Turkey holidays

Experience Turkey

Best Places to Visit

Istanbul is the star attraction of Turkey. It's one of the world's greatest cities and has been enchanting travellers for centuries with its fantastic mix of culture, religion and entertainment. Istanbul has several historical sites and religious spectacles to see, including mosques, churches and ancient palaces. Grab a boat cruise on the Bosphorus, explore Byzantine catacombs, then party the night away.

The Turquoise Coast is Turkey's most magical beach destination. Its resorts and islands strung along the Aegean Sea are revered thanks to a mix of ancient sites and cool beach towns like Bodrum and Ölüdeniz. Ideal for families and couples alike, these make for versatile destinations in which to enjoy typical holiday entertainment alongside trips to nearby national parks and historical architecture and ruins. The ultra-adventurous can even try out hair-raising sports such as paragliding from the summit of the Babadağ mountain.

Central Anatolia is home to the capital Ankara, a buzzing modern metropolis that is also littered with ancient Hittite sites and the eerie moonscape of Cappadocia. The fairy chimneys, underground cities and churches carved into rock cliffs at Cappadocia are reasons enough to visit this huge interior region.

Konya is one of Turkey's larger cities and home to the fascinating Sufi order. Step into another world with the elegant medieval Seljuk architecture, visit the tomb of the mystic Sufi poet Rumi and perhaps even witness a Whirling Dervish.

The monasteries and subterranean cities of Cappadocia simply must be seen to be believed. These ancient feats of engineering are also works of art, created in a world where early Christians fled from persecution. The results linger today, with painted fresco churches and entire cities carved into the area's many fairy chimneys.

Turkey's Mediterranean Coast is just as beautiful as the Aegean, with the popular city of Antalya as its anchor. With a history stretching back to 158 BC, Antalya offers a wealth of modern fun, fabulous beaches and a rich timeline that defines the history of southern Turkey. As well as the typical European tourist attractions like waterparks and beaches, Antalya offers the stunning Duden Waterfalls for nature lovers and the surprisingly intact Hadrian's Gate, a three-arched gateway made almost entirely of marble.

The west coast of Turkey is home to some of its finest ancient sites, such as Ephesus, a wonderfully preserved Roman city. Troy and Pergamum are also within striking distance from the main city of the region, Izmir, a decent destination in its own right.

Top Landmarks

Istanbul is a living museum of architecture, boasting superlative sites like the Blue Mosque with its minarets and coloured windows that change hue throughout the day. Famed for its mesmerising dome, Hagia Sophia is another marvel, as is the vast Topkapi Palace.

Be sure to stop by the Istanbul Archaeology Museum before venturing too deep into Turkey. The country's largest museum chronicles the incredible history of Turkey, from the Romans and Byzantines through the Ottomans and everything in between.

Few ancient Mediterranean sites are as well preserved as Ephesus; a Roman city that has been excavated just enough to give visitors a sense of its grandeur without sacrificing its atmospheric ruins. The legendary city of Troy is just up the coast, with Pergamum along the way, creating an exciting multiday excursion to soak in the ancient civilised world.

Turkey's Aegean and Mediterranean coasts are blessed with some of the most beautiful seaside scenery on the planet. But among all these gems, few reach the picture postcard quality of Ölüdeniz's Blue Lagoon. The famed beach is a true masterpiece of nature.

The Sumela Monastery is also a must-see landmark. Founded in AD 386 by two Athenian monks, this beautiful building is carved into a 1,000-foot cliff above the valley, making for magnificent views. Travellers can also enjoy the rugged natural beauty of the Black Sea while visiting.

Entertainment

Turkey provides a pleasantly diverse range of entertainment for visitors, from thumping nightclubs to traditional belly dancing performances. In the nation's leading cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya and Izmir, travellers can expect a nightlife scene similar to most European cities. The younger generation of Turks enjoy their nights out, creating lively scenes in all the main cities.

Istanbul is the undisputed centre of Turkey's nightlife, a wonderful blend of taverns (meyhanes), coffeehouses and nightclubs. Turks love live music, so expect to be spoiled for choice with jazz bars, rock and pop bands and of course, a solid dose of traditional Turkish music at bars throughout the city. The Ortakoy neighbourhood in Istanbul is particularly lively after dark, as are the rooftop bars overlooking the Bosphorus. Find a cosy café (Türkü Evleri) in Beyoglu's Büyükparmakkapi Sokak district to enjoy traditional Anatolian folk music and singing.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Turkish nightlife at seaside resorts in Ölüdeniz, Marmaris, Bodrum and Kusadasi. These beach towns cater almost exclusively to tourists, which means British sports pubs are more commonplace than traditional coffeehouses. The entertainment at the beach, however, is fantastic during the peak summer holiday season.

Venues like the sprawling, outdoor nightclub, Halikarnas in Bodrum are legendary, capable of holding 5,000 people on any given night. The tradition of belly dancing is still preserved in Turkey, though performances are targeted at tourists and typically located inside hotels and cultural entertainment venues.

Dining Out

Traditional Turkish cuisine is a distinct blend of Middle Eastern ingredients and Mediterranean influence. If Turkish fare doesn't suit your tastes, plenty of international restaurants can be found in major cities and coastal resorts.

A typical Turkish meal starts with a range of delectable cold and hot appetizers accompanied by raki (a milky anisette spirit), then moves on to either a kebab (skewered meat on a stick) or a köfte (meat patties made of minced lamb). Vegetarian dishes are also prevalent on menus, as are a range of Saç kavurma earthenware casseroles that are sumptuous.

Other essential Turkish dishes to savor include pide (a version of pizza but fluffier), manti (meat-filled dumplings) and dolma (stuffed grape vine leaves). The dessert list is no less impressive, with baklava (light layered pastry), sütlaç (rice pudding) and irmik helva (an indescribably tasty concoction).

Drinking tea, known as chai in Turkey, is a national ritual you won't be able to avoid. Served strong and black with two sugar cubes in a tulip-shaped glass, it's offered to every guest and usually keeps flowing.

Our best deals in Turkey

Need to know

Language

Turkish is the official language of Turkey and by far the most heavily used throughout the country. The modern Turkish language, also known as Istanbul Turkish, is a lot different to the older Ottoman Turkish that was once spoken in the western regions. Ottoman Turkish had Persian, Arabic and Turkish influence and would now be misunderstood by a lot of the Turkish population, especially those born after the 1940s. Approximately 75 per cent of the nation speaks this modern Turkish, followed by Kurdish at 15 per cent. Turks involved in commerce and tourism typically speak several other languages, including English and many European languages. English-speaking visitors to the popular resort areas should have no problem in speaking to local service staff in English.

Currency

Although the Turkish Lira (TL) is used everyday, euros and US dollars are also accepted for high-priced items like hotel rooms and carpets. Currency exchange kiosks (döviz bürosu) will change cash for free while banks typically charge a fee. ATMs are easy to find in cities but charge transaction fees and are occasionally out of use. Relying on a mix of cash and credit cards is the best strategy.

Visas

Tourist visas good for 90 days are issued on arrival for citizens of almost every country. The visa fee varies by nationality but payment can be made in euros, dollars, sterling or lira. It is typically around US$20 for Brits, Australians and Americans. Make sure your passport is valid for six months past your date of entry into Turkey.

Climate

Turkey's sheer size makes for a wide range of contrasting climates. Spring (April to May) and autumn (October to November) are best for Istanbul and ancient outdoor sites while June to September are ideal for seaside trips along the Mediterranean and Aegean. Summer in the coastal areas of the Black Sea is wetter than the coastal regions of the Mediterranean and Aegean, although both are warm. Expect big crowds throughout summer at tourist hot spots and beach resorts, but during winter most seaside resorts close. Spring and autumn may see some rain but the lack of crowds is a worthy compromise.

Main Airports

Turkey's largest city, Istanbul, is also home to the country's main gateway, Ataturk International Airport. Nearly every global carrier has regular services flying into Istanbul, where onward air connections can easily be arranged. Ankara's Esenboäÿa Airport is another option for direct international flights, while regional airports in popular resort towns like Antalya and Izmir have good seasonal flight schedules.

Flight Options

Regular direct flights operate from the UK throughout the year. Common routes for travellers are between Manchester and Istanbul, and London to Istanbul, Antalya and Izmir.

Travel Advice

The summer season is when prices are highest to Turkey, so consider a trip during the shoulder seasons of April to May or October to November for the best savings. Taxis are always easiest for airport transport in Turkey, but Istanbul's Ataturk International has a metro station convenient for those travelling light.

Other Transport Options

It is certainly possible to travel from London to Turkey by train, though the journey is more of a romantic adventure than a quick trip. It takes three days and involves several train changes, starting with the Eurostar to Paris, then the Orient Express to Vienna and a couple of other transfers to reach Istanbul.

Getting Around

Domestic flights in Turkey have come a long way in recent years but the bus is still the primary means of transportation around this vast country. Turkish Railways continues to improve and expand its network, offering a slow but romantic means of travel. Cars are also an option but Turkish roads can be spotty in the countryside.

Train

Turkey's national rail network is not nearly as comprehensive as the bus system, but it offers an adventurous alternative to a coach ride. The main line between Istanbul and Ankara can take between seven hours and ten hours depending on the train. There is a high-speed line between Ankara and Konya, with more routes in the works.

Air

All of Turkey's regional airports are connected to Istanbul and Ankara, including popular travel destinations like Izmir, Antalya and Dalaman.

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FACTS

  1. Many consider tulips to be a national flower of Holland, but they were actually brought over from Turkey in the 16th century.
  2. Don’t be surprised to find chicken in the dessert section of a restaurant menu – a traditional Ottoman pudding is tavuk göğsü, a creamy, sweet, cinnamon-spiced dish made with chicken breast.
  3. Turkey features an incredible 16 places that are marked as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and that’s not taking into account the dozens that are on the tentative list. From the Mesolithic temple of Göbekli Tepe to Gallipoli, this country is steeped in fascinating history.

FACTS

  1. Many consider tulips to be a national flower of Holland, but they were actually brought over from Turkey in the 16th century.
  2. Don’t be surprised to find chicken in the dessert section of a restaurant menu – a traditional Ottoman pudding is tavuk göğsü, a creamy, sweet, cinnamon-spiced dish made with chicken breast.
  3. Turkey features an incredible 16 places that are marked as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and that’s not taking into account the dozens that are on the tentative list. From the Mesolithic temple of Göbekli Tepe to Gallipoli, this country is steeped in fascinating history.

Where to go in Turkey

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