Mini Guide to Turkey
Connecting the eastern and western worlds, Turkey is considered a true melting pot. Its ancient history is linked to major empires such as the Persians, Romans, Greeks, Byzantines, and Ottomans.
Located between the Mediterranean, Black, and Aegean Sea, Turkey has borders with countries in the Caucasus, Balkans, and Middle East. Travelers visiting the country will find a rich culture, incredible beaches, superb food, and breathtaking landscapes.
While most travelers will fly into Istanbul’s Atatürk International Airport, it’s also possible to reach the country by train, boat, bus, or driving a rental car. The transport network is vast, so visitors won’t have a problem exploring the far areas of Turkey.
If you’re planning on renting a car, just bear in mind that the price of gas in Turkey is among the highest in the world. Travelers on a budget can easily move around by using dolmuş, a type of minibus used by locals, or hitchhiking.
The official language of the country is Turkish, which is spoken by nearly 90 percent of the population. Another 11.97 percent speak Kurmanji, which is a dialect of Kurdish, while just 1.38 percent speak Arabic.
The majority of the younger generations can speak English. However, since they don’t practice too much, it’s better to stick to simple and short phrases.
Due to immigration, a percentage of the population can speak German and Dutch. It’s also possible to find speakers of Bulgarian, Albanian, and Serbo-Croatian.
Main Cities and Towns
Formerly known as Constantinople, Istanbul is the most populous city in Turkey. With a population of just under 15 million people, it’s one of the largest in Europe.
The city is peppered with churches and mosques from the Byzantine and Ottoman era. This includes the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapı Palace.
One cannot leave the city without walking around the Grand Bazaar, a hectic and charming market, trying a Nargile, or visiting one of the many hammams for a full body cleanse treatment.
Antalya is in the south of the country. Sometimes dubbed as the Turkish Riviera, it boasts an abundance of beautiful Mediterranean beaches.
While most travelers stay in all-inclusive resorts, the city has a history spanning thousands of years — and should definitely be explored. The main attraction is Kaleiçi with its narrow alleyways and old city walls. Also, visitors should visit the Hadrian’s Gate, which was built by the Roman emperor Hadrian in the 13th century.
Previously known as Halicarnassus, Bodrum is in the southwest of Turkey. The city is famous for the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Apart from the amazing beaches and hammams, travelers can visit the Castle of St. Peter, 300-year-old Karakaya Village, and 18th-century windmills used to grind flour.
Interesting Sites and Natural Wonders
Located in the center of Turkey, Cappadocia is an otherworldly region that looks like the landscape of the moon. The unusual rock formations, known as fairy chimneys, were created by the rain and wind erosion of the volcanic foundation through thousands of years.
Popular activities include trekking around the region, visiting the underground cities, and hot-air ballooning.
Pamukkale Thermal Pools
Pamukkale means “cotton castle” in Turkish. It’s easy to understand why the city got the name. Pamukkale plays host to 17 impressive thermal pools called travertines. The pools are so impressive that the area has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988.
These pools attract hordes of travelers who want to bathe in them. As a precaution, travelers must be barefoot to walk between the pools.
Located 40 kilometers from Kahta, Mount Nemrut contains the tomb of Antiochus I of Commagene. Construction began in 62 BC and includes eight to nine meters high statues of the king himself, two eagles, and several other deities such as Zeus-Aramazd, Hercules-Vahagn, and Apollo-Mihr-Mithras.
One popular activity is to watch the sunrise at the top of the mount, a remarkable 2150 meters above sea level.
Safety and Health
While Turkey is generally a safe country it’s not without its problems. While petty crimes like pickpocketing and bag snatching are still common, they have declined since the development of a 24-hour camera network in certain city centers. Be aware of scams such as costly guides at Hagia Sophia and expensive drinks at “cool” bars.
If traveling to the countryside, just remember the country is home to poisonous snakes, scorpions, wolves, bears, and wild boars.
Turkey’s weather varies vastly depending on the region.
The southwestern coast enjoys the pleasant Mediterranean climate with temperatures reaching 28 degrees Celsius in the summer. Due to the Caucasus Mountains, the Black Sea in the north is a lot colder and rainy. As a result, temperatures fluctuate between 10 and 20 degrees. The southern part of the country, near Syria, is like a proper desert with temperatures frequently soaring above 40 degrees.
Food and Drinks
Probably the most famous Turkish dish is the kebab. From shaved to skewers, this grilled meat can be served in various ways.
When it comes to drinks, Turkish coffee is the country’s favorite. On top of that, locals drink plenty of tea and Ayran, which resembles the Indian lassi.
Despite the big Muslim population, alcohol is legal. The popular drink is raki, a liquor made from distilled fermented grape skin.
Like many other Muslim countries, Ramadan is observed in Turkey. For 30 days, Muslims won’t drink or eat anything from dawn until sunset. Moreover, the amount of prayers is increased during the period.
Travelers visiting during this period should understand it’s a time of reflection and spiritual growth. While many restaurants in tourist cities remain open, travelers should refrain from consuming any snacks or drinks in front of locals as it’s considered rude.
Camel Wrestling Festival
Every year in January, near Ephesus, people gather to enjoy some camel wrestling. At one-point camel wrestling used to be popular all over Turkey. However, it’s now confined to the Aegean region.
The festival is usually a family event, where people go to see two bulls (male camels) fight over the cow (female camel). Most of the time, the camels don’t really fight. Despite that, it can be quite a spectacle when they run after each other and towards the crowds.
Izmir International Fair
Held every September, the Izmir International Fair is one of the oldest festivals in Turkey. This 10-day festival takes place in Kültürpark, which plays host to trade shows, cultural exhibitions, and musical concerts.
While there is usually a theme for each fair such as “renewable energy” or “organic farming”, attendees can expect to see electronic products, jazz jam sessions, yoga workshops, and much more.
People and Culture
Travelers visiting Turkey will be pleasantly surprised by a rich culture and extremely welcoming locals. If you happen to be invited to someone’s home, it’s important to bring a gift, be it some chocolate or some flowers. Just don’t bring alcohol.
Turkish people truly respect elderly people, so you’ll see them giving up their seats in public transport. It’s rude to touch people without permission, blow your nose during meals, and point your finger at other people.
Also, make sure you learn the local hand gestures. Some, such as the “OK” symbol, are considered offensive.