Getting Around Turkey

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Getting Around Turkey

By Plane

Major cities are served by airlines as well, with reasonable prices, beating the bus travel experience especially over longer distances. Tickets can be conveniently bought at the Istanbul domestic terminal and local ticket offices of Turkish Airlines, Onur Air, Pegasus Airlines and Atlasjet among others . Many of the large cities have daily connections to the traffic hubs Ankara and Istanbul, others will have flights on specific days only. Upon arrival at regional airports there will often be a connecting Havaş bus to the city centre, which is much, much cheaper than taking a taxi. They may wait for half an hour, but will be available after the arrival of major flights. In some spots a whole fleet of minibusses will be waiting for an important flight, and then they will head out for cities in the region. For instance, flying to Agri in the East a connecting minibus will head for Dogubeyazit within twenty,thirty minutes or so, so you don't have to travel into Agri first, then wait for a Dogubeyazit bus. Do ask for such easy connections upon arrival!

By Bus

Turkey has a very good long-distance bus network with air-conditioned buses, reserved seats and generally good-quality service, at least with the major operators. There are now a few firms providing luxury buses with 1st class seats and service. Standard buses, however, have seats narrower than those of economy class on airplanes. Buses are often crowded, but smoking is strictly prohibited. Cellphone use is also restricted on many buses.

Three buses with websites (though with poor English support) are:

  • Metro Bus
  • Varan
  • Otogar - Bus Companies Bus Ticket Search Engine

Bus travel is convenient in Turkey. Go to the Otogar (bus station) in any of the major cities and you can find a bus to almost any destination departing within half an hour, or a couple of hours at the most. Buses are staffed by drivers and a number of assistants. During the ride you will be offered free drinks, a bite or two, and stops will be made every two and a half hours or so at well-stocked road restaurants. The further east you travel, the less frequent buses will be, but even places as far as Dogubeyazit or Van will have regular services to many places hundreds of kilometers away. Only the smallest towns do not have a bus straight to Istanbul or Izmir at least once every two days.

Finding the right bus quickly does require some help and thus some trust, but be careful. Scammers will be waiting for you, and some may assist you in buying a ticket to a bus that won't depart in the next two hours. Sometimes there simply is no other bus, but on other occasions you will be sitting there while other buses with the same destination start well ahead. If you have some time to spare: check the departure (and arrival) times of other companies, that may save you time overall. Still, if you indicate you really want to leave NOW (use phrases like "hemen" or "shimdy", or "adjelem var" - I am in a hurry ), people will realize you are in hurry, and off you go on the next bus departing for your destination.

If you have several operators to choose from, ask for the number of seats in the buses you compare. Roughly, a larger capacity implies a greater comfort (all bus-seats have approximately the same leg-room, but larger 48-seat buses are certainly more comfortable than a 15-seat Dolmus, which may be considered a 'bus' by the company selling the seat). Also, the bus company with the largest sign is usually the one with the most buses and routes. If possible, ask other travellers you meet about their experiences with different operators: even big operators have different standards of service, and even with the same operator the standards may vary from region to region.

Don't be surprised if halfway to some strange and far-off destination you are asked out of the bus (your luggage will often be already standing next to it) and transferred to another. The other bus will "buy" you, and will bring you to the destination. This may even happen for 'direct' or 'non-stop' tickets.

Sometimes long-haul bus lines will leave you stranded on some ring-road around a city, rather than bringing you to the center. That can be annoying. Inquire ahead (and hope they don't lie). On the othe hand, many companies will have "servis aracı" or service vehicles to the center, when the Otogar is on the periphery of a city, as they nowadays often are. In some cities these service vehicles are used by many companies combined, and a fleet of them, to different parts of the metropolis, will be waiting. The company may also choose to combine the passengers of multiple buses; meaning that you may have to wait until another bus or two arrives before departing. Keep your ticket ready as proof you were on a bus (though most of these services are run on good faith). In some cities (including Ankara, excluding Istanbul), the municipality have prohibited the use of service buses due to their effect on traffic. In that case, you might have to take a public bus or metro to get to your destination. One should probably avoid using taxis (at least departing from the Otogar) since they usually tend to abuse their monopolistic position by refusing to go to closer destinations, behaving rudely towards the passenger, charging on the night tariff, etc. If you have to take a taxi, it is usually suggested that you do it from outside the bus terminal.

Seating within buses is partly directed by the "koltuk numarası" or seat number on your ticket, partly by the ritualistic seating of women next to women, couples together and so forth. So don't be too annoyed if you are required to give up your seat. In general, as a foreigner, you will have the better seat much of the time.

One hint: it often is easiest to take a seat in the back, whatever the number of your koltuk, and not be bothered for much of the ride. This is particularly true if you travel alone, and want to keep it that way, even though the last row may be reserved for the driver-off-duty, who wants to sleep. And remember: many buses pick up short-track fare along the ride, and park them in the last two or three rows. Also keep in mind that the back of the bus may be more noisy compared to the front, since that is where the engine is located.

If you have a bicycle it will be transported free of extra charge. In most buses it fits in the luggage area of the bus- Make sure you have the tools to fold your bike as small as possible (height matters most)

Fez Bus . This is another alternative, a Hop on hop off travel network that links Istanbul to the most popular tourist destinations in western Turkey, and a few other destinations. The buses runs hostel to hostel and have an English speaking tour leader on board. The pass can be purchased for a few days or all summer. Departures are every other day. More expensive than local buses, but could be far less hassle, and offers a different experience. The main office in Istanbul is in Sultanahmet next to the Orient Youth Hostel on Yeni Akbiyik Cd.

By Train

Offering considerably cheap, but slower travel compared with the bus, TCDD (Turkish Republic State Railways) operate passenger trains all over the country. However, as Turkey has fewer than 11,000 km of rail network in the total, many cities and tourist spots are out of rail coverage.

Istanbul – Ankara and Istanbul – Edirne lines are the only lines that are electrified, so the rest of the lines are serviced by diesel trains. The services from Istanbul to the east change their locomotives at Ankara station, and services to the south change their locomotives at Enveriye station, the remote one of two stations in Eskişehir (located about two-thirds distance to Ankara from Istanbul). No steam locomotives run on Turkish railways regularly, except occasional ceremonies.

Istanbul–Ankara rail line is the busiest and the most ridden one. There are several daily trains on this line, and a ride takes between 6 and a half to more than 10 hours, depending on the train one takes and the delays, which are quite frequent.

High speed train (yüksek hızlı tren, usually shortened to YHT) between Ankara and Eskişehir, (a city lying about 240 km west of Ankara and is off the usual tourist trail in the country, with seven departures back and forth every day.) and between Ankara and Konya is available. An extension to Istanbul for Ankara and Eskişehir line is under construction.

It is possible to take the fast train from Ankara, and then transfer to the bus provided by TCDD in the Eskişehir station, heading for Bursa.

Recent rail track renovations all over the country and the subsequent phase outs of many passenger trains mean that there is a less number of destinations you can get to by rail from Istanbul directly compared with a couple of years ago. The major cities with a direct train service from Istanbul are Edirne (from Sirkeci station on the European side, not Haydarpaşa), Eskişehir, Konya, Adana, Kayseri (where Cappadocia is a few hours bus ride away), Diyarbakır, Erzurum (a few minutes away from Palandöken ski centre), Kars, and Tatvan on the shore of Lake Van. Ankara has services from/to a somewhat wider number of destinations, while Izmir, other than trains from/to Ankara (via Eskişehir) and Bandırma (on the coast of Marmara), is only served by a number of regional trains operating across Aegean Turkey.

Rather than a spider web-like system, usually linear and quite disconnected nature of Turkish railway network means that, if you have a motivation (such as being on budget, or holding a pass such as Inter Rail) for tripping around the country solely by rail, you should prepare yourself for long de-tours and waits on the stations between trains. Getting from Istanbul to Izmir, two of Turkey's largest cities, only by trains, for example, involves either a long de-tour to Eskişehir and then switching to another train bound for Izmir there, or taking a fast ferry across the Sea of Marmara to Bandırma and then take the train heading for Izmir there (the latter of which is actually faster than taking a bus to Izmir, although would not certainly be cheaper. TCDD offers combined tickets for this boat+train trip, which are a few liras cheaper than what you would normally pay if you would have bought the tickets seperately).

1st and 2nd class tickets are available across the country, while some trains are consisted of only 1st class cars. 1st class usually means a pullman car (which has large leg-rooms between the seats, and most of which has air-conditioners nowadays), and 2nd class usually means compartment having 6 or far worse 8 seats. 8-seated compartments are not widespread, still ask before in order to avoid having a ticket for one. Also, 2nd class tickets do not have seat numbers written on them, so you should rush into the train to find a suitable empty seat.

Many trains have couchettes (Turkish: kuşetli) and sleeping cars (yataklı vagon), however even some of the night trains lack one, so ask before choosing your departure.

Although none of the regional trains—which operate between nearby cities—have a dining car, most long-distance trains have one. However, dining cars of the trains heading for eastern Turkey may have a limited menu and beverage list or there might be no dining car at all due to the low interest of the passengers of these lines. Have some supplies, especially if you are going to take one of the services to the east, but don’t worry if you don’t have any time to get anything. In the stations where the train stops for 15 minutes or more—which typically are located in big cities lying about three to four hours away from each other—you will find a kiosk or a buffet to buy some snacks and drinks. You can also buy some snacks—or even fresh fruits during spring and summertime—from vendors “jumping” into the cars in smaller stations as well. Dining cars are closed between 12:30AM and 6:30AM in all trains except Fatih Express, the daily night train between Istanbul and Ankara, the dining car of which is open until 1:30AM-2AM.

All cars have lavatories, although they may not be always so clean or have toilet paper.

Smoking in any part of any public transport, including trains, has been banned since July 2009 in Turkey, but neither the conductors/security guards nor other passengers do not seem to be concerned about this ban on the longest haul trains heading to/from Eastern Turkey, at least on the 2nd class cars.

Inter Rail and Balkan Flexipass passes are valid in all trains in Turkey (except international trains operating between Turkish and Iranian/Syrian/Iraqi stations), but holders of these tickets may have to get a seat number before ride, free of charge, especially in the trains that are consisted of only 1st class cars. TCDD also offers Tren Tur pass cards which lets its holder a month of free rail travel on any Turkish train (again, Tren Tur is not accepted in international trains operating between Turkish and Iranian/Syrian/Iraqi stations and the international train operating between Istanbul and Thessaloniki). Tren Tur card is considerably cheaper than one-zone Interrail tickets, but be sure to get a seat number in the stations before you get into a train that is consisted of only 1st class cars.

TCDD offers 20% discounted tickets for youths under 26, whether they are students or not. Until recently anyone entitled to a discounted ticket were required to show a valid student ID on board, but this is no longer the case.

Train tickets can be bought online, at the station of departure (however, you can also buy your ticket for an Anatolian destination at the Sirkeci station, the main station of Istanbul on the European side), some of the central postoffices, authorized tourism agencies or from the automatic ticket machines which are rarely located at the main stations of the big cities. Credit cards are accepted only in major stations, be sure to have enough cash if you’ll buy a ticket in a small town station a few minutes before the train departs. If you are buying your ticket from a station, remember that only booths of a limited number of very central stations accept foreign currency alongside Turkish lira, you can pay only in Turkish lira in the rest. Getting on a train without a valid ticket could land you with a fine, but purchasing a ticket on the train is often possible at a higher price.

A reservation is recommended during summer, on Fridays and Sundays, and before domestic religious feasts, when a one-week break is common and trains get really crowded.

For reservation and timetables, see Turkish Republic State Railways' website.

By Car

Like all of its neighbours (except Cyprus off the southern coast of Turkey), driving is on the right side of the road in Turkey. Though it is legal to drive a vehicle with driver positioned on the right (which were designed for countries driving on the left) it is not very comfortable and is risky indeed (the driver cannot see the coming traffic and so on…).

It is illegal to use a mobile phone while driving. Maximum permitted amount of alcohol in blood for drivers is 0.05 grams per litre (g/1000 ml), that is roughly equal to two cups (a cup=500 ml) of beer or two glasses (a wine glass=330 ml) of wine. The use of seat belts both at the front and back line is obligatory, but, although failing to use one carries a penalty, this is not always adhered to by locals, including the drivers themselves.

Turkish signboards are almost identical to the ones used in Europe, and differences are often insignificant. The place names written on green background lead to motorways (which you should pay a toll, unless it is a ring road around or within a city); on blue background means other highways; on white background means rural roads (or a road inside a city under the responsibility of city councils); and on brown background indicates the road leads to a historical place, an antique city, a place of tourist interest or a city out of Turkey (these signboards used to be on yellow background till a few years ago, so still there is a chance of unreplaced yellow signboards existing here and there). Also keep in mind that these signboards are not always standardized; for instance, some of the blue ones may be leading into the rural roads.

Nowadays most intercity highways avoid city centres by circling around them. If you'd like to drive into the centre for shopping, dining, and the like, follow the signposts saying Şehir Merkezi, which are usually on white background, and nowadays accompanied by no further translations though you can still spot some old signs saying "Centrum" besides Şehir Merkezi. City centres typically have two or more entrances/exits from the ringroads that surround them.

As Turkey uses the metric system, all distances on the signboards are in kilometers, unless otherwise stated (such as meters, but never in miles).

Motorways

There are no fees to use the highways except intercity motorways (otoyol). While Turkish highways vary widely in quality and size, the toll motorways have three lanes and are very smooth and fast. Motorways are explicitly signed with distinct green signs and given road numbers prefixed with the letter O. The motorway network currently consists of two lines stretching out to east and west from Istanbul (towards Ankara and Edirne respectively), a network in Central Aegean fanning out of Izmir, and another one connecting the major eastern Mediterranean city of Adana to neighbouring cities in all directions.

Motorways no longer have toll booths and instead have lanes for automatic (OGS) and pre-paid card (KGS) lanes. Unless you are going to live in Turkey, the refillable KGS card will be what you want.

The KGS cards can be purchased in a building at the entrance to the motorway. The building may be on the other side of the motorway in which case you will have to park and cross the motorway on foot. This building will have a window for purchasing a KGS card and putting money on it.

Once you have purchased a KGS card and put money on it, drive through the KGS entry lane to the motorway. Place the card in the scanner machine which will display your card's current balance. Upon exiting the motorway, scan the card in the same way and the machine will deduct an amount based on the distance driven.

It is also possible to purchase KGS cards at several Turkish banks.

In addition to the distance driven, motorway fees also depend on the type of your vehicle. Edirne–Istanbul motorway—about 225 km and the main entry point to Istanbul from Europe — typically costs 3 TL for a car, for example.

Fuel

Despite bordering countries which have the richest oil resources, fuel in Turkey is ridiculously expensive, in fact one of the most expensive in the world because of the very heavy taxes. For example, a litre of unleaded gasoline costs more than 4.00 TL (~€ 1.80/~US$ 2.40, that makes ~US$ 9.60 per gallon!). Diesel and LPG is less damaging to your wallet (and to the environment in case of LPG), but not that drastically.

Petrol stations (benzin istasyonu) are frequently lined along the highways, most (if not all) serving round the clock and accepting credit cards (you have to get out of the car and enter the station building to enter your PIN code if you are using credit card). In all of them you can find unleaded gasoline (kurşunsuz), diesel (dizel or motorin), and LPG (liquid petroleum gas, LPG). In many (if not most) of them you can also find CNG (compressed natural gas, CNG). Though, petrol stations in the villages off the beaten track are exception, all they offer is often limited to only diesel, which is used for running the agricultural machinery. It is advised to keep the gas tank full if you are going to stray away from main roads. Also petrol stations along the motorways (toll-ways) are rarer than other highways, usually once every 40-50 kms. Make sure to fill your tank in the first station you’ll pass by (there are signs indicating you are soon going to pass by one) if your “tank is getting empty” alert signal is on.

Biofuels are not common. What most resembles a biofuel available to a casual driver is sold in some of the stations affiliated with national chain Petrol Ofisi under the name biyobenzin. But still it is not mostly biofuel at all – it consists of a little bioethanol (2% of the total volume) stirred into pure gasoline which makes up the rest (98%). Biodiesel is in an experimental stage yet, not available in the market.

Repair shops

In all cities and towns, there are repair shops, usually located together in complexes devoted to auto-repairing (usually rather incorrectly called sanayi sitesi or oto sanayi sitesi in Turkish, which means “industrial estate” and “auto-industrial estate” respectively), which are situated in the outskirts of the cities. And all cities and towns,there are big 3 s plants.(sales,service,spare parts).these are more corporate than sanayi sitesi these called oto plaza..

Renting a car

You may rent a car to get around Turkey from an international or local car rental agent. If you are traveling by plane you may find car rental desks in arrival terminals of all airports such as IST Ataturk Airport, Istanbul.

By Dolmuş

The minibus (or Minibüs as called in Istanbul) is a small bus (sometimes car) that will ride near-fixed routes. The ride may be from the periphery of a major city to the centre or within a city, but may also take three to four hours from one city to the next, when the route is not commercial for large busses. They sometimes make a detour to bring some old folks home or collect some extra heavy luggage. You will find them in cities as well as in inter-city traffic. All during their journey people will get in and out (shout “Inecek var” – “someone to get off” – to have it stop if you’re in). The driver tends to be named “kaptan” (captain), and some behave accordingly. The fare is collected all through the ride. In some by a specially appointed passenger who will get a reduction, in others by a steward, who may get off halfway down the journey, to pick up a dolmuş of the same company heading back, and mostly by the driver himself. If the driver collects himself, people hand money on from the back rows to the front, getting change back by the same route. On some stretches tickets are sold in advance, and things can get complicated if some of the passengers bought a ticket and others just sat inside waiting – for maybe half an hour - but without a ticket.

The concept of dolmuş in Istanbul is somehow different than the rest of Turkey. The vehicles are different, they take max. 7 sitting passengersand non standing. they do not tend to take passengers along the way, they depart immediately when they are full, and many of them operate 24 hours a day. The name derives from “dolmak”, the verb for “to fill”, as they used not to start the journey without a decent number of passengers. They usually leave when they are full, but sometimes start at fixed hours, whatever the number.

By Boat

Fast ferries (hızlı feribot) are fast (50-60km/hour) catamaran-type ferryboats that connect for instance Istanbul to the other side of the Marmara Sea. They can cut travel time dramatically. Again for instance leaving from the Yenikapı jetty in Istanbul (just a bit southwest of the Blue Mosque) you can be at the Bursa otogar in two hours, with less than an hour for the actual boat ride to Yalova. Similar services are operated to connect several parts of Istanbul with the Asian side, or places farther up the Bosporus. And this type of fast ferry is increasingly seen all over the country wherever there is enough water.

There are also ferry connections between Istanbul and Izmir and between Istanbul and Trabzon in the eastern Black Sea region, ships operating on the latter line also stop at all of the significant cities along the Turkish Black Sea coast. However both of these lines are unfortunately operating only in summer months.

All inhabited Turkish islands have at least one daily cruise to the nearest mainland city or town during summer. But as winter conditions at the seas can go harsh, the frequency of voyages drop significantly due to the bad weather.

Perhaps one of the best cruising grounds in the world, Turkey offers thousands of years of history, culture and civilization set against a stunning mountainous backdrop. The coastline is a mixture of wide gulfs, peaceful coves, shady beaches, uninhabited islands, small villages and bustling towns. Many of these locations are still only accessible by boat. Rare in the Mediterranean, one can still find some seclusion on a private charter in Turkey. In fact, Turkey offers more coastline than any other Mediterranean country. The best way to see Turkey is from your own private yacht on your own schedule. Turkey offers some of the most exquisite yachts in the world known as gulets.

By Bicycle

Special lanes devoted to bicycles are virtually non-existent, except a few quite short routes –which are built mainly for sport, not transportation- along coastal avenues or parks in the big cities like Istanbul or Izmir. Terrain of the country is mostly hilly, another factor which makes long-distance cycling in Turkey more difficult. If it is the case that you have already made up your mind and give cycling a try in your Turkey trip, always stay as much on the right side of the roads as possible; avoid riding a bicycle out of cities or lightened roads at night, do not be surprised by the drivers horning at you, and do not enter the motorways, it is forbidden. You could better prefer rural roads with much less traffic density, but then there is the problem of freely roaming sheepdogs, which can sometimes be quite dangerous. Rural roads also have much much less signboards than the highways, which turns them into a labyrinth, in which it is easy to get lost even for non-local Turkish people, without a detailed map.

  • Great Explorations offers a 10 day/ 9 night cycling tour along the coast, beginning in Bodrum and finishing in Antalya staying in 3&4-star hotels. By incorporating a 'blue-cruise' between Gocek and Olympos, the busier and hilliest sections are avoided and you get to enjoy a few days exploring the Aegean Sea by yacht.

Air can be pumped into tyres at any petrol station without a charge. Bicycle repair-shops are rare in cities and cannot be easily found, motorcycle repair shops can be tried alternatively (however, they are very reluctant to repair a bicycle if they are busy with their customers who have motorcycles).

In Istanbul’s Princess’ Islands, renting a bike is an amusing, cheaper, and obviously more animal-friendly alternative to hiring a horse-drawn carriage. On these islands well-paved roads are shared only by horse-drawn carriages, bicycles and public service vehicles (like ambulances, police vans, school buses, garbage trucks etc).

By Thumb

Almost every driver has an idea about what universal hitchhiking sign (“thumb”) means. Don’t use any other sign which may be equivalent of a signal meaning a danger. In addition to the thumb, having a signboard with the destination name certainly helps. Waiting for someone to take you generally doesn't exceed half an hour, though this dramatically varies depending on the density of traffic (as is elsewhere) and the region, for example, it usually takes much longer to attract a ride in Mediterranean Turkey than in Marmara Region. Best hitchhiking spots are the crossroads with traffic lights, where ring-roads around a city and the road coming from the city center intersect. Don’t be so away from the traffic lights so drivers would be slow enough to see you and stop to take you; but be away enough from the traffic lights for a safe standing beside the road. Don’t try to hitchhike on motorways, no one will be slow enough to stop, it is also illegal to enter the motorways as a pedestrian. Don’t start to hitchhike until you are out of a city as cars may head for different parts of the city, not your destination, and if not in hurry, try to avoid hitchhiking after night falls, especially if you are a lone female traveler.

Although the drivers are taking you just to have a word or two during their long, alone journey, always watch out and avoid sleeping.

On some occasions, you may not be able to find someone going directly to where your destination is, so don’t refuse anyone stopped to take you –refusing someone stopped to take you is impolite-, unless he/she is going to a few kilometres away, and if he/she would go to a road that doesn’t arrive at your destination in a coming fork. You may have to change several cars even on a 100-km course, changing in each town after town. However, because of the enormous numbers of trucks carrying goods for foreign markets, you can find unexpectedly long-haul trips from, say a town in western Turkey to as far as, for instance, Ukraine or southern Germany.

Not many, but some drivers –especially van drivers- may ask for money (“fee”) from you. Refuse and tell them that if you had money to waste, you would be on a bus, and not standing on the side of the road.

Drivers staying in the area may point downwards (to the road surface) or towards the direction they’re driving or flash their headlights while passing, indicating that they wouldn't make a good long-haul ride. Smile and/or wave your hand to show courtesy.

On Foot

Turkey has two long-distance waymarked hiking trails, one of them is the famous Lycian Way, between Fethiye and Antalya, the other one is the Saint Paul Trail , between Antalya and Yalvaç up to the north, in the Turkish Lakes District. Both are about 500 km, and signed with painted stones and signboards. Since Lycian Way is much older, it has more facilities for shopping and accommodation in the villages situated along or near its route.

Eastern Black Sea region covers very beautiful quite long trekking routes between the greenest of green plateaus well above the clouds as well, and some tourism agencies in the main cities of Turkey are offering guided trekking tours –including the transportation- in this region.

Inside the cities, there are white-, or rarely yellow-painted pedestrian crossings (zebra crossing) on the main streets and avenues, which are normally pedestrian-priority spots. However, for many drivers, they are nothing more than ornamental drawings on the road pavements, so it is better to cross the streets at where traffic lights are. Still, be sure all the cars stopped, because it is not unusual to see the drivers still not stopping in the first few seconds after the light turns to red for vehicles. As a better option, on wide streets, there are also pedestrian overpasses and underground pedestrian passages available. In narrow main streets during rush hour, you can cross the street anywhere and anytime, since cars will be in a stop-go-stop-go manner because of heavy traffic. Also in narrow streets inside the residential hoods, you need not to worry about keeping on the sidewalk, you can walk well in the middle of the road, only to step aside when a car is coming.

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