Driving is the most dreadful thing you may think of before going to Turkey. You may have heard of the speeding drivers, the vague priority rules and the crowded cities. It’s about time to destroy this myth. Of course, you have to be skilled and to pay loads of attention while driving in Turkey, but it’s by no means worse than in Greece or Italy. You may need a car anyway in order to get to some remote areas, even though Turkey has many airports.
Turkey has some very good roads compared to countries nearby. It has a few motorways from Istanbul to Ankara, Istanbul to Edirne (close to the Greek and Bulgarian borders) and from Izmir to Aydin (on the coastline). It’s not much for such a huge country, but Turkey has also hundreds or even thousands of kilometers of highways with two lanes in each direction. You may also encounter some roads in bad condition, but the government is keeping on improving them.
Turkish drivers are generally friendly, but they seem to be in a continuous rush. It shouldn’t surprise you that they obey no speed limits. It’s hard to find out what is the legal speed in an area by looking at the other drivers, since the vast majority of them are speeding way above the limit. So keep an eye on all the signs!
Major cities are very crowded. Istanbul is the best example on this, it looks like an enormous parking, with cars moving only a few meters in minutes. The rule of thumb is to avoid rush hours and especially the city center. Outside the rush hours the traffic is decent. Parking may be difficult in some cities. The best places to leave your car safely are the paid parkings, which are quite numerous. Even if cities are crowded, drivers keep their friendliness. The honk their horn too much sometimes, but will allow you to pass or change lanes if you need to. It is recommended that you make visual contact and ask permission when you need something from the other drivers, they will probably help you.
Priority rules are another myth. They work like anywhere else in Europe, so no surprise here. Turkish drivers are quite aggressive and might get in front of you even if they have to yield. Just keep cool and go ahead if it is your right to do so, they will stop and allow you to pass. Of course, keeping your foot on the brake in these situations might save some good quality paint on your car sometimes. Turkish people rarely signal when changing lanes or direction in an intersection, so expect the unexpected.
Even if Turkey is the country where all the locals seem to ignore the speed limits, we strongly recommend that you as a tourist to know and strictly observe them. This is good for your safety and also for your pocket. Lots of policemen put radars on the highways in an attempt to calm down the traffic and fines are pretty high. The speed limits are 120 km/h on motorways, 90 km/h outside cities on other roads and 50 km/h inside cities, towns or villages. You will se almost nobody driving at such “low” speeds, especially in towns. Do your best to both obey them and integrate in the traffic. Turkish people drive very fast, but they seem to loose interest in speeding when climbing hills. Most hills are not dangerous at all and you even have two lanes on each side of the road, so you don’t have to wait for those drivers that don’t bother to change the gear down in order to keep a decent speed.
Regular roads and highways are free, but you have to pay for motorways and some tunnels. Ring roads are usually free, even if they are motorways. Tolls are low compared to most other countries in Europe, around 2 TL per 100 km. Tolls can be paid either by cash or by some electronic means. These are the KGS card and the OGS pass. The KGS is a prepaid card. Its price at the time of writing is 30 TL, out of which the plastic costs 3 TL and the rest of 27 TL are yours. You can buy the KGS card from most entry points on motorways and lots of banks. Some banks sell it only with 50 TL, but these situations are rare. The OGS is an automatic system, similar to the Telepass in Italy. Owners of this system only pass through the special gates with no barriers on motorways, a special device at the gates read their date and charge them automatically.
As a tourist, you will mostly pay cash or by KGS. Cash is phased out gradually, so you might find some motorway exists where it is not accepted. Our recommendation is to buy a KGS card, it is faster and accepted at all exits. You also get a 20% discount for paying by it. If you have a KGS card, you have to pass through the special gates marked with a KGS sign. Wave it on the dedicated place when entering and exiting the motorway. Based on the distance you are travelling, the calculated amount of money is deducted from it. You will see how much money you have on the display both when entering and exiting the motorway.
A special situation is in Istanbul. When passing from Europe to Asia on one of the two bridges, you have to pay a small toll. This toll can be paid only by KGS, cash is not accepted. So you need to buy such a card if you plan to pass on these bridges. If you have forgotten to do so, there are banks or booths before the toll stations where you can buy the card. It is free to pass the bridges from Asia to Europe.
Driving after drinking alcohol is not recommended. This is a serious offence in Turkey and might get you in serious trouble.
Fuel is very expensive, even compared with Italy, Germany or Netherlands. One liter of unleaded gas is about €2. Diesel is cheaper, but not significantly. Turkey has lots of gas stations compared to other countries. It is not uncommon to see the same brand of gas station several times within 50 km. Motorways have organized service areas, so gas stations are usually at a 50 km distance between them. Prices vary very little between stations, so you don’t have to compare them a lot to buy the cheapest fuel. Credit card are accepted at almost all stations.
As a driver, you have to pay special attention to pedestrians. Some of them walk in a chaotic manner. They cross the streets in weird places, cross on their red traffic light and ignore you completely. Since you won’t change behavior easily, simply allow them to cross and keep your calm. When traffic is dense, pedestrians will show you their intention to cross whenever they feel like and they expect you to stop and allow them to pass. This seems to be the rule in Turkey, so better do the same.
These being said, we hope we created some comfort for you if you need to drive in Turkey. It’s not so hard and it’s getting better, so be careful and everything will be just fine.