How to go from Bucharest to Istanbul by train – the Bosphorus Express

The Bosphorus Express is the daily train connecting Bucharest, Romania, to Istanbul, Turkey, going through Bulgaria in between. This train partially revives the famous Orient Express and connects Istanbul to Europe (the rest of Europe).

Here, we will explore everything you need to know before doing the Bosphorus Express, either Bucharest-Istanbul or Istanbul-Bucharest, from tickets and timetable to the train and journey itself.

Is the Bucharest-Istanbul train running?

As of 2023, the train is running! Although, it won’t take you to Istanbul-Sirkeci. The train stops at Istanbul-Halkali, about 25 km from the center. However, you get a free shuttle bus ride from the Turkish railways to the central station, Istanbul-Sirkeci!

It’s a bit of a bummer, but it runs well enough, and you’ll get there smoothly. This is not something you’ll need to worry about too much… In Romania, the train starts (or finishes) in Bucharest’s central station, Bucharest Nord.

Is the Bucharest-Istanbul train working
Bucharest to Istanbul train

How to buy tickets to the Bosphorus Express?

As far as we know, you can only buy tickets to the Bosphorus Express at the railway stations in Bucharest and Istanbul. Note that if you want to do a stop-over in Bulgaria, you’ll need to buy tickets to the Bulgarian town and then buy another one from them to Istanbul.

Furthermore, be aware that not every station in Bulgaria sells international tickets, only the bigger ones. For example, you can’t buy tickets in Veliko Tarnovo (one of the best things to do in Bulgaria). You need to go to Gorna.

How to buy tickets to the Bosphorus express?
Veliko Tarnovo train Station in Bulgaria

When buying tickets, double-check if you are given the right tickets, and when traveling with other people, check if you are all together. They mess up the tickets quite a lot! I have seen tickets to seats that don’t exist, and no one seemed too bothered…

What’s the Bosphorus Express timetable?

This is a night train and a quite long one! It also has to pass through two border crossings and change locomotives a few times. All in all, it takes about 20 hours to travel approximately 830 km. You may want to consider a side trip through Bulgaria.

timetable of the Bucharest to Istanbul train
Timetable in Bucharest Nord

When we did the Bucharest-Istanbul train, we left Bucharest at 12:45 and arrived at Halkali at 7:50. Now it’s a bit earlier, as it departs Bucharest Nord at 10:50 and arrives at Halkali at 06:34, of the next day.

Then, it should take you about an hour to get to the central station on the free shuttle. If you are doing this from Istanbul to Bucharest, the train leaves Halkali at 20:00 and arrives in Bucharest at 17:10!

So, the Bosphorus Express train runs only once daily.

Traveling to Bulgaria

50 things you need to know before going to Bulgaria

You may want to consider having a side trip through Bulgaria.

How is the Bosphorus Express train?

First of all, you should know that you can’t buy seat tickets for the whole journey. Your options are four and 6-berth couchettes without a bathroom or private sleepers for 1, 2, or 3 persons with private bathrooms.

Nevertheless, if you are not making the whole journey, it is possible to use seats. It’s really complicated, it’s better if you ask at the ticket office if your partial trip can be made without buying the sleeper or couchette.

Overall, the train is a bit dated but still reasonably comfortable. Compared to the Ister train, for example, it felt older, and the beds were less comfortable. 

Which type of seat should I choose
Seats in the Bosphorus express

Which type of seat should I choose?

As we said above, there are four and 6-berth couchettes. Among these, you definitely should choose the four berth ones as six people in such a small space become very crowded and probably difficult to rest. The exception is if you are traveling in a group of 6.

Between the sleepers and the couchettes, the main difference is the bathroom and obviously the comfort of having it only to yourself. As for the bathroom, I honestly don’t think you gain too much in having it for yourselves as the public ones are fairly clean and more than enough. So unless you are a private person, you should be fine in a 4-berth couchette…

You should note that the couchettes have electric plugs, which is great, but you may consider bringing a triple outlet.  Furthermore, the couchettes have an automatic air conditioner, making it even better. On the downside, it doesn’t have Wifi!

How is the Bosphorus express train
Couchettes of the Bosphorus express train

How are the shared bathrooms on the train?

Each coach has two shared bathrooms on the ends. They are very small, similar to the ones we find in airplanes. They are cleaned regularly because we never found them very dirty. However, don’t forget to take toilet paper; sometimes they have it, and sometimes they don’t. You don’t want to try your luck here, do you? 🙂

how is the Bosphorus express
Shared bathrooms in the Bosphorus Express

How is the Bucharest-Istanbul train experience?

Compared to the Ister, the Bosphorus Express is slightly less comfortable, and the border crossing is longer and at a much worse time.

We enjoyed this experience, but you should note that we like traveling by train. After all, it’s the civilized way to travel, right?

How's the Bucharest to Istanbul journey?
Bulgarian trains, train Bucharest to Istanbul.

How’s the Bucharest to Istanbul journey?

The train leaves at 12h40, which is reasonable timing, and allows you to get to the train station easily, have lunch, and buy food for the trip there. Bucharest Nord is a big train station with supermarkets, several fast-food restaurants, and local food stalls. It should be fairly easy to buy supplies for the trip!

Soon after entering the train and getting to your seats, you’ll find the train steward, and he will get your tickets and confirm that you are correctly seated (Hopefully, your seat exists :D, yeah, I’m not forgetting this one for a while… ). Soon afterward, he will bring you pillows, linen, and a nice gift from the Turkish railways: Turkish juice, Turkish cookies, and water. 

How is the Bucharest-Istanbul train
Bucharest’s main station, Bucharest Nord | Bucharest to Istanbul Train

How’s the Romania/Bulgaria Border Crossing?

The first part of the journey is very flat, with long plains of fields, and nothing happens until you get to the Romanian/Bulgarian Border. You’ll need to cross the border here, which takes about one hour. This is very easy, but first, you must stop in Giurgiu and exit Romania and only then enter Bulgaria in Ruse.

Border police from both countries are very polite and simply take your passports, scan them, and return them. You don’t even need to leave your seats. As simple as it could be, remember that neither of the countries is entirely on the Schengen agreement.

Soon after entering Bulgaria, the terrain becomes more rugged, but while this happens, it also becomes darker, and you can’t see much. It’s quite a shame because you get through some beautiful Bulgarian mountains and can’t really see them!

Note that the train halts for more than one hour in Gorna to change locomotives and separate the cars that go to Istanbul from the ones that go to Sofia. The rest of the trip to Bulgaria is made at night, and you can’t see much. You arrive at the Bulgarian/Turkish border at 1 am.

How's the Romania/Bulgaria Border Crossing?
Romania/Bulgaria Border, Bucharest Istanbul train

How is the Bulgaria/Turkey border crossing?

This border takes much longer because of the Turkish side. Leaving Bulgaria is similar to the previous experience of entering Ruse. Still, when getting to Turkey, you must exit the train and go to the border control queue, which takes a while.

You have your passport and e-visa checked there, and they will probably ask how long you’ll be in Turkey and what address you’ll stay at. It takes more time, but it shouldn’t be complicated. The worst part is that it’s very late at night (around 2 am), and you would rather be asleep, resting.

Later, you get back to the train, and the Turkish customs officers will check the train and may look at you and ask something, but soon you’ll be back traveling to Istanbul. It should take another 5 hours to Halkali, where you leave the train and get the shuttle bus. In the meantime, it’s finally time to get some sleep.

Roughly at 8 AM, you arrive at Halkali, and the steward takes you to the designated shuttle that will take you to Istanbul’s Central Station. It’s relatively quick, taking about one hour to get there. At about 9 AM, you arrive at your final destination, Istanbul Central Station!

Bucharest to Istanbul train

What to do in Istanbul?

When arriving in Istanbul, we strongly advise you to proceed to the tourist office next to the station and buy the local public transport card. If you need to take a cab, make sure you choose one that uses the taximeter instead of negotiating the fare – it’s always cheaper! Or you could get an Uber.

bucharest to istanbul train
Rustem Pasha Mosque in Istanbul

We strongly advise staying in the Istanbul center, particularly in Sultanahmet! Sultanahmet is where some of the most famous landmarks are located and is easily accessible. It’s also full of hotels and guesthouses ranging in all prices. Feel free to use the box below to book your hotel!

We suggest you try the Big Bus tours, available in Istanbul. They take you to all the best attractions and provide great information, all with WIFI on board! Click here to check it out!

Finally, this journey will cross 3 countries in 2 days, so remember to travel with insurance. The trip is relatively safe, but you never know what may happen, and it’s always better to be insured.

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How to do the Bosphorus express train

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