Europe has an extensive train network. You can get around without flying which is perfect for me. I’m not a big fan of flying.
I’m about to use up my 90 days Schengen visa so I decided to slowly leave the Schengen zone and to nearby EU countries. I set my final destination for Turkey because it has been on my bucket list for a while.
- Vienna, Austria (4 days)
- Budapest, Hungary (5 days)
- Bucharest, Romania (2 weeks)
- Sofia, Bulgaria (2 weeks)
- Istanbul, Turkey (one month)
I booked everything in advance because I have a timeline and schedule to follow for this trip. You can purchase most of the train tickets online in advance.
Where did I book my train tickets online?
I will be starting my journey from Genoa, Italy to Vienna, Austria.
I booked a private couchette for $215 (2 people). We booked it one month in advance and they gave us an option for the entire couchette for ourselves. But it seems like the options won’t be available on closer departure dates. So book in advance if you want your own compartment.
The train was very comfortable. There’s also a menu where you can see the prices for food and drinks. Honestly, I was very surprised with the pricing. It wasn’t too expensive. The ticket also includes breakfast.
From Vienna, Austria to Budapest, Hungary by train.
Vienna and Budapest are pretty close together. The train was around 2 hours. We took a RegioJet train. We booked standard tickets and it was €13.9 per person. The ride was very comfortable and there was a big screen for entertainment.
I simply book the tickets via their website.
From Budapest, Hungary to Bucharest, Romania by night train.
We booked a 2-person cabin for $831.16 Romania Lei in total. The train and the bed were very comfortable. Both sides of the immigration officers came on board to check and stamp everyone’s passports. Everything was smooth and relaxing.
From Bucharest, Romania to Sofia, Bulgaria by 2 trains.
We have to book the train tickets separately because we were taking them in the winter. In the summer, they combined both trains. So only one train ride straight to Sofia in the summer and 2 different trains in the winter.
The first train goes to the border town of Ruse, Bulgaria. You can book it via Romanian Railways. After booking it online, you must pick up the tickets at the train station’s international ticket office.
The second train is from Ruse, Bulgaria to Sofia, Bulgaria. There are 2 classes. The second class has 8 seats per cabin and the first class has 6 seats per cabin. We chose the first class since the difference was only $2. You can book it via Bulgarian Railways.
Tip: Bring some snacks with you for both trains. At Ruse station, we didn’t see any convenience stores.
Both trains were conformable. The first train wasn’t crowded at all and we took it on a Sunday. The second train was not crowded at first but halfway through the journey, there was one stop that had tons of people boarding. Our cabin was full.
Both Romanian and Bulgarian passport controls were fast and smooth. We only waited for 15 mins each side.
From Sofia, Bulgaria to Istanbul, Turkey by night train
Unfortunately, this train ticket is unable to be purchased online. The only way to purchase this train ticket is to go to Sofia train station in person. The purchase process was easy. Simply go to the international ticket office (Windows 21-23). The worker at the desk speaks English, at least the one we purchased from.
Since there were 3 of us, we booked 4 tickets in total to get the whole couchette compartment to ourselves. The 4-person couchette compartment is quite spacious and the bed was comfortable as well. Make sure to bring enough water and food because there is no dining car on the train.
The first passport control was very easy. We gave the Bulgarian police our passports and after 30 minutes they return them with exit stamps. As for entering Turkey, we had to take all our bags with us and leave the train to go through immigration. After getting your passport stamped, you will have to bring your bags to go through security.
We arrived at Halkali train station 2 hours late. From the train station, you can take Marmaray to the city. Make sure to have Turkish liras with you ($45 liras per person), or bring your Istanbul Kart if you have it.
We had suitcases so we just caught a taxi outside of the train station. The taxi ride was within an hour and it costs around $550 liras to Kadikoy (Asia Side) including the toll. Make sure the meter is turned on!
Overall, taking trains across Europe had been super easy, smooth, and straightforward. Sleeping on the train was alright. I had decent sleep but not good. For all the train rides we took, we only purchase the whole compartment, which means we were not sharing with others. My experience would be different if I were sharing a room with others for 10+ hours.
If you want to do this trip and worry about the internet, I highly recommend using Airalo’s eSim. I used their regional eSim for my Europe trip. It worked perfectly. As for travel insurance, I’m using SafetyWing.
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