Turkey is a captivating country straddling Europe and Asia. With stunning landscapes, well-preserved historic sites, vibrant culture, and mouthwatering cuisine, Turkey has so much to offer travelers. From the eclectic streets of Istanbul to the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia, this guide covers everything you need to know to plan the perfect trip to this fascinating destination. In order to travel to Turkey, you will need a Turkey visa.
Turkey is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, receiving over 45 million visitors annually. The country boasts a rich history as the center of empires and civilizations spanning the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans. This legacy lives on through incredible ancient ruins, mosques, bazaars, and museums found across Turkey.
Beyond its storied past, Turkey delights visitors with its scenery ranging from beautiful coastlines to alien-like rock formations, along with dynamic cities, quaint villages, and welcoming hospitality. While Turkey is predominantly Muslim, it maintains a secular democracy so visitors can experience local culture in a relaxed atmosphere.
This guide will highlight the top places to visit, tips for transportation, accommodations, safety, etiquette, Turkish phrases, and more to make trip planning a breeze!
When to Go
Due to its large size, Turkey has several climatic zones. The best times to visit depend on the regions and activities you want to enjoy.
Spring (mid-March to May)
Spring brings mild weather, wildflowers, fewer crowds, and lower prices before peak tourist season. It's perfect for exploring Turkey's cities and nature. However, the coastline is still a bit chilly for swimming.
Summer (June to August)
Summer means hot, sunny days perfect for hitting Turkey's beaches and enjoying outdoor activities. However, the interior regions get very hot, with temperatures exceeding 100°F (38°C). The popular tourist sites get crowded and more expensive in summer.
Fall (September to November)
Fall offers warm sunny days great for sightseeing, less extreme heat than summer, and smaller crowds. Along the coast, the water is warm enough for swimming through October. Inland, expect cooler nights and changing leaf colors.
Winter (December to mid-March)
Winters are mild along the Mediterranean and Aegean coasts but very cold with heavy snowfall in the interior and Anatolian plateau. Rain is common. Fewer tourists come in winter, so attractions are less crowded. Hotels drop prices except during the New Year's holidays.
Where to Go
From ancient ruins to natural wonders, here are the top places to visit in Turkey:
This sprawling metropolis deserves at least 3 days to take in the main sights:
- The Blue Mosque – Famous for its blue Iznik tiles and cascading domes.
- Hagia Sophia – Once the largest cathedral in the world, now a museum with ornate mosaics.
- Topkapi Palace – Tour the opulent palace complex of the Ottoman sultans.
- Grand Bazaar – Haggle for carpets, spices, and handicrafts in this vast covered market dating to 1461.
- Bosphorus Strait – Take a ferry ride for panoramic views dividing Europe and Asia.
- Best Neighborhoods to Explore: Sultanahmet for history, Galata & Karaköy for trendy shops/nightlife, BeÅŸiktaÅŸ & Ortaköy for scenic waterfront.
Cappadocia is famous for its fantastical "fairy chimneys" – rock formations formed by ancient volcanoes. Must-do activities include:
- Hot air ballooning over the surreal landscape
- Exploring the underground cities and cave dwellings
- Hiking through the Pigeon and Rose Valleys
- Seeing cave churches with Byzantine frescoes
Ephesus & Izmir
- The ruins of Ephesus contain one of the largest Roman amphitheaters and an intricately carved library facade.
- The port city of Izmir makes a great base to also visit:
- Pergamon – Impressive Greek/Roman acropolis
- Pamukkale – Travertine terraces and hot springs
- Selçuk – Site of the ancient Temple of Artemis
- Cesme Peninsula – Stunning beaches, coves, and natural scenery
Antalya & the Turquoise Coast
- The vibrant city of Antalya has ancient ruins along with a modern waterfront. Nearby sites include Aspendos theater and Termessos ruins.
- Along the Mediterranean are charming coastal towns like Kas, Kalkan, and Fethiye offering beaches, boating, and ruins at Xanthos and Patara.
- Take a "Blue Cruise" sailing trip to explore secluded coves and islands.
Other Notable Destinations
- Ankara – Turkey's modern capital with the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations
- Mt. Nemrut – Gigantic stone heads atop this mountain rising out of the Anti-Taurus range.
- Gallipoli – WWI historic battle site and memorials along the Dardanelles Strait
- Trabzon – Coastal city along the Black Sea with the Sumela Monastery.
Turkey has a well-developed transportation network making domestic travel easy to arrange.
Given Turkey's large size, flying between cities and regions is the most time-efficient and practical option.
There are two main airlines:
- Turkish Airlines – Member of Star Alliance with an extensive domestic and international network
- Pegasus Airlines – Low-cost carrier with short flights connecting major cities
You can often find very affordable one-way fares on both airlines for under $100 roundtrip. Flights rarely take more than 2 hours between destinations.
The major airports are in Istanbul (IST), Ankara (ESB), Izmir (ADB), and Antalya (AYT).
An extensive bus network connects towns and cities across Turkey. While less convenient than flying, buses are significantly cheaper for budget travelers.
- Some operators like Metro Turizm offer modern coaches with WiFi, snacks, and reclining seats similar to Greyhound in the US. The buses operate overnight between distant cities like Istanbul to Antalya or Cappadocia.
- For shorter distances under 5 hours, opt for standard local bus companies. While not as fancy, local buses are more frequent and faster.
- Check major operator websites or BusBud to search schedules and buy e-tickets in advance when possible.
The high-speed rail network is still limited in Turkey. But the national rail provider TCDD runs conventional overnight trains and some convenient daytime trains linking cities.
Some scenic routes like the Eastern Express from Ankara to Kars or Lake Van Express from Ankara are popular for sightseeing.
Cities like Istanbul and Ankara have modern metros, light rail, and bus systems that are easy to navigate. Buy an Istanbulkart or metro card to use public transit.
- Taxis are widely available, but scams are common, so only use official taxis and negotiate the fare up front. Uber also operates in some cities.
- For getting around Istanbul's historic core, walking or public ferries along the Bosphorus are recommended.
Where to Stay
Turkey offers a wide range of accommodations from luxury hotels to budget hostels. Here are some top options in each area:
- Boutique Hotels: Sirkeci Mansion, The House Hotel Bosphorus
- Luxury: Four Seasons Sultanahmet, Ciragan Palace Kempinski
- Mid-range: The Marmara Pera, Hyatt Andaz Istanbul
- Budget: Antique Hostel, Rapunzel Hostel
- Cave hotels: Cappadocia Cave Suites, Kale Konak Cave Hotel
- Luxury: Argos Cappadocia, Museum Hotel
- Mid-range: Dedeli Konak Hotel, Cappadocia Eco Cave
- Budget: Shoestring Cave Pension, Hideaway Hotel
- Luxury: D Maris Bay (Marmaris), Cornelia Diamond (Antalya)
- Mid-range: La Paloma Hotel (Kas), Villa Danlin (Fethiye)
- Budget: Sabo's Hotel (Olympos), Hotel Tan Pension (Göcek)
- Apartments:Ideal for families and longer stays. Check Airbnb.
Pro tip: Reserve hotels several months in advance for the high season between May and September.
Getting Around Within Cities
The public transportation within Turkey's major cities, such as metro, light rail, trams, and ferries, are modern, efficient, and inexpensive. An IstanbulKart or transit pass makes using public transportation very convenient.
- Taxis are easily hailed on the street or booked via mobile apps like BiTaksi. Insist on the meter being used rather than agreeing to a set fee to avoid scams. Uber also operates in Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir.
- Walking and cycling are ideal ways to explore Istanbul, Antalya, and other compact tourist areas. Bicycles can be rented in many cities.
- Dolmus (minibuses) that stop along set routes are another transport option between neighborhoods not serviced by the metro.
- Intercity buses leave for destinations across Turkey from central otogars (bus terminals). Purchase tickets at station ticket booths or online in advance.
Best Ways to Book Flights and Accommodations
Taking care of trip logistics in advance ensures you have more time for exploring once in Turkey. Here are some tips on booking flights, hotels, and domestic transport:
- Airlines: Book flights directly on Turkish Airlines or Pegasus Airlines website or alternative sites like Expedia.
- Hotels: Reserve rooms directly or via Booking.com, Hotels.com, etc. Smaller boutique hotels often have the best rates direct.
- Domestic buses/trains: Purchase tickets from operator websites like Metro Turizm or use BusBud.
- Car rental: Reliable companies include Avis, Budget, Hertz, Sixt, and Europcar. Reserve in advance for best rates. Automatic cars are best for Turkey's hills.
- Airport transfers: Arrange through your hotel, or book services like Taksiyle or Havataxi.
- Tours/activities: Viator has a large selection of Istanbul and Turkey tours and skip the line tickets. GetYourGuide also has excellent options.
- Travel insurance: Strongly recommended in case of trip interruptions. Compare plans on sites like WorldNomads, Allianz, and Travel Guard.
Booking 2-3 months in advance ensures the widest selection and best rates on flights and hotels.
Getting a Visa for Turkey
Most visitors require a visa to enter Turkey. Thankfully, the country offers an easy e-Visa program where you can apply online for a Turkey visa in minutes.
- Citizens from the US, Canada, UK, EU, Australia, and many other nations are eligible for an e-Visa.
- Simply complete the online application on the Republic of Turkey e-Visa website, pay the $20 fee by credit card, and receive your approval letter instantly via email.
- Be sure to print out or screenshot your e-Visa approval to show airport immigration officers upon arrival. Or you can use the mobile app to store your visa digitally.
- The Turkey e-Visa is valid for up to 90 days within a 180 day period for tourism or business.
- Note that you must have a minimum of 6 months validity left on your passport to apply for the Turkey e-Visa.
Getting From the Airport
The major international airports are in Istanbul and Antalya. Both offer easy transport options to reach the city centers:
- Taxi: Taxis are widely available 24/7 outside the terminals. Fares to Sultanahmet or Taksim run about 140-160 TL ($20-25).
- HavataÅŸi Shuttle: This is the most economical direct bus to Taksim or Sultanahmet costing just 18 TL ($2.50). Runs 24 hours.
- Metro/Tram: You can take the Istanbul metro from the airport to Zeytinburnu, then transfer to the tram going to Sultanahmet or other neighborhoods. Total cost is around 7 TL ($1).
- Private transfer: Pre-book transfers through your hotel or use platforms like Taksiyle, which offer fixed rates.
- Taxi: Taxi fare is around 200 TL ($25) to downtown Kaleiçi, 15-20 mins.
- Bus 600: The public bus provides cheap transport to the city center for 8 TL ($1), takes 30-40 mins. Runs hourly.
- Private transfer: Arrange ahead through your hotel or book on sites like Havayolu Transfer for 35-40 Euros to central Antalya.
- Rental car: A good option for trips combining Antalya + coastal region. Companies like Avis, Budget, Hertz are onsite.
Give yourself plenty of time to clear customs/immigration, get your luggage, and exchange money if needed before catching your onward transfer.
Getting Around within Istanbul
As one of the world's largest cities spanning Europe and Asia, Istanbul offers an extensive public transit system that makes getting around efficient and inexpensive. Here are the best transport options:
- Trams – Best way to travel up and down the European side along the Bosphorus and to Sultanahmet from central Taksim. Fare is 5 TL ($0.70) with IstanbulKart.
- Metro – Clean, fast, and frequent. Covers European and Asian sides. Fare 4 TL ($0.55) with IstanbulKart.
- Ferries – Perfect for crossing between continents and cruising the Bosphorus. Fares around 4-7 TL ($0.70-$1).
- Funiculars – Fun rides connecting lower and upper sections of neighborhoods like Taksim-KabataÅŸ, Karaköy-Istiklal Caddesi
- Taxis – Ubiquitous and inexpensive if using the meter properly. Average 15-25 TL ($2-4) for short neighborhood trips.
- Bus – Extensive network. Recommended routes are the 15 (Taksim-Emirgan) and 25 (Eminönü-HacÄ±osman) lines along the Bosphorus.
Cash is accepted on public transit, but get an IstanbulKart for discounts when transferring. Buy from vending machines at stations, newsstands, or offices.
Turkish cuisine is rich and varied after being influenced by the many cultures passing through the Ottoman Empire.
Follow these tips for the best dining experiences:
- Try classic dishes like kebabs, köfte (meatballs), dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), and hummus.
- Sip traditional Türk kahvesi (Turkish coffee) or çay (black tea).
- For dessert, order baklava, künefe, sütlaç (rice pudding), and MaraÅŸ dondurma (stretchy ice cream).
- In tourist areas, check menus before sitting to avoid inflated prices and bad food.
- Learn key phrases to ask if dishes contain allergens or foods you want to avoid (et = meat, susam = sesame, etc).
- Dining starts late, around 9 pm. Restaurants may be empty until 21:00.
- Tipping isn't expected but you can round up the bill or leave 10% at nicer restaurants.
- Alcohol is widely available in cities, but less common in conservative regions.
Top Dishes & Drinks to Try
While Turkish food may seem simple at first glance, the diverse regional influences and use of fresh seasonal ingredients results in incredible flavors.
Every visitor should make trying these Turkish specialties a priority:
- Kebabs – From Iskender kebab to Adana kebab, grilled meat on skewers.
- Meze – Small starter plates like haydari (yogurt dip), sigara böreÄŸi (cheese rolls).
- Pide – Flatbread baked with toppings like ground meat, egg, and cheese.
- Gözleme – Savory stuffed flatbread, a popular street food.
- Börek – Pastry with fillings like cheese, meat, potato, or spinach.
- Turkish coffee – Thick, strong coffee boiled with sugar.
- Ayran – Refreshing cold yogurt drink.
- RakÄ± – Anise-flavored spirit, typically mixed with water.
- TurÅŸu – Brightly-colored pickled vegetables served with meals.
Don't leave Turkey without eating through all of the delicious cuisine!
Groceries & Markets
Travelers staying in apartments or wanting to pick up snacks/drinks have several options for grabbing groceries in Turkey:
- Supermarkets – Well-stocked chains like Åžok Market, Migros, and Carrefour are in cities.
- Bakeries – Fresh breads, pastries, borek, and pide. Try simit (Turkish bagels).
- Street carts – Vendors sell roasted chestnuts, steamed corn, and packaged snacks.
- Spice markets – Colorful displays of dried fruits/nuts, Turkish delight (lokum), spices, and tea.
- Produce markets – Get seasonal fruits/veggies at weekly neighborhood pazars and permanent food halls.
- Butchers & cheese shops – Specialty stores carry high-quality local meats, cheeses like beyaz.
Turkish Baths & Hammams
Visiting a traditional Turkish bath or hamam is a must-do cultural experience. These elegant bathhouses offer a range of services:
- Relax in the hot sauna-like rooms
- Receive an invigorating scrub and bubble massage on heated marble tables
- Cleanse yourself with olive oil soap and the hamam's bronz commek (scrubbing bowl)
- Unwind further with an oil massage or other treatments
Historic hamams to visit include CemberlitaÅŸ HamamÄ± in Istanbul, Yalvaç's EÄŸritaÅŸ HamamÄ±, and the 16th century Çardak Hammam in Göreme. Many hotels also have hamams.
Shopping in Turkey
Turkey offers amazing shopping opportunities for everything from carpets and pottery to jewelry and crafts:
- Grand Bazaar (Istanbul) – This massive covered market has over 3,000 shops selling ceramics, lanterns, souvenirs, and more. Hone your haggling skills here.
- Spice Bazaar (Istanbul) - Originally the spice trading center of the Ottoman Empire. Today you can buy spices, dried fruit, Turkish delight, and nuts.
- Kapali Carsi (Izmir) – Historic covered bazaar with over 5,000 shops in a maze of alleyways. Good spot to buy leather goods.
- Cappadocia pottery – Unique pottery made in Avanos and MustafapaÅŸa using red Cappadocia clay.
- Turkish carpets – Turkey produces diverse styles of ornate wool and silk carpets. Have one custom-made or buy antique carpets.
- Jewelry - Gold bracelets and necklaces as well as evil eye charms make great souvenirs. The Grand Bazaar has many fine jewelers.
- Textiles - Turkish towels called pestemals make lightweight, quick-drying souvenirs. Stock up on discounted designer bags and clothes in Istanbul.
Activities in Turkey
Beyond sightseeing, Turkey offers countless adventurous activities both on land and sea:
- Paraglide above Ölüdeniz for panoramic views
- Go scuba diving and sea kayaking in KaÅŸ
- Hike through the Taurus Mountains and Pontic Alps
- Mountain bike down hills at Nemrut Dagi (Mt. Nemrut)
- Raft down the Koprulu Canyon near Antalya
- Catch a wave surfing or windsurfing along the Aegean
- Ride a camel on Patara or Iztuzu Beach
- Ski at top resorts like Palandoken or Erciyes during winter
- Go horseback riding through Cappadocia's valleys
The Mediterranean and Aegean coasts also offer every water sport imaginable from stand-up paddleboarding to parasailing along the stunning beaches.
Etiquette & Cultural Tips
While Turkey is welcoming to visitors, be respectful by following some key etiquette and cultural tips:
- Dress modestly when visiting mosques. Women should cover hair and shoulders, men shorts.
- Remove shoes before entering homes, mosques, hamams. Bring shower shoes.
- Learn basic Turkish phrases. Speak softly and calmly if language issues arise.
- Eat bread only with your right hand, the left is considered unclean.
- Point or gesture with an open palm, not one finger. Beckon by waving fingers downward, not upward.
- Avoid criticizing Turkish politics and Atatürk, an important national figure.
- Ask before photographing people. Conservative older women may decline photos.
- Tipping is appreciated but not required. Round up bills and taxi fares.
With its renowned hospitality, Turkey is welcoming to tourists who make an effort to respect local traditions and sensitivities.
Best Souvenirs & Shopping Tips
Turkey brims with unique handicrafts, textiles, foods, and other items to bring home as memorable souvenirs.
- Food souvenirs – Spices, Turkish delight, nuts, fruit leathers, and artisan chocolates keep well when packed.
- Textiles – Distinctive lightweight Turkish towels called pestemals make great gifts. Haggle for deals on colorful kilim pillow covers and table runners.
- Ceramics – Iznik tiles and pottery with floral/geometric designs reflect Turkey's art heritage. Size and weight limits make these tricky souvenirs, so ship rather than pack.
- Jewelry – Evil eye pendants ward off bad luck. Blue beads symbolize good fortune. Gold bracelets and earrings feature Turkish motifs.
- Art – Prints, paintings, and posters from street artists and galleries showcase local scenes.
- Books – Find English books on Turkish culture, history, and recipes. Second-hand book stalls offer unique vintage finds.
- Have cash on hand, especially smaller bills, for bazaars where credit cards aren't accepted. US dollars and Euros are also accepted at many shops.
- Bargaining is expected at bazaars and with street vendors. Start at 40% of asking price and negotiate from there with a smile!
- For large or heavy items, opt to have them shipped home directly by the merchant to avoid luggage issues.
- Every neighborhood has its own specialized goods, so explore shops off the tourist track for deals.
- Obtain a VAT refund when spending over a certain amount at participating stores. Present passport and keep receipts.
Safety Tips for Travelers
While Turkey is very safe for tourists, it's always good practice to exercise the usual precautions:
- Use common sense exploring cities. Avoid poorly lit areas at night.
- Keep valuables in hotel safe. Carry just a daily amount of cash.
- Keep smartphones out of sight when not needed, especially on transit.
- Ignore persistent touts and salespeople. Firmly state “HayÄ±r teÅŸekkürler” (No thanks).
- Always pre-negotiate taxi fares and insist on the meter being used to avoid scams.
- Be vigilant of pickpockets in crowded tourist areas and on public transit in Istanbul. Use cross body bags.
- Don't accept snacks/drinks from strangers that could be laced with substances.
- Don't discuss politics/religion unless your hosts bring it up first.
- Avoid demonstrations and protests that can turn unpredictable.
- Monitor your government's travel advisories for current situations.
With common sense, travelers are unlikely to encounter any issues in this safe country.
Useful Phrases & Numbers
Turkish uses a Latin alphabet, so learning a few key phrases and words goes a long way in interacting with locals:
- Hello - Merhaba
- Thank you - TeÅŸekkür ederim
- Please - Lütfen
- Yes - Evet
- No - HayÄ±r
- Do you speak English? - Ä°ngilizce biliyor musunuz?
- Excuse me - Pardon
- How much? - Ne kadar?
- Too expensive - Çok pahalÄ±
- Delicious - Çok güzel
- Cheers! - Åžerefe!
- Emergency Numbers:
- Police: 155
- Ambulance: 112
Guidebooks and Resources
These are some of the top resources to help plan your ideal Turkey trip:
- Guidebooks – Lonely Planet, Rick Steves, Fodor's, and Rough Guide all have excellent Turkey guides.
- Websites – TurkeyTravelPlanner.com, MyEssentialIstanbul.com, GoTurkey.com
- Travel Bloggers – ThePlanetD, AdventurousKate, OneikaTheTraveller, NomadicMatt
- Online Forums – TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet ThornTree
- YouTube – Endless videos on destinations and what to do in Turkey.
- Apps – Maps.Me, Ulmon City Maps, Translation apps, Turkish Airlines
- Magazines – TimeOut Istanbul, The Guide Istanbul
With these abundant resources at your fingertips, getting trip inspiration and planning help is easy. The fun part is then immersing yourself in the incredible diversity of experiences Turkey offers.
From the eclectic metropolis of Istanbul to the moonscape vistas of Cappadocia, powdery beaches along the Turquoise Coast to historic ruins like Ephesus, Turkey engages all your senses. The savory cuisine, whirling dervish ceremonies, bustling bazaars, and grand mosques give a window into this diverse country bridging Europe and Asia.
With the essential information in this travel guide, you are set for an amazing adventure discovering all that Turkey has to offer. As you explore this captivating country, create wonderful memories to last a lifetime!