Istanbul is probably one of the most feared city when it comes to traffic. If you are used to the “proper” way of driving that you find more or less in most European cities, you have to double your attention in Istanbul. Expect the unexpected.
Simply put, Istanbul is incredibly crowded. During rush hours, cars seem to stay without moving for long minutes. And when they finally start to move, everybody is rushing to win their spot on the road. Turkish drivers seem to think in a “win or loose” way. And they like to win.
The most important advice we can give you is to stay 100% alert and to be prepared to brake when needed. Not only other cars may force you to brake, but also the pedestrians that cross the streets whenever and wherever they feel like. All in all, if you are an experienced driver, pay attention to what is happening around and are prepared to waste time in traffic, it is under no circumstances impossible to drive in Istanbul. It is better however to leave your car at the hotel once you get there and to explore the city by foot or by using the means of public transportation. Here you can find a list of hotels with parking.
Turkish drivers honk a lot when they feel someone is staying in their way. Don’t get scared or pissed off at this and continue to drive properly. Be also prepared to honk when needed, you may have to produce some noise to warn other drivers when there is an immediate danger.
Istanbul lays in both Europe and Asia. The Bosphorus Strait is separating the two parts, but the land is connected by two bridges (Bosphorus Bridge and Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge). The bridges are pretty impressive and allow you to drive from one part to the other. Rush hours affect these bridges greatly, since locals usually drive from the Asian part of Istanbul to the European side in the morning and the other way round in the evening. This happens because most of the businesses are situated in the European part and most of people’s houses are in the Asian part. It is recommended to avoid rush hours when crossing the strait if you don’t like to waste time in traffic. Both are toll bridges, but you pay only when driving from Europe to Asia. It is very important to know that you can’t pay the toll in cash, you need to have either the KGS card or the OGS device. Make sure you have one of them before entering the bridge, since you are not able to purchase a KGS from the toll stations. Read more about KGS and OGS on Driving in Turkey.
You may find that in Turkey and especially in Istanbul traffic lights are flashing red at some times. When you encounter such traffic lights, stop and make sure it’s safe to go, then go. Don’t wait for the green colour, it won’t come. It seems that Turkish authorities put their lights on flashing red when the traffic is less crowded, in the night for example, in order to allow the few cars to pass if there is nobody else on the road.
Parking can be a nightmare in Istanbul. Since the streets are so crowded, parking lots are scarce and usually full. You will see that locals park almost everywhere, but we don’t recommend you to do so, since it is hard to say if it is legal to park somewhere or not. It is better to find private parkings, they are scattered through the whole city. Just look for the Turkish word “otopark”. Parking fees in this parkings may vary. It’s not cheap but not very expensive either. A proper private parking will allow you to relax in Istanbul, without having to worry about your car.
Fuel is another reason to drive as little as possible. As in the rest of Turkey, it is very expensive, with prices around €2 per liter. The long traffic jams will increase your fuel consumption to unbelievable figures.
To sum up, driving in Istanbul is something doable. Pay attention, take enough time to get to your destination and you should be all right.