Currency: Turkish Lira
Population: 70.1 million
Food: Chorba soup
Turkey is the bridge between Europe and Asia, both physically and culturally.
You’ll find plenty of home comforts here as well as exotic food and the call of mosques to wake you up each morning. The trick to a good cycling tour in Turkey is to get out your climbing legs and go inland.
Much of the country is hilly and while it can be tempting to cycle along the coast, it’s overcrowded, filled with holiday resorts and surrounded by highways in many cases.
The information below is now somewhat outdated (we cycled Turkey in 2007) but you can also read updated cycling information for Turkey, submitted by a kind fellow bike tourist in 2012.
All of our best experiences were away from the coastline, where we found the people incredibly friendly and the scenery beautiful.
We entered Turkey from Greece in early October, 2007. At this time of year the weather can be hit or miss. We were lucky to experience warm weather but we also ran into a few fierce storms. We were surprised to hear how cold the eastern part of the country can get and just how big it is. Plan lots of time if you want to cross Turkey and pick your season carefully!
Overall, we liked Turkey but didn’t fall head-over-heels in love with it like we expected to. The downsides were wild dogs and some very touristy and tout-filled sites. We also found ourselves stuck between motorways and holiday-resorts on a few occasions so a cycling-only trip to Turkey needs to be well thought out to avoid these trouble areas. With a bit of planning, you can avoid the pitfalls we ran into. Istanbul, Izmir, Antalya and the area near the Syrian border can all be difficult for cyclists to navigate around or into.
COST OF CYCLING IN TURKEY
Turkey can be more expensive than you think! After Europe, we expected a significant drop in prices but this wasn’t the case. Prices were just slightly lower than in Europe and the gap is probably closing quickly!
Expect to spend 50 YTL or about 30 euros for a double room in a hostel in Istanbul or the same amount for a slightly more upmarket room elsewhere with breakfast. We did plenty of free camping! A restaurant meal out in Istanbul is hard to find for less than 20 YTL, unless you munch on street food. You can find donairs for as low as 1 YTL by the ferry docks or tasty fish sandwiches with a drink for 3 YTL. Outside of Istanbul, we found meals in simple restaurants for about 10-15 YTL for the two of us. Good supermarket chains include Dia and BIM — both discount grocery stores. Bus transport is more cost effective the further you go. For example, a one hour trip from Bergama to Izmir is 10 YTL per person but a 14-hour trip from Antalya to Hatay is 40 YTL.
Where hotels and food are concerned, you may have to bargain. Turkey is not the great bargaining country that some Arabic nations are but you will often get a discount on hotels if you haggle. Always ask the price of food before sitting down. If you think you are being ripped off, don’t be afraid to say so. Obviously this is most often the case where tourists gather. In small towns we rarely had a problem.
ROUTE THROUGH TURKEY
Our route through Turkey took us from near Ipsala, Greece to Istanbul. After Istanbul we caught a ferry to Bandirma (30 YTL each for the fast ferry) and then took a bus to Balikesir because of bad weather. From there we cycled to Bergama, then another bus to Selcuk (Efphesus) to avoid the motorways around Izmir. From Izmir we cycled inland via Aphrodisias to Antalya and then took an overnight bus to Hatay (Antakya), past miles of motorway and 5-star resorts. From Hatay we cycled to the Syrian border.
Istanbul is a must-see city but stay outside the very touristy Sultanahmet area. It is expensive and the restaurants there are less than impressive. On the other side of the Golden Horn, the area near the Galata Tower is nice. For cheap eats, go to the ferry docks, pick up a kebab or fish sandwich and peoplewatch for an hour. Wonderful.
Of Turkey’s archaeological sites we loved Pergamum (in Bergama) and Aphrodisias (near Pammukale). The cycling towards both of these — in Bergama’s case from Ivrindi — is beautiful and peaceful and the sites are something to behold. Take a camera!
The archaeological site of Allenoi, just outside Bergama, is also definitely worth a stop with the hot-water still running in the old Roman bath houses. Go now as it may soon be flooded by a dam. (Update: We heard that as of February 2011, Allenoi is officially covered in water. A shame.)
Overall we weren’t crazy about the southern coast but Olympos, a little beach-side village nestled in a valley, is well-known but worth a stop. We loved the lounging areas outside the treehouses and the beach is beautiful. Nearby Antalya is a nice city with a distinctly mediterranean feel. There is a package-tour element to Antalya and we wouldn’t recommend its beaches but the historic centre is very laid back and totally different to anything else we saw in Turkey. We wouldn’t go back to Ephesus. It might be one of Turkey’s most famous archaeological sites but it was so overcrowded it was impossible to enjoy and we were there not long after the gates opened. Cruise ships flood in and touts are rife in the nearby town of Selcuk.
TURKISH ROADS FROM A CYCLIST’S PERSPECTIVE
Turkish roads range from very good to very bad. Most times we had a decent shoulder but the quality of the ashphalt was not always good and sometimes very bumpy. Occasionally on busy stretches our shoulder disappeared completely or was taken over by cars as an extra lane and this made cycling stressful. Coming into Istanbul we used the D100 which is effectively a highway and most drivers were considerate but you do need a sense of adventure to take on so much traffic flying by you on all sides. It would be much better to cycle into Istanbul from the north.
Wherever you are in Turkey, you’ll have to get used to a lot of honking. It’s nearly always friendly but deafening. Bring a good horn!
Watch out too for the infamous Turkish sheepdogs and wild dogs. Both should be given a wide berth. We frequently found these dogs to be aggressive although if we stood our ground and showed no fear the dogs rarely came within a few meters of us. They will often give chase so we became experts at stopping our bikes quickly and confronting the dogs directly. Even threatening to throw stones at them is a good deterent.
VISAS FOR ONWARD JOURNEYS
Many people pick up visas for the onward journey in Istanbul and if this is your plan allow at least one day for each country, plus an extra day for good measure. Consulates are often only open in the morning so it makes it hard to get everything done in one day. Processing times seemed to be quick in general, with the exception of the Iranian visa. We got ours in one day but we had an authorisation code from STANTours beforehand. Other people reporting waiting 10 days or more without a code.
BIKE SHOPS & CAMPING SHOPS IN TURKEY
If you are looking for bike supplies, there are a few areas where bike shops abound. One is Yuksekkaldirim, which runs right beside the Galata Tower, a very steep street! The other is around the Sirkeci train station, just off Ankara Cad, in the little cross streets between Hamidye Cad and Yeni Postane Cad.
Some addresses to check out:
Asli Bisiklet (Eski Dugunu Unumiye, 212-527-3563): A small bicycle shop which sold Marathon XR tyres when we were there in 2007.
Pedal Sportif (Mimar Kemalettin Cad, 29 Sirkeci; email: mail AT pedalbisiklet DOT com): In the small streets directly across from the Sirkeci Train station and tram stop. The owner speaks excellent English and is well versed in the needs of a bike tour. They stock good tires, brake pads and can do a bike tune up (‘inspection and shampoo’). The tune-up is expensive at 75 euros but they do a great job.
AV Doga (Ciragan Caddesi No 3/A, 260-4978): On a street just off the Besiktas ferry dock and next to a university. They had shirts and trousers, hiking shoes, compasses, Swiss army knives, camping stoves and pots and pans. (Update: This shop may no longer be there according to information from November 2010)
Everest Outdoor (5C Necatibey Caddessi): It has good quality outdoor clothing and supplies, with brands including Marmot and MSR. Find it by crossing the Galata bridge (coming from Sultanhamet). As you cross the bridge you are on Kemeralti Cad and if you go right on the first road that veers right, you are on Necatibey. It is very close to the point you veer to the right and there is another outdoor store right beside it.
Nearby is the TREK shop (it has a large TREK bicycle sign in the window).
Thanks to cyclist Fred Bouwman for helping to update this section in November 2010).
TRANSPORT OUT OF ISTANBUL
When you want to get out of the city, consider taking a ferry to Yalova and Bandirma. You can get tickets and schedules at the Yenikapi ferry docks. We paid 30 YTL for a fast ferry ticket to Bandirma, including a 5 YTL supplement for each bike. That price has almost certainly gone up since we visited, so get the latest information here.
Turkey is such a massive country and its sites are so spread out that unless you have a couple months to kill or you are a super speedy racing cyclist, you will need a little help now and again to do a comprehensive tour of the country. Thankfully, Turkey has a great bus system and taking your bicycle on the bus will not be a problem.
The workers may try and tell you differently, yelling “problem” several times over when you arrive at the bus station, but never fear. Your bike always gets on in the end. We have never been charged extra for our bikes, except once when the driver managed to squeeze both our bikes and luggage into the back of a minibus, not really designed for such large cargo. Our bikes have always been in good shape at the end of the journey, despite having no special protection. In most cases we have been able to roll them right onto the bus in the spacious luggage area.We have the following tips:
Buy your ticket the day before and mention that you have a bicycle. Some companies are more bike-friendly than others. Make sure the bus is a large one. Metro seems to be a very bike-friendly company.
- Try to avoid busy periods and holidays when the bus luggage area is likely to be packed full.
- Show up early and make sure the workers know you have a bike well in advance.
- You may have to get yourself to the main otogar on the outskirts of big cities. If a ticket agent in the city centre says no to your request to take a bike on the bus, it may be because they don’t want to transport you and your bike to the main bus station in their smaller minibuses.
- Be prepared to take the next bus if things are really busy. Companies will happily switch tickets if the next bus is less packed.
- Have a tool to turn the handlebars, just in case. Most times it is not needed but occasionally it comes in handy.