterRail pass gives a 5 days of unlimited 2nd class train travel in all the countries you pass through within an overall period of 15 days, which is plenty to make the journey, even with a day or two in Vienna and Budapest and Bucharest if you want.  It costs £179 if you are under 28 years old, £235 if you're 28-59, or £210 if you're over 60.  Children 4-11 inclusive get a free £0 InterRail pass if accompanied by an adult.

    For a return trip to Istanbul, a 10-days-in-1-month pass costs £265 if you are aged under 28, £332 if you're aged 28-59, or £299 if you're over 60.  Children 4-11 inclusive get a free pass if accompanied by an adult.  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 1 month, which is enough to make the outward and return journeys, even with a day or two in Vienna and Budapest or Bucharest if you want, with over two weeks in Turkey, as long as you complete both your outward and return journeys within the 1 month period covered by the pass.

    It's not usually worth bothering with a 1st class pass, as only a 2nd class pass is needed for most sleepers & couchettes on the Munich-Zagreb train, and the Balkan trains are often 2nd class only, so a 1st class pass would cost a lot more but only make any difference on the London-Paris-Munich sectors.

  • 2)  A Eurostar passholder fare from London to Paris:  InterRail passes now cover Eurostar as from January 2017, but you still need to pay the Eurostar passholder fare of €30 in standard class if you have a 2nd class pass or €38 in standard premier if you have a 1st class pass.  See the Eurostar page for full details of this passholder fare and how to buy it.

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

  • 4)  The Munich-Zagreb sleeper or couchette reservation:  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 & Belgrade-Sofia daytime trains, a seat reservation is optional.  No fee to pay for passholders, just show your pass.

  • 5)  The Sofia to Istanbul couchette reservation:  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.

  • More information about InterRail passes & how they work.

How to book, using an InterRail pass...

  • Step 1, plan your trip using the information above.  This method is a good way to plan this trip: How to plan an itinerary & budget

  • Step 2, buy your InterRail pass...  You can buy online from www.myinterrail.co.uk (UK residents only), uk.voyages-sncf.com (UK residents only) or www.interrail.eu (any European resident), I recommend comparing prices at each of these sites as sometimes one is slightly cheaper than the other.

  • Step 3, buy your Eurostar passholder fare as shown in the Eurostar passholder fare information section.

  • 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 & a 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. 

  • 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 UK Voyages-SNCF on 0844 848 4078;  www.traintours4u.co.uk on 020 7619 1083 (lines open 08:30-18:00 Mon-Fri, 09:00-13:00 Saturdays, £35 booking fee);  Or DB's UK telesales line 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).

  • 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 international ticket window 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 telesales line on 08718 80 80 66 (lines open 09:00-20:00 Mon-Fri, 09:00-13:00 Sat & Sun, no booking fee) or www.traintours4u.co.uk on 020 7619 1080 (lines open 08:30-18:00 Mon-Fri, 09:00-13:00 Saturdays, £35 booking fee).

    (4)  The Belgrade-Sofia train cannot be booked online, so either buy it at the station in Belgrade when you get there (there will always be places available) or buy it by phone as above, or perhaps arrange it via Belgrade's ex-Wasteels Mr Popovic.

    (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 international ticket window 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!

  • 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 train cannot be booked online, so either buy it at the station in Belgrade when you get there (there will always be places available) or buy it by phone as above, or perhaps arrange it via Belgrade's ex-Wasteels Mr Popovic.

    (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 international ticket windows at Sofia station when you get there, there are always plenty of free places - I had a 6-berth couchette to myself!

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

  • Simply edit this special booking form and email it to sales@traintours4u.co.uk. Seat61 gets some commission if you buy using this form. Traintours4u is an experienced London-based booking agency 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 page 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:

  • Traintours4u (www.traintours4u.co.uk) on 020 7619 1080, lines open 08:30-18:00 Monday-Friday, 09:00-13:00 Saturdays. From overseas call +44 20 7619 1080, tickets can be sent outside the UK if necessary.  Traintours4u (formerly European Rail) is an experienced London-based booking agency 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 line on 08718 80 80 66, lines open 09:00-20:00 Monday-Friday, 09:00-13:00 Saturday & Sunday. They (obviously) use the German Railways reservation system and charge the same prices as Traintours4u 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 Traintours4u can be worth the extra few pounds.

What's the journey like?

From London to Paris by Eurostar: See the Eurostar page for photos & information about Eurostar.

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

Sit back with a glass of red and enjoy the ride - book an upper deck seat for the best views.  The train is equipped with 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 & farmland at up to 200mph, past picturesque French villages of the Champagne region.  An hour or two later, 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 & 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 with Nice, Marseille, Munich, Barcelona & Switzerland...

 

2nd class table for 4 on TGV Duplex upper deck...

First class on board a TGV Duplex   An TGV Duplex 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 by 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.

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.  Above left, the sleeper arrived at Zagreb.

4-berth couchettes on Munich to Zagreb train   Couchette car on Munich to Zagreb train, at Munich

The couchette car on the Lisinski has modern air-conditioned 6-berth and 4-berth compartments.  Above right, the westbound train is seen boarding at Zagreb. 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 on the Balkan...

An express in name only, perhaps!  This train will have only one or two carriages, it's be old but comfortable enough.  Power sockets, WiFi or even catering?  Better forget those...  Bring your own picnic and bottles of beer, this is an old-school ride through the Balkans on the route of the old Orient Express.  The photos below in fact show the morning Belgrade to Skopje train, the Belgrade to Sofia train will be similar, if you get any photos of this particular train or scenery please let me know!

Morning train from Belgrade to Skopje   1st class compartment on day train from Belgrade to Skopje

The morning train from Belgrade to Skopje...

 

Old but comfortable compartment.

Sofia to Istanbul by Sofia-Istanbul Express...

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...

 

An air-conditioned Turkish TVS2000 sleeping-car as used on the Sofia-Istanbul Express.  Comfortable, carpeted, with compartments bookable as singles or doubles.  Above right, a sleeper compartment shown with beds folded away and seats folded out.

 

The Sofia-Istanbul Express usually has two couchette cars.  One is an air-conditioned Turkish TVS2000 couchette car with comfortable 4-berth compartments, shown above left with beds folded away and seats folded out.  The other couchette car is an older non-air-con Bulgarian couchette car with 6-berth compartments.  Exterior shots courtesy of Paul Bateman.

BDZ Bulgarian couchette car on Istanbul-Sofia Express  

6-berth couchettes:  The other couchette car is an older non-air-con Bulgarian couchette car (above left) with 6-berth compartments (above right).  On the plus side, it's old-school comfort with opening windows.  Courtesy Philip Dyer-Perry & Ken.

The transfer bus from Halkali outside Istanbul Sirkeci station.

The free transfer bus from Halkali to Istanbul, arrived outside Istanbul Sirkeci station.  Courtesy of Philip Dyer-Perry.

 


Video guideLondon to Istanbul by train...

This video takes you from London to Istanbul by train via Zurich, Zagreb, Belgrade & Sofia.  Filmed in 2013, at a time when the train temporarily only ran from Sofia to Cerkezkφy for a bus transfer to Istanbul.  It also features the now-discontinued Belgrade-Sofia overnight couchette train - you now do this run by day.  So a lot has changed, but it'll get you in the mood...

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Possible alternative routes...

Variation via 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 Abellio Greater Anglia station) to Amsterdam by Dutch Flyer train+ferry service as shown on the London to the Netherlands page.  Then book daytime trains from Hoek van Holland or Amsterdam to Munich from €39 using www.bahn.de

  • In Munich you can pick up the route via Bucharest or the route via Zagreb, Belgrade & Sofia as shown above.

Variation via Brussels & Cologne...

  • If you prefer, you can travel London-Brussels-Cologne-Vienna-Budapest instead of London-Paris-Munich-Budapest, it makes relatively little difference to the time or cost, see the London to Hungary page for details of train times, fares & how to buy tickets.  You take the 12:58 Eurostar from London to Brussels, a connecting high-speed Thalys train to Cologne, the Austrian Nightjet sleeper train from Cologne to Vienna and a connecting Railjet train to Budapest.  From Budapest onwards you join the route via Bucharest shown above, or indeed you could travel from Budapest to Belgrade and travel via Sofia.

Variation via Zurich...

  • You can travel from London to Zurich by Eurostar & TGV via Paris.  There's then a direct Croatian sleeping-car leaving Zurich around 20:40 and arriving Zagreb around 10:30 next morning, picking up the same late morning train to Belgrade shown in the route via Belgrade & Sofia above.  The disadvantage is that (a) it takes an hour longer, as you need to leave Paris at 14:23 to Zurich instead of 15:55 to Munich, you arrive Zagreb two hours later so don't get a chance to have breakfast there, and (b) it usually costs more, as cheap fares are often available for the Munich-Zagreb sleeper but very few if any for the Zurich-Zagreb sleeper.  However, you get into your cosy sleeper at Zurich at 20:40 instead of having to stay up till 23:35 at Munich and you see great scenery in Austria which you pass through at night on the Munich-Zagreb run.

Variation via Budapest - Belgrade...

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

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London to Turkey by Italian ferry

  • 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 seems to have run since 2011.

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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!

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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 & TrainTours4U, 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 TrainTours4U.

Railbookers London to Istanbul packages...

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

  • 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. 

  •   UK call 020 3327 0761, www.railbookers.co.uk

      US call free 1-888-829-4775, see website.

      Canada call free 1-855-882-2910, see website.

      Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, see website

      New Zealand call toll-free 0800 000 554 or see website.

  • 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.

  • 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.

TrainTours4U London-Istanbul packages...

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

  • Available from TrainTours4U, call 020 7619 1080 (or email sales@traintours4u.co.uk) 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 Nightjet 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 Nightjet are possible at extra cost. See www.traintours4u.co.uk.

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

  • Available from TrainTours4U on 020 7619 1080 (or email sales@traintours4u.co.uk) 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 en route from Munich to Paris, and Eurostar back to London.  Upgrades to first class are possible at extra cost.  See www.etrains4u.co.uk.

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

  • Available from TrainTours4U, call 020 7619 1080 (or email sales@traintours4u.co.uk) 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.  See www.etrains4u.co.uk.

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

  • Available from TrainTours4U, call 020 7619 1080 (or email sales@traintours4u.co.uk) 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.  See www.etrains4u.co.uk.

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London to Istanbul by cruise train

Venice Simplon Orient Express:  www.belmond.com/venice-simplon-orient-express

  • 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 Seat 61 Venice Simplon Orient Express page.  To check prices & to book online, go to www.belmond.com/venice-simplon-orient-express.

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Train travel within Turkey

See the Train travel in Turkey page

  • 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 Train travel in Turkey page.

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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 either www.stanfords.co.uk or 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.  Buy it online for £14.50 + postage worldwide (UK addresses £2.80) at www.stanfords.co.uk/Continents/Europe-A-Travellers-Railway-Map_9789077899090.htm or (in the Netherlands) for €13 + €5.50 postage from www.treinreiswinkel.nl.

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Guidebooks

To 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.

Click the images to buy online at Amazon.co.uk

Lonely Planet Turkey - click to buy online   Lonely Planet Middle East - click to buy online

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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 has been named as the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site in the World Travel Awards and I highly recommend it, both to find hotels in even the smallest places and to check that another retailer isn't selling the same hotel at a cheaper rate.

►► My recommended booking site:  www.booking.com

www.booking.com is my favourite hotel booking site, and unless HotelsCombined throws up major price differences I prefer doing my bookings 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 great feature I use all the time when putting a trip together.

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.hostelworld.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)

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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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