Destination plate on the Sofia-Istanbul train
 

Destination plate on the side of the train (car number 485 is the couchette car)

To Istanbul by train...

One train per day links Europe with Istanbul, a sleeper train called the Sofia-Istanbul Express. This runs from Sofia to Istanbul every day all year with sleeping-cars & couchettes.  From June until October it conveys a direct couchette car from Bucharest to Istanbul, at other times of year you travel from Bucharest to Dimitrovgrad in Bulgaria on a series of connecting trains where you join the sleepers or couchettes of the Sofia-Istanbul Express to Istanbul.  This page explains train times, fares & how to buy tickets.

small bullet point  Train times

small bullet point  Route map

small bullet point  How much does it cost?

small bullet point  How to buy tickets

small bullet point  What's the train like?

small bullet point  Travel tips

small bullet point  How to transfer between Halkali & Sirkeci

 

On other pages:

small bullet point  Sofia station information

small bullet point  Bucharest station information

 

Train times eastbound 2022

 Bucharest & Sofia ► Istanbul

 Days of running:

Summer service

every day

25 April to 29 October 2022

Winter service

every day

Until 24 April & from 30 October 2022

Train number:

461

465

493/12501

1095

463

465

493/12501

 Bucharest depart:

10:55

-

-

10:55

-

-

-

 Giurgiu Nord arrive

13:01

-

-

13:01

-

-

-

 Giurgiu Nord depart

13:20

-

-

13:20

-

-

-

 Ruse arrive

13:45

-

-

13:45

-

-

-

 Ruse depart

14:10

-

-

>>

14:10

-

-

 Gorna Orjahovitsa arrive

16:10

-

-

-

16:10

-

-

 Gorna Orjahovitsa depart

>>

17:25

-

-

>>

17:25

-

 Veliko Tarnovo

-

17:45

-

-

-

17:45

-

 Sofia depart

-

|

18:30

-

-

|

18:30

 Plovdiv depart

-

|

21:28

-

-

|

21:31

 Dimitrovgrad arrive

-

22:09

22:28

-

-

22:09

22:28

 Dimitrovgrad depart

-

>>

22:45

-

-

>>

22:45

 Svilengrad (border) arrive

-

-

23:32

-

-

-

23:32

 Svilengrad (border) depart

-

-

00:17

-

-

-

00:17

 Kapikule (border) arrive

-

-

00:37

-

-

-

00:37

 Kapikule (border) depart

-

-

01:45

-

-

-

01:45

 Edirne arrive:

-

-

02:00

-

-

-

02:00

 Halkali (Istanbul) arrive:

-

-

05:34

-

-

-

05:34

 Istanbul Sirkeci arrive:

-

-

*

-

-

-

*

* = Transfer between Halkali & Istanbul Sirkeci by frequent Marmaray suburban train as shown here.

Train times westbound 2022

 Istanbul ► Sofia & Bucharest

 Days of running:

Summer service

25 April to 29 October 2022

Winter service

Until 24 April & from 30 October 2022

Train number:

12502/492

464

460

12502/492

464

460

1094

 Istanbul Sirkeci depart:

*

-

-

*

-

-

-

 Halkali (Istanbul) depart:

20:45

-

-

20:45

-

-

-

 Edirne depart

01:15

-

-

01:15

-

-

-

 Kapikule (border) arrive

01:28

-

-

01:28

-

-

-

 Kapikule (border) depart

02:20

-

-

02:20

-

-

-

 Svilengrad (border) arrive

02:40

-

-

02:40

-

-

-

 Svilengrad (border) arrive

03:25

-

-

03:25

-

-

-

 Dimitrovgrad arrive

04:17

>>

-

04:17

>>

-

-

 Dimitrovgrad depart

04:24

06:00

-

04:24

06:00

-

-

 Plovdiv arrive

06:50

|

-

06:50

|

-

-

 Sofia arrive

09:35

|

-

09:35

|

-

-

 Veliko Tarnovo arr/dep

-

10:16

-

-

10:16

-

-

 Gorna Orjahovitsa arrive

-

10:36

-

-

10:36

-

-

 Gorna Orjahovitsa depart

-

>>

11:30

-

>>

11:30

-

 Ruse arrive

-

-

13:24

-

-

13:24

-

 Ruse depart

-

-

14:15

-

-

>>

14:15

 Giurgiu Nord arrive:

-

-

14:40

-

-

-

14:40

 Giurgiu Nord depart:

-

-

15:00

-

-

-

15:00

 Bucharest arrive:

-

-

17:05

-

-

-

17:05

How to read the timetable......

You read downwards, each column is a separate train.  Each train runs every day.

There's a summer & winter service, remember that Bulgaria & Romania put their clocks forward April-October, but Turkey remains on GMT+3 all year. 

Sofia-Istanbul is a direct train every day all year with sleeping-cars & couchettes (no seats).

There's a direct couchette car from Bucharest to Istanbul every day from 4 June to 3 October 2022, attached to trains 461, 465 & 493/12501.

There's a direct couchette car from Istanbul to Bucharest every day from 2 June to 1 October 2022, attached to trains 12502/492, 464 & 462.

When there's no direct couchette car, you travel between Bucharest & Istanbul using seats cars between Bucharest & Dimitrovgrad on each of the trains shown above, then the sleepers or couchettes of the Sofia-Istanbul Express between Dimitrovgrad & Istanbul.  Don't worry, it normally all works like clockwork...

You can find this timetable in PDF format at the Bulgarian Railways website www.bdz.bg/en/a/sofia-istanbul-sofia, please let me know if that link stops working.

Route map...

Sofia to Istanbul train route map

 

Click for larger map

Highlighted = Bucharest/Sofia to Istanbul train route.

Green = scenic sections of line

European Rail Timetable and mapReproduced from the excellent European Rail Map with kind permission of the European Rail Timetable people.

I recommend buying a copy of the European Rail Map for your travels, www.europeanrailtimetable.eu with shipping worldwide.

How much does it cost?

  • Sofia to Istanbul costs €18.48 for a 2nd class ticket plus either €10 supplement for a couchette or €15 supplement for a bed in a 2-bed sleeper.  A single-bed sleeper all to yourself costs €27.72 for a 1st class ticket + €35 sleeper supplement.

  • Bucharest to Istanbul by direct couchette car costs €37.20 for a 2nd class ticket + €14 supplement for a couchette in 4-berth.

    When the direct car isn't running: Bucharest to Dimitrovgrad costs around €32.  Dimitrovgrad to Istanbul costs around €19 for the basic 2nd class ticket + either €10 for a couchette in a 4-berth compartment or €15 for a bed in a 2-bed sleeper.  Sole occupancy of a sleeper costs around €28 for a 1st class ticket + €35 sleeper supplement.

  • The fare is the same in either direction.  The train is priced in euros, but you pay in the local currency.  If you have a Eurail or Interrail pass you just need to pay the sleeper or couchette supplement.  You need a 1st class pass for a single sleeper.

    You can check fares from Sofia at www.bdz.bg/en/a/sofia-istanbul-sofia & fares from Istanbul at www.tcddtasimacilik.gov.tr (use Google translate).

How to buy tickets

  • You cannot book these trains online.

    There's just one exception:  You can book tickets online from Bucharest to Istanbul when the direct couchette car operates at the Romanian Railways international website, bileteinternationale.cfrcalatori.ro.

    Click EN top right for English.  Bucharest is listed as Bucuresti (Romania), for Istanbul you should enter/select Halkali (Turkey).  Booking usually opens 60 days before departure.

    You need to collect hard-copy tickets from the ticket office at Bucharest Nord (or other main CFR station in Romania), so only use this site for one-way or round trip journeys starting in Romania.  It cannot book this route in the off-season when the direct couchette car doesn't run.

  • You can book these trains by contacting andy@discoverbyrail.com, the same rail expert that runs www.discoverbyrail.com.  He can arrange sleeper or couchette tickets between Bucharest or Sofia and Istanbul for a fee, in either direction.

    Tickets are normally delivered to your hotel in Bucharest, Sofia or Istanbul, or a personal handover can usually be arranged, ask for details.

    He can also arrange Interrail or Eurail passholder reservations on these trains for eastbound journeys from Sofia or Bucharest to Istanbul, but not for westbound trains from Istanbul to Sofia or Bucharest as Turkish station staff insist on seeing the pass, a copy is not sufficient.  As a railpass only saves €18.48 from Istanbul to Sofia, consider buying a normal ticket instead of using your pass.

  • Or buy in person at the station...

    At Sofia Central Station, go to the international ticket window in the main hall, see the Sofia station page for opening hours.

    At Bucharest Nord, go to the international ticket window in the booking hall, see the Bucharest Nord station page.

    At Istanbul Sirkeci station, go to ticket window 4 for international tickets, open 10:00-18:00 daily, credit cards accepted.

  • Does the train get fully-booked?  Should you book in advance?  Yes, the Sofia-Istanbul sleepers & couchettes have become popular and in summer and even autumn the train often leaves fully-booked.  I recommend booking in advance if you can.

What's the train like?

Sofia-Istanbul sleeping-cars...

The Sofia-Istanbul Express has two Turkish TVS2000 sleeping-cars built in 1998 (car numbers 483 & 484) and can have a 3rd such car at busy times.  The car number is indicated on the steel destination plate attached to the side of the car towards one end.

Each sleeping-car is air-conditioned with 10 compartments.  Each compartment can be sold as a double (2nd class fare or railpass plus the double sleeper supplement) or single (1st class fare or railpass plus the single sleeper supplement).

Each compartment has an upper & lower berth, sink, table & fridge.  All necessary bedding is provided, along with soap and towel.  Berths fold away to reveal two armchairs for day use.  There are toilets at each end of the car.  There's a 2-pin power outlet intended for electric razors, but no power outlet specifically for mobiles & laptops.  These cars were built with a shower compartment at one end, but this is now used as a storeroom for bedding.  You may be able to buy tea or coffee from the sleeper attendant.

The Sofia to Istanbul train

The Sofia-Istanbul Express.  Photos in this section courtesy of @AndyBTravels & DiscoverByRail.com.

Turkish sleeper on the Sofia-Istanbul train   Turkish sleeper on the Sofia-Istanbul train

1 or 2 bed sleeper on the Sofia-Istanbul train, looking towards the window.  Larger photo.

 

1 or 2 bed sleeper on the Sofia-Istanbul train, looking towards the corridor side.  Larger photo.

Fridge & table in a Turkish sleeper on the Sofia-Istanbul train   Turkish sleeper on the Sofia-Istanbul train

The sleepers even have a fridge!

 

Lower berth made up for night time.  Larger photo.

Sofia-Istanbul & Bucharest-Istanbul couchette cars...

In addition to the sleeping-cars, the Sofia-Istanbul Express has one Turkish TVS2000 air-conditioned couchette car built in 1996 or 2002 (car number 485).  The direct summer-only couchette car between Bucharest & Istanbul is of the same type (car 479).  The car number is indicated on the steel destination plate attached to the side of the car towards one end.  The car has 10 compartments each with 4 berths, two upper & two lower.  Sheets, pillow & blanket are provided, but you arrange these yourself.  The beds fold away to form seats for day use as shown below.  There are toilets at each end of the car.  There's a 2-pin power outlet in each compartment above the door to the corridor, but you'll need a 2m cable to use it whilst sitting down with your phone or laptop.  Photos courtesy of @Colcestrian and

Fridge & table in a Turkish sleeper on the Sofia-Istanbul train   Fridge & table in a Turkish sleeper on the Sofia-Istanbul train

4-berth compartment, seats mode. Larger photo.  Photo courtesy of @AndyBTravels

 

Lower couchette folded out & made up as bed.  Larger photoPhoto courtesy of @Colcestrian

What's the journey like?

Bucharest to Dimitrovgrad...

Between June and October there's a direct couchette car from Bucharest to Istanbul.  Outside this period, you travel from Bucharest to Dimitrovgrad on a series of connecting trains, but it all works like clockwork and you won't be the only person making these connections.  The route & scenery are the same.

A few hours after leaving Bucharest's imposing Gara de Nord, the train reaches the Romanian border point, Giurgiu Nord.  It 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.  It curves around off the bridge and arrives at Ruse, the Bulgarian border station on the other side.

When the Bucharest-Istanbul couchette car operates, it's attached to a direct Bucharest-Sofia train from Bucharest as far as Gorna Orjahovitsa - that Bucharest-Sofia train in fact runs for some weeks before and after this period, with no need to change at Ruse.  However, in the winter timetable, you take an air-conditioned Romanian express railcar from Bucharest to Ruse and change into a Bulgarian locomotive-hauled train bound for Sofia, taking it as far as Gorna.

The train then spends a lazy afternoon meandering along pleasant river valleys across rural Bulgaria, have your camera handy.  Pour yourself a beer or glass of wine (remember to bring your own food & drink), read away the hours & enjoy the trip.  The highlight is the journey through the lush green Shipka Pass.  The train from Gorna to Dimitrovgrad calls at Veliko Tarnovo, the ancient capital of Bulgaria - well worth a 24h stopover!

Scenery in the Shipka Pass, Bulgaria

Lush green scenery as the train descends the Shipka Pass...

Veliko Tarnovo station, Bulgaria   Craggy scenery in Bulgaria

Veliko Tarnovo station...

 

Crags near Veliko Tarnovo...

Sofia to Dimitrovgrad...

The Sofia-Istanbul Express leaves Sofia's impressive communist-era central station and heads off across Bulgaria as night falls.  Remember to bring your own food & drink, maybe even a bottle of wine, as there's no catering on board.

The train to Istanbul boardiing at Sofia

Boarding at Sofia.  Courtesy of @AndyBTravels & DiscoverByRail.com.

Dusk in Bulgaria

Dusk falls on a summer evening, rolling across the plain east of Sofia with a backdrop of distant hills...

Dimitrovgrad to the Turkish border...

At Dimitrovgrad, the Bucharest-Istanbul couchette car (when running) is attached to the Sofia-Istanbul Express.  When it's not running, passengers from Bucharest & Veliko Tarnovo change onto the sleepers & couchettes of the Sofia-Istanbul Express.

Border controls at Svilengrad & Kapikule...

Late at night, the train reaches the Bulgarian border point at Svilengrad.  You remain on the train, Bulgarian border guards come on board.  They collect all passports and take them off the train to check them, they come back on board and return them before the train leaves.  This happens in both directions, eastbound & westbound.

When Bulgarian controls and completed and passports returned, the train heads across the border into Turkey, reaching the Turkish border station of Kapikule well after midnight.  At Kapikule you need to leave the train briefly for border formalities, in both directions:

Eastbound procedure:  Step off the train onto the platform, taking all your bags with you.  Step 1, get your bags X-rayed in the small white shed-like building on the platform to the left of the main station building.  Step 2, go to the passport office further along the platform in the main building and get your passport stamped (see the photo below).  You can then re-board the train.

Westbound procedure:  Step off the train onto the platform, in this direction you can leave your bags on the train.  Go to the passport office on the platform in the main building, get your passport stamped (see the photo below).  You can then re-board the train. 

Tip:  If you're ready to jump off as the train stops, you can be first in line for the X-ray check then passport stamping, then first back in bed!

Remember that time zones change here:  From the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October, Bulgarian & Turkish time is the same, GMT+3.  But Turkey has no Daylight Saving Time, so Turkish time is 1 hour ahead of Bulgarian time in winter.

The Turkish border at Kapikule   Passport office, Kapikule

At Kapikule after midnight you must get off to have your bags X-rayed...  Courtesy of Frédéric Pardé.

 

...and then get your passport stamped in the passport office.

X-ray & passport check at Turkish border

The train arrives at Kapikule on the platform shown above, adjacent to the station building.  X = X-ray baggage check shed.  P = passport office in main building.  Photo courtesy of Daniel Sterk.

Onwards to Halkali & Istanbul...

In years gone by, the train used to make a dramatic entry into Istanbul through the Byzantine Walls of Theodosius, skirting the Sea of Marmara underneath the very walls of the Topkapi Palace into the beautiful Istanbul Sirkeci station, opened in 1888 in the heart of the city.  However, the train now terminates at a suburban station called Halkali some 25km west of Sirkeci, expect an arrival an hour or two late, so allow for this and enjoy the ride.  You then take one of the frequent Marmaray suburban trains into Istanbul Sirkeci as explained further down this page.  Sirkeci station is walking distance from all the sights, or you can hop into a taxi to the famous Pera Palas Hotel Map of Istanbul showing Sirkeci station.

Sunrise over Turkey

Dawn breaks as the train speeds east towards Istanbul...

The train at Halkali

The Sofia-Istanbul Express at Halkali.  Courtesy of John Mcnamara...

The train arrived at Halkali

The train arrived Halkali.  Courtesy of @AndyBTravels & DiscoverByRail.com.

The transfer bus from Halkali outside Istanbul Sirkeci station.

Istanbul Sirkeci station.  Courtesy of Philip Dyer-Perry.

Travel tips...

  • Is the overnight train safe?

    Yes.  In a sleeper or couchette it's comfortable and safe for families, solo females, anyone.

  • Finding & boarding your train...

    As with virtually all European trains, there's no check-in.  Just stroll into the station, find your train and get on, any time before it leaves.  The sleeper or couchette attendant will normally greet you on the platform at the door to the sleeping-car and check your reservation.  He'll come round and see you soon after departure to take your ticket or pass.

    In Bucharest, look for the train to Sofia on the departure screens as the couchette car to Istanbul is attached to this train.

  • Luggage...

    You take your luggage with you into your sleeper or couchette compartment and simply stick it on the luggage racks above the window, over the door to the corridor, or on the floor.  Nobody weighs it, measures it, or worries about how much you take.  More information about luggage on European trains.

  • Power outlets & WiFi...

    In the sleeping-cars, there's a shaver socket in each compartment near the sink aimed at electric razors, but none specifically for laptops or mobiles.  In each couchette compartment there's a 2-pin socket above the door to the corridor also aimed at electric razors, you'll need a 2m cable if you want to sit down with your laptop or mobile whilst using it.  You may wish to bring a battery pack to keep your phone charged.  There's no WiFi, but there is mobile data reception along the route except in rural areas.

  • Bring your own food & drink...

    There's no catering car, so take your own food & drink, even a bottle of wine if you like.  The sleeper attendant may be able to sell you tea or coffee.

  • Scenery...

    The scenery through Bulgaria on the route to or from Bucharest is superb, snaking through Bulgarian river valleys and up (or down) the Shipka Pass.

  • Be ready for border control...

    You need to get off the train briefly for border control at Kapikule on the Turkish border, read the border control information in the What's the journey like? section above to understand the procedure on both Bulgarian & Turkish side of the border.  If you know the procedure and are first off the train at Kapikule when it stops, you can be back in bed before everyone else!

  • Carry small denomination Turkish banknotes for the Marmaray local train into Istanbul...

    Buying a ticket for the Marmaray local trains from Halkali into Istanbul is an initiative test, as the section below explains.  Try to get hold of some small-denomination 10 & 20 lira banknotes so you can buy a ticket using the machines.

How to transfer from Halkali to Sirkeci...

  • The international train from Sofia & Bucharest to Istanbul now terminates at Halkali, a suburban station 25km west of Istanbul's famous Sirkeci station, the original terminus in the city centre opened in 1888.

  • The easiest way to reach Sirkeci is to take a frequent Marmaray suburban train, these run at least every 15 minutes, journey time from Halkali to Sirkeci around 35 minutes, fare around TL 35 (€1.90).

    The tricky part is buying a ticket for the Marmaray train.  Halkali station has self-service machines for Marmaray tickets, of the sort that only accept coins & banknotes, not bank cards.  Worse still, the machines only accept small-denomination 10 & 20 lira banknotes, not the larger denomination notes you get from ATMs or bureaux de change.  And there aren't any ATMs near Halkali station in any case.  So have some Turkish lira with you, in small denominations to use the Marmaray ticket machines. Or ask other local train passengers to change larger denomination banknotes for you.

    You need to buy an Istanbulkart public transport smartcard for 50 TL, then top it up to get to Sirkeci.

    The Marmaray trains arrive at the new underground platforms beneath the historic (but now trainless) ground level terminus.  They continue beyond Sirkeci through the Bosphorus rail tunnel to Söğütlüçeşme station on the Asian side, where the high-speed YHT trains to Ankara & Konya start,

  • If you prefer to go direct to your hotel by taxi, it will cost the equivalent of around €16 from Halkali to central Istanbul, but have Turkish lira with you to pay the driver as there is no ATM at Halkali.

How to transfer from Sirkeci to Halkali...

  • The international train to Sofia & Bucharest now leaves from Halkali, a suburban station 25km west of Istanbul Sirkeci station in the city centre.

  • The easiest way to reach Halkali from central Istanbul is to take a frequent Marmaray suburban train from Sirkeci station, these run at least every 15 minutes, journey time from Sirkeci to Halkali around 35 minutes, fare around TL 35 (€1.90).

    The Marmaray trains leave from the underground platforms at Sirkeci, beneath the now-trainless ground level terminus.

    To be on the safe side, I'd leave Sirkeci at least 1h15 before the sleeper is due to leave Halkali.  Check the departure time from Halkali shown on your ticket carefully, as it varies. 

    Tip:  Buy food and drink before you leave as there are few or no facilities n or around Halkali station, just a waiting room.

  • If you prefer to go from your hotel to Halkali by taxi, it will cost the equivalent of around €16.

Marmaray ticket machine   Marmaray train in Istanbul

Ticket machine...

A Marmaray train in Istanbul.  Photo courtesy of Rémi Favre...


Back to home page