When I decided to travel to Turkey (now recognized as Türkiye) for the winter, my initial plan was to get on the sleeper train in Turkey with the famous Dogu Express that takes passengers from Ankara to Kars on a 24-hour journey during the winter wonderland. However, it turns out that the route got so popular that when I tried to book it, the Dogu Express tickets were all sold out.
Although it wasn’t my first experience traveling with a sleeper train since I got a chance to get on the overnight train in Thailand and Vietnam, it was my first time traveling with an inter-city train in Turkey.
I know Turkey has decent sleeper cars in some TCDD trains, according to some friends who took it years ago from Ankara to Izmir. So this time, I decided to travel by sleeper train in Turkey but since I didn’t get to book Dogu Express, I ended up booking one for the Istanbul-Ankara route instead.
Previously, I shared my two cents about traveling by bus in Turkey. In this post, I’m going to share my story of traveling by sleeper train in Turkey, including some tips for booking the train ticket, the facilities in the cabin, and also a review of my overall experience of taking a sleeper train with Ankara Express from Istanbul to Ankara and my take on whether it’s better to travel by train or bus if you’re planning to travel between the cities.
So, how’s traveling by sleeper train in Turkey? Here we go!
How to Book a Train Ticket in Turkey
All trains operated in Turkey are under the responsibility of TCDD, the Turkish State Railway company. And the good news is that you can easily book a train ticket in Turkey through their native booking app on E-Bilet.
Based on my experience, the best way to make a booking is through their app instead of the TCDD website. I installed E-bilet on my Android tablet, and I could complete my booking easily. Meanwhile, when I tried to book a ticket on the website, for some reason the website kept getting a glitch.
What I like about their E-bilet app is that the UI and UX are quite straightforward, making it easier to book a train ticket in no time. Plus, they also accept international cards. The downside is that even though the English version is available on the app, the detailed information about the train and the cabin, especially the sleeper train, is not fully translated, which could confuse you a little if you don’t speak Turkish at all.
If you make a booking through E-bilet and you want to buy a ticket for a sleeper train in Turkey, you can use the keyword “yatak“, which basically means bed in Turkish.
Alternatively, you can also use third-party booking platforms in Turkey like Obilet or Biletall. However, as I mentioned in my previous post about booking a bus ticket in Turkey, these platforms have a downside as it seems to only accept Turkish bank cards.
I’d personally recommend E-bilet over any other platforms, especially if you’re an international traveler. When you book through E-bilet, not only you get to keep your e-ticket on the app, it will also be sent to your email address so you can keep the copy.
When I bought a train ticket for the sleeper cabin from Istanbul to Ankara, I paid 421 TL (around $22.80 USD) for one trip. But when I checked the same route today, the average price for a sleeper train ticket from Istanbul to Ankara is now around 710 TL (around $38.45) due to the high inflation that hit Turkey earlier this year.
Traveling with an Intercity Train in Turkey
Since I took the train from Istanbul to Ankara, the point of my departure was at Halkali train station in Istanbul. I had to travel from Istanbul during the snowstorm earlier this year, and I had a hard time getting to Halkali from Yalova since all commercial ferry boats were inoperative.
As a result, from Yalova I had to rent a taxi (which is a nightmare in Turkey, btw!) to get to Kocaeli and take the Marmaray train from Osmangazi to Halkali. This was my first time at Halkali, and my first impression was a bit bland. I arrived at the train station at around 8 PM, and I thought I would have some time to spend until my departure at 10 PM. To my surprise, there was no restaurant or eateries near the train station. Not even a coffee shop!
I was a bit oblivious about what to do since it was my first time traveling on an intercity train in Turkey. By the time I reached Halkali, I had checked the customer service, but apparently their office was already closed. So I asked the security officer to get the right direction on what to do since I still had 2 more hours until my train departure to Ankara.
There’s a waiting room not so far from the customer service office, and since I couldn’t get to grab anything to eat without the fear of getting late to come back to the train station, I decided to just sit in the waiting room.
The waiting room was quite decent. It was clean with a good heating system, so it was warm to wait inside during the winter. There are a few electricity sockets in some corners too in case you need to charge your phone while waiting for the train.
And the good thing about waiting in the designated waiting room at the station is that you won’t miss the announcement. So when it’s time to queue and check in for your train route, you’ll know!
Luckily, the Ankara Express train was the only train that departed from Istanbul, so most people waiting there were also the same people who went to Ankara with me that night.
Since my train departed at 10 PM, the queue for check-in was open 30 minutes before the departure, and they would expect you to prepare your personal ID with you.
I don’t care if you’re the kind of person who would insist on keeping your personal data private, I never cared about it before until I lost my bus ticket in Serbia after getting pickpocketed. But after that, I saw the flaw of protecting data privacy as I couldn’t retrieve my ticket since they didn’t record my personal data, so I had to repurchase a new one. Well, depending on how you see it, traveling with public transportation in Turkey requires you to fill out your personal data and bring the original copy on your departure.
Since the HES code for Covid was still required by the time I traveled, I had to prepare three things for my check-in process: HES code, passport, and e-ticket. As of March 2022, the HES code is no longer required when you travel to Turkey, so I think typically, you will just need your passport to check-in.
After I passed the security gate, I handed over all my documents and based on the staff who assisted me, the e-ticket wasn’t necessary since they could retrieve my name on their ticket system.
Once you checked in, you could start boarding the train to the assigned car and the seat written on your ticket. However, since our train was delayed for around 15 minutes, we were directed to another boarding room close to the platform.
The layout of the boarding room was similar to the waiting room, except then it was full of checked-in passengers who were ready to board the train.
After they announce the boarding time, you could refer to your ticket details to get to your seat. All the information is already written in your e-ticket, and you can pay attention to your car and seat number to board the right cabin. You can see the car number on the train near the entrance, and if you book a sleeper train like me, you’ll also see the seat number on the front door of each cabin.
Please note that Turkey has the same policy as Thailand and Laos regarding seats on public transportation. Unless you travel together, typically you’re only allowed to share the seat or cabin with another passenger of the same gender.
Luckily, I got the cabin all by myself this time, so I didn’t worry about getting the hassle as I did when traveling from Nong Khai to Bangkok a few years ago.
Not so long after the departure, the train attendant would check your ticket. But after that, you could sleep without having anyone to bother you since they would only check on you 30 minutes before arrival to notify you so you could get prepared.
I’m not sure if it applies to passengers in all destinations, but since my destination was Ankara when I took Ankara Express, I realized that Ankara Gar is probably the biggest train station in Turkey.
And I don’t know about you, but I think that Turkey has one of the most strict security systems when it comes to public places, including the train station. Anyone who has been to travel through Istanbul airport knows how annoying it is for you to get rid of everything just to pass the security check. Well, it’s pretty much like it in the train station too.
So for context, once I arrived in Ankara, I still had to pass the security check one more time to leave the train station. This makes sense, considering Ankara Gar was the site where 95 people died from the bombing in 2015.
Review: Ankara Express – Sleeper Train in Turkey
If you’re planning to travel from Istanbul to Ankara by train, you need to know that there are two types of trains on the Istanbul-Ankara route (and vice versa): the high-speed train that typically only takes around 4 to 5 hours for one trip and the overnight train that comes with a sleeper cabin that takes about 9 hours for the train journey.
Ankara Express is the overnight train that departs daily from Istanbul to Ankara. The ticket price is around 3 times higher than the high-speed trains. The journey takes longer too, but it offers a more luxurious experience with a private cabin and the ability to rest properly before arrival.
The bad luck I got from traveling during the snowstorm became a blessing in disguise during the trip, as I got a chance to travel through some scenic views that I could see from my window when I woke up the following day. So, here’s the highlight of my journey traveling with the Ankara Express train!
Ankara Express Cabin
The good thing about getting the cabin all by myself was that I could do whatever I want, including taking pictures of every side corner of the cabin for the credentials. 😛
Each cabin will be shared between two passengers, and it has a few components, including two seats that can be converted to a bunk bed, a small desk, a refrigerator, and a sink. There’s also a small wardrobe in the corner with a couple of cloth hangers. Since the train has an excellent heater, I used it for my jacket.
Overall, the cabin layout reminds me a bit of the Thai Railway first-class train. But since I had the cabin all by myself this time, I sure got a better experience in Turkey!
Ankara Express Service
Unfortunately, I was too tired from the hassle with the transportation problem I got from Yalova to get to Istanbul that as soon as I boarded the train, all I wanted was just to have a good night’s sleep, so I didn’t ask if Ankara Express had a dining car where I could have a dinner on the train. Although when I arrived in Ankara, I saw “yemekli vagon” which means dining car in Turkish so I guess there is.
However, when I checked the refrigerator in the cabin, they provided complimentary snacks and drinks that I split for an evening snack before I went to sleep, and also in the morning as the “light” breakfast.
I’m not sure if it’s the standard for Ankara Express complimentary snacks, but I got a small packet of cheese crackers, a chocolate stick, a small glass of water, and a box of cherry juice.
Overall, I think the service at Ankara Express was quite decent. The staff was polite, although the train attendant didn’t speak English. After checking my ticket, they didn’t really bother me, so I could close my cabin for the whole night.
Just 30 minutes before our arrival in Ankara, the train attendant came to tell me that they’d collect the used blanket and pillow.
Ankara Express Cleanliness & Comfort
For the cabin, I must say it was super clean and comfortable. I definitely had a good rest on my way to Ankara from Istanbul, which was a good thing after a long day. You can also control the heater as each cabin has its own console to set the temperature in case you want it warmer to make you more comfortable.
You can also find the electricity socket near the sink if you want to charge your phone. Although unfortunately, I don’t think Ankara Express provides free wifi on the train, so you have to rely on your mobile data if you want to connect to the internet.
As I got the compartment for myself, I got 100% comfort with no problem. I could store my bag just fine, and I could set the temperature on my own without being paranoid about what the other people did above or below my bed.
Plus, due to the snowstorm and I had to deal with non-water resistant shoes, I had to cover my feet with plastics to avoid getting them wet. And since I didn’t have to share my cabin with anyone, I could literally just take it off before I went to sleep without getting ashamed of it. LOL.
And the last spot that I had to check when I traveled by train in Turkey was, of course, the toilet. I mean, it’s quite essential since we’ll get stuck on the train for more than 8 hours and there is no way to hold your pee that long… Or poop, really. LOL.
Well, to my surprise, even the toilet was super clean. How all the equipment works actually reminds me of the lavatories on airplanes because they have all the buttons for the flush and tap water. The only difference is that instead of a toilet seat, they have a squat toilet and also a bidet!
As an Asian woman who’s fully trained in using a squat toilet, I saw it more as an advantage than a downside, so it just enhanced my first experience of traveling with a sleeper train in Turkey!
Some Useful Tips When Traveling by a Sleeper Train in Turkey
Now that I’ve traveled by intercity train in Turkey, there are some tips that I’d like to share before you decide to get on a train and get to your destination so that you can have a better journey compared to my trip from Istanbul to Ankara earlier this year.
So, what are those?
1. Use the E-Bilet app to book a train ticket in Turkey.
E-bilet app is more convenient since I tried it and it works. Unlike most third-party booking platforms in Turkey that don’t accept international cards, E-bilet receives payment from international cards just fine. And you can also see some train availabilities to consider the pros and cons when you travel by train in Turkey!
I installed the app on my Android tablet, and you can install it here on Playstore. Although I’m not sure if the app is also available on Apple Store.
2. Pack some meals or snacks, and don’t forget to bring some water!
I learned this the hard way when I found out that the Halkali train station didn’t have any restaurants nearby. And I had to survive with just a bottle of water I brought from home and the complimentary snacks in the refrigerator until the next day.
Of course, it’s always worth asking the train attendant to see if your train has a dining car where you can have meals on board. However, this might be a bit challenging if you’re a tourist since not all train attendants can speak English.
Not to mention that if their workflow is similar to when I got on Ankara Express train the other day, apart from ticket checking and blanket collecting prior to the arrival, you could barely find the train staff anywhere should there be any problem. Come to think of it, maybe that’s also the reason why I didn’t even ask whether they had a dining car back then.
The good news is that if you also travel to Ankara like I did, the train station in Ankara is bigger with lots of eatery options around. You can find anything from coffee shops to fast food chains at the train station, so you can eat there as soon as you arrive. But to be fair, be careful since the train station is so big that I was literally accompanied by a small pigeon when I had breakfast there!
3. Bring tissue or wet napkins with you.
Yes, they have a bidet in the toilet. But they don’t provide toilet paper, so you better pack one for your personal use to make your journey more convenient!
Final Verdict: Is it worth traveling by sleeper train in Turkey?
I personally think traveling by a sleeper train is only worth the experience and nothing else. I mean, I loved the journey when I got on the train. And the scenery was awesome too, especially that I went there during winter when it was snowy white outside.
However, if it wasn’t your main objective, especially if you’re planning to travel from Istanbul to Ankara, I’d recommend taking a bus instead since it was cheaper and faster. Here are some pros and cons of traveling with a sleeper train in Turkey!
- It was a great experience, especially if it’s your first time traveling around Turkey or you’ve never traveled with a sleeper train before.
- The Turkish State Railways, TCDD, makes it easy for us to proceed with the booking via their native app.
- The stunning scenery makes the journey worth it, even though the overnight train in Turkey is often longer than if you take the bus for the same route.
- If you have your compartment all for yourself, rest assured you’ll feel like a first-class guest with premium service!
- Compared to the bus, the overnight train will take longer. For instance, I traveled almost 10 hours when I took Ankara Express train from Istanbul to Ankara. On my way back to Istanbul from Ankara, I took the Ozlem Diyarbakir bus from Ankara ASTI to Esenler otogar in Istanbul. It only took around 5 hours in total!
- This could be a totally awkward experience if you end up sharing the compartment with a stranger for more than 10 hours!
So if you ask me if it’s worth traveling by sleeper train in Turkey, I would say it is worth the experience, although I still think traveling by bus is still the best option if you want to travel around Turkey conveniently on a budget.
Have you traveled around Turkey by train? Or maybe you had the experience of getting on the trip with the famous Dogu Express train from Ankara to Kars? Share your experience in the comment, and cheerio! 😉
Marya The BeauTraveler
I am the founder and main editor at The BeauTraveler. I spent 4 years working in the aviation industry, but ironically got to travel more right after quitting the industry in 2015. Born and raised in Indonesia, I started working remotely in 2017 and while I stay at home most of the time, I also regularly spend 2-3 months living a semi-digital nomad life elsewhere every year.