Istanbul to Izmir by car

Istanbul to Izmir Drive – Unique Road Trip Itinerary to See Western Türkiye

Last updated on February 3rd, 2024

Istanbul to Izmir drive was the first road trip we took in western Turkey when we moved to live in this country. We enjoyed it so much that decided to repeat it later with other stops when having it as part of a larger road trip from Istanbul to Bodrum

You can always travel from Istanbul to Izmir by plane, bus or train. But going by bus is very time-consuming. Train is not very convenient as there is no direct train between Izmir and Istanbul (you’d need to transfer in Eskişehir) and it also takes some time with not much scenery.

Covering the same distance by car is quite rewarding for those who are ready to avoid taking the highway and willing to go slightly off-road (but not leaving the asphalt road by any means).

So if you are thinking about Istanbul to Izmir drive by car (or in the opposite direction from Izmir to Istanbul), get some inspiration below and plan your road trip!

Where to Rent a Car to Go on the Istanbul to Izmir Road Trip

I recommend you rent it on the Asian side of Istanbul since it will be much faster to get out of the city without spending hours in traffic and without a need to pay for expensive toll roads (which are part of all bridges over the Bosphorus).

From my experience (after renting cars in Istanbul dozens of times), hiring a vehicle at Sabiha Gokcen airport (or around it) is cheaper. But sometimes it makes more sense to do it in Uskudar or Kadikoy if you want to leave from there.

I always advise comparing prices between LocalRent and DiscoverCars to see which one has better rates as these two are the only companies I rent cars from in Turkey because they have the most reliable service and insurance packages at the lowest prices.


Please note: This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a commission if you make a purchase or booking by clicking a link (at no extra cost to you).

Things to Know Before Going on Istanbul to Izmir Drive by Car

Ottoman village near Istanbul
from Istanbul to Izmir by car

If you plan to travel from Istanbul to Izmir by car, the first thing you need to know is that you can do so via highway O-5 which is in excellent condition with quite a few gas stations and restaurants where to stop and eat along the way.

This highway is a toll road with only a couple of stretches being free. There are no toll booths along the way, just automatic toll stations where vehicles seamlessly pass through without stopping, as the tolls use license plate recognition technology to issue payment automatically (which the rental company will let you know about upon drop off, just mention to them that you used this toll road).

The payment is divided into many parts with the first one being on Osmangazi Koprusu bridge and then near Altinova, in the north of Bursa, north of Balikesir, near Turgutlu, and then Izmir.

The entire stretch of the drive costs around $16 (not mentioning it in Turkish Lira as the amount always changes due to the currency depreciation but it always stays the same in the $USD) but if you exit in some of those areas, you’ll end up paying less.

Istanbul to Izmir distance via this highway is less than 500 km (310 miles) but for the sake of this article (and for the sake of adventure), I recommend you stay away from it (at least partially) and better drive other roads that go through some interesting Turkish cities and cool landmarks.

Find a Car for Rent in Istanbul With the #1 Supplier (They Also Always Have the Lowest Prices)

Istanbul to Izmir Driving Time if You Want to Road Trip

It took us 3 full days to drive this route because we stopped for the night in two places wanting to cover different attractions without the need to revisit them later on independent trips.

But of course, you can skip some of the stops to spend less time on the road. Some of the following places are near Istanbul and are easily accessible for a day trip from the city, so you may want to leave them out as well.

Where to Stay on a Drive Between Istanbul & Izmir 

boutique guesthouse Ayvalik

Surprisingly, there are a few cool locations where to stay. But whether to choose them or not will depend on the time of the year you travel and if you plan to add a beach stay to this road trip.

We traveled this distance when exploring western region of Turkey in January and February and then repeated it (with somewhat different stops) in June. 

I’ll mention where we stayed and where we planned to stay and for whichever reason. Take a look and see if that’s something you’d like to copy yourself.

Where We Stayed:

  • Stop #1: Kitapevi Otel in Bursa – only for 1 night but we wanted a traditional homestay near the old center
  • Stop #2: Elaia Hotel in Bergama – another traditional home (stone house) in the former major center of the Hellenistic civilization

Where We Considered Staying:

  • Lake Life Hotel in Iznik – directly on a beautiful lake. We skipped it because traveled in winter, it is best for late spring, summer and early fall travel
  • Ayisigi Otel – on one of the best islands in Turkey famous for olive groves, beaches, and clear water. Returned to stay here on another trip from Izmir
  • Foca Otel 1887 – family-run traditional stone house in one of the most charming quiet coastal towns on the Aegean Sea. Best for couple’s stays 

Istanbul to Izmir Road Trip – Stops to Make

Mark and I made all the stops that I mention below which are all worth the time. In fact, we made many more stops but only the following ones made the list since I believe they are the most interesting places to see along the way when you have a car.

Istanbul

Oh Istanbul, I just couldn’t help but mention a few words about my favorite city in the world. No matter how long you are visiting (for one day or layover, 4 days, or a whole week), this city is never going to disappoint in terms of the number of activities.

I don’t know how many days your trip is going to be before you rent a car and go for a drive. But you need to check out my Istanbul travel page with lots of travel tips and places to visit.

I have guides about different neighborhoods and areas of Istanbul, various itineraries, food guides, and overall inspirational posts. Give them all a read! 

Izmit (Kocaeli)

Kocaeli (Izmit) city near Istanbul

Izmit (or a new name Kocaeli) on its own is not really a famous place to visit but it can be a nice stop on the Istanbul to Izmir drive if this is your first trip to Turkey and after a few days in Istanbul you are ready to see more of the region. Especially if it took you some time to get a car and you got hungry – stop in Izmit for a quick meal and stroll by the Gulf.

My favorite places to stay are Romano Cafe Restaurant by the water with a unique sea view. It is located in Kocaeli Democracy Park and because of its location has nice sea and mountain views from the restaurant and offers a very rich menu.

Another spot I love in Izmit is Seka Park with beautiful green areas for walking with a few lovely restaurants by the sea as well. It is well connected with Demokrasi Park (where Romano Cafe Restaurant is), so you can park a car on the park’s lot and go for a stroll along the water to enjoy the beauty of the area and see green urban living of Izmit (which is similar to a park-centric lifestyle in other cities of Turkey). 

1-2 hours is enough in Izmit to get a feel of the town which many Istanbulities go to for weekend trips from Istanbul. But if you want to spend more time and see its hidden gems, head to a remarkable Gayret Gemi Museum, reminiscent of the Navy Museum in Washington DC, allowing you to explore an authentic navy ship. But if you do, make sure to make a reservation with lots of time in advance.

Iznik

Istanbul to Izmir road trip

After Izmit, we drove through Gölcük town and then to Karamursel where we took a hilly road D595 to Iznik on the beautiful lake. Iznik is a charming town directly on the lake which actually creates a feeling like being by the sea.

You come here mainly to spend time on the lakeside (which is indeed special and is a compelling reason to visit) which creates excellent opportunities for photography and offers breathtaking views of surrounding landscapes.

Another thing – Iznik has historical significance, as it played a role in the ancient city of Nicaea, so there are a few historical sites to check out, including ancient city walls, Roman theater, and Ottoman-era buildings.

Bursa 

Old Bursa

From Iznik come to Bursa following the roads D595/D160 and make a stop here for the night or spend a few hours and continue the drive.

Bursa stands out as an all-encompassing destination and is a very interesting stop to make when on the way from Istanbul to Izmir. It’s easily accessible if you decide to skip two previous places and go via the Osmangazi Koprusu bridge instead.

Bursa offers a rich blend of history and attractions as the former capital of the Ottoman Empire and it invites exploration into its historical legacy.

Beyond its cultural significance, the city boasts numerous tourist attractions, and for many, the highlight is its distinction as the birthplace of Turkish doner kebab, among a plethora of other delectable dishes.

If you are short on time but want to get acquainted with this city, there is an interesting free tour of Bursa to take which gives a good presentation within a brief timeframe or a gastronomy tour of Bursa where you get to try some local gourmets. And then since you have car, I highly recommend you drive to Cumalıkızık for the best Turkish breakfast you’ll have in this area. 

Gölyazı Merkez

best lake to visit near Istanbul
unique place to visit near Istanbul

Nestled on the shores of the Ulubat Lake (another beautiful lake to visit near Bursa), Gölyazı Merkez is a cute village known for the myriad of birds living here and gracing the skies and for the picturesque waterfront that creates a unique experience with the scenery and hundreds of colorful boats that are available for a ride. 

Gölyazı is also associated with the ancient city of Lapedium, whose remnants are found on the island where the village now stands.

Stop here to spend time on the lake (consider renting a boat for island hopping or just stroll around), take a moment to savor the day’s catch at one of the charming waterside restaurants (fish dishes here are delish!), and ensure your camera captures the breathtaking vistas from all angles.

If visiting in the spring, as the water level rises, witness the partially submerged trees, adding a touch of natural poetry to the landscape. Gölyazı’s village houses, exuding nostalgic charm, remain unaffected, offering a delightful contrast. 

Ayvalik

Cunda island Turkey
Turkish village

From Gölyazı Merkez it is a 3-hour drive to drive to Ayvalik, a beach town that offers a very different scenery compared to previous places on this road trip. Stretch of the drive here from Gölyazı is rather unremarkable, so I advise you to jump on the highway O-5 to cover it faster.

Once you get to Ayvalik, you may want to slow down and spend a day (and night) there as the town is very pretty and has a few interesting activities, like for example checking its stores with olive oil products (because the area is famous for olive groves and production of olive oil), go on boat trips in the area and spend time on the beaches here.

But the main reason why you’d want to visit is Cunda Island (connected to Ayvalık by a causeway) distinguished by its well-preserved Ottoman-era architecture, art galleries, and panoramic views of the Aegean Sea. With its charming Old Town, pretty beaches, and traditional boutique hotels, it is a place where to stay for at least a few days.

Bergama

on a drive from Istanbul to Izmir

One of my favorite stops on a road between Izmir and Istanbul due to the steepest ancient amphitheater and centuries-old guest house where we stayed for the night.

Bergama is special for many reasons and should be a must-visit place in Turkey whenever you are visiting Izmir or the Aegean coast of Turkey.

In the past, Bergama was Pergamon, an ancient Greek and Roman city that was a prominent center of culture, learning, and political power during the Hellenistic period and later under Roman rule. It was also known for its significant contributions to the development of parchment paper.

You come here for its well-preserved ancient city with the Altar of Zeus (a grand structure dedicated to the god Zeus, a key feature of the Pergamon Acropolis depicting the battle between the gods and giants), for the Roman theater (one of the steepest ancient theaters in the world), for the Library of Pergamon (one of the most significant libraries of the ancient world), and for its Acropolis.

Another reason why we loved pausing here for a day was the Elaia Hotel where we had a budget-friendly traditional staycation. I mentioned it above in the section with places where we stayed but you can read more about it as well as about our trip to Pergamum in my post about Bergama and Ancient Pergamon.

Dikili

best beach to stop from Istanbul to Izmir

Dikili is a wonderful destination to stop if you crave a bit of a beach vacation while on a drive from Izmir to Istanbul or from Istanbul to Izmir if you don’t plan to go south. It is a coastal gem with beaches with soft sand and gentle waves, providing a laid-back atmosphere for sunbathing and seaside relaxation.

The sea here is not as beautiful as in Bodrum or Marmaris but outside the city there are some gorgeous bays and coves with crystal clear water.

Besides beaches, Dikili is also known for its historical richness as it is home to the ancient city of Atarneus, which stands as a testament to the region’s rich historical legacy. The ruins of Atarneus, including a well-preserved Roman theater and the Temple of Dionysus, provide a glimpse into the architectural and cultural achievements of antiquity.

If you venture further south into the district, you’ll come to the charming village of Bademli with its olive groves and traditional architecture. Additionally to its beautiful character, Bademli is also known for its natural springs, including the healing thermal springs that offer opportunities for wellness and relaxation.

If you are taking it very slowly and want to spend time on the beach, choose Dikilli as a base. There is a number of inexpensive guest houses and full scale hotels.

Foça

Foca Izmir
Izmir to Istanbul by car

I’d say that Foça is my other favorite location where to stop when driving between Izmir and Istanbul. But if you have to skip it, return later on a day trip from Izmir as it is really worth the time.

Foça is a coastal town in the Izmir Province that seamlessly intertwines history and charm. It is the most ancient city on the Aegean coast founded in the 7th century BC that was part of the Hellenistic kingdoms after Alexander the Great. Then it was under the rule of Rome, and then the powerful Byzantine Empire. Since 1455, Foça (or old name Phocea) was part of the Ottoman Empire.

So you can see its streets and buildings steeped in history and time.

In the modern world, Foca is a small resort town with a few lovely beaches, hotels, and attractions. You come here to explore its rich archaeological heritage, stroll the old streets of old town, and try seafood in one of the vibrant seafood restaurants on the waterfront harbor.

If you have a chance, stay in Foca Otel 1887, a family-run traditional stone house where you feel like stepping back in time.

Izmir

Izmir panorama

Izmir is the last stop on a drive from Istanbul. It is worth a separate post with a list of things to do. But the main thing I wanted to say is that you need to venture outside the city and explore the region.

Southern part of Izmir is where you’ll find Ephesus with Mary’s House and fruit wine village Sirince, east where to go into the mountains, and west is an area with some finest beaches and small lovely towns.

Izmir is not only worth visiting on its own but is a good destination where to spend a few days.

Istanbul to Izmir Road Trip On a Map

More Road Trips to Take in Turkey 

Istanbul to Izmir Road Trip
 
 

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