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Travel Warning WARNING: The overland route goes through Syria. All travel to Syria is unsafe due to the ongoing civil war.
Government travel advisories
(Information last updated 20 Aug 2020)

This route is in the Middle East. Countries visited are Turkey, Syria, possibly Jordan, Israel, and Egypt.


Istanbul—Cairo is a classic overland route. It is a route that has been traveled for centuries, particularly during the Ottoman empire. Historically it overlapped with the Hajj, with many people covering all or part of the route as part of their pilgrimage to Mecca.

Backpackers discovered it in the 1970s and 1980s, with hippies searching for spiritual peace who departed to Jerusalem from Istanbul instead of going to India via Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. After the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, onward travel from Jerusalem to Cairo became a possibility. For visa reasons (see below) the route is almost always traveled Istanbul-Cairo, few choose to go the opposite direction. The guide book series Lonely Planet made the route even more popular by publishing their "Istanbul to Cairo on a shoestring".

See also Tips for travel in developing countries; advice there applies to most of this route.


It is essential to have a good guidebook and learn some basic rules of Middle Eastern etiquette. Like don't use your left hand, because it is considered dirty (traditionally the left hand is used to clean yourself with water after using the toilet), and do not put your feet up on furniture used as a foot stool. Always wear long trousers, not shorts, and t-shirts instead of muscle shirts. At the very least, knees and shoulders should be covered. Long, flowing ankle-length skirts and loose-fitting men's t-shirts are recommended clothing for women. A headscarf is not necessary, but useful to have when visiting Orthodox churches and mosques. Learning basic survival-level Arabic is very helpful.

As the area is volatile and subject to sudden political changes, it is essential to listen closely to the news before and during your trip. Read the travel warnings issued by your government carefully and heed them.


Most travelers from Western countries can get visas for Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Israel at the airport or at the border. Syria requires travelers to apply beforehand at the embassy of their country of residence. Travelers from a country which does not have diplomatic relationship with Syria can reportedly get the visa at the Syrian border too, but there seems to be no certain rule about it.

One reliable alternative for securing a Syrian visa is to apply at the Syrian Embassy in Istanbul. Processing time has been reported to be less than 8 hours, so it is possible to apply in the morning and return later in the afternoon to retrieve your passport.

Any proof of a past or future visit to Israel will result in being denied entry to Syria and to Turkey, even with a valid visa. Thus people intending to visit Israel on their trip travel from Turkey to Egypt, not the other way around. It is possible to keep a visit to Israel out of your passport if you enter and leave Israel through the Allenby—King Hussein bridge border crossing and ask the Israeli officials to stamp a piece of paper instead of your passport, but this method is not very reliable.


It is difficult or not practical to order bus or train tickets online as most ticketing in the Middle East is still done by hand, although you can book airline tickets online nowadays. Travel agents in Istanbul's Sultanahmet area can be of help for some parts of the trip and it can be worthwhile to email a trustworthy agent for help and pay for your tickets with credit card. This is frequently done for flights within Turkey or originating in Turkey, bus tickets departing Istanbul on not-so-frequent routes and for train tickets to Syria.

Get in[edit]

Most people will fly into Istanbul. Istanbul is a popular destination within the European network of budget flights. Some travelers arrive by train, bus and ferry from Greece or Bulgaria. There is a weekly bus to and from Germany via Italy and Greece.



Caution Note: Because of the civil war in Syria, some or all of these borders crossings listed below may be closed.
(Information last updated 09 Mar 2020)

Most people go to the Syrian border by bus.

Border crossings: Mardin-Nusaybin-Kamışlı, Mardin-Nusaybin-Kamışlı (highway border crossing), Mardin-Şenyurt-Derbesiye (highway border crossing), Şanlıurfa-Ceylanpınar-Ra’sal Ayn (used during religious festivals), Şanlıurfa-Akçakale-Tell Ağabeyyat (highway border crossing), Gaziantep-Karkamış-Carablus (highway border crossing), Gaziantep-Çobanbey-Akderun (rail and highway border crossing), Gaziantep-Islahiye-Ekbez (rail), Kilis-Öncüpınar-El Selame (Azez) (highway border crossing), Hatay-Cilvegözü-Bab Al Hawva (highway border crossing), Hatay-Yayladağı-Kesep (highway border crossing).

Antakya-Aleppo is the crossing most frequently used by travelers. There are buses across the border.

Aside from the bus, there is also a train that runs into Syria once a week.


Take the bus.




If you intend to return back to Europe overland by backtracking your steps, you may want to bypass Israel in order to avoid an Israeli entry stamp on your passport (and subsequent denial of entry when you are back at the Syrian border). A way of doing this is to take direct ferries from Jordanian Red Sea port of Aqaba to Nuweiba on Sinai's eastern coast, in Egypt.


The bus is useful within Jerusalem on all days except Sabbath; There's a relaxing and inexpensive bus ride to Eilat. See Bus travel in Israel.




Sinai is in the north eastern side of Egypt and considered the Asian part of Egypt with 62,000 km² and divided into two parts or two sections, south Sinai and north Sinai.



Stay safe[edit]

As the area is volatile and subject to sudden political changes, it is essential to listen closely to the news before and during your trip. Read the travel warnings issued by your government carefully and heed them.

Less dangerous but far more annoying are the various touts.

Go next[edit]

This itinerary to From Istanbul to Cairo is a usable article. It explains how to get there and touches on all the major points along the way. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.