For a land mass as big as Turkey — stretching from the tip of Greece to Syria, from Bulgaria to Iran, and Iraq to Georgia and Armenia — the Turkish populace never seems to be without a means of transportation.
Indeed, one of the best things about Turkey for a traveler is its list of transport options, from buses and bikes to trains, rental cars and more luxurious seaplanes. Here’s what you need to know about getting around Turkey.
Flying to and Around Turkey
With a host of airlines to fit your budget and schedule, Turkey is easy to navigate by plane. Even Turks, who traditionally travel by road, are now flying more. Why? Prices have dropped, and it’s just plain faster. A flight from Izmir to Istanbul takes just one hour, compared to a bus ride that can take up to 10 hours.
The major carrier is Turkish Airlines, which provides air travel not only within Turkey but out of the country as well. For short-haul routes within Turkey, Pegasus Airlines and Atlasjet offer inexpensive alternatives.
All three carriers service the main airports within Turkey — mainly Istanbul Atakurk International, Izmir’s Adnan Menderes and the smaller but still popular Milas-Bodrum, Dalaman and Antalya airports. A whole slew of airlines from Europe and North America fly into at least one of the above, typically Istanbul.
You’ll find that airlines are clean, tidy and on time, while the mass internal investment on the ground will offer you a fantastic airport experience akin to the best in Europe or the Middle East.
Renting a Car
“Renting a car in Turkey? You must be crazy!” That’s the most typical response from those who have already tried it.
If you have nerves of steel, a bottomless pit of patience and a penchant for honking the horn, then driving in Turkey will be an enjoyable experience. If you opt for this adventure, keep in mind that road signs are often ignored by other drivers, and the rare use of a turn signal could mean the complete opposite of what you think it does. Throw away the Highway Code and sample Turkey’s driving, raw and rarely surpassed.
Renting a car is relatively easy as long as you have a means of ID, such as your passport and driver’s license. Most travelers from Europe and North America can use their own country’s driver’s license rather than an international driving permit, but check with your rental car company ahead of time to be sure.
Research a reliable agency — such as Europcar, Avis and Hertz — before you head out, and check out their insurance for the car and the requirements for day-to-day usage and payment for the vehicle. Most vehicles will be from the European or Japanese car-making sectors, so they should be of a good standard.
Keep in mind that gas in Turkey is now the world’s most expensive and that fines from the police, on the spot, can be quite heavy. Try to get a car that has a GPS, particularly for cities, as you could end up getting lost. Turkey is also noted for having large populations moving on specific days. For example, Friday is the main prayer day for Muslims, so many will be traveling to mosques. Above all, drive carefully.
In Turkey, you legally drive on the right. Driving on the motorways and in cities, you’ll find that the roads are good, but those in smaller towns can be slightly tricky. If you do drive on the motorways, bear in mind that there are automated tolls to pay, but these are normally paid through a microchip on the windshield. Check the details with your rental provider.
Along the way, you may also be confounded by the lack of parking and distances between places. So plan ahead, expect the unexpected and always ask questions.
Trains and Trams
Train travel has been a relatively unknown quantity for most travelers in Turkey and even for the average local resident. However, the networks serving cities such as Izmir, Istanbul and Ankara are about to undergo a massive overhaul.
High-speed train line projects, such as Ankara-Sivas, Ankara-Bursa and Ankara-Izmir, are expected to be completed by 2023. As upgrades — enhancements to trains and general refurbishment of the infrastructure — are made, rail travel is starting to come back into vogue in Turkey. There’s an array of seating options at generally affordable cost.
While inner and eastern Turkey are currently well served, there are no trains on the western and southern coastlines at all.
If you’re staying in Istanbul, one of the best and safest ways to get around town it to use the tram that runs from the international airport right through the main central parts of the tourist center and out to the suburbs. It’s cheap and easy to use, and very rarely will you get lost on it.
Coaches and Dolmus (Mini-Buses)
The most popular mode of transport is a bus or coach for long-haul trips of more than four hours across the country, while smaller road trips are invariably served by Dolmus (small mini-buses).
Most Turkish residents opt for a coach if they’re on a budget and traveling to see family off the beaten track (where other modes of transportation aren’t available). What will surprise you is that the buses are very luxurious, of European standard, and the pricing for a seat is shockingly affordable.
Coach trips normally last more than two hours, and you’ll be served with a cake or sandwich and a bottle of water for light refreshment at no extra cost. Some of the bus companies now provide wireless Internet, and the seats are extremely comfortable to boot. There are stops to use the toilet and stretch your legs.
The main coach providers are Pamukkale, Metro, Kamil Koc and Varan, and booking seats can be done via the Internet, in person at their branch office or by simply turning up and paying.
For short hauls across cities and coastal towns, you’ll face the sweatier version — riding a dolmus. “Dolmus” in English means “stuffed,” so stuffed to the gunwales it will be with tourists, locals and maybe an odd chicken or duck going to market.
Dolmus travel is the way to get from point A to point B locally. Signs of destinations are clearly marked on the fronts of the buses, and payments, somewhere in the order of about 2 Turish lira, will get you several kilometers.
There is usually a piece of paper at the front of the bus informing you of the costs and destinations. Otherwise, ask the driver, and he or she will happily point you in the right direction. If you’re staying at a hotel, it might be best to get some business cards from the front desk so you can show the address to the driver.
Bus drivers will often honk their horns to rally trade and remind you that they are there.
For a thrill — or for taking your life into your own hands — why not try two-wheeled travel? Scooters and motorbikes are the favorites for young and adventurous travelers, and they are relatively inexpensive and easy to rent. A popular rental is the electric scooter. It’s affordable to use and is becoming one of the main forms of transport for Turks as fuel costs continue to reach new highs.
Insist on wearing a helmet, and keep within the speed limits, as the traffic police might decide you’re worth stopping for a fine for a breach some rule or other. Travel carefully; car drivers seem inclined not to see bikers until it’s too late.
This type of travel is usually constrained to the beach resorts in Turkey. Biking through city centers is only for those comfortable with the rigors of city living.
Boats and Ferries
Ferries are another popular mode of transportation, particularly in and around Istanbul, over the Bosporus, in and around Izmir, and from the Turkish holiday centers of Bodrum and Marmaris to the Greek islands. You’ll need to research the costs and frequency of services, as they’re subject to change. This type of travel, again, is affordable on the main routes serviced in Istanbul, while day trips to the Greek Islands are about 35 euros.
Often overlooked, bicycles are one of the best ways to see Turkey at your own pace. You can hire these from local tour operators and, on a day’s rental, pop to the local sites and beaches. It’s also an enjoyable way to stay fit while you travel. To arrange a bike rental, consult the front desk at your hotel, a guidebook or the local tourist office.
A relative newcomer to the transport sector is the seaplane. Privately operated, the seaplane flies travelers from Istanbul to coastal areas. Seabird Airlines is the only registered company that operates this service, and prices are quite hefty compared to normal bus and train travel. However, it is achieving 85 per cent capacity in flights and intends to expand its service from Istanbul to Ankara. If you fancy a different transport option and a one-off experience with a cool view, then why not take a seaplane?
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–written by Andy Probert