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Tips for cycling into Istanbul

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To be perfectly honest, we were dreading our arrival in Istanbul. We had heard other cyclists go on and on about what an awful city it is to cycle in and out of, with the main roads into the city effectively being four lane motorways.  Traffic from the whole of southern Europe is funnelled into a tiny span of land before being spat out across the Bosphorus into the rest of Turkey, and the sheer number of vehicles on the road makes for a terrifying experience.

If you are planning a cycle trip to Istanbul, do not fear. We managed fine. There is one simple rule: avoid the D100.  We had one terrible evening pedalling along this nightmare of a road in the dark – our worst cycling experience to date.  What follows is our advice on the best cycling route into and out of Istanbul.

We know of one route which approaches the city from the north and is apparently a pleasant bike ride along quiet roads.  This would be an option if you entered Turkey from Bulgaria, at Edirne.
[NOTE - since publishing this article I have been told this route is now a 4-lane motorway. See the comment at the bottom of this page for more details.]

We entered Turkey from Greece, via Keşan.  Our route approached Istanbul from the south, pootling along the shore of the Sea of Marmara.  We were recommended this option by cyclists who live in Istanbul, with lots of experience cycle touring around that area. The basic rule for our route is to stick as close as possible to the south coast.  It was a lovely journey, following traffic free bike lanes along the seafront and through parks for much of the way.  A more detailed outline is below for those who want it.

Leaving Istanbul, we followed the advice of another local cyclist. Again, the idea is to basically stick as close as possible to the south coast.  We took the ferry to Kadikoy (apparently cyclists are technically forbidden from pedalling across the Bosphorus Bridge, although we know of people who have done it). From Kadikoy, we cycled for a couple of kilometres on roads, then picked up the seaside boulevard with more traffic free paths for cyclists.  We would highly recommend this option!

A GPS of the route out of Istanbul heading east is available here.

If you are planning to cycle in Turkey, we suggest joining the Warm Showers Turkey Facebook page.  It is extremely active and we used it to find accommodation, help with fixing a broken wheel, often with more success at eliciting a response from people than through the Warm Showers website.  Don’t be afraid of writing a request in English if you don’t speak Turkish, there’s always someone willing to act as translator.

The road to Istanbul from the west in a bit more detail:

On the way into the city, we left the D100 at Silivri (a nice little seafront town) then threaded our way on smaller roads and following traffic free cycle paths along the sea front for quite a long way. We used smaller roads through Beylikduzu (Sari Zeybeck Cd runs parallel to the D100 for a bit).  Around Avcilar Sahil Parki the D100 runs along a narrow bit of land between the coast and a lake – on Google Maps it looks like there’s no other option but the main road, but it’s misleading and there’s actually a minor service road and/or pavements bikes can use so we were hardly on the main road at all.

After this came the real joy. Between the airport and the coast, in Bakirkoy, we pedalled for a relatively long way on traffic free cycle routes along the sea front. Total winner. You end up on Kennedy Avenue right in the centre of Istanbul old city, and even this big road is fine as there is a designated cycle lane.

It may sound complicated but it really isn’t.  Just stick as close to the south coast as possible and enjoy.

About the Author

Laura Moss left the UK in August 2013 on her bike, aiming for Australia. In a previous life she was a lawyer. She curates the Long Distance Cycling Journeys database and organises the Festival of Cycle Touring. Her husband, Tim, runs this website. Read more...

Comments (10)

  • Natalie

    I think you have to be really fit to cycle anywhere in Turkey, especially in the height of summer. Well done to you. I cheat and use public transport.

    Reply
  • Laura

    Ha thanks Natalie! Certainly some massive hills in places – although the coast road around Zonguldak / Bartin was a particularly brutal stretch where the hills weren’t big, just very steep.

    I have been told the northern option along the D020 may no longer be quite as good – see http://poab.org/log/id/397

    Reply
  • Matthew Harris

    Hi there. Awesome trip that you are doing. Very inspiring to read about it. It is getting me excited for my trip, which is quite similar to yours.. Cycling home to Australia (for me, I will be leaving from Holland). I’ll be leaving this September. I am currently planning the route into Istanbul. My question: have you got a gpx file of this? Also, your route through the Balkans looks similar to mine. Have you got a gpx of these too? And do you have any tips?

    Thanks for your help, and all the best with the rest of your trip!! I’ll be following you!

    Matthew

    Reply
    • Tim Moss

      Hi Matthew, great that you’re planning a similar trip. We don’t use GPS really (except occasionally on a tablet in cities) so no tracks I’m afraid.

      The Istanbul route is really simple, particularly on the east side, just hug the south coast.

      For the Balkans we again pretty much just followed the coast.

      You can see where we stayed each night on our map: http://www.thenextchallenge. org/map

      Hope that helps but feel free to fire away with any other questions.

      Tim.

      Reply
  • kris

    Hi there Tim, and to Matthew Harris if you are there,

    I am similarly looking to ride to Australia next year, from London, I amjust curious the reasons why you would leave europe Aug and Sept?? Wouldnt that mean you would be in Europe in the middle of Winter? I wouldve thought leaving in March or April would mean avoiding a cold winter??

    SImilarly Tim, I too and reading through your blog posts. Awesome Awesome Awesome!

    Reply
    • Matthew Harris

      Hi Kris.
      The departure time has been carefully planned.. :-)

      In order to cover all the high altitude terrain I want to in central Asia, I need to be at the start of this terrain at the start of summer – so I want to be at the start of the Pamir Hwy on June 1. To get there, I estimate it should take about 5 months, which would mean leaving Holland on January 1. Although this year was very mild, this could mean cycling through ice and snow and subzero temperatures.. Not too appealing..

      My current plan is to leave as late in the year as possible while still being able to cross the alps. I will then stop for 3 months when I get to Istanbul. I will fly to Australia for christmas, arrange lots of paperwork, and, do a chinese language course before continuing in March.

      When are you planning on leaving?

      I have more on my blog: http://arctic-cycler.com

      See ya!

      Matthew

      Reply
  • kris

    ONe more TIm,

    Mate i notice you mention using a tablet. Are you literally able to access the internet in a lot of locations on your trip. As such allowing you to look up information you need for the upcoming days like, where to stay, which route to take, etc etc?? Or is it quite infrequent that you have been able to access the internet on your trip??

    Loving your blogs mate!

    Reply
  • Laura Moss

    Hi Kris,

    We left the UK in August because that’s how our jobs worked out. It meant we had to cycle through a cold winter, but we’ve hit the Middle East at the best time of year, before it gets too hot. I’m not sure there is any perfect time really.

    We both use tablet computers. In Europe we could find WiFi in most towns we went through. If we had been really keen we could have bought a local SIM card for internet use as my tablet is 3g enabled but we’ve never bothered. WiFi was less common further east but we have still managed to access it a couple of times a week, except perhaps in Iran. We were told that there are fewer internet cafes these days and instead places just offer WiFi access and I think this is probably true – so taking a tablet or small netbook is a good idea if internet access is important to you.

    Glad you enjoy the blog posts and good luck with the trip.
    Laura

    Reply

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