As the old saying goes: „All roads lead to Istanbul”; it is always a possible option to fly to Istanbul, and then hit the road directly, or alternatively get on a bus or plane to reach some other destination in Turkey and start cycling from there.
Cycling out of Istanbul
We’ve never recommended cycling straight from Istanbul, as we think it is much better to get on a bus that goes in the direction that you’re interested in, and then getting off after an hour or two. Only a couple of our friends have followed this sensible advice. Their argument was that they didn’t want to ‘cheat’ by using a bus, even if it was only for 10-40 km. The reason why we discouraged them from getting onto Istanbul main arteries is that there’s nothing enjoyable about suddenly finding yourself on a busy motorway full of accelerator-happy drivers, and there’s nothing to please the eye on either side of the road – mostly blocks of flats and company buidings (10 years ago you could have admired fields and forests, now they are all gone, except for the old postcards and paintings). All of these stubborn friends have survived but they also agree now that getting out of Istanbul on a bike is a nightmarish experience. The group of people who would recommend getting on a bus instead is getting bigger and bigger.
Straight to the Istanbul Bus Station
If you want to skip Istanbul and move on straight to another part of Turkey, you can head for the main bus station (Istanbul Otogar, also called Esenler Otogar) , which is only a 15 minutes long metro ride:
The station is gigantic, seemingly chaotic and a bit confusing. Once you are there, don’t panic if you don’t see any buses (if you made sure to get off at Esenler Otogar, you must be in the right place), don’t waste your time looking for some huge information board with timetable and all the destinations and departure times listed nicely in order, because there isn’t such a thing. Instead, look out for these small ‘shops’, which are all bus companies offices and find the name of your destination on them. The buses depart from parking lots which are located just behind these offices. There are so many of them you’d be really unlucky if you spent more than 10 minutes trying to find your bus, especially that locals will try to help – most probably the helpers will be people working for these companies. There’s no need to be suspicious of these ‘agents’ even if they shout or seem to be pushing you in the direction of their or someone else’s ‘shop’, that’s their way of being efficient workers and helpful people. The ticket prices for a destination might differ by 10% in different companies depending on how luxurious the bus is (and they are all luxurious anyway, the most expensive ones might just have more films and channels on personal video/tvs), so it’s worth shopping around if you’re travelling on budget.
Sightseeing break in Istanbul
If you want to use a bus but don’t want to skip Istanbul, the metro map above is equally useful – you can use the trains and trams to get to the area where most hotels, hostels and tourist attractions are located (Eminönü, Beyoğlu, Taksim).
Then, after you’ve ticked off everything you wanted to see in Istanbul, you will have to go back to the scary Otogar. It’s possible to buy a ticket from virtually any place in Istanbul from virtually any company, because they all have hundreds of offices. These companies will also offer to pick you up from almost wherever it is convenient for you in the city, but I wouldn’t use this option when travelling with a bike. Their service buses are usually too small to accommodate bikes. Even if you ask the company in advance whether it’s possible get on a service bus with your bike and they agree, you risk that they might forget about it, or someone will not pass on the message, or they’ll realise later (at the last moment) that it’s not feasible at all. It might stem from the fact that Turkish people would like to be seen as helpful, which results in making promises and offers that are impossible to keep; they’d rather make you happy now and worry later, trying to help you solve the problems which would never come up had they been more realistic in the first place…
Flights within Turkey
Finally, if you want to avoid a 10, 20 or even 30 hours journey by bus to get to some remote part of this huge country, you might check out if there is an airport nearby.
It would be optimistic to expect that you can reach each of these airports after a direct flight from wherever you are coming. On the map below, orange planes represent bigger airports that have some international flights, but some of them might have them very occasionally. Most likely, you will still have to transfer in Istanbul.