Turkey’s intercity bus system is as good as any you’ll find, with modern, comfortable coaches crossing the country at all hours and for very reasonable prices. On the journey, you’ll be treated to hot drinks and snacks, plus liberal sprinklings of the Turks’ beloved kolonya (lemon cologne).
These are some of the best companies, with extensive route networks:
Istanbul Seyahat Serves Ankara, İstanbul and destinations throughout Thrace and Marmara.
Kamil Koç Serves most major cities and towns throughout western and central Turkey and along the Black Sea coast.
Metro Turizm Serves most cities and towns throughout Turkey.
Pamukkale Turizm Extensive network on the Aegean coast.
Ulusoy Extensive country-wide network.
Bus fares are subject to fierce competition between companies, and bargains such as student discounts may be offered. Prices reflect what the market will bear, so the fare from a big city to a village is likely to be different to the fare in the opposite direction.
Although you can usually walk into an otogar (bus station) and buy a ticket for the next bus, it’s wise to plan ahead on public holidays, at weekends and during the school holidays from mid-June to mid-September. You can buy or reserve seats online with some companies.
At the otogar When you enter bigger otogars prepare for a few touts offering buses to the destination of your choice. It’s usually a good idea to stick to the reputable big-name companies. You may pay a bit more, but you can be more confident the bus is well maintained, will run on time and will have a relief driver on really long hauls. For shorter trips, some companies have big regional networks.
Men and women Unmarried men and women are not supposed to sit together, but the bus companies rarely enforce this in the case of foreigners. You may be asked if you are married, without having to produce any proof of your wedlock, or both travellers may find their tickets marked with bay (man).
Refunds Getting a refund can be difficult; exchanging it for another ticket with the same company is easier.
Identification Take your passport/ID when booking tickets, as many bus companies now ask to see it. Also keep your passport with you on the journey for security checks.
All seats can be reserved, and your ticket will bear a specific seat number. The ticket agent will have a chart of the seats with those already sold crossed off. They will often assign you a seat, but if you ask to look at the chart and choose a place, you can avoid sitting in the following blackspots:
At the front On night buses you may want to avoid the front row of seats behind the driver, which have little legroom, plus you may have to inhale his cigarette smoke and listen to him chatting to his conductor into the early hours.
Above the wheels Can get bumpy.
In front of the middle door Seats don’t recline.
Behind the middle door Little legroom.
At the back Can get stuffy, and may have ‘back of the cinema’ connotations if you are a lone woman.
Most Turkish cities and towns have a bus station, called the otogar, garaj or terminal, generally located on the outskirts. Besides intercity buses, otogars often handle dolmuşes (minibuses that follow prescribed routes) to outlying districts or villages. Most have an emanetçi (left luggage) room, which you can use for a nominal fee.
Don’t believe taxi drivers at otogars who tell you there is no bus or dolmuş to your destination; they may be trying to trick you into taking their taxi. Check with the bus and dolmuş operators.
Cities where the otogar is out of the centre generally have a more central terminal for minibus services to nearby towns – often called Eski Otogar (Old Otogar), because it used to be the main bus station.
Because most bus stations are some distance from the town or city centre, the bus companies often provide free servis (shuttle buses). These take you to the bus company’s office or another central location, possibly with stops en route to drop off other passengers. Ask ‘Servis var mı?’ (‘Is there a servis?’). Rare cities without such a service include Ankara and Konya.
Leaving town Ask about the servis when you buy your ticket at the bus company’s central office; they will likely instruct you to arrive at the office an hour before the official departure time.
Drawbacks This service saves you a taxi or local bus fare to the otogar, but involves a lot of hanging around. If you only have limited time in a location, a taxi fare may be a good investment.
Scams Pension owners may try to convince you the private minibus to their pension is a servis. Taxi drivers may say the servis has left or isn’t operating in the hope of convincing you that their cab is the only option. If you do miss a servis, inquire at the bus company office – they normally run regularly.