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Train in Istanbul
Photograph: aydngvn /

This revived sleeper train connects two of Europe’s most beautiful cities

The only rail link between Turkey and mainland Europe is back

Ed Cunningham
Written by
Ed Cunningham

Cross-continental rail nerds, rejoice! One of Europe’s most famous sleeper routes has returned. After being suspended at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the night route between Istanbul and Sofia is now back up and running.

Run as a joint venture by the Turkish national rail provider TCDD and its Bulgarian counterpart BDZ, the Istanbul-Sofia Express takes between nine and ten hours to cover the 570 kilometres between Istanbul’s Halkalı station and Sofia Central. 

Being the only major rail link between Turkey and mainland Europe, the Express is a pretty popular route for Interrail travellers. From Sofia, passengers often transfer for destinations across Europe – often on the Balkan Express to Belgrade. The train itself features a mix of luxurious sleeper cars and more casual couchettes, all with air conditioning.

In other words, you could soon be spending an evening wandering around Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and Hagia Sofia followed by a morning gazing at Sofia’s marvellously ornate cathedrals and brutal post-Soviet majesty. Pretty sweet, huh?

The Istanbul-Sofia Express service resumed on April 25. You can find out more about timetables and tickets here.

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