Traveling from Sofia to Istanbul in a sleeper car

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!

 

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17 Comments

  1. Nicole
    March 18, 2018 / 5:47 PM

    Would love to make that journey, looks like great fun. Thanks for sharing.

    • Nina
      Author
      March 19, 2018 / 3:07 AM

      The night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was the only one I’ve taken until that point and I was so surprised when I stepped inside the little cabin on the train. It was so spacious and nice! I highly recommend taking the train, it was so comfortable and only slightly more expensive than the bus! 🙂

  2. March 18, 2018 / 7:03 PM

    Hi Nina..I am sure you know I love reading your blogs! So happy u are enjoying travel. I am not a pro blogger but do love to write and take photos when I travel and have been for years..I have a wordpress.com account but want to switch to the wordpress.org. I have done the research etc but I am not finding it user friendly at all. Getting discouraged of what to do and what to use. If you ever feel like doing a You tube vlog on this topic It would be helpful..thanks! xo have fun!!

    • Nina
      Author
      March 19, 2018 / 3:14 AM

      🙂 I am so thrilled to hear that Deborah! That’s awesome! It’s such great fun to document it all! 🙂 Have you gotten hosting yet? I had a wordpress.org blog years ago only to set it up all over again this year and while I was a little overwhelmed in the beginning (there was so much to learn!), I eventually figured it out. That’s a great topic! I made a note of it! If you have any questions, feel free to ask me! 🙂

  3. March 19, 2018 / 1:21 AM

    Me again! I just read about your wordpress info under your resources tab. I forgot I had read that before, so I will check it out and see what happens..thanks Nina. But if u ever want to vlog about it, I would still like it.

    • Nina
      Author
      March 19, 2018 / 3:14 AM

      I just read your comment, haha! Yes, definitely! I think making a video about it is a great idea! 🙂

  4. Tim F
    December 31, 2018 / 3:24 AM

    Hi, Nina.
    I am going to Bulgaria for my 3rd vacation in 4 years. (Love Bulgaria!)
    I am going to be in Sofia/Rila/Dryanovo for 6 days… but that leaves me 2 free days in Sofa. I am considering doing the night train to Istanbul. It seems like it would be exhausting way to see Istanbul (in 1 day, from Sofia). However, I suppose if I can get a sleeper car… and sleep to Istanbul… and sleep coming back to Sofia… this seems like a great way to do it.
    Because of your blog, I think I have the confidence to try this.
    Thank you.
    -Tim F, Virginia, USA

    • Nina
      Author
      December 31, 2018 / 10:06 AM

      Hi Tim,

      Sounds like you’ve got an incredible trip ahead of you!

      I certainly think that it may be an exhausting way to see Istanbul. There’s also the visa cost that you’d need to account for when it comes to seeing Turkey. While I highly recommend seeing Istanbul, I’d allocate at least 3 days to see the city. From your itinerary, I understand that that’s not possible. If you’d really like to see it then I do highly recommend the sleeper car train, it was really comfortable!

      Taking the train is pretty straightforward and I am sure you’d get enough sleep!

      Have a great trip! 🙂
      Nina

  5. Ralph Quigley
    June 15, 2019 / 2:17 PM

    Hi Nina

    This is a long while after your trip on the Sofia – Istanbul sleeper train so hope you don’t mind me resurrecting it ! But there’s just a question about it I’d like to ask please –

    Were you able to buy your train tickets at Sofia station on the day of travel – as I know it’s not possible to buy in advance online outside of Bulgaria ?
    I have also read some other ‘blogs’ by traveller’s saying that when they tried buying tickets on the day, they found the train that same evening had sold out !
    Also, does this depend on the time of year or season you travel ? How busy does it get ?
    Many thanks,
    Ralph

    • Nina
      Author
      June 18, 2019 / 8:34 AM

      Hi Ralph,
      I bought the tickets in Sofia a couple days in advance. I wouldn’t book it on the day as the risk of not getting on the train is too high! 🙂 I hope this helps! 🙂

  6. Tim F
    June 15, 2019 / 7:37 PM

    I discovered I could not buy international travel ( Bulgaria-Turkey) … online… in advance.
    So – I hired a Bulgarian tourism company to purchase my tickets for me (maybe in-person, at Sofia station?) and got the tickets from them when I arrived in Sofia.
    I hope this idea helps.

    • Ralph
      June 15, 2019 / 7:50 PM

      Thanks for that Tim – is it ok to ask the name of the travel company in Bulgaria (or is that classed as advertising ?!) you dealt witjh and were they reliable ? ….although I assume they were, if you got your tickets ! Also, how much did that service cost (excl ticket costs) and how far in advance did you hire their services ?
      Many thanks.

      • Tim F
        June 17, 2019 / 10:20 PM

        Hi, Ralph.
        I am not sure what the rules are for mentioning company names… and my answer isn’t going to be straightforward, so I apologize in advance.
        So I got my advance train ticket from Sofia-to-Istanbul through a company named “Easy Bulgaria Travel”… by hiring one of their guides to accompany me to Istanbul. When he showed up at the station to go with me, he had the tickets in-hand from an earlier purchase done in Sofia weeks before I arrived. HOWEVER – the guide happens to be a friend of mine who works for this tour company. That guide does not normally do that type of thing, but went with me as a friend – even though I hired his services from the company.
        That said, I don’t know why the company Easy Bulgaria Travel couldn’t buy your tickets for you in-person in Sofia – and give them to you when you arrive — for a fee, of course. I just don’t know what the fee would be… as I had paid for the service of a guide for 2 days – who brought the tickets. (A guide who doesn’t normally accompany people to Istanbul.)
        If they won’t do that for you, Nvision Travel is another company I use whom I really like. They may be able to buy tickets for you.
        I hope this helps. -Tim

  7. Tim F
    June 17, 2019 / 10:12 PM

    Hi, Ralph.
    I am not sure what the rules are for mentioning company names… and my answer isn’t going to be straightforward, so I apologize in advance.
    So I got my advance train ticket from Sofia-to-Istanbul through a company named “Easy Bulgaria Travel”… by hiring one of their guides to accompany me to Istanbul. When he showed up at the station to go with me, he had the tickets in-hand from an earlier purchase done in Sofia weeks before I arrived. HOWEVER – the guide happens to be a friend of mine who works for this tour company. That guide does not normally do that type of thing, but went with me as a friend – even though I hired his services from the company.
    That said, I don’t know why the company Easy Bulgaria Travel couldn’t buy your tickets for you in-person in Sofia – and give them to you when you arrive — for a fee, of course. I just don’t know what the fee would be… as I had paid for the service of a guide for 2 days – who brought the tickets. (A guide who doesn’t normally accompany people to Istanbul.)
    If they won’t do that for you, Nvision Travel is another company I use whom I really like. They may be able to buy tickets for you.
    I hope this helps. -Tim

    The company is

    • Ralph
      June 18, 2019 / 12:45 PM

      Thanks to both Nina and Tim for your replies – that’s helpful. I might try and contact the companies you mention Tim and see what they say. Otherwise I might see if buses to Istanbul from Sofia can be booked in advance.
      Many thanks again.
      Ralph

      • TimF
        June 18, 2019 / 2:23 PM

        Hi again, Ralph. I highly recommend the train with sleeper car where you have a bed. You wake up relatively fresh in Istanbul… ready for a day of sight-seeing. They do wake you up at border crossing in middle of night – for about 1 hour. But afterwards, back in bed.
        That is just my suggestion.
        Good luck.
        Thanks to the Minimalist Ninja for hosting this web page!
        -Tim

  8. Ralph
    June 18, 2019 / 6:21 PM

    Thank Tim – I am certainly going to try ! Thanks also for Minimalist Ninja for the original guide.
    Ralph

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