Wednesday, 11 March 2009

From London to the Caucasus by train

Photo of Batumi Tbilisi train by Alex

The following is an itinerary for travelling from the U.K. to the Caucasus by train!
The main leg of this week-long journey will take you, comfortably ensconced in a succession of sleeper compartments, to Tbilisi, the capital of the (now unfortunately notorious) Republic of Georgia, from where you could easily hop up into the highest mountains in Europe and get blind-drunk with shepherds in fortified mediaeval towers well out of the range of any mobile telephone network!
(You might find it useful to follow this itinerary on the Google Map I have created for it, which you can see here.)


Day 1

Head to London's St. Pancras International railway station, and catch the 10:57 Eurostar high-speed train to Brussels (Bruxelles-Midi); your Eurostar arrives at 14:03 local time (GMT+1). Head into town, and enjoy a nice lunch washed down with Belgian beers, then make your way back to Bruxelles-Midi station and catch the 17:25 Thalys high-speed train to Köln (Cologne), which arrives at Cologne's magnificent Hauptbahnhof at 19:45. A quick change of platform, and you will be in your compartment on board the 20:06 sleeper to Vienna!

Day 2

The sleeper from Brussels arrives in Vienna's Westbahnhof at 09:04 (GMT+2). You will have all day to visit Vienna, so there is no need to hurry! Leave your suitcase in a locker, and head into town. You need to be back at the Westbahnhof in time to catch the 18:50 sleeper to Sofia.

Day 3

After having travelled all day and all night, the sleeper from Vienna arrives in Sofia at 17:40. You will only have two hours before the sleeper to Istanbul departs, so it would probably be best to stay close to the station. The train to Istanbul leaves at 19:30.

Day 4

Your train will arrive in Istanbul's Sirkeci station at 08:00 (GMT+3), and this is where it gets tricky: Sirkeci station is on the European side of the Bosphorus, and your connecting train (which will take you across Anatolia) leaves from Istanbul's Asian railway station, Haydarpaşa, at 08:35. Even by taking the direct boat across to the station, I doubt it is possible to make it in time for the train... So it is extremely likely that you will have to spend a night in Istanbul. (My personal recommendation would be the "Chill Out" Hostel next to the Galata Tower: Central, comfortable, and cheap!)

Day 5

The "Mountain Express" sleeper train leaves Istanbul's Haydarpaşa station at 08:35, and crosses Anatolia in about 40 hours, via Eskişehir, Ankara, Kayseri, Sivas, Erzincan, and Erzurum. Your destination is the bleak town of Kars, a frontier-town in north-eastern Turkey where the train "terminates". (It used to continue to Armenia.)

Photo of the views from the Istanbul to Kars train by Alex

Day 6

The sleeper pulls in at Kars' railway station at 22:00. Take a taxi, and head into town to find a hotel for the night. I recommend the Güngören Otel – good value for money. Have dinner and go to bed early, as you will need to get up for an early start!

Day 7

Head for Kars' otogar (bus station), where you need to find either an otobus (bus) or dolmuş (minibus) to take you to the town of Hopa on the Black Sea coast, via Ardahan and Artvin. This journey takes around 6 hours. From Hopa, you can either take a taxi or a minibus to the border with Georgia, which you will cross on foot before continuing by either taxi or minibus to Batumi, Georgia's second-largest city. Batumi's railway station is slightly out-of-town, in a nearby village with the rather amusing name of Makhindjauri ("Child of [the] Ugly [person]"). The sleeper from Batumi to Tbilisi leaves at around 22:00 (GMT+4).

Day 8

The sleeper from Batumi arrives at Tbilisi's railway station at around 08:00 local time. From Tbilisi, you can either take the sleeper to Baku (8 hours) or to Yerevan (15 hours).

Tbilisi, Georgia (

There is no single website which can provide you with all the timetabling information you would need for this journey.

The Man in Seat 61 can help you with the London-Istanbul stretch, but after that, you will have to resort to the Turkish State Railways website, whose English version can be found here. Essentially, once you reach Kars, you are on your own!

Georgian Railways do have a website, but it is completely useless, and as there is only one train you can take from Batumi to Tbilisi, which leaves daily, your chances of either missing it or of boarding the wrong one are slim.

My personal recommendations would be: Carry plenty of photocopies of your passport (to avoid having to trust the conductors with the original); take plenty of books with you; bring spare batteries for every electronic item you think you will need during the journey (the electricity supply in the compartments doesn't always work); buy picnics at every available opportunity; carry a not-too-thick-but-just-about-enough wad of cash with you (you will not always have the time to find ATMs along the way); bring a fresh duvet cover with you in case the bedding is unsatisfactory; and plan your ticket purchases carefully, for you will sometimes have to change trains in a hurry.



  1. Nice one Alex! Inspiring trip!


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  3. hi there, i was just wondering how much this trip cost you? excluding food and stuff, so literally just the travel...