Most of Turkey is well covered by public transport including long-distance buses, minibuses, domestic flights and ferries. The train network is sketchy, many routes slow and booking a headache – but it’s the cheapest and safest form of domestic travel. Late booking is the norm but book well in advance for major public holidays – especially for flights and trains. Car rental rates tend to be high by European standards, but there are out-of-season bargains. “Travel details” at the end of each chapter rounds up all the relevant routes and schedules.
Turkey’s train network is run by Turkish State Railways (TCDD; wwww.tcdd.gov.tr). Trains are best used to span the distances between the three main cities (İstanbul, Ankara and İzmir) and more provincial centres such as Konya, Kayseri, Erzerum and Diyarbakır. Most trains are slow because the mountainous terrain of much of Turkey has resulted in circuitous routes. As a result, journeys can sometimes take double that by road. The advantages are additional comfort at comparable or lower prices than the bus, and the chance to unwind and watch the scenery unfold at leisure. To get accurate schedule information, go to the station in person, scan the placards and then confirm departures with staff.
There are several choices of seats available on most routes, including first-class, reclining Pullman seats; first-class standard seats (usually in a six-seater compartment) and second-class seats (generally in an eight-seater compartment). For long distances, though, it’s advisable to get a sleeper. Cheapest are küşetli (couchettes), with either four or six bunks in a compartment depending on the route, and two-bedded yataklı (sleeping-cars) with a basin, soap, towel and air conditioning. All yataklı beds come with sheets, pillows and blankets provided, as do örtülü küşetli beds; for standard küşetli beds you’ll need to bring your own bedding. For maximum privacy, and for women travelling without male companions, it’s probably best to book a yataklı berth to avoid having to share. There are always (usually helpful but tip expected) porters on hand to make up beds. Note that all beds fold away in the day to convert the compartment into a seating area.
All long-distance services should have a licensed büfe wagon which offers simple meals at surprisingly reasonable prices, but it’s as well to check in advance (note that most wayside stations will have snacks of some sort on offer). On major train routes it’s essential to reserve ahead, but unfortunately this cannot be done earlier than two weeks in advance – and it’s almost impossible to arrange sleeper facilities from a station that’s not your start point. It’s theoretically possible to book online but the English version of TCDD’s website is so difficult to use that you’d be brave to risk it (rail site wwww.seat61.com has a step-by -step guide on this).
Fares and passes
To give some idea of prices, a pullman seat for the mammoth 38hr, 1,424km journey from İstanbul to Kars (close to the Armenian border) costs 45TL, while a bed in a two-berth yataklı compartment costs 75TL. An economy seat on the Yüksek Hızlı Tren (High-Speed Train) between İstanbul and Ankara costs 40TL for the 423km, 5hr 30min journey. Buying a return ticket brings the fare down by twenty percent while foreign students (with appropriate ID) and children also get twenty percent off. InterRail passes are valid, though a better bet for Turkey-only travel is the one-month TrenTur card (available at major stations) which costs 150TL a month for unlimited second-class travel or 500TL for any class of sleeping car.
By long-distance bus
Long-distance buses are a key part of the Turkish travel experience and, despite competition from domestic flights and relatively high accident rates (see By car), look set to remain so. Bus journeys are almost always accompanied by loud Turkish music or film soundtracks. Partial compensation for this are the attendants dishing out drinking water and cologne for freshening up. Every ninety minutes there will be a fifteen-minute rest stop (mola) for tea, as well as less frequent half-hour pauses for meals at purpose-built roadside cafeterias. Many of the better companies serve free coffee/tea/soft drinks and cakes on board.
There’s no comprehensive national bus timetable, although individual companies often provide their own. Prices vary considerably between top- and bottom-drawer companies, though convenience of departure and on-board service are equally important criteria. If in doubt, inspect the vehicle out in the loading bay (peron in Turkish) and ask at the ticket office how long the trip will take. It’s worth bearing in mind that long-haul journeys (over 10hr) generally take place at night, and that because of rest stops buses never cover more than 60km an hour on average. As a broad example of fares, İstanbul–Antalya (a 450km trip) costs around 40TL with a standard bus company, 75TL with a premium company. Antalya–Nevşehir (for Cappadocia) is around 45TL for the 540km journey.
Most bus companies have ticket booths both at the otogars (bus terminals) and in the city centre. Touts at otogars will try to escort you direct to their company’s booth. When buying tickets, ask to see the seating plan so that you can choose window or aisle, a front seat (better views) or avoid certain less comfortable seats, such as those above the wheels and immediately behind the central door, which have less legroom. Unacquainted women and men are not usually allowed to sit next to each other, and you may be asked to switch your assigned seat to accommodate this convention. If you buy your ticket at a sales office in the centre you should ask about free servis (service) transfer buses to the otogar, especially if (as most now are) it’s located a few kilometres out of town. These buses will often also take passengers from otogars into town centres, but this is a more erratic system. The country’s two premium coach companies are Ulusoy and Varan. Their seats are more comfortable than most and they don’t segregate single passengers by sex. Kamil Koç and Pamukkale are two of the best standard outfits, in that order of preference.
A dolmuş (literally “stuffed”) refers to a car or small van (minibüs in Turkish) which runs along set routes, picking passengers up (give a normal taxi hand signal) and dropping them off along the way (just say inecek var or müsait bir yerde to be set down). On busy urban routes it’s better to take the dolmuş from the start of its run, at a stand marked by a blue sign with a black-on-white-field “D”, sometimes with the destination indicated – though usually you’ll have to ask to learn the eventual destination, or look at the dolmuş’ windscreen placard. The fare is invariably a flat rate (usually 1.5TL) making it very good value for cross-city journeys, not so great for a one-stop hop. In some cities (eg Antalya) dolmuşes have been banned because pulling in at random is both dangerous and slows traffic. The locals, confusingly, still refer to the midibuses that replaced them, and stop only at fixed points, as dolmuşes.
Intertown and village services are always provided by twelve- or fifteen-seater minibuses, and in these instances the term “dolmuş” is seldom used. For the remotest villages there will only be two services a day: to the nearest large town in the morning and back to the village in mid-afternoon. Generally, though, minibuses run constantly between 7 or 8am and 7pm in summer, stopping at sunset in winter or extending until 10 or 11pm (or even later) near popular resorts.
By city bus and taxi
In larger towns the main means of transport are the city buses which take pre-purchased tickets available from kiosks near the main terminals, newsagents, or from kerbside touts (at slightly inflated prices); in some cities it’s possible to pay on the bus. Yellow city taxis are everywhere, with ranks at appropriate places. Hailing one in the street is the best way to get a cab, but in suburban areas there are useful street-corner telephones from which you can call one; sometimes there is just a buzzer – press and wait for a cab to turn up. City cabs all have working, digital-display meters and fares are reasonable. Each town sets its own rates, which includes the minimum charge and a unit charge for the distance covered. The daily rate is called “gündüz” and flashes up on the meter, the night rate (which flashes up as “gece”) between midnight and 6am, is fifty percent higher – make sure you don’t get charged the night rate for a daytime journey. In 2009 İstanbul removed the higher night tariff, with cabs charging an initial 2.5TL, then 1.4TL per kilometre, with an additional charge for keeping a cab waiting more than five minutes.
The excellent intercity bus network makes travel between major centres easy, but having a car allows you to visit many off-the-beaten-track sites. But be warned – the standard of driving in Turkey is often both poor and aggressive and the enforcement of traffic rules inconsistent and arbitrary, all factors which have lead to the country’s high road accident rate with over 6,000 fatalities per year. Driving during public holidays, especially the religious Şeker and Kurban bayrams, and an hour or so prior to the iftar (fast-breaking meal) during Ramadan, is especially dangerous.
Rules of the road
You drive on the right, and yield to those approaching from the right, even on the numerous roundabouts. Speed limits are 50km/h within towns (40km/h if towing a trailer or caravan); open road limits are 90km/h for cars, 80km/h for vans (70km/h if towing something); motorways (otoyol in Turkish), 120km/h for cars, 100km/h for vans and small trucks. Drink-driving laws are in line with those of the European Union – 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood and drink-driving carries a fine of 480TL. Front seat belts are mandatory and it’s a fineable offence not to buckle up.
Traffic control points at the approaches to major cities are common. You’ll probably be waved through simply upon showing your foreign ID, especially if it’s a rental car. Make sure the rental company provides the insurance certificate, the pollution compliance certificate (eksoz muayene tasdiknamesi) and the vehicle registration, or certified copies thereof.
Speeding fines, levied on a sliding scale according to how far above the limit you were, are heavy, with penalties of 200–300TL commonplace (though there’s a considerable “discount” if the fine is paid within 10 days). Usually you’ll be given a ticket, which you then take to a designated bank to pay. Jumping red lights or turning illegally also carry stiff fines.
If you have an accident serious enough to immobilize you and/or cause major damage to other people’s property, the traffic police will appear and administer alcohol tests to all drivers, results of which must also be submitted along with an official accident report (kaza raporu) in order to claim insurance cover. It’s an offence to move a vehicle involved in a car crash before the police show up.
Heed the signposted no-parking zones, especially in resorts, as towing is common and although the fines are not too heavy the hassle of finding the pound and negotiating language barriers is considerable. Generally, it’s wisest to patronize the covered (katlı) or open otoparks. In open car parks you may well be required to leave your keys so the attendant can move your car. If you leave your car in the street in some towns and cities, you may return to find a chit on your windscreen (typically 4–5TL), to be paid to the roving attendant.
Ordinary main roads are often dangerously narrow and road-markings unclear. There’s usually a hard-shoulder area to the right of the driving lane, and often slower moving vehicles pull into this to allow impatient drivers to overtake. Be very wary of doing this, especially at night, as you might find yourself ploughing into pedestrians or parked/broken-down vehicles. With continual road improvements being made countrywide, roadworks are often a (sometimes dangerous) nuisance – especially in the southeast region. Sizeable archeological sites are usually marked by large white-on-brown-field signs, but side roads to minor sites or villages are often poorly signposted.
Typical hazards include drivers overtaking right, left and centre, failure to signal and huge trucks. Small-town driving hazards include suicidal pedestrians, horsecarts, speeding scooters and motorcycles (often with the entire family astride one vehicle) and tractors.
Toll highways, marked with white-on-green signs are well worth the modest fees (2–6TL) to use. The main ones include İstanbul–Ankara, İstanbul–Edirne; Adana–Gaziantep; Adana–Pozanti through the Cilician Gates; İzmir–Çeşme; and İzmir–Denizli.
Night driving is best not attempted by beginners – be prepared for unlit vehicles, glare from undipped lights, speeding intercity coaches and trucks and, in rural areas, flocks of sheep and goats and unlit tractors. Warning triangles are obligatory, make sure you put it on the road behind your vehicle following a flat, breakdown or accident, and ensure your hire car has one.
Fuel and repairs
Filling stations are commonplace and open long hours, so it’s difficult to run out of fuel. Fuel costs are very high owing to high taxes and even diesel (mazot or dizel) is 2.8TL per litre. Petrol (benzin), available in four-star (süper) and lead-free (kurşunsuz) grades, goes for around 3.4TL per litre. Rental cars generally use unleaded, but in some remote eastern areas it may be difficult to find.
In western Turkey, roadside rest-stop culture conforming to Italian or French notions has arrived in a big way. You can eat, pray, patch a tyre, phone home, shop at mini-marts and, sometimes, even sleep at what amount to small hamlets (essentially the descendants of the medieval kervansarays) in the middle of nowhere. In the east you’ll find more basic amenities.
Credit and debit cards (Visa Electron, Visa and MasterCard but also American Express) are widely honoured for fuel purchases in much of Turkey (chip-and-PIN protocol is the norm), but carry cash in more remote rural areas and the east.
Car repair workshops are located in industrial zones called sanayis at town outskirts. To repair a punctured tyre (a common event in Turkey) head to a lastıkçı (tyre workshop); a new tyre for a small car is about 90TL. Always check that the spare and toolkit are sound and complete before leaving the rental agency.
To rent a car you need to be at least 21 with a driving licence held for at least one year. Your home country licence should be enough but it is very helpful, especially at traffic-control points, to be able to show an international driver’s permit (IDP). On the Aegean and Mediterranean coast advance online bookings can get rates as low as 50TL/€24 per day in low season (Nov–March) but you’ll be lucky to get a high season multi-day rate in the same region for less than 73TL/€35 – this is assuming you use a Turkish firm. Walk-in day rates from major multinational chains are likely to be 94TL/45 minimum. Car hire in out of the way (for the average tourist) places such as Trabzon and Van is generally more expensive, expect to pay at least €35 per day with a local company, 104TL/€49 with a major chain.
Some rental companies allow rental in one town and drop off in another – at a premium. The international players like Hertz have outlets at many of Turkey’s airports as well as downtown/resort offices; local outfits (some of whom also offer advance, online booking services), may not have an office in the airport but with advance booking will bring the car to the airport and have someone meet you outside arrivals. Be warned, tanks are often near empty so you need to fill up right away.
When checking any car out, agency staff should make a thorough note of any blemishes on the vehicle – go around the vehicle with them when they do this as you may be liable for scratches and dents not noted at the time of hire. Basic insurance is usually included, but CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) is not, and given typical driving conditions taking this out is virtually mandatory. Along with KDV (Value Added Tax), all these extras can push up the final total considerably. Rental insurance never covers smashed windscreens or ripped tyres.
By bicycle and motorcycle
Touring Turkey by bicycle is perfectly possible for experienced cyclists, so long as you avoid the hottest months, the busiest roads and don’t expect any kind of deference from motorists. Be prepared to do your own repairs as the (admittedly ingenious) local mechanics are not used to working on state-of-the art bikes, although the home-grown mountain bike industry has progressed in leaps and bounds in recent years. Indeed, unless you’re passing through Turkey or are a real bicycle freak, it’s worth considering buying a bike locally, as that way the spares and repairs will be less problematic. Reasonable bikes start from 300TL. In cities, lock your bike; in rural areas theft is not likely to be a problem, the curious stares of incredulous locals could be. Bike-rental facilities are few and far between in Turkey; a notable exception is Cappadocia, particularly Göreme.
Given Turkey’s road conditions only confident, experienced motorcyclists should consider driving here. Plenty of bikers do, however, particularly from Italy, and many more visitors risk a day or two on a scooter in resort areas. In larger resorts and big cities there will be at least one motorbike rental agency, or a car-rental company which also rents out motor-scooters and mopeds (mobilet). You’ll need an appropriate driving licence, and most companies insist that it has been held for at least a year. As with cars, always check the bike for scratches and dents before renting it. Helmets are mandatory, despite the endless numbers of helmet-less riders you’ll see.
Turkey’s domestic ferry network is confined to İstanbul and the Sea of Marmara. İstanbul Deniz Ötobüsleri (wwww.ido.com.tr) operates both ferries and (the faster and more expensive) sea-buses along the Bosphorus, between European and Asian sides of the same strait, and to the Princess Islands. Longer runs across the Sea of Marmara to Yalova (for Termal & İznik), Mudanya (for Bursa), and Bandırma (for the Aegean coast) are the preserve of sea-buses. Any of the trans-Marmara car-ferry links save time compared to the dreary, circuitous road journey, but are relatively expensive with a vehicle.
Private companies offer services from Taşucu, Mersin and Alanya to Girne in Northern Cyprus, and a state-owned ferry still plies between Mersin and Famagusta. Details of these are given in the relevant town accounts.
Travel by air may be unkind to the environment but it is becoming increasingly the norm in what is a very big country, and makes sense for those on a tight schedule or who wish to visit far-flung places like Van or Erzurum. Turkish Airways (Türk Hava Yolları or THY; t0212/225 0566, wwww.thy.com), the semi-privatized state-run airline, still offers the most comprehensive domestic flight network. However, it faces stiff competition from private airlines, and has set up its own budget wing, Anadolujet (t444 2538, wwww.anadolujet.com.tr) which covers many of the same domestic routes as its parent, with Ankara as the hub. Sunexpress (t444 0797, wwww.sunexpress.com), which has direct flights from the Mediterranean gateway resort of Antalya to Adana, Bursa, Dalaman, Diyarbakir, Erzerum, İstanbul, İzmir, Samsun, Trabzon and Van, was set up jointly by THY and Lufthansa. The private airlines are Onur Air (t0212/663 2300, wwww.onurair.com.tr), Atlasjet (t444 0387, wwww.atlasjet.com) and Pegasus t444 0737 (wwww.flypgs.com). Onur Air offers direct flights from İstanbul to Adana, Antalya, Diyarbakır, Erzerum, Gaziantep, İzmir, Kayseri, Kars, Malatya, Samsun and Trabzon. Atlasjet covers the same destinations plus Nevşehir, Sivas and Van, Pegasus covers Adana, Ankara, Antalya, Trabzon and Van.
Fares with THY can be reasonable – for example, promotional one-way fares from İstanbul to Antalya (tax inclusive) are 39TL, though more usual prices are from 69TL. THY also offers variable student, youth and family discounts. Fares with Atlas, Onur, Pegasus and Sunexpress also start from as low as 39TL (occasionally less if there’s a special offer) one way and are very good value. On the downside, last-minute cancellations (by text message in Turkish) are not unknown, particularly with Sunexpress. You’re told to appear at the airport an hour and a half before your departure but an hour is usually adequate leeway for completing security procedures.Read More