Note: This post on traveling to Turkey is a guest post by Amy of Templeseeker. Minor edits have been made to change the post to American English. See below the post for our recommendations and tips.
Turkey is a wonderful country full of culture, natural beauty, diverse landscape, very ancient history, and impressive art. Here are my top tips on traveling around Turkey and highlights of my favorite destinations.
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Safety in Turkey
Many wonder if Turkey is a safe country to visit. Over the recent past few years, traveling to Turkey has not been as popular as always due to the events that have brought the country to claim a state of emergency and several travel bans that were issued in 2016.
However, as in many cases, travelers get a different picture than the one portrayed in the news. Nowadays air traffic is increasing again. Protests are rare and there are travel warnings for very small areas and in specific parts of the country (mainly the border with Syria).
Turkey is progressive and cosmopolitan. I found it an easy place to travel, with few safety concerns. There are of course, always some tips and considerations to keep in mind when traveling in Turkey.
Be aware that women, especially those with blond hair, may receive unwanted attention from men. By dressing conservatively, you can limit this. Covering your hair is an option, but not necessary unless you are in a particularly religious area or building.
Do not be afraid to tell men ‘no’ – they simply shouldn’t be touching you without your permission!
Culture and Religion
First of all, remember than Turkey has a majority Muslim population. Keep in mind that the eastern part of the country is a bit more conservative than the west. In the big cities and main tourist destinations, the dress code is not an issue.
People are obviously free to dress as they please, but generally, dressing significantly differently from the rest of the population will make you stand out as a tourist, thus becoming possible prey for robbery and thefts.
Remember that when visiting a mosque, women will be asked to cover hair, shoulders and legs. Everyone is required to take their shoes off. In popular mosques, such as the Blue Mosque, it is possible to use the cover-ups available on the premises.
Another thing to consider is that not many people speak English well in some parts of Turkey. But, luckily, words are said as they are spelled and the letters of the Turkish alphabet are similar to the Roman alphabet.
In most of the tourist spots, however, language is unlikely to be a problem. You may get hassled by street vendors and shop keepers, but you can simply smile and walk on if you are not interested.
Food in Turkey
Being predominantly a Muslim country, don’t expect to find pork. But Turkey is the country of kebabs! The meals are pretty big, but the food is so delicious that it won’t be a problem. Also, it isn’t hard to find vegetarian options.
Budgeting to Travel in Turkey
The great news is that both accommodation and food are extremely cheap in Turkey. The cost of living on average is around half the price of that of the United States.
If you are willing to share, you can book dorm beds in Turkey for around £10 (about 11 Euros). A cheap double room in a basic hotel can be anywhere between £30-£60 (about 33 to 66 Euros).
Food is so reasonably priced in Turkey that it’s even possible to find a 5L kebab or fish sandwich, which works out around $1 – that’s less than £1! A meal in a relatively inexpensive restaurant shouldn’t cost more than £5.
Places to Travel in Turkey
One perfect way to be able to enjoy and experience some of the variety of this country and visit Turkey getting the best out of it is to travel from Istanbul to Cappadocia. If you are planning to visit Turkey, you should definitely not miss out on these destinations! Other highlights include Ankara, Ephasus and Antalya and the Turquoise Coast.
Istanbul is an iconic metropolis and one of the most popular destinations for visitors to Turkey. It is the result of an amazing mixture of ancient traditions and history with modern influences and a multicultural mix.
Its long history, the beautiful architecture, the food, the markets…Istanbul has a wonderful charm to it. Don’t miss Hagia Sofia, Grand Bazaar, the Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace. If you have time, take a boat out on the Bosphorus and visit Princes Island.
Cappadocia is an amazing historical region to visit that offers a beautiful, unique landscape. The scenery that you’ll get when travelling to Cappadocia will literally make you wonder if you’re still on the same planet! There are many Cappadocia tours organised by local companies to help you to explore the area.
I guess you might have seen all those cool pictures on Instagram of a beautiful scenery overlooking the mountains with the sky above full of balloons? It’s Cappadocia! Cappadocia is one of the most popular air ballooning destinations of the world and the entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
It has unique caves and caverns dug into the sides of mountains that resemble a village community. They were probably created during the Byzantine era.
Ankara is the modern capital city and administrative centre of Turkey. It is located in the northwestern part of the country, about 200 km south of the Black Sea.
It’s approximately a 5-6 hour drive from Istanbul to Ankara, and you also have an internal flight as an option.
Highlights of Ankara include the Mausoleum of Atatürk, Ankara Citadel and Kocatepe Mosque. Head up Atakule Tower in the shopping district for views from the highest viewpoint in Ankara.
The ancient city of Ephesus was discovered in Selcuk, Izmir in western Turkey, some 19km from Kusadasi. Ephesus is one of Turkeys most notable treasures and should not be missed!
This ancient Greek city was built in 10th Century BC. You will see the temple of Artemis and the 3rd largest ancient libraries in the world, amongst other theatres, temples and ancient ruins. If you want to have an understanding about the history, it’s a good idea to get a guide.
Antalya and the Turquoise Coast
Antalya and the popular coast of Turkey known as the Turkish Riviera is perfect if you are looking for a more relaxing holiday.
Popular destinations for sun-seeking tourists include Marmaris and Bodrum – full of beautiful beaches and island boat trips.
So Many Reasons to Visit Turkey!
In short, Turkey has it all – the shopping, the culture, the beaches and the history. Whether you want to soak up the sun on the coast, go shopping in Antalya or head to the historical and religious sights of Istanbul, it has something for everyone.
I went to Turkey with the sole purpose of visiting the Blue Mosque….I came back with oh so much more!
5 Things to Bring to Turkey
We’re working on our full list of what to pack for Istanbul, but here are five things you definitely want to bring with you!
The Lonely Planet Turkey: a good guidebook can help you with the kinds of safety tips you need if you’re out in the city and feel a bit lost, especially if you don’t have internet or a cell signal. These also have specific neighborhood information that will help you in different parts of the city, and it’s a great supplement to blog posts like this one!
Unlocked Cell Phone: Stephanie and I both have unlocked cell phones that we bought in Europe (I use a Samsung and Allison uses an iPhone). This allows up to get sim cards when we travel so that we always have the internet. This has gotten us out of so many jams! If you don’t have an unlocked cell phone that can use a Turkish sim card, you can buy a cheaper unlocked phone online and bring it with you!
Pacsafe Citysafe or Other Anti-Theft Bag: This is the bag both Stephanie and I use for all our travels. It has a pouch with RFID technology so our credit cards can’t get scanned from afar, interlocking zippers to make it harder to pickpocket, and it’s roomy enough to be a perfect sightseeing day bag, yet it’s still quite stylish for all of its security features. If you’d rather bring something smaller, you can pack a money belt instead.
Grayl Water Filter: While the water is *technically* safe to drink now, I would still avoid it. If you don’t want to be buying millions of plastic water bottles, you can get a reusable water bottle that comes with a water filter so that you can stick to the tap water and reduce your plastic waste. If you’ll be traveling outside of the major tourist centers, check if the water is potable locally.
Seabands: If you get seasick easily, pack some Seabands or seasickness pills so you don’t miss out on the best parts of Turkey – being on the water! A trip to Turkey isn’t complete without a cruise or at least a quick boat trip, so make sure you’re prepared to enjoy it to the fullest!
More Turkey Travel Resources
We have a ton of resources to help you plan your trip to Turkey!
If this will be your first trip to Turkey, check out this guide to planning a trip to Turkey (including visa information) and this guide beautiful places to visit in Turkey. You can also check out our Balkan currency guide, which explains how the Turkish lira works and guidelines for tipping in Istanbul.
We’re working on our massive things to do in Istanbul post, plus you can check out our guide to the best Instagram spots around Istanbul, tips for shopping in Istanbul, the best Turkish food to eat, how to plan an Istanbul honeymoon, and what to do in Istanbul at night.
If you want to be in the city for just a few days (four or less), check out our Istanbul city break guide, which breaks down the best of the city so you won’t miss anything!
Headed to Cappadocia? If you’re curious about the most Instagrammable places in Cappadocia, we’ve got you covered. We also have posts on the best things to do in Cappadocia, and how to plan a perfect 3 day Cappadocia itinerary, plus how to get to Cappadocia from Istanbul.
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
If you’re planning a trip to Turkey, make sure to travel with a valid travel insurance policy. While we feel safe in Turkey, it’s a good idea to be covered in case of an emergency. Travel insurance covers you in case of theft or an accident, which can save your trip if there’s an incident.
For travel insurance, Allison and I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.
Pin this Guide to Traveling to Turkey for Your Trip!
Stephanie has been living in and traveling around the Balkans for the past three years. She’s written for National Geographic Online, appeared on CNN Arabic and in the New York Times, and ridden more Balkan buses than is good for a person.