If you want to get from Sofia, Bulgaria to Istanbul, Turkey, you have two options. You can take a bus during the day and at night or you can take the daily departing night train. We decided on the latter and bought tickets for the night train to Istanbul at Sofia Central Station.
As of February 2018, the train to Istanbul departs daily at 9 PM from Sofia Central Station. You can choose between a sleeper train car (2 beds or 4 beds) or a regular one, the latter being a little cheaper. We decided to book a cabin in the sleeper train that fitted just the two of us and paid roughly $40 each.
The train ride from Sofia to Istanbul takes, depending on how long it takes at the border, roughly 9 hours and the train takes you straight from Sofia to Istanbul (Halkali).
A cabin for two people comes with everything you could wish for – there’s a little sink, fridge, hooks, and right when we got on the train we were given bedding for two people. The heating was working wonderfully and there was plenty of space for the two of us. The train conductor was the sweetest person ever and gently woke us up when it was time to have our passports checked at the border.
The border crossing was surprisingly smooth – at the Bulgarian border, our passports were checked on the train (roughly 1:00 AM) and only at the Turkish border (roughly 2:00 AM) did we need to get off the train to have our passports and visas checked. Later a lovely border staff (seriously, he was the sweetest) got on the train and checked our belongings and luggage.
We got on the train in Sofia at 9 PM and arrived at roughly 6:30 AM in Istanbul (Halkali). The Halkali train stop is located a bit further out and when we got off the train a shuttle bus awaited us and after an hour-long journey, we got dropped off at Sirkeci railway station, also known as Istanbul railway station. There are heaps of trams, buses and a nearby metro and while it was confusing at first, we ended up reaching our Airbnb near Taksim square in a timely manner.
I highly recommend catching the train from Sofia to Istanbul and if you want to get a bit of sleep, then I’d go with a seat in the sleeper cars. Have you ever been on a night train? How did you like it? I’d love to hear about your experiences!