If you’re thinking of taking a road trip in Turkey and have a month up your sleeve, then we have the BEST itinerary for you. We just spent a month driving all over Turkey ourselves and can tell you where to go, what it will cost you, what it’s like driving in Turkey and a whole lot more! This post covers all the major bucket list destinations like Cappadocia and Pamukkale, and also some of those hidden gems that are not to be missed.
Turkey is one of those places that has it ALL! From the vibrant city of Istanbul, full of charm and history, to the vast landscapes. Ranging from the snow covered mountains in the winter to the Mediterranean beaches in the summer and the dry plains and lakes in between.
A road trip through Turkey also means you’ll find quiet little fishing villages on both the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Not to mention the numerous ancient cities and historical sites begging to be explored.
What you’ll love most about this post we have put together, is the alternative road trip options helping you discover the Turkey you want to uncover. With this post you’ll have the flexibility to tailor it, to suit your own needs, depending on what you want to see, how long you have and your budget.
🚗 So if it’s big cities, beaches, a little hiking, history, food and culture, then a road trip through Turkey will see you right!
Table of Contents
A Few Facts on Turkey
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The hubster is a facts man and put together this list of a few you might find interesting. Or you might not. Just move on to the road trip stuff if facts don’t float your boat.
- Capital city – Ankara
- Largest city – Istanbul
- Currency – Turkish Lira
- Language – Turkish. We found that around a third of the people we met spoke English fairly fluently and a third spoke enough English to communicate the basics. The remaining third we relied on Google Translate to help with conversation.
- Population – 85,500,000
- Geography – Turkey covers an area of 783,562 square kilometres or 302,535 square miles. Its surrounded on 3 sides by sea (Black sea, Mediterranean and Aegean Seas) and shares its borders with 8 countries. Turkey is located on both the European and Asian continents, with Istanbul located on both.
- Which side of the road – Driving in Turkey is on the right side of the road.
- FYI – Although known for its coffee, locals drink more tea.
Getting Around in Turkey
Turkey is an extremely easy country to get around in. It offers travellers all modes of transport options, to suit all travel types, needs and budget.
From domestic flights, high speed trains, intercity buses, ferries, group and private tours, along with all public transport within the major cities. We also saw several people using the old fashion thumb method (hitch hiking) and others were walking some of the many long distant hiking trails.
Turkey has around 50 cities that have active domestic airports, with 35 of these being international. So, flying into and getting around Turkey by plane is very easy. And with Turkish Airways and smaller operators such as AnadoluJet and SunExpress, you are well covered.
Another really popular mode of domestic travel throughout Turkey is the bus system. These come highly recommended in the travelling community we correspond with, for practicality, cost and flexibility.
As Turkey is so large with a lot of land to cover between major destinations, many companies offer longhaul trips including overnight buses. These buses, better described as coaches, are very comfortable and have regular meal and bathroom stops.
The bonus of travelling overnight is that you can maximize your day at the place you are at, sleep over night and wake up the following day ready to explore. Adding in the other bonus of saving a night’s accommodation… WIN, WIN!
As we were traveling as a family of four, for only a month, with a rather busy itinerary, we decided that this would suit us best. A rental car provided us the flexibility we needed and were looking for and space for the kids to keep themselves occupied on some of the longer drives. We also found rental cars very reasonably priced.
Petrol at the time of our visit to Turkey was around 1.35 USD per litre or 5.125 USD per gallon. We had a brand new diesel Fiat Egea, that cost around 65 USD to fill from empty. And we got between 900 to 1000 kilometres per tank.
We track our travels on a budget tracking app, so for a full month we spent an overall of $850 USD on car rental, full insurance, road tolls and petrol. Keeping in mind this was the budget option car, manual and had a 500km maximum drive limit per day. This drive capacity was more than enough for a Turkey road trip!
We used Qeeq to source the best deal for our road trip in Turkey. The overall rental cost started from around 350 USD for the month.
What’s it Like Driving in Turkey
We found driving in Turkey relatively easy and would compare it to most other European countries. There are always those little issues that arise with driving in any new place, which you come to expect anywhere in the world. However, we found the roads really easy to drive and navigate.
Navigating on a Road Trip in Turkey
We recommend Google maps for getting around. We purchased a sim from Vodafone at the airport, which included 20GB for 30 days and cost 28 USD. You can purchase sim cards outside the airport much cheaper than this, providing you can wait.
We needed it for navigation, so decided to bite the bullet and splash out. The good thing about having the big data package was that it lasted the entire trip. And Vodafone was the best provider for us, as they offer free Whatsapp and Instagram with their packages.
Roads, Speed Limits and Toll Gates in Turkey
As with most countries, Turkey has three main road systems which include, express ways, highways and country lanes:
Express ways –
Express ways have multiple lanes with a speed limit of 120km/h. They are toll roads and you will need an HSG tag to use them, if needed these can be purchased at petrol stations, post offices and banks. These can then be used as a prepay system or you can pay cash as you leave the Express way.
For the prepay system you will need to use the lanes marked with the HSG automatic gates. Then you simply slow down to 30km/h when passing through so that the tag can be logged. The cash gates also clearly labeled.
If you have a rental car then these will most likely already be registered with HSG. Then on return of the vehicle the logged tolls are tallied and paid for directly with the rental agency. In our case, after a month long road trip in Turkey our final road toll bill came to 50 USD – not too bad really!
Highways & open roads –
Highways are either duel carriage ways, or over mountainous areas may be three lanes. In which case vehicles travelling uphill have the priority on the central passing lane. The speed limit on the highway is 90km/h.
Inner-city, country lanes and urban roads –
These are single lanes with a speed limit of 50km/h.
We drove on all three at various points. However as with all good road trips and navigation apps you are given alternative routes.
On several occasions we did chose the alternative routes. And I’ll tell you why!
Often these routes took a little longer, they were a little older and a little windier. But there was something more picturesque about them, especially the coast roads. Ultimately, the majority of the roads we drove were fine!
however if steep, windy, single lanes, with a high volume of large trucks are not for you, then you may wish to find an alternative route between Gazipaşa and Mersin (Day 18 on our itinerary).
Other Things to Note on Driving in Turkey
Below we have put together a few more key things you may have wondered about. However, if you want to get straight into planning your Turkey road trip itinerary, then skip to the next section.
Driver’s License Requirements
We travel on both New Zealand and United Arab Emirates drivers’ licenses. With these, we didn’t require an international license to drive in Turkey, as we were not staying longer than six months.
We would suggest you do your homework, follow this link for more information.
To rent a car you need to be 21 or over and have held your full license for more than one year. But as always, we recommend you double check with the agency, as some may require two years.
Also, we have heard of issues with people travelling on newly issued licenses whereby the issue date didn’t meet the one year requirement. So, if you have recently been issued an updated license, we would suggest that you pack your old license to save any possible difficulties.
Police Checkpoints and Speed Cameras
There are various police checkpoints throughout Turkey, both semi-permanent and pop up. You will need to slow down as you approach, make eye contact with the officers manning these, wherein they will either ask you to stop or wave you on through.
We passed through several checkpoints but were never asked to stop. From our understanding these are a general license and identification request checkpoint. With all the research we did, we never found anyone make any negative comments on these police stops. All said that it was a standard police stop and providing you had a current license you were moved along quickly.
You will also find a lot of life size police car cutouts along most major roads – some even having working lights. These are set up to warn you of speed cameras operating in the area. They were rather comical, but also somewhat effective.
Speed cameras – be aware that they are there. They are often on these structures over the road (pictured above).
Parking in Cities and Towns
Parking… it all depends on where you are! Most major tourist attractions do have parking areas which carry and additional cost of 5 TL up to 20 TL.
In several of the bigger cities we used multiple day Otoparks. It is a relatively simple process, where you leave the car key with the attendant and they shift the car as and when they need to. Often these are small spaces and manoeuvring was their main game. And honestly, we were happy to leave it to them! But in any case, the system seemed to work.
The other was metered parking wherein an assistant would leave a tag on your car with the time it was placed. Basically, whenever they happened to walk past from our understanding. Then when leaving you need to find the closest attendant, someone in a high-vis vest to pay your dues.
We are still not 100% sure on how this system works, we did pay several at around 10 TL each. However we are sure that one or two of these went unpaid with no fines issued on the return of the rental.
When in the larger cities such as Istanbul or Izmir, we recommend you make the most of the public transport system. This is a lot easier than dealing with parking. Also it’s cheap and saves you a lot of hassle and probably stress too.
For drive times and routes, we predominantly used Google maps. However, we did have access to Apple Maps and the Waze App which we used on a couple of occasions. This was mainly to double check the times and routes provided.
We found that 95% of the time these were great, on one or two occasions some of the detours were a little dodgy but nothing to really worry about. As for the drive times, these two were fairly consistent across all three apps, but also reasonably conservative. As we found that by keeping within the required speed limits, we managed to shave an average of 5-10 minutes per driving hour off the durations shown.
Drinking and Driving
Turkey has a zero blood alcohol limit.
The Best Time to Visit Turkey
This is very much dependent on you and what you want to see and do. Turkey typically has four seasons and all the activities that go with these. We visited over April and May and by doing so were able to make the most of the nice weather, without the high summer temperatures and northern hemisphere summer crowds.
But as a general rule of thumb dates are as follows-
- Best times to visit are April to May and September to October as the weather is predominantly pleasant and it’s not peak tourist season, also a great time of the year if you are planning on hitting some of the hiking trails.
- June to August is summer so temperatures can be high, so too the tourist numbers.
- Winter is November to March, with the ski season ranging from December through to March depending on the snow of course.
Our Recommended One Month Itinerary
Please note that the drive times given below are indicative and based on our experience, the time of day and traffic at the time.
We recommend flying into Istanbul, which has two international airports. The newer, bigger and most common is Istanbul airport (IST) on the European side of the city. And the smaller is Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW) on the Asian side, which is the one we flew into.
From the airport grab your rental car and head straight out to Çanakkale. The thought being to see Istanbul at the end of the trip, with the drive from either airport being rather easy and hopefully stress free for your first day.
Day 2 – 4 Çanakkale
Çanakkale (pronounced chah-nah-kah-lay) is located at the Southern end of the Dardanelles straight. It is on the Asian side and at the narrowest point.
Because of its location Çanakkale has long held a major military importance throughout Turkey’s history, so as you can imagine a lot of what can be seen is based around this. It also makes it an ideal place to base yourself for a couple of days to explore the town and surrounding areas.
Things to do –
- Spend a day wondering around the town, visit the Cimenlik Castle and the military museum.
- Take a day trip out to the ancient city of Troy and the museum.
- Take the car ferry from Çanakkale to Kilitbahir to visit the fortress.
- Spend a day or two visiting the various ANZAC Commemorative sites and cemeteries from WWI on the Gallipoli peninsula.
See our dedicated post on how to visit Gallipoli and ANZAC Cove.
Day 5 – Drive from Çanakkale to Izmir (approx 5 hours)
This is probably a good time to make a quick mention of where to eat when on a road trip in Turkey. One of our favourite food stops while road tripping were the many roadside gözleme restaurants. They were usually very casual eateries and in most cases cooked outside over an open fire. Use Google Translate and order yourself a potato, spinach and cheese (peynir) gözleme for lunch!
Yum, it makes my tummy rumble just thinking of them now.
Days 6 – 8 Izmir
Izmir is Turkey’s 3rd largest city located on the Aegean cost and one of the oldest cities on the Aegean Sea. It is known as being one of Turkey’s most liberal cities, therefore it boasts everything you would expect and more. From old Bazaars and ancient sites, to funky cafés and bars where you can turn an afternoon out, to an all day and evening event. All the while, Izmir somehow maintains a laidback, take five, kind of feel. If you want our recommendation on a budget place to stay, look no further than Shanti Home Hostel in the heart of it all!
Things to do –
- Take the first day exploring Izmir, with a stroll along the water front, stop by Konak Square, visit Kemeralti Bazaar and its surrounding area then head to Alsancak in the late afternoon to visit the many little hip cafés, restaurants and bars.
- Buy simit from the Zeynel Ergin Gevrek Fırını bakery which is well-known among locals. This place has been producing simit for years.
- If you’re looking for a little more history then fit in a visit to the Agora Open Air Museum.
- A must is a day trip out to the Ancient City of Ephesus (pronounced Efes) which is a one hour drive from Izmir.
Day 9 – Drive from Izmir to Pamukkale (approx 3.5 hours)
Spend either the morning in Izmir and head to Pamukkale in the afternoon or get away early and be in Pamukkale by lunch with time to get acquainted with your new stop.
Day 10 – Pamukkale
Pamukkale in Turkish translates to Cotton Castle. The town sits at the base of the world famous travertine terraces, which are connected to the ancient Roman city of Hierapolis.
Things to do –
- Visit the white terraces early in the morning and take a dip if you’re up to it.
- Grab tickets for the Cleopatra thermal pools and spend a couple of hours soaking.
- Wander the amphitheatre and sites of Hierapolis.
- Another place well worth seeing if you have time, is Kaklik Cave. It’s around a 50 minute drive from Pamukkale.
If you are interested in finding out more about visiting the white terraces of Pamukkale, then check our post here.
Day 11 – Drive from Pamukkale to Kaş via Lake Salda (approx 4 hours)
If you have a nice clear day a 40 minute detour to Lake Salda is worth a stop. Time it right and it’s the prefect stop for a lunch break, where you can walk the pure white sand and dip your toes in the turquoise water.
Day 12 – 17 Kaş
Kaş is a picture perfect little town on the Mediterranean. The town is naturally split in two by the Cukurbag Peninsula, with the main part of town on the eastern bay.
Due to the town’s natural geography, with its steep rise out of the Mediterranean and high cliffs behind, it seems to have saved the town from the large five star developments seen on other parts of the coast. The main accommodation choice tends to be Airbnb’s and cute little boutique hotels.
The central hub of town is at the open port, from here you can book your various boat trips or water taxis. This leads out to a large communal square, from which your quintessential cobbled streets run off in various directions. These are great for exploring on foot and are lined with cafés, restaurants, ice cream stops and small boutique shops.
Things to do –
- Take a day trip to Fethiye and see the Amyntas Rock Tombs.
- Visit Butterfly Valley which can only be accessed by boat from Fethiye, or a rather intensive hike.
- Walk through Saklıkent Canyon in Saklıkent National Park.
- Take a day trip to Kastellorizo Island in Greece.
- Visit Kekova Island and the Sunken City.
- Or just relax on one of the many beaches.
If you are interested in finding out more about Kas, then check out our post here.
Day 18 – 19 – Begin the two day drive to Goreme, Cappadocia
The drive to Goreme, Cappadocia is around 11 – 12 hours. Therefore, it’s up to you if you want to push through and do it in a single drive or have an overnight stop in between.
If you wish to stop, we recommend Gazipaşa as a perfect ½ way point. The drive is along the coast with some really beautiful and diverse sections. Also, Gazipaşa is an amazing section of coast and we would highly recommend that if you have time to check out Gazipaşa Delikdeniz Kral Koyu if you do so.
For accommodation have a look at Zeytinada Pansiyon ve Gözleme. We stayed the one night in a private dorm room and the family were very friendly and the breakfast of Gözleme was amazing!
Day 20 – 24 Goreme, Cappadocia
For those of you who have not checked out the top things to do in Turkey or seen on the infamous Instagram photos of hot air balloons, then let me help you out. Cappadocia is an area that is world famous for its natural fairy chimneys and is more often than not pictured with numerous hot air balloons floating past.
However, the area is so much more! If you love the great outdoors, beautiful natural and historical scenery, hiking, or you have a general urge to explore stunning valleys on foot then this is a must visit.
The total area of Cappadocia is 9,883.81 hectares and encompasses numerous natural valleys, with spectacular hikes, most having cave houses and churches for you to explore. There are also over 200 underground cities of which up to 35 of these are open (or parts of) to the public.
There are several open air museums, which are located in areas which offer you a great overview of what makes Cappadocia so unique. All this and we still haven’t mentioned the other attractions available such as the hot air balloons, the horse trekking, pottery making and so on.
🎈 We loved Cappadocia so much that we put together this post on everything you need to know before you visit.
Day 25 – Drive from Cappadocia to Istanbul (approx 7.5 hours)
There was nothing really special about this drive. We just got on and did it, but we definitely recommend dropping your rental car off before you get to the city. This way you won’t be driving in Istanbul which could be a little stressful. We dropped our car off at the airport and caught a bus to our accomodation in Istanbul.
We loved the Peninsula Hotel for value for money and location. Check it out it might be right for you too.
Day 26 – 30 Istanbul
Istanbul is our final destination and for good reason, known as the city that spans across two continents (Europe and Asia) this is a must see and one of our all-time favourite cities.
Things to do –
- Explore the old city – home to the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, Basilica Cistern (if open or one of the other cisterns) Topkapi Palace and more.
- Outside the old city you have numerous harbour cruises which offer you a chance to see both sides of the city from the Bosporus and around the golden horn.
- Walk up Istiklal Street to Taksim Square, visit Galata tower and make the most of the amazing views it offers.
- Try a hammam or visit one of the many cafés for a Turkish coffee, tea, baklava or turkish delight.
So many amazing choices, you just have to decide on what you can fit in this time and what to save for your next visit.
Read our dedicated post on Istanbul here for where to stay and exactly what to see and do.
If you’re more interested in ancient history and culture than exploring the Mediterranean part of this suggested itinerary, you may want to adjust the above.
Instead visit Mount Nemrut and the cities of Sunliurfa and Mardin, all of which are only a couple of hours from each other, along the south eastern border. These places include the statues of King Antiochus at the summit of Mount Nemrut, the ancient city of Göbekli Tepe and numerous mosques and picture perfect small towns.
If this sounds a little more like you, then drive from Pamukkale to Konya. This is home to the Dervish dancers. And then on to Adana before driving on to Sanliurfa.
In total it’s about a 13 hour drive so its up to you how you want to split it. We would recommend you stay in Sanliurfa for three days and Mardin for two days. Then on your return back to Cappadocia in the west, stay one day in Mount Nemrut. This leaves three days in Cappadocia and four in Istanbul.
Given that budget is an extremely broad subject, with many variables I will share an overview of our costs and expenses at the end of a month road trip in Turkey. Please note that we are a family of four currently traveling full-time, so try where possible to stick to a very stringent budget.
Accommodation is at times booked the day of, or the day before so as to give us flexibility.
We generally stay in Airbnb’s and self-cater, and we look for rooms to accommodate the four of us for under $35 USD per night.
We track all our spending on an app to ensure that we stay within budget. So below is an exact breakdown of what our family of four spent on a month travelling around Turkey.
- Insurance – We spend $150 USD per month for our family of four and recommend Safetywings for travel and medical cover.
- Car Rental – $350 USD + $50 USD – one month car rental and full insurance with Qeeq.
- Gas/Petrol – $330 USD.
- Accommodation – $800 USD.
- Attractions and sightseeing – $170 USD for a family of four.
One Month Road Trip in Turkey – At a Glance
|1 – 4||Çanakkale and the Gallipoli Peninsula|
|5 – 8||Izmir and its surrounding area|
|9 – 10||Pamukkale|
|11 – 17||Kaş|
|18||Drive day to Cappadocia|
|19 – 24||Cappadocia|
|25 – 30||Istanbul|
Final Thoughts + Map of Turkey Road Trip
Turkey is such an amazing country to take a good old fashion road trip. The roads are great to drive, navigating is as easy as any other country, the scenery is so diverse. And so too are the sights and sounds.
As mentioned throughout this blog, Turkey has it all, from ancient cities and ruins, to the beautiful landscapes, people, culture and food. All the while being a relatively cheap place to travel and at the same time offering high end options if that’s what you’re looking for.
The only difficultly to road tripping Turkey is deciding when to go, how long you can afford to take and therefore what to see. However, as with most travellers we have met, Turkey is definitely one of those countries that many people return to.
Link through to our other posts on how to travel Turkey and get the best from your visit.
- 17 Magical Places to Visit in Cappadocia
- How to Visit Anzac Cove & the Gallipoli Peninsula
- 4 Days in Istanbul
- 16 Awesome Things to do in Kaş
- Planning a Visit to the White Terraces of Pamukkale
We now travel full-time and have plenty more itineraries and guides to share on all the destinations we visit. Sign up to follow our journey! (And don’t worry we won’t spam you with unnecessary emails.)