Driving in Turkey is a great way to see the country. While it’s mostly a breeze, here are some things you should know and money-saving advice for renting a car
Arriving at our hotel in Çanakkale after the first full day of our 2 week Turkey itinerary, we congratulated each other with the satisfaction of worldly explorers. We had just driven 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.
We were brimming with an overwhelming sense of achievement.
Except it wasn’t much of an achievement at all. Driving in Turkey is very easy, especially compared driving in 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.
However, like any foreign excursion, driving in Turkey has some things you should watch out for. So is all our Turkey road trip advice to help you plan for a smooth adventure, including how to deal with those agile Turkish drivers.
DRIVING IN TURKEY / OUR ROAD TRIP TIPS
Turkey is one of the most exciting places to undertake a good old fashion road trip. The big tourist attractions such as the incredible ancient ruins and magical Cappadocia are best seen on your own schedule. In addition, there are hidden road-side gems that can only be properly discovered in your own wheels.
Here are all our tip for a successful Turkey road trip.
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.
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 onto 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.
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. Initially, I found my inadequate reaction time embarrassing, but after a few days driving in Turkey, I realised it wasn’t impatience that was causing this green light behaviour.
If you pull up to the line at an junction you can’t actually see the traffic lights which will be behind you if you are too far forward. 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.
4 – KNOW YOUR 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 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 are 120 km/h, double lane roads (outside built-up areas) are 90 km/h; and built-up areas = 50 km/h.
The other limit you need to be aware of is the blood alcohol content, which in Turkey is zero.
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.
6 – MAKE SURE YOUR HOTEL HAS PARKING
Parking was never really a problem for us in when driving in Turkey, 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.
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.
8 – TRUST GOOGLE MAPS COMPLETELY (UP TO A CERTAIN A POINT)
Navigating around Turkey is surprisingly easy. 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.
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.
10 – UNDERSTANDING TURKEY’S HIGH-QUALITY SERVICE STATIONS
In Turkey, 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. You won’t be settling for rubbish junk food, this is quality food at very reasonable prices. They also have some of the cleanest toilets you’ll find in Turkey.
They don’t trust you 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.
11 – KNOW YOUR HIRE CAR DETAILS BEFORE YOU GET THERE
When we collected our hire car in Istanbul, the staff didn’t know the details of our booking and gave us about 4 different prices over the hour we were standing there. We strongly recommend you bring all your paperwork with you and know exactly what you have paid for upfront and what you haven’t.
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.
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 that should put you off driving in Turkey, but give the car in front of you plenty of room to allow for any crazy manoeuvres.
13 – ENGLISH IS YOUR FRIEND
Like in most countries, the Turkish people love it when you practice a bit of their language. However, if you get pulled over by the Police, this is not the time to demonstrate your newfound Turkish language skills. 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. They also have cardboard cutouts of police cars 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.
SHOULD YOU DRIVE IN TURKEY?
You do not need a car in the big cities, but if you are heading into the countryside then, yes, absolutely. It’s an easy place to drive and the road network is good with clear signage. Parking was straightforward, and there were plenty of service stations.
Turkey’s public transport system is mainly built for locals and not for visitors. So if you want to head off to more out-of-the-way destinations, then hiring a car is a sensible option.
Having your own car also means you can select what you want to see and how long you want to see it for. There are a lot of great sights to see in Turkey and some of the scenery from the car window is excellent. Being able to stop when you want and take photos is all part of the fun. We often saw tour groups sitting around gift shops or in large industrial tourist-geared restaurants waiting for their escape.
Finally driving in Turkey is not too expensive, making it not only a sensible option but decent value as well. Check out the prices below.
DRIVING IN TURKEY / HIRING A CAR
Hiring a car can be notoriously challenging. There are many different providers all providing different add-ons and levels of insurance making it difficult to compare prices and know what you have bought.
The best portal we’ve found for booking hire cars is rentalcars.com. They have access to cars from all the major companies so you can compare prices for different car sizes across each provider.
TURKEY RENTAL CAR INSURANCE
If you book through Auto Europe the upfront rental cost comes with basic insurance covering theft, third-party damage and liability. However, this option includes a large excess (about $1,000).
There are 3 ways to deal with this:
OPTION 1 / BASIC INSURANCE
Take the risk and stick with the basic insurance that is included in your rental agreement. In this case, if you have an accident the car hire company will charge you the excess, which is generally around $1000.
OPTION 2 / REFUNDABLE EXCESS GUARANTEE
Purchase a refundable excess guarantee package from either Auto Europe or insurance4carhire. In this case, the car hire company will charge you for the first $1,000 of any damage but you can claim it back from Auto Europe or insurance4carhire.
OPTION 3 / ANNUAL EXCESS GUARANTEE
Purchase an annual refundable excess guarantee package from insurance4carhire. This makes sense if you are likely to hire a car 3 or more times a year as it will be cheaper than continually buying a one-off package.
Purchasing a refundable excess guarantee package is MUCH cheaper than the amount you will pay for insurance at the car rental company desk when you pick up the car. But it does involve the extra hassle of claiming the excess guarantee back from your insurer.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS – DRIVING IN TURKEY
Turkey is well equipped for a road trip with modern infrastructure, mostly clear signage and frequent availability of fuel and other services. But, before you hit the road, here are some of the common questions about driving in Turkey.
WHAT SIDE OF THE ROAD DO YOU DRIVE ON IN TURKEY?
In Turkey, you drive on the right side of the road.
CAN TOURISTS DRIVE IN TURKEY?
Yes. Tourists can drive in Turkey; however you need to be at least 21 years old to hire a car.
CAN I DRIVE IN TURKEY WITH A FOREIGN DRIVING LICENCE?
Yes, you can drive in Turkey for up to 6 months a foreign driving licence. Please note, visitors from some countries require an International Driving Permit as well as a valid driving licence.
DO I NEED AN INTERNATIONAL DRIVING PERMIT TO DRIVE IN TURKEY?
As of January 1, 2021 travellers holding any British driving license will need an International Driving Permit to drive in Turkey. British licence holders will need permit number 1968 which cost £5.50 and can be obtained from any Post Office.
If your driving licence is printed in non-Roman alphabet (Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew etc) an International Driving Permit is required.
The requirements for International Driving Permits are different for every country, so you should check if you need one before you travel to Turkey based on the licence you hold.
Please note, you must always have your driving licence even if you have an International Driving Permit.
WHAT IS THE DRINK DRIVING LIMIT IN TURKEY?
Turkey has a zero blood alcohol content limit, meaning you cannot drink any alcohol and drive in Turkey.
WHAT ARE THE SPEED LIMITS IN TURKEY?
Turkey has several speed limits, they are as follows. Urban areas: 50 km/h | Double lane roads: 90 km/h | Motorways: 120 km/h
WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO RENT A CAR IN TURKEY?
In our opinion, there is no need to hire a GPS as an extra when renting a car in Turkey. Many cars now come with GPS and if they don’t, Google or Maps.Me is just as easy. Often, these solutions are more up to date as well.
When picking up your rental car in Turkey make sure you bring your passport, valid driver’s license and International Driving Permit (If required).
You will also need a credit card. The car hire company will hold the ‘excess’ on your credit card in case it needs to charge you for damages. Check your credit card is accepted by your rental car company and has enough limit to cover the excess.
Keep all your documentation with you when you are driving. There are regular police checkpoints, especially on more touristy roads and they will often ask you for the paperwork provided by the rental company.
The minimum age for driving in Turkey is 18; car hire companies will require you to be at least 21.
MORE READING FOR YOUR TURKEY TRIP
Planning ahead for your next Turkey trip? Here are some more of our guides to help you get the most out of this fascinating and diverse country.
Top 10 experiences not to be missed in Turkey
8 most interesting ancient ruins in Turkey
Top 10 experiences not to be missed in Istanbul
Ancient ruins, cool cities & fairy tale lands on our 2-week Turkey itinerary
Uncovering Istanbul’s mighty past & uncertain future
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