Heading to Armenia from Georgia or vice versa? The bi-nightly sleeper train is a convenient way to travel between Tbilisi and Yerevan – as long as your travel days line up. Tickets are cheap, the ride is comfortable, and waking up to early morning views of Mount Ararat as your roll into Yerevan is something you won’t soon forget. If you’ve been to Azerbaijan, the Armenian immigration experience is also memorable – but for different reasons.
We took the overnight train from Tbilisi to Yerevan and back in April 2017. This report from the road (or the tracks, as it may be) summarises both legs of our journey and highlights some travel tips.
Tbilisi, Georgia to Yerevan, Armenia
At the time of our journey, overnight sleeper train number 371 from Tbilisi to Yerevan departed Tbilisi Central Station (Station Square) every second night on (i.e. the 3rd, the 5th, the 7th, etc.).
We bought our second-class tickets a day in advance from the desk at the station using the same process described here. As with before, we needed our .
Overall, the trip from Tbilisi to Yerevan was smooth and enjoyable. The train departed on time at 8.20pm, and since it was still shoulder season, we shared our four-bunk berth with only one other traveller. We did, however, experience a few headaches at Armenian immigration.
We passed Georgian immigration at around 10pm. Our passports were collected and after about an hour, returned to us with exit stamps inside.
Why can’t every checkpoint be as straightforward as Georgia’s?
By the time we pulled in to Armenian immigration just after 11pm, we were tired and irritable. Those of us who needed to buy a visa on arrival disembarked into the cold, dark night. We were ushered into the first of two immigration rooms, where we filled in a (length of stay, address of first hotel, etc.). There was a space at the top of the form to attach a passport photo, but no one had one.
Two good-natured immigration agents processed our forms and printed off our . (These are full-page visas, so make sure you have enough room in your passport.) The official fee for a 21-day tourist visa is (not 10 USD as stated here). . None of us had AMD, so we paid 20 GEL instead, which is roughly the right amount – although we should technically have received some change. There is a staunch anti-bribery policy at the border, so the agents were reluctant at first to except the Lari should we think they were short-changing us. One woman who presented a 10 USD note was turned away and we had to lend her Lari. The agents told us to bring AMD next time so we could pay the correct amount.
Once our visas were pasted in, we were led into another room where a different agent scanned our passports and ran through the pages. As he was handing my passport back to me, I answered honestly, ‘Yes’, and at that, he snatched my passport away again.
So began a long process of sweating it out on the sidelines as every other passenger from the train sailed through immigration. We were the last ones standing.
The agent asked a series of questions about our visit to Armenia (where we were going, for how long, etc.) as well as the nature of our trip to Azerbaijan. He soon pulled out a piece of scrap A4 paper and started taking freehand notes. He wanted us to confirm our (which I thankfully had on me). After a few more tense minutes, he handed the passports back and we were free to board the train.
At this point it was well past 1am. We arrived in Yerevan at 7am with a stunning view of Mount Ararat to welcome us. It made up for the dramas of the night before.
Yerevan, Armenia to Tbilisi, Georgia
The return journey to Tbilisi was comparatively easier, with no issues at immigration. Train 372 runs from Yerevan’s main railway station (i.e. the 20th, 22nd, 24th, etc.).
Our train departed on time at 9.30pm. The only downside to this leg of the journey is that immigration takes place in the (very) early hours of the following morning. and we didn’t get back to sleep until Georgian immigration was cleared at around 5am. The train arrived in Tbilisi at 8am. Mercifully, all the immigration proceedings take place inside your berth using a portable computer, so you don’t have to leave the train.
Key things to remember:
- During shoulder season, the overnight train between Tbilisi and Yerevan runs every second night (even days for Yerevan to Tbilisi, odd days for Tbilisi to Yerevan)
- From June to September (high season), a daily train runs the route
- If you need an Armenian visa, you can obtain one on arrival
- A 21-day tourist visa costs 3,000 AMD or 6 USD – and Drams is the preferred currency
- If you’ve previously travelled to Azerbaijan, you should have your travel details and hotel address in Baku handy