The Dogu Express to Kars on the Euphrates river

En route from Istanbul to eastern Turkey by train, to cross into the Caucasus...  Photo courtesy of Conor Meleady

The Caucasus by train?

You can travel from western Europe to Georgia, Armenia or Azerbaijan, and once there you can use trains to travel safely and comfortably between these countries.

small bullet point  Western Europe to Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan

small bullet point  Istanbul to Tbilisi by train & bus

small bullet point  Tbilisi to Yerevan by train

small bullet point  Tbilisi to Baku by train

On other pages...

small bullet point  Train travel in Turkey

small bullet point  Train travel in Russia

If you have more information or photos that would be useful for this page, please e-mail me!


large bullet pointUseful country information

Train operators:

 

Georgia: www.railway.ge/?web=0&lang=eng.

Armeniawww.ukzhd.am

Azerbaijan: https://ady.az

Interactive map of rail routes in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan.

 

Time:

 

Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan:  GMT+4 all year, no daylight saving time.

Currency:

 

£1 = 3.4 Lari (Georgia), 630 Dram (Armenia), 2.2 Manat (Azerbaijan) 

€1 = 3.0 Lari (Georgia), 550 Dram (Armenia), 2.0 Manat (Azerbaijan)     Currency converter

Visas:

 

Georgia:  No visa required for UK, US, Canadian and most EU citizens. 

Armenia: No visa required for UK & EU citizens.

Azerbaijan:  Visa usually required, see evisa.gov.az/en or www.visaforazerbaijan.org.uk.

Page last updated:

 

17 August 2022


large bullet pointLondon to the Caucasus by train

Western Europe to Georgia, Armenia or Azerbaijan...

This page explains how to travel overland by train from London or anywhere in western Europe to Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus.  It also covers train travel between Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and travel by train from Istanbul and Ankara in Turkey to these countries.  For overland travel from London or western Europe to the Caucasus, you have three basic options:

Option 1, via Turkey...

Option 2, via Black Sea ferry from Odessa...

Option 3, via Russia...

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large bullet pointIstanbul to Tbilisi

It's easy, cheap and comfortable, not to mention very scenic, to take a sleeper train right across Turkey from Istanbul or Ankara to Erzurum or Kars, then transfer by bus to the Georgian border at Sarp/Batumi for an onward train to Tbilisi.  Although the border between Turkey and Armenia is closed, you can easily travel from Istanbul to Tbilisi, then take a train on to Yerevan in Armenia.  There's also a train from Tbilisi to Baku in Azerbaijan.

NEW DIRECT ANKARA-KARS-TBILISI-BAKU TRAIN:  A new railway has been built between Kars and Tbilisi, formally inaugurated way back in October 2017 . A new direct sleeper train should have started running once a week between Ankara, Tbilisi & Baku some time in 2020, but its launch has been postponed with no start date announced.  The train will have 4-berth economy sleepers, 4-berth comfort sleepers, 1 & 2 bed sleepers with en suite toilet & shower, and a restaurant car.  These cars have been built by Stadler in Switzerland and are now in Azerbaijan on test.  Fares & timetable will be posted here when known. Please don't email me to ask, there's still no sign of the train starting any time soon, as soon as I know anything I'll post it here.

Istanbul Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan

 Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia Istanbul

Taking the train from Istanbul & Ankara to Erzurum or Kars...

TVS2000 Sleeping-car corridor, Ankara-Kars, Izmir-Ankara night trains   TVS2000 sleeping-car in day mode, Istanbul-Ankara, Istanbul-Denizli, & Izmir-Ankara night trains.   Turkish sleeping-car compartment

On board the sleeper from Ankara eastwards.  This is a sleeper compartment with seats folded out and beds folded away...  Courtesy of Shigeki Murao.

Taking the train to eastern Turkey:  Dogu express to Kars along the Euphrates river   Taking the train to eastern Turkey:  The Dogu Express alongside the Euphrates river

Great scenery on the train to Kars:  Two views from the Dogu Express, alongside the Euphrates river between Sivan & Erzurum.  Away from road development, you'll see great scenery from the comfort of your train.  It's the  inexpensive & relaxed alternative to airport stress or a nightmare journey in a cramped bus.   Photos courtesy of Conor Meleady.

Scenery from the train to Kars   More scenery from the Dogu Express to Kars

More scenery from the Dogu Express...  Photos courtesy of Maximilian Meyer.

An omelette in the dining-car on the Dogu Express   The Dogu Express at a station in Eastern Turkey

An omelette and tea in the dining car...  Photos courtesy of Maximilian Meyer.

The Dogu Express in eastern Turkey

Breathtaking - the Dogu Express in eastern Turkey.  Courtesy of Matthew Woodward, read his blog about the journey here.

Taking the train from Batumi to Tbilisi...

Batumi Central railway station   Seating on the train to Tbilisi

Batumi's new (and largely deserted) central station.  Courtesy of Krzysztof Sokol.

 

In the train to Tbilisi...

Stadler Kiss electric train from Tbilisi to Batumi

The train between Batumi Central & Tbilisi, seen at Tbilisi main station.  These two daily trains in each direction are now smart double-deck Stadler Kiss electric trains like these, clean, modern and air-conditioned.  Courtesy of Peter Deegan.

Scenery from the Batumi-Tbilisi train

Scenery from the train from Batumi to Tbilisi.  Courtesy of Peter Deegan.

Travellers' reports...

Traveller Emily Shirley travelled to Tbilisi:  "There are several hotels in Erzurum. The posh Guzelyurt restaurant appears to be the only one serving wine and other alcoholic drinks. There is a blues night club down the hill serving beer which has live bands.  To get to the border with Georgia, you need to locate the office of Artvin bus company. They have buses every 3 hours or so to Hopa. The coaches are modern and comfortable with free drinking water distributed in small cartons and handwash liquid.  The stop for lunch/supper can be brief so be alert about grabbing your grub in the cafe a.s.a.p.  Coach departures are announced through a speaker in the tree.  The bus passes through a series of deep gorges where blasting is going on for the new railway to Baku.  Once you are dropped at a junction in Hopa, you need to find your way to the border, 15kms away.  Cadge a lift, take a taxi or if you have a folding bike with you: cycle there. It is completely flat along the shore of the Black Sea.  You will find a warm welcome to Georgia on the border if you are European or American. On the other side there are taxis and buses and ATMS to get you to Batumi about  23 kms away.  Few people speak English so knowledge of a Slav language can be helpful even though their own language is not Slav. Most people to admit to understanding Russian even though the Red Army has invaded South Ossetia and Abkhezia.  Georgian Railways run a puntual comfortable service from Batumi to Tbilisi. It is advisable to take this rather than the dangerous " Mashrutkas" minibuses often 40 years old with bald tyres. You are risking your life in such death traps.  From Batumi there is also a train to Yerevan, Armenia which stops at Tbilisi.  In typically glitzy Armenian style the curtains are gold satin.  Sleeper cabins are cheap, colourful and comfortable. Tbilisi station is modern with many shops and fast food restaurants.

Traveller Gregory Heilers travelled to Tbilisi:  "(1) From Erzurum, take the Artvin Express mini bus, which runs twice daily at 07:30 & 18:00 taking 5.5 hours from Gurcu Kapi district of Erzurum to Hopa (via Artvin, hence the name).  Fare 30 TL. (2) Travel from Hopa to Sarp by dolmus - you can get dropped off there which the driver did for me after the mini-bus attendant understood I was headed to Georgia (Gurcistan in Turkish).  Cost 3.5 TL.  (3) In Sarp, walk across the border- there was a line 2km long of vehicles waiting to cross that included the buses from Turkish cities to Batumi/Tbilisi and beyond... I was glad to have not taken a direct bus.  (4) Take a Georgian dolmus (marshutka) from the frontier to Batumi, cost 1 lari.  Pretty much the only direction you can go as I saw, so even if you can't understand the writing or language- may as well try.  (5) Travel from Batumi to Tbilisi train, fare 40 lari.  It departs 22:30 and arrives Tblisi 06:45."

If you have any more feedback on this or any other route, please e-mail me.

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large bullet pointTbilisi to Yerevan

Tbilisi ► Yerevan

Yerevan ► Tbilisi

The Tbilisi to Yerevan train in 2021

The sleeper train from Tbilisi in Georgia to Yerevan in Armenia, re-equipped in 2021.  Photo courtesy of Stefan Teubner.

2-berth sleeper on the Tbilisi to Yerevan train   2-berth sleeper on the Tbilisi to Yerevan train   2-berth sleeper on the Tbilisi to Yerevan train

2-berth Spalny Vagon (1st class) compartment on the Tbilisi-Yerevan train.  4-berth Kupé (2nd class) is identical, other than having two upper berths as well as the two lower.  Seats convert to berths at night, all necessary bedding is provided.  Larger photoLarger photo .Photos courtesy of Stefan Teubner.

Travellers' reports...

This Tbilisi to Yerevan report is from 2022:  "The carriage was very warm, too much so for me. It was -7 outside so I understand why they had it on maximum, but the windows don't open so it just became super stuffy.  I was impressed by how spotless and new it was (having previously travelled on the old train it's like a whole world of difference). Each compartment has four electrical outlets and they are very bright when all of the lights are turned on. Doors can be locked from the inside, but the key card system is not in use.  I was handed bedding about an hour into the journey, as before.  WiFi exists in theory, but does not work when you try to connect.  Border checks were fairly efficient.  Georgians first, who take your passport away; then Armenians - customs officers who are mostly concerned with smuggling and trafficking, then military-looking young men (purpose unclear), then border officers who come around with a little computer and stamp the passport there and then if you don't need a visa.  I was expecting to be asked about my trip to Azerbaijan but was not (I think this is because I tried my utmost to look like a dorky tourist) - they seem to do this usually. I'm British and that was my experience: I know they made it difficult for Turkish passengers a few doors down.  Finally, someone in nurse's attire came around and asked for my vaccination records, and she then didn't bother asking for my PCR test even though one is required (again probably better safe than sorry).  And about an hour after that we were on our way.  The landscape was really quite special. Even though it was the dead of night in the middle of winter, it was possible to see the valleys and old industrial towns glinting in the snow.  It was deeply special.  There's absolutely no better way to travel."

Traveller Stefan Teubner travelled Tbilisi to Yerevan in 2021, just after the train resumed, re-equipped with new cars:  "Georgian land borders reopened on 1 June 2021 after having been closed for more than 14 months. Therefore it was possible to relaunch the Armenian sleeper train Yerevan-Tbilsi-Batumi. The train is fully operational from 15 June 2021 and operates daily throughout the summer season (presumably till end of September). Fares have increased by about 20% to 25% largely due to the massive devaluation of the Georgian Lari. The current official fare in spalny (1st class 2-berth, SV) is GEL 150.65. Due to the current pandemic and travel restrictions in Georgia (PCR test upon entry + second PCR test on the third day of stay on the territory of Georgia + a strict nightly curfew and indoor/outdoor mask mandate in Georgia) the train is rather empty, so there's no need to waste money on pre-booking through a travel agency which charges an additional 30% to 40% on top of the official fare. Just go to the station and book your ticket a day or two in advance and there is space available. Note that for entering Armenia, only a simple PCR test is required, no nightly curfew is in place and masks do not need to be worn outside. Starting 1 July 2021 the mask mandate will be abolished completely and already now nobody cares about it. So if you want to experience 'normal life' go and visit Armenia! Now the most interesting part: The train has brand new Russian sleeper cars, built for South Caucasus Railways, part of a modernization program of Armenia's railroad network. As you can see the train is now very comfortable and luckily has nothing more to do with the old and worn-out Soviet cars which have been phased out. The carriages come with a pleasant air-conditioning system which also runs while the train stops at the border and toilets can be used all the time. Every compartment is equipped with 4 sockets. Even in platskartny (3rd class open-plan sleepers) sockets are provided at each bunk. In spalny (1st class 2-berth) every compartment can be locked with an individual key card."

If you have any more feedback on this or any other route, please e-mail me.

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large bullet pointTbilisi to Baku

Tbilisi ► Baku

Baku ► Tbilisi

Train from Tbilisi to Baku, arrived at Baku

The train from Tbilisi, arrived at Baku.  Photo courtesy of Holger Gester...

   

The Tbilisi to Baku train...  The train now has modernised air-conditioned sleeping-cars, all non smoking.  Above centre, the 2-berth Spalny Vagon even comes with a flat-screen TV.  Above right, 4-berth Kupé.  Photos courtesy of Mark Thalgott,

Travellers' reports...

Traveller Alistair Campbell reports from a Tbilisi to Baku train journey in 2017:  "We bought our tickets on the top floor of the Tbilisi railway station / shopping centre. International tickets are only sold from the left side windows and you need to get a numbered ticket which gets you into the queue. No queue when we were there but you still have to get a ticket and then get directed to a window. We wanted to travel in the 1st class sleeper at a cost of 84.86 laris each and the lady in the office understood this, even though she had little English. You can check that you have bought the right class as the ticket class is on the ticket she gives you. This shows CB(....) for 1st class (CB is Cyrillic for SV, short for "Spalny Vagon"). They only take cash, no cards. Platform entry is from the 1st floor of the shopping centre and the sign telling you which platform your train is on can be found over the ticket office on the top floor. There is also similar information on the platforms. The train was in the platform being prepared when we arrived an hour before departure at 19:30. We were allowed on about 30 minutes before departure. The compartment for two was clean, reasonably well lit and comfortable. We were given clean bedding as we left Tbilisi at no charge by the lady carriage manager, who spoke enough English for us to get by. She also provided us with some clean glasses so that we could drink the wine we had brought. There is no food or drink on the train but there was a constant supply of boiling water available from an urn at the end of the corridor. The manager did bring us a tray of black tea and sweets for breakfast. The ride was pretty good and we slept well. The border was pretty easy. We did not leave our compartment to leave Georgia, just handed our passports in, together with our Azerbaijan e-visa paperwork. Eventually, all was returned and we headed across no-man's-land. The Azerbaijan border took longer. We were summoned, one-by-one, to the end of the carriage to be questioned and photographed. Then a dog and a man with a mirror on a pole looked around out compartment and chatted about football. And that was it. It did overrun by about 30 minutes and we eventually arrived into Baku the following morning 90 minutes late. Here, again, the station is embedded in a shopping centre. If you need money, there is an ATM on the floor below the platforms. This floor leads out onto a square where there are taxis, 5 ANZ should get you anywhere."

Traveller Lauri Hallila reports from a Baku to Tbilisi journey in 2017:  "We tried to book our tickets online at biletonline.ady.az, but didn't succeed. After registering, you can still check there how many places are left in different classes.  We had a local helping us to buy the tickets at the station one and half days before our journey; there were only two places left in spalny vagon in different compartments, so we bought tickets for kupé for little over 33 manats per person.  We were told to pay the tickets at a different counter from where we originally went.  They didn't speak English downstairs where we bought our tickets; we later noticed that the counter 22 mentioned in another report where they might speak English was upstairs.  The train leaves at 21:10 and is supposed to arrive the next morning at 10:40, though we arrived ten minutes earlier.  Train arrives close to border at around 7, but border formalities take about 3 hours, one & a half hours on each side of the border.  An old Azeri woman and her granddaughter shared our compartment for part of the way; luckily, they both spoke good English and were enjoyable company. We could buy some tea or coffee in the morning for 1 manat per cup in the morning."

Traveller Ann Woodward reports from a Tbilisi to Baku train journey in 2017:  "I took the overnight train from Tbilisi to Baku on Sunday night. I paid 84 lari for my ticket (~$34 US dollars), as did the couple in the cabin next to me.  We'd purchased tickets in Tbilisi one week+ ahead, so not sure if that had anything to do with the pricing.  Some of the people who sell tickets at the station in Tbilisi speak English, but if you get someone who doesn't, they'll direct you to someone who can.  We left exactly on time. Arrived at the Georgia border 8:30pm, were done by 9:30pm. Progressed a bit further down the tracks to the Azerbaijan border. That entry process was complete by 11pm. We arrived in Baku basically on time, perhaps 10 minutes late. Passengers should be aware that there's no food or drink on sale on the train. There was a machine with hot water, but you need to bring your own mug, tea/coffee, sugar, etc.. It was a pleasant experience & I'm glad I took the train instead of flying."

Baku station...

A modern station building - comparable to a shopping mall - has now been built adjacent to Baku's historic original station.  There is an ATM in the level below the platforms.  There are plenty of taxis on the forecourt.  Photos below courtesy of Frank Pawlowski.

Baku railway station, old building   Inside Baku railway station

Baku station, original building...

 

Baku station, inside the new station building...

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large bullet pointFind hotels

Find hotels at Booking.comMy favourite hotel search site: www.booking.com

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

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

Backpacker hostels...

www.hostelworld.com:  If you're on a tight budget, don't forget about backpacker hostels.  Hostelworld offers online booking of cheap private rooms or dorm beds in backpacker hostels in most cities at rock-bottom prices.


large bullet pointTravel insurance & VPN

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

 

Confused.com logo

Always take out travel insurance...

Never travel overseas without travel insurance from a reliable insurer, with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover.  It should also cover cancellation and loss of cash and belongings, up to a sensible limit.  An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheaper than several single-trip policies even for just 2 or 3 trips a year, I have an annual policy myself.  Here are some suggested insurers.  Seat61 gets a small commission if you buy through these links.

UK flagIn the UK, reliable insurers include Columbus Direct.

UK flagIf you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65, see www.JustTravelCover.com.

UK flagYou can use Confused.com to compare prices & policies from many different insurers.

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

A Curve card saves on foreign transaction fees...

 

Curve card

Most banks give you a poor exchange rate, then charge you a currency conversion fee.  A Curve MasterCard means no foreign transaction fees and gives you the mid-market exchange rate, at least up to a certain limit, £500 per month at time of writing.  The balance goes straight onto one of your existing debit or credit cards.

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

I have a Curve Blue card myself - I get some commission if you sign up to Curve, but I'm recommending it here because it's great.  See details, download the app and get a Curve card - they'll give you £5 cashback through that link, too.

 

Express VPN

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

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

 


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