When presented with the opportunity to take a sleeper train called the Dogu Express from Ankara to Kars in Eastern Turkey, and then onwards into Georgia, I jumped at the chance.
Train travel is the best way to get around a country in my opinion and this is one of the best.
I highly recommend it.
If you are short on time then flying would be faster, but add two to three days more and you can do it this way.
Don’t fly if you can help it!
Flying into Istanbul should be around the same price as flying direct to Georgia or cheaper (it’s a big regional hub), and taking the train won’t cost that much.
I was actually on the way to Georgia from Kyrgyzstan but found out it wasn’t that much more expensive to fly to Istanbul and take the train across Turkey to Georgia.
When travelling you have to find random ways to get to places if you have the time as it makes things more interesting.
Anyway, from Istanbul you can take one of the new high-speed trains to Ankara that takes around five hours.
From Ankara onwards is the best part as you can ride a sleeper train called the Dogu Express (Doğu Ekspresi in Turkish) for 24 hours all the way to the east of the country through Eastern Anatolia to the small city of Kars.
Right now you have to take a bus from Kars into Georgia, but I said in the title a train all the way into Georgia, as that should be true very soon as they are finishing a railway from Turkey into Georgia.
I’ll update the post accordingly when that happens.
At the end of the line near Kars, you can explore the ancient capital of the Armenian empire, Ani.
It’s a beautiful place to visit and worth the journey just for that.
This is what to expect taking the train from Istanbul to Ankara, then to Kars, then Georgia.
Train Istanbul – Ankara – Kars – Georgia (via Dogu Express)
The official Turkish name for the train is The Doğu Ekspresi’ (Dogu Express, also known as the Eastern Express).
The train from Ankara to Kars has a few different options, from simple seating, to your own sleeping compartment.
Don’t be cheap on this one as it’s a 24-hour journey so treat yourself to the sleeper.
It’s great value for money at around $45 for your own cabin (2019).
The cabin has two seats that fold down for your bed.
The seats are comfortable enough but it’s so much cosier to rest on the bed watching the scenery go by.
The train leaves around 6 pm (18.00) from Ankara train station and arrives at Kars Station approximately 6 pm the next day.
(Update 2019) There is now a touristic sleeper train that only stops at 3 stations (might change in the future) for a few hours allowing for excursions, and has only sleeper cars.
The touristic Dogu Express leaves around two hours after the normal Dogu Express, so around 8 pm (20.00) and leaves on a Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
However the original Dogu Express is cheaper and a more fun experience I think.
Sleeper train departure station just outside of Ankara –
With the seats down in the sleeper compartment –
With the bed down in the compartment and seats are gone –
What a great way to wake up!
Watching the scenery of Turkey pass you by as you chill on your bed 🙂 –
As you get closer to Kars the scenery gets even more beautiful with rugged hills and following a river for a while.
Meandering along the train is just so chilled out to travel on.
Easily one of the most scenic train journeys I have done.
Arriving at Kars Station is the end of the Dogu Express part of the journey.
There is not much to do in the city of Kars itself when you get there.
The only thing really worthwhile for things to do in Kars is climbing the medieval castle for the view.
View across Kars from the castle –
Having said all that it’s worth spending two nights in Kars so you can go and explore the nearby ruins of Ani for half a day.
The Ani Ruins in Turkey
Ani is one of the best sights in Turkey and I say that after travelling and exploring a lot of places in Turkey.
There is not much left of Ani, that used to be home to 100,000 people in its heyday over 1000 years ago.
Many earthquakes and invasions saw to the destruction of this ancient capital of Armenia.
But they are restoring some of the buildings and the scenery alone is worth the visit.
There are Armenian church ruins spread out all over the place amongst the hills and gorges.
Armenian church ruins –
Inside one of the Armenian church ruins –
Some of the small churches perch on the side of gorges –
Other ruins apart from the churches include residential buildings, government complexes, and more.
Here is some good info on the practicalities of visiting Ani from Kars.
Arriving in Georgia and Tbilisi
Update: This is an article where they say the train between Kars and Georgia should be running by the end of 2019.
For now, you will have to take a bus into Georgia to Batumi and then the train from there to Tbilisi. I didn’t stop in Batumi but continued straight to Tbilisi.
Once there you will find lots of things to do in Tbilisi.
Take The Train From Turkey to Georgia
So if you are planning on visiting Turkey and then heading into Georgia don’t bother flying if you have the time, take the train across Turkey.
It’s the best!
If you will be in Istanbul for a few nights before leaving this is a good site to find accommodation there:
Here’s a Turkey train map to show you the general route for the Istanbul to Ankara train and then the Ankara to Kars train.
Useful Links for Train Travel in Turkey and Georgia
Seat61 is the best site in the world to plan and get information on train travel. It’s all I use to find out information when planning to travel by train.
This is Seat61’s Turkey section for loads of info on the practical side of this train journey with the Dogu Express (Doğu Ekspresi) included.
The Lonely Planet Turkey (Travel Guide) is great to help plan your journeys in Turkey.
You can see how my trip to Georgia was in my post about it here.
Be sure to take travel insurance for your travels! I use World Nomads and have found them to be excellent helping me out in a bad medical situation.
Get an insurance quote:
Short video summing up this train journey:
Here’s a great video from other travellers that did the train from Ankara to Kars in winter to see how epic it is:
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