Turkey is a large country and traveling around Turkey requires you to cover some vast distances. This post aims to help you decide how you would like to travel and help you save some money along the way. Outside of some of the major cities, there is no freeway, you drive through each town (complete with red lights, so it is slow at times, so road travel may not be the best option).
There is good public transport in the larger cities and no need for a car unless you want to visit some of the sites out in the country (and even these you can reach by bus but you are at the mercy of bus timetables and can’t really stop to see anything along the way).
You will most likely need to organize a tourist visa for Turkey. You can check if it is required and if it is, organize it online at the Turkish Government E-visa website.
Tours vs. Independent
Organised tours are very expensive in comparison to renting a car and driving yourself. An example, a one day tour in Pamukkale was 250 TL (Turkish Lira) for one person, $90 USD pp (per person), (plus you have the cost of getting to Pamukkale), or you can rent a car for a week for about the same cost. There is more about driving in Turkey later in this post.
Our general recommendations:
- Fly or take the long distance bus between major cities (more on flying below). If you book a seat on the full sized bus they are new, modern, long distance coaches. The bus station is usually in a central location.
- Where there is public transport use it (Izmir, Istanbul, Antalya)
- For smaller towns or touring out in the countryside rent a car.
What about a guide you ask? Well everything in Turkey has an admission price. And some are not cheap, i.e. the Topkapi Palace was 30 TL pp plus an extra 15 TL pp for the Harem. And when you are seeing a bunch of these during your trip- it all adds up. (Warning: Some tours do not include the admission price for places either so ask what is included.)
Your admission price will not include a map or brochure of any kind anywhere. However, most places have been well sign posted, what you are looking at is labelled and explained (in English and Turkish). A great number of attractions also offer an audio guide (and this usually comes with a map) for 10 TL. These are available in multiple languages. We did this a couple of places, but this is essentially someone reading you the signs. If it is busy this is helpful as it can be difficult to get near the sign, but otherwise . . .
As for not having a guide, depending on the quality of the guide, you are not getting much more information than is on the sign!
Rick Steves offers a number of free podcasts about Turkey and some of them are quite good.
Driving in Turkey
Well, first off, let me say we drove in Turkey so it can’t be that bad. There are many places we go where we do not drive, Southeast Asia immediately springs to mind.
They drive on the right, they have lanes, they use traffic lights and roundabouts (more on that in a minute) and the road infrastructure is pretty good. Some places have tunnels, some places have toll roads. The signs are either pictures and/or posted in English as well as Turkish. A map is a bit hard to find and a map in English is even harder. So, you might want to bring one with you if you are the map type. We did not have a map, did not have a GPS, and did not use a smart phone and were fine.
On the grand scheme of things I’d say as a country it is pretty good on the road signs. All the major tourist attractions are signed, and large towns are posted on signs with distances.
Having said all that, Turkish driving is a bit different, if you get used to it, you will be fine. When we first arrived we were stunned, by the time we left, we were driving like them (we will have a shock when we get home!)
What do I mean:
- Many cars, trucks, farm equipment and slower vehicles drive on the shoulder. This is so common I would say it is the norm.
- If the slower vehicles are on the shoulder, this allows for passing in the middle on a two lane road! And it doesn’t really seem to matter if passing is allowed or not, if they want to pass, they pass. If you are too slow and they want to pass (and there is too much traffic coming in the other direction), you will be honked at or headlights flashed telling you to move over to the right onto the shoulder so they can pass.
- They speed, sometimes dangerously fast for the traffic conditions. Make sure you check your rearview mirror before you change lanes or go to pass.
- They turn from any lane, even when there is a turn lane designated.
- There are a lot of divided roads that continue for long stretches with nowhere to turn around. And a lot of times when you find the turn around- it is on the right (a jug handle), where you then cross the road, making a left hand turn. (There is usually a sign a bit before telling you one of these is coming.)
- Sometimes the sign for something is posted before the turn, sometimes the sign is after the turn (making you think it is the next turn, not this one.) I had this happen in Izmir returning to the airport. There was a sign to the airport, it was after the exit ramp, so I wasn’t sure if it was this ramp or if there was another coming up (there had been a series of them close together), so I stayed on. It was one of the divided roads with nowhere to turn around. 25 minutes later I got to the airport! If in doubt get off, you can always get back on.
- Roundabouts- In most places in the world the purpose of a roundabout is to keep traffic moving, therefore traffic in the roundabout has the right of way. I have no idea what the purpose of a roundabout is in Turkey! They often have stop signs, or if busy, red lights in the roundabout. In addition, if you are in the roundabout you must give way to traffic on your right coming onto the roundabout- go figure! This sounds confusing (and it is), but somehow it works.
- Tolls: Some are cash, some are electronic (no cash, a transponder in the car), the rental car company will let you know which apply where you are likely to drive. Generally in larger cities it is electronic (Izmir), smaller places they are cash, (from Dalaman Airport to Fethiye).
Having said all that, we did not see many accidents. You will get the hang of it and you will be fine!
Renting a Car
Renting from a local provider is much cheaper than from one of the big international companies (Hertz, Avis, Enterprise). It is about ½ the price.
We paid the equivalent of about 15 euros a day for our car rentals and we rented three different places, Antalya, Cappadocia and Izmir.
Rental includes full insurance and liability insurance in the price. There is no excess if you do have an accident. Most companies bring you the car empty and you return it empty (the level of fuel is marked on the rental contract.) While a bit inconvenient to make your first stop petrol, it also means your last stop doesn’t have to be petrol.
In one of those weird anomalies, car rental is cheap, gasoline (petrol) in either diesel or unleaded is expensive. As we speak (2015) oil prices are down all over the world and gasoline in Turkey was still 4 TL a liter. 5 liters in a gallon, so 20 TL a gallon or about $7.50 USD a gallon. Some places there was no difference in the cost of a diesel or a gasoline car, others there was about a 5 Euro a day difference. The cost of petrol is consistent across the entire country. The difference between unleaded and diesel fuel is about 35-55 Turkish cents a liter so you can do the math. You can check the price of fuel in a given country online,and make up your own mind based on the rental car cost.
If you pick up at the airport, most will meet you in the car you are renting, complete the paper work and off you go. When you return, at the pre-agreed spot, they drop you back at the airport. If you are not picking up at the airport they will arrange a spot for pick-up and drop-off (i.e. your hotel or accommodation). Some will have a portable credit card machine with them, some will require you to pay in advance. Just make sure who you are renting from is reputable and you should have no trouble. (A good way to ensure this is to ask you hotel for a recommendation or ask them about a company you find.)
We used and would recommend Oscar and Essence (which is also Assist Car Rental) Both are large reputable companies, the cars were good and they were reliable. Holiday Autos and Kayak are two search engines covering car rental bookings in Turkey. We used Holiday Autos with no problems, their prices are competitive. With Oscar we booked direct from their website. Another large Turkish company with competitive rates is Circular. (We did not rent from them so I can’t comment on service or cars.)
This is our list of places we are happy to recommend to you. It is not everywhere we stayed (some I wouldn’t recommend). We pay for our own accommodation and generally stay in family owned and operated hotels in what I would say is a three star rating. We are comfortable with that for a few reasons:
- The hospitality is usually excellent. These people know where they live, know the local businesses and only recommend things that reflect well on them as well. You can find some gems of things to do and places to eat based on their personal recommendations.
- It is closer to how the locals travel and live. We do stay in the occasional five star resort and we have traveled extensively for business during our careers. Chain hotels lack charm and character and five star resorts insulate you from really experiencing where you have traveled.
- It is easier on your budget, and you can travel for longer or spend more doing things when you are there. I don’t tend to spend much time in my hotel room, that’s not why I traveled!
- Odile Hotel and Restaurant,
Located in the old town Antalya. Mehmet and his team, Antonio and Rameses, will look after you. Nothing was too much trouble for these guys and they are a very friendly lot. They knew everyone’s name and went out of their way to look after you.
The restaurant is good, and the view is fantastic. Breakfast outside every morning was a great start to the day.
Details of the following hotels can be found in the relevant post related to the area:
- Ottoman Cave Suites, Goreme, Cappadocia.
- Venus Hotel, Pamukkale.
- The Red Basilica Café and Hotel, Bergama
- The Gallipoli House, Gallipoli
We are also extensive users of AirBnB. If we are going to be somewhere for a week or so, AirBnB is usually better than a hotel room. If you are traveling for a while it provides:
- a great break from eating out every meal
- a chance to try cooking with some of the local ingredients
- an opportunity to see how and where real people live
- a chance to do some laundry
- A local to help you sort out what there is to do and how to get from place to place
- Someone to ask questions if you need assistance
You can use this link to get $25 USD off your first AirBnB stay.
Low Cost Airlines
There are a number of low cost airlines and generally internal travel is quite cheap. We never paid more than $50 USD pp for a flight and this included luggage.
You can save a lot of money by booking your international flight to and from Istanbul and then using the low cost airlines for your internal flights.
Kayak is my search engine of choice for finding low airfares. Many times the search result takes you directly to the site to book. Even when it doesn’t, I always book my flights direct on the airline site. You can see what you are booking (Is luggage an extra charge? What is the allowance? Are meals included? etc.) add extras if need be and manage your booking on their site. Sometimes a third party booking site lets you do none of these things. An excellent example of this was SunExpress (see below). When you booked on their site you could increase your luggage allowance (add more weight) but if you had booked through a third party you were limited to 15 kilos.
For all of these airlines some luggage was included (15-20 kilos) and adding extra weight was cheap. An extra 5 kilos (11 pounds) was 10 TL on most of them if you booked it online ahead of time rather than waiting until you arrived at the airport.
Just be aware most of these airlines involve taking a bus from the terminal to the plane and climbing the stairs to get on/off the plane, although sometimes we did use the jetway from the terminal.
- Pegasus– Pegasus is a large carrier, they fly everywhere within Turkey. The planes and equipment are new, the staff were friendly and efficient. We found them to be quite good. They also service international routes to/from Turkey so if you are coming from elsewhere in Europe check them.
- Onur Air- We did not fly them, but saw their planes everywhere. I wouldn’t hesitate to book them.
- AtlasJet- This was a bit more of a full service airline, a meal was included and they offer a shuttle service to/from the airport in some cities included in the price of the airfare.
- SunExpress– Sun express have limited service internally in Turkey but services some routes direct that other airlines do not. We flew direct from Cappadocia to Izmir. Every other carrier we had to go through Istanbul. They also are an international carrier providing service to/from Turkey.
A word about Airports in Istanbul
It is worth mentioning there are two airports in Istanbul- Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW) and Istanbul Atatürk AirportI (IST). IST is easy to get to/from the city via public transport and you can use the Metro. Going to SAW takes longer and you need to use the Havas bus or pay for a taxi which is expensive. Check when you are booking your flights, many of these airlines service both airports and if there is no great price difference it is easier (depending on your destination in Istanbul) to fly into IST.
We flew into IST and out of SAW. We arranged a transfer with our accommodation. Someone met us in the airport with our name on a sign. The advantage of this, which we often do, is the driver knows where you are going already. You don’t need to know or worry about it. You also don’t have to deal with dragging your luggage around a foreign city looking for where you are going. I find the reduction in stress to be well worth a few extra dollars.
When departing Istanbul, since we already knew our way around and where to catch the shuttle for the airport and how to get there, we organized a taxi to pick us up at our accommodation for a short ride to the shuttle stop then took the Havas bus to the airport. This was much cheaper than a transfer all the way to the airport (about 60 TL cheaper for two people.) and painless. It is a straight trip on the bus, it makes no stops in route.
Compass & Fork Itinerary
This map shows the areas covered with the Turkish posts on the site.
Other Turkey Related Posts:
There is a lot of information on the Compass & Fork site about Turkey. Please have a look around:
These posts include history, culture and a recipe:
Testi Kebap (a speciality dish from Cappadocia)
Shish Kebaps (Including a couple of great places to find Shish Kebap)
Turkish Dinner Party (the best of Turkey)
And if you still need more information or assistance, here are links to a couple of blogs we found helpful:
That’s it, enjoy your trip!
If you have any questions, or comments, please leave them below.
This post also appeared on Weekend Travel Inspiration. Check it out for great travel writing and a huge dose of travel inspirations.