We wanted to cycle into Istanbul but we are not risk takers so we researched the quietest route possible even if it meant adding a few extra days onto our journey. For us the D100 was not an option as we are not brave enough to take on multi lane motorways. So we took the D020 instead.
Coming from Bulgaria we crossed over the river at Lyubimets and onto the E85 which we stayed on for about 15km until we hit the Bulgaria - Greece border. The road was moderately busy but it was no problem as there is a narrow hard shoulder to cycle on. The border control out and in was very quick so we were soon into Greece. Once in Greece the road turned into a dual lane highway but the hard shoulder widened to over a meter and there was very little on traffic on the road. The towns marked on our map were well off the road so we ended up running low on water until we found a service station some 20km in from the border. Stay on the E85 until you see the turn off for Turkey. From the turn off it’s only another 3km or so until you reach the Greece – Turkey border. The small Greek town of Kastanies just before the border is a lovely place to devour a few Greek specialties, the friendly locals stuffed our bikes with bananas!
The Greece - Turkey border is also very quiet, as there is a weight limit so that lorries can’t cross at this border. We had to queue for 15 minutes to get our entry stamps, then we were off again and into Turkey. The first major town you come to in Turkey is Edirne. A lovely place in which we happily spent 3 days wandering around the colourful streets and admiring the stunning mosques. Not many tourists make it to Edirne so there almost no touting.
Leaving Edirne we followed the D100 east for about 10km until the fork intersection with the D020 that heads due east. The D100 was busy so we were very thankful for the small hard shoulder we had.
Once on the D020 we felt immediately comfortable. It’s a single lane coarse tarmac road through rural farm land. There is no hard shoulder but it’s not necessary as they is little traffic and the traffic that does pass we found to be very courteous. According to a local, drivers are used to cyclists on this road.
On our first night we stayed in a hotel at Kirklareli. The next day we cycled to Vize and stayed another night in a hotel. The road conditions stayed pretty much the same, the terrain is consistently undulating, with no big climbs but we struck extremely hot weather and a headwind, so the going was tough at times.
After Vize we continued to a small village called Akalan where we were put up by some friendly locals who allowed us to camp in their garden. The area is very forested with plenty of wild camping opportunities too. There are also hotels in Saray and Subaşi.
The next day we continued along the D020 which theoretically becomes the D010 but the road signs never really indicated this. On this day we encountered some heavy traffic just after the village of Örcünlü as they seem to be building a new motorway which at times runs parallel to the D020. As a result there were lots of top end loader quarry trucks transporting gravel back and forth. We felt a little squeezed in but the drivers gave us a gentle toot to let us know they were passing.
This continued for another 50km until the town of Kemerburgaz where we turned off into a lovely forest road that takes you all the way to the town of Sarayer on the Bosporus.
We ended up free camping in a small village just before the town as accommodation options are very limited. Apparently there is only one hotel nearby, and it is very expensive.
The next day we cycled off at 5:30am, just before sunrise and joined the promenade road that runs right along the Bosporus and into Istanbul. Expecting a ferocious motorway it turned out to be a lovely single lane road weaving through small villages, suburbs and marinas. With the sun rising over Asia on the other side of the Bosporus, this was one of the most memorable and enjoyable rides we have ever done.
A truly fantastic way of arriving in Istanbul. The road does become dual lane as you get right in the heart of Istanbul, but the traffic was fairly slow moving and nothing worse than a regular city road at rush hour. This was only for the last 3km or so before the Galata Bridge. The rush hour started around 7am, so if we had started half and hour earlier we may have avoided this.
The link below is a gpx file of the route that you can upload to any GPS device. The total distance from Lyubimets to the center of Istanbul is 370km.
The route profile is shown below:
We would be interested to hear from anyone who has since done this route as to their experiences and in particular the state of the roads between Örcünlü and Kemerburgaz. It looks to us as if the new motorway will run alongside the D020, which may result in even less traffic on that road.
Please contact us if you would like any more information about cycling into Istanbul, we hope you have the same enjoyable experience that we had. Our blog here goes into a little more detail of our experiences along the way.
Happy and safe riding.