Bosphorus Express – A Train Adventure From Istanbul to Ankara

Bosphorus Express A Train Adventure from Istanbul to Ankara

Taking the overnight YHT train (Turkish for high-speed train – Yuksek Hizli Tren) is a much better option than flying into Istanbul and then taking a long bus ride to Ankara.

The train leaves from Halkali station on the European side of Istanbul. It uses the southern express track to bypass Marmaray commuter trains and stations.

How to Get There

There are a number of ways to travel from Istanbul to Ankara, but a comfortable high-speed train is by far the best. Unlike bus routes, which are often congested with passengers, the rail network is designed to be passenger-friendly, and there are plenty of seats and beds. Trains also run much more frequently than buses, making them a great option if you’re travelling on a tight schedule. In addition to providing a more comfortable experience, trains are usually cheaper than flying and give you the opportunity to see the incredible scenery of Turkey.

The best way to travel between Istanbul and Ankara is by the YHT high-speed train, which connects the two cities in just 4h33. The service runs every day, although departures from the city centre can fill up quickly at peak times. The train departs from the historic Haydarpasa station, located on the western side of the city and a short ferry ride across the Bosphorus from Sirkeci.

YHT trains have first and second class air-conditioned seating, a cafe car and a bar, which makes them ideal for those seeking comfort on a long journey. You can book tickets online, or directly at the train station a couple of miles from the city center.

From Istanbul, the train heads south and enters the Central Anatolian Plain. Track speed increases to 140 km/h (87 mph) as the train passes through the mountainous regions of Kadikoy and Eskisehir. At this point the tracks are segregated between express and local rail services, so the train passes the commuter trains of Baskentray, a city on the outskirts of Istanbul.

About an hour into the journey, the train reaches the western suburb of Sincan and enters Ankara shortly after dawn. The train crosses the city limits and enters the ankara railway, passing through an underground tunnel beneath the Bosphorus. Once outside the tunnel the train continues along the western outskirts of the capital, arriving at the suburban station of Halkali just before entering the heart of Ankara.

The Dogu Express is another great option for travellers aiming to explore the beautiful scenery of eastern Turkey. The train travels alongside the Euphrates river between Sivan & Erzurum, through spectacular scenery unspoiled by roadside development. The Dogu is one of the most scenic train trips in Europe, and a much better alternative to an overnight bus journey to Cappadocia.

The Train

Taking the train from Istanbul to Ankara is a great way to get to Turkey’s capital, with multiple daily services. The trip takes between 4 and 5 hours depending on the service, and there are both couchette and sleeper options available. Trains leave from Sogutlucesme station in central Istanbul and arrive at Ankara Gar, which is conveniently located in the center of the city.

Several different trains run between the two cities, but the most popular option is the Dogu Turistik Express. This high-speed train leaves twice a day and has both couchette and sleeper cars. It is best to book tickets early as the sleepers sell out quickly, and there are no child, youth, or senior discounts.

The rest of the train services are high-speed YHT (Yüksek Hizli Treni) trains, which began operating on this route in 2014 and have been upgraded to offer more comfort. The trains are designed by the Spanish company CAF and have a number of seating options including Economy and Business classes, as well as sleeper compartments.

The YHT trains depart from either Istanbul Sogutlucesme or Pendik, on the eastern outskirts of the city. The western side of the city is served by the metro system and there are also buses that can be used to get to the station.

From Sogutlucesme, the train heads north through a suburban area of the city before crossing the Bosphorus on the new Marmaray Tunnel. The track speed increases to 160 km/h (99 mph) as the train hugs the northern shore of the Gulf of Izmit, although intercity trains rarely travel this fast on this route.

After passing through Gebze, the train continues to Polatli and Eskisehir, before reaching the southern suburb of Bakirkoy. The train then enters the Marmaray Tunnel under the Bosphorus, and bypasses the stations on the western side of the city to reach Halkali.

From Halkali, the train heads east towards Ankara, bypassing all of the stops on the commuter rail lines to save time. The train then crosses over the River Halili to reach the Ankara station, which is located in the heart of the city.

The Journey

The new high-speed train service challenges the traditional monopoly of airlines on the fast transport route between Turkey’s two largest cities. Flying from Istanbul to Ankara takes 4 or 5 hours if traffic jams, security checks, waiting, and boarding are taken into account. The YHT trains, however, cover the same distance in around 4 hours. In addition to the speed increase, the new line features brand-new stations that were built or rebuilt for this purpose. They are equipped with exclusive YHT ticketing, shops and restaurants. Taking the train will also save you time spent getting to and from the airport.

If you purchase your tickets online, the most convenient way to do so is to use the Turkish State Railways website. The site allows you to select your departure location, destination, and travel dates, and provides you with a list of the available train services. Then, you simply need to choose the ticket type that best suits your needs. For example, if you want to travel in style, consider upgrading your ticket to a sleeper.

Boarding the YHT train is simple, and it’s best to arrive about 20-30 minutes before departure to allow for a timely boarding process. Before boarding, you should have your ticket and passport ready for inspection.

Once onboard, take some time to settle into your seat. It’s best to get a window seat if possible, as the scenery along this route is particularly scenic. The track winds through the mountains of eastern Turkey, and you’ll be treated to views of lush green landscapes and crystalline blue waters. Depending on your schedule, you may be able to catch a glimpse of a local village or shipyards along the way.

Currently, there are 15 daily train services between Ankara and Istanbul. The most popular is the touristic Dogu Express, which leaves every day at 17:00 from Ankara and arrives in Istanbul at 00:00 the next day after spending two nights on the train. It is one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world and a must-do for any train enthusiast. Note that sleepers and couchettes on this train sell out very quickly after booking opens, so it is best to book early through one of the authorised agencies listed here.

The Final Words

Until recently the Bosphorus Express was the only train in Turkey connecting Istanbul with Ankara. Other long-distance trains either terminated in Haydarpasa or diverged from the main Istanbul-Ankara railway at Sincan, and took a more roundabout route through the Koroglu Mountains.

However, in 2009 a new high-speed line (Turkish: YHT or Yuksek Hizli Treni) opened, which drastically cut travel times. 250 km/h high-speed trains with economy and business class air-conditioned seating and a cafe-bar car now link Ankara with Istanbul in just over 1 hour 40 minutes.

Travellers can take an early morning train to arrive in Ankara around lunchtime and experience the city’s highlights in just one day. Ankara’s main attractions include Ankara Castle, Mousaleoum of Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi (the famous Islamic philosopher of his era with all-embracing/welcoming ideology), and Anatolian Civilizations Museum.

Ankara also offers a chance to see the Neolithic Age relics of this ancient civilization at Karatay and Ince Minare Madrasah Museum. The capital of Turkey also boasts a number of top-notch restaurants serving everything from gourmet cuisine to authentic Turkish breakfast.

A trip to Ankara is incomplete without a visit to the opulent Dolmabahce Palace, once the home of 19th and 20th-century Ottoman Sultans. The legendary Blue Mosque, so named for the 20,000 blue-green tiles that cover its interior, is another must-see.

The next morning the train will depart from Ankara to return to Istanbul. Once back in the gilded surroundings of the Bosphorus Express, enjoy an evening dinner cruise and take in all the sights and sounds of this magnificent city that once was Constantinople.

It would be impossible to name a single highlight of the Dogu Express experience, but it certainly ranks amongst the most beautiful and memorable train journeys in my personal travel history along with the Oslo to Bergen train in Norway, the Kandy to Ella train in Sri Lanka, and the St Petersburg to Bari train in Russia. I hope you’ll be able to take the Bosphorus Express someday and discover all this remarkable country has to offer. Happy travels!

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