Turkey is well connected by air throughout the country, although many flights go via the hubs of İstanbul or Ankara. Domestic flights are a good option in such a large country, and competition between the following keeps tickets affordable.
Airlines in Turkey
Anadolu Jet The Turkish Airlines subsidiary serves a large network of some 40 airports.
Atlasglobal A limited network including Adana, Antalya, Bodrum, Dalaman, İstanbul, İzmir, and Lefkoşa (Nicosia) in Northern Cyprus.
Onur Air Flies between İstanbul and a dozen locations from Adana to Trabzon.
Pegasus Airlines A useful network of some 30 airports, including far-flung eastern spots such as Erzurum and Kars.
Sun Express The Turkish Airlines subsidiary has a useful network of about 20 airports, with most flights from Antalya and İzmir.
Turkish Airlines State-owned Turkish Airlines provides the main domestic network, covering airports from Çanakkale to Erzurum.
Turkish cycling highlights include spectacular scenery, easy access to archaeological sites – which you may have all to yourself in some obscure corners – and the curiosity and hospitality of locals, especially out east.
Bicycles and parts Good-quality spare parts are generally only available in İstanbul and Ankara. Bisan (www.bisan.com.tr) is the main bike manufacturer in Turkey, but you can buy international brands in shops such as Delta Bisiklet (www.deltabisiklet.com), which has branches in İstanbul, Ankara, İzmir, Antalya, Konya and Kayseri. Delta services bicycles and can send parts throughout the country.
Hazards These include Turkey's notorious road-hog drivers, rotten road edges and, out east, stone-throwing children, wolves and ferocious Kangal dogs. Avoid main roads between cities; secondary roads are safer and more scenic.
Hire You can hire bikes for short periods in tourist towns along the coast and in Cappadocia.
Maps The best map for touring by bike is the Köy Köy Türkiye Yol Atlasi, available in bookshops in İstanbul.
Transport You can sometimes transport your bike by bus or ferry free of charge, although some will charge for the space it takes up. Trains generally do not accept bikes.
İstanbul Deniz Otobüsleri and BUDO (budo.burulas.com.tr) operate passenger and car ferries across the Sea of Marmara, with routes to/from İstanbul including:
- Kabataş–Princes' Islands
- Yenikapı–Bandırma, Bursa and Yalova
Gestaș (www.gdu.com.tr) operates passenger and car ferries across the Dardanelles and to/from the Turkish Aegean islands of Bozcaada and Gökçeada.
Turkey's intercity bus system is as good as any you'll find, with modern, comfortable coaches crossing the country at all hours and for very reasonable prices. On the journey, you'll be treated to hot drinks and snacks, plus liberal sprinklings of the Turks' beloved kolonya (lemon cologne).
These are some of the best companies, with extensive route networks:
Istanbul Seyahat Serves Ankara, İstanbul and destinations throughout Thrace and Marmara.
Kamil Koç Serves most major cities and towns throughout western and central Turkey and along the Black Sea coast.
Metro Turizm Serves most cities and towns throughout Turkey.
Pamukkale Turizm Extensive network on the Aegean coast.
Ulusoy Extensive country-wide network.
Bus fares are subject to fierce competition between companies, and bargains such as student discounts may be offered. Prices reflect what the market will bear, so the fare from a big city to a village is likely to be different to the fare in the opposite direction.
Although you can usually walk into an otogar (bus station) and buy a ticket for the next bus, it's wise to plan ahead on public holidays, at weekends and during the school holidays from mid-June to mid-September. You can buy or reserve seats online with some companies.
At the otogar When you enter bigger otogars prepare for a few touts offering buses to the destination of your choice. It's usually a good idea to stick to the reputable big-name companies. You may pay a bit more, but you can be more confident the bus is well maintained, will run on time and will have a relief driver on really long hauls. For shorter trips, some companies have big regional networks.
Men and women Unmarried men and women are not supposed to sit together, but the bus companies rarely enforce this in the case of foreigners. You may be asked if you are married, without having to produce any proof of your wedlock, or both travellers may find their tickets marked with bay (man).
Refunds Getting a refund can be difficult; exchanging it for another ticket with the same company is easier.
Identification Take your passport/ID when booking tickets, as many bus companies now ask to see it. Also keep your passport with you on the journey for security checks.
All seats can be reserved, and your ticket will bear a specific seat number. The ticket agent will have a chart of the seats with those already sold crossed off. They will often assign you a seat, but if you ask to look at the chart and choose a place, you can avoid sitting in the following blackspots:
At the front On night buses you may want to avoid the front row of seats behind the driver, which have little legroom, plus you may have to inhale his cigarette smoke and listen to him chatting to his conductor into the early hours.
Above the wheels Can get bumpy.
In front of the middle door Seats don't recline.
Behind the middle door Little legroom.
At the back Can get stuffy, and may have 'back of the cinema' connotations if you are a lone woman.
Most Turkish cities and towns have a bus station, called the otogar, garaj or terminal, generally located on the outskirts. Besides intercity buses, otogars often handle dolmuşes (minibuses that follow prescribed routes) to outlying districts or villages. Most have an emanetçi (left luggage) room, which you can use for a nominal fee.
Don't believe taxi drivers at otogars who tell you there is no bus or dolmuş to your destination; they may be trying to trick you into taking their taxi. Check with the bus and dolmuş operators.
Cities where the otogar is out of the centre generally have a more central terminal for minibus services to nearby towns – often called Eski Otogar (Old Otogar), because it used to be the main bus station.
Because most bus stations are some distance from the town or city centre, the bus companies often provide free servis (shuttle buses). These take you to the bus company's office or another central location, possibly with stops en route to drop off other passengers. Ask 'Servis var mı?' ('Is there a servis?'). Rare cities without such a service include Ankara and Konya.
Leaving town Ask about the servis when you buy your ticket at the bus company's central office; they will likely instruct you to arrive at the office an hour before the official departure time.
Drawbacks This service saves you a taxi or local bus fare to the otogar, but involves a lot of hanging around. If you only have limited time in a location, a taxi fare may be a good investment.
Scams Pension owners may try to convince you the private minibus to their pension is a servis. Taxi drivers may say the servis has left or isn't operating in the hope of convincing you that their cab is the only option. If you do miss a servis, inquire at the bus company office – they normally run regularly.
Car & Motorcycle
Driving around Turkey gives you unparalleled freedom to explore the marvellous countryside and coastline, and to follow back roads to hidden villages and obscure ruins.
Bear in mind that Turkey is a huge country and covering long distances by car will eat up your time and money. Consider planes, trains and buses for long journeys, and cars for localised travel.
Public transport is a much easier and less stressful way of getting around the traffic-clogged cities.
Turkey's main motoring organisation is the Türkiye Turing ve Otomobil Kurumu (Turkish Touring & Automobile Club; www.turing.org.tr).
Motorcyclist website Horizons Unlimited (www.horizonsunlimited.com/country/turkey) also has Turkey-related information and contacts.
Motorcyclists may want to check out One More Mile Riders Turkey (www.ommriders.com), a community resource for riding in Turkey.
Bring Your Own Vehicle
You can bring your vehicle into Turkey for six months without charge. Ensure you have your car's registration papers, tax number and insurance policy with you. The fact that you brought a vehicle to Turkey will be marked in your passport to ensure you take it back out again.
Roadblocks are common in eastern Turkey, with police checking vehicles and paperwork are in order. In southeastern Anatolia you may encounter military roadblocks, and roads are sometimes closed completely if there is trouble ahead.
Drivers must have a valid driving licence. Your own national licence should be sufficient, but an international driving permit (IDP) may be useful if your licence is from a country likely to seem obscure to a Turkish police officer.
You may be stopped by blue-uniformed trafik polis, who can fine you on the spot for speeding. If you know you have done nothing wrong and the police appear to be asking for money, play dumb. You'll probably have to pay up if they persist, but insisting on proof of payment may dissuade them from extracting a fine destined only for their pocket. If they don't ask for on-the-spot payment, contact your car-rental company (or mention the incident when you return the vehicle), as it can pay the fine and take the money from your card. Do the same in the case of fines for other offences, such as not paying a motorway toll.
Fuel & Spare Parts
Turkey has the world's second-highest petrol prices. Petrol/diesel cost about ₺5.30 per litre. Petrol stations are widespread in western Turkey, and many are mega enterprises with service staff who pump your petrol and clean your windscreen for a tip of ₺5. In the vast empty spaces of central and eastern Anatolia, it's a good idea to have a full tank when you start out in the morning.
Yedek parçaları (spare parts) are readily available in the major cities, especially for European models. Elsewhere, you may have to wait a day or two for parts to be ordered and delivered. Ingenious Turkish mechanics can contrive to keep some US models in service. The sanayi bölgesi (industrial zone) on the outskirts of every town generally has a repair shop; for tyre repairs find an oto lastikçi (tyre repairer).
Spare motorcycle parts may be hard to come by everywhere except major cities.
You need to be at least 21 years old, with a year's driving experience, to hire a car in Turkey. Most car-hire companies require a credit card. Most hire cars have standard (manual) transmission; you'll pay more for automatic. The majority of the big-name companies charge hefty one-way fees, starting at around ₺150 and climbing to hundreds of euros for longer distances.
The big international companies – including Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz, National and Sixt – operate in the main cities and towns, and most airports. Particularly in eastern Anatolia, stick to the major companies, as the local agencies often do not have insurance. Even some of the major operations are actually franchises in the east, so check the contract carefully; particularly the section relating to insurance. Ask for a copy in English.
If your car incurs any accident damage, or if you cause any, do not move the car before finding a police officer and obtaining a kaza raporu (accident report). Contact your car-rental company as soon as possible. In the case of an accident, your hire-car insurance may be void if it can be shown you were operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs, were speeding, or if you did not submit the required accident report within 48 hours to the rental company.
You must have international insurance, covering third-party damage, if you are bringing your own car into the country (further information is available at www.turing.org.tr/international-traffic-insurance-greencard/). Buying it at the border is a straightforward process (one month car/motorcycle €65.62/52.50).
When hiring a car, 100%, no-excess insurance is increasingly the only option on offer. If this is not the only option, the basic, mandatory insurance package should cover damage to the vehicle and theft protection – with an excess, which you can reduce or waive for an extra payment.
As in other countries, insurance generally does not cover windows and tyres. You will likely be offered cover for an extra few euros a day.
Road surfaces and signage are generally good – on the main roads, at least. There are good otoyols (motorways) from the Bulgarian border near Edirne to İstanbul and Ankara, and from İzmir around the coast to Antalya.
Elsewhere, roads are being steadily upgraded, although they still tend to be worst in the east, where severe winters play havoc with the surfaces. In northeastern Anatolia, road conditions change from year to year; seek local advice before setting off on secondary roads. There are frequent roadworks in the northeast; even on main roads traffic can crawl along at 30km/h. Dam building and associated road construction in the Artvin/Yusufeli area can cause waits of up to half an hour on some roads. Ask locally about the timing of your journey; on some roads, traffic flows according to a regular timetable, posted at the roadside.
In winter, be careful of icy roads. In bad winters, you will need chains on your wheels almost everywhere except along the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts. The police may stop you in more remote areas to check you're properly prepared for emergencies. In mountainous areas such as northeastern Anatolia, landslides and rockfalls are a danger, caused by wet weather and snow-melt in spring. Between İstanbul and Ankara, be aware of the fog belt around Bolu that can seriously reduce visibility, even in summer.
In theory, Turks drive on the right and yield to traffic approaching from the right. In practice, they often drive in the middle and yield to no one. Maximum speed limits, unless otherwise posted, are 50km/h in towns, 90km/h on highways and 120km/h on otoyols.
Turkey's roads are not particularly safe, and claim about 10,000 lives a year. Turkish drivers can be impatient and incautious, rarely use their indicators and pay little attention to anyone else's, drive too fast both on the open road and through towns, and have an irrepressible urge to overtake – including on blind corners.
To survive on Turkey's roads:
- Drive cautiously and defensively.
- Do not expect your fellow motorists to obey road signs or behave in a manner you would generally expect at home.
- As there are only a few divided highways and many two-lane roads are serpentine, reconcile yourself to spending hours crawling along behind slow, overladen trucks.
- Avoid driving at night, when you won't be able to see potholes, animals, or even vehicles driving without lights, with lights missing, or stopped in the middle of the road. Drivers sometimes flash their lights to announce their approach.
- Rather than trying to tackle secondary, gravel roads when visiting remote sights, hire a taxi for the day. It's an extra expense, but the driver should know the terrain and the peace of mind is invaluable.
Turkey has a motorway toll system, known as HGS (Hızlı Geçiş Sistemi – 'fast transit system'). Paying tolls should be automatic if you hire a car in Turkey; the vehicle should be equipped with an electronic-chip sticker or a small plastic toll transponder. You simply pay the rental company a flat fee of about €10 for unlimited use of the otoyols. Confirm that the car is equipped with a device, which should be located in the top centre of the windscreen. If it is not, you will likely end up with a fine.
If you are driving your own car, you must register the vehicle and buy credit at the earliest opportunity in a branch of the PTT (post office).
Dolmuşes & Midibuses
As well as providing transport within cities and towns, dolmuşes (minibuses) run between places; you'll usually use them to travel between small towns and villages. Ask, '[Your destination] dolmuş var mı?' (Is there a dolmuş to [your destination]?). Some dolmuşes depart at set times, but they often wait until every seat is taken before leaving. To let the driver know that you want to hop out, say 'inecek var' (someone wants to get out).
Midibuses generally operate on routes that are too long for dolmuşes, but not popular enough for full-size buses. They usually have narrow seats with rigid upright backs, which can be uncomfortable on long stretches.
For most city buses you must buy your bilet (ticket) in advance at a special ticket kiosk. Kiosks are found at major bus terminals and transfer points, and sometimes attached to shops near bus stops. The fare is normally around ₺2.
Private buses sometimes operate on the same routes as municipal buses; they are usually older, and accept either cash or tickets.
Dolmuşes are minibuses or, occasionally, taksi dolmuşes (shared taxis) that operate on set routes within a city. They're usually faster, more comfortable and only slightly more expensive than the bus. In larger cities, dolmuş stops are marked by signs; look for a 'D' and text reading 'Dolmuş İndirme Bindirme Yeri' (Dolmuş Boarding and Alighting Place). Stops are usually conveniently located near major squares, terminals and intersections.
Several cities have underground metros, including İstanbul, İzmir, Bursa and Ankara. These are usually quick and simple to use, although you may have to go through the ticket barriers to find a route map. Most metros require you to buy a jeton (transport token; around ₺2) and insert it into the ticket barrier.
Turkish taxis are fitted with digital meters. If your driver doesn't start his, mention it right away by saying 'saatiniz' (your meter). Check your driver is running the right rate, which varies from city to city. The gece (night) rate is 50% more than the gündüz (daytime) rate, but some places, including İstanbul, do not have a night rate.
Some taxi drivers – particularly in İstanbul – try to demand a flat payment from foreigners. In this situation, drivers sometimes offer a decent fare; for example to take you to an airport, where they can pick up a good fare on the return journey. It is more often the case that they demand an exorbitant amount, give you grief and refuse to run the meter. If this happens find another cab and, if convenient, complain to the police. Generally, only when you are using a taxi for a private tour involving waiting time (eg to an archaeological site) should you agree on a set fare, which should work out cheaper than using the meter. Taxi companies normally have set fees for longer journeys written in a ledger at the rank – they can be haggled down a little. Always confirm such fares in advance to avoid argument later.
Several cities have tramvays (trams), which are a quick and efficient way of getting around, and normally cost around ₺2 to use.
Many international tour companies offer trips to Turkey.
Backroads (www.backroads.com) Offers a combined bike and sailing tour on the Mediterranean and Aegean.
Cultural Folk Tours (www.culturalfolktours.com) Cultural and historical tours.
Dragoman (www.dragoman.com) Overland itineraries starting in İstanbul and heading through Turkey and the Middle East to various far-flung destinations.
EWP (www.ewpnet.com) Mountaineering and trekking specialist covering the Kaçkars, Lycian Way, Cappadocia, Phrygian Valley and elsewhere.
Exodus (www.exodus.co.uk) Adventure company offering a range of tours covering walking, biking, kayaking, diving and history.
Imaginative Traveller (www.imaginative-traveller.com) Various trips with themes such as food.
Intrepid Travel (www.intrepidtravel.com) Offers a variety of small-group tours, covering Turkey, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, for travellers who like the philosophy of independent travel but prefer to travel with others.
Pacha Tours (www.pachatours.com) Long-running Turkey specialist offering general tours plus special-interest packages and itineraries incorporating Greece.
Train travel through Turkey is becoming increasingly popular as improvements are made, with high-speed lines such as İstanbul–Ankara appearing.
If you're on a budget, an overnight train journey is a great way to save accommodation costs. Many fans also appreciate no-rush travel experiences such as the stunning scenery rolling by and meeting fellow passengers. Occasional unannounced hold-ups and toilets gone feral by the end of the long journey are all part of the adventure.
Following a modernisation effort, Turkish trains are mostly as good as regular trains in Western Europe. Most have carpeted air-conditioned carriages with reclining Pullman seats; some have six-seat compartments. Riding the 250km/h Yüksek Hızlı Treni (high-speed trains, known as YHT) is a treat, with two classes to choose between and a cafeteria car.
Many regular trains have restaurant cars and küşet (couchette) wagons with shared four-person compartments with seats that fold down into shelf-like beds. Bedding is not provided unless it's an örtülü küşetli ('covered' couchette). A yataklı vagon (sleeping car) has one- and two-bed compartments, with a washbasin, bedding, fridge and even a shared shower; the best option for women travelling alone on overnight trips.
Train tickets are usually about half the price of bus tickets, with the exception of high-speed services. A return ticket is 20% cheaper than two singles. Students (though you may need a Turkish student card), ISIC cardholders and seniors (60 years plus) get a 20% discount. Children under eight travel free.
InterRail Global and One Country passes and Balkan Flexipass cover the Turkish railway network, as do the Eurail Global and Select passes. Train Tour Cards, available at major stations, allow unlimited travel on Turkish inter-city trains for a month. There are also Tour Cards covering just high-speed trains, inter-city trains (apart from sleeping and couchette wagons) or couchettes and sleeping cars.
The following are useful routes for travellers:
The Turkish State Railways network covers the country fairly well, with the notable exception of the coastlines. For the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts you can travel by train to either İzmir or Konya, and take the bus from there.
At the time of writing, to access Turkish State Railways' Anatolian network from İstanbul, you had to cross the city to Pendik (25km southeast of the centre near Sabiha Gökçen International Airport, reached via metro to Kartal and bus or taxi from there). From Pendik, high-speed trains run to Ankara via Eskişehir. For updates visit www.seat61.com/Turkey2.
It is wise to reserve your seat at least a few days before travelling, although they can be paid for shortly before departure. For the yataklı wagons, reserve as far in advance as possible, especially if a religious or public holiday is looming. Weekend trains tend to be busiest.
You can buy tickets at stations (only major stations for sleeping car tickets), through travel agencies and, with more difficulty, at www.tcdd.gov.tr. The website www.seat61.com/Turkey2.htm gives step-by-step instructions for navigating the transaction.
You can double-check train departure times, which do change, at www.tcdd.gov.tr.
Timetables sometimes indicate stations rather than cities, eg Basmane rather than İzmir.