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Turkey has exoticism to spare, with its covered bazaars, whirling dervishes, sultans’ treasures and Byzantine mosaics. And its natural beauty is abundant, with great stretches of sandy beaches and romantic rocky coves.
Travelers will find Turks to be exceptionally gracious hosts, which makes sense given the country’s place as a crossroads between Europe and Asia. The country has dramatically improved its tourist infrastructure, too.
This appealing mix does have a few drawbacks—increasing prices (though it’s still an inexpensive place to travel), sprawling new development and growing crowds—but they’re hardly enough to spoil a visit. Our advice is to take your time in discovering the country. It’s best experienced in leisurely excursions to places of remarkable history and beauty (such as Cappadocia and Ephesus) and in extended visits to fascinating and energetic cities (such as Istanbul).
Turkey is one of the geographical links between Europe and Asia. The waterway that connects the Aegean and Black seas (by way of the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara and the Bosporus) also divides Europe and Asia, and Turkey has territory on both sides. The country is bordered by Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Turkey’s landscape varies dramatically. It has more than 5,000 mi/8,000 km of coastline along the Aegean, Mediterranean and Black seas. Eastern Turkey is mountainous, with volcanic peaks capped by snow year-round. The lava layers from ancient volcanoes in central Anatolia created a landscape of gorges and “fairy chimneys” in Cappadocia.
Farther west, the mountains give way to rolling steppes and fertile plains before reaching the coast. Although the steppe area can seem desolate, especially in high summer, parts of northern and western Turkey are surprisingly green. The southern part of the country is much drier than the north.
One look at the names of its ancient cities and landmarks confirms Turkey’s place in the history of human civilization: Constantinople (Byzantium), Troy, Midas, Antioch (Antakya), Philadelphia (Alasehir), Halicarnassus (Bodrum), Mount Ararat. The land has a rich and complicated history—and the people known as the Turks have only been there for about 1,000 years.
The Asian side of Turkey, known as Anatolia or Asia Minor, was settled as early as 7000 BC, but historians don’t really know much about the people who lived there until the Hittites arrived around 2000 BC. The Hittites managed to control a good portion of Anatolia, but their rule was interrupted and overthrown by a succession of smaller states, including the Phrygians, the Lydians and Lycians. Eventually, the great empires of Greece and Persia showed up, too, followed by the Romans.
Constantinople (formerly Byzantium and later Istanbul) was founded in the fourth century AD. It soon came to rival Rome as the seat of the Christian world, and the city flourished in this position for hundreds of years. Not until the formal split between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy (AD 1054) and the arrival of the Selcuks (Turks) in the late 11th century did the city begin to lose its luster.
Until that time, most of Turkey’s rulers had come from the west, but the Selcuks changed that. They were descended from the Turkish people of East Asia, and they had a different language and religion (Islam). Various groups of Turks had been making their way westward for centuries, but the Selcuks were the first to dominate central Anatolia. They were soon followed by the Mongols and then the Ottomans, who arrived in the region around AD 1300. The Ottomans ultimately created a new empire, taking Constantinople in 1453 and spreading their rule through much of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.
Turkey offers beaches, historical sites, museums, shopping, palaces, mosques, architecture, good food, spas, beautiful and varied scenery, and watersports.
Turkey will appeal to adventurous, well-traveled people who enjoy the combination of exotic cities, beautiful beaches and historical attractions. Standards in accommodations have increased dramatically in the past few years, although travelers who seek every Western comfort and a high degree of predictability and organization may be more comfortable if they confine their trips to major cities and tourist resorts.
The people originally known as the Turks are thought to have migrated from an area in the eastern part of Siberia.
The origin of the word meander is from the Meander River, the ancient name of Turkey’s Menderes River, which twists and turns its way to the Aegean Sea.
The Quran forbade Turkish sultans to enslave fellow Muslims, so the slave-wives who populated their harems were all Jewish or Christian. Armenian and Cherkess (Circassian) women were particular favorites, and Suleyman the Magnificent had a Russian wife, Roxelana. Over the generations, the Imperial bloodline became increasingly diluted, with the result that the last Ottoman sultans were less than 1% genetically Turkish.
Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express in Room 411 of the Pera Palas, Istanbul’s landmark hotel. It is also where she experienced her mysterious “lost” days—11 days that neither she nor anyone else could account for .
Tulips are originally from Turkey. The bulbs were exported to the Netherlands in the 17th century, where a buying craze sent their prices soaring.
Florence Nightingale pioneered modern nursing in Istanbul during the Crimean War in 1854.
Legend holds that the founders of Istanbul (ancient Byzantium) had been told by a seer to settle across the water from the “city of the blind men.” On one side of the Golden Horn, the adventurers found a perfect site for a city: It had a good water supply, an excellent harbor and cooling breezes, but no one lived there. However, just across the straits was a town built on marshy ground that had no natural advantages. Rightly deeming the others to be figuratively blind, the newcomers established Byzantium.
The Seven Churches of Asia Minor, which figure prominently in the Apocalypse, or Revelation of St. John, were in Ephesus, Laodicea, Pergamon (now Bergama), Philadelphia (Alasehir), Sardes, Smyrna (Izmir) and Thyatira (Akhisar).
Although the croissant is generally considered to be a product of French bakeries, its origin is Turkish (it’s said to be the shape of the Islamic crescent). Another item Turkey introduced to the rest of Europe was coffee. Supposedly, Europeans first learned of coffee and croissants during the siege of Vienna in 1683. When the Ottoman army retreated, they left both behind.
More than one-third of the world’s legally grown opium comes from the Afyon area. Visit in late May-early June to see the fields awash with purple and white “hashhash” poppies.
The magnificent Roman ruins of Bergama (Pergamum) and Ephesus (Efes) along the Aegean coast are justifiably among Turkey’s most popular sights.
The surreal “fairy chimneys” and cave dwellings of Cappadocia, in the center of the country, are also a visitor favorite, as are the region’s many small wineries. Travelers who venture farther afield will be well-rewarded by the strange stone guardians atop Mount Nemrut, the melancholy ruins of the ancient Armenian capital of Ani, the religious sites of Sanliurfa and the dramatic cliff-side Sumela Monastery near the Black Sea coast.
Those who want a break from history will find plenty of modern art and culture, as well as some of the world’s best nightlife, to enjoy in Istanbul. The capital, Ankara, is quiet in comparison, but its Museum of Anatolian Civilizations and the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk offer key insights into the country’s past and present.
To see camel-wrestling matches (lots of snorting and head-butting from the elaborately ornamented animals, plus grilled camel sausage for sale on the sidelines), travel to the provinces of Aydin, Denizli, Izmir or Mugla on a Sunday December-February.
Turkey’s diverse geography offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation, though the sector is still developing.
The 310-mi-/500-km-long Lycian Way traverses the coastal and inland areas of western Turkey known as the western Mediterranean region, passing through forests, villages and ancient ruins. The lesser-known, and somewhat more challenging, St. Paul Trail follows part of the route its namesake walked on his first missionary journey in this part of the world.
The popularity of these routes has led to the development of other long-distance treks, including The Independence Trail, a remote Black Sea path followed by liberating armies, and the timbered Yenice Forest trail.
More serious trekkers can tackle Mount Ararat (16,854 feet/5,137 m), near the Armenian border, as well as hikes in the Kackar and Taurus mountains.
For the ultimate in reasonably priced relaxation, visitors can charter a wooden yacht on a “Blue Voyage” along the Mediterranean or Aegean coasts, stopping in secluded coves to swim, snorkel or scuba dive.
Winter sports are also growing in popularity, with ski resorts near Erzurum (Palandoken), Kars (Sarikamis), Bursa (Uludag) and even Istanbul (Kartepe).
Shop for handwoven rugs and kilims, Iznik tiles, leather and suede items, ceramics, silk, jewelry, alabaster, onyx, embroidery, brass samovars, meerschaum pipes and copperware and brassware.
Some vendors in the markets are aggressive, but they’ll usually respond to a firm but polite refusal.
Other not-so-obvious Turkish specialties are bath products, from natural olive soap to light cotton towels and fluffy cotton dressing gowns.
Carpet shopping is a favorite visitor pastime. Just remember that a key sales tactic is to try to make the buyer feel obligated to purchase something because of the number of carpets the seller has pulled down and rolled open on the floor, as well as the number of cups of tea the buyer has drunk. A simple rule is, even if you like a carpet, don’t buy it till the next day. Any serious carpet seller will put it aside for you. If it still seems worth it after breakfast the next day, it’s the carpet for you.
You’ll be offered many “antiquities,” but most likely they’re fakes. If you do want to buy an antique or any item that may be deemed a cultural artifact, make sure you can get an official permit to export it before you purchase it. Those who don’t have a permit sometimes end up in jail (this is increasingly rare), but are most likely to have their treasures confiscated at customs, even when the treasures are of no real antiquity. Some travelers have reported that new pine furniture was confiscated, so always get a certificate—Turkish officials have a great respect for stamped and signed pieces of paper.
Shopping Hours: Monday-Saturday 9 am-1 pm and 2-7 pm. In resort areas, however, shops stay open as long as late-night visitors are still passing by.
Turkey’s culture matches its geography—poised between the traditions of the Middle East and the familiar practices of western Europe and North America. As such, it’s perhaps the most accommodating Islamic country for visitors from the West, though the country’s customs and religion will require you to take care in the way you present yourself, especially in a business context.
Appointments—An intermediary who can introduce you to Turkish firms will be of great assistance and can help in scheduling meetings. Appointments should be made well in advance. Punctuality is expected.
Personal Introductions—A handshake is the normal form of greeting, although people you have only met once or twice may greet you with a kiss on each cheek. Maintain eye contact but not too intensely. It is customary to address the eldest person first. As part of the many changes that swept the country in the 20th century, many Turks adopted Western-style surnames. Nevertheless, you’ll usually hear Turks addressing or referring to each other by their first name followed by the honorific bey or hanim (for example, a man named Mustafa Koruturk will be addressed as “Mustafa Bey,” while a woman named Ayse Yilmaz will be addressed as “Ayse Hanim”).
In casual conversations, you’ll also hear people address each other as abi (“brother”), abla (“sister”), amca (“uncle”), and teyze (“aunt”), depending on the addressee’s age. If the person has a professional title, use that alone, without a surname.
Negotiating—Turkish businesspeople operate to a great extent on their sense of you as a person. As a result, a lot of time will be spent on “small talk” before any business is discussed. Even after you’ve begun discussing the substantive matters, expect the pace of negotiations to be slow relative to other countries in Europe and North America. Be aware that Turkish society has historically been heavily focused on the family and the relationships immediately surrounding the individual. There is a great deference given the elder or senior members of an organization or family. In business, these senior members are often the decision makers.
Business Entertaining—The Turkish people take great pride in their hospitality and entertaining, which often takes place in restaurants. Allow your Turkish acquaintances to be the first to broach business at such gatherings. It is customary for the host to pay for the guest.
Body Language—Turkey is an Islamic country, though it is less rigid than many others in following traditional Islamic customs. Use only your right hand when greeting someone, when accepting and offering items and when eating. Avoid sitting in any manner that would permit the sole of your shoe or foot to be seen, which would be taken as an insult. It is considered rude to point, especially with your foot. While a nod means yes, a Turk indicates no by raising his or her head slightly, tilting it backward and perhaps making a “tsk” sound with the mouth. Do not cross your arms when in conversation with another, nor should you keep your hands in your pockets. Public displays of affection between the sexes are frowned upon outside the most cosmopolitan parts of cities and beach resorts; even there, visitors should err on the side of discretion.
Gift Giving—Gifts are not always given, but they are appreciated. You should give gifts of alcohol only if you know that your acquaintance drinks (the traditional Muslim prohibition against alcohol is not as strictly enforced or followed in Turkey as it is elsewhere in the Islamic world).
Conversation—The Turkish people are fine conversationalists and will display an interest in you as an individual. Sports, travel, and Turkish culture and history will be welcome topics. Politics—particularly regarding Cyprus, Greece, the Kurds and Armenia—can be troublesome. Be careful not to say anything that is dismissive or critical of Islam.
Other Information—Women should dress modestly, avoiding low-cut tops or short skirts, but it is not necessary to cover your head, arms and shoulders unless you are visiting a mosque or other holy site. Generally, the more modestly you dress, the less unwanted attention you will attract. Be aware that when entering someone’s home you are generally expected to remove your shoes and, in some cases, wear slippers reserved for guests.
Smoking is still a national pastime, although it has been prohibited in almost all indoor locations, including bars and restaurants. In private homes, it is still polite to ask for permission and to offer cigarettes around before smoking.
You should also ask permission before taking photographs of people or of mosques. Be careful not to take photographs of (or even near) military installations; look for the multilingual signs posted with this warning. In Turkey, as with many Muslim countries, shorts are worn by boys younger than 12. Adult men should avoid shorts (with the exception of when they are aboard boats or at the beach), especially if they are visiting mosques.
Although it’s certainly an Islamic country, Jordan is less strict than more conservative nations such as Saudi Arabia. In general, visitors should conform to Islamic customs but will likely find that their Jordanian acquaintances are more accepting of Western attitudes and behavior.
Appointments—Remember that Friday is the Islamic holy day, and business is not conducted then. As a visitor, you should always try to be on time, but your Jordanian counterparts may not be as punctual.
Personal Introductions—Handshakes are common greetings between people of the same sex, always with the right hand. Members of the opposite sex often do not touch when greeting one another. Introductions can be elaborate. If an acquaintance is introduced with a title, use it until instructed to do otherwise. The English titles “Mr.” and “Ms.” are acceptable, along with the last name of the acquaintance. Your business card should be printed in Arabic on one side, English on the other.
Negotiating—Expect things to move slowly. Jordanians usually want to learn about you as a person before discussing any business details. Trying to rush the pace of negotiations will generally prove counterproductive.
Business Entertaining—Expect lavish entertainment. Follow your host’s lead with regard to the consumption of alcohol and pork, both of which are avoided by those following traditional Islamic practices. Social entertaining typically begins late, and business is usually not discussed at such gatherings.
Body Language—Jordanians usually stand close to one another when talking. Men will often touch their male acquaintances (on the arm, say) while involved in conversation, but a man will not touch a woman in the same manner. Pay close attention to which hand you use: The left hand should never be used to shake hands or to accept and offer items, including business cards, pens, etc. Do not point at people, and do not use the thumbs-up gesture, as this has an obscene connotation. Avoid sitting in any manner that would permit the sole of your shoe or foot to be seen, which is considered an insult. If you cross your legs, do so at the ankles. Do not place one ankle atop a knee. Remember that shoes are often removed in homes and always before entering mosques.
Gift Giving— An item from your home country will be appreciated. But avoid giving alcohol or any representation of women (photos, sculpture, etc.) unless you are sure your acquaintance would appreciate and not be offended by such items.
Conversation—Avoid discussing politics, especially Israel (the government of Jordan has engaged in closer relations with Israel in recent years, but this is not seen as a good thing by all Jordanians). The country’s culture and history are appropriate topics. It’s best to be inquisitive rather than offer judgments and opinions.
Despite bombings in Istanbul in 2003 and 2006, and bombings in coastal resort towns and in the southeastern part of the country, travel in Turkey is generally relatively safe, and tourists are usually warmly received.
Some of the most recent bombings have been attributed to the Kurdish separatist group Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK, also known as the Kongra Gel), which has conducted an armed struggle against the Turkish government since 1984.
Fortunately, the tides seemed to turn in 2012, when PKK leader Abullah Ocalan (named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2013) was arrested and recanted his revolutionary Marxist ideology from jail. Since then, the PKK, considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., EU, U.N. and NATO, has signed a cease-fire agreement and started retreating to northern Iraq.
In March 2013, more than a million Kurds gathered in Diyarbakir, the southeastern city and PKK stronghold where the movement began, to reflect on Ocalan’s refreshed message of democracy and peace, signaling a new era of PKK-Turkish relations.
Still, the threat of violence lingers, especially in the southeastern parts of the country, which has been rocked by widespread rioting, ambushes of security convoys and police outposts, and bombings. There, visitors should limit their travel to major highways during daylight hours. Expect to see many checkpoints where you will need to supply identification.
Though most visits happen without incident, Al Qaeda has previously targeted Western interests in Turkey; other terrorist attacks have taken place near the border with Syria. In September 2013, the U.S. Department of State began to withdraw nonessential personnel and family members from its consulate in Adana, near the border with Syria, citing threats against the American government and U.S. citizens. The U.S. Department of State also recommends that American citizens living or traveling in Turkey defer nonessential travel to southeastern parts of the country.
Nonpolitical crime is not a major problem in Turkey. Petty theft, including pickpocketing and bag snatching, occurs in Istanbul and other cities, so be careful with your belongings. Be careful about accepting food or drink from strangers—travelers have reported being drugged and then robbed, although such occurrences are far outnumbered by those of true hospitality. To avoid unwanted attention, women may want to dress conservatively and avoid accepting drinks from strangers.
For the latest information, contact your country’s travel-advisory agency.
You can usually find good to adequate health care and English-speaking Turkish physicians in larger cities, but this is not always the case. It is worth having insurance that will cover treatment at a good private hospital in Istanbul or Ankara. Hospitals there are so good that Turkey is fast becoming a world center of health tourism for people seeking low-cost, high-quality surgery by European or U.S.-trained doctors. Turkish law requires that one pharmacy in every neighborhood remain open 24 hours a day; the other pharmacies in the area will have its address posted in their windows.
It’s claimed that the local water is safe in Istanbul, but we stick with prepackaged or boiled drinks everywhere. To be especially safe, avoid ice as well.
Sanitary conditions in restaurants in central and eastern Turkey may pose problems for some travelers. Don’t hesitate to have a look at the kitchen of a restaurant before you dine—it’s a common custom. Most hot, freshly cooked food should be safe (especially if it’s included on a package tour), but peel fresh fruit and raw vegetables before eating, make sure meat is cooked thoroughly and avoid local dairy products.
Air pollution in the winter from burning coal for heat can aggravate respiratory problems. Malaria has been reported in southeastern Anatolia, from the Mediterranean city of Mersin to the Iraqi border—ask your doctor about antimalarial precautions. You should also consider vaccinations against typhoid and hepatitis.
The sun can be very strong, so use sunscreen liberally and wear a hat. Don’t forget to take along plenty of insect repellent and a pair of comfortable walking shoes. Avoid wild animals, including dogs, which may carry rabies.
For the latest information, contact your country’s health-advisory agency.
DOS & DON’TS
Do know at least a few words in Turkish: Tesekkur ederim means “thank you,” nasilsiniz means “how are you?” and ne kadar means “how much?”
Don’t enter conversations about politics lightly—several topics are potential sore spots with the Turks. These include problems with the Kurds, the massacres of Armenians in 1915 (which the Turks most definitely don’t see as a genocide), Islam and the Middle East, Cyprus and, although to a lesser extent these days, Greece.
Do plan restroom breaks around visits to restaurants and hotels. Public restroom facilities, especially outside of major cities, are often “a la Turka” (squat toilets) and less than pristine. (You will most likely have to pay for the privilege to boot, although the paid places are generally at least clean and have paper).
Don’t assume that anyone else is looking out for your safety: Drivers, especially in big cities, are unlikely to stop for pedestrians, even where crosswalks exist, and the kinds of safety barriers Westerners are used to seeing are rare. If you want to climb on that crumbling castle or hop off the ferry before it stops moving, you probably can; it’s up to you to watch out for yourself.
Do be prepared for the hard-sell tactics of touts and commission boys, who will employ any ruse to get you into a carpet shop, restaurant or pension. Women may find themselves constantly hassled by would-be gigolos who comb resort towns looking for likely prospects. The simplest way to get rid of pestering salesmen and coastal Romeos requires no language skills at all—just tilt your head back quickly and make a “tsk” sound. It isn’t rude—it just means “not interested” and works like a charm.
Don’t back away from a price you’ve offered when bargaining—it’s considered extremely rude not to buy something after stating or accepting a price. Do bargain hard. If you are trying to buy a rug, you should offer 50%-60% of the asking price. If a tout or guide accompanies you, he usually gets 10% of the price (which means you pay 10% more). If you are paying by credit card and you are not asked to pay the credit-card fee, you probably didn’t bargain hard enough.
Do check the arithmetic on restaurant and hotel bills to be sure you haven’t been charged for any item or service you didn’t receive—mistakes often occur. Small amounts of a few kurus are generally rounded up or down.
Passport/Visa Requirements: Passports, visas and proof of onward passage are needed by citizens of Canada and the U.S. Visas may also be arranged online at https://www.evisa.gov.tr.
Visa on arrival is no longer available, as of April 2014.
U.S. and Canadian travelers who arrive in Turkey by cruise ship and sleep on the boat are usually allowed to enter Turkey without a visa for 72 hours. Oftentimes, the cruise liner will arrange for a “blanket” visa to cover your time in port, although this visa won’t cover you if you choose to stay over in Istanbul. We recommend that cruise passengers double-check visa requirements with their cruise company and/or the Turkish embassy or consulate in their area. Reconfirm travel document and visa requirements with your carrier before departure.
Languages: Turkish, with Kurdish and Arabic also spoken in some areas.
Predominant Religions: Islamic (Sunni), though many other sects and religions are represented.
Time Zone: 2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+2 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is observed from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October.
Voltage Requirements: 220 volts. Telephone Codes: 90, country code;
Until relatively recently, the Turkish lira had a bumpy ride: It experienced years of horrific inflation, as well as one of the lowest currency values in the world. Millions of liras were considered small change, to the consternation of locals and tourists alike. Inflation subsided finally, and in 2005, to the vast relief of confused visitors, the government dropped six zeros from the lira and reintroduced the former kurus (one-hundredth of a lira) coins. One million old Turkish lire now equals one lira, which is made up of 100 kurus.
Along with other emerging market currencies, the Turkish lira experienced a sharp depreciation in 2013 as the U.S. Federal Reserve reconsidered its foreign stimulus measures.
Major credit cards are used widely in Turkey, although those without chips and PINs may not be accepted. Note that merchants may try to add a 2%-4% “service fee” on top of your negotiated price, an illegal tactic widely practiced on foreigners. Be warned that credit card fraud runs rampant in Turkey. Inform your bank before leaving if you plan to use your credit card in Turkey, lest the card is canceled or declined upon registering charges there.
Currency exchange bureaus are widely available, offering competitive rates in most places outside of the tourist district of Sultanahmet. Most booths are open 9 am-7 pm, with the exception of the 24-hour booth in the arrivals hall of Istanbul Ataturk Airport. Take your passport and keep all receipts. The lira is fully convertible and can be exchanged back into U.S. dollars upon leaving Turkey. Hotels may also change money, albeit for a lesser rate. Travelers checks can be changed at banks and post offices.
Euros, British pounds and even U.S. dollars may be considered acceptable forms of payment, although we recommend keeping at least some Turkish lira on hand, especially for smaller purchases.
In Turkey, there is an 18% value-added tax on practically all goods (referred to as KDV). Visitors to Turkey can claim their tax money back at the airport or port if they get a tax-free receipt ( KDV iade ozel fatura) when they purchase goods. (Ask for the receipt while negotiating the price, as opposed to post-purchase).
Some merchants display a blue, gray and white “Tax Free Shopping” sign in their store windows.
Give the receipt to a customs officer at the prominently marked “Tax Refund” office at the airport or other exit point, and he or she will give you an immediate cash refund or credit your card with the sum.
Note that you need (in theory) to show the customs officer the items you have bought, which means you should NOT check them at the check-in counter but should carry them through to the tax refund office. In practice, though, the officials are lenient if the items are bulky and you claim ignorance.
Tipping is not necessary for taxi drivers, although rounding the fare up is customary. Tip no more than 10% in restaurants, except for the highest level of service. Make sure a service charge hasn’t already been added to your bill. A tip of 2 TL-3 TL is sufficient for a porter. Tour guides will generally expect about 10 TL-15 TL. If the guide takes you to a shop, he’ll be “tipped” in the form of a commission on anything you buy.
The best time for touring is April-May and September-October, when the day temperatures are most comfortable and the least amount of rain falls.
For the beach worshipper, June-September is best, even though prices are highest at this time and popular resorts can be crowded.
Turkey is a big country, and the climate varies from region to region. The coasts are generally temperate, warm and fairly humid in summer with chilly, rainy winters. Central Anatolia has hot, dry summers and cold, rainy winters with snow. The Black Sea gets the most rain, and southeastern Turkey is very dry and hot (100+ F/38+ C) in summer. Eastern Turkey has short summers and bitterly cold winters with lots of snow. Whenever and wherever you go, take a sweater for cool evenings.
What to Wear
Apart from downtown Istanbul and perhaps Ankara and the centers of resort towns, you should remember that Turkey is a conservative country. As a visitor, you don’t need to cover yourself from head to toe, but stick to relatively modest attire (no spaghetti straps or bare midriffs). To blend in, men should avoid wearing shorts.
At mosques, men and women should dress modestly, with shoulders and legs covered. Women should carry a light scarf to wrap around their heads in case of an unexpected mosque visit (although some of the more popular mosques have scarves available).
The climate of northern Turkey, from the northern Aegean through Istanbul and Thrace to the Black Sea coast, can be damp and wet in winter. Pack lightweight woolens for spring and fall trips; the evenings can get cold, especially at waterside restaurants.
Visitors traveling on business should pack a suit or the equivalent for women, although more casual attire may be worn at some offices. Turkish businesspeople and government functionaries generally dress well, and doing the same is a sign of respect.
There are no coin telephones left in Turkey. Street phones require credit cards or phone cards, which can be bought at most newsstands, tobacco shops, hotel kiosks and post offices. You may still find street kiosks and Turk Telekom shops that offer kontorlu telefons, metered phones that charge you for the number of kontors, or units, you use.
There are a number of mobile phone providers in Turkey, all of which provide GSM 800, 900, 1800 and GPRS services. Your cellular service provider will almost certainly have a contract with one of them, but you must activate roaming on your cell phone.
Other travelers simply purchase a prepaid SIM for their unlocked mobile phones; local carriers include Turkcell, Vodafone and Avea. All prepaid SIM cards come with some amount of credit, known locally as kontor. This may be purchased online or from newsstands, supermarkets or the ubiquitous cell phone stores. Rest assured—Turks love to talk on on their mobile phones; a communications option that fits your needs is never far away.
Dial 118 to be connected with domestic directory assistance.
Getting online in Turkey is never difficult, and if not free, it’s usually very inexpensive. Those traveling with laptops or tablets will find Wi-Fi in most hotels; even Cappadocia’s cave hotels and Olimpos’ tree houses are wired.
Even if hotels don’t offer a connection in guest rooms (and a growing number do), there should at least be Wi-Fi in the lobby or lounge, and/or a personal computer for guest use.
Larger cities and coastal areas offer a growing number of Wi-Fi-enabled cafes, restaurants, bars and even public spaces. Airports also provide Wi-Fi, often for a fee.
Mail & Package Services
Turkish mail service is slow but fairly reliable, especially for outgoing mail—with the exception of any kind of package or parcel, which tend to get looted or stuck interminably in customs.
Addresses in Turkey are written in the bottom right corner of the envelope, in a format that seems slightly jumbled to U.S. and Canadian readers. However, it is important to follow this format (addressee name, neighborhood, street name, street number, ZIP code, state, city, country) to be sure your item arrives at its intended destination.
For sending valuables reliably, use an international courier company such as UPS, FedEx or DHL, all of which have offices in most Turkish cities (check their websites for details). The best Turkish courier is Aras Cargo. http://www.araskargo.com.tr/web_18712_2/index.aspx.
Newspapers & Magazines
The Hurriyet Daily News and Today’s Zaman are the only local English-language newspapers available in Turkey. You can sometimes find them, as well as a small selection of other English-language periodicals—USA Today, the International New York Times, the Financial Times and Time —in areas with lots of tourists, such as downtown Bodrum, Antalya, Alanya and the like.
Istanbul Ataturk Airport (IST) is 15 mi/24 km southwest of Istanbul and Turkey’s busiest airport (allow plenty of time to get to the airport during rush hour). Domestic airlines offer frequent flights to major cities within Turkey. Phone 90-212-463-5555. http://www.ataturkairport.com/en-EN/Pages/Main.aspx.
The Sabiha Gokcen International Airport (SAW), on the Asian side of Istanbul, lies about 19 m/30 km southeast of the Haydarpasa train station. Outfitted with a new terminal in 2009, the airport, named for the world’s first female combat pilot, now handles international traffic, as well as many internal flights for domestic airlines. Phone 90-216-585-5000. http://www.sgairport.com/havaalani/eng/start.asp.
Be sure to check carefully which airport your flight is leaving from if you have a connecting flight to or from an international to a domestic flight.
In 2012, Instanbul ordered Havas, the 29-year-old airport shuttle service that connects both airports to the city center, to close, replacing the popular route with its own Havatas Airport service (http://havatas.com/en). The company responded with a lawsuit, but as of 2013, Havatas (which also stops at the Kadikoy Pier and the Yenikapi fast ferry terminal) was the only company in operation. (Havas services continue in other Turkish towns, just not Istanbul).
Airports in smaller cities, particularly Ankara (Esenboga Airport, http://www.esenbogaairport.com), Izmir (Adnan Menderes Airport, http://www.adnanmenderesairport.com), and Antalya (Antalya Airport, http://www.aytport.com), are slowly increasing the number of international flights, generally to European destinations.
Express bus service connects many European capitals and large cities with Istanbul on a regular (and fairly inexpensive) basis.
Inexpensive buses and minibuses connect most points within the country (the former are quite comfortable and efficient, and the latter provide an opportunity to meet the local people—if you’re willing to sacrifice comfort for that opportunity).
Self- and chauffeur-driven cars are also available (an excellent way to visit the country). Driving is on the right, and most rental cars have manual transmission. Major highways are in good shape, but beware of slow-moving vehicles, animals and especially Turkish drivers, who don’t seem to follow traffic rules. Snow and ice require extra caution. Drive defensively at all times, and avoid driving after dark. City streets are often narrow and congested with traffic. Parking in Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara is a hassle: Don’t bother to rent a car in those cities.
The legal driving age in Turkey is 17 for motorcycles and 18 for cars, although most rental car companies require drivers to be at least 19 years old.
Talking on mobile phones, or driving without seat belts, is illegal and subject to fines. Many U.S. drivers report using their current drivers license without trouble. However, we recommend taking an international drivers permit, just to be on the safe side.
Keep proof of registration and insurance in the vehicle at all times.
Taxis (shared and metered) are the best way to travel within most cities and towns. However, visitors to Ankara and Istanbul should be aware that some taxi drivers may try to cheat tourists by “forgetting” to turn on the meter (and then demanding an outrageous sum). Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir all require taxi drivers to charge the same rate at night as during the day; don’t let them tell you differently.
Shared taxis (dolmuses) travel on fixed routes for fixed fares. Tipping is not expected in shared taxis.
Rail service connects most European countries to Istanbul. The rail service within Turkey is considerably slower and less efficient than buses, although there is a high-speed train between Istanbul and Ankara, and the high-speed network continues to grow.
For More Information
U.S.: Turkish Culture and Tourism Office, 821 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017. Phone 212-687-2194. Fax 212-599-7568. http://www.goturkey.com/en.
Turkish Culture and Tourism Office, 2525 Massachusetts Ave., Washington, DC 20008. Phone 202-612-6800. Fax 202-319-7446. http://www.goturkey.com/en.
Note: This office also handles requests from Canada.
Turkish Culture and Tourism Office, 5055 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 850, Los Angeles, CA 90036. Phone 323-937-8066. Fax 323-937-1271. http://www.goturkey.com/en.
Canada: Embassy of the Republic of Turkey, 197 Wurtemburg St., Ottawa, ON K1N 8L9. Phone 613-244-2470. Fax 613-789-3442. http://www.turkishembassy.com.
U.S.: Embassy of the Republic of Turkey, 2525 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20008. Phone 202-612-6700. Fax 202-612-6744. http://www.washington.emb.mfa.gov.tr.
Foreign Embassies in Turkey
Canadian Embassy, Cinnah Caddesi 58, Cankaya, 06690 Ankara. Phone 90-312-409-2700. Fax 90-312-409-2712. http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/turkey-turquie/index.aspx?lang=eng.
U.S. Embassy, 110 Ataturk Blvd., 06100 Kavaklidere, Ankara. Phone 90-312-455-5555. Fax 90-312-466-5684. http://turkey.usembassy.gov.
Foreign Consulates in Turkey
Canadian Consulate, 209 Buyukdere Caddesi, Tekfen Tower, 16th Floor, 34394 Levent 4, Istanbul. Phone 90-212-385-9700. Fax 90-212-357-1000. http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/turkey-turquie/offices-bureaux/consulate-consulat.aspx?lang=eng.
U.S. Consulate General, Ucsehitler Sokak No. 2,34460 Istinye, Istanbul. Phone 90-212-335-9000. http://istanbul.usconsulate.gov.
Turkey by Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls (Cadogan Guides). One of the most accessible guides to this country. Ancient Civilizations and Ruins of Turkey by Ekrem Akurgal (University Museum Publications).
Aegean Turkey and Turkey’s Southern Shore by George Bean (John Murray Publishers). Two classic but out-of-print guides to the country’s Greek and Roman sites.
Strolling through Istanbul: The Classic Guide to the City by Hilary Sumner-Boyd and John Freely (Tauris Parke Paperbacks). An in-depth walking tour of the rich historical heritage of Turkey’s largest city.
101 Must-See Places in Turkey by Saffet Emre Tonguc and Fatih Turkmenoglu (Boyut). One of the first guides written for Turkish travelers in their own country, translated into English.
The Lycian Way by Kate Clow (Upcountry). A complete guide to Turkey’s most famous long-distance walking path, which traverses ruins, beaches and mountains along the country’s southern coast. Also visit http://cultureroutesinturkey.com/c/lycian-way.
Sinan Diaryz: A Walking Tour of Sinan’s Monuments by Ann Pierpont (Citlembik/Nettleberry Publications). An illustrated guide to the most important works of influential Ottoman architect Sinan.
Southeastern Anatolia Guide: A Panorama of Civilization by Ayse Ucok (available in Turkey). A locally produced guide to the culture, food and historical sights of one of Turkey’s least-traveled regions.
Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World by Hugh Pope (Overlook TP). A brilliant account of the Turks’ 1,000-year journey to Asia Minor.
A Fez of the Heart: Travels Around Turkey in Search of a Hat by Jeremy Seal (Mariner Books). An eccentric account of a journey around Turkey in search of a vanished tradition.
Turkey Unveiled by Nicole Pope and Hugh Pope (Overlook TP). A readable and interesting account of Turkey’s development during the 20th century.
Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds by Stephen Kinzer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). A journalist who has long covered the Turkey beat offers insight into the country’s key political dilemmas.
Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey by Andrew Mango (Overlook TP). The best history of the founder of the modern Turkish state.
The Turkish Labyrinth: Ataturk and the New Islam by James Pettifer (Penguin Books). A critical look at the continuing influence of Ataturk’s legacy and the rise of political Islam in Turkey.
Snow (Vintage), The Museum of Innocence (Knopf) and Istanbul: Memories and the City (Vintage) by Orhan Pamuk. The most accessible literary works by Turkey’s most famous (and Nobel Prize-winning) author.