how to go from bansko to istanbil

Bansko to Istanbul – Train and Bus Details – Bulgaria to Turkey

Bansko to Istanbul is an easy day trip, although it might be a long day.  In this article we’ll cover how to travel to Istanbul from Bansko during the day, how you can take an overnight train and what else you might see along the way.

Here are all the details about the Bansko Istanbul route.  You can also reverse the details for the Istanbul Bansko route.

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Route Overview

There are multiple options for this trip, so I advise you read the full article, and then come back to the details.  At a high level travelling from Bansko to Istanbul (or Istanbul to Bansko) involves:

  • Bansko to Sofia or Plovdiv
  • Sofia or Plovdiv to Istanbul

There are both bus and train options available, depending on how you prefer to travel from Bulgaria to Turkey and how much time you have.

For our first trip on this route we took the “day time option”  It was a long day.  We left Bansko at 0650, arrived in Plovdiv in time to catch a bus to Istanbul arrived in Istanbul’s Esenler Bus Station at 1830.  Here are the details of how you get from Bansko to Plovdiv to Istanbul.  We’ll also cover the options available to go from Sofia to Istanbul.

Where to Stay in Istanbul

There are some great places to stay in Istanbul– here’s our pick of the luxury places to stay in Istanbul, mid-range places to stay in Istanbul, and budget accommodation in Istanbul.

Sultanahmet Palace Hotel, Istanbul: The luxury Sultanahmet Palace Hotel is situated in central Istanbul, perfectly located within this popular neighborhood surrounded by some of Istanbul’s main attractions. This four-star Istanbul hotel has rooms with a central heating and cooling system, a flat-screen TV, a private bathroom with a hairdryer, a mini-bar, an in-room safe, and a complimentary WiFi connection. The luxury Istanbul hotel has an in-house restaurant with a view of the sea, serving both delicious and healthy options. The Sultanahmet Palace Hotel offers top-notch services and is an ideal high-end place to stay when in Istanbul. See room rates and availability here.

Atlantis Royal Hotel, Istanbul: Situated in central Istanbul, the Atlantis Royal Hotel is an ideal place if you want a great central location for exploring Istanbul. This three-star Istanbul hotel has rooms equipped with air-conditioning, a seating area, a private bathroom with a shower, an iron and ironing board, and an in-room safe. 24-hour room service is available along with laundry and ironing services. A free WiFi connection is also available throughout the accommodation as The Atlantis Royal Hotel is a great place to stay in Istanbul. Check out room rates and available dates here.

Divas Silver, Istanbul: The Divas Silver Hotel is located close to central Istanbul and a few meters away from popular landmarks like the Column of Constantine. The Divas Silver’s rooms are equipped with a flat-screen TV, a private bathroom, and air-conditioning, and select rooms have either a view of the city or a view of the sea. There is a restaurant and a bar at this budget Istanbul Hotel, and there’s a WiFi connection is available throughout the property as well. The Divas Silver is a great budget-friendly accommodation when staying in Istanbul. See rates and availability here.

Bansko to Istanbul by Bus via Plovdiv Overview

In order to follow the route that we took to go from Bansko – Istanbul, it’s first necessary to go from Bansko to Plovdiv.  From Plovdiv you take a bus to Istanbul.   You will need to take the 0650 bus from Bansko to Plovdiv in order to arrive in Istanbul around 12 hours later.  There are full details of this route later in this article.

Bansko to Istanbul by Bus via Sofia Overview

In order to get from Bansko to Istanbul by bus via Sofia in the same day, you will need to leave Bansko at 0700 at the latest.  The journey to Sofia is 3 hours.  In Sofia you will catch a bus at 1200 in order to get to Istanbul the same day.

There are several buses a day from Bansko to Sofia – you can find more details on how to get from Bansko to Sofia in our article here.  Please make sure that you take a bus that goes from Bansko to Sofia central station.

You will then take a bus from Sofia to Istanbul, they run at various times and we will cover this later in this article.

Bansko to Istanbul by Train via Sofia Overview

If you have more than the day to take this journey, then you can take a bus from Bansko to Sofia and then the overnight train from Sofia to Istanbul, arriving in Istanbul around 0900.  Full details are below.

Book your room in Istanbul ahead of time – this Hotel in Istanbul has a great location and great staff – check prices and book now!- the Hotel Peninsular

Bansko to Istanbul by Train via Plovdiv Overview

You can choose to travel from Bansko to Plovdiv via bus or the spectacular narrow gauge railway, (more on that train here )and then take an overnight train from Plovdiv to Istanbul.  This is our favourite route, but the longest. If you’re planning on spending time in Plovdiv, then check out our guide of things to do here.

Bansko to Istanbul by Train via Sofia Detailed Route

Bus from Bansko to Sofia

If you want to take the train from Bansko to Istanbul, then you will first need to get to Sofia.  Follow our directions in our Sofia to Bansko (and reverse) guide here.  Be sure to take the bus from Bansko that arrives at the Central Bus station as this is where the Sofia Istanbul train departs from.

Train from Sofia to Istanbul

An overnight sleeper runs from Sofia to Istanbul every night.  The price of your ticket depends on the seat you book.   Seats cost €18.48 plus there is an extra fee for the type of seat you select.

  • €10 for a seat in a 6-bed couchette.
  • €14 for a seat in a 4-bed couchette
  • €15 for each person in a double sleeper.
  • €35 for a single sleeper –  note that you will need to buy a first class ticket too approximately another 10 euros on top of the second class seat cost.

If you’re spending time in Sofia before heading to Istanbul, then our guide of things to do in Sofia is here.

Sofia-Istanbul Express Timings

The train, called the Sofia-Istanbul Express leaves at 21:10 over the winter and arrives in Istanbul Halkali at 0649.  From June 1st until October 7th it leaves at 2130 and arrives into Istanbul’s Halkali at 0740.

Buying tickets for the train from Sofia to Istanbul.

You can buy tickets for the overnight train to Istanbul from Sofia from the Central Railway Station in Sofia.  It is not possible to buy tickets for the Sofia-Istanbul Express online at this time.  We recommend booking several days in advance as seats and sleepers do sell out.

Faculties on the train from Sofia to Istanbul

  • You’ll find electrical outlets in the compartments, but there is likely to be only one.
  • There is no buffet car on the train, so if you’re likely to want food or drinks, take your own, although you will be given a small snack as the train departs.
  • You will be provided with pillows, sheets and water for the night.
  • There are two toilets in each carriage, there is likely to be one squat toilet and one regular one. Take your own paper.

The Bulgaria – Turkey border crossing by train

The train from Sofia to Istanbul arrives at the Bulgarian border at around 2 am.  To exit Bulgarian immigration the border control enters the train and takes passports away, returning them with exit stamps.  For Turkish immigration, you’ll need to exit the train and have your passport checked and stamped.  While this is happening the train will be searched.  You may be asked for your proof of onward travel and the hotel bookings that you have for Turkey.

For proof of onward travel, you can also use a service like Onward Ticket – a company formed by Digital Nomads to give you a PDF ticket and a valid PNR for your transit through immigration.  It’s an excellent idea, a great price and a super service > get it here!

Arriving into Halkalı Station on the Sofia to Istanbul train

The train attendants will wake you up about an hour before you arrive at the final stop of Halkali Station.   As of March 2019, there is a suburban train service running from Halkali to the Sirkeci station in the city centre.  Trains run every 15 minutes and take 50 minutes with a fare of TL 3.25

Arriving at Istanbul Sirkeci Station

You’ll find a taxi rank here (make sure they use the meter) and there are also ATMs inside the station as you will need Turkish Lira to pay for your taxi.

Book your room in Istanbul ahead of time – this Hotel in Istanbul has a great location and great staff – check prices and book now!- the Hotel Peninsular

Bansko to Istanbul by Train via Plovdiv Detailed Route

Bus from Bansko to Plovdiv

The quickest way to get from Bansko to Plovdiv (on public transport) is to take the bus.  Details of the bus are later in this article.  Click here to read it.

Train from Bansko to Plovdiv

This is a fabulous if long train journey.  There are 4 trains a day from Bansko to Septemvri, on the narrow gauge railway.  The train times from Bansko to Septemvri are 0556, 1038, 1432, 1808.  The journey from Bansko to Septemvri takes 4.5 hours.  At Septemvri you will then change to the mainline train from Septemvri to Plovdiv.  The train to Plovdiv from Septemvri runs regularly and takes one hour.

Train from Plovdiv to Istanbul

The Plovdiv Istanbul train is the Sofia-Istanbul Express, you’ll just be joining it at 2355.  Again buy tickets a few days in advance, from the Plovdiv Central Station to be sure of your couchette or sleeper.

The price of your ticket depends on the seat you book.   The same as the tickets from Sofia to Istanbul you have to buy a ticket for the train and then a reservation in a particular seat.

All details of the Plovdiv-Istanbul route of this train are the same as the details of the Sofia-Istanbul train. It arrives in Istanbul Halkali at 0649.  From June 1st until October 7th it leaves at 2130 and arrives into Istanbul’s Halkali at 0740.

Buying tickets for the Plovdiv to Istanbul Train

You can buy tickets for the overnight train to Istanbul from Plovdiv from the Central Railway Station in Plovdiv.  It is not possible to buy tickets for the Sofia-Istanbul Express online at this time.  We recommend booking several days in advance as seats and sleepers do sell out.  You must buy your ticket from booth number 7 – signposted International Railway tickets.  The office is open from 0630-1815, although expect it to be closed for lunch breaks too.

Bansko to Istanbul via Bus Sofia Detailed Route

Bansko to Sofia Bus

In order to get from Bansko to Istanbul by bus via Sofia in the same day, you will need to leave Bansko at 0700 at the latest.  The journey to Sofia is 3 hours.  In Sofia you will catch a bus at 1200 in order to get to Istanbul the same day.

There are several buses a day from Bansko to Sofia – you can find more details on how to get from Bansko to Sofia in our article here.  Please make sure that you take a bus that goes from Bansko to Sofia central station.

Sofia to Istanbul Bus

The bus company that runs this route is Metro Turizm Sofia.  There are five buses that leave Sofia for Istanbul each day from the Sofia Serdika bus station.  The journey from Sofia to Istanbul takes 9 hours.

The Sofia Istanbul Bus Timetable is:

  • 09:00
  • 12:00
  • 17:00
  • 20:30
  • 23:00

The Istanbul to Sofia bus timetable is

  • 09:00
  • 12:00
  • 20:00
  • 23:00

You can check the timetable in real-time (or at least according to the image on their website) here

Metro Bus Turkey Online Booking

Although it is possible to book the tickets online using the Metro Turizm Website Turkey, we’ve never got it working.  The best way to buy the tickets is to go to the Sofia Bus station and visit their offices.   You’ll pay for your tickets in cash in Bulgarian Leva.

The border crossing details are the same as in the section of the Plovdiv bus.

Bansko to Istanbul via Bus Plovdiv Detailed Route

Bansko to Plovdiv Bus

There are only two buses a day from Bansko to Plovdiv.  They leave at 0650 and 0820 and take around 3 hours and 30 minutes.  Buy tickets to Plovdiv from Bansko on the bus (14 leva).  It is a midi / mini bus.  There are around 16-18 seats.

Bansko to Plovdiv ticket

These minibuses have a trailer for luggage.  You can more on the options of how to get from Bansko to Plovdiv here.

Bansko to Plovdiv Timetable

The bus journey from Bansko to Plovdiv is in a minibus, there is a trailer on the back for luggage – for more details, head on over to our article on the journey.

The Bansko to Plovdiv bus arrives at the Rhodopi bus station.  The Plovdiv Rhodopi bus station is a 3-minute walk from the Plovdiv train station.  It takes 8-minutes to walk from Rhodopi bus station to the Plovdiv South bus station (Zug) where the buses go to Istanbul.

Why not break your journey in Plovdiv?  It’s a fabulous city and you can drop your bags at the Hostel Central Station – which deserves its great reviews and then walk unencumbered into Plovdiv old town.  Check prices and book now!

How to Get from Rhodopi Bus Station to Plovdiv South Bus Station

Go into the bus station building and down the stairs to the underpass. This takes you under the railway tracks.  After you’ve passed the tracks take the next exit up on the left.  You’ll be on the main street parallel to the railway tracks.  Turn right, cross the road and the Zug / South bus station is very close to you.

Rodopi_Bus_Station_Plovdiv

Plovdiv to Istanbul Bus

The first bus from Plovdiv to Istanbul leaves Plovdiv Zug or South Bus Station at 11:00.  This is run by Metro Turizm Bulgaria and begins its journey in Sofia at 09:00.  The Metro Turism Bus starts from Sofia at these times.

Metro Bus from Sofia to Plovdiv to Istanbul Times

  • 09:00
  • 12:00
  • 17:00
  • 20:30
  • 23:00

Those buses depart from Plovdiv two hours after that. To be completely clear Metro run buses from Plovdiv to Istanbul at 11:00, 14:00, 19:00, 22:30 and 01:00. These buses run every day.

How to Buy a Bus Ticket from Sofia or Plovdiv to Istanbul

Although MetroTurizm has a website, the online ticket purchasing would not work for us – with either a UK of Bulgarian phone number.  Neither would it accept any email address that we chose to enter.  Let us know if you manage to make it succeed and how, because we’ll be doing this journey in the future both ways!

You can pre-book tickets at the Plovdiv bus station Metro ticket office or the same in Sofia.

If you can’t get to the offices in person prior to your trip call the Sofia office and book over the phone.
These telephone numbers belong to Sofia METRO

00 359 2 931 41 39

00 359 2 832 51 31

Unless you specifically ask and pay a 2 leva insurance these tickets are non-refundable and non-changeable.  You will need your passport to make the booking.  You can also buy tickets on the spot.  We bought ours at 10:25 on the same morning and caught the 11:00 bus from Plovdiv to Istanbul.

Metro office Plovdiv

Tickets from Plovdiv to Istanbul with Metro cost 40 leva.

There are two other bus companies that travel from Sofia to Plovdiv to Istanbul.  Here are the details

Huntur Bus: 

Sofia 22:30 – Plovdiv 00:30 – Istanbul 07:30

http://www.huntur.com.tr/

Matpu Bus

Sofia 20:30 – Plovdiv 22:30 – Istanbul 06:30

http://www.matpu.com/

All buses start the journey in Sofia, approximately 2 hours prior to arriving in Plovdiv.

Metro Bus from Plovdiv to Istanbul

Tickets for this journey are 40 leva per person.  We took the 1100 bus, having arrived from Bansko at 1015 and walked from the Rodopi Bus Station to the Plovdiv South Bus Station.

Drinks, Snacks, Food on the Metro Bus

There is a toilet on board the metro bus from Plovdiv to Istanbul.  There’s also a fridge, near the rear door and cold water is freely available.  Coffee and hot drinks are also available and the attendant will bring them round.  The coffee is 3in1.  Brace yourself.   You’ll also be offered a snack after you board.  Lunch and other food are your responsibility.  There are small snack bars at the Plovdiv bus station.

There is a 10 minute stop around 30 kilometres from Istanbul at a gas station/café area.  No wifi, but food was available.

Turkey censors and blocks many sites we ALWAYS use a VPN – you can get up to 49% off RRP – or 3 months for free with this link to the VPN that we use – ExpressVPN. 

What’s the bus journey like from Plovdiv to Istanbul?

The seats are relatively comfortable.  Until the border, we had two seats on the back row.  They were roomy with good legroom, although one was in a permanent recline.

Metro bus Plovdiv to Istanbul and Kermit

At the border one of the drivers wanted to sleep, so we were moved to the seats just behind the toilet.  They’re incredibly cramped.  Avoid them if you can.

The bus has drop-down TV’s from the roof and individual infotek units that do not work, but in these two seats take up a huge amount of space.

The metro bus drivers and attendant don’t speak English, so unless you speak Bulgarian or Turkish then you’ll be relying on other passengers to translate for you.

The bus makes a stop in Haskovo and continues to the border.

Book your room in Istanbul ahead of time – this Hotel in Istanbul has a great location and great staff – check prices and book now!- the Hotel Peninsular

Metro Bus Wifi

There is wifi access on the Metro bus, but only while you’re in Bulgaria.  The wifi has limited connections, if you join a nearly full bus in Plovdiv you probably won’t be able to get online.

There is, however, free wifi in Plovdiv bus station.  You can also find free wifi at the Mustafa market, where the Metro bus stops for 15 minutes on the Bulgarian side of the border with Turkey.

Immigration from Bulgaria to Turkey

After you’ve joined the bus the attendant will come round and get your passports.  This is just to check off her list.  You’ll get them back after a few minutes and it’s nothing to do with the border procedure.  She will also come and ask which bus station in Istanbul you’re getting off at.

The main Metro bus stop is in a suburb called Bayrampasa at the Esenler Bus Station Istanbul (Otogar).  See their website for a list of all other stops that are possible.  Although you can just tell them on the bus.  We selected the Bayrampasa metro bus station specifically because of the metro station there and also easy access to an ATM as we arrived in the country with no Turkish lira.

We transited through the border on a Sunday in July.  The queues for HGVs and cars were huge.  There were two buses in front of us and we had to wait to exit Bulgaria.

Bulgaria to Turkey Border Crossing

Exit Bulgaria

We arrived at the Bulgarian border at 14:05.   Once our bus got to the front of the line, we all got off the bus.  All luggage under the bus remained there (for now).  This is Bulgaria passport control.  So we all lined up, got our passports out, and then got them checked or stamped, depending on where you were from.  Then we waited for the bus to be waved through and all got back on again.

Enter Turkey

We arrived at Turkish passport control at 14:46 – Turkey is in the same time zone as Bulgaria.  Again we all got off the bus clutching our passports and walked up to the passport window and handed them over.  The official looks at the photo on the passport and at you and checks that it’s the right person.  Have your passport open at the photo page, it saves time.

Bulgaria to Turkey Passenger Waiting Area

Then we all waited.   Three people were pulled out of line and had to go into the office with their passports.  The rest of us had our passports returned.  The attendant wandered around yelling names and handed them over in a pretty disorganized fashion that took twice as long as it should have.

Baggage Checks Entering Turkey

The bus pulled through and the cargo doors were opened.  We all had to remove our bags, take them into a bag scanner, then bring them back to the bus and load them up again.  After this, we all boarded and drove about 25 meters, where we stopped again and half a dozen folks got off to visit the toilets.

We finally left the border area at 16:04 and joined a line of traffic that snaked all the way into Istanbul.  This was the longest part of the journey.

Our arrival at the Metro bus station at Esenler – Bayrampasa was 19:43 – some 75 minutes later than scheduled.

Arriving in Istanbul

Esenler Otogar – Bayrampasa

The Metro Turism Bus Station Istanbul is the Esenler Otogar.  Otogar – bus station Istanbul is the main bus station.  It’s also known as Bayrampasa.  This is a great place for your first stop in Istanbul.  This bus station is huge, although the Metro bus stop is under the highway and across a bridge to the main station.  However, simply follow the folks walking across the bridge.  Trust me it’s easy and if you just watch for a few minutes you’ll see it.

Esenler Bus Station With Directions

ATMs at Esenler Otogar

There are ATM’s here – the Türkiye İş Bankası is easy to find.  Although we found an ATM on the map for TEB or Yap Kredi, we couldn’t find it in real life.  The map should help you.  The roads that you see around the bus station are inside the bus station and easy to cross on foot.

The Türkiye İş Bankası ATM accepts foreign cards and while the note on the screen said it was charging us 5.5% there was no charge that ever came through.   We use a foreign transaction-free debit card from Wise.  It saves us hundreds of pounds in fees each year.

If your provider currently levies a charge on taking cash out of your account in a foreign currency then you should get a new account ASAP.  It will save you a FORTUNE in fees.  We use and recommend Wise (formerly Transferwise) – read our guide to using it here, or learn more and sign up for a FREE Wise Multi-Currency Account here.

Esenler Otogar to Istanbul Centre – the Metro

There’s also a big metro station here called Otogar Istanbul Metro (bus station).  You’ll need to buy your tickets from a machine.  The BEST ticket to buy is the Istanbulkart – your trips will be significantly cheaper buying that.  You will still need at most a 20 Turkish lira note to buy that.   You can get change, without having to buy anything from any of the shops in the metro station area.

All signs in the metro are in English and Turkish.

There you go.  Bansko to Istanbul in one day, no grey hairs, no real hassle – an easy trip.  Next time I think we might take the overnight train from Sofia to Istanbul, which I feel might be a fun trip.  How about you?  Did you take the bus?  The Train?  Let us know if you have an alternative route from Bansko to Istanbul and we’ll try it out.

Resources

Plan your Trip to Bulgaria

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