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Europe

September 20, 2012

Taking the Ferry Between Russia and Turkey: An Instruction Manual

The slow ferry that runs between Trabzon, Turkey, and Sochi, Russia.

Russia and Turkey are two of the most popular countries on traveler’s wish list. And let me tell you, from visiting both countries, they are amazing. I highly recommend visiting both countries on your next trip.

Unfortunately, many don’t consider including both on the same trip because they don’t share an obvious border with each other. Of course, I wouldn’t be writing this article if they weren’t wrong.

While there is no land border between the countries, and traveling by train would be a long journey through the Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria, there is a quick and inexpensive way to travel by land between the two countries: a ferry on the Black Sea.

Sitting on the border of Eastern Europe and Asia, the Black Sea is surrounded by six different countries, two of which are Russia and Turkey. It makes sense, then, that ferry service is offered between the two countries.

Several times every week, ferries depart from Trabzon on the Turkish side and Sochi, site of the 2014 winter Olympics, on the Russian side. (Unfortunately, there is no Istanbul to Sochi ferry at this time.)

Trabzon, Turkey

Trabzon is a conservative city, think many Muslim women wearing scarves and cloaks, in northeastern Turkey. The city itself is pretty, but has little to interest tourist. On the other hand, there are some great sites nearby.

The inside of the slow ferry that runs between Sochi, Russia, and Trabzon, Turkey.

The inside of the slow ferry that runs between Sochi, Russia, and Trabzon, Turkey.

Sitting just outside of the city center is Aya Sofya, not to be confused with the church of the same name in Istanbul. It is a beautiful and uncrowded church that still contains some fantastic frescoes. If you have been in Turkey for a while, it might be a bit underwhelming, but if you are new to the country, it is quite stunning.

Further afield is the more well-known Sumela Monastery. Standing up against a cliff face, this monastery is one of the most beautiful in all of Turkey and well worth the time to see.

It is possible to get direct bus transportation to and from many of the larger cities in Turkey. You can also travel directly to/from Cappadocia by catching a bus in either Nevshehir or Kayseri. Trabzon also has an airport that serves several of the larger cities in Turkey, as well as Moscow (worth noting just in case you run into trouble with the ferry).

Sochi, Russia

When you first arrive in Sochi, Russia, you likely wonder the same thing Russians do, “Why are the Winter Olympics being held here?” Bordered by beautiful beaches, palm trees, and men wearing shockingly small swimsuits, Sochi is a seemingly odd choice for the Winter Olympics. For travelers though, Sochi is a wonderful place to relax for a few days. Featuring miles of clear water and a fantastic boardwalk, it’s certainly a hard place to leave.

At the moment, there isn’t much to do in and around Sochi. If you head into the mountains, there is good hiking (or skiing in the winter), and you can even visit Stalin’s summer home. Unfortunately, though, the language barrier and lack of English signage in the area makes traveling hard. Hopefully, the Olympics will improve this.

Getting to Sochi from Moscow is a simple train ride to or from Moscow. If you aren’t used to long train rides, be prepared; the trip takes around 26 hours. It is also possible to fly to Moscow or Istanbul from Sochi.

The port of Sochi, Russia, as seen from the top deck of the ferry at sunset.

The port of Sochi, Russia, as seen from the top deck of the ferry at sunset.

Choosing Your Ferry

There are two ferry options to get from Trabzon to Sochi.

The first is the fast ferry. Currently, the ferry runs from Sochi to Trabzon on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and from Trabzon to Sochi on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. The trip itself takes about 4.5 hours, leaving in mid-afternoon and arriving around dinner time. The trip costs 4,000 Rubles in Russia or $130 USD in Turkey. For more information, go to their website, which is mostly in Russian, or contact info@acakirvap.com in Trabzon where they speak a bit of English.

The second option is the overnight ferry between the two cities. Costing roughly the same as the fast ferry, the overnight ferry takes 13-14 hours to arrive. As of August 2012, when I took the ferry, it leaves from Sochi on Friday evenings and from Trabzon on Sundays.

The slow ferry was a well-built boat in good running order. It featured comfortable cabin seats, a nice deck, and even a bar and restaurant area. There are also sleeper cabins that you can get, but the cost is about $30 more per person.

On our date of departure from Sochi, the ferry ticket indicated 16:00 as the departure time, a fact which was confirmed by the women at the ticket counter. We arrived at the customs area at about 3:15pm, where a crowd was already gathered. It wasn’t until 4pm that the gates into the customs area were actually opened. Due to the crowd, lots of pushing and shoving ensued to get on the boat first, but we were able to get through customs with no issues by around 4:45pm. After finding seats, we made our way onto the deck.

The boat continued to fill up, and more people joined us on deck. Our fellow travelers, of which about 85% were Turkish males, were very friendly, but almost no one spoke English.

In the mean time, people continued to board the ferry, and the clock kept ticking. Despite our tickets saying 4pm, the ferry didn’t depart the port until a few minutes after 8pm.

That being said, if you take the slow boat, get there early as seats are first come, first serve. While the boat didn’t feel overcrowded, they do sell more tickets than available chairs. This meant that those getting on the boat late had to sleep on the deck, which got quite chilly, even in mid-August. On the plus side, they did hand out thick blankets to those unfortunate enough to get stuck sleeping outside.

The week I was taking the trip, the fast ferry was closed for maintenance. While the slow boat was good quality and reasonably comfortable, I would recommend taking the fast ferry if possible.

The ferry ticket office at the port of Sochi, Russia.

The ferry ticket office at the port of Sochi, Russia.

How to Get Tickets

In Sochi, Russia, the ticket office is in a small office next to the very large, main port building. If facing the building, the ticket office will be to your right, directly behind the Subway Restaurant. They don’t speak English, but if you write down the date you want to leave, you shouldn’t have any trouble.

In Trabzon, you can buy tickets from any number of vendors along the road leading to the port. The port itself is located down the hill from the main town square.

Overall, I would highly recommend taking the ferry. It certainly isn’t the fastest way from Russia to Turkey, but it allows you to see two charming cities and travel in a unique way between two very different destinations.

Note: If you need them, visas on arrival are available at the port in Trabzon, Turkey. Stand in line for immigration, and when you get to the front, show the immigration officer your passport. He will direct you to the official who sells the stamps. For Russia, most nationalities will need to get a visa before arriving. It is not available at the port.






29 Comments


  1. Really useful information, thanks. Sounds like an interesting way to get from Turkey to Russia.


  2. Hey how much was the cheapest overnight ticket from Sochi?


    • Tripologist.com

      As of August, 2012, the cheapest overnight ticket was approximately $130 USD. There are also sleeper cabins available for an extra charge.


  3. borja omez

    but this is for 72 h. right ? i mean,when you ask for the russian visa,you need to have round trip tickes,anybody knows if its possible to fly to sochi and leave the country by ferry?


    • Tripologist.com

      I’m not sure about the 72 hour visa, other than hearing it’s possible to get one if you don’t leave Sochi. I do know that the standard 30 day tourist visa is unavailable at the border. Try contacting the email address listed in the post. They might be help you out.


  4. Greg

    Anyone know if the overnight ferry is running in March 2013? Can’t find any decent info on it apart from this site!


    • The website I linked to for the fast ferry doesn’t indicated that it is not running, so I’m assuming that it is. Your best source for information is the email address I listed about half-way down. There is someone on the other end of that email who speaks English (at least there was in August, 2012) and he should be able to give you the current schedule for both the fast and slow ferries.

      Hope that helps.


  5. nestor

    Is it possible to travel by car?


    • I’m sure you could drive by way of the Ukraine and Bulgaria if you wanted to, but it would take a very long time, and you would lose a lot of time in border crossings.


  6. Ta

    Thanks, I find it really useful. In fact I myself have taken ferry to Turkey a couple of times, once or twice from Odessa. must say I didn’t like being stuck in the cabin and it was my free choise to stay and sleep outside, which was wonderful. They do provide sheets and blankets and I found it much more pleasant to sleep on the deck (the cabins were sorts of smelling of some specific sanitary spray or whatever they might have been using for cleaning purposes.


  7. dreday

    Thank you for posting such helpful post!!! Its people likeyou that make people like me have the best experience


  8. chan

    I am Thai which it 30 days visa free to enter russia. And then I have a plan to Astana, Kazakhstan visa over my passport. Can I process 30 days visa on board at Sochi?


    • Thanks for the comment. Unfortunately, since visa information changes so frequently, I don’t want to provide you with incorrect information. I would suggest calling the Russian embassy in Bangkok and asking your question. They would be able to more accurately assist you.


  9. Mike

    Do you know if the ferries will be running in February during the olympics?


    • I know they typically run year round, but I don’t know their schedule for February 2014. I would recommend contacting the email address I listed in the post. Hopefully they would have up-to-date information about taking the ferry to the Olympics.


  10. Jai

    Hi Jim.
    Were these car ferries or just passenger ferries? I’m going to be driving from Turkey through Russia but going through Georgia seems a bit sketchy. A car ferry on this route would be great. Thanks.


    • The slow, overnight boat is also a car ferry. Not sure what the cost is though. Try using the email address I listed above to see if you can get the price. Have fun!


  11. Yuju

    Hello,Jim
    This is really a helpful post!
    I’m just wondering if I should book the ticket in advance in my country,Taiwan,if I travel with my car.
    Thank you for your kind response.


    • Glad the post is helpful, Yuju. While I doubt the ferry regularly sells out for passengers, it does have a limited amount of car space. If you don’t want to risk having to wait a few days, I would recommend using the information listed above to reserve space for your car.


  12. Will

    Hi Jim,

    Great article, really useful thanks. A friend and I are driving from the UK to SE asia from April to September this year and were planning on going through Ukraine, but due to recent civil unrest we’re thinking of getting this ferry instead.

    My main concern is the Russian visa – my understanding is that you have to enter Russia on the specified date that you put on the visa. However, with the uncertainty surrounding this ferry, I’m a little worried that we won’t be able to turn up on the correct day.

    Do you know what happens if we turn up to Russia 1-2 days early or late?

    Thanks,

    Will


    • My understanding, and bear in mind that this is from when I went in the summer of 2012, is that you can’t enter before the date on your visa, but you can enter later. I’m pretty sure that I arrived a day or two after my visa’s listed entry date, and I had no problems entering the country. I would suggest verifying that’s still correct since I visited about 18 months ago.

      Either way, you still have to be out by the date listed, no matter when you enter.

      Sounds like a pretty epic trip! Have fun.


  13. Daniel Karlen

    Hello Jim,
    Thanks fot these usefull information. I want to go to Sochi from Turkey by car ferry, Did you know if it is possible ?
    Thanks
    Daniel


    • The slow boat is a car ferry, so it should be possible. However, since I only rode as a passenger, I don’t know what the rules and regulations are regarding cars. I would suggest that you use the email address I listed in the article to try and find out more information.


  14. Shiv

    Hi,

    Do you know if it is possible to book the tickets in advance for the slow ferry?

    Also, do you think that the fast ferry will carry cars across?

    I have sent an email to the address that you listed in your article, but thought of checking with you as well

    Thanks,
    Shiv


    • I would imagine that you could buy tickets in advance, but that might be harder to do going from Russia to Turkey than the other way. As I took the slow boat, I can’t say that I’m 100% sure, but I’m fairly certain that the fast ferry isn’t capable of carrying cars. Enjoy the journey.


  15. mike

    thanks for the info i realy find it usefull i am planing to take the trip


  16. kemal

    After Olimpic games they have closed sochi port but it is open now. There is only one ship works between trabzon sochi mf/erke. Here is the website http://www.saridenizcilik.com. Schedule is not written right in the site but you can call and ask for the schedule.



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