Turkey is a fascinating country, as it is truly a meeting of two continents, where East meets West. In fact, just to illustrate that point, its largest city, Istanbul, is actually situated in both Europe and Asia.
Turkey is perennially popular, due to its diversity that allows visitors to enjoy snow skiing on one day, cruising on sparkling waters in the Mediterranean, Bosphorus or Black Sea the next, before taking time out to visit some amazing, ancient monuments. You can see evidence from the Roman, Persian, Greek and Ottoman empires throughout the country.
Want to set your watches? Turkey is two hours in front of Universal Coordinated Time in the winter and three hours ahead, due to daylight savings time, in the summer.
By the way, in case you’re thinking that Istanbul is the capital, it’s not. This honour belongs to Ankara, which is much smaller and situated towards the middle of the country.
This is a predominantly Muslim country, with Kurds making up about one fifth of the population and Turkish the other majority ethnic group.
What do you need to know in order to integrate into this culture? Firstly, you should know that the country is a melting pot of different customs and cultures, due to its position straddling the European and Asian border. Turkish people are generally friendly, although don’t expect them to show this outwardly. It’s not normal practice to smile at strangers, as this is interpreted as too bold a gesture, so you may not get a return smile if you try. It’s quite common to see people holding hands, however, whether they be men or women, as this signifies friendship. Displays of affection, however, are not usually seen.
If you’re invited into somebody’s home, make sure that you take off your shoes, but try not to point as you might in Western society, as this is considered to be rude.
Don’t be surprised if your Turkish host is quite forward when expressing their opinion, as this is their way. Don’t take this as being offensive, but just get used to the custom.
It’s difficult, however, to generalise about what weather you may expect, as the country’s geography is so diverse. You’re likely to see big differences between the coastline and the inner mountain ranges. In general, expect winter temperatures to average between three and 11°C, springtime (between April and June) from eight to 26ºC, and summer be consistently in the 20s to lower 30s.
What’s the best way to get around? The public transportation network in Turkey is well structured and you can find a variety of options from ferries, to flights, to trains or long distance coaches. If you will be focusing on the big cities such as Istanbul, expect the normal challenges associated with a large population. Traffic is often stop/start and you may find it quite difficult to navigate your way around in a rental car. When you’re in the city, stick to buses and trams for a faster solution. You’ll also find a large variety of taxis, but you should always make sure you are entering an official vehicle, while getting a fair price for your journey. If you’re not sure, get your hotel to hail one for you. If you do decide to get a rental car and drive yourself, always remember to keep to the right side of the road in this country.
Before you go, what else do you need to know? All visitors are required to get a visa before they can enter the country, which is normally valid for 90 days. You can process this online. The currency is the Turkish lira, although Euros are generally accepted as well. Electrical devices work off a 230V system and you should make sure that you get an adapter with the right type of plug before you travel.
When you go out at night, remember that the drinking age in this country is 18 and when it comes time to pay for your meal, tipping is only expected if the service is exceptional and normally you should leave about 10%.
As already noted, Turkey is truly a melting pot of life based on New World versus Old. It’s become very popular as a destination due to its exotic diversity and range of experiences. You will find some striking Mediterranean coastline on the one hand, and enthralling cities on the other. You don’t have to go too far off the beaten track to find some relaxing, rural locations if this should be your wish.
When you’re planning your visit, try and make sure that you take in a little bit of everything, from luxury beach resorts to ancient ruins, from a taste of Istanbul, to one of the many historical landmarks.
There are four popular tourist city destinations in Turkey. The first, unsurprisingly, is Istanbul, the ancient capital of the Ottoman and Byzantine empires. Historic sites abound, interspersed with dining, nightlife, and shopping experiences. Make sure that you take in the Old City.
Bodrum is south of Istanbul and sits charmingly on the edge of the Aegean Sea. Once again, you can see some fascinating ruins here, but it’s best known for its stunning beaches and resorts.
Side is a small town located on a peninsula and is surrounded by an imposing Roman amphitheatre, where many of the ruins and excavations can be seen. Another popular beachside resort is Antalya. This location has an additional attraction for mountain climbers, with spectacular peaks rising almost out of the ocean.
Sultanahmet, a part of Istanbul, is a favoured destination in its own right. Here you can immerse yourself completely into Turkish culture in authentic style and understand what makes Turkey so different. The Basilica Cistern is the main attraction here, an underground palace that was built in the sixth century. The palace is the size of a conventional cathedral and today, it is partially inundated with water. You will also find one of the city’s premier covered markets, the Grand Bazaar, as well as the Blue Mosque and the Spice Market.
If you know your history, you will certainly have heard of Gallipoli. Many Australians visit this important landmark in World War I history, especially on Anzac Day. Many thousands of Australians can be seen at the Dawn Service. It is sobering to think that a large number of people died during fierce battles across the hillside and beaches of this national historic park. There are a number of monuments to commemorate the fallen, made out of bronze and marble.
If you want to get a real feel for the place, you should make sure that you take a guided tour which will last several hours, but cover all of the interesting sites, the trenches, and hidden tunnels. If you do want to visit on Anzac Day, plan well ahead of time due to the numbers of visitors. You may be able to get a more authentic feel, however, when it’s less crowded and you’ve got more time to imagine what really went on there.
When it’s time for you to hit the beach, there are a number of great ones to sample, even based on Australian high standards. Towards the south, there is Patara, which is spectacular in its own right. It’s more than 40 km long and is said to be probably the largest stretch of virgin sand to be found in the entire Mediterranean basin. You won’t see any buildings apart from the odd cafe, but you will encounter some intriguing Roman ruins, just to the edge of the sand dunes.
Next, it’s time for you to visit the Turkish town of Trabzon. Here you will find the Sumela monastery, perched high up on the side of the Zigana Mountains. This is said to be one of the best examples of an ancient Christian monastery around today and is thought to be more than 1,000 years old. You’ll need to be in good shape to access the monastery as it is a steep climb up some narrow steps. However, you will find some libraries, a fountain, some small chapels and the famous Rock Church.
Prepare yourself for an amazing sight when you visit the underground city of Derinkkuyu. This place was designed to keep citizens hidden and safe during the days of Roman oppression. It’s 60 m underneath the ground and could shelter more than 20,000 people, together with their livestock and food supply. It’s amazing to see how people used to live back in those days.
Pamukkale is a famous location in western Turkey known for its white rock structures. The literal definition is “Cotton Castle” and it is said that a high amount of mineral in the springs has led to the formation of this intriguing white structure. This is a World Heritage site and worthy of your visit, where you will also see the ruins of some Greek temples and the monuments of Hierapolis.
Ephesus is one of the country’s more popular tourist destinations for a reason. This ancient city was one of the largest in the Roman Empire as far back as the first century BC. The ruins are well preserved and it’s no surprise that this destination houses one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, known as the Temple of Artemis.
Finally, round off your visit by seeing the landscape of Cappadocia. Many people choose to take a ride on a hot air balloon to fully appreciate the natural formations and honeycombed hills. You should also make time to visit the nearby museum in Goerme, with its Byzantine art.
When you consider that Turkey is one of the most popular destinations in the world for tourists, with more than 30 million visitors every year, then it’s a remarkably safe destination. You will no doubt have heard about some recent terrorist activity, however, and know that there are, from time to time, political protests in some of the big cities. You need to exercise a certain amount of caution and should not spend too much time in densely packed areas like bus stations, airports, or shopping malls.
There have been some recent attacks throughout Turkey linked to terrorism, such as suicide bombings and other explosions. It’s unfortunate that Turkey is experiencing an increase in this terrorist activity and some of this takes place in areas that may be populated by Western tourists. However, the most risky region is near to the Syrian border, which is quite a bit off the beaten tourist track. Government advisers do caution that attacks can take place at any time and in any place and you should check for any updated advisories before you travel and while you’re there.
Generally speaking, though, you need to keep your wits about you and watch out for any potential “scams.” One of the most well-known is the pushy seller who tries to sell you a “genuine” Turkish rug. Do make sure that it is in fact the real deal and only work with reputable places, or you may not actually get the rug sent to you at all.
When you are in one of the major tourist destinations, watch out for fake tour guides. These individuals may appear to be knowledgeable on the subject, but they may try pushing for a very hefty fee for their services.
On the subject of handing over money, always pause to make sure that you are giving and receiving the right denomination. Some sellers will try to throw you off guard. You should always doublecheck that the price you’ve been quoted is actually in Turkish lira, and not in the more-costly Euro.
You’ll also need to watch out for petty theft and pickpockets, as you might in any major city. Always keep your belongings in front of you, rather than in a back pocket and watch out for those who would snatch a handbag. Be careful when counting your money and don’t wear overly “flashy” jewellery or watches, which might attract attention. Never accept any food or drink from a stranger, as in some situations criminals may have spiked these in order to drug and subsequently rob the victim.
Be careful when you’re driving, as the rate of car crashes is quite high in this country. Watch out also for poor driving conditions at night.
If you do choose to take part in an adventure, like canoeing or paragliding, make sure that you check the safety standards first and only work with providers that give you the proper equipment. Know where the nearest medical centre is, as these can be fairly hard to find in rural areas. You will find that private hospitals tend to have more English-speaking staff than public facilities. You’ll generally need payment upfront or proof of insurance.
Always remember that this is a Muslim country where standards are quite conservative compared to other countries. The bigger city people tend to be more tolerant, but they’re nevertheless serious when it comes to their faith. Always avoid outwardly boisterous behaviour and remember that women need to wear a covering on their head when visiting a religious building.
Finally, Turkey is in an active earthquake zone and while these are rare, expect considerable disruption to infrastructure if they do happen. Watch for the bushfires along the coasts and near to Gallipoli.