Turkey holidaysThe sample prices are per person based on two people travelling!
Turkish is the official language of Turkey and by far the most heavily used throughout the country. Approximately 75 per cent of the nation speaks 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.
Although the Turkish Lira (TL) is used for everyday needs, euros or 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.
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.
The sheer size of Turkey creates a wide range of 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. Expect big crowds throughout summer at hot tourist 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.
Turkey’s largest city Istanbul is also home to the country’s main gateway Ataturk International Airport. Nearly every global carrier has regular service 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.
British Airways and Turkish Airways are the main carriers with regular direct flights from the UK throughout the year. Turkish Airways flies between Manchester and Istanbul, while British Airways goes from London to Istanbul, Antalya and Izmir.
Budget carriers like EasyJet, Thomson Airways and Monarch also have direct regular and seasonal services from London Luton and Gatwick airports to Bodrum, Dalaman, Izmir and Antalya. Their flights to Istanbul are often late at night, landing at Sabiha Gökçen Airport, the city’s second airport 50kms from downtown Istanbul. The flight from London to Istanbul takes 3 hours 45 minutes.
Travellers willing to take red-eye flights on budget carriers to Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen Airport can find good fares almost any time of year. 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.
It is certainly possible to travel from London to Turkey by train, though the journey is more of a romantic adventure than a speedy 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.
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.
All of Turkey’s regional airports are connected to Istanbul and Ankara, including popular travel destinations like Izmir, Antalya and Dalaman. Turkish Airlines offers the most routes followed by Onur Air, Atlas Jet, Pegasus Airlines and AnadoluJet. Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen Airport has opened up Turkey’s domestic air scene with fares comparable to the bus.
The bus remains the most popular transport for long distance travel in Turkey. Buses are relatively cheap, usually comfortable and they reach even the tiniest towns. There are several main coach companies to choose from, including Ulusoy and Varan which are the most expensive, followed by several cheaper firms.
Turkey’s national rail network is not nearly as comprehensive as the bus system, but it offers an adventurous alternative to a coach ride. Some routes have sleeping cars, dining cars and air-conditioning. Fares are reasonable, though pricey for the express trains. The main line between Istanbul and Ankara can take between seven hours and 10 hours depending on the train. There is a high-speed line between Ankara and Konya, with more routes in the works.
All of the major international car hire chains are represented in Turkey’s main cities and airports. Reliable four-lane highways connect the larger cities but road quality quickly deteriorates away from Turkey’s urban hubs. Driving conditions are more dangerous than other European countries, so drive with care.
Istanbul is the star attraction of Turkey. It’s one of the world’s great cities, and has been enchanting travellers for centuries with its amazing montage of culture, religion and entertainment. 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 top-flight thanks to a mix of ancient sites and cool beach towns like Bodrum and Ölüdeniz.
Central Anatolia is home to the capital Ankara, a buzzing modern metropolis, yet 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 reason 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 Seljuq architecture, visit the tomb of the mystic Sufi poet Rumi and perhaps even witness a Whirling Dervish.
Turkey’s Mediterranean Coast is just as nice as the Aegean, with the trendy city of Antalya as its anchor. With a history stretching back to 158 BC, Antalya offers a wealth of modern fun, amazing beaches and a rich timeline that defines the history of southern Turkey.
The west coast of Turkey is home to some of its finest ancient site 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.
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. The dome of Ayasofya, the handiwork of Mehmet the Conquerer, is another marvel, as is the vast Topkapi Palace, a regal city unto itself.
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 and organised just enough to give visitors a sense of its grandeur without sacrificing its atmosphere of an adventure among the ruins. The legendary city of Troy is just up the coast, with Pergamum along the way, creating an inspiring multiday excursion to soak in the ancient civilised world.
The monasteries and subterranean cities of Cappadocia simply must be seen to be believed. These ancient feats of engineering are also works of art, 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 Aegean and Mediterranean coasts are blessed with some of the most beautiful seaside scenery on the planet. But among all these gems, few really reach the postcard quality of Ölüdeniz’s Blue Lagoon, a true masterpiece of nature.
The Sumela Monastery was built in the 14th century by Greek Orthodox Christians. Literally carved into a 1,000-foot cliff above the valley, this magnificent site boasts some of the world’s finest frescoes among the sprawling stone complex. Enjoy the rugged natural beauty of the Black Sea while you’re here.
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 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.
On the other end of Turkish nightlife is the scene at most seaside resorts like Ölüdeniz, Marmaris, Bodrum and Kusadasi. These beach towns cater almost exclusively to tourists, which means British sports pubs are more common than traditional coffeehouses. The entertainment at the beach, however, is fantastic and always buzzing during the peak summer holiday season.
Venues like the sprawling outdoor nightclub Halicarnassus 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.
Turkish food perfectly reflects its role as the crossroads between Asia and Europe. Traditional dishes here seem to be the love children 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 aköfte (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 ravioli) and dolma (stuffed grape leaves or vegetables). The dessert list is no less impressive, with baklava (light layered pastry) leading the way followed by a range of milky dishes like sütlaç (rice pudding) and irmik helva (an indescribably tasty concoction).
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 keeps flowing. Turkish coffee is equally strong and sweet, guaranteed to create heart palpations. Raki is the national alcoholic drink of Turkey, distilled from raisins and anisette with a serious kick. Ayran, a wonderfully refreshing yoghurt drink, is another Turkish creation available everywhere.
The best beaches in Turkey have long been claimed by big hotels and exclusive beach clubs for the private use of their guests. But it’s not all bad. Cesme has miles of sandy Aegean splendor to enjoy, or add some urban fun to the mix with the town beaches at Bodrum or Konyaalti (Antalya). Fethiye makes a good base for day trips to Callis Beach or Ölüdeniz Beach, with loads of hotels and resorts to choose from.
Few experiences on this planet are more romantic or memorable than a week-long cruise on your private boat in the Aegean Sea. Book your own gullet (a traditional wooden sail boat) and cruise through the placid islets of Turkey’s Turquoise Coast. You set the pace, stopping for swims in empty coves or rambles through unknown ancient ruins. Pure magic, and worth every penny. Bodrum, Marmaris and Fethiye are all good ports to book this kind of private cruise.
Ölüdeniz is one of those rare places that is actually better than the hype. A superb beach and its legendary Blue Lagoon that dazzles in three shades of blue are perfect for families and kids who want to play on the sand and in the calm seas. Behind the beach are hills where you can ride horses, hike, take a jeep safari or explore ancient ruins. The hilltop resort village of Hisaronu has the most hotels and beach resorts but there are a few down on the shore like Club Belcekiz Beach.
Cappadocia offers a range of adventures, from the thrill of a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the area’s moonscape to clambering through ancient subterranean cities. You can even sleep in the cool climes of one of the many cave hotels for a truly surreal experience. Trekking the 311 miles of the Lycian Way between Antalya and Fethiye is more of a commitment, while multiday sailing cruises along the Turquoise Coast are worth their weight in gold.