Turkey travel guide
Turkey has something for everybody – and like its weather, it is a country of extremes. There are hundreds of archaeological sites; everything from castle ruins and battlegrounds to the world’s oldest known sign of civilization and the ancient city of Troy. But if history hunting isn’t your game, Turkey also offers a dazzling choice of modern pursuits, from the designer boutiques and trendy tea houses of Istanbul to the ultra-contemporary hotels of Antalya.
Turkish culture is derived from many different influences, and it shows. There are rural delights, manifested in hearty, filling cuisine and enjoyed by exploring the beautiful, dramatic landscapes. Islamic flavours are found everywhere, from the minaret-dotted skyline of Istanbul, to the glorious Ottoman architecture of Antalya, while later Rococo influences become evident in common ornamental fountains.
Turkey became a modern nation during the reign of Mustafa Kamal Atatürk in the first half of the 20th century. The country’s first President transformed the nation from a religion-oriented empire into a republic and it is this which makes Turkey stand out from many other Islamic countries, for while it retains its heritage, architecture and religion, it also incorporates western influences, and allows them to flourish.
So to fully immerse yourself in Turkey, you must breathe in the diverse but complementary fragrances of history, religion, art and culture, and only then can the exciting, contemporary nation be completely experienced.
Such a huge country, it is not surprising that Turkey is made up of so many climatic regions. The coastal areas, including Istanbul and Antalya, enjoy hot and humid summers and mild winters, while the further inland, the more extreme the temperatures get. During the winter months, much of eastern Turkey is steeped in snow, with temperatures reaching -12°C, making it pretty inhospitable, while in the summers the east can get as hot at 45°C. The Black Sea Coast gets a lot of rain during the year, often reaching three times the average national rainfall, but has a warmer climate than the rest of Europe.
Spring and Autumn are the best seasons to travel to Turkey, when the weather will be pleasant and warm in coastal regions, and not too cold inland. Avoid travelling to eastern Turkey between mid-October and May, as it will be covered in snow and most roads, hotels and facilities will be closed. For Black Sea holidays, visiting between April and September will help avoid as much rainy weather as possible.
For the latest weather info use the Pampo weather forecast tool.
It is necessary to have a passport valid for at least three months from when you enter Turkey. For UK, US, Canada, Australia and some EU citizens, a Turkish visa is needed to enter the country. This can be purchased at the airport upon arrival for £10.
Straddling two continents, Turkish cuisine borrows from the varied cultures of the Middle East, Central Asia, the Mediterranean and the Balkans. Many dishes are regionally specific although the staple foods such as lamb, yoghurt, cheese, aubergine, garlic, onions, peppers, lentils, pistachios, walnuts and spices including cumin, paprika and parsley, will appear on menus throughout the country.
Western Turkey follows an almost Mediterranean diet, using lots of olive oil from the plentiful olive groves and eating fish, vegetables and herbs. The southeast is well known for its kebabs and mezes – a dish of assorted appetisers, including cheeses, vine leaves and the traditional köfte meatballs. The Black Sea region’s menu is based on the area’s ubiquitous resources, anchovies and corn, while central Anatolia is famous for its pasta dishes, specifically gözleme – a pastry filled with spinach, cheese or meat – keşkek – meat and barley stew – and mantı – spiced meat dumpings.
Pastry is also a common dish, served both savoury and sweet. Böreks are salty phyllo pastries that can be stuffed with everything from meat to vegetables and cheese while baklavas are sweet, sticky pastries made with walnuts or pistachios. And of course, one of Turkey’s most popular influences in the world of food, Turkish delight, is a national dessert.
Turkey is an Islamic country, so many of its residents do not drink alcolhol. Those that do, generally abstain during the month of Ramadan but alcohol is still widely available throughout the country. Several Turkish beers are brewed locally, including Efes Pilsen, Marmara34 and Tekel Birasi, and there are also Turkish wines which are steadily increasing in popularity, such as Kavaklıdere, Corvus and Pamukkale. A traditional anise-flavoured alcoholic beverage, Rakı, is a popular choice and is usually served to accompany a meze at the start of a meal.
As far as non-alcoholic beverages go, coffee and tea are the sure-fire winners. Turkish coffee is served thick and strong, and can be either bitter and sweet. It is usually served in small ceramic cups – being so strong, it is primarily drunk in small doses. Black tea is also popular, as are hibiscus and other exotic, flowery flavours.
Drinking in Turkey also offers the opportunity to try out some very unusual drinks. Ayran is a salty yoghurt drink that can be drunk alongside a meal of spiced lamb, cooling the palate. Şalgam suyu is a juice derived from turnips, often served together with a kebab, or you could opt for a hot winter warmer, Sahlep, made from orchid roots and served with cinnamon.
The currency of Turkey is the New Turkish Lire (YTL) with notes in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 YTL.
Euros are generally accepted in the large cities, but YTL are not accepted outside the country, so it is recommended you spend them all before you leave.
Use the Pampo exchange rates calculator to get the latest info on your rates.
Esenboga Airport (ESB) primarily serves domestic flights to and from Ankara, but also receives several international routes
Sakirpasa Airport (ADA) is near Adana’s city centre and has daily internal flights to Istanbul and Ankara
Antalya Airport (AYT) is nearer the city centre than Esenboga has daily flights to and from Istanbul and Ankara, and occasional international flights
Milas-Bodrum Airport (BJV) has daily flights to and from Istanbul
Atatürk International Airport (IST) is Istanbul’s main airport, 14 miles from the city centre
Sabiha Gökçen Airport (SAW) is the main destination of budget flights to Istanbul and is located about an hour’s journey from the city centre
Adnan Menderes Airport (ADB) is located close to Izmir, Selçuk and Ephesus
Trabzon Airport (TZX) operates daily flights to and from Istanbul and Ankara
There are over 100 archaeological digs taking place within Turkey at any one time
Çatalhöyük, in southern Anatolia, is considered by many to be the oldest known city in the world (c. 6500 BC)
Back in the days when Marc Anthony showered Cleopatra with gifts, he presented her with a section of Turkey’s southwestern coastline for their wedding
The site of the legendary city of Troy is located in western Turkey
Eastern Turkey, most specifically Ağrı Dağı (Mount Ararat) is said to have been the final resting place of Noah’s Ark
When Julius Caesar uttered his immortal words, “Veni, Vidi, Vici” (“I came, I saw, I conquered”), he was in Pontus, in the Black Sea region of Turkey
Turkey has always been known for its acceptance of refugees: in the late 15th century, Jews expelled from Spain were given safe passage to the Ottoman empire. Refugees during the Bolshevik revolution were also accepted, as were Jews fleeing Nazi Germany and almost half a million Iraqi Kurds escaping Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War
Although Holland is famous for their tulip fields, it was the Turks who first introduced the flower to the Dutch