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 , Fly 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 Havas bus, 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, 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 Dogybeyazit bus. Do ask for such easy connections upon arrival!
Turkey has a good long-distance bus network with air-conditioned buses, reserved seats and generally good service quality, at least with the big operators. There are now a few firms providing luxury buses with 1st class seats and service. Standard buses, however, have seats narrower than in economy class on airplanes. Buses are often crowded, and smoking is prohibited except by the driver. Cell-phone use is also restricted on many buses.
Bus travel is convenient in Turkey. Go to the Otogar in any of the major cities and you can find a bus to almost any destination within half an hour, or a couple of hours at the most. Buses are staffed by good 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 hours and a half 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 occassions 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 down to some strange and far-off destination you are put 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 centre. That can be annoying. Inquire ahead (and hope they don’t lie). On the other hand, many companies will have “servis aracı” or service vehicles to the centre, 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, discluding 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 monopolic 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. Although 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).
Another alternative to local bus travel in Turkey is the ‘Fez Bus’. A Hop on hop off travel network that links Istanbul to all the best places to see in western Turkey, and a few that are a bit off the tourist trail. The bus runs hostel to hostel and they have an english speaking tour leader on board that lets you know about everything there is to do. The pass can last a few days or all summer and there are departures every other day. It may be a just little more expensive than the local bus, but really flexible and a lot less hassle. You can buy passes anywhere but it is run by Fez Travel in Sultanahmet
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 8500 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 on the rest of the lines diesel trains run. 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 6.5 to more than 10 hours, depending on the train one takes and the delays, which are quite frequent. From Istanbul’s Haydarpasa station on the Asiatic side, one can find a direct train to almost all cities and towns in Asian Turkey served by a rail line, exceptions being Izmir, Balıkesir, Manisa, Zonguldak and Samsun.
TCDD also offers two “train+bus” lines in summer months. One of these is Istanbul-Antalya, and the other is Ankara-Akçay (on the northern Aegean shore). In this kind of travel, for example one buys a ticket for Antalya at Haydarpasa station, rides the train until the transfer station (Dinar in this case), and takes the bus awaiting there for passengers to Antalya. Bus fee is included in the train ticket price, no additional payment is made in the bus. Train+bus travel takes a little more time than completely bus travel but it is almost half in expense.
Other major cities or tourist spots that can be reached by rail from Istanbul directly are Edirne (from Sirkeci station on the European side, not Haydarpasa), Eskişehir, Denizli (near Pamukkale), Konya, Adana, Kayseri (where Cappadocia is a few hours bus ride away), Gaziantep, Diyarbakır, Erzurum (a few minutes away from Palandöken ski centre), Kars, and Tatvan on the shore of Lake Van.
If you have determined to reach to Izmir from Istanbul only on rail, you should first catch a train to Ankara (or to further east), then transfer in Eskişehir station to one of the trains operating between Ankara and Izmir (you will need another ticket unless you have a pass like Interrail ticket). From there on, you can catch the regional train to Selçuk, where Roman city of Ephesus and Virgin Mary’s House, which is a declared pilgrimage destination for Catholics, are a few kilometers away. So is Şirince, a cute village famous for the wines it produce. Also, Kuşadası is only half an hour bus ride away from Selçuk.
1st and 2nd class tickets are available, 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 and sleeping cars, 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, 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 00:30 and 06:30 in all trains except Fatih Express, the daily night train between Istanbul and Ankara, the dining car of which is open until 01:30-02:00.
All cars have lavatories, although they may not be always so clean or have toilet paper.
Smoking is generally allowed on the first cars, so avoid buying a ticket for this car if you are not a smoker or buy one for this car if you would like to smoke during your journey. You may be asked “smoking or non-smoking” in the ticket window, if there are still empty seats at the both parts, but probably only in Turkish. (Sigara içilmeyen=non-smoking, write this on a paper and show it to the official in doubt).
Inter Rail and Balkan flexipass tickets are valid in all trains in Turkey (except international trains operating between Turkish and Iranian/Syrian 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 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 students. On board the trains, discounted ticket holders are usually asked for a valid student ID card during the ticket check. If the holder of a discounted ticket fails to show a student ID card, then he/she is punished with a penalty to pay the full price+20% more for his/her journey.
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) or from the automatic ticket machines which are rarely located at the main stations of the big cities. 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 http://www.tcdd.gov.tr/
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.
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.
Turkish signboards are almost identical to the ones used in Europe, with very insignificant differences. 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 un-replaced 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.
As Turkey uses the metric system, all distances on the signboards are in kilometers, unless otherwise stated (such as meters, but never in miles).
The dolmuş (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. 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. 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 do not take any standing passengers, 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.
Hizli ferries are fast (50-60 kilometres/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 Yeni Kapi jetty in Istanbul (just a bit South-West 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.
Turkey yacht charter – Spend a pleasant nautical holiday and hire a motor boat, sailing boat, motor sailer, skippered and exclusive megayachts or custom made wooden gulet.
Windward Islands – Windward Islands, one of the worlds largest yacht charter companies, can take care of all charter requirements, from bareboat to crewed in Turkey. Operating from 8 international offices (USA, UK, Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland, Caribbean, Monaco).
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.
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 and cheaper 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).
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. Waiting for someone to take you doesn’t generally exceed half an hour. 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 traveller.
Although the drivers are taking you just to talk 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.
Not many, but some drivers –especially van drivers- may ask for money (“fee”) from you, refuse and tell them that if you would have money to waste, then you would be on a bus, not standing beside a road.
Turkey has two signed long-distance walking routes, one of them is the famous Lycian Way, between Fethiye and Antalya, the other one is the St. Paul’s Way, 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 accommodiation 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.