Train routes in Turkey tend to meander, meaning that train travel is usually much slower than bus travel—sometimes twice as long. With a few exceptions, the term ekspres tren (express train) is essentially a misnomer in Turkey. A high-speed rail line now connects Istanbul and Ankara (with some trains stopping in Eskişehir), reducing the travel time between the two cities to about four hours, but the Istanbul terminus is in Pendik, far from the city center. Trains also run between Ankara and İzmir and between İzmir and Konya. Note that ongoing work expanding the Marmaray rail system has heavily disrupted service between Istanbul and Edirne, as well as to Bulgaria and Greece, with buses filling in for part of the route.
Dining cars on trains between major cities usually have waiter service and offer decent and inexpensive food. Overnight express trains have sleeping cars and bunk beds. The Ankara—Adana run, for example, costs about 30 TL for a berth in a two-bed room; although advance reservations are a must, cancellations are frequent, so you can often get a space at the last minute.
Fares are generally lower for trains than for buses, and round-trip train fares cost less than two one-way tickets. Student discounts are 20%. Ticket windows in railroad stations are marked gişeleri. Some post offices and authorized travel agencies also sell train tickets. It's advisable to book in advance, in person, for seats on the best trains and for sleeping quarters.
Long-distance trains offer a number of accommodation options, such as Pullman (first-class type, reclining seats), compartments with six or eight seats, reclining or not, couchette (shared four-bunk compartments), and sleeper (private one- or two-bed compartments). In Turkish, Pullman is pulman, compartment is kompartımanlı, couchette is kuşetli, and sleeper is yataklı.
Most train stations do not accept credit cards, foreign money, or traveler's checks, so be prepared to pay in Turkish lira.
Turkish State Railways (Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Devlet Demiryolları) operates train service throughout the country. The website is helpful (when its English-language version is not being revamped) and provides information on how to buy tickets at the station or through travel agencies as well as pictures and maps. Seat61.com is another useful website about train travel in Europe and Turkey. Both Eurail and InterRail passes can be used in Turkey.
The Orient Express
If you have the time—and money—consider the still-glamorous Venice Simplon–Orient Express. The route runs once a year from Paris to Istanbul via Budapest and/or Bucharest.
Turkish State Railways. 444–8233; www.tcdd.gov.tr.
Venice Simplon-Orient Express. 800/524–2420; www.belmond.com/venice-simplon-orient-express.
Authorized Train Travel Agencies
Turista Travel. Divanyolu Cad. 16, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Istanbul, 34122. 212/ 513–7119; 800/568–7619; www.turistatravel.com.