Train service between Istanbul and Sofia has started. But it’s not easy to reach to clear official information. Only chance is travellers’ shares, where you need to check if the information is up-to-date or not.
We travelled to Sofia for you, and prepare this little guide:
Ticket sales at Sirkeci
Unfortunately, there’s no way to buy it through internet. There’s no even way to buy it from a train station other than Sirkeci. But don’t worry. Train is not full, you can buy it just before you get on the train.
No names on tickets, you can buy it before you decide with whom to go. 🙂
Roundtrip is possible, but no discount. Cash and credit card are accepted.
Do not expect much to learn at ticket office
There were two officiers at Sirkeci with very limited English. One of them didn’t want to answer any question even in Turkish.
Train departs from Halkali
Unfortunately, trains cannot reach Istanbul city center yet. The departure station is at 20 km west of Istanbul, in the middle of nowhere, at Halkali Station.
But do not worry. There’s a shuttle service from Sirkeci Station. Departure at 21:30, from the side gate. You may hear “be here at 21”, but do not pay attention. Shuttle does not depart before 21:30. Do not worry for horrible traffic of Istanbul either. Train waits for the shuttle in any case.
Sleepers for couples
TCDD’s sleepers are well known and liked by European travellers. New, clean and practical. There are two sleeper wagons in Istanbul Sofia train, 20 compartments with a capacity of 40 beds.
Two huge seats exist in sleepers. When opened, it becomes a comfortable bed. Overhead, there’s another.
Sleeper for one person is expensive
You pay almost double for staying alone in a sleeper compartment. But other seat/bed is also yours.
Clean bedclothes and towel for each passenger
After train departs, the TCDD staff brings clean bedclothes and towels. All in bag, to be used for the first time by you after cleaning. Pillow and blanket are already there. You prepare your bed in TCDD wagons.
High comfort at sleepers
There is a sink, small closet, hangers, waste basket, electric socket, a expandable table and also a small refrigerator in the compartment.
If no water from tap, do not think train is out of water, call the staff, he’ll fix it immediately.
WC outside compartment
There are two WCs in the wagon, each at one end. One is the usual style, the other is the Turkish style. They are clean and have toilet paper.
Enough space for luggages
There’s a shelf over table, where you can put luggages. It can easily take two big luggages. For more, you need to put it on floor.
There are enough lighting in the compartment. One is nightlight, other two lightens compartment in two different levels. There is also reading light next to each bed.
Air conditioning is a little out of your control. There’s a central system which is controlled by TCDD staff. It makes the whole train cold in a very short time. Maybe it’s also for heating.
There’s also a heater in the compartment which is under your control. Buttons are over the door.
Couchettes for groups
Couchettes are for 4 passengers. Two seats/beds in each side. There’s only one couchette wagon, which means max capacity for 40 passengers.
No luxary, but good talk
There’s no sink, refrigirator, hanger nor table (come on, that’s not a table). But you’ll have an excellent travel by talking with old or new friends till late hours.
Cheapest way to travel alone
Couchette has one big advantage. If you travel alone, you pay for one person in couchette. And possibility to have 3 new friends is for free.
If you love food, get it beforehand
There’s no restaurant car in train. The only food is distributed by TCDD staff, a bottle of water, some fruit juice and biscuit (most probably only for sleepers). Buy what you need before you depart from Sirkeci, since there’s nothing in Halkali yet, and Kapikule is not different in midnight.
Passport check at Kapikule
Unfortunately, border police is not coming to you in Turkey, you have to go to him. In the middle of sleep, at about 14:30, someone (the staff) knocks the door and tells you to go to queue with your passport. After everybody comes, the officer comes, opens the pc. If you are lucky, it opens within 10 minutes. So all passengers wait at queue without doing nothing for 20 minutes, since officer doesn’t come 20 min earlier. Don’t bother, and use that time to get socialized with other passengers.
Passport check at Svilengrad
Thanks to border police of Bulgaria, they visit every compartment, get the passports, checks if it’s really you or not, and go. You don’t even have to get off the bed. The passports come back in half an hour. You can continue sleeping until then.
Stop at Dimitrovgrad for Bucharest train
In about half an hour after passport check by Bulgarian border police, if you are not in a deep sleep, you’ll recognize that train stops. There is Dimitrovgrad station. Bucharest wagons will leave the train there, and will follow another route towards Bucharest. It takes about 20 minutes. If you cannot sleep, it’s a good time to have some chat.
Everybody asks if the vibration in train bothers or not. Train has almost no vibration, no sudden breakes, fast turns etc. Put your phone on the table, and you’ll find it at exactly same place in the morning.
It’s not noisy, that’s sound of silence
Honestly, there’s a continuous sound of steel wheel touching steel rail. Regular clinks of rail weldings is also added in Bulgaria. For me they are like songs for sleep, but if you don’t like them, close the small window of your compartment. You’ll hear almost nothing very soon.
Photographing is a hard job
The train photography, as you may see some examples in Rail Turkey, is surely exciting. However, keep in mind that, almost whole travel is during night, doors of most of the comparments are close and it’s not easy to take a photo outside of small window even with cell phones.
Arrival at Sofia
You’ll arrive at Sofia in the morning. Sofia station is quite big, and there are enough facilities for basic needs. Station has metro and tram connection to city center. City center is 3 km away. It’s the second stop if you take metro. City is flat, sidewalks are wide, cars are respectful to pedestrians. It’d be good to have some walk after 10 hours of train travel.
Cover Photo: Onur Uysal ©