With nearly 8000km (5000 miles) of coastline and endless expanses of countryside, from rugged mountains to rolling deserts, Turkey is prime road trip territory.
From the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, the country is crisscrossed by well-maintained highways, but you'll want to detour onto smaller roads to reach Turkey's wealth of archeological sites and scenic landscapes and to enjoy the local hospitality.
Turkey has many small regional airports, so most road trips can be driven point-to-point by rental car, connecting back to Istanbul by air when you're ready for your flight home.
Here are eight great road trips in Turkey to whet your appetite for adventure.
Thrace and the North Aegean: best road trip for wining and dining
Start – Istanbul; End – İzmir; Distance – 880km (547 miles)
You could barrel through this drive in a few days to hit its historic highlights: the battlefields of Gallipoli, the ruins of Troy and its impressive museum, the ancient acropolis of Bergama (Pergamum) and the grand classical city of Ephesus. But it’s better to take your time, savoring relaxed seaside towns, Aegean cuisine and local wineries along the way.
Break the long drive out of Istanbul with an overnight stop at the Barbare winery near Tekirdağ, which offers boutique accommodations amidst sprawling vineyards. Continuing west, most of the Gallipoli Peninsula is a national park, with lush forests and secluded beaches to explore, while Çanakkale across the water is a pleasantly vibrant city and the gateway to Troy.
South of Troy, board the car ferry to the idyllic island of Bozcaada, with its old Greek houses, gourmet restaurants, beaches and wineries. Heading on to Bergama, stop in the pretty towns of Foça or Ayvalık, then make for İzmir. As well as being the closest hub to Ephesus, Turkey’s third-largest city is a worthy destination in its own right, with a layered, Greek-influenced culture and cuisine.
The Lycian Coast: best road trip for stunning sea views
Start – Dalaman; End – Antalya; Distance – 337km (209 miles)
Despite the short distances, this Mediterranean journey is meant to be taken slowly, and the winding coastal road between Patara and Antalya will see to it that you don't rush past the sights. If the pretty beaches and coves along the route don’t tempt you into frequent stops and detours, the area’s many fascinating archeological ruins certainly will.
Leaving Dalaman, take a lunch stop by the harbor in Göcek, then it’s onward to Fethiye, where you can book a day cruise on the sparkling bay, visit the ancient rock tombs towering above the city or hike to the abandoned Greek village of Kayaköy. Moving southeast, the drive to the long sandy beach at Patara is dotted with ancient sites, including hilltop Tlos, the ancient Lycian capital of Xanthos, the temples of Letoon and the isolated mountain splendor of tomb-studded Pinara.
Moving east, laidback Kaş is the kind of place you may never want to leave, with its sublime sea views and hip cafes, restaurants and cocktail bars. The rock tombs of Myra, the dramatic ruins and beach at Olympos, and romantic Phaselis are just a few of the reasons to linger en route to lively Antalya.
Historic Anatolia: best road trip for ancient history
Start – Ankara; End – Konya; Distance – 692km (430 miles)
A visit to the fascinating Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara will set the stage for this journey into the past. After stops at the Turkish capital’s old citadel and the mausoleum of the country’s revered founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, it’s time to head out to Hattuşa, the capital of the ancient Hittite kingdom.
You could spend a few days or a week exploring the Cappadocia region to the south, famous for its fairy chimney rock formations, cave churches and underground cities, and the colorful hot-air balloons that take visitors soaring above it all. The towns of Göreme and Ürgüp both make for good bases, with plenty of hotels and restaurants to choose from.
Before reaching Konya, known for its Seljuk-era relics and Sufi heritage, stop at Çatalhöyük – excavations at this globally significant Neolithic settlement are providing insights into Turkey's earliest civilizations.
Southeastern Anatolia: best road trip for bazaars and museums
Start – Gaziantep; End – Gaziantep; Distance – 832km (517 miles)
The historic southeast of Anatolia is tangibly different from other parts of Turkey, with its culture and cuisine influenced by the region’s Kurdish and Arab populations. Start your explorations in famous Gaziantep, known for its kebabs and baklava, and for the beautifully displayed collection of Roman mosaics in the Gaziantep Zeugma Mosaic Museum.
Rolling east, Şanlıurfa has its own fine archaeology museum and mosaics, as well as a colorful bazaar district and the nearby ruins of Göbeklitepe, one of the world’s most important Neolithic sites. Further east, by the Syrian border, picturesque Mardin has a museum-like old town, an atmospheric bazaar, and ancient Roman ruins and a Syrian Orthodox monastery.
Turning north, fascinating and sometimes troubled Diyarbakır is the most important Kurdish city in Turkey. From here, take the more northern route back to Gaziantep so you can overnight at one of the simple pansiyons (guesthouses) near the summit of Nemrut Dağı, topped by giant statues of ancient gods and heroes.
The Eastern Mountains: best road trip for wild nature
Start – Trabzon; End – Kars; Distance – 640km (398 miles)
This rugged drive requires good mountain-driving skills and shouldn’t be attempted in winter, but it rewards the adventurous traveler with dramatic landscapes, isolated villages and some truly unique sights. Starting from the vibrant coastal city of Trabzon, head into the mountains to reach the 4th-century Sumela Monastery, a reminder of the region’s rich Greek Orthodox heritage.
Old Armenian churches can be found around Gümüşhane, and farther on in Bayburt is the remote, one-of-a-kind Baksi Museum, devoted to contemporary and traditional arts. From underrated Erzurum, you can continue by car to Kars, a former Russian outpost with distinctive architecture. The nearby ruins of Ani, an ancient capital of Armenia before modern borders were drawn, have one of the most picturesque settings in Turkey.
As an interesting alternative to driving this last leg, return your hire car in Erzurum and buy a train ticket on the famous Doğu Ekspresi (Eastern Express) train to Kars, one of Turkey's most rewarding rail journeys.
Three Peninsulas: best road trip for leisurely seaside meandering
Start – Bodrum; End – Dalaman; Distance – 655km (407 miles)
The winding roads, scenic views and relaxed vibe of the three peninsulas that jut out from the Turkish coast where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean Sea – Bodrum, Datça, and Bozburun – encourage leisurely dawdling. The Bodrum peninsula is the most popular destination, with resort towns ranging from the glamorous to the bohemian.
Datça and Bozburun (near Marmaris) are quieter, but both are drawing ever-larger numbers of city-weary Istanbulites. You may find that you fall in love with one peninsula and want to spend all of your time exploring its many coves and villages instead of making the full tour of all three. Riverfront Dalyan, which boasts one of the best beaches in Turkey, makes for a pleasant stopover before heading to the airport in Dalaman.
Phrygia and the Lake District: best road trip for off-the-beaten-path sights
Start – Eskişehir; End – Antalya; Distance – 556km (345 miles)
You could start this drive from Istanbul, but it’s more pleasant to take the fast train to Eskişehir, a pleasantly green riverfront city with many interesting things to do – be sure to visit the city's notable modern art museum before you hit the road.
The ancient Phrygian civilization spread southwest from here through rock-carved valleys that you can explore today via the Phrygian Way trekking route. Continue through Kütahya, known for its Ottoman ceramics, to reach the stark hilltop castle for which the town of Afyonkarahisar is named.
South of the town of Afyon is Turkey’s forested Lake District, where you can eat fish by the water in Eğirdir or take a hike in the green surroundings of Lake Kovada National Park. After visiting the spectacular ruins of ancient Sagalassos, see some of the artifacts found at the site in the museum in Burdur, then cap off your trip with some beach time in Antalya.
Western Black Sea: best road trip for quaint Ottoman villages
Start – Istanbul; End – Samsun; Distance – 1516km (942 miles)
This long journey will give you a taste of the rugged western Black Sea coastline as well as the green, rural areas inland. Start by stretching your legs with a walk around Lake Sapanca and then tour through the charming small villages of Taraklı, Göynük and Mudurnu. Each has historic Ottoman homes in various states of repair, and Mudurnu has the best options for an overnight stay.
Lake Abant and the Yenice Forest are two beautiful natural spots en route to the pretty coastal resort of Amasra and its historic citadel. The lovingly restored Ottoman mansions of Safranbolu are another top attraction in this region, and the mighty rock fortress of Kastamonu is worth a stop on the way to the port town of Sinop. From here, dip back inland to mosque-studded Amasya and Tokat before ending your trip in coastal Samsun.
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