The first time we rode in Turkey was back in 2001, and it was an incredible ride. We’ve been back many times since then! So here’s our advice about everything you need to know about motorcycle touring in Turkey.
At a Glance
Culture shock: 5/10
Though the majority of Turkey’s population are Muslim, Western dress and lifestyle is accepted and practised. However, as you travel east across the country and in rural communities you’ll notice this is less so. Food is typically Mediterranean: lots of kebabs, mezes and pastry-based desserts like baklava.
Turkey’s main roads are generally in good condition, but in rural areas look out for loose gravel, farm animals and their droppings. Cars do not yield to bikes, knowingly or unknowingly, and the police are merciless when it comes to speeding. The police use radar and will fine you on the spot. You’ll also find plenty of false police checks, where there are cardboard cut outs of police cars on the side of the road to make you slow down.
Intermediate – get European touring under your belt first and get some advanced road riding skills. If you are going to head into the country’s back roads, then experience on dirt / gravel is useful. These roads can disintegrate from paved to unpaved to dirt.
Why you should go
Although just across the border of the EU, Turkey’s culture, traditions and ancient architecture make you feel like you’re a million miles from home. Turkey is not just about Mediterranean beach life. This is where east meets west. Istanbul is the end point of the epic Silk Road. Cross the Bosphorus and you are in Asia! There are breath-taking archaeological sites too. Ephesus is one of the best-preserved ancient sites in the Mediterranean. There’s the ruined city of Troy, the spectacular rock formations in the Cappadocia and the giant heads of Mount Nemrut! Don’t forget the hustle and bustle of Istanbul, with the famous spice markets, Grand Bazaar and Blue Mosque.
What’s it like to ride there?
You are driving on the right. Riding in Turkey is enjoyable and very scenic, with wonderful stops for sightseeing, eating and plenty of photo opportunities. The only place that presents a major riding challenge is Istanbul, because quite simply it’s a city with 15.5 million people and over 4 million cars. It is one of the five most congested cities in the world!
Most roads are paved and well maintained and the signage is very good. The motorway network is expanding and most stretches have tolls and you’ll need an HGS sticker that you can buy from the PTT Post Offices or from these petrol stations: Petrol Ofisi, Shell, BP, Opet, TPPD, Total. In the past, if you didn’t have it and went through the tolls (there are no barriers), there was no penalty. However, our local contact tells us that the Turkish government has now linked up database systems (highways, tolls, customs and border crossings, police, etc), so that an unpaid fine may show up on your record when you try and leave the country. Last time we were there, we bought the HGS sticker!
You don’t need to worry about fuel, there’s plenty of fuel stations, and it only costs around 60 pence per litre (May 2021). You might even get a free cup of tea with it.
Use caution though, Turkey’s accident rate is considerably higher than back home. Motorists there can be impatient and incautious, like to drive fast, overtake and undertake. Avoid riding at night, as many drivers choose to travel without lights. And always watch out for goats, donkeys and sheep on the small rural roads.
The speed limits in Turkey are normally as follows, unless otherwise indicated.
- Towns: 50 km/h
- Two-lane highways: 90km/h
- Motorways: 120 km/h
As a rule of thumb, any road that cuts across the Taurus Mountains along the Mediterranean and any road cutting across the Pontic Alps along the Black Sea cannot be a bad road!
- Fethiye to Antalya, along the Mediterranean and the Taurus Mountains. This route gives the best coastal riding, breath-taking views of the Mediterranean as well as the towering Taurus Mountains and lots of curvy roads.
- Divriği to Kemaliye via the Stone Road along the Euphrates River. The Stone Road is one of the most remarkable roads in Turkey. It cuts through some rugged hillsides along the bank of the Euphrates river. It is still unpaved and we hope it stays that way!
- Bartın to Sinop, along the Black Sea. This Western part of the Black Sea coast is still not as developed as the Eastern Coast so the roads along the Black Sea snakes through small fishing and boat-building towns, with dozens of rivers gushing down from the high Pontic Alpine mountains to the Black Sea. The roads are narrow, twisty and the vistas are stunning.
- Cappadocia. This is a magical lunar landscape of weird and wonderful rock formations and just great to slowly explore on your bike.
- Hopa to Kars, from the Black Sea coast heading inland. The North Eastern corner of Turkey is by far our most favorite part of Turkey for motorcycling. There is very little traffic, breath-taking scenery and lush green panoramas all year round. It’s also great for witnessing traditional village lifestyle in Eastern Turkey and meeting the very friendly hospitable Turkish people. Plus, there’s the opportunity to ride to 1,000 year old Georgian churches in remote small mountain villages.
- Ispir to Yusefelli, another off the beaten track country route, through small villages and mountainous terrain, with some rougher single track roads, broken up tarmac edges and loose gravel on the surface.
- Malatya to Mount Nemrut, riding via Sincik to the old Roman Cendere Bridge is miles of small twisty mountains roads with spectacular views to the UNESCO listed site of Mount Nemrut. Stretch your legs and walk up to the top – there’s also a nice café there for lunch.
- Crossing the Bosphorus. If you’re intent on crossing the Bosphorus (a must to touch ground in Asia!), then you can use the first Bosphorus Bridge or take the ferry, but don’t try the new tunnel – motorcycles are not allowed.
On a serious note, you should avoid the regions that are within 10kms of the Syrian border, as these are deemed by the British FCDO to be an “against all travel warning”, but all the great stuff is nowhere near there!
There’s loads to see in Turkey – where do you start? Spend a few days exploring Istanbul – the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar are top on everyone’s list. But I must admit I love walking along the Galata Bridge and seeing all the fisherman. Further afield, Turkey has loads of UNESCO sites; Ephesus, Pamukkale, Troy, Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia, Mount Nemrut, Ani, Safrabolu – all are worth a visit. These are all big ticket items, but to be honest taking those remote country routes, and stopping at the local roadside cafes is just as special.
Getting your bike there
You can ride your own motorcycle from the UK to Turkey. It’s about 1,800 miles, let’s say 5-7 days riding and you can have plenty of fun just getting there! Once at the Turkish border, you will present your documents (see below) and get a temporary import for your bike stamped into your passport.
Much of the Turkish market is designed around people flying into the Mediterranean resorts and hiring smaller bikes or scooters. If you search on google, you’ll see quite a few bike rental agents. We have a good contact in Istanbul who can organise BMW GS hire via the main BMW dealer, all late models. A BMW R1250GS can be around £150-£180 per day depending on what insurance you take out and what equipment you ask for and whether you do one way rental. If you’re interested, just contact us and ask for details.
Where to stay
Turkey has a huge variety of accommodation types to suit all budgets from fancy 5 star hotels, to little family run pensions. You shouldn’t have any difficulties with finding somewhere to sleep, although beware of peak times where things may be booked out. ANZAC day around the Gallipoli Peninsula is one where hotels can be fully booked. Just be warned that Turkey has banned booking.com from being used in Turkey, but to get round this, just have a private VPN. Other booking websites such as https://www.hotels.com/, https://www.airbnb.com/ are functional. Wild camping is possible – see https://www.goturkeytourism.com/ and you can check out the usual apps, i-overlander, park4night etc
When to go
May and June or September and October are your best bet as temperatures and conditions are generally mild and settled. July and August are way too hot in the Aegean areas, which are rammed with package holiday tourists anyway, so best avoided. The mountain regions in Anatolia are very cold and snowy in winter.
Take these Documents
- Passport. Must be valid for at least six months beyond your date of entry. As of 2020, UK citizens no longer need to get an e-visa in advance.
- Driving Licence from Country of your Residence & International Driving Permit. Make sure you have your original driving licence from your country of residence. An International Driving Permit is only required if your licence is in non-Roman characters.
- V5C Vehicle Registration Document. For your own motorcycle; you’ll need the original to get your bike through Turkish customs / borders.
- Motorcycle Insurance. Turkey requires you to have minimum 3rd party insurance in place for riding your motorcycle. Contact your UK insurer to see if they will issue a Green Card for Turkey or alternatively you can buy local 3rd party insurance at the border – look for the sign “SIGORTA”
- Travel Insurance. This is a must, as you are outside the EU and the EHIC / GHIC card is not recognised.
We are sure you’ll love motorcycle touring in Turkey independently, but if you want to relax, then let us do all the planning! Great routes, superb accommodation, support vehicle and a professional bilingual Tour Manager are just part of our 9 day Turkey Tour.