Driving in Turkey is a great way to see the country on your own schedule. While it’s mostly a breeze, here are some things you should know before hitting the road.

Arriving at our hotel in Çanakkale after our first full day driving in Turkey, we congratulated each other with the satisfaction of worldly explorers. We had just navigated ourselves out of Istanbul, deciphered Turkey’s toll roads, caught a car ferry and found our hotel.  We had traversed back roads, highways, motorways; found toilets, saw what we wanted to see and didn’t go wrong once. A beer with an 8 Turkish Lira pide never tasted so good thanks to our overwhelming sense of achievement.

Except it wasn’t much of an achievement at all. Driving in Turkey is easy, especially compared to Mexico or even Morocco. The roads are good, the signage is clear, parking is straightforward, and navigation is simple. As an added bonus, driving in Turkey is a relatively cost-effective way to see the country.

If you want to free yourself from the schedule of an organised tour – creating your own Turkish memories on your own timescale – driving in Turkey is a great way to do it. But, like any foreign road trip, driving in Turkey has some things you should watch out for. So, to help you plan your own epic Turkish road trip, here are our top tips for a successful adventure, including how to deal with those agile Turkish drivers.

Tip 1 | Understand Turkey’s modern HGS toll system

Turkey has a modern motorway system which has recently been converted to a High-Speed Toll System called HGS (Hızlı Geçiş Sistem). An electronic device is fitted to the car which automatically collects the toll as you drive through the toll gates. All cars must have the HGS system fitted, so the device should already be provided by your hire car company. As you drive through the toll booths, just follow the lanes marked HGS and slow down to 30km/h. This will collect the toll automatically which your rental car company will charge you for at the end of your rental. We went through about 10 tolls in our 2 weeks in Turkey, each costing 2-3 Turkish Lira.

Tip 2 | Avoid narrow lanes in old towns

While the motorways are bearing the fruits of Erdoğan’s infrastructure spree, the narrow lanes in old towns are not. Here the infrastructure is full of crumbling charm, character filled potholes and stalls spilling out on to already narrow streets. The lanes are extremely tight, steep and made of paving stones – of which most are missing. Roads can be blocked by double-parked cars, a street can become one way overnight, and pedestrian’s saunter on the road with no regard for personal safety. Avoid the centre of old towns where possible and park on the outskirts instead.

Tip 3 | Don’t pull up right to the traffic lights

When the traffic lights go green in Turkey, you have exactly 0.2 seconds to respond before the cars behind you start beeping. As someone who considers his reaction time quite good in these situations, I took this as a personal insult. But, after a few days driving in Turkey, I realized it probably wasn’t Turkish impatience that was causing this green light prompting.  If you pull up to the line at the intersection you can’t actually see the traffic lights which, by this stage, will be behind you. It appears this flaw in Turkey’s civic planning is well known to Turks, who will offer you a horny notification that you’re good to go. So, when approaching an intersection while driving in Turkey, keep an eye on the traffic lights and make sure you can still see them before you stop.

Tip 4 | Know your speed limits

The great mystery of the speed limits in Turkey baffled us throughout our trip. Sometimes there are no speed signs at all. Other times we went through micro speed limits: 70, 50, then 30km/h within the space of about 100 meters. Often the speed will go down to 50km/h for a small intersection on a major highway, never to change again. In a couple of places, we saw a speed limit of 82 km/h which we admired for its precision but failed to see its purpose. The only way you can be sure of the speed limit in Turkey is to look them up. So here they are. Highways and motorways = 120 km/h; double lane roads (outside built-up areas) = 90 km/h; built-up areas = 50 km/h.

Tip 5 | Know when a roundabout isn’t really a roundabout

There’s a slightly confusing intersection set up in Turkey that looks suspiciously like a roundabout, but it isn’t a roundabout. It’s just a circle in the middle of a large intersection where cars turning left onto the main road stop to give way to oncoming traffic. Cars already on the main road (the double lane road) don’t need to stop (or even slow down) because the “roundabout” is not obstructing their lanes at all. It’s something you need to keep an eye out for because, if you treat it like a normal roundabout, you’ll soon realise cars are not giving way for you as you would expect them to. Take a bit of extra caution when approaching roundabouts on double lane roads.

Tip 6 | Make sure your hotel has parking

Parking was never really a problem for us in when driving in Turkey, even though this is something we like to stress about well before arriving somewhere. Except for a few larger cities, most of the towns we visited had a lot of easy parking on the street. However, it’s still a good idea to book hotels with parking (of which there are many) as hotels near town centres may have limited space. Sometimes hotel parking just meant there was plenty of space on the street, other times it meant leaving your keys with the staff to shuffle your car around as necessary. Either way, make sure your hotels have advertised parking.

Tip 7 | Leaving your car keys at the Oto Park is not waving goodbye to your vehicle

Parking at the major attractions was also very easy. All sites have ample parking which is either free or costs 5 to 10 Turkish Lira. Occasionally – at some smaller sites – we would get people offering to look after our car. A polite “no thanks” is all it takes to move on. There are no parking ticket machines in Turkey. If you park in a spot you need to pay for, someone will come up to you to take payment. In bigger towns, we usually parked in car parks (Oto Parks). In many Oto Parks, you need to leave the keys with the attendant as they pack the cars in like sardines. We had no issues doing this and our car was always there when we got back! Oto Parks costs around 5 – 10 Turkish Lira for a couple of hours.

Tip 8 | Trust Google Maps completely, up to a certain a point

Navigating around Turkey is surprisingly easy, for even the most navigationally challenged driver such as myself. The modern road system has very good signage, especially if you are heading to a major attraction. Towns and cities are marked in regular blue or green signs, major tourist attractions are marked on brown signs. We used Google maps for all our navigation needs which generally did a sterling job. Sometimes, however, Google tried to take us on the most efficient route even if this meant going off the main highway and taking some much smaller backroads. Our advice is to follow Google maps, but if it starts directing you off major roads when there are signs to your destination pointing in another direction, follow the road signs instead.

Tip 9 | Download Google Maps while the WIFI is good

These days, when even the most basic hotel has pretty good WIFI, (plus lots of cafes, restaurants, museums) we rarely bother getting a SIM card in a new country. This worked fine for us driving in Turkey because we’re not totally WIFI dependent. Yet! The only time it could have been a slight problem was when we were out on the road. So, we always downloaded Google Maps for the entire distance we were travelling the next day. That way we had all the driving instructions we needed to find our destination.

Tip 10 | Understanding Turkey’s high-quality Service Stations

If you are all concerned about the availability of petrol when driving in Turkey, this is one thing you can cross off your worry list. Shiny new petrol stations spring up in regular intervals, even on the most deserted roads. But one of the most surprising things about service stations in Turkey is the quality of the food they have on offer. You won’t be settling for junk food rubbish you might find in service stations in other countries, this is quality food at very reasonable prices. They also have some of the cleanest toilets you’ll find in Turkey.

It’s not possible to fill the car yourself in Turkey. An attendant will need to press a series of buttons and wave a keycard in front of the pump to turn it on. He’ll then fill it up for you. All service station attendants understand the term “full.” If you want less, you might need to write the number down.

Tip 11 | Know your hire care details before you get there

There are some things when travelling that I find completely frustrating. Picking up a hire car can be one of those things. In Istanbul, where we collected the car, the staff didn’t know the details of our booking, gave us about 4 different prices over the hour we were standing there, and couldn’t really explain why. Our advice: make sure you know what you have already paid for and what you haven’t. Bring all your paperwork with you. Also, keep a cool head and remember you’re on holidays.

We generally don’t take additional insurance when we hire a car, but at 48 Turkish Lira per day, we thought it was well worth getting. As in most places, car rental companies charge a considerable amount for picking up and dropping off in different locations. However, in Turkey, these fees are not too bad: 250 Turkish Lira to pick up in Istanbul and drop off in Antalya.

Tip 12 | Stay back more than you normally would

Some of the driving in Turkey can be erratic. Indicating happens very rarely, cars will wander into your lane or just pull out in front of you. Overtaking is done with the maximum amount of risk, and the hard shoulder is often used as a substitute lane. Tractors and other slow-moving vehicles saunter along the roads at slow speed and others will whip past you in a flash. It’s nothing too scary and certainly nothing that should put you off driving in Turkey, but you should give the car in front of you plenty of room to allow for any crazy manoeuvres.

Tip 13 | English is your friend

Like in most countries, the Turkish people love it when you practice a bit of their language. We often got a little giggle when we tried to say thank you, or waiters would offer us a few words to help us along. However, if you get pulled over by the Police, this is not the time to practice your newfound Turkish tongue. We were pulled over a couple of times because police roadblocks are not uncommon in Turkey, but a greeting of “hello, how are you?” in our best English accents had us waved on without any further questions.

We often saw police set up at the start of a town pulling over cars indiscriminately. Very often we saw cardboard cutouts of police cars – complete with menacing looking policeman in the front seat – with a warning about speeding, set up on the side of the highway. None of this was a problem for us, we generally found the police either very friendly or not interested in tourists at all.

Driving in Turkey - our costs

Car Hire

Total Cost Per Day
₺198 Turkish Lira per day (£33 or $44)
  • Manual Ford Focus ₺150 Turkish Lira a day (£25 or $34)
  • Extra driver ₺15.5 Turkish Lira a day (£2.50 or $3.40)
  • Full insurance ₺48 Turkish Lira a day (£8 or $10.60)

Diesel is about 5.50 Turkish Lira per litre (£0.92 or $1.22).

All the above costs are inclusive of any additional charges and taxes and assume an exchange rate of 6 Turkish Lira per GPB and 4.50 per US Dollar.

The Turkish Lira has been very weak recently and so prices are much cheaper than they were a year ago. This is one of the reasons we came to Turkey in the first place as we recommended here.

Should you drive in Turkey?

Yes absolutely. There’s a lot to see in Turkey and having your own wheels is the best way to do it. We often saw tour groups sitting around gift shops or in large industrial tourist geared restaurants waiting for their escape. Having your own car means you can select what you want to see and how long you want to see it for.

It’s also a very easy place to drive in. The road network is very good with very clear signage. Parking was relatively easy everywhere we went, and the availability of service stations is very good. Also, some of the scenery you drive past is very good and being able to stop when you want and take photos is all part of the fun.

The cost of hiring a car is also not prohibitive given that it would take much longer to see everything we saw on our trip if you were using public transport.

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