The Turkish railway system is highly developed, connecting cities all around the country. Turkey has three main types of train routes with different goals, each serving a different purpose.
What is a Typical Turkish Train Like
Turkish trains are categorized under two categories: Slower express trains and fast high-speed trains. Your experience can differ depending on the train type and the length of your journey. However, you can expect to see some common amenities in both train types, such as free Wi-Fi, luggage space, adjustable seats, air conditioners, and curtains.
Depending on the length of your journey, your train can have couchette cars and sleeping cars. Some trains may have a washbasin and mini-fridges inside each wagon. These long-trip trains may also include a restaurant/dining car for getting food and a restroom on board.
Here are the different types of Turkish trains:
1. High-Speed Trains
Turkey's high-speed train lines (Yüksek Hızlı Trenler (YHT) are a wonder of modern engineering, reaching 250 km to 300 km per hour. These trains connect major cities within Turkey.
2. Express Trains
Express trains are slower compared to high-speed trains. They connect other smaller and major cities within Turkey. Express Trains are categorized under two sub-sections: Mainline and regional trains.
These train routes generally connect Turkey's cities within the Aegean and Anatolian regions. The trip with main line trains will take longer than high-speed trains, so most trains will have couchette cars and sleeping cars.
Regional trains make fewer stops than traditional expresses, generally connecting nearby and smaller cities. As a result, the ticket prices will be lower, and it will be easier to find tickets.
3. International Trains
Only one daily train from Istanbul to Europe continues today: the Istanbul - Sofia Express. The whole journey takes around 10 hours and passes through Halkalı, Çerkezköy, Alpullu, Edirne, Kapıkule, Svilengrad, Dimitrovgrad, Plovdiv, Pazarcık, and lastly, Sofia stops.
Note that the train route also connects to Bucharest during the summer period.
Summary of Major Turkish Train Routes
Turkey has many train routes connecting major cities. Let's have a look at the summary of each major Turkish train route:
Mainline Train Routes
6 Eylül Ekspresi
The daily morning September 6th Express connects Balıkesir and İzmir (Basmane). The southbound morning train originates in Bandırma, departing before the arrival of the first-morning ferry from Istanbul. The train then stops in Balıkesir and continues via Soma and Manisa to İzmir (Basmane), arriving in the early afternoon. (Train-and-ferry used to be scheduled to connect İzmir and Istanbul, but this is no longer the case.)
17 Eylül Ekspresi
This daily September 17th Express evening train connects Balıkesir and İzmir (Basmane). The northbound afternoon train from İzmir (Basmane) continues past Balıkesir to Bandırma, arriving at 21:38 (9:38), after the last ferry to Istanbul has departed. (Train-and-ferry used to be scheduled to connect İzmir and Istanbul, but this is no longer the case.)
Touristic Doğu Ekspresi
The Touristic Eastern Express is an overnight train that takes nearly 30 hours! 6 hours more than the daily Eastern Express. It travels from Ankara via Kayseri, Sivas, Erzincan, Elazığ, and Erzurum to Kars. The reason for 6 hours difference is that the train takes approximately 3-hour stops in Erzincan, Erzurum, Divriği, Sivas, and Ilic for tourists to experience these historical spots. Also, the Touristic Eastern Express only hauls sleeping cars and dining cars.
Samsun Sivas Ekspresi
Samsun Sivas Ekspresi connects Samsun with Sivas. The whole journey takes 8 hours to complete.
Regional Train Routes
Here are the shorter-distance regional trains (Bölgesel Tren) that you may find useful:
Istanbul - Thrace (Edirne)
Once traveled by the fabled Orient Express connecting Paris and Constantinople, this European route is now better served by bus. There is one daily express train, the Istanbul - Sofia Express, between Istanbul and Europe (via Sofia and Bucharest) which you can use to travel between Istanbul (Halkalı) and Edirne.
There used to be one slow (4 hours) local train between Istanbul (Halkalı), Edirne, and Kapıkule (the Turkish-Bulgarian border post). However, this is not the case anymore.
İzmir - Airport - Selçuk (Ephesus) - Denizli
These regional trains from İzmir's Basmane Gar make it easy and inexpensive to travel between İzmir, Adnan Menderes Airport, Selçuk (for Ephesus, Şirince and Kuşadası), Aydın (for Tralles), Nazilli (for Aphrodisias) and Denizli (for Pamukkale, Hierapolis, and Laodicea).
İzmir - Manisa - Alaşehir - Uşak
These trains run daily from İzmir's Basmane Gar to Manisa (Magnesia), Sart (Sardis), Alaşehir (ancient Philadelphia) and the carpet-making center of Uşak, but—as usual—they take much longer than the bus.
Mersin - Tarsus - Adana - İskenderun Trains
Frequent trains—about 24 per day—run along the eastern Mediterranean coast between these important historical, commercial cities, taking about an hour for the run between Mersin and Adana; a little over two hours between Adana and İskenderun.
High-Speed Train Routes
Here are the high-speed train routes in Turkey:
This high-speed train runs the distance between Ankara and Istanbul within 5 hours, passing through Eryaman, Polatlı, Eskişehir, Bozüyük, Bilecik, Arifiye, İzmit, Gebze, Pendik, Bostancı, Söğütlüçeşme, Bakırköy, and Halkalı.
This high-speed train runs the distance between Ankara and Eskişehir within 1.5 hours.
This high-speed train runs the distance between Ankara and Konya within 2 hours.
This high-speed train runs between Ankara and Karaman within 3 hours, passing through Halkalı, Bakırköy, Söğütlüçeşme, Bostancı, Pendik, Gebze, İzmit, Arifiye, Bilecik, Bozüyük, Eskişehir, Selçuklu and Konya.
This high-speed train runs between Istanbul and Konya within 5 hours, passing through Eryaman, Polatlı, Selçuklu, Konya, and Çumra.
This high-speed train runs between Istanbul and Karaman within 6 hours, passing through Söğütlüçeşme, Bostancı, Pendik, Gebze, İzmit, Arifiye, Bilecik, Bozüyük, Eskişehir, Selçuklu, Konya, Çumra and Karaman.
This high-speed train runs between Istanbul and Eskişehir within 3 hours, passing through Bozüyük, Bilecik, Arifiye, İzmit, Gebze, Pendik, Bostancı, and Söğütlüçeşme.