From tramways and metros to trains, buses, and more, Turkey has a great variety of modes of public transportation to choose from. Although big cities like Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir have the best and most vast network, other towns will have options for transport, so you do not end up stranded without a car.
Most vehicles are on time but if you are traveling during rush hour or live in bigger cities, expect significant delays.
Here is your overview of the public transport system and its intricacies in Turkey:
Taking the Bus in Turkey
In larger cities and towns, busses are the primary means of transport. Each town has its types and lines of busses. If a city does not have proper busses, they will have minibusses called “dolmuş.”
Usually, payment is only accepted as pre-purchased tickets or travel cards.
Pre-purchased tickets, which can be one-off, or for 3, 5, or more trips, can be bought from kiosks or ticket machines near the terminals or newsagents. If you have a travel card, you can either top up at top-up machines, newsagents, or at some local bakkals (markets).
That being said, some busses may also accept cash if you have no other means of paying, or a friendly Turk may offer to pay for you.
To use busses, you will generally need a unique/smart transport card as payment. Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, drivers are reluctant to accept cash.
Transport Cards in Turkey
Unfortunately, Turkey still does not have a nationwide electronic public transportation card in all cities and modes of transport; however, one is said to be in the works.
For the time being, you have to buy one for every city you are visiting or living in and add credit to it there and then.
Most often, these transportation cards or passes are named after the cities of their origin.
For Istanbul, what was once known as “Akbil” is now an Istanbulkart, which can be used on busses, metros, trams, ferries, and more. Likewise, for the capital, it is Ankarakart, and for Antalya, it is Antalyakart.
Some cities have adopted abbreviated versions of their names to name their transport cards after. Eskart, for example, is for Eskişehir, and Aykart for Aydın.
Muğla, meanwhile, has a Kentkart. If you live in Muğla, you can link your Kentkart and your credit card to your HES code here.
The following cities also use the Kentkart:
And for Izmir, Eshot is the name you should be looking for buses, but Izmirim kart is the newer and more comprehensive version.
It would help if you had a HES code for all public transport, including busses, metros, and flights.
How To Get a HES Code To Travel Throughout Turkey
The HES (Hayat Eve Sığar – Life Fits into Home) code is a personal code (also available as a QR code) issued by the Turkish Ministry of Health to track and trace SARS-CoV-2- positive cases and ensure safe and virus-free domestic travel. Some establishments such as restaurants, hotels, and hospitals may also ask for this code to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Before you book a flight or bus ticket within Turkey, you will be asked to enter your HES code. Even if it doesn’t come up throughout the booking, you will either be asked to link it to your PNR or reservation number or show it before you board.
The easiest way to get one is via downloading the HES app, which also allows you to see risk areas nearby and alert others if you have come into contact with someone who has COVID-19.
However, you can also get one via SMS by texting 2023 the following, as long as you have a Turkish GSM operator.
- If you have a Turkish ID number:
You should write HES, then your ID number, followed by the last 4 digits of the serial number of your ID, and finally, the number of days you wish the code to be valid for. Leave a single space between each category.
Example: HES 12345678901 1234 30
- If you have a foreign ID number starting with 97, 98, or 99:
The beginning is the same, but instead of your serial number, you will type in your year of birth, followed by the number of days you want the HES code to be valid.
Example: HES 99345678901 1970 30
How to Get a HES Code for a Passport
Lastly, you can also get one via SMS by texting +90 555 944 3821 the following, as long as you have a GSM operator.
- If you have a foreign passport number:
The easiest way to obtain a HES code prior to traveling to Turkey is by completing the Form for Entry to Turkey.
You should write HES, followed by the 3-letter country code (the country that has issued your passport), then your passport number, year of birth, surname, and finally, the number of days you wish the code to be valid for. Leave a single space between each category.
Example: HES FRA FR123456 1970 Surname 30
You can omit the number of days in all scenarios to create an indefinite code.
Taking a Turkish Taxi
Notorious for their scams or exploiting those unfamiliar with the city, whether Turkish or foreign, Turkish taxi drivers do not exactly have the best reputation. However, regulations are much stricter nowadays to prevent this, and most drivers are helpful, polite, and courteous. Apart from tourist areas, much will not speak good English, though.
Taking taxis in Turkey is safe, and they are a part of a union. You will be able to tell legitimate taxis from their typical bright cab yellow exterior and the word “taksi” and its number plate written on the side or top of the car.
One important point to note is that taxi fares may have different pricing, depending on where you are in Turkey. Resort towns taxis will be more expensive and so can big cities like Istanbul. But go anywhere else, coupled with the current TL exchange rate, it will probably be one of the cheapest taxi fares you can take in Europe.
When taking a taxi, keep small bills with you, know where you are going, and count your change carefully. Credit cards are accepted by some taxis, especially in Istanbul, but this is an exception, and you should always be prepared to pay in cash.
Also, make sure that the driver turns the meter on so that you do not get overcharged.
When in doubt, download a taxi app to limit your interaction with the driver and follow your route to avoid being scammed. Head here for helpful apps.
Train Travel in Turkey
Compared to Europe, the railway network, which is run by the Turkish State Railways (TCDD), is not as vast or frequently used in Turkey. Mountainous terrain also further complicates railway systems. Nevertheless, some lines are used daily at high volumes.
Main line trains stop at the city centers of the following cities:
Izmir, Manisa, Balıkesir, Kütahya, Uşak, Afyon, Denizli, Eskişehir, Ankara, Konya, Karaman, Niğde, Adana, Osmaniye, Kayseri, Sivas, Erzincan, Erzurum, Kars, Malatya, Elazığ, Muş, Diyarbakır, and Batman.
Turkey also has 5 lines of high-speed trains (Yüksek Hızlı Tren - YHT), which are:
- Ankara- Eskişehir
- Eskişehir- Konya
- Ankara- Izmir
Make sure to book your trips well in advance, especially if it is long distance or close to a public holiday.
If you are going on a long-distance journey, you might want to book a sleeper car (yataklı) over kuşetli (couchettes).
Traveling by Tram or Metro in Turkey
Apart from trains, you can also travel by metro (underground), funicular, trams, or suburban railway systems in Turkey.
The following cities have lightweight trains or trams:
- Antalya (ExpoTram – Antray)
- Samsun (Samray)
- Bursa (Bursaray)
- Gaziantep (Gaziray)
- Ankara (Ankaray)
- Kayseri (Kayseray)
Only Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara, and Bursa have more than one type of railway system. Istanbul Metro, Ankara Metro, Izban in Izmir, Bursaray Metro, and Adana Metro are the metro systems in Turkey.
Coach Travel in Turkey
Coaches are still the most used mode of transport for intercity travel, especially in regions where airports are few and far between.
The most well-known and used coach services and companies in Turkey are:
- Kamil Koç
- Metro Turizm
- Ali Osman Ulusoy Seyahat
- Nilüfer Turizm
- Varan Turizm
- Has Turizm
- Pamukkale Turizm
You can buy tickets either online or at coach/bus terminals called “otogar.” Ulusoy and Varan offer more premium services, while Kamil Koç and Pamukkale are good budget companies.
Ferries in Turkey
Although Istanbul and the Bosporus come to mind for many when it comes to ferries, there are many lines both within and outside of Istanbul.
In Istanbul, the most frequently used ferry lines are the Eminönü, Beşiktaş, Karaköy, Bakırköy and Üsküdar lines. The most scenic ferry rides happen in the Bosporus, crossing onto another continent but the Adalar (Islands) ferry lines. The city also operates daily ferries from multiple districts. For more information, visit here.
There are two companies that operate fast passenger ferries between Istanbul and Bursa. BUDO operates between Eminönü and Mudanya and IDO between Yenikapı and Güzelyalı.
In Izmir, Izdeniz operates the popular Karşıyaka-Konak ferries.
All those mentioned so far are called “vapur” in Turkish. There are also “feribot”s (ferryboats or car ferries).
The İstinye-Çubuklu, Gelibolu-Lapseki and Datça-Bodrum lines are the most well-known. Ferryboat services also run from Kaş, Taşucu (Mersin), Küçükkuyu (Ayvacık-Çanakkale), Kuşadası, Marmaris, Fethiye, Çeşme and Turgutreis to various Greek islands nearby.
Daily car and passenger ferries run between the Taşucu port near Silifke in Mersin to Girne (Kyrenia) in Cyprus.
There are many great apps and websites you can use to help you with public transportation in Turkey.
The website of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality’s transport division IETT is good to check schedules, lines and get the latest news about diversions, cancellations, or pricing updates. Similarly, check the websites of the transportation authority in your city for the latest changes.
Apps like Moovit are also great for mapping our routes with various modes of transport and keeping track of your journey.