11 Essential Tips for Driving in Turkey as a Tourist

Updated

The roads of Turkey can be intimidating at first for a tourist who has rented a car for an epic road trip adventure.

But you can adapt and learn fast!

The tips below will get you started so that you can quickly adapt to some local driving customs, and prepare yourself for navigation and etiquette differences you may encounter.

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If you prefer to watch, check out there the video below.

Some of our tips are directly from our Turkey road trip plus some footage from this fascinating country.

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11 Tips for Driving in Turkey

1. Imitation Police Cars

There is an unusual but effective scare tactic employed by the Turkish Highway Patrol that leads to a game of Russian roulette for speeding drivers.

At night time you will come across those familiar flashing lights in the distance of a police car parked on the side of the road. But, it is not always a police car!

The usual culprit looks like a cardboard cut-out (but probably aluminum) police car with flashing lights on top.

The problem is there is no way to tell the difference until you are right up close. And even then at 90km’s p/h it’s not that easy in the darkness.

During the day they actually look quite comical.

But don’t let these things lure you into a false sense of security. There are plenty of real cops on the road in certain areas too.

Imitation Police Cars in Turkey

2. Don’t Stop Too Close to the Traffic Lights

Or you won’t be able to see them anymore.

Even after a week, I was still getting this one wrong!

Often there is only one set of lights and it is right above where you stop, and not on the opposite side of the intersection.

This leaves you with two choices:

  • Crane your neck upwards or out the window and try and catch a glimpse of the lights.
  • Wait until everyone starts beeping at you to go!

Both methods were forced upon me many times.

3. Navigation Apps Just Don’t Get Turkey

While apps are a lifesaver in Turkey – because oldskool maps and signage are nearly useless – don’t expect them to be a perfect solution either.

You will still take wrong turns, and be guided down streets that you just shouldn’t be on.

In our experience, Google Maps did a far better job than Apple’s version. The latter really struggled to recognize one-way streets in cities and often led us to dead ends, or repeated loops after a scrambled route calculation.

4. Basic Courtesy is a Weakness

If you slow down to let someone into your lane, or back out of a parking spot, or anything else resembling politeness on the road you are likely to just confuse everyone and people will be beeping at you like crazy.

It is almost like everyone expects you to cut them off and make their life difficult!

5. No One Uses Turning Signals (or Lanes)

Now I have to admit I adapted to this one faster than I expected.

I have always driven to the principle of being predictable to other drivers on the road to minimize the risk of an accident.

But after a couple of days of optional blinkers, lanes, and dark backcountry roads my driving became much more fluid.

I found that rigid rule book driving that I thought was innate, started to melt away as I adopted the local customs and became…. Well, more careless – which I don’t recommend!

(But it came back fast when I got back on the road in Australia)

Turkish Traffic Lights

6. Be Careful of Stray Dogs

Turkey has the most amazing treatment of stray dogs that I have seen in any country ever. You will not see any scrawny, malnourished, or diseased dogs around the city areas.

They are so well-treated that you can’t even tell which dogs are pets – even if they are sleeping in the doorway of a commercial establishment.

But, occasionally you will come across one who has wandered way too far out of town and is loitering around the side of the road and dangerously close to the high-speed traffic.

So stay alert, and slow down

7. Boom Gates are Common

It can be a confronting scene to pull up to a security checkpoint with boom gates. We made the mistake multiple times of assuming this meant that it was a no-go zone.

After booking a hotel in the old town of Antalya we turned away from a blocked street (or so we thought), only to find ourselves at another boom gate on the other side of the town entrance=.

The penny finally dropped and we realized this was just to control what vehicles went in and out of the crowded tourist spot.

I then had flashbacks to Pamukkale where we had seemingly taken a long detour (courtesy of Maps) only to find ourselves at the boom gate where the thermal bath entry was supposed to be.

Of course, we backtracked to the bottom of the hill and the alternative entrance… Duh!

Antalya Beachfront

8. Turkish Speed Limits Vary Quickly

I’m still not even sure why there are speed limits at all in Turkey. No one seems to pay attention to them with most drivers either way over or way under the prescribed limit.

The limits themselves are so volatile that they border on dangerous if anyone actually tried to abide by them.

On the freeway, you are usually traveling at 90kms p/h. Where there is a cross street where cars may enter this limit drops from 90kms to 70kms to 50kms in very quick succession. Sometimes skipping that middle step.

Dropping the anchors fast enough to stay within the limit would be dangerous and a serious risk that a car could drive right into the back of you. Or worse, one of the many heavy vehicles you will come across on these roads.

So, by all means, take your foot off the accelerator and drift at a reasonable pace until you pass by the slower zone. But hit the brakes at your own peril!

9. There Are Fewer Surprises Between Cities and Towns

Compared to other countries we have road tripped across, Turkey had fewer surprises on the side of the road.

The cities are interesting and are full of amazing activities and day trips! But we didn’t find many things serendipitously that make you pull over on the side of the road and just saw wow.

So when working out your itinerary you are far better off devoting more time at each stop over rather than spending more time on the road expecting adventure.

Istanbul Umbrella Street

10. Watch out for flying pizza boxes

Yes, you read that right!

When cruising down a street at night in Izmir we had to hit the brakes to avoid a pizza box cartwheeling across the street that had been tossed out of the moving car next to us.

Without generalizing too much about the people of Turkey, it would appear their attitudes towards littering are behind those of the West.

11. Watch Out for snakes!

After one of many wrong turns somewhere out the back of the Gallipoli Peninsula, we found ourselves on a single-lane dirt road driving through what must have been someone’s farm.

There were fields of sunflowers everywhere and Anh was adamant that the next nice field we saw she wanted to get out and take a picture.

I wasn’t keen on the idea and insisted that there will probably be snakes around. She didn’t believe me and we continued on our way.

Not long after this, a snake that must have been at least 5ft-6ft long, and a dark green/brown color slithered across the dirt road right in front of the car.

I hit the brakes and let out a “Holy sh&% check this thing out!” Anh was too slow to turn and look and the thing had slithered back into the long grass on the other side of the road.

She still doesn’t believe me!

Sunflower Fields in Turkey

Conclusion

Turkey is a unique country to drive around with different etiquette on the roads that you will have to adjust to.

But it is familiar enough for any tourist to be comfortable enough on the roads to navigate a road trip comfortably.

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