Busing Around Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

I stepped out of the Otogar metro station in Istanbul and looked around me in awe. I had no idea where to go next. I was expecting a single bus station with a few dozen buses sitting out front – not over 100 offices for various bus companies forming a circle around the metro station.

This was my first clue that traveling by bus in Turkey would be like nothing I ever experienced in the past.

Traveling by bus, even overnight bus, is nothing new for me during this year of traveling. Bus travel is quite common in the Baltics and I went from Riga to Vilnius, Vilnius to Warsaw, Warsaw back to Vilnius and Vilnius to Minsk all by bus.  On top of that, all of my inter-country travel in Ukraine was by bus or mini-bus.  Not that any of those experiences were bad per se, but compared to Turkey, I was definitely missing out!
 

So what can you expect when traveling by bus through Turkey?

 
Buses in Turkey are quite comfortable.

They are large coaches which seem to be at least somewhat climate-controlled. Many come with seatback television screens that play anything from Turkish television shows to American movies. Waiters come by offering coffee, tea or soft drinks and even snacks.  Some buses even offer free wi-fi (although I did not manage to access it on any of the buses I took).

Bus in Turkey

Adding to the comfort factor, I personally appreciated that in Turkey, they seat people by gender on buses. On my overnight bus trips in particular, I simply felt a little bit better knowing that I would be seated next to a woman (even if it turned out to be a woman who coughed continuously, cried out “oy” on occasion, farted sporadically and took over half of my seat).

Bus rest stops in Turkey are impressive.

Buses generally stop every hour and a half or so and most of our stops offered a variety of shops and restaurants and, of course, toilets. And although they were all squat toilets, they were at least quite clean! Stops tended to last about thirty minutes, giving you plenty of time to take care of business and grab a bite to eat or something to drink. The only downside of these frequent stops was on the overnight buses – just as I seemed to fall asleep, I would wake up as they turned on the lights at a stop.

Purchasing tickets was easy.

When I first started looking into bus travel in Turkey, Anil Polat of foXnoMad sent me links to several bus companies (see below) – some websites were in English, some in Turkish, but all were easy to navigate and search for schedules. Unfortunately, when I went to book, I got rejected because I didn’t have a Turkish credit card.

Not to worry, as it turned out, going directly to the station was just as easy – maybe even easier.

For example, when I went to the office of Metro Turizm in Amasya to purchase my ticket for an overnight bus to Trabzon, the transaction went down something like this:

Me: “Trabzon” (as I point to the word for Saturday in my Turkish phrase book)

Clerk: Writes down 22:15 on a post-it note, indicating the departure time.

Me: Nods.

Clerk: Points to Saturday on the small calendar sitting on the calendar.

Me: Nods.

Clerk: Waves me behind the counter to look at a computer screen and choose my seat.

Me: Points to window seat #12.

Clerk: Writes “40 TL” on a post-it note – the price of my ticket.

Me: Hand the clerk a 50 lira bill and wait as he runs around the corner to find change.

Clerk: Hands me a pen and post-it note and points to me, indicating I need to write my name.

Me: Write my name.

Clerk: Hands me my ticket and says “otogar” – presumably reiterating that the bus leaves from the bus station.

I left the office less than five minutes after I entered, ticket in hand.

A few days later, I repeated basically the same transaction at an office in Trabzon, heading to Erzurum.

Buying my ticket from Erzurum to Kars proved to be even easier. As I stepped out of my taxi at the otogar in Erzurum, a man rushed over to me and asked “Kars?” As one of the most popular destinations from Erzurum, it was a good guess. I followed him inside to a ticket counter, where I simply handed over 15 lira and a man wrote out my ticket by hand for what turned out to be a very under-sold mini-bus heading to Kars thirty minutes later.

Kars dolmus station

Bus companies provide shuttles to and from the city center.

As I read introductions to various cities in my guidebook, I noticed that the long-distance bus stations tended to be located anywhere from 3 to 5 kilometers outside of the center of town. This did not thrill me, as I figured it meant I would either have to stuff myself and my backpack into a local bus or dolmus or spend extra bucks on a taxi.

Luckily, I was mostly wrong. As it turned out, many of the major bus companies run shuttles between the center of the city to the otogar. So when I arrived in Amasya, I was ushered into a mini-van which dropped me off just a couple blocks from my hotel. The same was true in Trabzon, where I also enjoyed a shuttle back to the otogar for my departure as well. This was a perk I had not experienced while traveling by bus anywhere else and it was a very welcome one.

In the end, traveling by bus in Turkey was far better than I expected – and one of the best bus travel experiences I have encountered. If you are looking for an inexpensive, and often scenic, way to travel around Turkey, I can definitely recommend it.

Bus companies to try:

Have you traveled by bus in Turkey or elsewhere? What was your experience like?

Photos: 1 courtesy of Flickr user yellow book; 2 & 3 courtesy of Andrew Couch

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20 thoughts on “Busing Around Turkey”

  1. I loved taking the buses in Turkey. Once, we needed to travel to a small town and change buses to continue on our journey. The ticket seller was worried about us so enlisted the help of an older couple on board who watched over us and shepherded us to the second bus. Too kind!

  2. I LOVED bus travel in Turkey, too. Comfortable and convenient, which is much needed when crossing large distances – although a couple of the bus companies I took in the south didn’t offer a bus to or from the otogar, which bugged me a little bit. Luckily buses ran to the city centre directly outside the otogar and were fairly cheap, but still. Hmph.

    Still, the ease of purchasing tickets was so refreshing. I even left my notepad at a ticket station once and went back the next day – the guy working there had kept it for me, which I thought was very sweet.

  3. I think the bus system is very good in Turkey but for really long journeys, I like to do internal flights and pay that little bit extra. Well done on navigating around without getting lost which is normally my trick. I got lost in a one street village once!!

  4. Super helpful, Katie! I was only in Istanbul last time I was in Turkey, and I want to see more of the country next time. Good to know!

  5. I was surprised how easy and comfortable bus transportation was in Turkey. We didn’t use the buses in and out of Istanbul, but we did in the middle of the country, and everything was great.

  6. Last month I caught the bus from Istanbul to Eceabat (near Canakkale) and had to get to the Otogar Esenler from Sultanahmet. The options to get there as described by the info guy in my hotel were either tram (requiring 1 change – ugghh with bags) or taxi. If there was a shuttle, he didn’t know about it – sure would have been useful and I’m sure cheaper! By taxi it seemed to be 20-30 mins and 50TL.

    Because the number of companies at bus stations is overwhelming, it really does save time if you can work out beforehand which one(s) service the destination you want. Where I wanted to go it turned out there was only one company offering regular departures.

    The bus experience itself was excellent.

    1. Yeah I didn’t get a shuttle in Istanbul either – I just took the tram to the Metro. But I got a shuttle into town in Amasya and into town and back to the station in Trabzon. By the time I headed to Kars I was just on a minibus which dropped us in the center of town anyway.

  7. Travelling through Turkey on the way to Iran in 4 weeks time. Can’t wait. I’m going to uses Buses the whole way.

  8. I’m from Turkey, actually Istanbul. You did an amazing job both visiting and posting, Katie. I really like the way you explain things and events.

    I would love to add some new things about bus travel in Turkey. Now our government has a regulation which is about having screens on every seat and serve at least 3 beverages (non-alcoholic). Also prices are going higher and higher everyday for example; Istanbul – Trabzon (100 TRY (07.2013) – 16 hours) some low budget airway companies came out Pegasus , SunExpress, AtlasJet and AnadoluJet they have appr. double of the prices of buses but sometimes they have lower than bus ticket prices.

    So, if anyone needs more information don’t hesitate to contact me on my blog

    FURKAN AYDOGAN’s BLOGGER

    Cheers!

  9. We’ve been here almost two weeks and have traveled Istanbul-Goreme and Goreme-Burdur so far… with about six more weeks and many more bus trips in our future. The system is really great but what I *really* appreciate are the clean, warm, safe bus stations! South America also has a great bus system but the bus stations are not always so accommodating. Jealous of your Eastern Europe travels but glad we got to at least one place you visited… 🙂

  10. HI. I’m planning on traveling from Denizu to Goreme during the busy time in July, but I can’t find a way to reserve an overnight bus ticket. All the web pages you’ve listed almost get me to the booking stage, but not quite…I keep coming up against walls when it comes to booking bus tickets in Turkey. Surely I can”t be the first person to try and reserve bus tickets in advance in Turkey. Help please.

    1. I used the websites to find times and routes, but I actually bought my tickets at the stations.

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