London to Istanbul
Rail Adventure

London to Istanbul – Rail Adventure – a 13 day Private Tour from £1,800 per person.


Our love of exploration leads us to take you east on this odyssey to the furthest reaches of the continent. Two days of luxuriously relaxing to the rocking cadences of rail travel across France’s northern countryside and the foothills of Switzerland bring you to the drama of the majestic Arlberg Pass which wends its way through the stunning Alpine scenery of the Austrian Tyrol to the dignified grandeur of Vienna.  After taking the opportunity to luxuriate in the Baroque glories of its palaces, churches and parks, the line sweeps you onward to Budapest, a city which seemingly straddles eastern and western Europe.

Here there is time to pause and wander the chic, but sociable streets of Hungary’s historic capital, before next morning your train moves steadily eastwards and upwards towards Romania’s fabled Transylvanian Alps and the delightful medieval towns of Sibiu and Braşov. Let your imagination run wild a little amidst the romantic squares, noble city walls and maze of cobbled streets which make these architectural gems truly enthralling. Beyond, when the time seems right, take the gentle descent to Bucharest to spend a day wandering the remarkable sights of the Old Town, before the call of Istanbul gathers momentum and your journey continues: the imposing Danube crossing leads on to the rolling, forested contours of Bulgaria, and then the much anticipated Turkish border. As dawn breaks, the ancient capital of the Byzantine Empire rises from greyness, its antique heart outlined by elegant domes, graceful minarets and mighty fortifications, welcoming you to wander through a piece of truly momentous and exotic history.

Tour ratings.

  • Fitness
  • Off the beaten track 
  • Culture
  • History
  • Wildlife

Tour Pace

Busy

Tour style

Pioneer

Relaxed Pace

Relaxed tours are easy paced with plenty of leisure time built in. The tour will in all probability still be off the beaten track, with the occasional early start and there may still be occasional long drives. In general on a relaxed pace tour you can enjoy easy-going activities and experiences with opportunities to absorb the sights and immerse yourself in the local surroundings.

Moderate Pace

Moderate pace tours are ideal if you want a tour experience that combines activities and experiences with some time to relax. Typically you will be active and busy for part of the day but then also have time to rest and recharge your batteries. In general on a moderate paced tour there may be some long journeys involved but the tour is not an expedition or a road trip. On a moderate paced tour it will be necessary to have some early starts.

Busy Pace

A busy paced tour means that you can expect to be doing, seeing or experiencing something new almost every day, and moving on from place to place to pack in as much as possible. There may be early starts, long journeys and tiring days along the way, but you’ll return home feeling you’ve really experienced as much as you possibly could.

Pioneer Class Tours

On our Pioneer tours, you will be amongst an elite group of intrepid travellers and some of the first to explore a country that few have been privileged enough to discover. Of course, exploring such areas of the world will come with its challenges; it may mean several nights camping, long journeys by 4WD and the need to maintain a degree of flexibility for when carefully laid plans change. These are challenging tours in countries and areas that may have poor infrastructure, high levels of poverty and illiteracy. This can translate in to low standards in hotels, bad roads and poor driving standards among other issues. We try and smooth out as much of these issues as we can but you should be prepared to experience the bad with the good.

Traveller Class Tours

Our Traveller itineraries are at the core of our programme. These journeys are designed for travellers who still want to discover a land away from the tourist crowds but expect minimum standards. Accommodation will be primarily hotel based, although you could still find yourself camping, or the guest of a local family. Depending on the destination and itinerary, you’ll likely be travelling in a private vehicle, with occasional use of public transport. This is adventure travel with some of the rough edges smoothed out.

Itinerary.

Take a morning Eurostar to Paris. Upon arrival at Gare du Nord make your own way to Gare de Lyon, designed for the 1900 World Exposition, complete with elaborate clock-tower and indicative of the height of Parisian Belle Époque design. As you will be travelling with luggage we would recommend a taxi, rather than taking the metro, or for peace of mind we can pre-arrange a private car transfer. Just let us know at the time of booking. And make sure you allow plenty of time to travel across Paris; we would suggest a minimum of 1½ hours. Alternatively, allow a little longer here and break your journey for lunch at the fabulous Train Bleu restaurant inside the Gare de Lyon. Opened in 1900, it is decorated in a sumptuous art nouveau style, making a great start to your adventure. Be sure to book a table in advance. Continue from Paris to Zurich on a TGV-Lyria train, a journey of just over 4 hours, passing through a patchwork of quiet French villages and open fields, briefly pausing at Dijon before reaching Basel, the Swiss border and gently rising foothills of the Alps that flank the fledgling Rhine river. Arrive in the late afternoon or early evening at the magnificent sandstone neo-Renaissance station and stay overnight. We have chosen a hotel that is in close proximity to the station. Overnight Hotel St. Gotthard, or similar.

Leave Zurich mid-morning for Vienna by a slick Austrian Railjet train via the fabulous Arlberg Pass that lances dramatically through the Alps and into the Austrian Tirol. The train runs along the Zürichsee and Walensee lakes, and then hugs the mountainside, before it snakes through a huge valley, past Swiss and Austrian scenery taken straight from the Sound of Music.  Sit back, relax and perhaps enjoy lunch served at your first class seat. Arrive in Vienna and check-in to your hotel, located very close to the station. Overnight Novotel Wien Hauptbahnhof, or similar. (B)

Austria’s Imperial capital offers a unique blend of imperial traditions and stunning modern architecture. It is famous for its cultural events, imperial sights, coffee houses, cosy wine taverns, and the very special Viennese charm. Explore the city before taking a mid-afternoon Railjet train that flashes up the broad Danube Valley to Budapest, erstwhile gateway to the exotic east. Upon arrival at the city’s uniquely designed Keleti station, intriguingly adorned with statues of British railway icons James Watt and George Stephenson, you will be met and transferred to your centrally located hotel where you will stay for two nights. Overnight Mercure Budapest City Centre, or similar. (B)

After breakfast meet your guide in the lobby of the hotel and enjoy an in-depth look at Budapest’s attractions and contemporary culture on a four-hour walking tour. Set off to visit the city’s most popular sights, gaining an insight into the history of these fusion of the two great cities of Buda and Pest and their development from Roman to modern times, witnessing a glorious array of architectural wonders. During the tour pause for traditional cake and coffee (included in the price of your tour), before pre-paid public transportation takes you to Buda’s landmark Castle Hill from where vistas of the Danube and the city are a delight. Since this is a private tour, you set the pace and decide how much time you want to spend at each location. Later, return to the hotel and the rest of the day will be free. Of course you can take the opportunity to explore more of the city on your own and your guide will no doubt be happy to offer advice, or perhaps you might head to one the famous thermal baths to wile away the afternoon and recharge your batteries. Overnight Mercure Budapest City Centre, or similar. (B)

After breakfast you will be transferred back to the station where you will board the train for Romania. Your first stop on this European oriental odyssey will be in the heart of Transylvania and the city of Sibiu. Be prepared for a long day, as the train is scheduled to take just under 11 hours, but a worthwhile journey allowing you to take in some fabulous scenery: after the warm southern plains of Hungary recede and the Romanian border is crossed, your route follows the Mureş River which snakes its way steadily uphill into the heart of ancient Transylvania. Liberally forested mountains cloak the eye-line on either side of the carriage – the Transylvanian Alps rising to jagged peaks of over 2,500m and the Western Carpathians to the north. Rising into the forests near the culmination of the journey, the line pierces the wooded slopes, crossing viaducts and snaking along the contours, offering lovely views across the valley, as the mesmerising surroundings take on a wilder feel. Since food and drink is not always available to purchase on the train, it is essential you bring your own provisions. A variety of shops can be found at the station or ask your hotel to provide a picnic. Upon arrival in Sibiu you will be met at the station and transferred to your centrally located hotel where you will stay for two nights. Overnight Ramada by Wyndham Sibiu or similar. (B)

Take a leisurely breakfast, before exploring the beguiling charms of Sibiu on a private guided walking tour. After meeting your friendly local guide at the hotel, set off to explore the city’s captivating cobblestone streets. As you stroll at a leisurely pace, your guide will explain Sibiu’s history, relate fascinating facts and share local yarns about the area. Learn about medieval walls with idiosyncratic towers, visit the two contrasting squares with their complex fusions of architectural styles that lend them an almost fairy-tale romantic edge, the curious ‘Liars’ Bridge’, the magnificent Lutheran Cathedral and the elegant orthodox churches to name but a few of this fascinating old city’s treasures. Later, return to your hotel after which you will have a free afternoon to rest or explore more of the city on your own. Overnight Ramada by Wyndham Sibiu, or similar. (B)

 

After a free morning, continue your adventure through Transylvania, taking an afternoon train to Braşov, a journey of around four hours. The line sweeps up the broad valley of the River Olt, dotted with small towns and farming villages. Keep your eyes peeled for the fortifications that tell of the turbulent past of the region before the route rises steadily into the hills, plunging into a tunnel to emerge at the start of the descent into your destination. Upon arrival you will be met at the station and transferred to your centrally located hotel. Overnight Belfort Hotel or similar. (B)

After breakfast meet your guide and set off to visit the key sights on a private walking tour. Stops include Braşov’s historical centre, inspired by the Saxons who were invited to colonise this region in the Middle Ages, the Old Town Hall Square, Black Church – an emblematic Gothic masterpiece, Rope Street, Katherine’s Gate, and Schei District. After the tour you will have some free time, and perhaps a chance for a quick lunch before taking an afternoon train to Bucharest, a journey of about three hours through the landscape which inspired Bram Stoker’s famous gothic masterpiece. The initial part of the journey winds over a pass through the Carpathians, heavily forested, with sudden views of razor sharp mountains, small villages and lonely monasteries, before you begin to descend alongside the Prahova River as it tumbles towards the open plain that reach the capital. Upon arrival in Bucharest you will be met at the station and transferred to your centrally located hotel where you will stay for two nights. Overnight Hotel K+K Hotel Elisabeta, or similar. (B)

After breakfast meet your guide in the hotel for a private morning city tour. Bucharest stands as a curious blend of 16th and 17th century opulence in the heart of the Old City and the extraordinarily dramatic imprint of the soviet-leaning Ceausescu’s take on architecture. Discover the key sights including the grandiose Palace of Parliament and explore the city centre including the Royal Palace, Revolution Square, and Calea Victoriei. Later return to your hotel, with time to rest before leaving the next day for Istanbul. Overnight Hotel K+K Hotel Elisabeta, or similar. (B)

After breakfast, make sure that you stock-up on plenty of provisions for the final leg of your adventure, as there are no catering facilities available on the Bosfor train to Istanbul. The train is scheduled to leave in the late morning and in the afternoon travels across Romania and over the now rumbustious Danube, much closer to its mouth, into Bulgaria on the world’s longest steel girder bridge, 2.5km long. It then meanders through the lovely scenic valleys of Bulgaria into Turkey. At the Bulgarian town of Dimitrovgrad the direct Bucharest to Istanbul carriages are detached and joined to the Sofia to Istanbul Express train. In the late evening the train will reach the Bulgarian / Turkish border, and passengers must disembark to have their passport checked. Your luggage will also be examined and possibly put through an x-ray machine. After a stop of about an hour the Bosfor continues to Istanbul, arriving early the next morning. Overnight train (4 berth couchette compartment, booked for exclusive use). (B)

Important Information

Please note that the direct Bucharest to Istanbul Bosfor train operates from early June to early October only. Outside of this period it is still viable to travel via this route by train, but it will be necessary to take a series of connecting trains (two connections required) firstly to Dimitrovgrad in Bulgaria, from where it is possible to join an onward train to Istanbul.

An alternative option to the above, and one that should be considered if you are planning to travel before June or after the beginning of October, is a route that will take you from the UK via Germany, Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria to Istanbul. Please contact us for further details.

Arrive in Istanbul early in the morning. At the time of writing, owing to construction work, the Sofia/Bucharest to Istanbul train terminates at Halkali, a suburban station 25km west of central Istanbul. Rather than taking a local train into the city, you will be met at Halkali station and transferred by private car or pre-arranged taxi directly to your centrally located hotel. Early check-in will be subject to availability so you will have the option to leave your luggage at the hotel should you want to explore the local area on foot. Alternatively relax in the hotel’s lounge or take breakfast in the restaurant (not included in the price of your tour) whilst you wait for your room to become available. Later, meet your guide at the hotel and set-off for a private afternoon city tour. Marvel at Istanbul’s best Ottoman sites taking in Hippodrome, Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace. This tour captures the essence of why the Sultanahmet district, which you will visit, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. You will learn about the history of Istanbul dating back to its pre-Ottoman days as Constantinople, and before that, Byzantium. Your expert guide will regale you with intriguing tales from the reigns of long-past sultans and you will find yourself in constant amazement at the cornucopia of captivating architecture and ancient relics within each famous attraction, each offering an insight into this charismatic city, the crossroads between the great eastern and western cultures for millennia. Later return to your hotel. Overnight Mercure Istanbul Sirkeci Hotel, or similar.

A full day in Istanbul for you to explore the wonders of this historic city on your own. You may wish to retrace your steps from yesterday or perhaps look further afield: from ferry rides across to Asia to taking a scheduled boat up the Bosporus towards the Black Sea, from climbing the dramatic Gelata Tower to exploring Sultan Mehmet’s exquisite mosque at Fatih, beyond the heart of the old city there are myriad other spectacular sites and experiences to be had. If you would like to arrange extra guided sightseeing, simply ask at your hotel. Overnight Mercure Istanbul Sirkeci Hotel, or similar. (B)

Check-out from your hotel before midday. A transfer will be provided to the airport for your departure.

Mapped itinerary.

Want to see details of your itinerary on a map?

Download PDF.

Download the full tour dossier for this trip here.

For expert advice get in touch now with our passionate,
well-travelled team.

+44 (0)191 296 2674 from THE UK
1-800-614-2967 from THE US & CANADA
1-300-956-415 from AUSTRALIA

Dates & Price.

We offer this tour for private departures only

Prices start from £1800 per person, based on two people travelling.

Call us to book.

Tour Notes

Single Supplement £480.

One-way flights from Istanbul to London start from £100. Please contact us for a quotation.

Tour inclusions.

  • All accommodation
  • Transfers as per itinerary with a private car or minibus
  • Rail travel based on 2nd class seats for day time journeys and private sleeping compartments for overnight journeys. Please contact for details of first class upgrades
  • Guided sightseeing tours as per itinerary, with the services of a private English-speaking guide or driver/guide
  • Daily breakfast except on day 11
  • Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary

Tour exclusions.

  • International flights
  • Any airport taxes
  • Travel Insurance
  • Visas
  • Meals not stated in the itinerary
  • Drinks
  • Items of a personal nature
  • Tips – at own discretion

What an adventure. Thanks for arranging such a classic journey. Not exactly the Orient Express, but that’s what I loved about it. As you told me, a trip based on ‘real’ trains. Met some wonderful people along the way. Not just tourists. Would do it all again.

Martin Hancock, Canada