Spanning approximately 1,310 kilometers, the train journey begins in Türkiye’s capital, Ankara, continues to Kırıkkale, Kayseri, Sivas, Erzincan, and Erzurum, and concludes in Kars. Taking around 26 hours, the trip allows passengers to observe the diverse geography of Türkiye along the route and see how the eastern provinces transform into extraordinary winter destinations during the season.
A ‘One-of-a-kind’ adventure
Two separate trains operate on the Ankara-Kars route, the Eastern Express and the Touristic Eastern Express. The Eastern Express grew so popular recently that a touristic version was added to the route in 2019 to meet demand. The Eastern Express features pullman and couchette wagons and has approximately 50 stops, whereas the Touristic Eastern Express includes sleeping and dining wagons and has 29 stops. While the Eastern Express has limited break times, the Touristic Eastern Express has two- to three-hour breaks so passengers can see more along the route.
The Touristic Eastern Express’s new season service makes sightseeing stops at the Erzincan and Erzurum stations in the Ankara-Kars direction and at the İliç, Divriği and Sivas stations in the Kars-Ankara direction, which is the return route. The Touristic Eastern Express has eight sleeping beds and one dining car, which are pretty comfortable. Each sleeping car has ten compartments (rooms) with two beds. Although passengers can enjoy breakfast and dinner in the dining car, a growing trend – influenced by social media – is to dine in the comfort of one’s compartment, where passengers can prepare and decorate a table to their taste with delicacies that they bring or order from road stops.
The last stop is Kars, Türkiye’s magical winter city.
The rising popularity of the Touristic Eastern Express has made it the most unique winter destination for travellers. The beauty of Kars, the final stop on the journey, and the other picturesque Anatolian cities along the route are significant factors in this fame. In north-eastern Türkiye, Kars is one of Anatolia’s oldest settlements, having hosted the Urartians, Persians, Eastern Romans, Seljuks, Ottomans and Russians, among many others. The city’s location at the crossroads of numerous essential trade routes, including the Silk Road, resulted in the development of a multi-layered, architecturally, and culturally rich destination. The hotels in the Kars centre host guests in magnificent Baltic-style buildings, and the city’s restaurants, famous for their Caucasian shows and cosy atmosphere on the cold winter evenings, also make the city unique. Kars’ rich cuisine, famous for its distinctive flavours – especially its regional cheeses and seasonal goose dishes – are just a few of the many pleasures the city offers visitors.
A stroll through the city centre reveals several splendid basalt-stone buildings. These highlights include the Fethiye Mosque, the Kümbet Mosque, Kars Castle, and the structures surrounding the Kars Stream. The UNESCO World Heritage Ani Archaeological Site is undoubtedly one of the area’s most extraordinary stops. From the walls surrounding the ancient city to the diverse collection of cathedrals, mosques, caravanserais and bridges that have survived intact to the present day, Ani offers a striking picture, with structures that bring the religious, administrative, military and civil architectural examples of the period to the present. Also known as a famous skiing destination, Kars is home to the Sarıkamış Ski Centre, featuring the world’s third-highest altitude ski track and the powder crystal snow seen only in the Alps. Another delightful Kars experience is to celebrate a centuries-old tradition by riding horse-drawn sleighs on Lake Çıldır, which freezes in late November with meters-thick ice.