Whether you have always yearned to explore the most European of Asian countries, or the idea of a trip to Istanbul on a whim just entered your head, this guide will tell you everything you need to know for a successful trip.
The best way to reach Turkey is by sea in your own sailboat. To do this head down to your local marina and buy a Valiant 40 or 42. Once the paperwork is complete, hop aboard and sail as quickly as conditions allow for Turkey’s west coast. There you have your choice of landing places, but we recommend Marmaris for its sheltered bay and laid-back vibe.
If you can’t find a worthy Valiant, then consider flying in on any airline that goes there. Google ‘Flights to Turkey’. You could take a train. Google ‘Trains to Turkey’. Or arrive by bus, or bicycle, or on foot, but we don’t have time for any of that right now.
Public transit is plentiful across the country. Local buses run locally and longer-range busses go farther afield. (I could write this drivel – ed.) You might hitchhike. Lots of people do it because the local busses are a little iffy on scheduling. Be prepared to sit in the back of small trucks with goats and the Kangal dog guarding them. Be nice to both if you choose this option.
Most convenient is a rental car. Roads in Turkey are good and outside the cities fairly empty. Petrol prices are regulated, so expect to pay what you do at home, or sometimes less. Local driving quirks include ignoring pedestrians everywhere, and especially in crosswalks (bear this in mind if you are on foot). The only stop lights that matter are the ones you can’t see. If you’re the first car at an intersection ignore all the other lights, they’re for someone else. Drivers behind you will give you a helpful toot when the light changes from red to yellow on its way to green. Stomp on the gas as hard as you can and you’ll be driving like a Turk in no time.
Other local habits include driving the wrong way along the shoulder, swerving around sleeping dogs, and slowing down to the speed limit when drivers coming the opposite way flash their lights. Speeding is common, but watch out for speed traps and local document inspections by the Jandarma. They do a lot of that. Keeps them busy, I guess.
What to Wear
If you bring only a stout pair of boots or walking shoes you have packed well. Imported items command premium prices and local quality varies widely, so bring your favourite hikers. Any other clothing can be purchased for pennies once you arrive, along with massive suitcases to take it all home again. Bring a wide brimmed hat, too.
Young Turks dress in fashionable jeans and t-shirts. Older ones add jackets for men and ankle-length dresses for women. You are not expected to follow suit. Women should wear a headscarf and be prepared to cover their elbows and knees when visiting religious sites. Men should wear long trousers. Almost every site has instructions. Be nice and honour them.
What to See
Go everywhere. You will be welcomed. Having visited almost every nook and cranny of the country, here is a short list if you only have a couple of weeks (and a car):
- Istanbul* – of course. See Topkapi Palace, the Hajia Sophia, the Blue Mosque if it’s open, and the Grand Bazaar. Stay near the Galata Tower and enjoy the cafés, clubs, and hipster hangouts. Take a ferry to Asia and pretend you’re stopping warships entering and leaving the Black Sea. And while you’re there, see the Dervishes whirl. You probably won’t have time to get to Konya. (*see photos below)
- Pamukkale and Ephesus – crazy natural stone formations in the heart of Greco-Roman history. This part of Turkey used to be Greece. While you’re here, buy a rug and have it shipped home.
- Kapadokya – of course. Take a hot air balloon ride early in the morning, before kahvalti (breakfast). Explore the canyons and formations in the Valley of Love. Stay in Ürgüp.
- Find Mount Nemrut on your map and walk up the mountain to the statues in early morning. Or time your hike for golden hour. There are many hostels and hotels to choose from in the area during the warmer months.
- Head east as far as you can. All the way to Mount Ararat if you have the time. This remote district is both naturally awesome and historically rich. Spend a couple of days hiking and enjoying a spa in the area. Make your way back through Batman and Mardin.
- If you don’t have time, turn south towards Şanlıurfa and seek out pigeon racing in the warmth of the evening. Wander around the mosque and visit the tomb of the Prophet Abraham. While you’re in the area, stop by Göbeklitepe and marvel at how humans made such beautiful things so long ago.
- Follow the highway along the Syrian border to Hatay/Antioch. Stay at the Museum Hotel. See the finest Roman mosaics there, and more in the main museum nearby.
- Drive back along the Turkish Riviera and stop at any brown sign you see. Each one transports you back 2,000-3,000 years.
- Stop in Kaş for a night and stay out on the peninsula. That will give you a good excuse to walk into town and look at a bit of Greece 3 miles off the coast. Take a ferry to the island. If you flew in, this would be a fun place to head to Europe from.
- If you’re determined to carry on exploring, drop everything, pick up your backpacks and head out on the Lycian Way. That will give you both bragging rights and an intimate glimpse into the origins of western culture. When you get to Ölüdeniz stop for a paragliding lesson. Afternoons are better for catching thermals and staying aloft.
What to Eat
Cuisine in Turkey is curiously homogeneous. Staples like kebaps (grilled cubed or ground meat), pide (pita with cheese, meat, olives, …it’s a form of pizza), and çorba (soup in four varieties, pureed lentil, chicken, tomato barley, and offal) can be found in the smallest villages. The coasts have fish, the middle parts are all about meat. Salads revolve around tomatoes and cucumber. Most restaurants add a few tasting items to your order, so be careful. Some places load you up with enough Russian salad, julienned carrots in mayonnaise, bulgur wheat in tomato, olives, and chili peppers to make a meal in itself.
When in Şanlıurfa, or even better Gaziantep, eat baklava in all its many forms. It’s the best in the world – they say. Better still, you will pack on sufficient calories to successfully negotiate the Lycian Way later.
What to Drink
Çay (tea) or bottled water. That’s it really. Tea comes in small, shapely glasses and is often taken with sugar to taste. If you’re serving yourself, it’s a good idea to fill your glass about halfway with tea and the rest with hot water, as the locals do. Getting the mix right is a skill, and you’ll see tea vendors winding their way through busy markets with a tray of tea glasses for their loyal customers.
Raki, anise flavoured and powerful is the preferred poison of the drinking classes. With dozens of brands to choose from there’s a bottle for every taste, even if they’re all expensive. Like Ouzo, it’s mixed 50/50 with water and goes well with conversation. Try it, you might like it.
Brewing is almost exclusively done on an industrial scale with the consistency and quality that implies. It’s all Budweiser with different names. Winemaking goes back thousands of years and is slowly becoming more interesting.
Pack dog food and kitty treats with you. Feed the animals, but remember, they mostly need love. You’ll both feel better for the experience. If your feet are still itchy, keep heading east and visit Georgia. You won’t be disappointed.
That’s it. If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.