How to travel Turkey on a budget – ultimate guide

The-Great-Stadium-of-Ephesus
The-Great-Stadium-of-Ephesus

Turkey travel guide – Why go, how dangerous is Turkey, travel itinerary and sites not too miss!

Packed with history, ancient monuments and magic natural wonders this beautiful country connects Asia and Europe.

Why Go to Turkey?

Being on the edge of the Islamic world and the European Union, it is a very easy and touristic way to experience Islamic culture and architecture. It really is a unique country with some of the most spectacular and different landscapes I have experienced around the world.

Is Turkey Dangerous?

Turkey has been the victim of a number of high-profile terror attacks and political events in the recent past. The situation is now calmer (late 2017), but there is currently still a state of emergency in place. If going to Turkey, please check current FCO travel advice before organizing your trip.

Must Do

  • The ferry chimneys in the rock valley of Cappadocia is a photographer’s dream. This surreal, lunar landscape is difficult to explain, you have to see it yourself!
  •  The pure white travertine terraces of Pamukkale’s “Cotton Castle” are  a highlight of Turkey.
  • Ephesus is Europe’s most complete classical metropolis, this well preserved  large archaeological site includes the massive Theater, the Temple of Hadrian and the magnificent Celsus Library.
  • Istanbul is the only city in the world spanning two continents. Impressive architecture and historic sites including the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace.
  • Go to the beach! with coastlines along the Aegean and Mediterranean seas Turkey has plenty of amazing beaches not to miss.
Cappadocia with it's its unique cone-shaped rock formations or “fairy chimneys,”
Cappadocia with it’s its unique cone-shaped rock formations also called fairy chimneys.

Turkey budget travel -How much will it cost?

Currency Turkish Lira (TRY) R4 – TRY1

You can get by as a backpacker on  TRY90  ($24) per day and double that for a comfortable holiday style travel.

Hostel dorm rooms start at TRY25 ($6.50) per night. Private double rooms start around TRY 90($24) per night.  You can get private rooms on AirBnB starting at TRY 75 ($20).

Best time to visit Turkey

  • tourist high season is from June through August, everything is crowdy and more expensive.
  • Summer is hot and winter cold
  • Spring season (April to May) and autumn season (September to October) are the best times to visit.

Best of Turkey

Cappadocia

Turkey has many amazing, distinct landscapes, but the arid valleys of Cappadocia with its unique cone-shaped rock formations or “fairy chimneys”, located in central Turkey, are my favorite! The open air museums, large rock cones and underground cities can keep you busy for days exploring this fascinating area.

Cappadocia
Huge phallic formations in ‘The Love Valley’ of Cappadocia were formed by natural erosion of volcanic rock.

What is Cappadocia?

How were these unusual rock formations created? Centuries ago a group of ancient volcanoes, erupted  layers of ash and sand, mixed with hot gases to cover the countryside in a thick layer of tuff. Over the centuries the rivers, wind and rain eroded the soft rock layer to form spectacular gorges and leave behind the spectacular Cappadocian moonscape.

Things to see in Cappadocia

There are so many fascinating things to see in Cappadocia that you could spend weeks here discovering new places. The main ‘must-see’ attractions are the two  open-air museums and the underground cities. Don’t miss Goreme Open Air Museum with it’s cave churches and Zelve Open Air Museum a cave town with churches. The underground cities are another must see. Kaymakli Underground City, the largest underground city and Derinkuyu Underground City the deepest underground city are spectacular.

Cappadocia is known around the world as one of the best places to fly with hot air balloons. The spectacular surrealistic landscapes combined with excellent flying conditions allow hundreds of balloons to take off every morning!

Hot air balloons floating over the spectacular landscapes of Cappadocia at sunrise.
Hot air balloons floating over the spectacular landscapes of Cappadocia at sunrise.

Accommodation in Cappadocia

Ali’s guesthouse very nice social place the rooms are in a cave house which is kind of awesome but very dark inside $6 for a dormitory bed or $23 for a double room breakfast and all day coffee and tea included; Kosi Pension nice backpackers with swimming pool $7 for dormitory bed, $19 for a double room.

Pamukkale

Pamukkale is a town in western Turkey known for the mineral-rich thermal waters flowing down white travertines (terraces) on a nearby hillside. The gleaming white calcite terraces look like snowy slopes on photos and the warm mineral rich waters form gleaming blue pools that you can swim in. Pamukkale means cotton castle in Turkish and the name is self explanatory if you look at photos. The terraces neighbors Hierapolis, an ancient Roman spa city founded around 190 B.C. Ruins there include a well-preserved theater and a necropolis with sarcophagi that stretch for 2km.

Pamukale before tourists arrive
Still alone at Pamukkale, early in the morning before flocks of tourists arrive in tour buses.

TIP This Unesco World Heritage site gets thousands of daily visitors arriving in tour buses. The gates open at 6am. We arrived when the gates opened and had this entire amazing site to ourselves for over 2 hours, when hundreds of tourist buses started arriving.

Accommodation in Pamukkale

We stayed in Hotel Dort Mevsim, nice budget hotel with dormitories and private rooms, breakfast buffet included, swimming pool, walking distance from the travertines.

Pamukkale
The snow white travertines of Pamukkale

Ephesus

Ephesus was an ancient Greek city on the coast of Ionia. Today what remains of the best-preserved Roman city in the Mediterranean region is close to the city Selçuk in İzmir Province.

The spectacular city was built in the 10th century BC during the Classical Greek era and began to flourish after it came under the control of the Roman Republic in 129 BC. 

The Library of Celsus
The Library of Celsus is one of the most well restored ruins in Turkey.

Some of the highlights of this city:

  • Temple of Artemis – once the biggest temple on Earth and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
  • Library of Celsus – one of the most impressive buildings in the Roman Empire this library stored over 12,000 scrolls, destroyed by an earth quake and set on fire by the goths
  • Odeion (used for music performances)
  • Temple of Hadrian,-Varius Baths, State Agora, Temple of Domitian, Hercules Gate and many more

Tip Stay late! At 18:00 the last tour guides started leading out their flocks of  tourists and we had the whole ancient city to ourselves, the light was soft and perfect for photos. Walking alone in that ancient city really felt like you were part of the Roman world.

Efesus
To walk around alone in the spectacular Efesus the secret is to stay late.

Istanbul

Split between east and west this ancient, culturally rich city has a crazy amount to see and do. Many travelers never get further than Istanbul when visiting Turkey, with such a huge variety of highlights I can understand why. After about 10 days in Istanbul we only scratched the surface of what one of the world’s great cities has to offer. The best of Istanbul can not be listed in this short space, but I will just mention a couple of our favorite things to do in Istanbul.

Hagia Sofia

Turkey’s most famous domed monument went from church to mosque to museum. It is filled with Christian and Muslim artifacts. Over the years under various rulers it served as temple or mosque until it was converted to a museum. You can not miss this spectacular building that is said to have changed the history of architecture. One site not to miss!

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

The Blue Mosque (The Sultan Ahmed Mosque)

Another iconic mosque in Istanbul, located close to Hagia Sofia. The Blue Mosque is not blue, it’s name is derived from the famous blue tiled roof inside the building.  The mosque is still used for worship, but tourists are welcome.

The Basilica Cistern

This was my favorite site in Istanbul. The Basilica was a huge underground water storage facility that was fed by aquaducts to the Black Sea 20 km away. It is made spectacular by 336 stone columns and two enormous stone Medusa heads.

The impressive Basilica Cistern.
The impressive Basilica Cistern.

The Bosphorus Strait

The Bosphorus Strait (Istanbul Bogazi) is the dividing line between Europe and Asia and connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. Most sights are concentrated in the old city on the peninsula of Sultanahmet, It is awesome standing on the Bosphorus bridge with Europe on the one side and Asia the other, when we were in Istanbul there was a swimming race across the Bophorus from Europe to Asia.

The Topkapi Palace

The Topkapı Palace is a large museum in Istanbul, Turkey. This massive palace was the Imperial residence of Ottoman sultans for about 400 years. Much of the palace is not accessible, the  tours of the Sultan’s Harem was interesting.

The Grand Bazaar

The colorful and chaotic Grand Bazaar has been at the center of Istanbul for centuries. The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. The Bazaar covers 61 streets and it has up to  400,000 visitors daily! Something not to miss if you visit Istanbul.

 The Grand Bazaar, Instanbul.
Buying some Turkish delicacies at The Grand Bazaar, Instanbul.

Accommodation in Istanbul

We stayed in a couple of different places in Istanbul; there are several budget options check out Erenler Hostel & Hotel for $6 for a dormitory bed

We spent a night or 2 in more expensive hotels New Faith Hotel $34 per night double room good place buffet breakfast included all day coffee and tea.

Go to the beach – Alanya

We spent a couple of days in the Mediterranean seaside town Alanya  on the southern coast of Turkey. Bordered by the beautiful Taurus Mountains, the city is located on a peninsula with an  13thcentury castle overlooking stunning beaches.

  • The medieval Alanya castle overlooking the sea is a must visit.
  • Go to the beautiful waterfalls and river of Sapadere.
  • We spent days swimming in the crystal clear water in one of the small beaches close to the dock yard.
  • Rent a paddle board and paddle around the flat ocean or go paragliding or scuba diving.
Our favorite sm.all beach in Alanya
Our favorite sm.all beach in Alanya

Or looking for adventure?

  • Hike the Lycian Way, a 540 km hike along footpath in Turkey around part of the coast of ancient Lycia.
  • Go and dive at Kas, one of Turkey’s top dive sites.  The area has caves, reefs, wrecks and nice marine life.

Turkey off the beaten track

  • Explore the remote Taurus Mountain range located in the Mediterranean region of Turkey. This rugged limestone area of cascading waterfalls and underground rivers and has some of the largest caves in Asia.

TRANSPORT

Busses – the easiest way for long distance travel in Turkey is by bus, the bus system in Turkey is amazing, bus stations are big and look like airports, the buses are fancy with personal LCD screens showing movies on the back of every seat like an airplane, the only negative here is that all movies are translated into Turkish. Snacks and drinks get served on the bus. Long distance bus tickets cost between $30 and $60 depending on distance. Check Bus Prices

TIP – we often took overnight buses saving on a night’s accommodation.

Uber or BiTaksi – Uber works, there are rumours that it is illegal. BiTaksi is a good app for getting taxis for about the same price as Uber.

Hitchhiking– It was not too difficult to get rides, some drivers expect money and we had one dispute after a ride for which we did not ask a price at the start, so make sure about money when a car stops. I would not recommend for girls to hitchhike alone and definitely cover up arms, legs and hair, you will just feel more comfortable with less staring.

Turkish Food

I really enjoyed the Turkish food, a mix of Asian and European cuisine. I loved Turkish coffee, read all about us drinking coffee around the world! Eating or drinking in restaurants was expensive, but buying food (and coffee) at supermarkets was cheap, so if you are on a backpacker budget find a hostel with a kitchen. You can buy kebabs with lamb or chicken everywhere and quality differs a lot depending on where you buy, but the real thing is amazing. We ate at cafeteria style places often around Istanbul, food was great, soup and a meal that usually consists of fried vegetables such as eggplant (aubergine) and peppers or potatoes served with yogurt and tomato sauce.

Turkish breakfast is very typical and is usually made up of bread, butter, olives, eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, jam, honey and cheese. At hostels you usually get a mix of this and it is served as a buffet. Even McDonal’s serves a Turkish breakfast with egg, tomato, bread and olives!

For more about Turkish cuisine

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