Turkey’s new Mesopotamia Express runs 1,051km from Ankara to Diyarbakır. It passes through stark, mountainous landscapes and some of the country’s most important historical sites.

       Train travel is currently having a moment. From the Tren Maya, which crosses the mainly unexplored Yucatan jungle in Mexico, to the European Sleeper connecting Brussels and Prague, a host of new train lines are transporting travelers around the world.

       Many train companies are also expanding their luxury rail experiences, such as the Orient Express’ new La Dolce Vida train that tours Italy in glamourous style. According to Yesh Munnangi, CEO of global travel planning site Rome2Rio, train travel is experiencing a surge in demand. “Rome2Rio’s train search data reveals a staggering 170% increase since 2019 pre-Covid volumes.”

       The latest example of this trend is Turkey’s new Mesopotamia Express, which opened in April 2024. Building on the popularity of the country’s Eastern Express train, which launched in 2019, the new route will take visitors on an epic journey through Turkey’s central Anatolia region, an area rife with history and culture.

       According to Turkish officials, the launch of the Mesopotamia Express is part of a larger nationwide initiative to encourage visitors to explore beyond popular destinations like Istanbul and Antalya, which were recently declared two of the world’s most-visited cities.

       “Turkey aims to spread tourism across 81 provinces and has been sustaining various efforts for this goal,” says Geoffrey Weill, president of Weill Associates, which represents the Türkiye Tourism Promotion and Development Agency (TGA). “One such effort is to improve the country’s extensive, low-impact railway network with investments and high-speed trains.”

       The Mesopotamia Express accommodates up to 180 passengers and offers locally sourced traditional Anatolian cuisine in the dining car, such as kelecoş a fried meat dish on flatbread. The total trip takes 24 hours, stopping for around three to four hours at each destination so visitors can explore local sites and culture.

       “The Mesopotamia Express provides tourists with a comprehensive and immersive experience highlighting the region’s rich cultural heritage, historical significance and natural beauty,” says Weill. “It’s not an ordinary train ride but a journey through time, traversing stunning Turkish landscapes and uncovering the country’s hidden cultural gems.”

       After departing Ankara, the train’s first stop is the city of Kayseri, considered the gateway to the Cappadocia region. The city is well known for its labyrinthine bazaars and ancient Turkish architecture, as well as the spectacular Mount Erciyes, an inactive volcano that’s popular among climbers and skiers.

       The train then heads for Malatya, one of Anatolia’s largest cities. This area has been a crossroads for both trade and cultural exchange between East and West for nearly 7,000 years. Visitors riding the rails in summer can hop off to find the annual apricot festival here, which takes place 20-22 July and celebrates the region’s most well-known export.   

       Built in the shadow of the ancient city of Harput, Elazig is the train’s next stop. It’s a perfect place to explore the breadth of Turkey’s history, from the Unesco World Heritage site of Harput Castle to the Izzet Pasha mosque built in 1866.  

       The final stop is the walled city of Diyarbakır. Built in 297 CE by the Romans, the Diyarbakır Fortress is another of Turkey’s many Unesco World Heritage sites, as are the nearby Hevsel Gardens.

       The Mesopotamia Express isn’t the only new train to launch in the country: another tourist train, the Vangolu Express, which travels between Ankara and Tatvan, also made its inaugural trip recently. Both can be booked through Turkish State Railways.

       The Mesopotamia Express is definitely a bucket list trip! It sounds good enough to take in both directions, allowing extra time in the stops on route and beginning and ending in an easily accessible location, Ankara.

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