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.
- 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.
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).
Turkey tour packages
There are so many amazing sites not to miss in Turkey, I know getting around can be a mission, don’t feel like planning everything yourself? Let reputable company take care of the hassles. G-Adventures have some excellent tour packages including all our favorites for really good deals!
This G-adventures comprehensive tour of Turkey combines history and beaches, man-made wonders and natural phenomena, as well as a vibrant and welcoming culture. Experience all our favorites; Istanbul, Cappadocia, Ephesus and Pamukkale on this tour containing all our favorites, some nice touches like sleeping one night aboard a boat under the stars on the Mediterranean Sea and spending a night in a converted Ottoman mansion.
Limited on time? Best of Turkey, 8 day Istanbul to Istanbul. This trip is ideal for the traveller who is short on time but wants to experience as much of Turkey’s stunning scenery and fascinating history as possible. Begin the journey at the WWI battlefield of Gallipoli, then leap into Greek myths and explore the remains of the legendary city of Troy before strolling along the streets of Ephesus. Don’t miss the remarkable white cliff pools of Pamukkale before boarding a comfortable and convenient flight back to Istanbul. Return refreshed and ready to explore the city’s bazaars, mosques, and tea houses.
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.
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Best of Turkey
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.
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. We really enjoyed this, it was a fantastic tour!
Cappadocia is known around the world as one of the best places to fly with hot air balloons. This Cappadocia hot air balloon flight is definitely a bucket list adventure! The spectacular surrealistic landscapes combined with excellent flying conditions allow hundreds of balloons to take off every morning!
Accommodation in Cappadocia
Looking for unreal accommodation? Osmanbey Cave House located at a restored mansion in Goreme National Park, beautiful rooms, awesome location, super friendly staff, a terrace and a garden, good breakfast. Rooms under $50 per night.
Artemis Cave Suites, excellent location great view of Goreme, awesome food, very knowledgeable staff. About $70 per night. Deluxe rooms are big, huge beds, coffee machine, mini bar, toiletries etc.
On a budget?
Ali’s guesthouse very nice is a social place, the rooms are in a cave house which is kind of awesome but dark inside the dorm. Ali’s Guest House is located in Göreme, just 3.2 km from Capadokya. 9$ for a dormitory bed or $31 for a double room breakfast and all day coffee and tea included.
We enjoyed staying at Kose Pension a nice family run hostel with a great swimming pool, super friendly staff, awesome location and a good breakfast. Double room was $24.
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.
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. Here you can book a tour to Pamukkale with a guide that picks you up at your hotel. If you plan to explore this site independent my advice would be to arrive early and walk around as much of the site as you can for the first 2 hours taking beautiful photos in the soft light with few tourist, then go and enjoy swimming in the pools when the masses arrive.
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, good deal at $16 for a double room. Venus Suite Hotel – Neat, new hotel with big rooms, plenty of facilities, excellent food, free shuttle to the travertines, great breakfast. Good deal for about $30
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.
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.
Book a private, half-day tour of the ancient city of Ephesus from either Kusadasi or Izmir. In Kusadasi? Consider going for an authentic Turkish bath and massage, unfortunately we never got around to it.
Accommodation close to Ephesus
Amazon Petite is located in Selcuk, close to to Basilica of St John and the Temple of Artemis. It offers air-conditioned rooms with a minibar, flat-screen TV and free Wi-Fi, nice breakfast and friendly helpful staff. Good deal at about $40 for a double room.
Ephesus Palace, good value for money, friendly host, car and bicycle hire available, located 3 km from Great Theatre of Ephesus. Rooms from about $20, economy triples and family rooms available.
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.
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! Buy tickets for Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia here! get picked up by a driver, skip the long lines do a morning tour with a local guide.
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 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. Reserve your seat on to see both the European and Asian sides of Istanbul on a 2.5-hour boat cruise of the Bosphorus Strait.
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.
Istanbul Whirling Devishes
Looking for some evening entertainment you are only going to see in Istanbul? Don’t miss the famous Mevlevei Sema ceremony in Istanbul. Known for its whirling dervishes and dances, enjoy a complex musical repertoire called ayin and go on a mystical journey representing man’s spiritual ascent through mind and love to perfection.
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.
How to explore Istanbul
- If you are on a budget the cheapest is to use Google Maps and explore the city on foot.
- For a little bit more taking a hop on hop of bus tour is a great option. You can get around a your own pace and see all the famous landmarks, from the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque to the splendors of the Ottoman Empire, including Dolmabahçe Palace.
- Pressed for time, don’t feel like standing in lines? do a full day guided tour to all the sights with a knowledgeable guide, don’t miss anything!
Accommodation in Istanbul
Where you stay will depend mainly on what you wish to get out of Istanbul.
Sultanahmet is historic, beautiful, very atmospheric, very touristy and quiets down around midnight.
Hotel Sphendon offers easy access to many local attractions, located in the heart of historical Old City of Istanbul, 300 m from the Blue Mosque, walking distance to most main attractions. Friendly staff assist with arranging car hire, daily city tours, tickets and activities in the city. wi fi, air con, good buffet breakfast. Double Room about $60
Want to spoil someone? The White House Hotel small cosy hotel, perfect location, luxurious rooms, beautiful place. Bit pricey, but awesome at $120
On a budget? Sultan Hostel & Guesthouse awesome hostel great location, $9 for a dorm bed $30 for a double.
Taksim is the more modern area of the city, with a mix of tourists and locals, many of good restaurants/clubs/bars, alive until morning. This is the more expensive area.
Georges Hotel Galata, ultra comfort remodelled old building, real luxury – even espresso machine in some of the rooms, marble bathrooms, spectacular views over the Bosphorus. Luxury in moder day Istanbul about $110
World House Hostel, awesome hostel, cool location in Taksim, 24 desk, good breakfast, $8 for a dormitory bed
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.
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.
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.
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! Got a sweet tooth? don’t miss this awesome article on amazing desserts to try in Turkey! 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 McDonald’s serves a Turkish breakfast with egg, tomato, bread and olives!
Turkey Packing list
Here are a couple of items that we found particularly handy during our Turkey trip.
- The Pashima for the ladies is so useful! Head covering for mosques is important to have. Very chic in the evenings and useful on the plane as a blanket or pillow! Reversible Paisley Pashmina Shawl Wrap
- A good umbrella is amazing to have when you get caught by an unexpected rainstorm! Good quality windproof, waterproof, easy to operate and light to pack in your day pack.
- Pack-able Day pack – Small and light in your luggage, very handy to have a good, small pack to carry camera, waterbottle, sunglasses etc. in exploring the city. Venture Pal Ultralight Packable Daypack
- International Power Adapter Plug – buy a good one!
- Camera, you are going to see one of the world’s most spectacular cities, if you want more than phone quality photos this compact camera with manual or auto settings is the way to go. Canon G7x Camera
Want to see everything we have in our backpacks? Get some packing inspiration!
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