[Update January 2018]: In response to questions from readers, I have now updated this post to include a ‘frequently asked questions’ section. I hope this additional information proves useful for those of you who are planning to travel by train from Tbilisi to Yerevan (or Yerevan to Tbilisi). As always, please check the comments section at the end of the post for additional info. Feel free to leave any specific questions you have in the comments and I will do my best to answer. Please remember that all information provided here is based on my own personal experiences. If in doubt, please contact your consulate for up-to-date information, especially regarding visas and entry requirements.
Travelling from Tbilisi to Yerevan or vice versa? The bi-nightly sleeper train (winter months, October to May) or daily afternoon/evening train (summer months, June to September) is a safe, convenient way to travel between Georgia and Armenia. 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 rather, the tracks) summarises both legs of our journey and highlights some key travel tips.
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Tbilisi to Yerevan by train
During low season (approximately October to May), overnight sleeper train number 371 from Tbilisi to Yerevan departs Tbilisi Central Station (Station Square) every second night on (i.e. the 3rd, the 5th, the 7th, etc.). During the summer months (approximately June to September), train 202 takes over this service, making a nightly trip from Batumi to Yerevan via Tbilisi. Since we were travelling in winter, we travelled on train 371.
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 . Second-class tickets cost us 56 GEL (approximately 22 USD) each.
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.
Our bunk mate – an elderly Japanese man who was travelling solo and like us, had just come from Azerbaijan via Tbilisi – didn’t fare so well. His limited English (paired with the fact that he didn’t have his hotel information with him and kept having to return to the train to rummage through his papers) meant that he was kept in the immigration office for over an hour. He seemed to take it in his stride, but it couldn’t have been a pleasant experience.
By the time the three of us got back on the train, it was well past 1am. The steward must have forgotten about us because he neglected to make our beds before he turned in for the night. Luckily we had our silk sleeping bag liners with us and we were able to use those for sheets. We arrived in Yerevan at 7am with a stunning view of Mount Ararat to welcome us. It almost made up for the dramas of the night before.
Yerevan to Tbilisi by train
Our return journey to Tbilisi was comparatively easy with no issues at immigration. In winter (October to May), train 372 leaves from Yerevan’s main railway station (i.e. the 20th, 22nd, 24th, etc.). In summer (June to September), train 201 takes over this service, leaving Yerevan in the afternoon and arriving in Tbilisi just after midnight. Technically, it’s only possible to travel from Yerevan to Tbilisi by overnight sleeper in the winter months—which is exactly what we did.
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.
Can you enter into Armenia after you’ve visited Azerbaijan?
The short answer is yes. There is no law or rule against visiting Armenia after you’ve been to Azerbaijan – as long as you’re visiting for tourism purposes and you meet Armenian visa requirements. However, it’s no secret that the two neighbours don’t exactly get along, and immigration agents seem to be mandated to discern your prior movements in Azerbaijan. Having just come from Azerbaijan (via Tbilisi), we were singled out and questioned far more intensely than the other train passengers who had not been to Azerbaijan.
While everyone’s border experience seems to be slightly different, I don’t think our encounter with Armenian immigration was unusual. Other travellers have reported a similar situation of having to turn hotel details over to border agents – one traveller’s report on Seat 61 tells of how immigration went one step further and actually telephoned the hotels in Azerbaijan she had stayed at to verify her information. Be prepared to answer the border agents’ questions, and make sure you have your hotel information written down and on your person.
For up-to-date information about visas and border requirements, I recommend contacting the relevant consulate.
Is the train safe?
In my opinion, the train was safe and I’d have no trouble recommending it to travellers, including solo females. Just how much security and privacy you have depends on what kind of berth you choose (see more below). The door to our four-person berth was lockable from the inside and fitted out with good lighting. The hallways were also well-lit throughout the night.
What classes/ticket types are available?
There are three types of berth on this train – first class spalny vagon, which sleeps two people; second class kupé, which sleeps four people; and third class platskartny, which are open-plan sleepers (no doors). As mentioned, we chose the second-class option and found it to be comfortable enough. Our second-class tickets cost us 56 GEL (approximately 22 USD) each. First class is obviously more expensive – around 75 GEL (29 USD) – and third class cheaper – around 35 GEL (13 USD) – according to Seat 61.
Where do you buy train tickets?
Tickets are available to purchase at the railway station. To be safe, I recommend buying tickets a few days in advance. Tbilisi’s main railway station is located at Station Square and serviced by the metro line of the same name. The ticket counter is located on level 3, and according to Lonely Planet, open 7am until 11pm daily. Yerevan’s main railway station on Tigran Mets Ave is listed as ‘Yerevan Railway Station’ on Google Maps. Opening hours are similar.
Can you reserve tickets online?
As far as I know, there is no reliable way to purchase Tbilisi to Yerevan or Yerevan to Tbilisi tickets online. It may be possible to book tickets in advance through a local agent – if you have any information about booking tickets ahead of time, please share it in the comments.
UPDATE (February 2018): It’s now possible to reserve tickets for train journeys within Georgia online using the online Matarebeli service by UniPAY. You are required to supply your ID number (passport number for international travellers) and can pay by credit card. As far as I can tell, this service is for domestic journeys only and cannot be used to purchase tickets to Yerevan or Baku. If you have personal experience or information to the contrary, please leave a note in the comments section.
- During the low season winter months, 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 takes over the route, also continuing on to Batumi
- If you need an Armenian tourist visa, you can obtain one on arrival at the border
- A 21-day tourist visa costs 3,000 AMD or 6 USD – and Drams is the preferred currency, so try to change some in Tbilisi before you board the train
- If you’ve previously travelled to Azerbaijan, you should have your travel details and hotel addresses handy (i.e. written out on paper and kept on you during the border crossing)
- There is no dining cart on the train and no stopping for food, so bring your own snacks
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