Turkey Travel Guide
🗝️ Key Facts
💶Currency: Turkish Lira (Try)
🕙Time Zone: +2 GMT
📞Phone Code: +90
✈️Best time to visit: Mar-June/Sept-Nov
🍴Eat: Turkish Döner Kebab
🍷Drink: Turkish Coffee
🗺️Don't miss: Views from Galata Tower
🗺 Menu of Contents:
Turkey is amongst the top holiday destinations in the world. It's highlights include, sun-kissed perfect beaches, ancient ruins, epic religious sites, wonderful food, glorious scenery, and a warm welcome from the famously friendly local people.
Turkey includes tremendous variety in its vast borders: the west and east coast beach resorts offer pristine beaches and gorgeous turquoise-coloured waters, while to the west of the land are the rugged mountains of the Anatolian plateau, with its ancient cities and vibrant tribal cultures.
Turkey's variety is best experienced in the glorious city of Istanbul, straddling two continents across the Bosphorus, and with Ottoman mosques and palaces, Roman ruins and glorious Byzantine churches interspersed with cutting edge nightlife, retail stores and modern developments.
It's easy to get seduced by the picture perfect resorts of Oludeniz, Bodrum and Marmaris, but Turkey has plenty of other world-class attractions. Top draws include Cappadocia's famed rock-hewn houses and churches, set amid a lunar-esque landscape; Gallipoli, a emotionally moving WWI site; the astounding ancient cities of Ephesus and Pergamum; and the thermal waters of Pamukkale.
Turkey offers a curious and exciting mix of ancient and modern cultures with east and west civilizations. Visitors will soon realise that they need more than one holiday or trip to experience what can Turkey truly offer and take back many great memories!
Travelling to Turkey has improved substantially in the last decades, with safer and a more reliable transport infrastructure, both by road and air. Turkey is one of the most popular places to travel to for those seeking a warmer climate year round. It's easy to travel by air with direct flights not only to the main city, Istanbul, but to the coastal cities of Bodrum, Antalya and İzmir.
The national airline of Turkey is Turkish Airlines, which provides the best connections to the country, either direct to Istanbul or making a stopover to another city in the country. They offer the best service, a high quality product with frequent flights to the popular holiday cities and very reasonable fares. Turkish Airlines is also a major global airline now a days, with over 300 destinations worldwide flying a modern fleet or aircraft direct to many capitals across 4 continents. Flying direct to Istanbul is possible from cities like New York, Los Angeles, Havana, São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Jakarta and many more long haul destinations. At the same time, from Europe it flies from nearly every major city, not only the capitals but smaller airports as well, which makes Turkey Airlines a very attractive airline to fly direct to Istanbul or as a transit hub.
It's also possible to fly with other major European airlines from the main capitals, Asian airlines and from the Middle East. However if you are coming from Europe, it's easy to get package holidays to turkey and most likely charter flights which take you directly to the destination. Airlines like Condor can offer seat only reservations on the charter flights, specially during the Summer timetable. (March to October).
Low cost airlines flying from Europe to Turkey are a good option as well when going for a short period, or don't have much luggage, Easyjet, Pegasus, Atlasjet Airlines, Sun Express or Onur Air are a good choice.
Once in the country, travelling by air is the best option when going from Istanbul to other cities with flying times of one hour to popular cities. Fares are also cheap, making it an ideal option when time is tight when travelling. Turkish Airlines provides the most frequent flights, best times and good fares. Alternatively, trains are a good option linking major cities in about 3 hours from Istanbul with high speed trains getting each time more popular to use. Busses connect to all major cities by road and smaller areas, specially in the Cappadocia region. Bus rides can be long, though the scenery you travel by is very interesting and worth the ride if you have ample time and want to save money.
Turkey has very different climates depending where you are located in the country. As a general rule, the country enjoys hot weather most of the year specially down south and on the Mediterranean coast line, where many tourists opt to spend their winter holidays. During the peak season, July and August, Turkey is very crowded with holidaymakers and tourists. Temperatures can reach easily above 35 °C in a dry climate.
During the rest of the year, temperatures are more moderate and pleasant. The best time to visit Turkey is from March to June and from September to November. However it's also possible to experience some typical European Winter weather in the north of the country, specially in Istanbul it can get very foggy (due to the proximity of the Bosphorus Strait) and it can snow during the colder months in January or February with temperatures below freezing and not much higher than 10°C or 12°C.
Turkish food is one of the tastiest in the Mediterranean, with influence from Central Asia, the Middle East and Mediterranean cuisine. Meat is a large component of the Turkish diet, with lamb featuring heavily and dishes tend to be aromatically spiced, although they are not as hot as those found in Indian cuisine. Vegetarians will find they are easily catered for, as meze, a selection of sauces, dips and vegetables, can be found on almost every menu. A wide range of international cuisine is also available in the major cities, and standard German and British dishes along the coasts due to the heavy tourism industry.
Specialities include: Döner Kebab, a traditional snack or main dish, made from different meats mounted onto a skewer and cooked slowly to a hot fire source. (see below) Köfte, spicy sausage-shaped meatballs made of minced lamb. Shish kebab, pieces of meat threaded on a skewer and grilled. Pide, the Turkish equivalent of pizza topped with cheese and eggs. Dolma, vine leaves or vegetables stuffed with pine nuts and currants. Lokum, Turkish Delight, originally made from dates, honey, roses and jasmine bound by Arabic gum and designed to sweeten the breath after coffee.
As for drinks, you can find: Raki, anisette, known as ‘lion’s milk’, which clouds when water is added. Drinking raki is a ritual and is traditionally accompanied by a variety of meze. Ayran, a refreshing yogurt drink. Cay, tea, usually drunk black and strong and served in small tulip-shaped glasses. Strong black Turkish coffee, traditionally brewed over hot coals and served very sweet. Turkish beer is also popular to drink as well as red and white wines.
The most popular thing to eat whilst in Turkey is the traditional Turkish Döner Kebab, it's called this way because of the way it is cooked, Döner is a Turkish word, from dönmek ("to turn" or "to rotate"). It can be translated literally into "rotating roast". You will find them all over the country, sold by small snack bars, market style stalls or seat-in restaurants. You will instantly recognise the Döner Kebabs, as big chunks of meat are slowly cooked mounted on a large skewer rotating to a hot fire. The image of a Döner Kebab or a man cutting through the meat is also a popular one to identify those establishments selling it.
Kebabs are a popular form of snack in many countries especially Middle East, Arab countries, South and Central Asia, and some parts of Europe. Kebabs are essentially different kind of meats cooked traditionally on skewers over a coal fire, BBQ style or a hot grill. You can find them made out of lamb, chicken,beef or even goat and fish. However you will not find Pork Kebab in Turkey due to religious reasons.
They are an ideal snack when feeling hungry during the day and many casual eateries provide a good quality Döner Kebab to grab in just a few minutes. However there are also many restaurants that have them as part of a more elaborate menu. Try as many as you can, flavours vary as the sauces and spices used can make a big difference!
Turkey is one of the most interesting countries to visit as a door to the Middle Eastern culture in so many ways. It's a country which has so much to offer, both from the cultural side and the landscape to the cuisine, music and high quality local products like carpets, leather materials and ceramics. Although the country has one of the most advanced infrastructures in the region, with high development programmes and technology it's also bathed in tradition and culture. When visiting Istanbul, it feels you go back in time, with great Mosques to see, old style Bazaar's and markets, little local coffee shops etc, however modern commodities are very present and in fact the city of Istanbul is very international.
Tourism is a great source of income to the country, it's immediately recognisable the amount of Hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops which try to encourage tourists to spend their holiday money. The people are always friendly and happy to help if you need any advice or direction if you happen to get lost. However, be careful they don't try to scam you or sell you stuff as a way of being friendly and helping you. Specially in the popular tourists areas. The best thing of going to Turkey must be the food, flavours win to spices, so if you like rich food without the hot-spicy feeling then Turkey's cuisine won't disappoint you! Another added benefit is the cost of accommodation and expenses are not high. There are multiple activities to keep you entertained either by tours or do it alone. Day and night, are always interesting to see the city, specially in the evening time as the sun sets and you are located viewing the Bosphorus Straight with the impressive Sultan Mehmet Bridge connecting Europe to Asia!
(2 times visited)
Istanbul Tourism Information Guide
Istanbul is the only city in the world reaching across two continents, with its old city located on the European continent and modern Istanbul situated in the Asian one, separated by the Bosphorus Strait.
The history of Istanbul began with the settlement known as Byzantium, before it evolved into Constantinople and then eventually became a part of Turkey. Visitors can have the experience of taking in the cultural legacy from both of these great civilizations which is still visible in the city today.
Istanbul's location on the water made it a much coveted site as a commercial shipping port and military lookout, and as capital of the Roman Empire, Constantinople, as it was known, became extremely desirable as a centre of world trade, until Mehmet the Conqueror claimed it for the Ottoman Empire in 1453 and it became the imperial seat of the sultans. After the War of Independence the capital was moved to Ankara, but Istanbul still remains the commercial, historical, and cultural heart of Turkey today.
The charm and character of Istanbul lies in its endless variety and mix of contradictions. Its fascinating history showcases its inheritance of Byzantine ruins, splendid palaces, ancient mosques and churches, hamams (bath-houses) and exotic bazaars.
Modern Istanbul also exudes a thriving nightlife scene with trendy bars and nightclubs, alongside western boutiques, office blocks, and elegant suburbs. Istanbul also forms a chaotic social and cultural mix with many nationalities now living and working here. The city is a very interesting cosmopolitan metropolis, where cultures come together in so many ways. Within the last years, Istanbul has become a major transit stop for many tourists, who opt to stay in the city for extra shopping, rest or dinning before heading to their own countries in the Middle East or Asia.
Istanbul is a top tourist destination and offers a great experience for tourists, who flock to the city for shopping, sightseeing, and everything else this magical city has to offer.
Weather it is for tourism or business that takes you to Istanbul, you are never far from some good restaurants, local bazaars or markets and with the city offering a great infrastructure on transport, it's easy to move around and travel.
The climate and seasons of Istanbul falls rather subtle into each other, and temperature changes are not drastic. Summer weather in Istanbul is both hot and rather humid, while the winters are considerably cooler and rather wet at times.
Many visitors find that springtime is the perfect time to pay a visit to Turkey, and Istanbul is looking at its very best between April and June, when the trees have just leafed out and the skies are blue. The spring climate soon sees temperatures rising above 20°C and plenty of sunny weather. This is also an advantage as it is noticeably quieter than the following summer tourist season.
The winter climate in Istanbul is a bit more fresh and cold at times, January tends to be the coldest month, being around 8°C by day and often frosty overnight. Snowy weather can be expected at some time during the winter months.
July and August are the hottest months in Istanbul and during the very sunniest of weather, the temperatures soar above 33°C and any humidity can make the climate feel even hotter. These are also the driest months, with very little rainfall.
When arriving to by plane there are two airports in the city, Istanbul Airport (New Airport IST) the main international gateway to the country and Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen. (SAW).. (SAW).
- From Istanbul Airport the easiest and cheapest way to make your way into the city is by bus. There are direct busses which leave to the city centre at Taksim Square and cost 18 LTR, taking around 70 minutes to complete the 50 Km drive. The metro lines are currently being extended and built to connect the airport to the network due to open in 2020.
- If you are arriving at Sabiha Gökçen, take the bus from the airport to the city centre. There are shuttles working between Taksim (centre) and Sabiha Gokcen Airport every half an hour. The duration of the trip is about an hour and a half depending on the city traffic, the shuttle fee is 15 TL. Check at Havabus.com for timetables.
Once in Istanbul, the transport infrastructure is very similar to any other major European city. Metro, trams and busses offer quick and reliable services across the entire city.
Below you will find the transport maps for Istanbul:
The old city of Istanbul reflects cultural influences of the many empires that once ruled there. In the Sultanahmet district, the open-air, Roman-era Hippodrome was for centuries the site of chariot races, and Egyptian obelisks also remain. The iconic Byzantine Hagia Sophia features a soaring 6th-century dome and rare Christian mosaics. You can find castle remains from the Topkapi Castle and city walls, which protected the city from the many invasions over time. Not to be missed from any visit Istanbul is it's food, a central part of the culture, be sure to check out some of the many bazaars and markets. The most famous is the Grand Bazaar, also popular for handmade crafts, souvenirs, ceramics, carpets, spices, aromatics and even natural aphrodisiacs! You can choose to visit the city either by tour or alone, but note that in the high season (June to September) wear sun protection and carry water as temperatures are hot. Below you can find the highlights to your visit to Istanbul:
- The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii): Built in the early 1600s, the Blue Mosque is one of the biggest tourist draws in Istanbul, with an array of domes, semi-domes and minarets (or narrow towers). The Mosque continues to function as a mosque today; men still kneel in prayer on the mosque's lush red carpet after the call to prayer. Inside the Blue Mosque, as it is popularly known, it also contains Ahmed's tomb, (was the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1603 until his death in 1617) a madrasah and a hospice. Hand-painted blue tiles adorn the mosque’s interior walls, and at night the mosque is lit up in blue as lights shine on the entire building. It sits next to the Hagia Sophia, another popular tourist site. As you arrive it can get very busy, so consider arriving early. Remember, the Blue Mosque is an active religious site, so dress conservatively. Women should wear headscarves, as is custom. If you forgot to bring one, you can borrow one from the mosque.The Blue Mosque is located in the Sultanahmet area of Fatih. It is within walking distance of several tram stops. There is no admission fee, and restrooms, a cafe and a gift shop are available inside.
- Hagia Sophia Museum: It was once the biggest cathedral in the world, located in the Ottoman Empire built between 532 and 537, the building was a church for nearly a thousand years. It then served as a mosque from 1453 until 1935, before becoming the secular museum today. It's famous for its stunning architecture, glorious interior views and historical significance. Built .Inside you can find beautiful Christian mosaics alongside brilliant Islamic calligraphy. Note that there will be long queues if you choose to go midday or during a weekend. To visit the Hagia Sophia Museum, it costs 40 Turkish lira. The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Topkapi Palace: This interesting building looking more like a castle, served as the home of the Ottoman Sultans from 1478 to 1856 and is one of Istanbul's most popular attractions. It officially became a museum in 1924, shortly after the end of the Ottoman era, and features brilliant architecture, manicured courtyards, gardens and extensive weaponry, porcelain, cutlery, art and fabric collections.As you enter the main entrance, you can see The Topkapi Palace Museum. Admission to the Museum is 40 Turkish lira, includes access to all parts of the building except the Harem section (the former living space for the sultan and his family, servants, concubines and eunuchs). The Harem area can be toured for an extra 25 Turkish lira. You can visit the museum Wednesday through Monday from 9 am. to 16:45 pm. (longer during the Summer months).
- The Grand Bazaar: located within walking distance of other must see sights like the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar is one of the biggest and oldest covered shopping markets in the world. It regularly overwhelms visitors with its 60 streets of 5,000-plus shops! Vendors are very easy going, encouraging to tourists and easy to talk to (often needing to bargain for better prices) Products range from basic everyday needs, food, spices, bakery, to hand-craft products, carpets, souvenirs, leather clothing, and even art and chess boards. It's also possible to find local medicines and even natural aphrodisiacs! Take a break in the restaurants, cafes and even two hammams (or Turkish baths) that can be found here.The Grand Bazaar is situated in Eminönü, a neighborhood in the historic Fatih district. The Bagcilar-Kabatas tram makes several stops by the bazaar, or travelers can take the metro to Vezneciler station. The Grand Bazaar is free to visit 24 hours a day and is open everyday expect Sunday till 19.00h.
✔️Tip: Take cash with you as most merchants will make better discounts when paid in cash, remember to haggle, as you can expect to pay as 50% less from the price initially offered. Vendors are not as pushy as in other countries, but still they will inflate prices, specially when they see you as tourists. One trick which never fails is that if a price is not set on an item, (by a sticker or a sign) then you can haggle!
- Spice Bazar: Another bazar not to miss is this vividly coloured spice market, displaying alongside Turkish delights at this Ottoman-era marketplace, providing eye candy for the thousands of tourists and locals who make their way here every day. Stalls outside also sell caviar, fish, dried herbs, honey, nuts and dried fruits. The number of stalls selling tourist souvenirs also increases annually. The market was constructed in the 1660s as part of the New Mosque, with rent from the shops supporting the upkeep of the mosque as well as its charitable activities, which included a school, hamam and hospital.
- Basilica Cistern: Located in the centre of Istanbul between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia Museum, this subterranean structure was commissioned by Emperor Justinian and built in 532. It’s the largest surviving Byzantine cistern in İstanbul, it was constructed using 336 columns, many of which were salvaged from ruined temples and feature fine carved capitals. Its grandeur of conception are quite breathtaking, and its cavernous depths make a great retreat on summer days. It was originally known as the Basilica Cistern because it lay underneath the Stoa Basilica. Forgotten by the city authorities some time before the Conquest, it wasn't rediscovered until 1545. Even after the discovery, the Ottomans (who referred to the cistern as Yerebatan Saray) didn't treat the so-called Underground Palace with the respect it deserved – it became a dumping ground for all sorts of junk, as well as corpses. The cistern was cleaned and renovated in 1985 by the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality and opened to the public in 1987. It's now one of the city's most popular tourist attractions. Walking along its raised wooden platforms, you'll feel water dripping from the vaulted ceiling. Walk to the end where you will see the Medusa Pillar Bases. Cost is 20 Lira per adult.
- Taksim Square: It's probably the centre of Istanbul for transport, either by planning it or without realising you will pass here, as it's the main transport hub and the best way to get to the airports by bus. It is a vibrant, modern area located in the Beyoglu district. The square features notable landmarks like the Taksim Republic Monument (Taksim Cumhuriyet Aniti), which commemorates the creation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. It's also the best place where to start your walk down the İstiklal Cd street, for shopping, restaurants and many snack bars around the area. You can reach Taksim Square by Metro, Tram and Bus.
- Turkish Baths, Hamams: A Turkish Hamam is the Islamic variant of the Roman bath, distinguished by a focus on water, as distinct from ambient steam. Turkish baths are not only to relax, but as a method of cleansing and for health purposes. The Turkish bath starts with relaxation in a room that is heated by a continuous flow of hot, dry air, allowing the bather to perspire freely. Bathers may then move to an even hotter room (known as the hot room) before they wash in cold water. After performing a full body wash and receiving a massage, bathers finally retire to the cooling-room for a period of relaxation. The whole process can take about 2 hours. There are multiple baths or Hamans located throughout the city, and inside Hotels. There are many styles, techniques or massage and services so it's better to ask in each one to understand what they offer. Some are open more to tourists, where to relax and bath, whilst others are more serious and require to bath naked and in separate male or female rooms. Ask your Hotel for recommend Hamans nearby. Prices can start at around €30 for the full bath therapy and the baths are normally open till 23.30pm. There are many historical baths in Istanbul, the most popular are Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam, Cemberlitas Hamami, and Cagaloglu Hamam Cafeterya.
- Ortaköyr: located north of Beyoglu along the Bosphorus, you'll need to take a ferry or a bus from the Kabatas tram stop to reach it. During the day, you can explore the narrow streets that divide a dense array of market stalls and shops. But when the sun goes down, crowded restaurants and bustling bars take over. Ortaköy is a nightlife hub for Istanbul's trendy and wealthy young people, so expect to pay the higher prices for that breathtaking view of the Bosphorus. It makes for an excellent location to choose to see the sunset.
✔️Tip: If you have limited time in Istanbul and you want to make the most of it, why not take a boat tour along the Bosphorus river? You will see the most important sights in the old town and can finish with a relaxing sunset over The Bosporus, if you take it during the evening. There are many tours offered, from short 1 hour rides to more comprehensive itineraries with food and drink included. Prices start at €25 per adult for the 2 hour popular tour. Check more information at bosphorustour.com.
- Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi): This landmark crowns the hill opposite the Golden Horn and was once used as a jail. After a copula was added during a 1960s restoration, this historic structure observation deck opened to visitors. A restaurant and nightclub are also available at the top. To visit the tower it costs 25 Turkish lira. Try to arrive early to avoid the long wait times. The Galata Tower is open every day until 20.30 pm. To get there take the metro to Sishane station, Karaköy's ferry terminals or the Istasyonu and Tophane tram stops.
- The Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge: completed in 1988, it was the 5th-longest suspension bridge span in the world; (today it is the 24th) The bridge is named after the 15th-century Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, who conquered the Byzantine capital, Constantinople (Istanbul), in 1453. It is more than just a bridge, it it the main connection from Europe to Asia, and it carries the European route E80, (although not the only bridge in Istanbul as there are another two). It is a masterpiece of engineering and a sight to watch day and night. The best way to view it is by taking the boat tour mentioned earlier! (see above Tip)
There is certainly an astounding range of nightlife in the city, from cutting edge techno to belly-dancing. The best place to start is BeyoÄŸlu, which is home to plenty of wine bars, jazz joints, and hip rooftop bars. In contrast, the tourist area of Sultanahmet has few venues worth mentioning.
Start your evening off at one of the many meyhanes, which is a type of Turkish tavern famous for raki and mezze platters. Some of the best nightclubs are in Ortaköy, overlooking the Bosphorus. The most popular is Sortie, famous for supermodels, millionaires, and the effortlessly cool. For jazz music, head to enduring classic, Nardis Jazz Club.
Clubs and bars stay open very late and drinks are affordable in comparison to European cities.
❗Attention: Be careful of visiting adult entertainment clubs as these are notorious for ripping off tourists. Always establish prices before ordering anything.
Note that Istanbul at night can be dangerous with many pickpockets on the street, particularly near tourists area. An increase of petty-crime in the city, means that you need to be always vigilant and not trust people too much at the beginning and watch your valuables!
Shopping in Istanbul is a mixture of old, new, antique, exotic, and bizarre. Souvenirs, spices, leather goods, carpets, kilims, and earthenware are all popular buys with tourists, but the experience is more about wandering through the winding streets and markets, taking everything in, and hunting for bargains.
The most notable market is the Grand Bazaar, which boasts over 4,000 shops and, just in case that's not enough, the entire market is surrounded by a maze of streets lined with even more shops! Just about everything and anything can be found at the Grand Bazaar and haggling is an essential skill. If you're looking to for more market experiences, check out the Egyptian market and the flea market in Beyazit Square are also worth a visit.
Outside the Grand Bazaar, to the east, Nuruosmaniye Caddesi is the place to buy jewellery, and fine art boutiques can be found nestled down the side streets. Additionally, a shopping trip in Istanbul is not complete without buying a box of Turkish delights, which can be found all over the city in souks (markets) and specialist shops.
Istanbul is one the cheapest cities for Hotels and hostels as it offers very reasonable prices for all budgets. It's not hard to find good value for money Hotels located in the city centre at short walking distance to the major attractions. Staying nearby the Istanbul Grand Bazaar is a very central location and Hotels are very reasonable and offer even breakfast and free WIFI from under €20 per night. Other Hotels around the popular tourist areas and Taksim Square are about €25-30.
Additionally many hotel's offer tour services and give good information in English in what to see and do. Also it's advised to stay close to tram or metro stop if you're travelling around. Private accommodation is not as popular as other countries but with time sites like Airbnb or Holidayaway are becoming more popular in Turkey.
Istanbul offers a lot of culture to explore, either by foot seeing majestic buildings, visiting in depth into museums and galleries, or by joining several tours which can take a whole day. The city centre is worth exploring without tours, taking your time to indulge for Turkish coffee or snacks and relax as you see life passing by in one of Europe's most diverse cities. Visiting Istanbul for a first time is best away from a weekend for less queues and people at popular tourist attractions. A stay of up to 5 nights would be suggested to take in all Istanbul has to offer in a relaxed manner.