Turkey’s main international airport is Istanbul Atatürk International Airport. Ankara Esenboğa Airport offers a relatively limited range of international flights. In the high summer and winter seasons, there are also direct charter flights to Mediterranean resorts such as Antalya. In 2005, customs at Istanbul International Airport was reorganised so that now you have to go through customs and “enter” there instead of first going to a regional destination and going through customs there. Baggage is usually taken to its final destination without any further formalities, but you may need to declare it to make sure it gets there. The information given by the flight attendants on the arriving flight may not be sufficient. Until the procedure is changed (it is supposed to be temporary), it is advisable to check at Istanbul airport. As a new security check has to be carried out for each domestic flight, it is advisable to hurry and not spend too much time in transit. There are also other regional airports that receive a limited number of flights from abroad, especially from Europe and especially during the high season (June-September).
Sabiha Gökçen Airport
SAWSabihaGökçen Airport, located about 50 km east of Taksim Square on the Asian side of Istanbul, is of particular interest to low-cost airline travellers. Airlines flying to this airport include EasyJet, Germanwings, Condor, THY (Turkish Airlines) and many others. It is worth noting that it is possible to take a plane operated by the budget airline Air Arabia to Sharjah (United Arab Emirates) and from there to India at a very reasonable price. But all these low-cost options involve departure and arrival times in the middle of the night. There are shuttle buses to the airport from Taksim Square operated by Havas and Havatas.
From Western Europe to Turkey by train, the journey goes via Budapest, then via Bucharest or Sofia to Istanbul. The best route is through Romania, starting in Bucharest with the Bosforus Express, as it is direct and has sleeping cars. The journey through Bulgaria via Sofia and Plovdiv usually involves changing trains in the early hours of the morning and sleeping berths at best. Both trains run at night and meet just before the Turkish border. At the border station in Kapikule you have to go out for passport control. After that, the journey becomes disorganised due to the endless works on the railway line to Istanbul. Passengers are transferred to alternative buses and, while work continues at the junction, end up either in Kapikule, in Çerkezköy, about 115 km west of Istanbul, or in Halkali, just north of the city. Buses continue to Sirkeci, Istanbul’s railway station on the European side, which has no trains today. Second class fares are about 20 euros from Sofia, 40 euros from Bucharest, plus a 10 euro supplement for couchettes – see below for train tickets and other discounts. The level of accommodation on board is similar to the Turkish domestic slow trains described below.
The historic Orient Express took the route to Bucharest, but no longer exists. Its name is still present in a restaurant in Sirkeci and on an occasional tourist train, which is luxurious and very expensive, but currently avoids Turkey because of railway works.
To enter Turkey by train, you will probably need a visa in advance – see the “Visas” section above and below at Istanbul Ataturk Airport.
There are currently no cross-border trains to any other country, although a new line to Georgia and the Caucasus may open in 2017. For Greece, you have to go to Sofia and then change to Thessaloniki. For Iran, the timetable optimistically envisages the Trans-Asia Express to Tabriz and Tehran, but there are no trains running. There is no foreseeable prospect of services to Armenia, Iraq, Syria or Azerbaijan, the Nakhichevan enclave.
Travelling to Turkey from Central Europe is not too difficult. You will need your international insurance card (Green Card) in any case. Make sure that the “TR” is not cancelled and make sure that your insurance is also valid for the Asian part of Turkey. Otherwise, you will have to buy Turkish car insurance separately. In any case, Turkish customs will enter in your passport the date on which the car (and therefore you) must leave Turkey again.
A Carnet de Passage is not required unless you intend to travel to Iran, for which you will need a Carnet de Passage.
National driving licences from some European countries are accepted. If you are unsure, get an international driving licence beforehand.
The most important roads in Europe are:
- The E80 enters Turkey via the Kapıkule Gate (northwest of Edirne, southeast of Svilengrad) from Bulgaria.
- The E87 enters Turkey from Bulgaria through the Dereköy border gate (north of Kırklareli, south of Tirnovo).
- The E90 enters Turkey from Greece through the İpsala border gate (west of Keşan, east of Alexandroupolis).
A convenient connection from Western Europe, especially if you want to avoid the narrow and perhaps poorly maintained Balkan highways, is the weekly EuroTurk Express trains [www], which leave Bonn-Beuel station (Germany) every Saturday midday and arrive two nights later in the afternoon in Çerkezköy, about 100 km northwest of Istanbul, or an hour’s drive on a high-level highway. Fares start at 139 euros for passengers and 279 euros for cars.
The main routes from the Middle East enter Turkey through numerous border gates around Antakya (Antioch), Syrian cities such as Aleppo and Latakia, the Habur border gate (south of Silopi, north of Zakho) from Iraq and the Dogubeyazit border gate (near Ararat) from Iran.
The main roads from the Caucasus enter Turkey through the Sarp/Sarpi border gate from Georgia (south of Batumi) and through the Türkgözü border gate south of Akhaltsikhe (this is the closest border gate to Tbilisi, but the last kilometres on the Georgian side were really bad as of summer 2009). The border with Armenia is currently closed and therefore not passable by car.
There are also other border gates (not listed here), from all countries with which Turkey shares a land border (except Armenia), that lead to secondary roads that can be accessed by car.
Pay attention to public holidays, as these border crossings can sometimes be extremely congested. Especially in summer, many Turks living in Germany go home, which leads to huge queues at the border.
From Bucharest there is a daily bus to Istanbul at 16:00 for RON125. There are also several daily buses from Constanta, Romania and Sofia, Bulgaria, from where you can take connections to the main European cities. Another option is the bus from Athens in Greece via Thessaloniki. You can also find smaller bus companies offering connections to other Balkan countries. Some Turkish bus companies operate between Sofia and Istanbul. These buses usually stop in different cities along the way. Since June 2015, there is a direct bus connection from Odessa, Ukraine, to Istanbul once a week for 1,000 UAH (about 40 EUR).
There are several border crossings on the Turkish-Georgian border, including in Batumi and Tbilisi. You may have to change buses at the border. However, there are many bus companies that run directly between Istanbul-Batumi and Istanbul-Tbilisi.
There is a direct bus to Istanbul from Tehran in Iran that takes about 48 hours and costs USD 35 for a one-way ticket between Istanbul or Ankara and Tehran.
- Dogubeyazit/Bazerghan This border crossing between Turkey and Iran is easily (and quickly) reached by public transport. Take a bus to Bazerghan and a shared taxi to the border (approx. 2-3 USD). Cross the border on foot and take a minibus (approx. 5 minutes) to Dogubeyazit. Check the security situation in the area due to the unresolved conflict with the PKK.
- There are also buses from Van to Urmia that cross the border from Turkey/Iran to Esendere/Sero. The buses cost about 13 euros and it takes more than 6 hours to cover the 300 km. This is due to the bad roads, the difficult snow conditions in winter and also the many military checkpoints concerning the P.K.K. for security reasons.
This southern road is less frequented than the northern Dogubeyazit/Bazerghan road as it is much slower, but it is a scenic mountain road. Make sure you have a clear idea of the exchange rates if you want to change Turkish lira or rial, as the official bank at the border does not change these currencies and you have to deal with the abundance of the black market.
From Aleppo in Syria, a 3-hour bus to Antakya from 05:00 costs SYP250. There is also a minibus service at 15:00 for SYP350. From Antakya you can catch connecting buses to almost anywhere in Turkey, but initial fares may be too high and timetables are often impractical. If you are travelling to Istanbul, there are bus connections from Damascus, with changes en route to Antakya. Buying a bus ticket in Damascus is much cheaper than in Aleppo or Antakya. If you are coming from Syria, it is worth buying extra snacks and drinks before leaving the country, as these are much more expensive at the bus stations in Turkey.
Many people arrive in Bodrum on one of the hydrofoils or ferries that connect most of the nearby Greek islands to the port. It’s a nice way to arrive. Although many of the lines that start and end in Istanbul have recently been discontinued (due to bankruptcy), there are still direct summer sailings to eastern Italy.
Other major cities on the Aegean coast are also connected by ferries to the nearest Greek islands. Trabzon, a large city on the eastern Black Sea coast, has a regular ferry service to and from Sochi, on Russia’s Black Sea coast. Mersin, Taşucu and Alanya on the Mediterranean coast have ferry connections to Famagusta (with Mersin) or Kyrenia (with others) in northern Cyprus.