Turkey travel tips has been written our Europe content specialist – Alara Benlier, who is originally from Turkey. This post has been further expanded by the editor.
Turkey is historical, vibrant, and is insanely beautiful. This country that’s twice the size of California offers an exhaustive selection of places to visit and travel experiences to its visitors.
While in Turkey, you can find pretty much every kind of landscape (and even more) if you know where to go. You can enjoy thermal springs with crystal clear waters, relax on the inviting beaches, see the ruins of ancient empires, float on a hot air balloon over unique formations, party on a yacht like a millionaire, enjoy delicious culinary and even go skiing.
Turkey’s unique location attracts millions of tourists each year. No matter the season, you can do many fun activities here. Moreover, you can experience countless cultural trips, including wandering around ancient ruins that are also listed as Unesco World Heritage Sites.
So, whether you are a passionate photographer, a gourmet, an adventure lover, or just a professional sunbather, you can have the holiday of your dreams in Turkey. If you are interested, here is everything you need to know before visiting Turkey from a born and raised Turkish expat. Here are my top Turkey travel tips for you.
Travel Tips for Turkey
- Turkey Weather and When to Visit
- Visa for Turkey
- Is it safe to travel to Turkey?
- Currency in Turkey and managing Money
- Which SIM Card to get?
- Scams in Istanbul
- Getting around in Turkey
- Hot Air Balloon Ride in Turkey
- Recommended Itinerary for Turkey
- What to Eat in Turkey?
- Ramadan in Turkey
- What to Wear in Turkey?
- About Turkish Hamams
- Etiquette for Visiting Mosques
- Quick Tips for Solo Women Travelers
- About the writer:
Turkey Weather and When to Visit
No, Turkey isn’t just a summer destination like many places in Europe. Depending on what you want to do, you can visit Turkey during every season. Istanbul and the Sea of Marmara region gets very warmer in summer and it can sometimes rain too. This area gets colder than many other parts of Turkey during winter and it can snow too (but not often).
Most of the coastal of Turkey have a typical warm Mediterranean weather (think of Italy, Greece, etc.) with warm and dry summers and mild winters. The middle part of the country (like Central Anatolia) gets warmer summer days but chilly nights and mornings.
During spring, summer and winter, not only you can enjoy many breathtakingly beautiful beaches, but also you can do lounging, parasailing, paragliding, and even canoeing in the ancient lands of Turkey. And starting from Winter, here is a winter wonderland. Over the years, Turkey became a hot spot for ski lovers with its excellent ski resorts, splendid hotels, and amazing nature.
Visa for Turkey
Some nationalities do not need a visa to enter Turkey, that includes some European countries a few Asian countries and also a few South American countries. They can enter visa free for 90 days.
Many other nationalities can enter with an eVisa and some with a conditional eVisa. Passport holders of Australia, UK, USA need to apply for an Electronic Visa (e-Visa). Indian travelers can get a conditional e-Visa if they already have an active visa from US, UK, Ireland or the Schengen countries.
As the name suggests, the e-Visa Application System allows travelers to apply their e-Visas online. You just have to fill the online form and pay the visa fee, and within 3 minutes, you will receive your visa! Just don’t forget to apply for your visa between three months to 48 hours before your travel date.
Is it safe to travel to Turkey?
The answer to this question is yes, but just like anywhere in the world, you should be cautious about your surroundings. Thankfully, Turkey’s name is coming clean after several terror attacks that happened in the past, and today, it is declared as safe from many governments.
Just be careful around the crowds, and if you are too anxious, try not to visit Turkey around religious and public holidays. Keep in mind that the coasts are safe, and big cities like Istanbul are always surrounded by policemen. Unless you are visiting the cities close to the Syrian border, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.
In any case, you should make it a point to read the travel advisory before you plan your trip and once again before you visit.
Currency in Turkey and managing MoneyThe local currency in Turkey is Turkish Lira. Although most places would prefer cash, you can also pay with VISA and Mastercard.
Try to carry a smaller amount of money for smaller purchases. Turkey has banknotes for 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 lira. So carrying two 50 liras instead of one 100 lira might be better. Haggling is also very common in local shops. You might get up to 50% off from bigger purchases.
Which SIM Card to get?
Due to the legal restrictions, it might be complicated to get a local SIM Card if you’re traveling here for a longer period of time. Generally, you can get a SIM card by showing your passport at one of the shops in the airport or in a store in the city.
There are three network operators in Turkey: Turkcell, Vodafone, and Türk Telekom. They have official stores everywhere around the country.
Turkcell is known for its good connection, but it is the most expensive one. Vodafone is also fairly good and Türk Telekom is the cheapest one. Although Türk Telekom is good, if you are planning to visit locations with high altitude, I would stick with Vodafone or Turkcell according to my budget.
Also, all mobile devices purchased outside Turkey that use a Turkish SIM must be registered with the government after 120 days. If not, you will end up with a phone that doesn’t work.
Scams in Istanbul
Istanbul is one of the most visited cities in Turkey due to its historic beauty. And just like every other tourist city, here also has typical tourist scams. Although the Turkish people are very helpful, it is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to scams. The most known ones are taxi scams, pickpockets, and paying more because you are a tourist.
Taxis usually take a longer road to get you to your final destination to make you pay more money. To prevent that you can use public transportation, or if you have to use a taxi, you can ask the reception of your hotel or hostel to call a cab for you.
To avoid pickpockets, you have to be careful about your belongings. If you are around a crowd, keep your bag in front of you or somewhere you can see it.
And last but not least, sellers might charge you more money because they think that you don’t know the actual price of their products or services. To prevent that, do your research! Thanks to the internet, you are one click away from knowing all the best and the worst shops all around the World.
Overall Istanbul is a majestic city, but keep in mind that Turkey offers more incredible cities. So, if you have enough time, try to spend less time in Istanbul, and explore other cities in Turkey.
Getting around in Turkey
You can get around in Turkey by internal flights, renting a car, using a coach, and depending on the location – even a ferry.
With its bunch of airlines that fits your budget, Turkey can be easily explored by a plane. Due to the competition, you can book a cheap flight and fly to almost every city in Turkey.
One of the low cost carriers in Turkey is Pegasus Airlines, that’s what the Drifter Planet team used in Turkey twice. Although it is not the most environmentally-friend option, if you have a tight schedule, you can always get to your destination very quickly via planes.
Although renting a car is always an option, I wouldn’t recommend it. If you are aiming for a heart attack, then renting a car might be the one for you. Having one of the most expensive gas in the entire World, constant traffic, and of course so many angry drivers that ignore most of the traffic signs, you can easily rent a car in Turkey with your passport or driving license. Just make sure to rent your car from a reliable agency, like Europcar, or Avis, and get insurance for the car.
Most Turkish people use the coach, especially the night coach, as a more budget-friendly option. The buses in Turkey for longer destinations are very luxurious and shockingly affordable. Every Turkish town and city have a bus station, called otogar. From there you can buy your bus ticket, which is called bilet in Turkish.
If you are a solo traveler, depending on your gender, you can book a seat next to your own gender to ensure safety as well. During your trip, you will be served a cake or sandwich, and a bottle of water for free. Most of the bus companies also provide wireless Internet, and a film to watch. Buses will stop in many resting places for you to use the toilet, stretch your legs, and eat in restaurants.
It isn’t easy to prebook the buses online without a Turkish card or phone number but it can be done if you really try your best. We were able to book a bus with “MetroTurizm“, but only after translating the entire website in English. Somehow their English version of the website wasn’t allowing bus bookings at that time.
Ferries are also a great option for traveling in and around Istanbul, Izmir, and from incredible cities like Bodrum and Marmaris to the Greek islands.
Hot Air Balloon Ride in Turkey
The most beautiful place on earth where you can enjoy a hot air balloon ride is right here in Turkey. It is in a mystical fairy land called Cappadocia, which looks like it belongs on another planet. Cappadocia’s landscape looks surreal, and it looks it is out of a science fiction movie like Star Wars.
There are fairy chimneys and caves everywhere in Cappadocia. People still live in these caves and many have been transformed into spectacular hotels. Right here, you can enjoy a hot air balloon ride to experience the most magical sunrise.
Cappadocia is massive and has around 10 villages that are all unique in their own way. One can get a little confused about where to go. The most popular place in Cappadocia for a hot air balloon ride is Göreme. Be sure to read about Cappadocia on our website – Hot air ballon experience in Cappadocia, staying in a cave hotel in Göreme and Cappadocia’s Instagram worthy spots.
Recommended Itinerary for Turkey
It is no secret that there are lots of places to visit, lots of things to do and lots of things to eat in Turkey! If you want to visit this glorious country, but don’t know where to start, there is a great 10-day itinerary on this website, which covers the most attractive places you can visit in Turkey. However, if you want to spend more time in Turkey to understand the culture better and explore all around it quickly, here is a two-week itinerary of Turkey!
Day 1 and 2 – Istanbul
Istanbul is mostly famous for its bridge that brings together Asia and Europe, mosques, tulips, seagulls, and Turkish bagels. But the city also has a great history dating back to 660 before Christ, Roman empire, Byzantine, and Ottoman empire. If you want to check out the historical monuments on your first day, you can start exploring Istanbul from Sultanahmet Square, where you can find Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, Sultanahmet Mosque, and Basilica Cistern.
On your second day, you can shop at the Spice Bazaar aka Mısır Çarşısı, which is one of the largest bazaars in Istanbul. Here, you can buy spices, Turkish delights, jewelry, souvenirs, dried fruits, and nuts. The Grand Bazaar, on the other hand, is the oldest and largest bazaar in the world with 4,000 shops and 350,000 visitors a day!
Day 3 and 4 – Bursa
Bursa was the first capital city of the Ottoman Empire. But here is not only known for its history, but also its silk, ski resorts, and thermal baths made here a must-visit city. Due to located near an extinct volcano called Uludağ mountain, Bursa has thermal baths with mineral-rich waters.
If you are visiting Bursa, you should experience the traditional thermal Turkish bath, since it is one of kind! The mineral water boils up from below to comfort you and nurture your skin! As a tradition, you should get the best rubdown (kese) to get rid of the dead skin cells and a massage just to relax your muscles.
Day 5 – Izmir and Ephesus (Efes)
Izmir is blessed with amazing beaches, gorgeous nature, and of course, ancient places like Unesco World Heritage Site listed Efes!
While in Ephesus, you can check out many historic gates and temples, but the most impressive ones are definitely the Temple of Artemis and the Library of Celsus. But if you enter Ephesus from the south entrance, you will see its world-famous theatre. This theatre not only witnessed the history but also hosted many amazing performances by Elton John, Ray Charles, Jethro Tull and many more!
Day 6 and 7 – Bodrum
With its pure white buildings with Saxon blue doors, its amazing seacoast, and gorgeous bougainvillea flowers, Bodrum is definitely a must-visit city! This old fishing town is located on the coast of the astoundingly clear blue waters of the Aegean Sea and also hosts the ancient city of Halicarnassus, which is said to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World!
The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus has an ancient tomb, which was built between 353 and 350 BC! In here, you can also check out the Myndos Gate, which was built under the reign of King Mausolus. This gate witnessed the greatest battles during the siege of the city by Alexander the Great.
Day 8 and 9 – Fethiye
With its breathtaking marina, amazing night-life, and otherworldly sea, Fethiye is the only city in the world, where you’ll find sarcophaguses on the streets! In here, you can swim in the Dead Sea/Blue Lagoon, and also do lounging, parasailing, paragliding, canoeing and many more! The world-famous beach of Fethiye and its blue lagoon, Ölüdeniz, is known for its shades of turquoise and aquamarine, and it is officially awarded as a Blue Flag beach.
On your second day, you can hike the ancient Lycian Way to check out the amazing views of the sea and the mountains. You also have to check out the gorgeous Butterfly Valley! This valley’s name comes from the endemic butterflies that live near the waterfalls on the canyon wall. From the top of this valley, the view of the bay is just breathtaking.
Day 10 and 11 – Antalya
When you first hear Antalya, you might think of beautiful beaches, a bright sun, and 5-star hotels. But Antalya also offers gorgeous ancient cities and sights! On your first day, you have to check out Aspendos, which is an ancient Greco-Roman city in Serik. Aspendos has huge fame with its breathtaking Roman theatre, the best-preserved theatre in Turkey. The theater has a seating capacity of 20,000 people, and it is still used for concerts.
For your second day, you can visit the Konyaaltı, which has a pebble beach with amazing turquoise waters. Here you can also paraglide and enjoy many water sports. Or around 60 km away, you can visit the sandy Lara Beach, which is known for its curative sands for the ones with rheumatism problems!
Day 12 and 13 – Pamukkale
With its mineral-rich hot springs and its ancient Greco-Roman city, Pamukkale is a natural site, located in Denizli. Pamukkale literally means cotton castle in Turkish, which suits its amazing calcium-rich springs that shaped its snow-white limestones over the centuries perfectly. But this Unesco World Heritage site is not only popular for its natural pools but also its holy ancient city of Hierapolis!
On your second day, you have to check out this Greco-Roman city. Hierapolis was founded as a thermal spa early in the 2nd century BCE. After the archeological diggings, many significant structures like gorgeous Byzantine gates, a theatre, temples, thermal baths, and an extensive necropolis came to light.
Day 14 and 15 – Cappadocia
With its fairy chimneys, amazing nature, and fun hot air balloon activities, Cappadocia offers a great time for its visitors. Being on the Unesco World Heritage List, with its fairytale looking landscapes with fairy chimneys, pigeon houses, orchards, and vineyards, it is surreal to fly over the beautiful valley and have the most romantic time while gazing the sunset!
On your second day, you should visit the Ihlara Valley, which is a 16 km long valley that is a home for 105 ancient churches! This unique valley’s honeycombed churches were built by Cappadocian Greeks. It is truly a magical place to wander around while listening to the peaceful river sounds.
What to Eat in Turkey?
Turkish cuisine is one of the most diverse and famous cuisines in the entire World. You may have eaten Turkish dishes before, but there are some must-taste dishes that you shouldn’t miss while visiting Turkey!
- As the main dish, you can have Iskender Kebab, Şiş (Shish) Kebab, Mantı, Etli Ekmek, or if you are vegetarian, you can have Meze or street food like Kumpir.
- Iskender Kebab is a traditional Döner kebab which is served with yogurt and a warm tomato sauce and melted butter over pieces of thinly sliced lamb meat and pide.
- Şiş (Shish) Kebab, on the other hand, is grilled chicken, beef, or lamb on a skewer, served with rice, salad, and fries.
- If you crave carbs, you should try Mantı aka Turkish Ravioli! Mantı is little a handmade dumplings are filled with ground lamb or beef, which topped with creamy yogurt and melted butter tomato paste sauce. Or Etli Ekmek, which is a long and thin piece of flatbread, topped with meat and cheese.
- If you are a vegetarian, you will love Etli Ekme because you can choose your own toppings to “vegan-ise” it.
- As a lighter dinner option, you can have Meze, which actually consists of a small selection of dishes commonly served with drinks or before a meal. You can either just eat Meze, or you can also order a main dish with them. Turkish people love eating Meze while drinking Rakı, which is a traditional alcoholic beverage.
- Traditional Turkish Mezes are Cacık, which is yogurt with herbs and cucumber, hummus, butter, Dolma, which is rice-stuffed vine leaves, eggplant salad, Feta cheese and all served with a warm pide. Pide is a flatbread which is kind of like a pizza, but is much better. It is a typical Turkish comfort food.
- And lastly, Kumpir is actually a giant baked potato, which is cut down the middle and served with butter, cheese and various toppings that you choose. As a dessert, you can have World-famous Baklava, and of course Turkish delight.
- Turkish cuisine is very flavourful and best complemented with local alcoholic beverages. You can have some Turkish wines include Kavaklidere Yakut (Bogazkere – Okuzgozu), Merlot, and Vinkara.
The national drink, Rakı, is a must if you want to have an authentic Turkish food experience. It is a spirit, distilled from grapes and made with aniseed. When Rakı is mixed with water and ice, its color changes from transparent to white, which is why it is also called lions milk.
Ramadan in Turkey
Ramadan is called Ramazan in Turkey. It is important to know about this because it is a month long of fasting time, that ends with Eid ul-Fitr . During this time, the locals do not eat or even drink anything from the time sun rises and to the time it sets; they only eat after the sunset.
If you’re in a smaller part of Turkey during Ramadan, you should know that some restaurants will be shut during the day, and it is considered inappropriate if you eat in front of those who are fasting. Although in touristy places like Istanbul’s Sultanahmet square, you will easily find a bite to eat.
The dates for Ramazan are for this year are 24 April 2020 to 23 May 2020.
What to Wear in Turkey?
No, all Turkish people don’t dress conservatively. Somehow the country is split where one half of the people wear conservative attire while the other half wear whatever they want and don’t mind showing some skin. Don’t stand out as a tourist, but try to blend in.
You can wear pretty much anything you want in Turkey, depending on the weather. During summer, light cotton pants, T-shirts and flip-flops are the most common clothes to wear. Depending on the location, you can also wear shorts.
During Spring and Fall, you should bring a warm jacket/windbreaker because the weather is rainy, and it is chilly at night. And during winter, better pack your sweaters because it snows almost everywhere in Turkey. For the beach, you can basically wear anything you want. Most Turkish women love sunbathing in their bikinis.
If you are planning to visit mosques and churches, you should not wear any shorts or sleeveless tops. Women should also cover their hair. And don’t forget to bring socks since most of the mosques have carpet floors, and walking with your shoes on a carpet (or inside the house) is not acceptable for Turkish people. Overall, modesty is very appreciated in Turkey. If you want to avoid some looks while walking in the city, try to dress up on the conservative side.
About Turkish Hamams
Turkey might be known for its amazing beaches, and historical places, but this country is also blessed with more than 1,000 thermal springs. These mineral-rich springs have also healing properties, which is the reason why they attract many tourists throughout the year.
You will find lots of Traditional Turkish Bath places which are called Hamam anywhere you visit in Turkey. If you want to get rid of all the dead skin cells from your body, you can visit the Hamam of your choice. But there are a couple of things to know!
For example, every Hamam has two sections, one for women and one for men. This means that at most of the Hamams, you can’t get scubbed down with your significant other.
Keep in mind that, Hamams are HOT. If you have any lung or heart problems, ask your doctors for permission beforehand.
If you are visiting a Hamam, don’t forget to bring your bathing suit and some clean sandals.
When you enter the Hamam, you will see an amazing interior and five to six taps of water with beautiful sinks underneath. In the middle, there will be a big stone which is called göbektaşı.
If you want to be rubbed down by a professional, he or she (depending on your gender) will come and rub you there. Before the rubbing, you need to be inside of the Hamam for at least 15 minutes. Afterward, they will first soak your body with warm water, otherwise, the dirt won’t come off.
After the washing up, you will receive a massage, and later you will get rubbed with an oriental washcloth, which is called kese. Finally, you will receive another soapy wash, followed by a rinsing session with cold water.
After the whole experience, don’t forget to tip your attendant. PS. You need to wash your private parts yourself. Most of the Hamams, people are inside are butt naked, but it doesn’t mean that you also have to be. Also, bring your own soap and shampoo if you are allergic, and don’t forget to remove your makeup because it will get ruined.
Etiquette for Visiting Mosques
One of the most beautiful experience in Turkey is listening to the unmissable call of prayer 5 times a day from a nearby mosque. There’s something calming and soothing about this sound. Of course, you should try to expand this experience by visiting a mosque. Please don’t be stupid enough to mimic this sound of prayer, even if you’re in a hostel and are sitting with backpackers.
Dress conservatively if you’re visiting a mosque. Cover your legs, arms and shoulders – this is for both men and women. In most of the mosques, you will be able to pick up scarf to cover your head on your way in. Photograph the architecture by all means, but look out for “photography allowed” signs before you do. Do not take the liberty of photographing the locals in prayer without their permission.
Just like many places of worship all over the world, you will need to remove your shoes at the entry point so wear something that can be easily removed.
Quick Tips for Solo Women Travelers
Traveling to any new country as a solo woman traveler can be overwhelming but at the same time, liberating. Turkey is an amazing country and is an excellent destination for a solo woman traveler.
We have mentioned this before in this article, but it is time to reiterate – try to blend in. Dress like locals and don’t let your outfit or actions scream “tourist”. Be careful of your surroundings at all time and listen to your gut. If a place or a situation doesn’t feel safe for any reason, then get out. Make friends with other women travelers that you meet, share stories and stay connected.
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About the writer:
My name is Alara Benlier, and I am a passionate traveler who is in a constant search for delicious foods and historical places. Currently living in Germany, I visited many places in Europe and met lots of lovely people from different cultures. Before Germany, I lived in Rotterdam for a year and traveled all around the Netherlands. I am excited to share all my experiences in Drifter Planet.
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