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Looks like a train pass for a 25 year old is only $150 for 5 travel days, but I hear the trains don't run everywhere, so would it just be cheaper to take the buses everywhere? And what is the best way to get to and from Greece via Istanbul? Bus/train?

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No experience on trains, but at least buses are a good option: when travelling around northwestern Greece I found connections to be frequent, the buses quite comfortable, and prices reasonable. (Btw, I think it's better to post a separate question about Greece - Istanbul.) –  Jonik Mar 10 '13 at 19:50
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What is best? Is it cheapest, fastest, most scenic, most comfortable, easiest to organise, best coverage, or something else? –  gerrit Mar 10 '13 at 20:04
    
Why not by car? –  Jonas Mar 10 '13 at 21:09
    
Here is a map of the bus services offered from the city of Thessaloniki ktelmacedonia.gr/en/content/Destinations-map.124 –  ilakast Mar 11 '13 at 0:11
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2 Answers

International trains to and from Greece have been suspended (see here and there). The easisest way to travel from Greece to Turkey will be by bus. There is also a possibility to travel by ferry.

I would not buy the railpass. You would need to take a lot of trains during these five days so that the pass would be profitable. Moreover, as the rail network is not very dense, you will need to supplement it by bus journeys anyway. Or you will miss a lot, such as e.g. the Peloponnese.

I suggest that you first make a list of where you want to go, and then check how it can be done. And then buy tickets (train, bus, ferry, ...) on purpose. With 150 USD you can already get far in Greece and see quite a bit.

A more general remark. Rail passes may look interesting at first sight. However, this may not necessarily be true. It is always interesting to compare passes to point-to-point tickets. You can refer to a discussion on this site or to seat61.com.

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Even though I am Greek, I haven't lived there for a long time. Last time I traveled to Greece I also went via Istanbul and took an overnight train from there to Sofia and then a plane down to Athens. Before that, I have take trains between Athens and Thessaloniki (the second largest city) and Athens and Patra (another large city). If you are backpacking and want to see the most beautiful parts of Greece (in my opninon Crete and the Islands and the mountains of central Greece and Peloponese) then you are likely to need to take other means of transportation such as ferries, large boats and busses. I really like trains and dislike busses but the few times I have taken an overnighter in Greece and in Turkey the conditions were like getting yourself in a train for the front in WWII (In fact once I was traveling with soldiers as they get free tickets on the overnighter I think). Both in Greece and the one to Sofia from Istanbul were very slow, not very nice and not very comfortable. I know that the day trains are much better and faster than the all night trains, but I haven't used them much (as back when I was travelling around Greece I was going for the cheapest).

Based on those experiences I can recommend you that, depending on your budget and your travel plan, and whether you dislike buses as much as I do, try the following in order of preference:

  1. Get a day train from Istanbul to Thessaloniki if there is one and it looks decent, and to the same between Thessaloniki and Athens and Athens and Patra.
  2. If you can afford it, fly to the furthest away islands and to Crete.
  3. Definitely take the "odondotos" (gr. Οδοντωτός : rack-and-pinion railway). The area is beautiful and the trip rewarding. Info here: http://www.odontotos.com/index-en.htm
  4. Don't get a railpass for Greece only for the price you mentioned it, but look into Eurail passes (3 days in Greece for 102 euros http://www.eurail.com/eurail-passes/one-country-pass/greece). The reason for that is that you are unlikely to need to travel 5 days on rail.
  5. Take at least one boat trip to an island.
  6. Have a great time in one of the most beautiful corners of the earth :-) Cheers
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This technology you call toothed train is called rack-and-pinion railway, rack railway, or cog railway in English. –  gerrit Mar 11 '13 at 9:25
    
@gerrit Thanks for the english correction. I have heard that term before, but could not remember it. I will add it to my answer –  tarzan Jul 31 '13 at 9:44
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