Istanbul is certainly the largest and most famous city to straddle two continents. Whichever side of the Bosphorus you are on, this city of over 10 million people really does just go on and on.
So where would we even start with whether you’d even want to consider hiring a car here? Well, the easy bit is that if you really are just here to appreciate the city of Istanbul itself, as most visitors do, then of course there’s no need to hire a car. A car in Istanbul is just going to be a complete hindrance.
Beyond the city
James says - a few trip notes:
When I visited in 1995, a group of us took a day trip to Bursa, which was easy enough to do by bus (and should still be possible from less than €10 each way). From there, we took the cable car up to the ski resort of Uludag – all of this was easy enough to do using local public transport services, which are relatively well integrated in terms of service patterns, even if they are still independently operated.
Journey times between Istanbul and the capital Ankara have been slightly reduced with the start of a high-speed rail service, taking the previous journey time of around 8 or 9 hours down to just over 6, but you will still need to take local services as far as Pendik, and continue from there.
What about road trips from Istanbul?
The biggest reason for hiring a car in Istanbul would be because you wanted to use Turkey’s largest city as the starting point for a road trip around the country.
Getting a hire car in Istanbul might then enable you to set off in a loop which would include all of Turkey’s most famous attractions, from the cave dwellings in Cappadocia through to the hot springs in Pammukalle, and then perhaps heading back to Istanbul via the ancient city of Troy.
This kind of Istanbul road trip could include a lot of the amazing Turkish Riviera along the southern Mediterranean court coast between Izmir and Antalya
It would be fair enough to say that this kind of trip would make a lot of sense for a group of 3 or 4 people to fill a car (5 of you if you get on really well!). Even if you are travelling as a couple, then a road trip of this nature might be a lot more convenient than having to plan your travels around a load of complicated rail and bus schedules, although it would be unlikely to be better value outright, as rail travel in Turkey is generally good value – and coach travel even more so.
Although Turkey does have a good network of private intercity bus routes, the rail network is really much more focused around the main cities of Istanbul and Ankara, and it’s of no use at all if you’re trying to head along the Turkish Mediterranean coast.
But what we might suggest is that Istanbul isn’t necessarily the best place from which to start a Turkish road trip. Other than the city of Istanbul itself, and then to a lesser extent the capital city of Ankara, all of the best known tourist attractions in Turkey are actually going to be found either along or near the Mediterranean coast, or a relatively short drive inland from it.
Just taking Capadoccia as one example, this is somewhere that you can reach within a 5 to 6 hour drive of Antalya, so it somewhere that is entirely reasonable within a day trip from there, whereas it’s an 8-10 hour drive from Istanbul (and we think that’s being optimistic, but this is the quoted time using google maps), without any particularly great places to see on the way, other than perhaps a short detour into some of the monuments of Ankara.
So a Turkish road trip really makes a lot more sense if you are going to do it along the Mediterranean coast, and perhaps to either start in Antalya and then drop the car off in Izmir, if you can get a suitable one-way deal, or simply to do a circuit that involves driving from Antalya to Izmir and then looping back. Adding Istanbul onto this road trip or even starting from here doesn’t really make a huge amount of sense if you don’t need to.
Of course, this is largely going to depend on how you are getting to Turkey in the first place. If you are travelling in from further afield, then the chances are that you are taking a long haul flight into Istanbul anyway. It might be worth looking at taking a short internal hop to Antalya or Izmir, and then picking up a rental car there.
Naturally, this is all going to depend on the deal that you can get at the time, but we’ve tended to find that car hire deals in Turkey are much better value on the Mediterranean coast, where there’s a much bigger holiday market. If you do pick up a rental car at Istanbul Ataturk airport or even at the low cost Sabiha Gokcen airport, you are still paying big-city prices for the privilege, whereas if you pick up a rental car on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, and drop it off in Istanbul, then any one-way rental fees might still be reasonable.
Should you rent a car in Istanbul? No!