By Rick Steves
Are rail passes a good value for Turkey?
Since point-to-point train tickets in Turkey are cheap to buy as you go (and because most people use plenty of non-train transportation — buses, ferries, even flights — to get around Turkey), a rail pass isn't likely to save you money for a Turkey-only trip. But if you're ending (or beginning) a longer European train journey in Turkey, you might want to allot a day or two on your pass for getting to, or across, Turkey — just be aware of the limited international connections.
How do I see whether a rail pass makes sense for my trip in particular?
Use this map to add up approximate pay-as-you-go fares for your itinerary, and compare that cost to the price of a rail pass for the number of days you expect to spend on the train. Dotted lines (such as Istanbul–Bandırma) show ferry routes, and dashed lines show bus routes, neither of which are covered by rail passes. "(N)" indicates that a route has only an overnight train connection.
Also, follow the links below for:
• More tips for figuring out whether a pass makes sense for your trip
• The basics on choosing among rail passes
• More tips on how to save money by fine-tuning your rail pass
• Advice on deciding between first and second class
• Fare-estimate maps outside Turkey
• Answers to frequently asked rail-pass questions
Do I need to make seat reservations on trains in Turkey?
Seat reservations are never required on Turkish trains.
You do need to pay extra for a couchette berth or sleeper compartment on overnight trains, which run between İzmir and Eskişehir (to connect to/from Istanbul), Ankara, and Konya; and between Ankara and eastern Turkey (it takes about 24 hours to get to the border by train).
Flying is the best way to connect Turkey with Europe, as the only cross-border train is currently the overnight train between Istanbul and Sofia, Bulgaria (which includes a wake-up call at the 2 a.m. border crossing, plus likely construction interruptions in 2020). No trains currently connect Turkey with Greece, although Greek trains do now link Athens and Thessaloniki with Alexandroupolis and Kastanies (a.k.a. "Kastanee/Καστανιές" on Greek schedules), which is within taxi/bus reach of the Turkish border (via Edirne).
Long-distance buses are another option, but of course take much longer to connect major cities.
Ferries connect some coastal Turkish cities to nearby Greek islands.
None of these options are covered by rail passes.
Istanbul's main station, Sirkeci, is currently being remodeled; in the mean time trains between Istanbul and Asian Turkey are served by Söğütlüçeşme Station, in the Kadıköy district (across the Bosphorus from the city center), and trains to/from the west and north are served by the suburban station of Halkalı (west of the city center). The Marmaray light-rail line now connects both Halkalı and Söğütlüçeşme with central Istanbul.
High-speed trains branded as "YHT" run several times daily betwen Istanbul (Söğütlüçeşme Station), Ankara, and Konya. YHT tickets are available online, in stations, and at some local agencies, but can't be purchased more than 10 days ahead of travel.
Another handy route is the train service connecting İzmir airport and Selçuk/Ephesus. But for most other connections within Turkey, bus service is faster and more frequent than the train. And flights connecting farther-afield cities within Turkey are usually affordable.