The Dogu express: by train through Turkey

The Dogu express: by train through Turkey

Backpacking Turkey: A travel guide to the Dogu express (Dogu ekspresi) and travelling by train through Turkey to Iran for the independent budget traveller

This post is all about the Dogu express including my own experience, how to get Dogu express tickets, The Dogu express route and what to expect on a Turkish train.

The Dogu express, also called Dogu ekspresi, from Ankara to Kars is the longest train journey in Turkey. It takes 24 hours and is among the world most epic train rides. It is also the best and cheapest way to reach the desolate but beautiful Northeastern Anatolia

The train stops in Kars and this could be the end of your journey or the start of a new adventure. Kars itself is a nice city with the Kars castle and the nearby Ani ruins. But you can travel further to Dogubayezit. Another nice town with the beautiful Ishak Pasa Palace and famous Mount Ararat.

Dogu express scenery on the way to Kars in Anatolia

Why I took the Dogu express

It was by chance that I took the Dogu express when I was planning my trip to Iran. Of course flying to Iran is much easier, but I love trains. Unfortunately the Trans Asia express from Istanbul to Tehran had been cancelled for an indefinite amount of time.

The other option was the Dogu express from Ankara to Kars. This journey was not as straightforward as the direct train to Tehran. It took more time and included a change of trains, buses and taxi’s, but little did I know about the beauty of the scenery along the way. In the end it was a huge bonus that I was able to visit northeastern anatolia before I went to Iran.

Dogu express scenery from Ankara to Erzurum and Kars in Turkey

My crazy start of the Dogu Express

The Dogu express used to be even longer when it departed from Istanbul, but all long distance trains now leave from Ankara. New high speed trains bring you from Istanbul to Ankara in about 4 hours.

My first mission was to go to Pendik station in Istanbul. To get to the Asian side was quick and easy, but then the challenge started. It took a while before I found a local minibus, but I still had 2 hours so I tought I had plenty of time.

I was wrong. The traffic was crazy and we went through endless suburbs that did not seem to end. Only 10 minutes before departure I arrived at the station for the rather dull journey to Ankara.

I had a couple of hours to kill in Ankara before the Dogu express departed. Just one month ago a bombing in Ankara killed 37 people. The park in front of the station was eerily quiet except for some armed police guards. It did not invite me to explore Ankara further with my heavy backpack and decided to wait at the station.

Ankara train station where the Dogu express leaves every day at 18:00

My experience on the Dogu ekspresi

At 6 pm I finally boarded the Dogu express from Ankara to Kars. To my surprise the train was very modern and luxurious. My cabinet had 4 comfortable beds with blankets, sheets and even a free pair of slippers.

As I retreated to my seat the rest of the passengers were still debating in the corridors. Men and women were divided in several female and male cabinets. I am not sure if I was supposed to be alone, but nobody else joined me. Once the train left we were soon rolling through a rugged landscape with a wonderful sunset.

Dogu express scenery on the way to Kars in Anatolia

The scenery from Ankara to Kars

I had a good nights sleep at the Dogu express and woke up to a frozen land. It was already April, but winter was still going on in the Anatolia highlands. From under my warm blankets I looked at the snow outside of my window.

The scenery along the Dogu express was stunning. Endless mountains and fields with streams running through. After every tunnel a new beautiful view emerged and I enjoyed every hour of the train journey.

We didn’t come across many towns or villages but the ones that we did go through looked rather gloomy. Old farm houses are quickly disappearing and replaced by modern, but ugly Soviet style flat apartments. These new buildings can not mask the fact that life is rough in this cold and desolate landscape.

Dogu express scenery on the way to Kars in Anatolia

Kars

After 24 hours on the Dogu express we finally arrived in Kars. A small town at what really felt like the end of Turkey to me. It didn’t look very promising at first. From the outside, it seemed another gloomy town, but I was wrong.

When I tried to find my way from the station to my hotel I was immediately adopted by a family whose daughter came back home from her studies in Erzurum. She insisted she would bring me personally to my hotel and even invited me to stay at her place.

The center of Kars was very lively with shops selling fresh fruits and vegetables and families strolling through the main shopping street. For dinner I found Ocakbasi restaurant. The place looked so posh that I tought it must be way above my budget, but it was the cheapest and best food I had in Turkey.

Dogu express scenery on the way to Kars in Anatolia

From Kars to Dogubayezit

Kars is one of the highest  and coldest towns in Turkey. The next morning when I woke up there were dark clouds in the sky. It was snowing heavily once I walked to the local bus station to take the bus to the border town of Dogubayezit.

It was a 3 hour bus drive to Dogubayezit through small villages and over two mountain passes surrounded by mist, snow and ice. Somewhere behind these clouds was the famous mount Ararat.

Dogubayezit Ishak Pasa Palace

Dogubayezit

In Dogubayezit it was still snowing and I headed quick;ly to my hotel. Soon I had several invitations for tea as people seemed happy to see a tourist still coming their way.

With nothing else to do in Dogubayezit I decided to try to visit the Ishak Pasa palace up the hill. Unfortunately the minibuses going there decided the weather was too bad. A shopkeeper nearby invited me for tea while he called the bus driver, but one tourist wasn’t enough for him to come back.

The shopkeeper turned out to be a trekking guide who was taking care of his friends shop. He was bored and offered to show me the palace, even tough the road was covered in snow and ice. The palace was wonderful. Once we were up it stopped snowing and we had a wonderful view over Dogubayezit.

The shopkeeper asked me to tell other people to still come to Eastern Turkey and to Dogubayezit in particular. I enjoyed my time here even tough I was not lucky with the weather. The scenery was stunning and the next morning I woke up to a clear blue sky with a full view on Mount Ararat.

Mount Ararat

Dogu express: practicalities

The dogu express leaves every day at 18:00 from Ankara, arriving at 18:00 PM in Kars the next day.

The other way around it leaves Kars at 8 AM arriving Ankara at 8 AM the next day.

I have heard it is now more difficult to get Dogu express tickets for this train and that they are often sold out. Therefore it is important to plan this trip in advance and book your Dogu express tickets as soon as possible, either online or through a travel agency

Dogu express train at Ankara station

How to get Dogu express tickets?

You can book your Dogu express tickets directly on the website of the Turkish Railways. When I travelled on this train this was a very easy process, but apparently it is more difficult now. Trains can be booked 30 days before departure and tickets for the Dogu express are sometimes sold out in a day.

You can therefore also use a travel agency to get your Dogu express tickets. I haven’t used these agencies myself, but the man from seat61 recommends Amber travel and Backpackers travel.

Remember that if you leave from Istanbul you need to book two tickets. One for the high speed train from Istanbul (Pendik station) to Ankara and then the Dogu express from Ankara to Kars.

The high speed trains leave Istanbul Pendik station several times a day, but I can recommend you take the train from 10:05 or 11:15 arriving in Ankara at 14:01 and 15:13 respectively. This allows you enough time in Ankara to have lunch and stock up on some snacks before boarding the Dogu express at 18:00.

Dogu express train at Ankara station

The Dogu Express Route

The train starts in Ankara (18:00) with stops in Kirikkale (19:44), Kayseri (00:39), Sivas (04:13), Erzincan (10:26) and Erzurum (14:22) before arriving in Kars the next day (18:15).

The other way around the train starts in Kars at (8:00) with stops in Erzurum (12:05), Erzincan (15:58), Sivas (22:06), Kayseri (01:38) and Kirikkale (06:29) before arriving in Ankara the next day (08:22).

How to choose your seat on the Dogu express?

The Dogu express has three different classes. The cheapest are the SV2000 reclining pullman seats. It’s a long journey though and I recommend a sleeper. The SV2000 couchettes are in my opinion the best value for money with comfortable 4 bed compartments. If you like more privacy the SV2000 sleeper cars have 1 and 2 bedroom compartments.

The high speed trains from Istanbul to Ankara are very good and you can choose between economy and business class.

Dogu express train couchette compartment at Dogu ekspresi

How to reach Pendik station in Istanbul?

Soon trains should run again from the European side of Istanbul, but for now Pendik station is still the start and end point of the high speed trains to Ankara. With the traffic in Istanbul you should take at least 2-3 hours to get there, depending on your mode of traffic.

Easiest is to take the frequent ferry to Kadikoy (20 minutes) leaving from Eminonu ferry terminal near the Sirkeci station. Then take Metro M4 to Pendik Metro station (40 minutes) from the Kadikoy metro station. From the Pendik metro station it is a  5 minute taxi ride or 20 minute walk to the Pendik train station.

What to expect on the Dogu express?

I found the Dogu express very nice. Each wagon has a conductor who provides sheets, pillows, blankets and slippers. There are enough toilets that are relatively clean for a train. There is also a decent restaurant wagon where you can buy simple dinner and breakfast.

Dogu express: food at restaurant wagon at Dogu ekspresi

Solo female travel on the Dogu express

As a women travelling alone I felt absolutely safe on the Dogu express. I had the compartment all to myself and experienced no problems with the other passengers in my corridor.

With the current popularity it is unlikely you will have the compartment to yourself like I did, but it seems that despite the official seat reservations men and women divide themselves in different compartments.

Even if you do find yourself with male companions in your compartment I found Turkish men to be polite and friendly. The friendly people you meet along the way in the train are part of the experience. Not many tourists travel on this train and you will receive a warm welcome and some genuine curiosity what brings you to these parts of Turkey

What to bring along on the Dogu express?

24 hours is a long journey so bring enough snacks and water with you. Other essentials are toilet paper and/or wet wipes.

More information on train travel in Turkey and beyond is available at The man from Seat61

Dogu express scenery on the way to Kars in Anatolia

Accomodation after the Dogu express

Kars

Hotel Kent Ani: Excellent hotel with great breakfast buffet with a view on the castle of Kars

Dogubayezit

Hotel Ararat: Good hotel with an excellent location in the center of the city

Istanbul

Stanpoli Hostel : good hostel with an excellent breakfast buffet on the top floor and a wonderful view on the Bosphorus.
Hotel Kent Ani Kars Turkey

Going by Train through Turkey to Iran: Options and Alternatives. 

For a long time the Trans Asia express that was travelling directly from Istanbul to Iran was cancelled due to security issues. Since 2018 it is once more possible to travel from Turkey to Iran with a weekly sleeper train from Van to Tabriz.

Even though the Dogu express is no longer the easiest way to travel by train from Turkey to Iran you might still want to consider it because of the beautiful scenery and the possibility to see northeastern Anatolia.

Here are the two options opn travelling by train from Turkey to Iran

Option 1 The Trans Asia Express route through Van/Kapikoy

The High speed train from Istanbul Pendik station to Ankara leaves at 19:20 arriving in Ankara at 23:13 (ticket is 70 TL). Stay the night in Ankara

The Van Golu express only leaves on Tuesdays and Sundays departing at 11:19 and arriving at 13:31 the next day in Tatvan (TL 46).

Take the bus from Tatvan to Van (20 TL 2 hours) and stay overnight in Van.

Take a bus to Tabriz (Iran) the next day crossing the border at Kapikoy/Razi or the new weekly sleeper train from Van to Tabriz leaving every Tuesday night at 21:00 arriving at 07:25 in Tabriz.

Option 2 The Dogu express route through Dogubayezit

The High speed train from Istanbul Pendik station to Ankara leaves at 10:45 arriving in Ankara at 14:42 (ticket is 70 TL)

The daily Dogu express leaves Ankara at 17:45 arriving in Kars at 18:00 the next day (ticket in the 4 beth couchette is 52 TL)

Stay the night in Kars and take a bus to Dogubayezit the next day. From Kars you need to take a bus to Igdir (3 hours 20 TL) and change in Igdir for another bus to Dogubayezit (1 hour 8 TL).

Stay the night in Dogubayezit to cross the Gurbulak/Bazargan border the next day

Ankara train station

Crossing the border to Iran (Gurbulak/Bazargan)

From Dogubayezit it is easy to cross the border to Iran. Near the tourist office (Agri Caddesi with Rifki Caya Caddesi) there are frequent minivans (7 TL) to the border in Gurbulak. It is a 30 minute journey to the bordergate. From there you have to walk up to the buildings where you exit Turkey and enter Iran.

Once you go through all the procedures you are now in Bazargan, Iran. The whole process took about 20 minutes for me and they did not even check my bags. When you leave the building taxi drivers and money exhangers will approach you. The exchange rates are not so good so my advice is to change as little as you need.

From here you can take private (Negotiate !!) or shared taxi’s (20,000 rials) to the actual town of Bazargan that you will see below you. From Bazargan there are shared taxi’s to Maku (20,000 rials) and from Maku frequent buses travel to Tabriz (110,000 rials 4 hours).

To read more about Tabriz read my post about the best of Tabriz and Kandovan: a warm welcome.

Last updated: January 2019

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Backpacking Turkey: A travel guide to the Dogu express and travelling by train through Turkey to Iran for the independent budget traveller

There are 13 comments for this article
  1. Catherine’s Cultural Wednesdays at 12:41 pm

    I travelled in Eastern Turkey many years (decades) ago and loved it, it a beautiful part of the world. I’m also with you on train travel, you see so much.

  2. Alison at 12:06 am

    This is such an inspiring post. Such an adventurous journey. I think Eastern Turkey sounds just beautiful. Thank you for sharing the details of how to do this trip.

  3. Joe keane at 6:04 pm

    Since 2016, the pattern on the Dogu Express has changed. It is very difficult if not impossible to obtain a sleeper or couchette on this train, due to its increasing popularity. The notion of traveling in a Pullman seat for a day is not so appealing, regardless of the scenery. The novelty and mystique of train travel is too much like a lottery nowadays.

  4. mieke at 10:39 pm

    Hey Ellis

    In augustus reis ik met de Doguu van Kars naar Ankara. Overal op het internet, ook bij jou, lees ik dat de trein vertrekt rond 18u maar op mijn ticket staat 23.55.

    Het lijkt wel alsof ik een andere trein ga nemen. Enig idee waar dit over gaat?

    Bedankt!

  5. Montgomery E Smith at 8:51 pm

    Did this trip Eastbound last month. No problem getting a sleeper to myself. The travel agent said there were still 3 available. The trick is to use the agencies that sell the tickets rather than the PTT. Check seat61.com for contact information for the travel agents. It was a beautiful and relaxing trip. Happy travels!

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