Travel to Turkey
Turkey is a country that is found at the confluence of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. This transcontinental country is, however, mostly located in Western Asia. Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq and Syria share borders with Turkey.
Historically, the country has connections with the Greek, Roman, Persian, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Culturally diverse, Turkish culture is a blend of Turkish, Anatolian, Ottoman and western influences.
Turkey, as a tourist destination, has a lot to offer. There are so many places to visit in Turkey! With a stunning coastline dotted with quaint villages, several UNESCO World Heritage Sites to tick off your bucket list, several beautiful man-made monuments and buildings to see and thousands of years of cultural legacy to learn about, visiting Turkey is an enriching experience.
One of the most surreal landscapes in the world is to be found in Turkey’s Cappadocia. The sumptuous Topkapi Palace, along with the majestic Aya Sofia in Istanbul are beautiful man made structures that have stood the test of time. If looking for architecture even more ancient, head to the ruins of Ephesus- a Greek town from the tenth century BC.
We hope you find our detailed guide to the country of Turkey useful for future travel inspiration.
Visa Requirements for Turkey
Turkey has quite a complicated visa policy, even more so than the Schengen countries. Nationals of Northern Cyprus, several European countries and others can enter Turkey visa free for up to 90 days. Natives of several countries can obtain an e-visa online prior to arrival or upon arrival at Turkish airports. Conditional e-visas are provided to nationals of other countries.
Nationals not falling under these categories must apply for a Turkish visa at a Turkish embassy or consulate at their place of origin. Please check the current guidelines, of the visa requirements for your country and ways to get a Turkish visa before you travel to Turkey.
Important Cultural Information
The official language of Turkey is Turkish. Kurdish is also spoken by about 10% of the population, while the Turkish youth use the increasingly popular English to some extent.
The Turkish people are very kind and hospitable. If invited to their homes, make sure to bring along a token gift. Flowers, chocolates or sweets are highly acceptable. Not all Turks drink alcohol for religious reasons, so gifting alcohol might not be a good idea. Remember to remove your shoes before entering the home.
The Turkish people respect their elderly to a great extent. They will always offer a place to sit for the elderly when using public transportation.
It is acceptable to greet an older Turkish person by bending slightly forward. Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country, therefore, some of the customs are more conservative. Don’t try to shake the hand of a Muslim woman or man, unless it is offered to you. Hugging or unnecessarily touching another person is not the norm.
Blowing your nose or picking your teeth in public, while eating a meal is considered very rude.
Banking & Money in Turkey
The unit of currency in Turkey is the Turkish Lira (TL), which has 100 kurus. The denominations of commonly used bank notes are 5,10,20,50,100 and 200 lira. Coin denominations are 1,5,10, 25,50 kuruses and 1 lira.
There are several legal money exchange facilities in and around most cities. Banks offer the same facilities but with more crowds. The best currency to exchange is the Euro and American Dollar along with Pound Sterling and Japanese Yen.
Credit cards are more or less widely accepted- Visa, MasterCard and to a lesser extent American Express. All credit card users have to use their PIN when making purchases. ATMs are to be found in the more central parts of town. Instructions are available in English and Turkish and money is withdrawn in Turkish lira.
Major banks in Turkey include Ziraat Bankasi, Garanti Bank, Akbank, Turkiye Cumhuriyeti Ziraat Bankasi and foreign banks like Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Citibank, Royal Bank of Scotland and JPMorganChase.
Medical Emergency Information
For ambulatory service dial 112 or 911
For fire dial 110
For police call 155
In rural areas dial 156 for gendarme- a military unit for rural security.
The names of a few hospitals in Istanbul include Surp Agop Hospital, Acibadem Hospitals Group, Balikli Greek Hospital. Some hospitals in Ankara are Ankara Numune Hastanesi, S.B. Ankara Hastanesi and Kolan British Hospital. Sign up for travel insurance coverage for the entirety of your trip to Turkey – we recommended comparing the available options with World Nomads and Safety Wing.
Wi-Fi and Internet in Turkey
Even though mobile phones are widely used in Turkey, many cities may still have public pay phones to use- mostly near central squares and major streets. Additionally some shops and kiosks may have telephones, where you pay in cash after use.
There are three major cell phone providers in Turkey: Turkcell, Vodaphone and Turk Telekom. Turkish mobile phones work on a SIM based GSM network. Provided you buy a prepaid Turkish SIM card- it should work with such a phone. Turkish phones can be bought easily. Prepaid cards are available at most shops and newsagents and also at the airport on arrival. Some line providers have roaming agreements with one of the three Turkish mobile phone companies.
Many Turkish households have DSL connections nowadays, so Internet cafes are not that ubiquitous. However, there are a reasonable number in all major cities and rates are not too exorbitant. Free Wi-Fi connections are available at airports and some hotels/restaurants/cafes. Make sure to always use a VPN service (like ExpressVPN) when using free public Wi-Fi.
Arrival in Turkey
Turkey’s major gateway to fly into the country is via Ataturk International Airport (ISL) in Istanbul. Ankara has an international airport as well but it is less equipped to tackle a large influx of international flights. Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW), which is located 50 km east of Istanbul services low-cost carriers like easyJet. Germanwings, Condor and Turkish Airlines also fly in here.
Search for available flights to Turkey on Expedia.
You can arrive in Turkey from continental Europe via train. The Orient Express of Agatha Christie fame, now longer travels as far as Turkey, instead stopping at Vienna. You can, however, take the TransBalkan from Budapest via Bucharest. Daily trains between Sofia and Istanbul and in the summer months between Belgrade and Istanbul are available. Once a week services from Tabriz and Tehran in Iran to Istanbul are available.
Entering Turkey from Central Europe by car is possible with an International Insurance Card. Major inroads from Europe include the E80 and E87 (from Bulgaria) and E90 from Greece. Roads from Syria, Iraq and Iran converge at different Turkish border cities.
Bus travel from Bucharest to Istanbul is available on a daily basis There are also buses from Romania, Bulgaria, Iran and Syria.
You can travel to Turkey by boat from the nearby Greek isles. A cargo boat service is available from the Ukraine to Istanbul.
Spring (April-May) or Autumn (September-mid-November) is the best time to visit Turkey.
Areas of Turkey
Turkey is divided geographically into seven different regions with Ankara, Istanbul, Antalya, Trabzon, Konya, Bursa and Edirne being the largest cities. Here is a list of several Turkey destinations:
Aegean Turkey, flanks the Aegean Sea, home to many ancient ruins. The beauty of this region is unsurpassed, with olive groves on one side and the blue Aegean on the other.
Black Sea Turkey
A coastal region skirting the Black Sea. It is a mountainous region with dense forest. There are opportunities for white water rafting and trekking in the mountains.
Home to the national capital, Ankara. This region consists of central Steppes with poor vegetation. It is also home to the surreal lunar landscape of Cappadocia and also the Hittite and Phrygian ruins.
Eastern Anatolia has harsh winters and is a high altitude, mountainous region.
The Marmara region, home to Istanbul, is the most developed and urbanized region. A number of Byzantine and Ottoman monuments are to be found in the big cities.
Mediterranean Turkey is home to Antalya. Mountains clad with scented pine trees leading down to the crystal clear Mediterranean Sea, give this region a romantic appeal. This is relaxed, laidback Turkey holiday destination.
The region of Turkey closest to the Middle East and characterized by arid semi-desert conditions.
Transportation in Turkey
Major Turkish cities are well connected to one another via a nexus of domestic flights that are reasonably priced. Turkish Airlines, Onur Air, Pegasus Airlines and Atlasglobal are some commonly used carriers. Ankara and Istanbul have a steady stream of daily flights from other Turkish cities.
Once you have arrived at a Turkish airport, more often than not, Havas buses will be available to transport you to the city centre at lower costs than that of a taxi.
Long distance bus travel is also an option in Turkey. Most buses have air-conditioning and reserved seating options. Bus companies to follow are Metro Bus, Varan and Otogar.
The Turkish Republic State Railway (TCDD) operates passenger trains that are slow but service most of the country. Owing to the fact that some parts of Turkey are mountainous, railway tracks have not reached every nook and cranny of the country. Istanbul-Ankara and Istanbul-Edirne lines are the only electrified lines and the remainder lines are serviced by diesel trains. High speed train lines ply between Ankara-Istanbul-Eskisehir and Ankara-Konya.
Driving is on the right-hand side of the road in Turkey. Most Turkish signboards are similar to European ones. The Bosphorus Bridge is a stretch of Turkish roadway that connects Europe and Asia. Cars for rent are available from a car rental service.
Fast ferries connect Istanbul to the other side of the Marmara Sea.
Accommodations in Turkey
A variety of accommodation options are open to the Turkish traveler, ranging from plush 5 star hotels to the most basic accommodations.
Names of several 5 star hotel brands popularly found in Turkey include the Hilton, Sheraton, Ritz-Carlton and Conrad.
Youth hostels are not that numerous but a few are to be found in Istanbul. They are mainly around Sultanahmet Square and in the Aya Sofia region.
Sometimes guesthouses or pensions have better deals than even hostels, so they are worth checking out if you are on a budget.
Apart Hotels are available too, where you can rent out an entire house with utensils, furniture and appliances. These are mostly found in the coastal towns in the Aegean and Marmara regions.
Camping along the coastline in a campsite with basic facilities like tap water and toilets is another budget option.
What to Eat and Drink in Turkey
Turkish cuisine is a blend of many influences: Mediterranean, Eastern European, Caucasian, Levantine and others. The main staples are rice, bulgur wheat and bread. Beef is the preferred meat, with the aubergine getting prominence in the vegetables.
Some specialty Turkish dishes to try include:
- Adana Kebap (a skewer of chili minced meat) and Pide Bread (Turkish equivalent of pizza)
- Lentil Soup
- Kofte (meatball)
- Doner Kebab
- Lokum (Turkish Delight)
- Menemen (scrambled eggs)
- Simit (like a thin bagel with toasted sesame seeds on top) and Turkish feta cheese
- Turkish Coffee
- Baklava (sweet pastry)
- Kumpir (baked potato)
For the best foodie experience, head to a Turkish dining tour. Or join a full 10 day Turkish food adventure with IntrepidTravel.
Things to Do and See in Turkey
There are a number of places in Turkey to tempt the traveler.
Turkey is packed with jaw dropping monuments and buildings. The Topkapi Palace is one of them, letting you into a foregone era of the glittering world of sultans of the Ottoman Era. The beautiful tiles and jeweled interior decor are amazing.
Visiting the Aya Sofia is one of the top places to visit in Istanbul. The huge monument with thin, pointed minarets reveal a cavernous, frescoed interior, harking back to the days of Byzantine glory.
The Blue Mosque of Istanbul sits next to the Aya Sofia and has vivid blue hand-painted tiles in the interior- hence the name. It was constructed in the seventeenth century during the reign of Ahmed I. This tour combines the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia & Grand Bazaar.
The white calcium deposits at Pamukkale Thermal Pools are a beautiful sight and the thermal springs with therapeutic waters will rejuvenate visitors.
Limestone formations at Goreme National Park are deserving of UNESCO World Heritage Site status. These sedimentary rock formations give the park a surreal atmosphere in Cappadocia. Cappadocia also offers a view of an ancient underground city with churches, carved out of rock. Our guide on experiencing Cappadocia on a budget will make sure that everyone, no matter the budget, can experience the best of this beautiful destination.
The most ancient ruins in Turkey are the ruins of Ephesus- a Greek city that was built in the tenth century BC. The notable ruins to visit include the Temple of Artemis and The Library of Celsius.
In Eastern Turkey, Mount Nemrut is a big draw -with its gigantic eerie statues around the summits funerary mound. Best time to catch them is at sunrise when the figures appear like magic from the dark.
Here’s a guide on things to do in Antalya with kids.
A unique experience for the gents is visiting a Turkish barbershop for a full treatment.
Things to do & see in Turkey
Shopping in Turkey
There are a number of exclusive Turkish shopping items that it is worthwhile shopping for in Turkey.
- Leather clothing(shops in Istanbul’s Laleli, Beyazit, Mahmutpasa districts specialize in them)
- Silk dresses and scarves
- Cappadocia Pottery (tiles, plates, flowerpots etc)
- Turkish Delight and Turkish Coffee
- Chestnut Dessert
- Pine Honey of Marmaris
- Castile or Olive Oil Soap
- Meerschaum souvenirs (rock carved into pipes, cigarette holders and other gift items)
Remember to patiently bargain for everything in Turkey. Try to pay in cash at markets, wherever possible. Crowded bazaars are the nom in Turkey. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is the place to go for handmade carpets and jewellery and just about everything else! Definitely visit the Spice Market in Istanbul if you are a foodie. You will come across spices that you have never even heard of.
If you want to have a good time in Istanbul, a pub crawl is one, but by no means the only option for having a good time. A seven hour pub crawl starts at the Galata Tower and popular pubs are visited atop party buses.
For something more traditional, enjoy a Whirling Dervish Show in Istanbul, preferably at the Hodjapasha Cultural Center. Enjoy Dervish dance and music in this vibrant show.
A Bosphorus Cruise, sailing down the Bosphorus Strait at sunset and enjoying the view of glittering bridges, Princes Island and vistas of Europe and Asia is a unique experience.
Safety Tips for Turkey
Visitors should be alert to incidents of petty crime in around crowded pockets of Istanbul and other big cities. Tourism Police are available to solve traveler related problems, like passport theft in the cities of Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya and Izmir. Staff are usually multilingual. Examples of petty crime include bag snatching, pickpocketing and occasional mugging. There are cameras in crowded, central areas of Istanbul and crime has declined in these regions. However, try to keep your wallet or purse in a front pocket rather than a purse, back pocket or backpack.
If you are renting a car in Turkey, remember to drive defensively because several drivers will not adhere to traffic regulations.
As with all new places, avoid dark alleyways and deserted districts of town.
It is advisable to carry a passport at all times in Turkey in case of routine checks.
If you are venturing out into the wilderness of the Turkish countryside, beware of venomous snake species to be found particularly in the forests of the Black Sea region. The greatest fear from wild animals includes wolves, bears and wild boars. Stray dogs in Turkish cities are a menace particularly because they may be carriers of rabies.
There is so much to see in Turkey, once you start visiting the country, you will realize that you have barely scratched the surface during a single trip. It is a country to be explored and new things to be discovered over the span of multiple trips.
A visit to Turkey will have several highlights according to how you plan your Turkish trip itinerary. Don’t neglect including names like the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia, the Ruins of Ephesus, the Topkapi Palace, Cappadocia, Pamukkale, Sumela Monastery, Mount Nemrut, the Pergamum and other names to that itinerary.
The bustling and busy Turkish cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Antalya are also to be visited. If you are looking for a relaxing beach vacation, head to any one of the destinations on the Mediterranean coastline. Patara Beach is one of the best beaches in Turkey with most of the best resorts in Turkey to be found between Antalya and Alanya.
Wherever you go, you will be met with centuries and centuries of ancient history, jaw dropping natural vistas and also stunning architecture – in some of the world’s greatest edifices. Savour the Turkish food especially the lip-smacking street food. End your meal with a traditional cup of strong Turkish coffee.
If you take a cruise on the Bosphorus Straits you can view the glittering vistas of Europe and Asia by night. Even though this may sound like a cliche, Turkey is the perfect mix of western and eastern cultures – the most occidental of Eastern nations and the most oriental of Western nations.