We’re always on the look out for something a little different for our readers, so when Richard told us about a planned trip to Istanbul by train we wanted to know more.

An alternative way to travel to Istanbul by Richard Oldham.

“We wanted to visit Istanbul without flying there, partly to reduce the carbon footprint involved and partly because we wanted to see some of the beautiful Turkish county side that can’t be appreciated while flying thousands of feet overhead. Last week we found ourselves, along with a couple of friends, setting off to catch a bus to Denizli on the first leg of our alternative journey. There are two practical routes available, Fethiye-Denizli-Eskişehir-Istanbul or Fethiye-Denizli-Izmir-Bandirma-Istanbul, and we chose the first option.

Fethiye to Denizli

It wasn’t as straight forward as hopping on a plane and arriving an hour or so later, it required a little more planning, one bus and three train rides to reach the European side of Istanbul. The nearest train station to Fethiye is Denizli and it takes approximately 4 hours to get there by bus, most of the bus companies travel to Denizli from the Fethiye Otogar. We opted for the 10:16am bus travelling with Fethiye Seyahat and booked our seats a few days beforehand at the Otogar, however you can book online and pick up the tickets on arrival at https://fethiyeseyahat.com.tr/.

An alternative way to travel to Istanbul
Fethiye Seyahat – the bus to Denizli

At Denizli we stayed overnight in the Yildirim Hotel as it is very close to both the bus and train stations. It was clean, had comfortable beds and served an amazing breakfast. After checking in we walked across to the train station to book our onward tickets for Eskişehir and found that buying a train ticket is very easy, although more akin to a plane ticket than a UK train ticket. Firstly you will need to show either your passport or Ikamet/Kimlik, you will then be offered a choice of seats, all seats are allocated by coach and seat number and ticket prices vary depending on your age, seniors 60-64 get 20% off and those over 65 get 50% off. You can also book tickets online at http://www.tcddtasimacilik.gov.tr/.

An alternative way to travel to Istanbul
Denizli Station
An alternative way to travel to Istanbul
The bus ticket to Eskişehir was more like a plane ticket

After booking the tickets we had time to enjoy a late lunch and to explore the copper district where most of Turkey’s ‘alems’ are made – alems are the beautiful and ornate metal finials placed on top of a dome or minaret. 

Denizili to Eskişehir

There is only one train a day train to Eskişehir, the Pamukkale Express, it leaves at 7:50am, takes 8 hours and stops at 26 stations along the way – I’m not sure where the word Express comes from.

An alternative way to travel to Istanbul

The train only covers a distance of 421 km (262 miles) as it meanders through the mountains, climbing to a height of over 1250 meters on a very beautiful, mostly rural route through central Anatolia. The train makes a very brief stop at each station often for only two or three minutes. Most stations are very rural, some having pretty station houses and a smartly dressed Station Master while one was just a sign alongside the track with no platform and no one to be seen. 

An alternative way to travel to Istanbul
Some stations had pretty station houses…
An alternative way to travel to Istanbul
…with a smartly dressed station master.

There isn’t a food or drinks service available on this train and there isn’t enough time at any stop to jump off and buy something at the stations on the way, so be prepared and take a picnic with you!

On arrival at Eskişehir station it’s possible to catch a train approximately two hours later and carry on to Istanbul, arriving very late evening but we decided to stay overnight and explore a little of the city. We bought our tickets for the next day’s train before leaving the station, we had hoped to take the 16.15 train but it was already full so we had to take the 14:06 Ankara-Istanbul high-speed YHT train (Yüksek Hızlı Treni). If we did this again it might be worth booking these tickets in advance as it didn’t give us much time to explore.  We stayed in the Ada Life Otel, which is very comfortable and only about a 15 minute walk from the station, it overlooks the canal and is well positioned to explore.

An alternative way to travel to Istanbul
Ada Life Hotel in Eskişehir

Eskişehir to Istanbul

The next day we just had time for a quick look around the city and have a bite of lunch before heading off to the station to catch the Istanbul train to Söğütlüçeşme railway station (Sğtlü.Çeşme). This train is truly an express train, we reached speeds of 255 kph (160mph) and the 300 km (190mile) journey took just 3 hours, stopping at 7 stations along the way. These trains have a drinks/snacks trolley service, so no need to pack a picnic for this one. 

An alternative way to travel to Istanbul
An alternative way to travel to Istanbul

When we arrived at Sğtlü.Çeşme station we followed the signs to the Marmaray, the train that runs under the Bosporus and connects the Asian side to the European side of Istanbul, where we were staying in the Sultanahmet District. To use the Marmaray you will need to get an Istanbulkart (Istanbul Card), Istanbul’s all-round public transport card, valid on all public transport and most of the ferries. You will find machines at all bus/tram stops and station entrances for buying and topping up these cards. You can select English and the machines will guide you through the process.

This was a fun, easy way to travel giving us chance to see how beautiful the countryside is and appreciate the overall vastness of it all. It was also a good way to see other towns and cities along the way too.

An alternative way to travel to Istanbul
What a great way to see more of the beautiful countryside.

I think this winter we’ll be making plans for future rail travel.”  

Thank you to Richard Oldham for sharing the experience and photographs with us.


  1. What a fantastic read. You made what would seem a daunting journey to some, sound so easy. Well written. Thank you for that. It sounds very appealing to try this journey.

Comments are closed.