When one thinks of Turkey, images of bustling Istanbul streets and ethereal Cappadocia hot air balloons often come to mind. However, beyond these well-trodden paths lies a lesser-known adventure waiting to be discovered: a road trip through the heart of this captivating country. With its pristine roads and affordable car rentals, Turkey beckons intrepid travelers to embark on a voyage that unveils breathtaking vistas along the Black Sea and Aegean coast, leading to the ancient wonders of the Mediterranean’s Lycian region and the authentic allure of Kurdistan. Brace yourself as we unveil the secrets to planning an unforgettable road trip in Turkey.
While Turkey boasts an extensive transportation network, encompassing intercity buses, railways, and economical domestic flights, those seeking an immersive experience may find the answer lies behind the wheel of a rental car. While other modes of transport may whisk you away to your destination, it is the car that unlocks the hidden gems scattered throughout Turkey’s expansive landscape.
In Turkey, urban centers may not always showcase a wealth of cultural and architectural marvels, for it is the country’s natural wonders and picturesque surroundings that truly steal the show. Yet, relying solely on costly taxi rides, particularly in the southern resort towns, or depending on hitchhiking, which may not be suitable for all, can curtail your freedom to explore at will.
For those who have already indulged in the iconic allure of Istanbul, soaked up the sun-drenched beaches of Antalya, and floated amidst the whimsical Cappadocia skies in hot air balloon, the time has come to seize the wheel and delve deeper into the essence of Turkey. A car rental opens doors to the next chapter of your Turkish odyssey, granting you unparalleled access to the country’s best-kept secrets.
From the untouched wonders of the Black Sea coastline to the sun-kissed charms of the Aegean, Turkey’s diverse landscapes unfold before your eyes as you traverse its well-maintained highways. Venturing off the beaten path, you’ll find yourself in the ancient realm of Lycia, where archaeological treasures await your discovery. And for those craving an authentic encounter, the road leads to Kurdistan, a region brimming with rich history and warm hospitality.
As you plan your road trip through Turkey, remember to savor the journey as much as the destination. Immerse yourself in the country’s vibrant cuisine, where succulent kebabs and aromatic spices tantalize your taste buds at every stop. Engage with the locals, for their tales and traditions offer invaluable insights into Turkey’s soul. And as you meander along the picturesque coastal roads or navigate the winding mountain passes, allow yourself to be captivated by the sheer beauty that unfurls with every mile.
Where to rent a car
Fortunately, the process of renting a car in Turkey is a straightforward affair, with rental agencies conveniently situated at airports and tourist hubs throughout the land. To ensure a seamless experience, it is advisable to plan ahead, allowing for lower prices and a broader range of vehicle choices. Let us explore the three primary avenues for procuring a rental car in Turkey:
- Rentalcars, a global aggregator with partnerships spanning both international heavyweights like Avis and Europcar, as well as local businesses. This option offers competitive pricing and the invaluable ability to compare vehicles from multiple agencies. However, it is worth noting that Rentalcars has encountered criticism regarding their customer service, and travelers have reported potential additional fees imposed by rental agencies. Moreover, prices may fluctuate when booking through Rentalcars. While online reviews of the company are mixed, leaning towards the negative spectrum (see Trustpilot for the disheartening tales), it is essential to acknowledge that a deposit may be required during the booking process, and a credit card may be necessary for a security deposit.
- Direct negotiation with local car rental agencies is an alternative approach, allowing for the possibility of securing the best prices and the convenience of cash payments without the need for a credit card. However, it is crucial to exercise caution and ensure that reputable local rental agencies are chosen, as instances of tourists falling victim to scams have been reported.
- For those seeking a reliable intermediary, Localrent emerges as a viable option. This aggregator prides itself on maintaining robust relationships with carefully selected local rental agencies. Boasting a stellar reputation for excellent customer service, Localrent provides unwavering support throughout the rental process. Additionally, booking through Localrent almost always guarantees the receipt of the specific vehicle model reserved. While prices may be marginally higher than those offered by rental agencies directly, the peace of mind and assurance of quality service make it an attractive choice.
Meticulous research and comparison of options are paramount to securing the best deal. Take your time to evaluate the offerings, weigh the pros and cons, and make an informed decision that aligns with your travel aspirations. With a reliable rental car at your disposal, the open road beckons, ready to unveil the hidden wonders and breathtaking landscapes that await your exploration in the mesmerizing tapestry of Turkey.
Car Rental Costs in Turkey for 2023?
Car rental prices in Turkey for 2023 range from approximately $20-$30 per day for a Renault Clio with automatic transmission during peak tourist season. Manual transmission vehicles may start at around $20 per day. Prices can drop to $8-$10 per day during the low season at Localrent. It’s important to note that these prices typically do not include insurance.
Driving License Requirements for Renting a Car in Turkey
When it comes to renting a car in Turkey, foreign visitors will find that an international driving license is not mandatory, but having one is recommended as a precautionary measure. If your country is a signatory to the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, you can rent a car using your national driver’s license.
In addition to the driving license, there are a few other requirements for renting a car in Turkey. Firstly, you must be at least 22 years old and have a minimum of two years of driving experience. Furthermore, having a valid passport is essential for the rental process. It’s advisable to carry your passport with you at all times, as law enforcement officers may request it as proof of your tourist status and verify that you have been in the country for no longer than 60 days.
Traffic rules and driving style
For drivers with experience in the United States or Europe, adapting to the roads in Turkey should generally be smooth. However, it’s essential to be mindful of some local peculiarities. Here are a few key points to keep in mind when driving in Turkey:
- Pedestrian Crossings: Unlike in some countries, drivers in Turkey may not always stop for pedestrians at crosswalks. Pedestrians are advised to use designated traffic lights when crossing the road. In busy city centers, pedestrians may unexpectedly step into the road at any point, so caution is advised.
- Red Light Behavior: Running red lights is relatively common in Turkey, particularly in areas without cameras or police presence. It’s important to remain vigilant at intersections and be prepared for unexpected driving maneuvers.
- Overtaking on Mountain Roads: Turkey’s mountainous roads often have winding stretches. When overtaking slower vehicles, be cautious of limited visibility and keep a safe distance from local drivers who may make daring overtakes with limited visibilty.
- Speed Limit and Enforcement: While speed limits exist in Turkey, strict enforcement is not always observed. It is generally safer to match the speed of the flow of traffic. In populated areas, cars may travel up to 100 kilometers per hour. However, it’s worth noting that the accuracy of speed cameras can vary, and fines are usually issued by police with radar, although this is a rare occurrence.
- Road Signs and Intersections: Road signs in Turkey typically employ international symbols, but the word “DUR” may be used instead of “STOP.” At intersections, it is common for the green light to be displayed to one side of the road, allowing all cars to proceed simultaneously. In urban areas, using the leftmost lane is advisable to avoid potential obstacles, such as double-parked cars or trucks, which may obstruct the right lane.
View of Kuşadası
Refueling in Turkey: Gas Stations and Gas Prices
Gas Prices: In August 2023, the average cost of gasoline in Turkey is around 37 lira (1.28$) per liter. Diesel, referred to as “motorin” in Turkey, is priced at around 38 lira per liter (1.31$). For the most up-to-date pricing information, you can refer to the Shell’s website.
Gas Station Chains: Turkey boasts numerous gas stations along its roads, with both local and international chains. Some prominent local chains include Opet and Petrol Ofisi, while international chains like Shell and Total are also widely available. Gas stations affiliated with larger chains often offer additional amenities such as well-stocked stores, coffee shops, and restroom facilities.
Turkish gas station attendants do not speak English, but they usually know the words “full tank“. If you need diesel, ask for “motorin.” But it’s still best to check that the gas station attendant got the right hose. If he pours gas instead of diesel, that will be your problem.
After the car is fueled by gas station attendat, you have to go to the cash register and pay. Then give or show the receipt to the gas station attendant. If you pay with cash you can do it directly to him. In order to speed up this process, you should ask to fill up with gasoline for a large sum and pay in cash (let’s say 500 liras), so that the employee does not have to run to get the change. The gas station attendant may also wash your car’s windows, but no tip is expected for this service.
Recommended Routes and Tips in Turkey
Embarking on a road trip through Turkey offers a wealth of possibilities, depending on your starting point. Whether you begin in Istanbul, Izmir, Antalya, Cappadocia, or even opt for alternative airports like Trabzon, Erzurum, Gaziantep, or Diyarbakir, there are fascinating routes to explore.
Renting a car in Turkey presents a significant advantage as it often proves more cost-effective than taking a taxi from the airport to the city. Taxis in Turkey can be expensive, and airports are frequently located far from urban centers. For instance, a taxi ride from Antalya airport to the Konyaalti area can exceed 350 lira (12.11 $), and the cost to reach resort areas like Kemer or Side can surpass 1,500 lira (51.90 $).
When traveling by car in Turkey, it is generally advisable to minimize your time in cities due to chaotic traffic and parking challenges. Utilize cities primarily for overnight stays and grocery shopping. However, some cities stand out as exceptions. For example, the picturesque city of Kaş, with its hilly terrain, proves convenient for grocery runs or dining out. Additionally, the cities of Kurdistan, such as Şanlıurfa, Diyarbakır, and Mardin, offer unique cultural experiences.
For accommodations during your road trip, it’s best to book hotels with parking facilities or seek overnight stays on the outskirts of towns. This approach allows for easier navigation and avoids the hassle of finding parking in city centers. However, if your intention is solely to spend the night without exploring the city, central accommodations can still be suitable.
Let our magnificent Google map be your trusted companion, guiding you toward unforgettable experiences and ensuring you make the most of your time in Turkey.
Round trip from Antalya for 10-14 days
Approximate itinerary by days:
- Day 1. Antalya → Sivri Dag Park → Göynük.
- Days 2-4. Göynük → Kemer → Cıralı → Kaleucagüz → Kaş.
- Days 4-6. Kaş → Saklikent Canyon → Tlos Ruins → Fethiye.
- Days 6-7. Fethiye → Oludeniz → abandoned city of Kayaköy → Göcek.
- Days 7-8. Göcek → Marmaris → Sogutköy.
- Days 8-10. Söğütköy → Akyaka → Bodrum.
- Days 10-12. Bodrum → Kusadasi → Ephesus.
- Day 13. Ephesus → Pamukkale → Laodicea → Denizli.
- Day 14. Denizli → Salda Lake → Antalya.
The southwest coast of Turkey is rich in attractions: the ruins of ancient cities, great beaches, national parks with beautiful views. The main rule on this route is not to rush anywhere. To do this you need to travel no more than 200-300 kilometers every day, often stopping at viewpoints, and in some cities to hang out for two or three days and make short trips to the neighborhood or just to catch a relaxed vibe of the Mediterranean. Here are the key cities on this itinerary in which to stay overnight (or better yet, two or three): Antalya, Kas, Fethiye, Marmaris or Bodrum, Kusadasi or Izmir, Denizli. We will now tell you more about each one.
Antalya is the most convenient place to start a trip to the southwest of Turkey. It is convenient to fly here directly from many places in Europe and Middle East or from other cities in Turkey. It is a good idea to stop for two or three days before the roadtrip to acclimatize and gradually immerse yourself in the Turkish reality.One day can be spent in the mountains near Antalya (try hiking or mountain climbing). And a few days in Antalya itself. Most of the buildings in the historic center have been restored. Unexpectedly, many of them are made of wood. There are dozens of restaurants, bars and souvenir stores.
Accommodation. DoubleTree by Hilton is an affordable chain hotel in the city center with its own underground parking. A stone’s throw away from the large Mark Antalya shopping center. Many rental agencies can bring a car directly to the hotel (Localrent definitely has such an option). If you’re traveling with a large company it is more profitable to rent an apartment in Konyaalti (if you traveling to the west) or Lara (to the east).
Eat and drink. Snack on a fish sandwich at Çıtır Balık, drink coffee at The Sudd, a third-wave coffee shop in the center and Konyaaltı and Lara neighborhoods. In Konyaalti there is also a coffee shop of local roasters Incommon with an unusual design of the building, which partly consists of shipping containers. Inside it is very cozy, bright and the coffee is delicious.
Sivri Dag National Park – Göynük – Kemer – Çıralı – Demre and Kekova
Sivri Dağ National Park. There are dozens of kilometers of hiking trails in the large national park near Antalya, including the Lycian Trail, about which we have had a detailed guide. Sivri Dag is home to world-famous climbing spots (such as Geyikbayırı), ruins of ancient cities (Tipalia, Onobara, Neapolis, Kelbessos) and a dozen villages with delicious gozlemes (cafes where they cook gozleme – flatbread with fillings) and even boutique hotels.
Goynük Canyon is located on a plain known for its pomegranate and orange orchards. The plain is surrounded by the Beidalary Mountains, where a small mountain river begins to form the canyon. The entrance costs 15 lira (0.52$). During the season, rafting is organized there – about 20$ per person and there is a downhill on a rope for 15$. Beydalary National Park (often called Göynük by locals) is located near the village of Göynük, and the Lycian Trail runs through it. There is a popular rock climbing spot not far from Goynük – Geyikbayırı.
Kemer is a city that lives by tourism. And the focus is on Russian tourists: most package tours are sold here. Very close to Kemer are the ruins of Olympos and Phaselis, the cave Beldibi. And of course the mountains. Olympos Teleferik cableway goes up to Tahtali mountain (cost is 40$). Before you buy a ticket, you should check the weather from the live webcams, because you may not be able to see anything because of clouds or fog. It is snowy at this altitude in winter, but there is no infrastructure for skiing there. The Ski Resort sign on google maps and the pictures of skiers that pop up on some websites can give you false hope.
Çıralı beach is picturesquely surrounded by the Taurus Mountains. The beach has excellent camping sites, and many people camp there before/after the Lycian Trail. In recent years, the village has developed significantly: there are comfortable boutique hotels among the orange orchards, decent cafes and small stores. On the opposite edge of Cirali is Mount Chimaera. Day and night natural gas burns on the mountain, now fading, now flaring up in different places on the slope. The sight is absolutely fascinating, especially at night. It is assumed that the gas in this place has been burning for several thousand years. The entrance to Chimaera costs 9 lira (0.31$).From Cirali beach you can walk to the ruins of Olympos. The ruins are not as spectacular as Ephesus, but the entrance costs only 50 liras (1.73$). You can grab a snack and have a picturesque picnic overlooking the ruins and the mountain river.
Demre and Kekova. About 30-40 kilometers east of Kaş on the coastline there are about a dozen attractions that you can explore for a whole week. We will start from the east to the west, on the way from Antalya to Kas:
- The small ruins of Issium in Köşkerler.
- Rock tombs and ruins of the ancient city of Mira in Demre.
- Museum of Lycian Civilization on the outskirts of Demre.
- The island of Kekova and countless coves (such as this one).
- The castle of Simena.
- The town of Kaleuchagiz, where you can take a boat tour around the coves.
It’s only three to four hours by car from Antalya to Kaş, but the trip can take all day. Not because of the route, no – it is excellent (although a lot of serpentines), but because of the concentration of cool sights on the way – Göynük Canyon, the ruins of Fazelis and Olympos and the beach nearby, the ancient city of Mira near Demre. Not far away is Simena Castle with a small tourist village. It is tiny, but we recommend staying there in a guesthouse for one night if you have time. For example, in Ankh Pension or in Sahil Pansiyon.
Kaş is a cozy little town, which until a couple of years ago was not familiar to foreign tourists. It is loved for its narrow streets, where you can feel a strong Greek influence, hilly terrain with cool views, amphitheater, where it is cool to see the sunset with a bottle of Ephesus beer, and the port with a million boat trips. During the pandemic, Kaş has become one big co-working space for digital nomads (mostly from Russia and Ukraine), but the city has not lost its charm. Because of its hilly terrain, Kaş is great for training runners and triathletes.
Accommodation. There are several options for overnight stays in Kaş – downtown, the Cukurbag Peninsula, and the Cerciler area on the mountain, which is ideal if you have a car. The views of the city, bays, and nearby islands are great from there. Lodging is cheaper than in other parts of town, and there’s a cool beach nearby. Parking on the street in these houses will be no problem. Downtown might be, but you can probably find a spot there too.Two good boutique hotels in the center are Luff and Muhtar. There are stylish rooms, instagram breakfast, and staff who speak good English. A room at Luff costs from 1000 liras (34.60$). Mukhtar from 900 liras (31.14$). Lantana Aparts has a cool view of the city center and Greek islands, Bossa Nova is conveniently located in the center, but you can’t hear the noise of the main street and music from the bars, and there are supermarkets and grocery stores a couple of minutes’ walk away.To eat and drink. Coffee is good at Linckia, Mama Afrika, Spoon, Godo and Pika; for lunch and dinner we recommend Öz Nazilli, Butka, Noel Baba, Lily’s Corner, Spagettici, Nur pastry shop; for vegans and vegetarians Oburus Momus and Pisekar; for partying there is Meow cocktail bar and Loop, the biggest and noisiest club in Kaş.
Fethiye – Oludeniz – Kayaköy – Göcek
On the way from Kaş to Fethiye, you can stop for at least five minutes at Kaputaş beach, one of the most picturesque in Turkey, but during the season it is a bit crowded. Another beach – Patara – stretches for 18 kilometers, and nearby are the ruins of the same name. The route is convenient to take through the canyon Saklikent and waterfalls Gizlikent, the ruins of Tlos and Xantos – even a long summer day is not enough for everything. Kaş – Fethiye is one of the most interesting and sightseeing sections on the whole route.
Kadyanda (18 kilometers from Fethiye) are the ruins of an ancient city (2500 years old) with an amphitheater, the remains of baths, an agora, a temple and tombs in the rocks.In Fethiye you can walk along the long promenade, bargain in the stores of the center, see the rock tombs of the ancient city of Telmessos and the amphitheater. Or go on a little trek to the abandoned Greek town of Kayaköy and the ruined monastery of Afkule. Or you can sunbathe and swim all day at Çalış beach.
Accommodation. We recommend to rent an apartment near the street that leads from the city to Oludeniz Caddesi – you won’t have to waste time on traffic in the city and the seafront is only 8-10 minutes away.To eat and drink. Paşa Kebap – iconic kebab shop, Gogo the Eatery – Turkish and European cuisine, No 48 Coffee – local coffee roasters, Not in Paris – avocado toasts, coffee and alcoholic cocktails with French vibe.
Oludeniz and Kayaköy. In Oludeniz, near Fethiye, begins the Lycian Trail, a 530-kilometer trekking route. It runs just along the Mediterranean Sea and ends in Antalya. You can choose any of the sections you like and hike for one or two days. Also Oludeniz is known as the best place in Turkey for paragliding. From the nearby Babadağ Mountain someone takes off every minute, while others land on the city promenade.
Oludeniz is known as the best place in Turkey for paragliding. From the nearby Babadağ Mountain someone takes off every minute, while others land on the city promenade
Göcek is a town of five thousand people with six large marinas. It has become one of the centers of yacht tourism in Turkey. It has quality waterfront amenities, good restaurants, expensive boutique hotels and a relaxed atmosphere, which is shaped, among other things, by yachtsmen.
Waterfall at Toparlar Village. A walk to the waterfall is a great option to take a break from the road and driving. You can just walk to the waterfall or hang out there longer and have a picnic with cool views. You can swim in the waterfall. On the way to the waterfall near Toparlar village, there are many outlets on the trail where they make freshly squeezed juice from local fruits.
Bozburun and Datca
The two picturesque peninsulas of Bozburun and Datca are important sites for summer domestic tourism in Turkey. There is a more relaxed and “rustic” atmosphere, few foreign tourists and no large resort towns. The peninsulas are known for their unique bays, lush green nature and clean sea. Instead of resort towns with large hotels there are villages with summer houses of Turks from Istanbul and Izmir, glamping sites, campsites and boutique hotels.The Bozburun Peninsula is to the south of Marmaris, Datca to the west. You can safely skip them, but if you have time, it’s worth booking some cool cabin or villa on Airbnb and relax for a couple of days.Much of the Carian Trail, a grand hiking route in Southwest Turkey, is here. It is less well known than the Lycian Trail, but just as beautiful.Accomodation. Book a villa with a great view in Bozburun, or a stone house in Datça.
View from this villa (from $85 a night)
Akyaka is one of the Turkish cities that is part of the International Slow Cities (Cittaslow) Movement. One of the goals of the movement is to slow down the pace of life and to confront the sameness of cities. Although it’s hard to imagine this when you come here on weekends – there are a lot of Turkish tourists here. However, if you come on a weekday, it’s nice to stroll through the streets with restored wooden houses and have lunch at one of the many cafes along the canal. Ten kilometers from the city is a popular kitesurfing spot – you can ride with an instructor, or just stare at the surfers riding the waves.
Kuşadası is a quiet resort town, next to which is Ephesus, the largest and most interesting ancient ruins in all of Turkey. The promenade here is not bad, and you can come to the city also for a seaside. Diving enthusiasts come to Kusadasi to dive on a specially sunken Airbus A300. Some of the few architectural sights – a mosque and a caravanserai from the 17th century and the city walls.
Izmir is a huge and bustling city. It is very interesting, but it is better to explore it without a car (or leave it in the hotel parking lot).The Arkas Center for Contemporary Art occupies the 1906 building of the French Honorary Consulate. Exhibitions change regularly in nine rooms. Until February 2023 there is an exhibition L’Air de Paris, with paintings, sculptures, ceramics and photographs of Turkish authors associated with Paris.Living. In the central district of Konak. For example, in these apartments with a rooftop terrace and a beautiful view of the city.
Denizli – Pamukkale
If you have time, we recommend staying at least two nights in Denizli – there are many interesting places around the city: Lake Salda, Kelaoglu Caves, ruins of Laodicea and Afrodizias, and Ulubey Canyon.
To complete the circular route, you have to drive more than 400 kilometers to Antalya. You can do it in half a day – most of the way goes on the highway, where you can safely drive over 120 kilometers per hour.
Pamukkale is the thermal springs near the town of Denizli. These are the snow-white terraces with water. Near them are the ruins of Hierapolis, and the entire complex is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Tourists are often disappointed when they come there because it is very crowded, even in low season.
Two weeks itinerary from Antalya to Eastern Turkey
Antalya is also convenient to use as a starting point for an itinerary through eastern Turkey (or Kurdistan), the most authentic and non-tourist part of the country.
- Day 1-2. Antalya → Eşrefoğlu Mosque in Beyşehir → Konya → Adana.
- Day 3-5. Adana → Berke Dam → Nemrut Dag → Diyarbakir.
- Days 6-8. Diyarbakir → Van.
- Days 8-10. Van → Akdamar → Batman → Bitlis → Hasankeyf castle → Mardin.
- Days 11-12. Mardin → Göbekli Tepe → Şanlıurfa → Rumkale → Gaziantep.
- Days 12-14. Gaziantep → Antakya → Mersin → Antalya.
Beyşehir is a town on the shores of the lake of the same name. The road to it from Antalya passes through a pass of 1825 meters. The main attraction is the 13th-century Esrefoglu Mosque. According to UNESCO it is the largest and best preserved mosque with wooden columns and a roof.
Konya is a major city and the capital of the province of the same name. The city center consists of unique architecture from the Seljuk period. Although tourists come primarily for the museum of Mevlana, the Persian poet Jalaladdin Rumi. Based on his teachings, Rumi’s son created the Sufi tarikat Mevlevi with its center in Konya. They are also known as the Brotherhood of Whirling Dervishes.Çatalhöyük is the largest and best preserved Neolithic settlement in the world. The earliest cultural layers date back to 7,400 BC.
Nemrut Dağ (2,150 meters) is a mountain in the province of Adiyaman, on top of which there are half-destroyed sculptures from the 1st century BC. They are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Diyarbakır, a city of almost a million people, is considered the unofficial capital of Kurdistan. It is simply interesting to live here for a few days, observing the daily life of the Kurds. The city is home to Turkey’s largest fortress (4th century), behind which are the Hevsel Bahçeleri gardens on the banks of the Tigris, both UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Akdamar Island on the shore of Lake Van. In the 10th century it was the seat of the Armenian kings. Many Armenians lived in this region before the genocide. The church of the Holy Cross with frescoes and stone carvings depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments has been preserved from that period.
Mardin is a small town, picturesquely situated on the mountainside, reminiscent of Arab cities. Nearly half of its 80,000 inhabitants identify themselves as Arabs. Many Syrian Christians once lived here, and 14th century churches have survived from that period.
In Şanlıurfa is preserved incredibly colorful old town with narrow streets, where even cars can not always pass. Among the must-see sites are the cave where the prophet Abraham was born, Lake Bylyk with sacred carps in the courtyard of a 13th-century mosque and the Gobekli Tepe Temple Complex in the vicinity, also a UNESCO site, like many of the sites on this route.
Antakya, or Antioch, which was once one of the largest cities of the Roman Empire, lies on the border with Syria. St. Peter’s Church in the rock, the old town with its narrow streets and the market district of Uzun Çarşı Caddesi. The old town, the market area of Uzun Çarşı Caddesi, is the place to swim in the Mediterranean Sea and eat fish sandwiches.
There are especially many Hilton hotels along this route. There is one in Konya, Kahramanmarash, Van, Mardin, Sanliurfa, Mersin, two in Gaziantep, two in Adana. There is only one Radisson, but exatly where is no Hiltons, in Diyarbakir. There’s no Marriott hotels in eastern Turkey.
Prices start at $30, and an average night in a Hilton in eastern Turkey will cost $60. Local off-grid hotels will often cost more, with service and amenities being a lottery. But the Hiltons will have a 24-hour front desk, parking, someone who speaks at least English, and some sort of standards. And, of course, points and nights in the loyalty program.
When to go
In summer it’s hot, in winter – somewhere there are subzero temperatures and snow, so it’s better to travel in the off-season.
A 5-7 day round trip from Istanbul
You can fly into Istanbul and start your roadtrip right from the airport without stopping in the city. You can rent a car both at Istanbul New Airport (IST) and Sabiha Gokcen (SAW).
- Day 1. IST Airport → Edirne. 213 km in at least 2.5 hours;
- Day 2. Edirne → Gelibolu (aka Gallipoli) → Canakkale. 223 km in at least 2.5 hours;
- Day 3. Çanakkale → Balıkesir through the Kazdagı National Park. Minimum 4.5 hours for 231 km. If time is short, the park can be passed (although it is excellent and go straight to Bursa;
- Day 4. Balıkesir → Bursa → Golcuk → İzmit → Sakarya. At least 4 hours and 300 kilometers;
- Day 5. Sakarya → Shile. 2 hours and 117 kilometers;
- Day 6. To the airport via Sahilkei and Rumelifeneri. 3 hours and 137 kilometers.
This route can be shortened by a couple of days or increased, stopping, for example, in Eskişehir, Zonguldak or even in Izmir.Admittedly, this route is slightly less scenic than the circular route from Antalya. But it also has many unique places. We highly recommend starting the route in Istanbul in late June because every year at this time a wrestling tournament called “Kırkpınar” takes place in Edirne, where two sweaty, oil-smeared athletes in leather pants try to beat each other. We watched the fights for a long time and understood one thing – the one who puts his hand in his opponent’s pants deepest wins.
Kilometers and days. The long route from Antalya to the southeast that we described above stretches as much as 3,300 kilometers. If we start in Diyarbakir and don’t go to Konya it will be 1900 km, and if we take out Antakya and Van from the route it will be no more than 900. And so with all variants of routes – something can be removed or added, changing the number of days. 10-15 days for 1000-1500 kilometers with five or seven cities in which you’ll spend the night – are quite comfortable based on our experience.Rent and gas. 16$ a day would cost to rent a Hyundai İ20 (AT) in January 2023. If you add the insurance, it would be about 270$ for two weeks. Gas will cost you 138$ per thousand kilometers. In January 2023, it costs about 22 liras (0.76$) per liter.SIM-cards. 600 liras (20.76$) is a cost of a local sim card with 20 gigabytes of Internet.Accomodations. 30$ is the average cost of a night in a hotel or an apartment off-season. But you can find a villa in Kaş for eight people for 80$ or a good hotel in Oludeniz or Akyaka for 20$ per night.
Food, groceries, and other expenses. 10-25$ a day per person is an amount on which you can live quite comfortably in the low season. A lunch at a good roadside cafe would hardly cost more than $7 per person, and food in Turkey is very cheap – fruits and vegetables at farmers markets are five times cheaper than in the US .Total: 800$ is the cost of gasoline (1000 km), car rental (14 days), accommodation (14 days) and a SIM card with Internet. All these costs can be divided by the number of people in the car. And another $10-25 per day per person for food and other minor expenses.
There are toll roads in Turkey, although they are few in number. The section Edirne – Istanbul costs 18.5 liras (0.64$), Istanbul – Ankara – 37.5 liras (1.30$), Izmir – Aydin – only seven and a half liras (0.26$). But there are also expensive sections. For example, if you want a quick ride from Istanbul to Izmir, you’ll have to pay almost 500 lira (17.30$): 184.5 lira for the Osmangazi Bridge and almost 300 for the toll road. But everyone goes much faster than the allowed 120 km/h on it.
Most highways require an HGS sticker to pay the fare. It is usually already on the cars of rental companies, but it is better to check with your rental company about the sticker anyway. If you do not have one, you can pay in cash or by card. Stickers are sold at the offices posted at the freeway exit/entrance, or at any post office (PTT). When approaching the toll booths, you must reduce your speed to 30 km/h and drive in the lane marked HGS.Most often, when issuing a car in Istanbul, the sticker is included in the price and you have to pay a deposit of about 30$, which will go to pay for the roads. Anything above this limit will have to be paid when handing over the car.
What else you need to know about Turkey
Accommodation. Booking.com in Turkey works in a specific way: while in Turkey, you can not book hotels in Turkey. Therefore, to book something at the last minute, you will have to use VPN. Or use Expedia, Airbnb or local sites Etstur, Otelz, Odamax and Tatilbudur. Some hotels in the most religious cities may not put a different-sex couple in the same room without a marriage certificate.A SIM-card is issued at special rates for tourists, they are higher than for the citizens of Turkey. 20 gigabytes of Internet and 200 minutes of calls cost from from 600 liras, depending on the city of purchase and the mood of the manager of the salon.Prices. Inflation in Turkey is very high. In November 2022, the official inflation rate was 84% per year. Prices in liras for everything are rising very fast (although the growth in prices has slowed down). But in dollars the prices hardly go up at all.Safety. In the eastern part of Turkey there are often checkpoints on the roads, and even in the cities there can be military vehicles and special services with weapons. Tourists usually do not pay attention to them, but they can check their documents.
When to go
December to February. In winter in Turkey, it is comfortable to drive only along the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts. It almost certainly snows in Istanbul in winter at least once, and in recent years it has even snowed several times during the winter. On the coast the weather is changeable: it can rain for days on end, and the temperature ranges from 5°C (40°F) to 20°C (70°F). Most hotels, cafes, and restaurants in resort towns will be closed, but those that remain open offer great discounts. At the attractions, too, there are a lot fewer tourists. In some you will be all alone.March. It’s already comfortable to travel around Cappadocia and the southeast of the country. A few events to include in your itinerary:
- A major jazz festival in Izmir, which usually runs all March.
- The Mesir Paste Festival in Manisa, which takes place during the week of Nowruz. This colorful festival made the UNESCO heritage list in 2012.
The month of Ramadan in 2023 will take place from March 23 to April 21. Ramadan has almost no effect on life in most regions in Turkey, but the most conservative and religious places in Turkey are better to visit at other times. Because at least most of the cafes in them will be closed during daytime.
April. Already high season for Istanbul, still transitional for the rest of Turkey. Perfect weather for visiting most of Turkey. A few events to include in your itinerary:
- The Tulip Festival and the International Film Festival in Istanbul are good reasons to start your trip there.
- Alaçatı Herbal Festival. The best reason to stop by this town on the Cesme Peninsula.
May. Almost perfect weather all over Turkey. It may already be hot in Antalya, but Trabzon, Erzurum and the Kacar Mountains have perfect spring. Last chance before September to see museums, ruins and other attractions without the huge crowds of tourists. A few events to include in your itinerary:
June to August. High season for all of Turkey except Istanbul, which can turn into a red-hot frying pan on some days. All of Turkey’s resort coast peaks in prices for hotels and other services. The worst time to save money and be away from the crowds of tourists. If your vacation is only in July or August and you’re not that interested in swimming and sunbathing, go on a roadtrip along the Black Sea coast. There are plenty of beaches (here’s a list of the best), but even more mountains and lakes, canyons and caves, cozy towns with Ottoman architecture (Safranbolu) and tea plantations.A few events to include in your itinerary:
- Çamlihemsin Festival in Aydere, Karadeniz region. A local festival with a local form of bloodless bullfighting (boğa güreşi) in which bulls simply push until one pushes the other.
- Istanbul Music Festival and music festivals in other cities.
- Oil Wrestling Festival in Kırkpınar.
September to November. Another high season begins in Istanbul. On the Aegean and Mediterranean coast is still summer weather (somewhere you can swim even in December), but the prices are already lower. Closer to November the weather is “summery” more by Baltic standards, but it’s still a great time to go. September through October is a great time to travel in eastern Turkey. A few events to include in your itinerary:
- The Istanbul Bienniale usually runs from mid-September to mid-November.
- Races. Istanbul Marathon (early November), Cappadocia Ultra Trail (mid-October).
- Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival is held annually in the two thousand-year-old Roman theater near Antalya. The theater is considered one of the best preserved ancient theaters in the world, many original features of the building remain intact.
- Watermelon Festival in Diyarbakir. Watermelons are practically free at this time.
- Karagoz Puppet and Shadow Theater Festival in Bursa in November.
Dates of all events are subject to change, and it’s best to double-check before you go.