TURKEY TRAVEL GUIDE
A mesmerizing mix of the exotic and the familiar, Turkey is much more than its clichéd image of a “bridge between East and West”. Invaded and settled from every direction since the start of recorded history, it combines influences from the Middle East and the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and Central Asia. A richly historical land with some of the best cuisine you will ever taste, stunning scenery from beaches to mountains, and, of course, the great city of Istanbul.
The Turkey of today is modern, westernized, and trendy but its exotic and esoteric face exists in tandem - the whirling dervishes and bewitching belly dancers, caliphs on carpets and amazing amulets, bustling bazaars and spicy smells. Discover the cosmic duality of Turkey that stands with one foot in the Christian European West and the other in the Islamic Middle East ....and happily straddles the east-west divide.
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TURKEY QUICK FACTS
Currency: Turkish Lira
Area: 783,562 km2
Population: 82 million (2019)
Language; Turkish (official); Kurdish, Zaza, Arabic, Azeri, Laz
Religion: Muslim (Sunni majority and Alevi minority) majority with small minorities of Eastern Rite Christians, Jews, Agnostics, and Atheists.
Electricity: 220V/50Hz (European plug)
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TURKEY PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
23 April, National Sovereignty and Children’s Day
1 May, Spring Day
19 May, Atatürk Commemoration and Youth & Sports Day
30 August, Victory Day
29 October, Republic Day
BEST TIME TO VISIT TURKEY
As Turkey experiences hot summers and cold winters, Spring (April, May) and Fall (mid-September to mid-November) are, generally speaking, the best time to visit. During these seasons, skies are likely to be sunny and temperatures pleasant, it’s unlikely to be too crowded, and you will have a better chance at finding discounted airfare and accommodation.
Istanbul and the Sea of Marmara shores have a relatively damp, Balkan climate, with muggy summers and cool, rainy winters, (although seldom snowy) - with the popular Aegean and Mediterranean coasts uncomfortably hot during July and August - especially between İzmir and Antakya. During spring and autumn, the weather in this area is a lot more bearable and crowds thinner. From late October into early November you might experience the idyllic pastırma yazı or “Indian summer” - a pleasant period of unseasonably warm, dry weather. That said, even during winter, the Turquoise and Mediterranean coasts can still be fairly pleasant (outside the rainy periods of January and February). The Black Sea is an anomaly in all the above, with exceptionally mild winters for being located so far north - with rain likely during the coolest months and subtropical humidity during summer.
Central Anatolia is mostly semi-arid steppe - cut off from the coast by mountains – warm but not unpleasantly so in summer, cool and fairly dry in winter, which is from late November to late March. Cappadocia makes a colourful, quiet treat during spring and autumn with its rock formations dusted in snow.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN TURKEY
The snow sports season in Turkey is from December until April with ski areas at 1800-2500 meters altitude.
HIKING & CYCLING IN TURKEY
The best time for outdoor activities in Turkey is from April to October, although July and August can be very hot in some areas.
BEACH OPTIONS IN TURKEY
Turkey has beautiful beaches with the peak summer beach season stretching from July to September
SURFING IN TURKEY
Despite the cooler temperatures, Turkey has about 20 surfable days per month from December to April.
KITESURF IN TURKEY
Turkey has good kitesurfing conditions from April to October, with the most consistent winds from May to September.
For more details on kite surfing in Turkey expand this section!
TURKEY TRAVEL COSTS
Turkey is no longer the super-cheap destination it used to be; prices in the heavily touristed areas are comparable to many places in Europe. However, considering the recent weakening of the Turkish Lira, you may just be in for a good value treat. In general, travel costs in Turkey are highest in Istanbul in April–May, and September–October; and at Turkish beach resorts in July and August; lowest in the small towns of eastern Turkey, and off-season (November through March).
TURKEY TRAVEL TIPS
By Air: Turkey’s internal air network is fairly comprehensive, and Turkish airlines link all major cities, including the busy Istanbul-Ankara route.
By Road: A long-distance bus is by far the best way of getting around Turkey and you will find frequent, cheap and usually comfortable bus services to everywhere in Turkey. There is no national bus company and most routes are covered by various firms who have their ticket booths at the otogars (bus stations) from which they operate and at offices in the town center.
Car rental can be expensive but local chains tend to charge 20 to 30% less than the multinationals so shop around. A full driving license and Green Card insurance are required in Turkey. The Turks can be rather rash drivers at times, so driving in cities should be avoided if possible - also due to the unavailability of city parking and general heavy traffic.
However, driving around Turkey can help you see much more of the country in a shorter time. Though roads are adequate, they are narrow. You drive on the right and give priority to the right, even on roundabouts. The speed limit is 50 kph in towns and 90 kph on the main roads and the highway. Repair service is generally cheap and easily available. The Turkish motoring organization, TTOK, have a breakdown service available free to members of most foreign motoring organizations.
By Waterways: The TML operates everything from shuttle city services, inter-island lines to international services. Overnight services are very popular. Ferries operate from Istanbul to Trabzon (June to September only) while there is a hydrofoil from Istanbul to Bursa. Car ferries give you a free day from driving and also give you an opportunity to take a mini-cruise along the Turkish coasts.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF TURKEY
By European standards, Turkey is a huge country, the size of the UK and France combined; it’s impossible to see it all in a single trip. Lovers of the beach, mountains, and Graeco-Roman sites will be attracted to the beautiful southwest Mediterranean coast. With a little longer, you can combine vibrant İstanbul with Cappadocia’s fairy-tale landscape, while adventurers with more time to spare will be drawn to the spectacular “wild east”.
Aegean Turkey - Greek and Roman ruins between the azure sea on one side and silvery olive groves on the other.
Black Sea Turkey - Heavily forested mountains offering great outdoor sports such as trekking and rafting. The northeast has been historically inhabited by Georgians, many of them now identify as Muslim Laz.
Central Anatolia - Tree-poor central steppes with the national capital, Hittite and Phrygian ruins, and moon-like Cappadocia.
Eastern Anatolia - High and mountainous eastern part with harsh winters. Historically inhabited by Armenians.
South-eastern Anatolia - Semi-desert/mountainous part of the country. Primarily Kurdish-inhabited.
Marmara Region - The most urbanized region with Byzantine and Ottoman monuments in some of the country's greatest cities.
Mediterranean Turkey - Mountains clad with pine woods ascending right from the heavily-indented coastline of the crystal clear sea.
GET LOST IN ANATOLIA
İstanbul is truly one of the world’s great cities, straddling Europe and Asia, İstanbul is blessed with fascinating Byzantine churches, curvaceous Ottoman mosques, and bustling bazaars. It even boasts a buzzing nightlife scene.
Cappadocia is a unique landscape of weird rock pinnacles and deep valleys are enhanced by rock-cut, frescoed churches and entire underground cities. Two full days is an absolute minimum.
Once home to the founder of the mystical “whirling dervish” order, the city of Konya captivates the spiritually inclined.
A welcome respite from a surfeit of sightseeing; most visitors to lakeside Eğirdir stay on the tiny island and simply admire the mountains, swim, and eat.
Pamukkale's glistening white travertine basins and hot springs form a geological wonder to match Cappadocia. The Greeks and Romans would agree; their ruined spa-city, Hierapolis, remains integral to the experience.
The former Greek fishing town of Bodrum is now an all-white architectural treat of a resort. Famed in ancient times for the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos, today it’s better known for its club of (nearly) the same name, Halikarnas.
The charming little town of Selçuk offers welcoming places to stay, a good museum, the Basilica of St John, and the remnants of the Temple of Artemis. It’s also handy for both iconic Ephesus and İzmir international airport.
RELAX ALONG THE TURQUOISE COAST
The small resort of Dalyan (well served by Dalaman international airport), is unusually but beautifully situated on a reed-fringed river, opposite a superb ancient site and handy for the turtle-nesting beach at İztuzu.
Patara makes for a superb coastal retreat, with low-key accommodation in the village of Gelemiş, a Roman site peeking from the dunes, and Turkey’s longest beach.
Turkey’s self-styled adventure capital of Kaş is located at the feet of towering mountains and makes for an excellent base to try scuba diving, sea kayaking, paragliding, canyoning, or hiking the Lycian Way – or just chill.
Çıralı is a relaxed resort hidden in citrus groves, backed by mountains and home to the romantic Roman ruins at adjoining Olympos, the eternal flames of the Chimaera, and a great sweep of shingle beach.
Antalya is a bustling city and home to a superb archaeological museum as well as the old walled quarter of Kaleiçi, which offers characterful accommodation, great nightlife, and a tiny but pretty beach.
ADVENTURE INTO THE WILD EAST
For a perfect gateway to Turkey’s east, explore Gaziantep’s Arab-like bazaars, taste some of the country’s finest cuisine, and admire the fantastic Roman mosaics at the state-of-the-art Zeugma Mosaic Museum.
The colossal Hellenistic statues that dominate the remote mountaintop of Nemrut Dağı fully reward the effort it takes to reach them.
Famed for its pool of sacred carp, the traditional bazaar city of Şanlıurfa makes the perfect base to visit the unique Neolithic temple sanctuary of Göbeklitepe and the beehive houses at Harran.
For a real understanding of what makes eastern Turkey tick head to the impoverished but fascinating village of Yuvacalı to “homestay” with a local Kurdish family, and sleep beneath a star-washed sky on the flat roof of their simple abode.
In Mardin you will find honey-colored medieval houses clustered beneath an ancient citadel, looking out over the checkerboard fields of the impossibly flat Mesopotamian plain.
Going but not yet gone, the incredible medieval ruined city of Hasankeyf, perched above the Tigris, will soon disappear beneath the waters of a controversial dam.
Explore the vivid blue-soda Lake Van and its high-mountain hinterland, studded with unique Urartian sites and atmospheric Armenian churches – notably on Akdamar island.
Doğubeyazıt is the base for assaults on nearby Mt Ararat, and more sedate visits to the fairy-tale palace of a Kurdish chieftain, İshak Paşa Sarayı.
Set in vast, rolling tablelands, Kars was brought to life in Orhan Pamuk’s Snow. Take a day-trip to the long-abandoned Armenian city of Ani.
Erzurum is an upland city that holds fascinating Islamic monuments and is the gateway to Turkey’s best ski resort, Palandöken.
The beautiful, green alpine mountain ranges range, dominated by Mt Kaçkar, spangled with yaylas (alpine pastures), glacier lakes, and flowers, is perfect for trekking.
Ancient Trebizond, a fiercely proud Black Sea port, has a superbly frescoed Byzantine church, the Aya Sofya, and is the base for day trips to the spectacular cliff-hanging monastery of Sumela.
WHAT TO EAT IN TURKEY
Turkish cuisine combines Mediterranean, Eastern European, Caucasian, and Levantine influences, and can be extremely rich in flavor. Beef is the most important meat (lamb is also common but pork is very hard to find), and eggplant (aubergine), onion, lentil, bean, tomato, garlic, and cucumber are the primary vegetables. An abundance of spices is also used. The main staples are rice (pilav), bulgur wheat, and bread, and dishes are typically cooked in vegetable oil or sometimes butter.
A full Turkish meal at Kebab restaurant starts with a soup, often lentil soup (mercimek çorbasi), and a set of meze appetizers featuring olives, cheese, pickles, and a wide variety of small dishes. Meze can easily be made into a full meal, especially if they are consumed along with rakı.
şiş Kebap (Shish Kebab) - lamb grilled on a skewer is originally a Turkish dish.
Doner Kebap - lamb packed into a vertical revolving spit and sliced off in pieces when cooked is popular and delicious.
Köfte (meatball) is a variation of the kebab. There are hundreds of kinds of köfte throughout Anatolia
Pide or Turkish pizza is a cheap and tasty meal.
Dolma or stuffed vegetables served cold, and eggplant is most popular in Turkey.
Among desserts, baklava (flaky pastry stuffed with walnuts and pistachios soaked in honey) is delicious.
Eating on the cheap is mostly done at Kebab stands, which can be found everywhere in Istanbul and other major cities. For the equivalent of a couple of dollars, you get a full loaf of bread sliced down the middle, filled with broiled meat, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes. If you want to really taste the real Turkish food and have time, try to go where the locals go.
Turkish breakfast options tend to comprise of çay (tea), bread, olives, feta cheese, tomato, cucumber, and occasionally spreads such as honey and jam. An alternative is menemen - a Turkish variation on scrambled eggs/omelet - usually with red bell pepper, onion, garlic, and tomato combined with eggs.