Turkey is a Middle Eastern country located between two continents – Europe and Asia. With influences from the Greek, Persian, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires, the country has come to develop its own unique culture.
From olive groves to ancient ruins and Mediterranean beaches, the country has become a tourist destination for those seeking history, culture, and outdoor adventure. Turkey has a population of just over 80 million people, who are helping maintain tourism and are eager to showcase the beauty of their country.
What To Do in Turkey
Hoşgeldiniz – Welcome to Turkey
Ankara is the capital of Turkey, which displays the county’s past and holds the hope for the future. While not the same picturesque landscape as Istanbul, Ankara has worked hard to build a better city. With heavy influence and help from students, Ankara has become a modern city that is central for international affairs.
The city has multiple museums and a tribute to Turkey’s modern founder, which makes it a popular destination for historically interested tourists. Along with a thriving street scene, you won’t get bored in this bustling capital.
Culture and Language
Turkey is an ancient country and it has some of our oldest regions that have been permanently settled for thousands of years. With the original Turkic people settling the area, the Göbekli Temple is dated back to 10,000 BC. It is one of our oldest discovered man-made religious structures, but certainly not the last as many other empires came to rule over Turkey.
In Antiquity, the Greeks dominated the scene and parts of Turkey became Armenia, which was created by colonists from Greece, in the year 657 BC. Persians ruled in 499 BC and Turkey eventually fell into the command of Alexander the Great in the year 334 BC. After the death of Alexander the Great, the area was divided into smaller Hellenistic kingdoms, which were part of the Roman Republic.
By 324, Constantine ruled, and Turkey became part of the Byzantine Empire, which was ruled by Constantinople (now Istanbul). But after the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire rose from small groups of Oghuz Turks and helped created some of the most iconic landmarks in the country. Under the rule of the Ottomans, Turkey was the center of power for the Empire. Islam is now the majority religion of the country with 98% of the country practicing the beliefs.
With a vast history, Turkey’s culture is unique. The country draws influence from the past, as well as the geographical location between eastern Europe and western Asia. Modern Turkish culture has found itself divided between a Western ideology and the Islamic religion. Religion dominates tradition and culture in the family, but many have begun to separate the state from religion in urban cities. But family is a large part of the culture and traditional gender roles are upheld.
The unique culture also means that Turkey has come to develop their own language – Turkish. While many think that Turkey speaks Arabic because the Ottomans used many Arabic and Persian words, the language was changed in 1932 and reintroduced many old Turkish words. Now, Turkish does not resemble Arabic and only shares a few words or key phrases of the old language.
However, in many tourists’ areas, English is also spoken. In fact, English is the main language for tourism and many Turks in the industry or hospitality business will also speak English. But with a variety of foreign tourists, you could hear other European or Asian languages in the streets too.
For US citizens, a tourist visa is required before your arrival to the country. Turkey has an electronic visa system, the e-Visa, which makes it easier to apply for an obtain your tourist visa before travel. An official government site is available, and the tourist visa can be obtained in three easy steps. The visa costs $35 US dollars and can be paid for using a major credit card through the official government site. It is important that you apply for the visa no less than 48 hours before your trip, but to be prepared you can apply as early as 3 months before your trip.
Other requirements to enter Turkey include having a passport that is valid for at least 6 months past your date of departure from the country and have one blank page ready for a stamp. There are no currency or vaccination restrictions for the country.
While Turkey is a safe country, please be aware that there is currently a Level 2 travel advisory for the country in place by the US government. This caution asks you to take extra care when traveling around the country to be safe and avoid conflict. Specifically, you should only travel to tourist popular destinations. The borders with Syria and Iraq are currently experiencing high level of terrorism and conflict, so they should not be traveled to by tourists. The safest parts of the country are the north and western areas, which is where Ankara and Istanbul are located.
While Turkey has plenty of hidden beauties throughout the country that you are eager to explore, it is important that you first, consider your spending budget as you begin to plan your trip. Turkey can be traveled on an affordable budget if you are willing to take some time to pre-plan. Significant portions of your budget will include airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and entertainment. Transportation is another essential part of your traveler’s budget, which we will cover in the next section.
Airfare is the first big portion of your budget that you will have to consider. Flights to Istanbul from the United States have a big price range, mostly due to airline budget deals and when you travel. Most flights will cost about $1000 US dollars, but many deals can reduce the price by 50%. The further ahead you book your flight, the more money you can save. Turkey is a popular destination all year round, but the highest tourist season runs from April to September, which is when flight prices will also be higher.
Accommodation is another important consideration and it can be made affordable or expensive, depending on your budget. Hostels are popular throughout the country and the average cost per night ranges from $11-$17 US dollars. A private room in a hostel will likely cost double that – or about $30 US dollars per night. If hostels are not to your taste, a nice hotel will cost about $60 US dollars per night. However, many hotels have higher prices that can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars per night.
Airbnb is also a popular way to find affordable and private accommodation in the country. Most people will spend the same amount of money on an Airbnb as a hotel – $60 US dollars per night. If you are willing to share a house and are seeking a private room, you should expect to pay about $33 US dollars per night. An Airbnb can also help you reduce your overall budget by providing you with a kitchen so that you can cook your own food.
In Turkey, food is both delicious and affordable. Islak burgers are a common food throughout the country, which are grilled meat patties that are placed in a bun and soaked in a garlic tomato sauce. At $1 US dollar per burger, they are also an affordable snack. Kebabs are also very popular cuisine in Turkey, and you can find them as street food or in restaurants. There is more than one type of kebab, so look for the Doner, Sis, Yogurtlu, and Iskender variations to try. Baklava and kunefe are popular sweets in the country and many are served in restaurants after your main course.
Two other infamous culinary selections of Turkey include Turkish Delight and their tea or coffee. Turkish Delight has made its name throughout the world, but when you’re in the country of origin you will find that the authentic versions actually come in a variety of flavors. Tea is another huge part of the culture and you will find it everywhere. Traditionally, the tea is black but full of flavors and served with sugar. Turkish coffee, on the other hand, is quite bitter and thick. The coffee tends to be more of a love it or hate it amongst tourists.
When you’re eating out, you should expect to spend about $10 US dollars for a traditional restaurant experience. Local eateries may cost even less with courses for about $5 US dollars. Upscale restaurants can be quite expensive and will elevate your budget with most costing about $30 US dollars per person. A kebab will set you back about $4 US dollars. If you are traveling on a tight budget, you can also buy your food at the local stores and markets and cook in your own accommodation. However, with the affordable price of food, we do suggest that you experience authentic Turkish cuisine when you can.
If you are into the nightlife and want to explore the bars, you will also have to add drinks into your budget. Alcohol tends to be very expensive in Turkey because it is traditionally shunned by their religion. But for tourism, alcohol is sold at a steep price. You should also keep in mind that drinking in bars or tourist areas, will be much more expensive than purchasing bottles at the grocery store.
Raki is a popular Turkish alcohol that is flavored with anise and a small bottle in the grocery store will cost about $26 US dollars. Drinks in restaurants are typically about $6 US dollars or more. Even a beer can cost as much as $6 US dollars out on the town. So, if you are planning to drink, you definitely need to incorporate that into your budget and expenses. But for those who are ready to party, Smyrna Bar in Istanbul is a casual establishment that provides a large selection of drinks. For the best view of the city, 360 Istanbul is the place to go and they offer world class wines, cocktails, and other liquors.
Overall, the average daily expense for a budget conscious traveler tends to be about $50 US dollars per day for accommodation and food. Drinks can make your budget more expensive, as the same with the level of accommodation you choose. A more moderate budget would be about $100 US dollars per day, or you can spend more and have a luxury vacation.
How to Get Around
Turkey is a big country and getting around is not as expensive as you would think it would be. Many travelers choose to use local transportation like the metro, which is in big cities like Istanbul and Ankara. The metro is easy to use and costs about $0.70 US cents for a single ride. Istanbul also has a tram that goes throughout the city and lets you view more of its bustling streets. If you plan to adventure a lot in Istanbul, the Istanbulkart is a pass that costs just over $1 US dollar and can reduce your transportation costs by 50%.
Minibuses can be used to travel between cities, and it is how most locals choose to travel too. For short rides, the dolmuş (minibus) costs about $0.60 US cents and longer rides up to $2 US dollars. The buses have a variety of routes and are a safe way to travel. They are also significantly less expensive than a taxi.
If you are a confident driver, you can also rent a car. Some cars can be rented for as little as $12 US dollars per day, without insurance. But be aware that driving in Turkey tends to be quite chaotic and manual transmission is more common.
For those who need to go further distances, domestic flights are also a great and affordable option that saves you long hours in a bus or car. Many domestic flights can be bought for as little as $10 US dollars. Yep, it’s that affordable – though you do have to deal with the hassle of airports. But for a time conscious traveler it can let them see more of the country on their trip.
Taxis are also an option, but if you are going long distances, they can be quite expensive. It is suggested that you use taxis at night and for short trips so that you don’t blow your budget. Uber is also an option and costs about the same as a taxi – anywhere from $5-$10 US dollars.
Walking is another great way to get around the city so that you can explore more. It’s also free and you’ll have a great time seeing new sights. However, be aware that you should only walk in tourist areas and do not walk alone at night. When walking, keep your belongings close as petty theft can happen in tourist areas.
Top Places to Visit: Cities
Turkey has many great cities that are popular tourist destinations and ready for you to explore. Here, we will give a brief overview of the most popular cities for tourists in Turkey.
Once known as Angora, Ankara is the capital of Turkey and it sits centrally in the Anatolia region. The city is popular amongst artists because of its various performing arts showcases like the State Opera and Ballet or the Presidential Symphony Orchestra. There are also a variety of museums to see ancient artifacts. The Citadel is a well-known part of the city, which is an old Byzantine Empire wall that has been well preserved and is open to the public. Ankara is also thriving with small cafes and has a variety of top-rated restaurants for a diverse cuisine.
One Constantinople, Istanbul is Turkey’s largest city and it is filled with living history presented in the architecture, art, cuisine, and local lifestyle. The city was once the final stage of the Silk Road and ancient architecture still towers over the streets. Impressive mosques and palaces fill the skyline and are open to the public. There are plenty of museums to explore and you can purchase a pass that provides you access to multiple locations. The city also has a diverse cuisine, which reflects its location between two continents.
Pamukkale is located in Western Turkey and is famous for their mineral rich hot springs, which are terraced on the hillside. The hot springs are known as the “Cotton Castle” and are constructed of white limestone. The thermal springs were named a World Heritage Site and have become extremely popular amongst tourists. Another attraction that is close by to Pamukkalke is Hierapolis, which is an ancient Greek city built on top of the hot springs.
Bodrum is a colorful town located on the Aegean Sea, which has twin bays and the beautiful Bodrum Castle. The castle is named as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and it rests oceanside to the vibrant blue water. With plenty of resorts and beaches, Bodrum is also a popular vacation destination.
Antalya is a resort location in the Mediterranean region, which is famous for its blue waters and is aptly called the Turquoise Coast. The city used to be a major Roman port but has now become famous for its natural beauty. Kaleici is the Old Town and it houses plenty of shops and restaurants in the historically preserved streets.
The landscape of Cappadocia is astoundingly gorgeous and features the “fairy chimneys”, which are clusters of towering rock formations in the Monks Valley. Bronze Age homes have been carved in the valley’s walls and used by cave dwellers. One of the most famous attractions in Cappadocia are the hot air balloon tours, which is a great way to see the area from above. Plus, the view of colorful balloons filling the sky only enhances Cappadocia’s magic.
Located on the coast of Ionia, Ephesus is an ancient Greek city that is home to stunning ancient ruins. The Romans eventually took control of the area, which is why you will see Roman ruins. Now, the city is a World Heritage Site and is one of the most well-preserved Roman cities. The Library of Celsus and the Ephesus Amphitheater are the two biggest attractions.
Points of Interest
While cities tend to be the main attraction, there are also a variety of points of interest throughout the country which are open for adventure. Here are some of the top points of interest in Turkey.
Once a Greek Orthodox Christian cathedral and then an Ottoman Imperial mosque, the Hagia Sophia is now a famous museum located in Istanbul. The Hagia Sophia, also called the Aya Sofya, is famous for the large and central dome, which has a 105-foot diameter. Aside from the impressive construction, the museum holds ornate objects, mosaics, gates, and doors. It is an excellent place to experience art and step into living history at this 1,500-year-old structure.
Aspendos is an ancient city that is located just outside of Antalya, which houses a massive theater from the Roman Empire. The theater was built under the reign of Marcus Aurelius and could fit up to 20,000 people. The semi-circular layout has a double column entrance and is open to the public. Other ancient ruins in the area include an acropolis and aqueduct.
Patara Beach is 18 kilometers long and rests along the Mediterranean coastline. The beach has a stunning landscape and also houses the ancient ruins of Patara, the city. The ancient Patara city is close by to both Kas and Fethiye for easy access.
Sometimes regarded as the most photographed Mediterranean beaches in the world, Ölüdeniz is a small resort village on Turkey’s southwest coast. The white sand beaches are lined with bright blue water and a huge natural attraction. A lagoon sits at the center and provides protective bathing for leisurely beach goers. But for adventure, just summit the nearby mountains and you can jump off to paraglide over the pristine landscape.
Get Out and Go
While Turkey may not be at the top of everyone’s travel bucket list, this country has plenty to offer. The stunning beauty of Istanbul and the jaw dropping natural beauties only solidify this country as a top tourist destination. With an expansive history and well-preserved ancient ruins, travelers can step into the past and explore ancient civilizations. With plenty to do and see, Turkey will surely be an unforgettable vacation.