Has anyone taken this train? We are thinking of taking it in 2021. Thank you.
I have not; I sleep very poorly, if at all, on night trains, so I'd either fly or do the trip (by bus if necessary) in daytime chunks.
There's information on the Seat61 website, which calls the sleeping cars "comfortable", so I am perhaps unduly pessimistic. The website has some photos as well.
Why would you go directly to sofia to istanbul by train?
On one hand you would be missing things on the way. Plovdiv and Edirne spring to mind.
If you are ok with missing those, and you are traveling just for transport, then be aware that the route is incredible boring (and mostly night time), the border crossing on the train is at an inconvenient and disruptive time, and it is not fun to sleep on trains. People from this region would at a minimum take the bus, which is much nicer, quieter and faster and has many more time options - check out metroturizm - or fly. If you book on Turkish Air in advance it is 100E or less.
Flights are currently 109E or $125 one way, with a few weeks planning. Normally they are 79-99E.
Thank you all. Just wondering if the train is comfortable. We are trying to decide on where to use our frequent flyer miles and one idea was into Sophia and out of Istanbul, but we definitely want to see more places in Bulgaria. Guess we could take a bus from Plovdiv into Turkey. We will most likely rent a car in Bulgaria, but do not want to take one across the border. Hopefully, Bulgaria has one way car rentals.
There are a bunch of videos online of the train used on that route and the sleeper cars, you should be able to make an informed decision. It actually looks like they upgraded in the last few years, but still don't be expecting the Orient Express.
A one way rental will not help that much. With a car, it is only a three hour drive (or less) to the Kapitan Andreevo border from Sofia. You could knock about an hour off that by starting from Plovdiv, two hours by starting in Haskovo which is the last major town that you could maybe return a car in and also catch a bus. In other words not worth it - knocking two hours off is not worth the one way fees, and also many of the majors do not allow one ways in Bulgaria, only smaller rental companies that have a reputation for creative accounting.
You don't say how much time you have in Bulgaria but typically I recommend renting a car and doing either a loop (4-5 days) or a double loop (7-10 days) starting and ending in Sofia depending on your time constraints. Then continuing on. Presumably you would already have visited Plovdiv and so to me the question is do you want to visit Edirne on the way or not. If not, I would fly. If you rent a car, and have to return it at the airport anyway, then take the train or a taxi to the bus/train station etc etc so why not just return it, and jump on a plane and also as a bonus not waste an entire day of your trip.
From Sofia to the border is all fast, divided highway, 140kph speed limit which most people ignore. I've actually done that trip in my car in just over two hours, obviously a bus is not going to be that fast.
Agree with the Istanbul traffic though, highly recommend if you take the bus or fly you try to arrive on a weekend, I have been caught in some ungodly traffic jams both arriving and leaving Istanbul.
This train typically requires an in-person border check between 1:30 - 2:30 a.m. It has not been one of those routes where the conductors holds your passport to take care of it for you.