Turkey is located between Asia and Europe, connecting the two continents and providing the perfect blend of both.
It is a popular year-round destination, attracting both those looking to spend a weekend sightseeing in a new city during the cooler months, as well as tourists who wish to soak up the sun and relax for a couple of weeks in the summer.
In 2018, the country attracted more than 40 million tourists and you’ll quickly see why. But, with so many things to do in Turkey, you need to plan your itinerary carefully, so you make the most of your trip.
Turkey at a glance
Istanbul, which sits on the Bosporus Strait, is one of the country’s largest and most famous cities. It is also the most popular attracting more than 13 million tourists alone in 2018. However, it isn’t Turkey’s capital, this is Ankara – which is the second-largest city.
The large country has a varied landscape which takes you from the long and stunning coastline to the rugged mountainous areas further inland.
Is this a destination that intrigues you? Then read on to find out more before heading there and seeing it with your own eyes.
Travel advice when visiting Turkey
According to gov.uk, 2.3 million Brits visited in 2018 and the majority were free from any trouble. That being said, it is important that you are aware of your surroundings and keep any valuables out of sight. You should also take out travel insurance – just to be on the safe side. You’ll also need a visa to visit Turkey and should keep this and your passport on you at all times.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice is to avoid the border with Syria by just over six miles. This includes Sirnak, Kilis, Hatay, Diyarbakir, Tunceli and Hakkari. There is also the chance of terrorist attacks in Turkey – this tends to be in the south and east, as well as Istanbul and Ankara. Tourists aren’t targeted but it is vital that you keep up to date with travel advice to avoid getting caught up in any unrest. It is also important to note that there is the possibility of earthquakes in parts of the country.
It is easy to travel around Turkey despite its size. Firstly, you can travel by train including high-speed ones which currently run between Istanbul, Ankara, Konya and Eskisehir. This is growing and due to cover the entire country by 2023. There is also an extensive network of coaches across Turkey and buses in towns and cities. In each city you’ll find a number of ways to get around including the metro and trams. If you are on the coast, you can travel by ferry between various destinations. Purchase a smart ticket and you can use it on the ferries, trams, metro and buses. Alternatively, you may prefer to hire a car so you can explore the country at your own pace.
Average accommodation costs
The average cost of accommodation in Turkey is TRY 99 (£14) a night for one person and TRY 198 (£28) for two people.
Popular attractions in Turkey
Ancient monuments are scattered across this beautiful country and that is just the start. There is so much to see, and you don’t want to leave without visiting the best. So, here are three of the most popular attractions that you definitely won’t want to miss.
1. The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque – also known as the Sultanahmet Mosque – gets its name from the blue stained glass windows and the Iznik tiles which decorate the interior walls. Take a look at these as you walk through, they feature various patterns. The mosque, which is situated in Istanbul, dates back to 1616. There are more than 260 buildings and six minarets – which is a significant number for a mosque. These dominate the skyline and can be seen from across the city. It is still used for worship every day, if you aren’t here to pray you must use the north entrance.
2. Hagia Sophia
Situated in Istanbul opposite the Blue Mosque and appearing as almost a mirrored image with its domed silhouette, is Hagia Sophia. It dates back to between 532 to 537 AD when it started life as church before becoming a mosque and finally a museum in 1935. It was one of the largest enclosed spaces for more than a thousand years and was once the largest cathedral in the world. The Byzantine architecture has inspired other mosques. Today, it is one of the most visited museums in the world. Make sure you head to the upper level and look out for the mosaics depicting religious scenes.
You’ll feel like you have stepped into a fairy tale when you visit Cappadocia. The region, which can be found in the centre of the country, is most famous for its cone-shaped rock formations that have been caused by years of erosion and are known as fairy chimneys. Over time these have been transformed and given various uses, including becoming homes. One of the most popular towns here is Göreme with its open-air museum. Hot air balloons fill the sky – it is the most popular place in the world to do it. Admire them from the ground, or head up and look down on this magical landscape for yourself.
The best beaches in Turkey
Turkey boasts around 5,000 miles of coastline, across which there are more than 450 Blue Flag beaches. The golden sand is lapped by four seas – the Black Sea in the north, the Aegean in the west, the Mediterranean in the south and the Sea of Marmara between Europe and Asia.
Here are three of the best that you won’t want to miss if you are heading to Turkey for a beach break.
This 11-mile long beach is spectacular, in part because it has avoided development due to the protected loggerhead turtles that lay their eggs here. If you are here from May to October, it’s worth noting that the beach will be closed after sunset to allow the turtles to lay their eggs. This peaceful part of the coastline, which has mountains at either end and is part of a national park, is Turkey’s longest. Step off the golden sand and behind the dunes you’ll find the ruins of an ancient city.
You may well have seen this beach in Dalaman before, it is the country’s most famous stretch of coastline and often the image used to promote the destination. There is a section of sand bordering the village that you can relax on for free but the blue lagoon beach – which is the most famous, requires a small fee. It is part of protected Ölüdeniz Tabiat Parki. This is a popular spot for paragliding, high above the mountains that tower above the calm, clear water and soft sand.
You’ll find Turkey’s most popular city beach in Alanya. This stretch of white sand is just over a mile and a half long and lapped by azure waters, while the Taurus Mountains provide the backdrop. It is believed that Antony and Cleopatra, who spent time here, imported the sand from the Egyptian desert. Today, this beach is lined with bars and popular with families. There are plenty of watersports on offer from jet skiing to banana boat rides. Plus, the clear water provides the perfect conditions for snorkelling and if you’re lucky you may well spot a turtle – which lay their eggs here.
Excursions in Turkey
While you are in Turkey, you may like to visit one of the Greek islands and tick off two countries in one trip. You can easily take the ferry from around 10 ports on the mainland to about six islands. Bodrum and Marmaris are two of the main destinations in Turkey to travel from and you can visit the likes of Kos and Rhodes. Depending on where you leave from and travel to, this can take between 20 minutes and just over two hours.
Alternatively, you may like to visit Princes’ Islands, a small archipelago in the Sea of Marmara, around an hour boat ride from Istanbul. The largest and most popular to visit is Büyükada. On the journey you’ll see many of the city’s top attractions from the water.
Food and drink in Turkey
The food in Turkey blends influences from Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Meat, particularly lamb, is at the heart of many dishes.
The most popular dish is the kebab, or more specifically, the shish kebab, which is grilled on a skewer.
Mezes – a selection of small dishes – can be found on most menus. This may be a light snack or starter but can also be served as a main meal. There are plenty of dishes served in the meze that are suitable for vegetarians. You may also like to try dolma while you are here, these are stuffed vegetables or vine leaves.
Those with a sweet tooth will want to sample Turkish Delight while they are in Turkey. These small cubes of jelly, traditionally known as Lokum, are fragrant and dusted with icing sugar.
The drink that is most widely consumed here is Turkish Tea known as Çay. This tends to be served in a small glass and without milk.
Beer and wine is popular, but Raki is Turkey’s traditional alcoholic beverage. It is a sweet, aniseed-flavoured drink. This is often drunk alongside meze and sometimes referred to as ‘lion’s milk’ because it goes from clear to cloudy if you add water or ice.
Turkey is fast growing into one of the liveliest nightlife destinations on the continent.
Marmaris is one of the best places to head if you are looking to party after the sun has gone down. There are two main streets, one in the centre of the city and one beside the beach. You’ll find something to suit everyone, from cocktail bars to nightclubs.
Istanbul is another place where you can dance the night away, especially in and around Taksim Square in Beyoglu.
You also won’t want to miss Bodrum if you are in Turkey for the nightlife. This city is home to Club Catamaran, a floating nightclub. Inside you’ll find a glass dance floor so you can show off your best moves as sea life swims just below your dancing shoes.
Shopping in Turkey
Whether you are looking to pick up a souvenir or just fancy window shopping, Turkey is the ideal place to do it.
Firstly, there are a number of bazaars. Istanbul is home to the Grand Bazaar, which is the largest and oldest, not only in the country, but the world. Here you can browse more than 4,000 shops to find a unique gift for yourself or a loved one. Don’t be afraid to haggle – this is very common here. While the city’s most famous bazaar offers almost anything you can think of, you might also like to visit the Spice Bazaar – the perfect place to sample lokum.
Also, in this city is Bagdat Street. It is just over five and a half miles long and lined with everything from department stores to boutiques.
If you are in Ankara you can visit ANKAmall, which is known as ‘The Shopping Centre of Turkey’ and home to more than 350 shops. It is one of the largest shopping centres in the country alongside Istanbul Cevahir. Meanwhile, in Antalya, you can visit TerraCity where you’ll find world-famous brands such as Michael Kors, Burberry, Hugo Boss, Armani, Pull&Bear, and Sephora.
Turkey culture and art
Eastern and Western culture collide in Turkey, resulting in an incredibly unique culture.
The art scene is centred around cities such as Istanbul, Izmir and the capital, Ankara. Istanbul Modern, situated on and boasting wonderful views of the Bosporus, is the place to go if you would like to see contemporary art.
Topkapi Palace Museum – situated in the former residence of Ottoman sultans – houses various collections including Arms and Weapons, Imperial Treasury, Silverware as well as European Porcelains and Glasses.
Of course, you won’t want to miss Hagia Sophia – one of the most unique museums in the world.
Likewise, Göreme Open-Air Museum is a sight to behold. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is where you can see monasteries and churches that have been built into volcanic rock.
Outdoor adventure in Turkey
A hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia and paragliding over Ölüdeniz are just the start for thrillseekers visiting this country.
Don’t forget your hiking boots, Turkey is home to one of the best hiking trails in the world – The Lycian Way. The footpath is more than 300 miles long and situated in the south of the country in Lycia. It has been listed among the most beautiful long-distance hikes in the world.
Beneath the surface of the water, as well as coming face to face with the sea life that lives here, you can see a 65ft, fixed-wing Dakota DC-3 aircraft, situated just off Kas.
You can also go horse riding – the best place to do this is around the fairy chimneys in Cappadocia. Alternatively, cycle along the south-west coast, climb Mount Ararat, take a sea kayak down the Lycian coast or go to Alaçati to experience kite-surfing.
At Kartalkaya, from December to April, you can even ski or snowboard in the Köroglu Mountains.
Tourists are predominantly attracted to Turkey’s spectacular coastline or its most famous city, Istanbul. However, there is so much more to discover. Here are just three places you can start to step away from the traditional tourist trail.
Feel the heat from the Flames of Yanartas
Just a short distance from Olympus you’ll find Yanartas which literally translates to ‘Flaming Stone.’ Here a number of small fires burn continuously from vents that have been created naturally in the cliffs. The flames of around 12 fires have been burning for more than 2,500 years. Today they are often used to brew the local tea, Cay. Most arrive here for sunset and make their way through the forest and up the path to see this area as the sun goes down.
See the Giant Heads of Mount Nemrut
Situated at a height of 2,000 metres, at the top of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mount Nemrut, you’ll find stone statues that date back to 62BC. The statues remain from the ancient tomb of King Antiochus. There are various heads that reach heights of up to 9 metres and include eagles, lions and Greek Gods. You’ll find it just a short distance from Adiyaman. Many tend to hike up here, you may like to join them just before sunrise, so that you can watch it from the top as you take in the breathtaking views.
Explore the Sumela Monastery
Nestled in the mountains, 1,200 metres above sea level, on the edge of a cliff is this monastery which is also known as the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Virgin Mary. The ancient monastery which dates back to 386AD is situated in the Trabzon province, near Macka village, in Altındere Valley National Park. Stop at the lookout point to take in views of the monastery before continuing up to admire the exterior and look down on the lush green forests and flowing streams. Don’t miss the natural cave that forms the main church.
Best times to go to Turkey
Turkey is a year-round destination. The best times to visit are April to May and September to November. During these months it is warm but not too hot, perfect for sightseeing. The hottest months are June to September with temperatures an average of 28°C in July and reaching right up to the mid 30s. November to March can get fairly cold in comparison, especially if you are inland. However, it’s worth being aware that Turkey is a large country with various landscapes and so the weather can differ depending on when and where you are visiting.
Now you know what to expect from a holiday to Turkey, you can start planning your holiday and ensure you make the most of your time in this beautiful country.
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