Mar 062011
 
Climatic zones in Turkey

One country, a multitude of climates

Where and when (not) to go?

Not all Turkey is as sun-bathed as it looks in holiday photos taken by your friends, only most of it and most of the year;) Each of the regions on this map is unique and there are hundreds of places to see – this post is not about where to go and why. Instead, it offers some help to those who have already decided on the destination but are not sure about the timing.

Coastal areas

Black Sea region

Colour coded green on the map above.
It’s more or less rainy all year round, so there’s always a risk of getting soaked, sometimes thoroughly so. While you and your bike are drying you can admire the gloomy skies, watch the rice and tea grow or start writing a crime story.
Summers are warmer than winters, just like everywhere else. However, there are no extreme differences – the temperature in the summer is never dramatically high (on average 23°C); the winters are not bitterly cold either (on average 7°C), but because of the high humidity it feels quite chilly.
The best season for cycling corresponds with the swimming season, which usually lasts two months, July and August. Water is cool anyway (it’s not the south) and some rain drops might fall from the sky – but if you are after the least adverse weather conditions, that’s the time to go, especially that despite the high tourist season you can still enjoy peace and quiet (unlike in the Turkish Riviera).
Second best times to cycle in this part of the country are spring and autumn (let’s say, starting in April and finishing in September). If you go on a five-day-long trip, with average luck, three out of five days will be wet. If you’d rather rely on the weather forecast instead of luck, check out the Turkish State Meteorological Website.

Around the Sea of Marmara (which includes Istanbul)

Number 3 on the map above.
The least pleasant time for cycling is between November and February. Though the temperature is never terribly low (on average 4°C), it rains every day, making the usual high humidity even worse, so it can be quite chilly. It sometimes snows, but very rarely as much as you need to make a decent snowman.
The rest of the year is fine, with one exception: between June and August in Istanbul itself. The temperature rises up to 30°C or above, the city is humid as usual, the air pollution is as bad as usual, and you feel sticky all day and night (actually I’m not sure if cycling can make it any worse).

Hopefully the previous paragraphs haven’t discouraged you from visiting this part, because there are many places worth visiting and they are not far from Istanbul – it’s a perfect solution for someone who has come to Turkey for a short time and wants to stay mainly in Istanbul but would also like to get away from this stifling metropolis for a day or two.

Summer is the best time to visit the islands on the Marmara (and I don’t only mean the Princes’ Islands). As for swimming – some people swear they would never let their toes touch this water because compared to three other seas it is supposed to be the dirtiest one – because of all the sea traffic it gets and sewage pipes of Istanbul. Still, lots of people do swim in the Marmara and they say it’s as a refreshing experience as anywhere else.

The Mediterranean and the Aegean

Number 2 on the map but deserves to be number 1 for its almost all-year-round availability for cycling expeditions.
Just to prove the point – the swimming season in the Mediterranean starts as early as in April and finishes in October (warm water, sometimes can even be hot) and though the season is shorter towards the north, the period of ‘nice weather’ is the longest in Turkey and this is what most people associate Turkey with.
There might be occasional rainfall in the winter, but this coldest season is not terribly cold (9°C on average) and it is still possible and pleasant to cycle in the south.
Actually, the hottest summer months could be more of a deterrent – 40°C in July and August, mountainous area – some people would only manage a couple of hours after dawn and a couple more in the evening, sleep-cycling would be another option as it’s impossible to get a sunstroke at night.

Road covered with snow in Anatolia

Anatolian challenge

Continental Turkey

Yellowish-orange parts of the map.

 

Central Anatolia

The average temperature doesn’t look scary in any season – it is 23°C in summer and -2°C in winter, it doesn’t rain as much as in the north (even in the spring and autumn) and you might think there are few weather worries. Well, it’s false appearances. This area offers you a steppe climate challenge. First, day and night temperatures differ a lot. Then, somehow, despite the not-so-low average temperature and not as much snow as in the east, the winters are freezing and cold makes your lips crack very quickly. Summers are drier than in the north but can be boiling hot.

Having said all that, there must be some time between March and November when the weather forecast would be encouraging.

Eastern Anatolia

This region is not available for cycling for four long winter months, the reason being, apart from the icy cold (sometimes even −30 °C − 40 °C), that you wouldn’t be able to make out the roads for the snow that is covering them. That is where Orhan Pamuk drew inspiration from for his “Snow”.
Summers are hot and dry and the thermometer might rise up to 30 °C and higher during the day, but then, it’s a mountainous region, and the perception of the temperature will depend on the altitude, some places will be pleasantly warm.
The roads/paths re-emerge in March/April and are passable until October/November and the best time for a cycling visit is between June and September.

Southeastern Anatolia

Snowy, long winter can be unappealing again. The summer can be equally off-putting – it’s baking hot and sometimes the temperature is above 45°C.
The only seasons left are spring and autumn – just a bit of rain won’t harm anyone.

  2 Responses to “Turkey – seasonal and climatic challenges for cyclists”

  1. Hi! Firstly I’d like to congratulate you and express gratitude for the informations about Turkish weather. I am from Brazil and I am planning a world tour and Turkey is one of the destinies. Otherwise I don’t want to take many buses or trains. I’ve studied the country and I had difficulties to find people who had cycled from Adana to Iranian border. Could you give me some tips?
    Another questions: What do you think abou this route: Istambul – Bergama – Izmir – Aphrodisias – Antalya – Adana… ? When is the best time to do it? In my plans, I ‘d start there in December, but I think it will be very very cold.
    Thanks,

    Marília.

    • Dear Marília,

      I’m sorry to get back to your question after such a long time, but I thought it would be better for Umut to reply and he’s away on a trip now, without access to the Internet.
      We’ve met two French couples who have done a similar route, travelling in the south-eastern direction from Istanbul to reach the Iranian border, and as we’ve stayed in touch with them we know that Alice and Cedric did so successfully (http://www.blogg.org/blog-70938-themes-infos_diverses-188104.html, http://everyoneweb.fr/portraitdeplanete/ – their sites, in French, but I hope you’ll be able to find a contact form somewhere, you can write to them in English, they’ll be happy to offer help); the other couple didn’t get the Iranian visas, so either they went through Syria or flew to some other country, and got to India eventually, which was their plan.
      As you’ve noticed they were both couples – you didn’t say whether you’re planning to cycle on your own or with someone else, but if it’s the first case, you should be careful, especially east of Adana – it’s a man’s world, and women are not supposed to be hanging around the streets on their own, it could be misunderstood. A few years ago a lonely cyclist was raped in that region. To be honest, s… happens also in allegedly modern places – a few years ago an Italian artist, whose artistic/political project involved hitchhiking in the Middle East, was raped and killed in Istanbul.
      I don’t want to scare you or put you off, so there’s a success story as well. One of our friends cycled on her own from Slovenia thorugh Turkey to China and back, and she was fine – her route was different though as she cycled in northern Turkey, to get to Kazachstan on the way, but it also covered lots of rural or semi-rural areas, with traditionally minded population and conduct standards that are not as the ones in the west.
      She actually said that as a lonely female she had more support from the locals, as they were not afraid to host her, offering meals or putting her up for the night – she compared it to the occasions when she met other cyclists on the way and travelled together. I can also remember her saying that whenever she needed to communicate with the locals or ask them for help (or even just ask them for directions), she only approached women or couples/families. Also, her manner of dressing was adjusted not only to the weather and activity, but also to the local expectations, which means her clothes were light but not tight, and I think she had longer trousers for village areas in Turkey.
      As for the weather in December – yes, it will be unpleasantly cold and rainy around/in Istanbul and for a couple hundred kilometres south, and then pleasantly cool in the south.
      You have plenty of time before December, feel free to write whatever questions come to your mind:)

      Olga

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