The Dogu Express to Kars on the Euphrates river

En route from Istanbul to eastern Turkey by train, to cross into the Caucasus...  Photo courtesy of Conor Meleady

   

The Caucasus by train?

You can travel from western Europe to Georgia, Armenia or Azerbaijan, and once there you can use trains to travel safely and comfortably between these countries.

Information on this page...

London to Georgia, Armenia or Azerbaijan by train via Istanbul.

Istanbul to Tbilisi (Georgia) by train & bus

Train service Tbilisi (Georgia) to Yerevan (Armenia)

Train service Tbilisi (Georgia) to Baku (Azerbaijan)

More information...

Train travel in Turkey

Train travel in Russia

If anyone has more information or photos that would be useful for this page, please e-mail me!


Useful country information

Train operators:

 

Georgia: www.railway.ge/?web=0&lang=eng.

Armeniawww.ukzhd.am

Azerbaijan: www.railway.gov.az

 

 

Time:

 

Georgia, Azerbaijan:  GMT+4 (GMT+5 from last Sunday in March to last Saturday in October)

Armenia:  GMT+4 (all year, as no daylight saving time)

Currency:

 

£1 = 2.6 Lari (Georgia), 587 Dram (Armenia), 1.23 Manat (Azerbaijan)   Currency converter

Visas:

 

Georgia:  No visa required for UK, US, Canadian and most EU citizens.  Azerbaijan:  Visa required, see www.visaforazerbaijan.org.ukArmenia:  As of 2013, no visa is required for UK & EU citizens.

Page last updated:

 

14 May 2014


London to the Caucasus by train

This page explains how to travel overland by train from London (or indeed anywhere in western Europe) to Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus.  It also covers train travel between Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and travel by train from Istanbul and Ankara in Turkey to these countries.  For overland travel from London or western Europe to the Caucasus, you have two basic options:

London to Tbilisi (Georgia) & onwards to Yerevan (Armenia) or Baku (Azerbaijan)...


Istanbul to Tbilisi (Georgia), Armenia, Azerbaijan

It's easy, cheap and comfortable, not to mention very scenic, to take a sleeper train right across Turkey from Istanbul or Ankara to Erzurum or Kars, then transfer by bus to the Georgian border at Sarp/Batumi for an onward train to Tbilisi.  Although the border between Turkey and Armenia is closed, you can easily travel from Istanbul to Tbilisi, then take a train on to Yerevan in Armenia.  there's also a train from Tbilisi to Baku in Azerbaijan.

Istanbul Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan

On board the train from Istanbul to Erzurum or Kars...

Taking the train to Kars via the Euphrates river   The Dogu Express to Kars on the Euphrates river

Two views from the Dogu Express, along the Euphrates river between Sivan & Erzurum.  Away from road development, you'll see great scenery from the comfort of your train.  Photos courtesy of Conor Meleady.

 

A private 1 or 2 bed sleeper, in daytime mode with beds folded away.  Photo courtesy of Heather Williams.

 

Above:  The same compartment, looking towards the door to the corridor.  Photo courtesy of Heather Williams.

View from restaurant car in Turkey   Makhindjauri station, Georgia

View from the Dogu Express dining car in Turkey.  Photo courtesy of Mark Dennett...

 

Makhindjauri station, near Batumi, Georgia.  Photo courtesy of Mark Dennett...

Travellers' reports...

Traveller Emily Shirley travelled to Tbilisi in 2010:  "There are several hotels in Erzurum. The posh Guzelyurt restaurant appears to be the only one serving wine and other alcoholic drinks. There is a blues night club down the hill serving beer which has live bands.  To get to the border with Georgia, you need to locate the office of Artvin bus company. They have buses every 3 hours or so to Hopa. The coaches are modern and comfortable with free drinking water distributed in small cartons and handwash liquid.  The stop for lunch/supper can be brief so be alert about grabbing your grub in the cafe a.s.a.p.  Coach departures are announced through a speaker in the tree.  The bus passes through a series of deep gorges where blasting is going on for the new railway to Baku.  Once you are dropped at a junction in Hopa, you need to find your way to the border, 15kms away.  Cadge a lift, take a taxi or if you have a folding bike with you: cycle there. It is completely flat along the shore of the Black Sea.  You will find a warm welcome to Georgia on the border if you are European or American. On the other side there are taxis and buses and ATMS to get you to Batumi about  23 kms away.  Few people speak English so knowledge of a Slav language can be helpful even though their own language is not Slav. Most people to admit to understanding Russian even though the Red Army has invaded South Ossetia and Abkhezia.  Georgian Railways run a puntual comfortable service from Batumi to Tbilisi. It is advisable to take this rather than the dangerous " Mashrutkas" minibuses often 40 years old with bald tyres. You are risking your life in such death traps.  From Batumi there is also a train to Yerevan, Armenia which stops at Tbilisi.  In typically glitzy Armenian style the curtains are gold satin.  Sleeper cabins are cheap, colourful and comfortable. Tbilisi station is modern with many shops and fast food restaurants.

Traveller Gregory Heilers travelled to Tbilisi in 2009:  "(1) From Erzurum, take the Artvin Express mini bus, which runs twice daily at 07:30 & 18:00 taking 5.5 hours from Gurcu Kapi district of Erzurum to Hopa (via Artvin, hence the name).  Fare 30 TL. (2) Travel from Hopa to Sarp by dolmus - you can get dropped off there which the driver did for me after the mini-bus attendant understood I was headed to Georgia (Gurcistan in Turkish).  Cost 3.5 TL.  (3) In Sarp, walk across the border- there was a line 2km long of vehicles waiting to cross that included the buses from Turkish cities to Batumi/Tbilisi and beyond... I was glad to have not taken a direct bus.  (4) Take a Georgian dolmus (marshutka) from the frontier to Batumi, cost 1 lari.  Pretty much the only direction you can go as I saw, so even if you can't understand the writing or language- may as well try.  (5) Travel from Batumi to Tbilisi train, fare 40 lari.  It departs 22:30 and arrives Tblisi 06:45."


Tbilisi (Georgia) to Yerevan (Armenia)

Tbilisi ► Yerevan

In spring/autumn/winter (late September to mid-June) the Tbilisi-Yerevan train (train 371) runs every second day, departing Tbilisi at 20:20 and arriving Yerevan at 07:00 next day.  The train reaches the Armenian border around 23:00 (00:00 Armenian time).  If you need a visa, visas can be bought for US$10, although as of 2013, UK & EU citizens don't need a visa for Armenia.

In summer (mid-June to late September) train 202 runs daily and starts in Batumi (the station is called Makhindjauri) leaving Makhindjauri at 15:25 and Tbilisi at 22:16 arriving Yerevan at 07:35.  See http://ukzhd.am/batumi2012/eng/schedule.html.

It has 1st class 'spalny vagon' 2-berth sleepers, 2nd class 'kupé' 4-berth sleepers, 3rd class 'platskartny' open plan sleepers.  The fare is 71 laris (about £27 or $45) in 1st class sleeper, 49 laris (£19 or $31) in a 2nd class sleeper, 31 laris in a 3rd class sleeper. 

You can buy tickets from the helpful English-speaking lady at counter 14 at Tbilisi's main station.  You can check times at the Georgian railways website  www.railway.ge/?web=0&lang=eng, click 'Passenger operations' then 'Traffic schedule' then 'International trains'.  Note that two reports now suggest that in summer at least this train doesn't run, you'll need to use the Batumi-Yerevan train described below, operating by day between Tbilisi and Yerevan.

Yerevan ► Tbilisi

In spring/autumn/winter (late September to mid-June) train number 372 leaves Yerevan at 22:00 every second day, arriving Tbilisi at 08:20 next morning.

In summer (mid-June to late September) train 201 runs daily, leaving Yerevan at 15:15 and arriving Tbilisi at 00:04 (midnight) and Makhindjauri (Batumi) at 07:25.  See http://ukzhd.am/batumi2012/eng/schedule.html.

Check times locally, as times may vary.  The train has 1st class 'spalny vagon' 2-berth sleepers, 2nd class 'kupé' 4-berth sleepers, 3rd class 'platskartny' open plan sleepers.  The fare is 16,880 Armenian drams (about £29 or $45) in 1st class sleeper, 12,250 Armenian drams (£21 or $32) in a 2nd class sleeper, 8,060 drams in a 3rd class sleeper. Staff at the station don't speak English, though there may be someone able to translate or try writing down what you want.  However, apart from this buying a ticket is quick and efficient . The ticket office is on the left hand side near the platforms.

The Tbilisi to Yerevan train   Tbilisi to Yerevan train.

Above:  The sleeper train from Tbilisi in Georgia to Yerevan in Armenia.  Photos courtesy of John Samuelson

Corridor, Tbilisi-Yerevan sleeper train   4-berth sleeper on Tblisi-Yerevan train   2-berth sleeper on Tblisi to Erevan train

Above:  Inside the sleeper train from Tbilisi to Yerevan in Armenia, with 4-berth & 2-berth compartments.

Corridor photo courtesy John Samuelson.  4-berth photo courtesy of Paul Carey.  2-berth photo courtesy of Eugene Maguire.

Travellers' reports...

Traveller David Roberts reports from a Tbilisi-Yerevan journey in May 2014:  "I purchased a first-class ticket for 72.69 GEL, ($41.28). When I boarded, I decided that I wanted my own room, so I paid the attendant 17,000 AMD, ($41).  The train still operates every other day and leaves the Tbilisi station at 2020 hours. It arrives in Yerevan at 0700 hours. The rooms are rather spartan, (think Soviet-era) and the beds are rather hard, (especially compared to Western Europe, US and the Trans-Mongolian lines).  I decided to take the train, instead of hiring a driver, because I love travelling by rail. The only drawback is that most of the trip is in complete darkness, so there is not any sightseeing.  As the other readers stated, the border process is rather easy. At the Georgia border, they take your passports and return them a few minutes later. At the Armenia border, those that need a visa, (not needed for EU residents) are taken to a small room to complete the paperwork and pay seven dollars. It is quite painless.  Not many of the train personnel, (and border agents) speak English, so I used a translator to buy tickets and it helped to know a little Russian when I was on the train."

Traveller James Merriman reports on a Tbilisi to Yerevan train journey in 2013: "You can’t buy tickets online for this service so it’s best to purchase the ticket direct at the station a day before travelling if possible. Within Tbilisi station, look for counters 14-16. The person based here when I was there spoke good excellent English. I again elected for 1st class “Spalny Vagon” for the journey and the ticket cost 64.19 GEL (roughly £26). The process took 10 minutes to complete. Make sure you bring your passport too. The train itself left at 20.20 but you can board up to an hour earlier if you like. The cabin was old but still in a good condition. The train crew are mostly Russian and their English isn’t very good. They provide clean bed lining once the train departs Tbilisi. We got to the border at 10.30pm. Border formalities are straight forward and take nearly 2 hours in total; 1 hour for each side of the border. The Georgian guards collect your passport and return it within the hour with the stamp in place and the Armenian officials stamp your passport there and then whilst they walk through the train. The journey took nearly 11 hours and the train was surprisingly 2 minutes early (arrived at 6.58am instead of 7.00am). The ride was very comfortable with excellent pillows! For me the choice was either the train or shared taxi. I definitely think I made the right choice taking the train."

Traveller John Samuelson reports (2012):  "The overnight train ride was pleasant and smooth. Border formalities were simple and non-intrusive but time consuming. I got an exit stamp with a little locomotive on it next to the entry stamp with the little plane from Georgia. I used the online entry visa system for Armenia and it worked perfectly (or maybe not), for only $10 [visas are no longer required for UK & EU citizens]. The Armenian border official took my passport and asked, "visa?" and I said "electronic." He had a TV monitor sort of thing with him and I assume that he looked up my visa somehow but he also asked for the paper receipt that I printed out when I purchased the electronic visa online. So even though the online electronic visa system is pretty impressive, in theory at least, I would recommend having the paper receipt available too."

Traveller Uny Chan reports (2011):  "I used the Tbilisi–Yerevan train in April 2011 and found the whole journey extremely pleasant.  Tbilisi–Yerevan runs on Monday, Wednesday & Friday. Yerevan – Tbilisi runs on Tuesday, Thursday & Saturday. Booking was done at counter 14 in the newly renovated Tbilisi central station. (Counter 14 is usually reserved for foreigners travelling on the international service to Baku or Yerevan. Just ask around if the English-speaking lady is not there.) There is only one first class carriage so it's a good idea to obtain the ticket in the morning of departure.  I booked in second class, however, which costs only 50 Georgian Lari. The train departs at 18:00. The attendant will provide you with a set of clean bed sheets. The blankets are extremely thick and very good for winter indeed.  The train runs EXTREMELY slowly within Georgia. It reaches the Georgian border a little past 23:00, Tbilisi time; and the Yerevan border at 01:00, Yerevan time (Armenia is an hour ahead of Georgia). Visas can be obtained on arrival at the Armenian border, cost of 10USD [no longer required for UK & EU citizens]. Some quarantine officials will get onboard and interview passengers about where the address would be in Armenia. Surprisingly, most of the younger staffs speak excellent English, but you need to be very patient if there are a lot of tourists onboard.  The train arrives at Yerevan at around 07:00 in the morning. Lengthy delays are expected. There is no restaurant car so do get your supplies before boarding the train. Apart from that, the Tbilisi – Yerevan service is an extremely comfortable and relaxing alternative to the somewhat dangerous minibus running between the two Caucasian countries."

Traveller Mark Voorendt reports (2010):  "There is no rail connection between Turkey and Georgia, so I tried to find a bus. If one does not have a reason to go to Kars (for example to visit Ani, or travel as far as possible by train in Turkey), it is better to reach Batumi via Erzurum.  From Kars, there is a daily bus going to Hopa (and in my case further to Trabzon).  It departs around 9:30 every morning (but maybe there is an exception for weekends) and it's best to be there by 9:00.  I bought the ticket at Turgutreis Turizm office in Faikbey caddesi, close to Karabağ Hotel in the city centre of Kars, opposite the horse statue.  This is also the place to wait for the bus, though there are other stops in Kars.  One of the employees spoke excellent English.  The bus from Kars to Hopa was modern and comfortable, the ticket cost 30 TL. The ride leads through a beautiful mountainous area, and there are regular stops, long enough to visit a toilet or to drink a glass of tea.  After an almost 8 hours ride, we arrived at Hopa bus station.  At 18:30 there should have been a bus to Batumi from this bus station, but around 18:00 it was announced that it wouldn't be running that day. So I took a cab to the Georgian border at Sarp, which cost me 20 TL. The taxi drove me along a long row of trucks towards the border and let me out.  I had only to wait about 5 minutes on the Turkish side and 5 minutes on the Georgian side. From there another taxi brought me to my hotel in Batumi for 15 TL.  Batumi train station is located in Makhinjauri, 5 km north of Batumi, but there is a ticket office in Batumi itself in Gen. Mazniashvili street, not too far from the theatre.  Staff did not speak English, so I was glad I speak a little Russian. It was no problem to book a ticket for the night train to Tbilisi (2-berth for 40 Lari, about 20 euros). This comfortable train leaves Makhinjauri at 23:25 and arrives at 07:15 in Tbilisi. (Thomas Cook table 5070 says 22:30 & 06:45, which is not correct).  The station building has recently been modernized and a shopping area has been added. The international ticket counter in Tbilisi main station opens at 8:00 (window 14, not number 7 as mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide). The staff spoke fluent English and sold me a ticket for a 2-berth sleeper on the night train to Baku (102 Georgian Lari, about 50 euros). This daily train leaves Tbilisi at 17:15 and arrives in Baku the next day at 10:20 (here again Thomas Cook summer 2010 edition again mentions different times: 18:15 and 09:05). The border procedure between Georgia and Azerbaijan takes about 3 hours, so there is plenty of time to have some fun. They even let me in the cabin of the Georgian loco!

Traveller Fergus Reoch reports from a trip in 2006: "After getting to Erzurum, we caught the bus to Sarp, and a dolmus (local minibus taxi) from there to Batumi.  From Batumi we took the overnight train to Tbilisi (comfortable berths, although not air-conditioned) with three of us sharing a 4 berth compartment.  From Tbilisi there is a train that I have used five times now to Yerevan in Armenia.  First class 2-bed sleeping compartments cost about £13, with a 1000 Armenian Dram (£1.20) charge for bedding.  We had to get visas at the Armenian border.  For UK passports these cost $30, and require little more than filling in a form.  We arrived in Yerevan 15 hours after leaving Tbilisi.  The same journey in a marshrutka (minibus) takes about 7 hours, though I much prefer the train."

If you have any more feedback on this or any other route, please e-mail me.


Tbilisi (Georgia) to Baku (Azerbaijan)

Tbilisi ► Baku

There's an overnight train from Tbilisi to Baku in Azerbaijan every night.  Train 37 leaves Tbilisi daily at 16:30 arriving Baku at 10:20 next morning.  The train has 1st class 'spalny vagon' 2-bed sleepers, 2nd class 'kupé' 4-berth sleepers.  The distance is 551km, the fare is 113 laris (£43 or $72) in a 1st class sleeper, or 58 laris (£22 or $37) in a 2nd class sleeper.  Buy a ticket at the station.

Baku ► Tbilisi

Train 38 leaves Baku every day at 20:45 arriving Tbilisi at 11:40.  The train has 1st class 'spalny vagon' 2-bed sleepers, 2nd class 'kupé' 4-berth sleepers.  The distance is 551km, the fare is 47 Manat (£43 or $72) in a 1st class sleeper, or 25 Manat (£22 or $37) in a 2nd class sleeper.  You can buy a ticket at the station, or buy online at http://railway.gov.az.

To buy a ticket online (only for journeys starting from Baku going to Tbilisi, not from Tbilisi to Baku) go to the Azerbaijan Railways website http://railway.gov.az and click 'Onlayn Bilet Satisi' on the right.  On the next page, click 'EN' top right for English.  You need to register (which is self-explanatory, except for 'series' where you should enter the country that issued your passport, e.g. 'United Kingdom').  'Baki-Sern' is Baku, 'Tbilisi-Sern' is Tbilisi, select the Baki-Tiflis train (Tbilisi = Tiflis, same place, an alternative name), under 'Wagon number' any number with 'KP' is obviously kupé 4-berth, any wagon number with 'SV' after it is obviously spalny vagon 2-berth, so pick any wagon of the type you want.  You must collect the ticket at the station at least an hour before departure.

   

The Tbilisi to Baku train...  The train now has modernised air-conditioned sleeping-cars, all non smoking.  Above centre, the 2-berth Spalny Vagon even comes with a flat-screen TV!  Above right, 4-berth Kupé.  Photos above courtesy of Mark Thalgott, photo below courtesy of James Merriman...

Train from Baku to Tbilisi

Travellers' reports...

Traveller James Merriman reports from a Baku to Tbilisi train journey in 2013:  "The Azerbaijan Railway website is a good starting point for this trip as you can easily book a ticket online for the train.  I opted for the “Spalny Vagon” which cost 49.12 AZN (About £41). When arriving at Baku station, look for counter 22 which is specifically for foreigners.  The person based here when I was there spoke good English.  Hand them your booking confirmation email and your passport then they’ll act as translator for one of the other booking clerks in the station.  The whole process takes 5-10 minutes.  The train itself left at 20.45 but you can board up to an hour earlier if you like.  The cabin had been recently re-furbished and was in great condition, just a little stuffy to start with.  I was lucky in that I was the only person in my 2-berth cabin for the journey.  The train crew are mostly Russian but do speak basic English.  They provide a remote control for the TV (1st class only and it’s Russian channels) and clean bed linen.  We got to the border the next morning close to 10am.   Border formalities are straightforward and take nearly 2 hours in total; 1 hour for each side of the border.  The Azerbaijani officials take a picture of your using their brick of a laptop and the Georgian guards collect your passport and return it within the hour with the stamp in place.  The journey took nearly 18 hours and the train was 45 minutes late (arrived at 12.15pm instead of 11.30am) but the ride was comfortable and managed to get a decent amount of sleep.  All in all, a thoroughly worthwhile trip."

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Find hotels...

 

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www.booking.com is my favourite booking site.  It's really clear and you can usually book with free cancellation and so confirm your accommodation at no risk months before train booking opens.

Backpacker hostels...


Travel insurance & health card...

 

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

Get travel insurance, it's essential...

Never travel overseas without travel insurance from a reliable insurer, with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover.  It should also cover cancellation and loss of cash (up to a limit) and belongings.  An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheaper than several single-trip policies even for just 2 or 3 trips a year (I have an annual policy myself).  Here are some suggested insurers.  Seat61 gets a small commission if you buy through these links.

In the UK, try Columbus Direct or use Confused.com to compare prices & policies from many different insurers.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65 (no age limit), see www.JustTravelCover.com.

        If you're resident in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the EU, try Columbus Direct's other websites.

  If you're resident in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

Get a spare credit card, designed for foreign travel with no currency exchange loading & low or no ATM fees...

It costs nothing to take out an extra credit card.  If you keep it in a different part of your luggage so you're not left stranded if your wallet gets stolen, this is a form of extra travel insurance in itself.  In addition, some credit cards are significantly better for overseas travel than others.  Martin Lewis's www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-travel-money explains which UK credit cards have the lowest currency exchange commission loadings when you buy something overseas, and the lowest cash withdrawal fees when you use an ATM abroad.  Taking this advice can save you quite a lot on each trip compared to using your normal high-street bank credit card!

You can avoid ATM charges and expensive exchange rates with a Caxton FX euro currency Visa Card, or their multi-currency 'Global Traveller' Visa Card, see www.caxtonfx.com for info.

Get an international SIM card...

Mobile phones can cost a fortune to use abroad, and if you're not careful you can return home to find some huge bills waiting for you.  I've known people run up a £1,000 bill in data charges just by leaving their iPhone connected during a simple trip to Europe.  However, if you buy a global SIM card for your mobile phone from a company such as www.Go-Sim.com you can slash the cost by up to 85% and limit any damage to the amount you have pre-paid.  It cuts call costs in 175 countries worldwide, and you can receive incoming calls and texts for free in 75 countries.  It's pay-as-you-go, so no nasty bills when you get home.  It also works for laptop or PDA data access.  A Go-Sim account and any credit on it doesn't expire if it's not between trips, unlike some others, so a Go-Sim phone number becomes your 'global phone number' for life.

 


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