- For other places with the same name, see Turkey (disambiguation).
Turkey (Turkish, and officially: Türkiye) is a bi-continental country: an oft-repeated cliché about Turkey is that it is the bridge between Europe and Asia. This is true not only geographically, but also culturally, and many Turks value their European and Asian identities equally. Therefore, Turkey is the ultimate "exotic — but with a twist" destination for many: plenty of travellers to the country will find a charming novelty in every corner, yet at the same time, will have a feel of comforting familiarity, regardless of which direction or how far they are arriving from. Add the Turks' legendary warmth towards the visitors to the mix, and you get the idea.
This large, populous country borders eight countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Greece, and Bulgaria.
From the dome-and-minaret filled skyline of Istanbul to the ancient ruins alongside the western and southern coasts, heavily indented against a craggy backdrop in Lycia and wide and sunny in Pamphylia, to the cold and remote mountains of the East, Turkey offers a wealth of destinations. Crazy "foam parties" in Bodrum running wild find their place with the Middle Eastern-flavoured cities of Southeastern Anatolia in the same country. The lush and misty mountains of the Eastern Black Sea are only a few hours away from the vast steppe landscapes of Central Anatolia. So there is something for everyone's taste — whether they are travelling on an extreme budget by hitchhiking or by a multi-million yacht.
|Aegean Turkey |
Greek and Roman ruins between the azure sea on one side and silvery olive groves on the other
|Black Sea Turkey |
Heavily forested mountains offering great outdoor sports such as trekking and rafting
|Central Anatolia |
Tree-poor central steppes with the national capital, Hittite and Phrygian ruins, and moon-like Cappadocia
|Eastern Anatolia |
High and mountainous eastern part with harsh winters. Caucasian, especially Armenian and Kurdish, influences mix with the Turkish here, giving rise to a unique culture
|Marmara Region |
The most urbanized region with Byzantine and Ottoman monuments in some of the country's greatest cities
|Mediterranean Turkey |
Mountains clad with pine woods ascending right from the heavily-indented coastline of the crystal clear sea
|Southeastern Anatolia |
Semi-arid part of the country marks the northern extent of the Fertile Crescent and is home to very ancient ruins, historic cities, bazaars with a local flair, and last but not least Göbeklitepe, the world's oldest known megaliths. Primarily Kurdish inhabited.
- 1 Ankara — the capital of Turkey and its second largest city
- 2 Antalya — the fastest growing city, hub to an array of beach resorts
- 3 Bodrum — a trendy coastal town in Southern Aegean which turns into a crowded city in season when it serves as a playground for Turkish and international holidaymakers alike, featuring a citadel, Roman ruins, trendy clubs and a number of villages surrounding the peninsula each with a different character from classy to rustic
- 4 Edirne — the second capital of the Ottoman Empire
- 5 Istanbul — Turkey's largest city, the former capital of both the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires, and the only major city in the world to straddle two continents
- 6 Izmir — Turkey's third largest city, hub to an array of beach resorts
- 7 Konya — a quite large city that is the heartland of mystic Sufi order, the site of Rumi's tomb, and with some elegant Seljuq architecture, all surrounded by vast steppes
- 8 Trabzon — the wonderful Sumela Monastery is just outside the city and it is a great gateway to exploring the Turkish Northeast
- 9 Urfa — a city with beautiful architecture and extremely friendly locals at the gates of Eastern World; where Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic, and Assyrian cultures mingle
- 1 Ani — the impressive ruins of the medieval Armenian capital, known as the city of a thousand churches
- 2 Cappadocia — an area in the central highlands best known for its unique moon-like landscape (the "fairy chimneys"), underground cities, cave churches and houses carved in the rocks
- 3 Ephesus — the well-preserved ruins of a Graeco-Roman city on the west coast
- 4 Gallipoli — the site of the 1915 Anzac landing and many WWI memorials
- 5 Mount Nemrut — a UNESCO World Heritage site with ancient statues on its summit, affording a great panorama of its rugged surroundings
- 6 Ölüdeniz — the incomparable postcard beauty of the "Blue Lagoon", perhaps the most iconic beach of Turkey
- 7 Pamukkale — "the Cotton Castle", a white world of travertines cascading down in a series of shallow pools filled with thermal waters
- 8 Sümela — a stunning monastery clinging on cliffs; a must-see on any trip to the northeast
- 9 Uludağ — a national park featuring school textbook belts of different types of forests varying with altitude, and the major winter sports resort of the country
|Currency||Turkish lira (TRY)|
|Population||84.6 million (2021)|
|Electricity||230 volt / 50 hertz (Schuko, Europlug)|
|Time zone||UTC+03:00, Europe/Istanbul, Asia/Istanbul|
|Emergencies||112, 110 (fire department), 155 (police), +212-177|
|edit on Wikidata|
- See also: Hittites, Ancient Greece, Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Ottoman Empire
There is evidence that the bed of the Black Sea was once an inhabited plain before it was flooded in prehistoric times by rising sea levels. Mount Ararat (Ağrı Dağı), at 5,165 m, is Turkey's highest point and the legendary landing place of Noah's Ark on the far eastern edge of the country. The area that is now Turkey has been part of many of the world's greatest empires throughout history. The city of Troy, famously destroyed by the Greeks in Homer's Illiad, has always been associated with the entrance to the Dardanelles strait in northwestern Anatolia. Subsequently, the area was to become part of the Roman Empire, and subsequently, the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire after the Roman Empire split into two, with the city of Constantinople (now Istanbul) as the regional capital, as well as the Eastern Roman capital after the split. The Ottoman Empire subsequently defeated the Eastern Roman Empire, and dominated the eastern Mediterranean, until its defeat by the Allies in World War I.
The Turkish Republic (Türkiye Cumhuriyeti) was founded in 1923 from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. Soon thereafter the country instituted secular laws to replace traditional religious fiats and instigated many other radical reforms to rapidly modernise the state. Changing from Arabic script to the 29-letter Turkish alphabet, based on the Roman alphabet, was one of many personal initiatives of the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Atatürk continues to be revered, and you can see his face gazing down on you or up into the distance in a fatherly, visionary or determined manner in many, many places around Turkey. Atatürk died in 1938 and was succeeded by his right-hand man, İsmet İnönü, who had been the first prime minister of the new republic. It was Inönü that boosted the cult of personality around Atatürk and who led Turkey for a longer time than his larger-than-life predecessor. Turkey joined the UN in 1945 and became a member of NATO in 1952. In 2022, the Government of Turkey began using the Turkish spelling of the country's name, Türkiye, as the name of the country in English.
Turkey occupies a landmass just over 750,000 km2 (290,000 sq mi), more than double that of Germany and slightly more than Texas. In terms of the variety of terrain and particularly the diversity of its plant life, Turkey exhibits the characteristics of a small continent. There are, for example, some 10,000 plant species in the country (compared with some 13,000 in all of Europe) — one in three of which is endemic to Turkey. Indeed, there are more native plant species within Istanbul city limits (2,000) than in the whole of the United Kingdom. While many people know of Turkey's rich archaeological heritage, it possesses an equally valuable array of ecosystems — peat bogs, heathlands, steppes, and coastal plains. Turkey possesses many forests (about a quarter of the land) but, as importantly, some half of the country is a semi-natural landscape that has not been entirely remodelled by man.
While it may sound like a tourism brochure cliché, Turkey is really a curious mix of the west and the east — you may swear you were in a Balkan country or in Greece when in the northwestern and western parts of the country (except that Byzantine-influenced churches are substituted with equally Byzantine-influenced mosques), which are indeed partly inhabited by people originating from the Balkan countries, arriving in waves during the turmoil before, during, and after World War I, while the southeastern reaches of the country exhibit little if any cultural differences from Turkey's southern and eastern neighbours. Influences from the Caucasus add to the mix in the northeast. It can be simply put that Turkey is the most oriental of the western nations, or, depending on the point of view, the most occidental of the eastern nations.
Perhaps one thing common to all of the country is Islam, the faith of the bulk of the population. However, interpretation of it varies vastly across the country: many people in the northwestern and western coasts are fairly liberal about the religion (being nominal Muslims sometimes to the point of being irreligious), while the folk of the central steppes and the east are far more conservative (don't expect to find a Saudi Arabia or an Afghanistan even there, though). The rest of the country falls somewhere in between, with the coastal regions being relatively liberal while the inland regions are relatively conservative as a general rule. The largest religious minority in the country are the Alevites, who constitute up to 20% of the population and subscribe to a form of Islam closer to that of the Shiite version, and whose rituals draw heavily from the shamanistic ceremonies of ancient Turks. The other religious minorities (the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Jews, Syriac Oriental Orthodox, and Roman Catholics, the latter of whom mainly settled in Turkey within the last 500 years from Western European countries) were once numerous across the country, but are now mostly confined to the large cities of Istanbul and Izmir, or parts of Southeastern Anatolia in the case of the Syriac Oriental Orthodox. Despite its large Muslim majority population, Turkey officially remains a secular country, with no declared state religion.
There are several holidays that can cause delays in travel, traffic congestion, booked up accommodations and crowded venues. Banks, offices and businesses are closed during official holidays and traffic intensifies during all of the following holidays so do your research before you visit. Do not be put off by these holidays, it is not that difficult and often quite interesting to travel during Turkish holidays; plan ahead as much as possible.
- 1 January: New Year's Day (Yılbaşı)
- 23 April: National Sovereignty and Children's Day (Ulusal Egemenlik ve Çocuk Bayramı) — the anniversary of the establishment of the Turkish Grand National Assembly rallies, Turkish flags and Atatürk portraits everywhere, all modes of travel busy
- 1 May: Labour and Solidarity Day (Emek ve Dayanışma Günü, also unofficially known as İşçi Bayramı, i.e. Worker's Day) was long banned as a holiday for almost 40 years and only restarted as a national holiday in 2009 because in years past it usually degenerated into violence. Don't get caught in the middle of a May Day parade or gathering.
- 19 May: Atatürk Commemoration and Youth & Sports Holiday (Atatürk'ü Anma Gençlik ve Spor Bayramı) — the arrival of Atatürk in Samsun, and the beginning of the War of Independence
- 30 August: Victory Day (Zafer Bayramı) — Celebration of the end of the war for Turkish Independence over invasion forces. A big Armed Forces day and display of military might by huge military parades.
- 29 October: Republic Day (Cumhuriyet Bayramı or Yirmi dokuz Ekim) is the anniversary of the declaration of the Turkish Republic. If it falls on a Thursday for example, Friday and the weekend should be considered in your travel plans. October 29 is the official end of the tourist season in many resorts in Mediterranean Turkey and usually, there is a huge celebration at the town squares.
- 10 November, 09:05 — Traffic usually stops and sirens blare for two minutes starting at 09:05, the time when Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic, died in Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul in 1938. That moment in time is officially observed throughout the country but businesses and official places are not closed for the day. However, do not be surprised if you are on the street, you hear a loud boom and all of a sudden people and traffic stop on the sidewalks and streets for a moment of silence in observance of this event.
Ramadan is the 9th and holiest month in the Islamic calendar and lasts 29–30 days. Muslims fast every day for its duration and most restaurants will be closed until the fast breaks at dusk. Nothing (including water and cigarettes) is supposed to pass through the lips from dawn to sunset. Non-Muslims are exempt from this, but should still refrain from eating or drinking in public as this is considered very impolite. Working hours are decreased as well in the corporate world. Exact dates of Ramadan depend on local astronomical observations and may vary somewhat from country to country. Ramadan concludes with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which may last several days, usually three in most countries.
If you're planning to travel to Turkey during Ramadan, consider reading Travelling during Ramadan.
Ramadan (Ramazan in Turkish) is a month-long time of fasting, prayer and celebration during which pious Muslims neither drink nor eat anything, even water, from sun up to sun down. Businesses, banks and official places are not closed during this time. In some parts of Turkey, such as most of inland and eastern locations as locals are more conservative than people in the rest of the country, it is considered to be bad taste to eat snacks or drink sodas in front of locals in public places or transport— to be completely on the safe side, watch how local folk act— but restaurants are usually open and it is no problem to eat in them as usual, though some restaurant owners use it as an opportunity for a much-needed vacation (or renovation) and shut their business completely for 30 days. However, you will unlikely see any closed establishment in big cities, central parts of the cities, and touristy towns of western and southern Turkey. At sunset, call for prayer and a cannon boom, fasting observers immediately sit down for iftar, their first meal of the day. Banks, businesses and official places are not closed during this time.
During Ramadan, many city councils set up tent-like structures in the major squares of the cities that are for the needy, those in poverty or the elderly or handicapped, and are also served for passers-by, with warm meals during the sunset (iftar), free of charge (much like soup kitchens, but instead serving full meals). Iftar is a form of charity that is very rewarding especially when feeding someone who is needy. It was first practised by the Prophet Muhammad during the advent of Islam, for that purpose. Visitors are welcome to join but do not take advantage of it during the entire fasting period, just because it is free of charge.
Immediately following Ramazan is the Eid-ul Fitr, or the three-day national holiday of Ramazan Bayramı, also called Şeker Bayramı (i.e. "Sugar" or more precisely "Candy Festival") during which banks, offices and businesses are closed and travel will be heavy. However, many restaurants, cafés and bars will be open.
Kurban Bayrami (pronounced koor-BAHN bahy-rah-muh) in Turkish, (Eid el-Adha in Arabic) or sacrifice holiday is the most important Islamic religious festival of the year. It lasts for several days and is a public holiday in Turkey. Almost everything will be closed during that time (many restaurants, cafes, bars and some small shops will be open). Kurban Bayrami is also the time of the annual pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca, so both domestic and international travel is intense in Turkey at this time. If you are in smaller towns or villages you may even observe an animal, usually a goat but sometimes a cow, being slaughtered in a public place. The Turkish government has cracked down on these unofficial slaughterings so it is not as common as it once was.
The dates of these religious festivals change according to the Muslim lunar calendar and thus occur 10-11 days (the exact difference between Gregorian and Lunar calendars is 10 days and 21 hr) earlier each year. According to this,
- Şeker/Ramazan Bayramı
- Kurban Bayramı continues for four days
During both religious holidays, many cities provide public transport for free (this does not include privately owned minibuses, dolmuşes, taxis, or inter-city buses). This depends on the place and time. For example, Istanbul's public transport authority has provided free transport in Eid-ul Fitr, but not in Eid-ul Adha when its passengers had to pay a discounted rate. For some years, it was all free on both holidays, while in some others there was no discount at all. To be sure, check whether other passengers use a ticket/token or not.
The climate in Turkey is often (rather simplistically and inaccurately) described as Mediterranean, and this brings to mind the imagery of sunny, hot summers and warm seas. The reality is a bit more complicated than this, however. While most of the southern and western coasts of Turkey fit this description quite well, most of Turkey does not. In fact, the northern coasts are rainy enough to feature temperate rainforests, with the lush Euxine-Colchic forests stretching all the way from northern Istanbul (see Belgrad Forest) to Georgia. Meanwhile, the continental inland regions, especially in the east, can get brutally cold with temperatures approaching -40°C during the coldest nights of winter.
Keeping this information in mind, it is very important to plan accordingly.
Black Sea coast
Areas on the Black Sea coastline experience an oceanic climate, similar to Western Europe, albeit the Black Sea coastline is quite a bit rainier.
Summers are warm, but they feature regular heavy showers and therefore risk of floods and mudslides.
Winter ranges from mild to cold but is generally chilly with lengthy periods of rain and brief breaks of sunshine.
Snow in the region is occasional and falls most winters. Watch out if you decide to climb the mountains, they can feature intense snowfalls.
Areas on the coast of the Marmara Sea, including Istanbul, have an oceanic climate as well, however it might be more accurate to call it a dry-summer oceanic climate, similar to areas like the Pacific Northwest.
Marmara's winters are possibly the hardest vacation sales pitch in the country, except perhaps continental locations in Eastern Turkey. While not brutally cold by any means, it is utterly miserable, as it experiences -although most locals might find the term suffers through more accurate- almost 20 days of rain a month.
Summers are very warm in Istanbul and hot in southern Marmara, but unlike the Black Sea region, all of the region is relatively less rainy during summer, nevertheless with high levels of humidity.
Snow in this region is occasional, but falls every winter, and is likely to affect road conditions, especially in relatively highland locations.
Aegean and Mediterranean coasts
Areas on the Mediterranean and Aegean coastlines have a typical Mediterranean climate, similar to the Central Valley in California, Adelaide in Australia, and of course the rest of the Mediterranean Basin.
Summers are hot and dry, with temperatures reaching 35°C very regularly.
Winters are mild with occasional rainstorms, which can get quite heavy.
Snow in this region is rare, except in Gallipoli, where a few snowy periods are typical.
Inland regions generally have a continental climate, with hot, dry summers (expect around 30°C during the day, unless mentioned below) and cold, snowy winters (expect around 0°C during the day, unless mentioned below). The individual differences inside these regions are too many and too complicated to talk about here; however, there are general warnings that are useful.
- Summers in the southeastern part of the country and near valleys inland from the Aegean coast can get very hot, with daytime averages near or above 35°C (95°F)
- Winters in the eastern part of the country can get very cold as well, with nighttime temperatures regularly plunging below -18°C (0°F)
- Spring is thunderstorm season in inland locations, and severe storms can definitely be a problem.
Turkey is one of the few Middle Eastern countries that accept Israeli passport holders in their country.
Turkish visa requirements were relaxed in 2020. Ordinary passport holders of the countries below can enter Turkey visa-free for tourism and commerce, for up to 90 days unless a shorter period is stated. Your passport must be valid for 60 days beyond your maximum stay, so for most visitors that is 150 days beyond entry. That is just under five months: they politely ask for six months validity on entry but it is not a requirement. (Be prepared to argue this point with airline clerks.) So, no visa needed if you're from:
- all EU and EEA countries except the Republic of Cyprus. For Latvia, entry is only for 30 days. The EU/EEA visa regime also applies to Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, the United Kingdom, and the Vatican.
- other European countries are Albania (90 days), Bosnia and Herzegovina (90), Kosovo (90), Moldova (90), Montenegro (90), North Macedonia (90), Serbia (90), Ukraine (90), and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (no limit).
- CIS countries: Russia (60), Belarus (30), Azerbaijan (30), Georgia (90), Kazakhstan (30), Kyrgyzstan (30), Mongolia (30), Tajikistan (30), Turkmenistan (30) and Uzbekistan (30); but not Armenia.
- Central and South America and the Caribbean: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica (30), Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, St Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
- Others are Brunei, Hong Kong (SAR Passports only), Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya (depends on age), Macau (30), Malaysia, Morocco, New Zealand, Qatar, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, Syria, Thailand (30) and Tunisia.
A national ID card is acceptable instead of a passport from the EU and EEA countries of Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway (temporarily until the end of 2022; the card should have at least 6 months validity beyond the date of entry), Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland, plus Georgia, Moldova, TR Northern Cyprus, and Ukraine. For Norwegians, Poles, and Ukrainians (and perhaps others), this is only possible if they are arriving directly from their home countries. Often only the newer, biometric versions of the ID cards are accepted in lieu of passports. It is ambiguous whether the card needs 90+60 days remaining validity on entry.
For some of those countries, you may even enter on a passport/ID that is expired within the last five years. Never plan on doing this, as it is unlikely you would be allowed to leave the previous country or to board a flight or boat. There would have to be some special reason. "Fighting in Syria this last ten years" will not do, as the waiver specifically excludes arrivals from Iran, Iraq or Syria.
The visa-free regime is only for tourist and commercial visits. Employment or study requires a visa from the Turkish consulate; e-visas are not available for this.
Other citizens need a visa, but most can get an e-visa online. Official prices are quoted in US dollars; for instance, it is US$20 for the US, US$60 for Australia and Canada, and no fee for Mexico, Malta and Kuwait. These rates (correct as of June 2022) are only for prior application. Beware third-party websites scalping you for more.
An e-visa is valid for three months for passport holders of Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Canada, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Hong Kong (BNO Passport), Jamaica, Maldives, Mexico, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, United Arab Emirates and United States. It is valid for one month from Armenia, Bahrain, China, Cyprus, East Timor, Fiji, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa, Suriname, Taiwan, and Zambia.
A longer list of nationalities can get an e-visa valid for one month, with a big catch: you must already hold some other valid visa such as an EU Schengen, British or Irish visa. Those people will have jumped through various official hoops to get such a visa, so it is as if Turkey has expatriated its consular processes and doesn't need to closely vet such applicants. The rules vary - for some there is an age restriction, or even a requirement to arrive on Turkish Airlines. These additional countries are Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Botswana, Burkino Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, India, Iraq, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Vietnam, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.
Visa on arrival
You can also get your visa on arrival at a Turkish airport, generally for $10-20 USD beyond what you would have paid for a e-Visa. Due to the way that Visas on arrival are priced, it is possible that the visa on arrival may cost less than an e-Visa if you pay in a currency other than US Dollars. For example, a visa on arrival for a Canadian citizen is $60 USD, but if you pay in Euro banknotes, it would cost $53 USD (as of June 2022 pricing and foreign exchange rates). The Visa on arrival is not a formal printed visa but stamps applied within your passport.
The same conditions as for the e-visa apply. However, you may have to face down airline gate agents saying you cannot check-in without a visa when leaving for Turkey from another country.
Use a bank card in the airport machines to avoid grief over acceptable bank notes.
Turkey's chief international gateway by air is Istanbul Airport (IST IATA), opened in Oct 2018. This has excellent global connections, as the flag-carrier Turkish Airlines is vying with the Gulf carriers to capture traffic between Europe and the Middle- and Far-East; it also serves all major Turkish cities. It is 40 km northwest of downtown, reach the city by metro or a variety of public buses.
The former main airport Atatürk closed in April 2019. Beware out-of-date road signage & maps, and crooked taxi drivers who may try to take you to what is now a demolition site.
Another gateway is Istanbul's second airport, Sabiha Gökçen Airport (SAW IATA), 50 km east of central Istanbul on the Asian side. It is particularly used by budget airlines such as Pegasus. The flight connections are not as extensive as Istanbul's, but they include the main Turkish cities, Ercan in Northern Cyprus, and several Gulf States. This airport is also convenient for Pendik railway station, for fast trains to Eskişehir, Ankara and Konya. There are shuttle buses from the airport to Taksim square and a metro line to Kadıköy.
Beach resorts such as Antalya, Bodrum and Dalaman have direct package-tour flights from Europe, including from minor and secondary airports. You may be able to book these as flight-only.
There are occasional summer international flights direct to other Turkish cities such as Ankara, Adana and Izmir. But normally, reaching these means changing planes in Istanbul and clearing immigration, security and customs there. You need to allow the best part of two hours for this. Ask at your departure airport whether your bags are being checked through to your destination, or whether you need to pick them up in Istanbul.
From Western Europe to Turkey by train, the route goes through Budapest then overnight from either Bucharest or Sofia to Istanbul. A sleeper train departs Sofia around 21:00 nightly, running via Plovdiv, Kapikule on the border, and Edirne, to terminate at Halkali at 07:40. TCDD run a connecting bus between Halkali and Sirkeci downtown, otherwise change to the frequent Marmaray cross-city train to reach central Istanbul. From June to Sept another sleeper, the Bosphor Express, departs Bucharest at 12:45, running via Ruse to Kapikule. Here it is coupled to the train from Sofia, and all passengers have to get out for border procedures, before continuing to Halkali. The westbound train leaves Halkali at 21:40 to reach Sofia by 09:00 and Bucharest by 19:00 next day. From October to May the through-train from Bucharest doesn't run, so you change trains at Ruse then again at Kapikule, with a similar timetable. Trains from further west (i.e. Budapest and Belgrade) don't connect with the trains to Turkey, so you need to spend a night in either Sofia or Bucharest. Second class single fares are about €20 from Sofia, €40 from Bucharest, plus couchette supplement of €10. The standard of accommodation aboard is similar to the Turkish domestic slow trains.
Optima Express runs a car-train between Villach in Austria and Edirne about twice a week April-November, taking 33 hours. Departure days vary. This train enables motorists to avoid the tricky, tiring roads through the Balkans; however it is also open for passengers without cars. Optima don't offer tickets from intermediate stations such as Zagreb.
In June 2019, another train ran daytime between Plovdiv in Bulgaria and Edirne. It was meant to be a permanent service, but lasted for just one weekend then they cancelled! It is not known if it will ever resume - it created a useful extra route between Bulgaria and Turkey, avoiding arrival / departure in the small hours.
The Budapest-Belgrade line is closed until 2022 for engineering works, and Belgrade-Sofia through-trains may not run in 2021, so it's better to reach Turkey via Bucharest.
It's murder on that Orient Express
The Orient Express ran from 1883 between Paris and Constantinople, initially by multiple trains and ferries, with the first through-service in 1889. From the outset it used several routes, so Bucharest and Sofia can both claim to be on the original route. This is the train that famously got stuck in a blizzard near Çerkezköy for six days in 1929. Agatha Christie wasn't aboard that day, but in 1931 she suffered a 24-hour delay, giving her too much time to plot foul motives and deeds for the characters of her next novel. The full Orient Express ran to 1977 then was curtailed to Bucharest then to Budapest then to Vienna, and ran for the last time in 2007. Private tourist trains continue to use the name, best known being the Venice-Simplon Orient Express, which once or twice a year goes all the way to Istanbul. The name also lives on in a restaurant at Sirkeci.
The new railway between Turkey and Georgia only carries freight, but passenger trains between Ankara, Kars, Tbilisi and Baku are expected to start after post-Covid normalization.
Trains to Iran run once a week. From Istanbul you need to travel to Ankara on Saturday to be sure of catching the Sunday train to Tatvan. From there you cross the lake to Van, then join the Monday overnight train to Tabriz and Tehran. So that is three days in all. This service used to be called the "Trans-Asia Express" but they don't use that name now.
Don't count on receiving a visa on arrival on the rail border crossings — see the section on visas above.
There are no cross-border trains to any other country. For Greece, travel either to Edirne to catch a Greek domestic train in Kastanies 9 km southwest across the border or to Sofia then change for Thessaloniki. There is no foreseeable prospect of services to Armenia, Iraq, Syria, or the Azerbaijan exclave of Nakhchivan.
From Central Europe, getting to Turkey is not too difficult. In any case you'll need your International Insurance Card (Green Card). Pay attention to "TR" not being cancelled and be sure your insurance is valid for the Asian part of Turkey, too. Otherwise you will have to buy Turkish car insurance separately.
A carnet de passage is not required (but some of the neighbouring countries to the east do, so check in advance if they are on your itinerary). There are conditions attached:
- You either have to be the owner of the vehicle you're driving into Turkey or have a notarized permit from the owner.
- Anyone other than the driver on entry or their family members can't drive it within the country.
- The vehicle can't stay longer than 90 days within any 180 days in Turkey.
- The driver is subject to a hefty penalty if they leave the country without the vehicle, or without handing it temporarily over to the customs administration first.
See the official guide for temporarily importing vehicles for futher details.
Foreign driver's licences are valid for up to 6 months beyond the date of entry. The regulations aren't entirely clear on the validity of licences from which countries, but it's safe to assume those issued by the parties to the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic (most of the European countries and many others elsewhere; check the list at the end of this official webpage) are acceptable, at the very least. If unsure, obtain an international driving permit before setting out.
Major roads from Europe are:
- E80 enters Turkey at Kapıkule border gate (west of Edirne, east of Svilengrad) from Bulgaria
- E87 enters Turkey at Dereköy border gate (north of Kırklareli, south of Malko Tarnovo) from Bulgaria
- E90 enters Turkey at İpsala border gate (west of Keşan, east of Alexandroupolis) from Greece
And see "By train" above for the car-train between Villach in Austria and Edirne. The former EuroTurk car-train from Bonn no longer runs.
Major roads from the Middle East enter Turkey at numerous border gates around Antakya (Antioch), from Syrian cities such as Aleppo and Latakia, Habur border gate (south of Silopi, north of Zakho) from Iraq, and Gürbulak/Bazergan border gate (east of Doğubayazıt, west of Maku) from Iran.
Major roads from the Caucasus enter Turkey at Sarp/Sarpi border gate (south of Batumi) and Türkgözü border gate (north of Ardahan, south of Akhaltsikhe) from Georgia. Since 1993, the border with Armenia has been closed, thus it's impossible to cross into Turkey through Armenia.
Various smaller border posts with nearly all of the neighbouring countries also exist; they might be closed at night, or have connecting roads not in an as good condition as those listed above.
During holidays these border gates, particularly those linking to the European countries, may be extremely congested at times. Especially during the summer many Turks who live in Germany drive back home and this creates huge lines at the border.
From Bucharest there is a daily bus to Istanbul at 16:00 for RON125. There are also several daily buses from Constanta, Romania and from Sofia, Bulgaria and from there you can get connections to the major cities of Europe. Another possibility is the bus from Athens in Greece via Thessaloniki. You may also find smaller bus companies offering connections to other countries in the Balkans.
A couple of Turkish bus companies operate buses between Sofia and Istanbul. These buses typically stop at various cities along the way. A direct bus service connects Odessa, Ukraine with Istanbul once a week for 1,000 грн (about €40) (2015).
There are several border points between Turkey and Georgia, in particular in Batumi and Tbilisi. You may have to change at the border, but should be able to find direct buses from Istanbul to Batumi, Tbilisi and Baku in Azerbaijan.
Bus companies also connect Erbil to the Turkish cities of Diyarbakır (10–15 hours) and Istanbul (36–48 hours). The list of companies here is incomplete; there are at least two other Turkish companies running buses from Erbil to cities in Turkey - look around for flyers on Iskan Road in Erbil. Arrival time depends on border formalities; on entry to Turkey waits of up to several hours when the officers are manually checking every single hole in the bus while all the passengers are disembarked aren't unheard of.
- Cizre Nuh (Tel Erbil: 0750 340 47 73) runs everyday at 15:30 from the New City Mall, 60m Road to Istanbul ($100) via Silopi ($40) Diyarbakır and other cities in between. Tickets can be bought at the New City Mall, Flyaway on Barzani Namir and at a phone shop on Shekhi Choly close to the Bazaar.
- Can Diyarbakir (Tel Erbil: 0750 895 62 17-18-19) leaves daily from Family Mall on 100mt Road to Istanbul via Ankara, Diyarbakır and other cities in between.
- Best Van runs from Ainkawa Road in Erbil to Istanbul via Adana, Aksaray, Ankara (departure at 14:00) and Diyarbakır (departure at 16:00, via Hasankeyf and Batman). The bus back from Diyarbakır to Erbil departs at 11:00.
There is a direct bus to Istanbul from Teheran in Iran which takes approx 48hr and costs USD$35 for a one-way ticket between Istanbul or Ankara and Tehran.
- Dogubeyazit/Bazerghan This Turkey/Iran border crossing is easily (and quickly) done by public transport. Take a bus to Bazerghan and a shared taxi to the border (US$2-3). Cross the border stretch per pedes and catch a frequent minibus (~5 TL, 15 minutes) to Dogubeyazit. Check the security situation in the region, due to the unsolved PKK conflict.
- There are also buses from Van to Urmia crossing the Turkey/Iran border at Esendere/Sero. The buses cost ~€13 and it takes more than 6 hr to finish the 300 km path. This is because of the poor roads, harsh snowy conditions during the winter and also many military checkpoints because of security reasons concerning the PKK.
This southern route is less frequent than the northern Dogubeyazit/Bazerghan, as it is much slower but therefore a scenic mountainous route.
Make sure you get a clear idea about exchange rates if you want to change Turkish lira or rial as the official bank at the border does not exchange these currencies and you have to deal with the plentiful black market.
If you're sure you want to go . . . assume it'll be a change of bus at the border. The through-buses for Damascus and Beirut haven't run for years.
- See also: Ferries in the Mediterranean
To Karasu (northeast of Istanbul, near Adapazarı) there are ferries several times a week across the Black Sea from Chornomorske, the main port for Odessa in Ukraine. They run all year and take vehicles. In bygone years ferries sailed between Istanbul and other Black Sea ports, and elsewhere in the Med, but they no longer do so.
Cruise ships usually dock on Istanbul's European side, around Karaköy / Galataport close to the historic centre. These ships are on cruise itineraries, which usually include the Aegean resort of Kuşadası. Check with the operator whether a point-to-point journey ending in Istanbul is possible.
Several Greek islands lie close to the Turkish Aegean coast and are linked by hydrofoil fast ferries, and also have westward ferries that ultimately reach Piraeus the port for Athens. Routes (some seasonal) include Bodrum-Kos, Çeşme-Chios, Datça-Rhodes & Symi, Kuşadası-Samos and Marmaris-Rhodes.
From July 2019 a direct ferry sails between Turkey and mainland Greece, run by Aegean Seaways [dead link]. This sails overnight M W F from Lavrion near Athens at 22:00 to reach Çeşme near Izmir in Turkey at 06:00, sailing back from Çeşme Tu Th Sa at 22:00 overnight. On Sunday the ferry sails from Lavrion at 11:00 to reach Çeşme at 19:00, then sails back near midnight to return to Lavrion at 08:00. It is intended to run this service year-round.
There are ferry connections from Kyrenia in Northern Cyprus to Taşucu, Mersin (near Adana) and Alanya. A year-round truckers ferry goes to Taşucu, while seasonal fast ferries depart to both Taşucu and Mersin. There is also a passenger line to Hatay.
Taşucu is also served by a line from Tripoli in Lebanon.
Ro-ros operated by DFDS transfer cars and motorbikes from Western Europe, more specifically from the Italian port of Trieste to the Istanbul area and Mersin, and from the French port of Sète to Yalova (on the Sea of Marmara south of Istanbul). The passage takes three days, but you need to arrange your own travel between the said harbours.
|COVID-19 information: The requirement to have an HES Code for COVID-19 tracking purposes for inter-city travel was repealed in March 2022.|
|(Information last updated 16 Jun 2022)|
Despite the stereotype, camels are not native to Turkey, nor are they present in significant numbers. Most camels in the country serve the sole purpose of being tourist photo props, adorned with flowers and all kinds of ornaments. There are very few actually working camels, mostly lending their assistance to the even fewer Yörük nomads during their seasonal migrations through the Taurus Mountains flanking the southern coast.
However, this wasn't always necessarily so. Countless camel trains once roamed the trade routes across the Ottoman lands from the Arabian deserts and the eastern frontier well into Europe. Their legacy lives on in the popularity of camel wrestling in the towns near the Aegean coast, and perhaps among other locations in the name of a particularly steep climb on the approach to Istanbul, near Büyükçekmece in the western outskirts of the city — the Devebağırtan, "where the camel screams". While the caravan trail has long been replaced by a roaring highway, the vehicles equipped with every modern appliance still have to remarkably gear down on the ascent.
By European standards, Turkey is a huge country, with mountains impeding the highways and railways, so domestic air travel is well-developed. Especially on routes to Istanbul it's also very competitive, with Turkish Airlines, and low-cost companies Anadolujet (part of Turkish Airlines), Pegasus Airlines and Sunexpress Airlines fighting for your custom. They operate flights from Izmir and Antalya regions to the Eastern and Black Sea regions. There are flights between Istanbul and Ankara hourly; Izmir and Adana have several flights a day to Istanbul (both IST and SAW) and Ankara, and every city has at least a daily flight.
Regional airports usually have a connecting Havaş bus to the city centre, which will wait, within reason, for incoming flights. Buses and minibuses also fan out from the airports to other nearby towns.
Turkey has a very good long-distance bus network with air-conditioned buses, reserved seats and generally good-quality service, at least with the major operators. There are now quite a number of companies providing more comfortable buses with 2 + 1 seats per row. Standard buses, however, have seats narrower than those of economy class on aircraft. Buses are often crowded and smoking is prohibited.
Go to the Otogar (bus station) in any of the major cities and you can find a bus to almost any destination departing within half an hour, or a couple of hours at the most. Buses are staffed by drivers and a number of assistants. During the ride you will be offered free drinks, a bite or two, and stops will be made every 2½ hr or so at well-stocked road restaurants. The further east you travel, the less frequent buses will be, but even places as far as Dogubeyazit or Van will have regular services to many places hundreds of kilometres away. Only the smallest towns do not have a bus straight to Istanbul or Izmir at least once every two days.
The four biggest bus companies are:
Although, even the smallest company can nowadays be booked via a streamlined website of that bus company. All of them demand a Turkish phone number, but you might just fill in a fake one starting with "539" or so. But the email address should work, to get the ticket. All companies accept foreign passengers and passports. In high season it might make sense to book ahead—just check out the situation a couple of days ahead online. You can also use websites that accumulate all the connections, like obilet or busbud—check both, they have different companies. Buses are reliable and will pick you up—remember Istanbul has at least 3 bus stations.
Otherwise, bus tickets can also be bought inside of bus terminals. Often checking out several ticket booths will give you a better price, since some specialize on certain bus companies and others do not.
Be careful, scammers will be waiting for you in and before bus stations, and some may assist you in buying a ticket to a bus that won't depart in the next two hours. Sometimes there simply is no other bus, but on other occasions you will be sitting there while other buses with the same destination start well ahead. If you have some time to spare: check the departure (and arrival) times of other companies, that may save you time overall. Still, if you indicate you really want to leave now (use phrases like "hemen" or "şimdi", or "acelem var" - I am in a hurry ), people will realize you are in hurry, and off you go on the next bus departing for your destination.
If you have several operators to choose from, ask for the number of seats in the buses you compare. Roughly, a larger capacity implies a greater comfort (all bus-seats have approximately the same leg-room, but larger 48-seat buses are certainly more comfortable than a 15-seat Dolmuş, which may be considered a 'bus' by the company selling the seat). Also, the bus company with the largest sign is usually the one with the most buses and routes. If possible, ask other travellers you meet about their experiences with different operators: even big operators have different standards of service, and even with the same operator the standards may vary from region to region.
Don't be surprised if halfway to some strange and far-off destination you are asked out of the bus (your luggage will often be already standing next to it) and transferred to another. The other bus will "buy" you, and will bring you to the destination. This may even happen for 'direct' or 'non-stop' tickets.
Sometimes long-haul bus lines will leave you stranded on some ring-road around a city, rather than bringing you to the center. That can be annoying. Inquire ahead (and hope they don't lie). On the other hand, many companies will have "servis aracı" or service vehicles to the center, when the Otogar is on the periphery of a city, as they nowadays often are. In some cities these service vehicles are used by many companies combined, and a fleet of them, to different parts of the metropolis, will be waiting. The company may also choose to combine the passengers of multiple buses; meaning that you may have to wait until another bus or two arrives before departing. Keep your ticket ready as proof you were on a bus (though most of these services are run on good faith). In some cities (including Ankara, excluding Istanbul), the municipality have prohibited the use of service buses due to their effect on traffic. In that case, you might have to take a public bus or metro to get to your destination. One should probably avoid using taxis (at least departing from the Otogar) since they usually tend to abuse their monopolistic position by refusing to go to closer destinations, behaving rudely towards the passenger, charging on the night tariff, etc. If you have to take a taxi, it is usually suggested that you do it from outside the bus terminal.
Seating within buses is partly directed by the "koltuk numarası" or seat number on your ticket, partly by the ritualistic seating of women next to women, couples together and so forth. So don't be too annoyed if you are required to give up your seat. In general, as a foreigner, you will have the better seat much of the time. It is often easiest to take a seat in the back, whatever the number of your koltuk, and not be bothered for much of the ride. This is particularly true if you travel alone, and want to keep it that way, even though the last row may be reserved for the driver-off-duty, who wants to sleep. And remember: many buses pick up short-track fare along the ride, and park them in the last two or three rows. The back of the bus may be more noisy than the front, since that is where the engine is located.
If you have a bicycle it will be transported free of extra charge. In most buses it fits in the luggage area of the bus. Make sure you have the tools to fold your bike as small as possible (height matters most)
Fez Bus. This is another alternative, a Hop on hop off travel network that links Istanbul to the most popular tourist destinations in western Turkey, and a few other destinations. The buses runs hostel to hostel and have an English speaking tour leader on board. The pass can be purchased for a few days or all summer. Departures are every other day. More expensive than local buses, but could be far less hassle, and offers a different experience. The main office in Istanbul is in Sultanahmet next to the Orient Youth Hostel on Yeni Akbiyik Cd. 
Mainline train services in Turkey fall into three categories: i) very fast and modern; ii) slow and scenic; and iii) suspended long-term for rebuilding or for other reasons. The train operator is TCDD, Turkish Republic State Railways, visit their website for timetables, fares and reservations. The trains are inexpensive, but trains often sell out. See below for how to buy tickets.
Most cities in Turkey have a rail connection of some sort, but not the Mediterranean and Aegean holiday resorts, which have been built from the late 20th century and are hemmed in by mountains. (Kuşadası is the exception, being close to Selçuk on the line between Izmir and Pamukkale.) For some destinations, connecting buses meet the trains, eg at Eskişehir for Bursa, and at Konya for Antalya and Alanya. The main cities also have metro and suburban lines, described on those cities’ pages.
The very fast, modern trains are called YHT: yüksek hızlı tren. These serve Istanbul, Eskişehir, Ankara, Konya and Karaman. They are clean, comfortable and modern; fares are low and reservations are compulsory. They run on new, dedicated track at up to 300 km/h so they keep to time. Thus, from Istanbul it’s under 5 hours to Ankara (8 per day, standard single about €20), and likewise 5 hours to Konya (3 per day). Because journey times are short, YHT trains only run daytime, and have only snack-catering. On-train announcements in English forbid “smoking, alcohol, smelly food and peanuts.” The smoke-free and alcohol-free rules are enforced, it’s unclear how zealous they are about peanuts. Between the cities, YHTs make a few momentary intermediate stops. The only one likely to be relevant to visitors is Eryaman, as an interchange with the Ankara suburban system.
The YHT network is gradually extending: routes under construction are from Ankara towards Kars, from Karaman towards Adana, and from Istanbul towards Edirne. The long-term strategy is to create a high-speed, high-capacity passenger and freight route from Edirne on the western border through to Kars in the east.
But where the YHT services terminate, the line closures and disruptions immediately begin, as Turkey’s Ottoman-era railways are upgraded for the 21st century. The main closures (as at 2021) are from Adana east to Gaziantep, and between Izmir and Bandirma (for the Istanbul ferry).
Conventional trains are slow and scenic, with the emphasis on slow: most run overnight, with journeys from Ankara to eastern cities taking 24 hours. They are infrequent, at best daily, sometimes only one or two per week. The typical train set includes a sleeping car (yataklı vagon), a couchette car (kuşetli), and three open saloons (layout is single row-aisle-double row), plus a buffet that may or may not have any food and may or may not honour your payment card, so plan on bringing cash and your own food. How clean and comfortable the trains are depends on how busy: at quiet times they are fine, but when crowded they soon become filthy. (Always carry your own toilet-roll and hand-wipes.) They are difficult for anyone with impaired mobility to use, and station re-building makes access worse. Nominally these trains are non-smoking, but there’s often a smell of tobacco smoke aboard. They are diesel-hauled and run on single track: on straight level sections they can rattle along at 100 km/h, but in the mountains they plod up steep gradients and round tight bends. So they generally start on time but become delayed along the route — often for several hours on long-haul routes; settle on a relaxed schedule for the successive steps of your trip.
Tourist trains operated by TCDD run several long-distance routes, e.g. Ankara to Kars. These cost about twice the normal fare; they make a few 2-3 hour stops for tourist excursions, so the total running time is a little longer. You're tied to the tourist itinerary without flexibility of stopover. The accommodation is the same as on conventional trains: indeed the rolling stock has been provided by pulling sleeping cars off the conventional trains, so the travel experience on these has been degraded. A private tourist train is Cappadocia Express, expected to launch in 2022: it will run overnight from Istanbul to Kayseri in luxury sleeping cars then bus tourists to Cappadocia National Park. It's aimed at the Japanese market but anyone will be able to book. Details are not yet announced but you can expect a hefty price.
Buying tickets: Reservations are essential for YHT trains and recommended for other mainline services. YHT and standard mainline (anahat) trains are best booked via the TCDD website. International trains (uluslararası) can be booked by other methods (below) but not via the website; and regional (bölgesel) trains are not bookable. TCDD replacement buses are considered trains, and bookable (or not) on the same basis. Consult the timetable first, for the latest on timings and disruptions, but beware that timetable and reservations system sometimes give different days of running for some services, for no discernable reason. The timetable only lists the main stations, where the train waits for about ten minutes, and you'll just have time to dash to the station kiosk and replenish your food supplies. The trains also stop momentarily at many little wayside halts, where sometimes food vendors will hop on.
Then to buy your ticket, move to the reservation system, but this only opens 15 to 30 days in advance – look further ahead and it will seem like there aren’t any trains. Pick your preferred train service and seat or berth, whereupon the system will display the price and give you the choice of immediate purchase, or of holding the option for a few days. Immediately note your confirmation number, and print your ticket at home whenever convenient: it doesn’t need validating at the station. It’s unclear whether a soft ticket on your phone is acceptable without validation.
The Inter Rail Global Pass and Balkan Flexipass are valid for all trains within Turkey and the trains to & from Europe, but you may still need a seat reservation. TCDD also offer discounts for those under 26 (genç bilet, whether or not you’re a student) and for those over 60 (yaşlı bilet). Check their website for other discount offers, but usually these are aimed at commuters and others making multiple repeat journeys.
Tickets can also be bought from the stations (either at the counter, or from self-service kiosks), from travel agents, or from PTT post offices. The main stations (including Sirkeci) accept credit cards and can book you onto any bookable train, but they’re unlikely to accept non-Turkish cash. (And nowadays you may struggle to find a money-changer, as they’re replaced by ATMs.) Advance reservations are strongly recommended during summer, on Fridays and Sundays, and around public holidays and religious festivals. Of course you may be able to get a reservation for immediate departure, and the non-YHT trains usually have non-bookable seats, and a scrummage on the platform to claim them. Bear in mind that the main stations may involve a queue for security just to get into the station hall, then another queue for tickets, then a further queue for security and document-check to get onto the platform. You can’t just rock up and jump on.
Like all of its neighbours, except Cyprus off its southern coast, driving is on the right side of the road in Turkey.
Driving in Turkey is usually a tense experience. The local drivers are often badly trained and sometimes reckless, particularly near and within the larger cities and in the southeast. However, the road manners are not entirely different than in the Balkans or parts of Mediterranean Europe, and are a whole lot easier to negotiate than in, say, South Asia. Regardless, never assume the next driver will stick to any rules you would expect, e.g. flash when they are about to change the lane or turn, or give way when they really should. So, always drive defensively.
Having received generous funding from the government in the first two decades of the 2000s, most highways in the country are of quite good quality, often dual carriageways with wide alignments and hard shoulders. Also smaller roads can be expected to be free of pot holes. Hence, driving at night is not an issue like in many eastern European countries where corruption prevents proper road quality.
It is illegal to use a mobile phone while driving. Maximum permitted amount of alcohol in blood for drivers is 0.05 mg per ml (0.05%), similar to most European countries. A pint of beer enjoyed right before driving might get your licence temporarily confiscated in case of police checks. A 2019 law has made smoking inside a car by any of the occupants a fineable offence, but enforcement is sporadic. The use of seat belts both at the front and back line is obligatory, but, although failing to use one carries a penalty, this is not always adhered to by locals, including the drivers themselves.
Unless stated otherwise, the speed limit for automobiles is 50 km/h and 70 km/h on single and dual carriageways, respectively, within inhabited locations, 90 km/h and 110 km/h on single and dual carriageways elsewhere, and 130 km/h on motorways, except O-5, O-6, O-7, O-21 (Ankara–Niğde section), and O-33, where it is 140 km/h. Speed traps, both stationary and mobile concealed within police cars, are common, particularly in the northwest. By law, they are always indicated within the last kilometre or so, but these signs are sometimes tiny and easy to miss.
Watch out for speed bumps as they might not always be indicated, especially around cities. Also, pay attention to one way lanes or prohibited road access—Turkey uses traffic spikes which block a certain direction.
It's best to refrain from pulling up in signposted no parking zones. Not that the fines are very hefty, but towing is possible. In case that happens, expect little official information to whereabouts of your car, and be ready for a lot of searching in dismal parking lots, usually out in the suburbs.
Since the refugee crisis started in 2015, and the coup attempt in 2016, any significant Turkish city has checkpoints on the approaching highways, where cars may be indiscriminately stopped for document checks (IDs, driver licenses, car registration & insurance); these might be accompanied by sobriety checks especially during weekend nights. Getting stopped by law enforcement every so often apparently without any wrongdoing can be off-putting but is the general procedure.
Turkish road signs are almost identical to the ones used in Europe, and differences are often insignificant. The place names written on green background lead to motorways (which you should pay a toll, unless it is a ring road around or within a city); on blue background means other highways; on white background means rural roads (or a road inside a city under the responsibility of city councils); and on brown background indicates the road leads to a place of tourist interest, such as an ancient site (these signs used to be on yellow background previously, so still there is a chance of unreplaced yellow signs existing here and there). These signs are sometimes not standardized.
Roundabouts as understood internationally have started to appear in the latter half of the 2010s or so. As such, most Turkish drivers are yet to have a grasp of how to use them (with the glaring exception of those in Muğla), despite the (often huge) signs reminding them of the basic "give way to those already within" rule, and act on assumptions on which approach should have priority — always proceed with caution.
Most intercity highways avoid city centres by circling around them. If you'd like to drive into the centre for shopping, dining, and the like, follow the signposts saying Şehir Merkezi, which are usually on white background, and are accompanied by no further translations though you can still spot some old signs saying "Centrum" besides Şehir Merkezi. City centres typically have two or more entrances/exits from the ringroads that surround them.
As Turkey uses the metric system, all distances on the signboards are in kilometres, unless otherwise stated (such as metres, but never in miles).
In winter, it's not uncommon that many roads, including the major motorways near the sea level, are subject to closures due to heavy snow, which may take hours to clear – or days, particularly in the east.
See also the #Driving and road safety section below.
There are no fees to use the highways except intercity motorways (otoyol). While Turkish highways vary widely in quality and size, the toll motorways mostly have three or four lanes and are very smooth and fast. Motorways are explicitly signed with distinct green signs and given road numbers prefixed with the letter O. The motorway network consists of the routes stretching out to the west, south and east from Istanbul (respectively towards Edirne, Izmir via Bursa, and all the way to Urfa in Southeastern Anatolia via Ankara and Adana), and an isolated stretch in Eastern Thrace, crossing the Straits of Dardanelles by the Çanakkale 1915 Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the world, to the east of Çanakkale. There are also regional mini-networks connected to the main one in the Istanbul metropolitan area, in Central Aegean fanning out of Izmir, and in the Eastern Mediterranean around Adana.
Most motorways no longer have toll booths (two exceptions are the third bridge crossing the Bosphorus north of Istanbul and the bridge and motorway across the Gulf of İzmit to the direction of Bursa and Izmir, where you can still pay in cash) and instead have lanes automatically scanning the windowpane for the RFID stickers (HGS) while accessing and again exiting the motorway. They are easy to use and allow you to install as much liras as you need. To buy an HGS sticker, look for the service buildings at the major toll stations. They are also available in postoffices.
KGS and OGS, systems respectively using prepaid cards and tags, have been phased out.
In addition to the distance driven, motorway fees also depend on the type of your vehicle. Edirne–Istanbul motorway—about 225 km and the main entry point to Istanbul from Europe—costs 23.25 TL for a car (2022), for example. The newest additions to the network, such as the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge and the Osman Gazi Bridge (crossing the Bosphorus and the Gulf of İzmit, respectively) tend to be much more expensive per km. Check the up-to-date rates from the website of the General Directorate of Highways.
Fuel and charging
Long among the countries with the most expensive fuel prices, the sharp drop of Turkish lira since late 2021 means fossil fuel in Turkey, hovering around 23 TL (about €/US$ 1.23) for gasoline and 26 TL (about €/US$ 1.40) for diesel per litre as of Nov 2022, is relatively cheaper now. LPG is even somewhat less damaging to your wallet.
Petrol stations (benzin istasyonu) are frequent along the highways; most are open round the clock and accept cards (swipe machines are always in the service building, so you will have to get out of the car if that's the preferred payment method). Self-service is practically nonexistent. Almost all stations offer unleaded gasoline (kurşunsuz benzin), diesel (dizel or motorin), and LPG (liquid petroleum gas, LPG or otogaz). However the rare fuel stations in remote villages often only have diesel, which is used for running agricultural machinery. So keep your gas tank topped up if you are going to stray away from the main roads. Also the petrol stations along the toll motorways are rarer than the other highways, usually only about every 40-50km or even further apart at places (the distance to the next station is usually indicated at the associated signage), so don't get too low on these roads either.
Biofuels are very hard to come by for the casual driver. As of 2022 there are few electric vehicle charging stations, although covering the main intercity routes without running out of range, especially if you don't stray too far into the east, seems possible. Eşarj, ZES, Voltrun, CV Charging Vehicles and DMA maintain relatively wide networks of charging stations; see their websites for the associated maps.
Fuel stations will have free toilets and sometimes free çay.
In all cities and towns, there are repair shops, usually clustered together in complexes devoted to auto-repairing (rather incorrectly called sanayi sitesi or oto sanayi sitesi in Turkish, which means "industrial zone" and "auto-industrial zone" respectively), which are in the outskirts of the cities. The shops are specialized in parts of the vehicle (e.g., engine, electrical system or bodywork) and the level of skill in solving the problem varies, but the service is often quick.
In cities and major towns, there are also big 3S businesses (sales, service, spare parts). These are more corporate than sanayi sitesi and are called oto plaza, but may entail getting lined up in a queue, which may take days to process.
Renting a car
You may rent a car to get around Turkey from an international or local car rental agent. The main airports all have car rental desks.
It is a good idea to rent a car locally to explore the region for a couple of days. However, doing all the kilometers of Turkey in a rental, can be exhausting and also expensive if you rent at one place and give it back at another one.
Instead of wasting money on the common big car rental companies, local rental companies can be trusted and found through Google Maps. Contact them via WhatsApp. They will speak sufficient English to get the deal done. It is important to rely on their online rating and reviews (at Google Maps) to make sure to avoid the bad sheep, they will not want to jeopardise a good rating. Sometimes they will not even demand a deposit for their rental. However, make sure to understand whether the is a mileage limit, cleaning necessity or restriction on any roads. Contracts will usually be in Turkish with local companies.
The minibüs is a small bus (sometimes a car) that will ride near-fixed routes. The ride may be from the periphery of a major city to the centre or within a city, but may also take three to four hours from one city to the next, when demand along the route is not sufficient to justify large buses. They sometimes make a detour to bring some old folks home or collect some extra heavy luggage. All during the journey people will get in and out (shout inecek var — “someone to get off” — to have it stop if you’re in). The driver tends to be named kaptan ("captain"), and some behave accordingly. The fare is collected all through the ride. In some, by a specially appointed passenger who will get a reduction, in others by a steward, who may get off halfway down the journey to pick up a dolmuş of the same company heading back, but mostly by the driver. If the driver collects, people hand money on from the back rows to the front, getting change back by the same route. On some stretches tickets are sold in advance, and things can get complicated if some of the passengers bought a ticket and others just sat inside waiting, for maybe half an hour, but without a ticket.
The concept of dolmuş in Istanbul is different than the rest of Turkey. The vehicles are different and they take a maximum of 7 sitting passengers, with no standing. They do not tend to take passengers along the way, they depart immediately when they are full, and many of them operate 24 hours a day. The name derives from dolmak, the verb for “to fill”, as they usually depart only when they are full, though they sometimes start at fixed hours, whatever the number.
Fast ferries (hızlı feribot) are fast (50-60km/hour) catamaran-type ferryboats that connect for instance Istanbul to the other side of the Marmara Sea. They can cut travel time dramatically. Again for instance leaving from the Yenikapı jetty in Istanbul (just a bit southwest of the Blue Mosque) you can be at the Bursa otogar in two hours, with less than an hour for the actual boat ride to Yalova. Similar services are operated to connect several parts of Istanbul with the Asian side, or places farther up the Bosporus. This type of fast ferry is increasingly seen all over the country wherever there is sufficient water.
All inhabited Turkish islands have at least one daily sailing to the nearest mainland city or town during summer. During winter, expect less frequent departures, and disruptions in the schedule, due to the bad weather.
Perhaps one of the best cruising grounds in the world, Turkey offers thousands of years of history, culture and civilization set against a stunning mountainous backdrop. The coastline is a mixture of wide gulfs, peaceful coves, shady beaches, uninhabited islands, small villages and bustling towns. Many of these locations are still only accessible by boat. Rare in the Mediterranean, one can still find some seclusion on a private charter in Turkey. Turkey has more coastline than any other Mediterranean country. The best way to see Turkey is from your own private yacht on your own schedule. Turkey offers some of the most exquisite yachts in the world, known as gulets.
Simply put, long distance cycling in Turkey is burdensome, mainly for two reasons: most of the country's terrain is hilly, and intercity bike paths are basically non-existent, albeit with some noteworthy exceptions (such as a section of EuroVelo 8 across Izmir Province or the lane down from Arsuz towards the Syrian border). That being said, many cities nowadays have cycling lanes of varying shapes, lengths and interconnectedness (often along the esplanades of the coastal cities; these were mostly built with the purpose of a leisurely ride in mind than serious transportation) and most highways built after the turn of this century or so have quite wide and well surfaced shoulders, which can double as bicycle lanes.
Even so, if you have already decided to give cycling a try in your Turkey trip, always stay as much on the right side of the roads as possible, avoid night cycling out of cities or along unlit roads, do not be surprised by drivers hooting at you, and do not go on the motorway, as it is forbidden. You could better prefer rural roads with much less traffic density, but then there is the problem of freely roaming sheepdogs, which can sometimes be quite dangerous. The signage on the rural roads is also much more erratic, turning them into a labyrinth, in which it is easy to get lost even for non-local Turkish people without a detailed map.
Air can be pumped into tyres at any petrol station without charge. Bicycle repair-shops are rare in cities and often in hard-to-locate places; motorcycle repair shops can be tried alternatively (however, they are very reluctant to repair a bicycle if they are already busy with their specialization).
Many towns operate bike sharing programs, but they might be hard to use without Turkish language skills, or without a Turkish mobile number.
Cycling in the areas where the motorized vehicles are restricted is enjoyable, but these areas are limited in number: Istanbul's Princes' Islands are a prime example.
Ebikes with removable batteries are manufactured and sold at reasonable prices, but check first with your airline if you plan to fly with it. As elsewhere, ebikes with non-removable batteries are strictly forbidden on all flights.
"Thumb up" is the hitchhiking gesture universally understood by the Turkish drivers. Avoid using any other signal which might be understood to be indicating a danger ahead. In addition to the thumb, having a signboard with the destination name certainly helps. Waiting for a ride generally doesn't exceed half an hour, though this dramatically varies depending on the density of traffic (like elsewhere) and the region; for example, it usually takes much longer to attract a ride in Mediterranean Turkey than in the Marmara Region. The best hitchhiking spots are the crossroads with traffic lights, where bypass roads around a city and the road coming from the center intersect. Don’t be so away from the traffic lights so drivers would be slow enough to see you, make up their minds and stop, but be sufficiently away for traffic safety. Hitchhiking along the motorways is useless; no one will be slow enough to stop, and the pedestrians are forbidden anyway. Don’t start to hitchhike until you are well clear out of the city traffic which has the tendency to spread over the suburbs, and if not in hurry, avoid hitchhiking after nightfall, especially if you are a lone female traveler.
Although most drivers have little if any intentions beyond to have a word or two during their long, alone journey, always watch out and avoid sleeping.
On some occasions, you may not be able to attract a ride directly to your destination, so don’t refuse anyone offering a ride, which may come across as impolite, unless they are going down only a few kilometres away and are branching off into a road different from your destination in a coming fork. You may have to change several cars even on a route barely 100 km long, in each town after town. However, because of the enormous numbers of trucks carrying goods for the foreign markets, you may also score surprisingly long-haul trips.
Some drivers may ask for money (“fee”) from you. Refuse and tell them that if you had money to waste, you would be on a bus, and not standing on the side of the road fully exposed to the elements.
Drivers staying in the area may point downwards (to the road surface) or towards the direction they’re driving or flash their headlights while passing, indicating that they wouldn't make a good long-haul ride. Smile and/or wave your hand to return the courtesy.
Trail blazing is on the rise in Turkey lately and nowadays all Turkish regions have waymarked hiking trails of various lengths and shapes. Most of them follow a theme, such as connecting to the sites of an ancient civilization, retracing the footsteps of a historical figure or chasing the treats of a specific regional cuisine. The oldest, and the most popular trail is the Lycian Way, which snakes its way over the mountains backing the Turquoise Coast in the southwest. The website of the Culture Routes Society maintains an up-to-date list of the major hiking trails in the country. Guided tours along some of these trails, often involving hiking the most scenic sections and homestays in the villages, are offered by local travel agencies as well as those based in major cities.
Inside the cities, there are white-, or rarely yellow-painted pedestrian crossings (zebra crossing) on the main streets, which are legally pedestrian-priority spots. However, for many drivers, they are little more than ornamental drawings on the road surface, so it is better to cross the streets at the traffic lights. Still, be sure all the cars stopped, because it is not unusual to see the drivers running the first few seconds of the red light. As a safer option, on wide avenues, there are also pedestrian overpasses and underground passages available. In narrow streets during the rush hour, you can cross the street anywhere and anytime, since the traffic moves only intermittently. Also along alleys in the old districts, you need not to worry about keeping on the sidewalk (which is usually too narrow and uneven to be of use anyway); you can walk well in the middle of the street, only to step aside when a car is coming.
- See also: Turkish phrasebook
The sole official language of Turkey is Turkish. Turkish is a Turkic language and its closest living relatives are other Turkic languages, which are spoken in southwestern, central and northern Asia, and to a lesser degree by significant communities in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Turkish is an agglutinative language (forming words by adding suffixes to the roots), and the native speakers of the non-agglutinative ones, such as those in the Indo-European family, generally find it difficult to learn. Speakers of Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Manchu and other Turkic languages typically have an easier time picking it up due to their similar grammatical structures. For many centuries, Turkish was written in the Arabic script, evident in many historical texts and documents, but it has been written in the Latin alphabet since 1928. This means that Turkish is now written using the same letters as English, albeit with the addition of Çç, Ğğ, Iı, İi, Öö, Şş and Üü and the exclusions of Qq, Ww and Xx.
Kurdish is also spoken by an estimated 7-10% of the population, particularly in the southeast and the east. Language policy towards Kurdish has varied from brutal suppression to ignoration to government-funded broadcasts, and speaking Kurdish can be seen as a political statement. Several other languages exist, like Laz in the northeast (also spoken in adjacent Georgia), and in general people living near borders will often speak the language of the other side too. For example, people in the southeast, bordering Syria, often speak Arabic.
Thanks to migration, even in rural areas most villages will have at least one person who has worked in Germany and can thus speak German. The same goes for other Western European languages like Dutch/Flemish or French. Several waves of immigration from the Balkans mean there is also the possibility of coming across native Serbo-Croatian, Bulgarian, and Albanian speakers mainly in western Turkey. English is also increasingly popular among the younger generation. The "universities" that train pupils for a job in tourism pour out thousands of youngsters who want to practice their knowledge on the tourist, with varying degrees of fluency. Language universities produce students that nowadays are pretty good at their chosen language.
- See also: Turkish TV series tourism
As a general rule, most museums and sites of ancient cities in Turkey are closed on Mondays (even Hagia Sophia). The Turkish government offers a museum pass for many sights and museums in Turkey for 375 TL. Check out what is included, and buy it if it makes sense for you. Numerous sights can still be seen for free though.
Ancient ruins and architectural heritage
At the crossroads of civilizations, all parts of Turkey are full of a mindblowing number of ancient ruins.
Although Çatalhöyük and Göbekli Tepe, respectively the earliest settlement and the earliest temple ever found to the date in Turkey precede them, the Hittites were the first indigenous people that rose to found a state in Anatolia. They left the proof of their existence at the ruins of Hattuşaş, their capital. The Hittites spoke an Indoeuropean language (the oldest one attested in writing) and were contemporaries of the "New Kingdom" of Ancient Egypt, engaged in extensive correspondence and diplomacy with the eastern Mediterranean world.
The ancient Greeks and the following Romans left their mark mostly in the Aegean and Mediterranean Regions, leaving behind the marble ruins of hundreds of cities, temples, and monuments. Some such as Ephesus and many others along the Aegean are largely restored to their former glory — many of these are on the checklist of most travellers to Turkey. Some more obscure ones off the beaten path such as Aphrodisias and Aizanoi are also well worth visiting.
In the meantime, some other indigenous peoples, such as the Lycians, were carving beautiful tombs for their dearly departed ones onto the rocky hillsides. Many are fairly well preserved and can be seen all around Lycia.
Legendary Troy stands out as an example of different civilizations literally living on the top of each other. While what is visible today is clearly Hellenistic, the place has its roots as Hittite Wilusa, and later re-built many times over by the ancient Greeks.
Perhaps the most unique "architectural" heritage in the country, some of the Cappadocian cave houses and churches carved into "fairy chimneys" and underground cities (in a literal sense!) date back to early Christians hiding from persecution.
The successors of the Romans, the Byzantines broke new ground with more ambitious projects, culminating in grand Hagia Sophia of Istanbul, built in 537 and had the distinction of being the largest cathedral in the world for almost a thousand years. While a stray monastery or two dating back to the era can be found in almost any part of the country, most of the Byzantine heritage intact today is found in the Marmara Region, especially in Istanbul, and in the area around Trabzon in the far northeast, which was the domain of the Empire of Trebizond, a rump Byzantine state that survived the Fall of Constantinople for about a decade.
The Seljuks found the first Turkish state in Asia Minor and built most of their monuments, which incorporate large majestic portals and heavily delicate stonework reminiscent of some landmarks in parts of Asia, in the major centres of the time in Eastern and Central Anatolia, especially in Konya, their capital.
The Ottomans, who had considered themselves as a Balkan state until their demise, built most of their landmarks in the Balkans and that region's extension within present-day Turkey, the Marmara Region, just like the Byzantines, whom the Ottomans inspired to in so many ways. Most of the earlier Ottoman monuments were built in Bursa, which have little Byzantine and comperatively large Seljuk influences. Later, the dynasty moved over to Europe — the major landmarks in Edirne exhibit some kind of "transitional" and fairly experimental style. However, it wasn't until the Fall of Constantinople that the Ottomans adopted Byzantine architecture almost full scale with some adjustments. Contrary to what may be assumed, though, the Ottoman imperial architecture possibly reached its zenith not in Istanbul, but in Edirne—in the form of Selimiye Mosque, a work of Sinan, the great Ottoman architect of the 16th century.
The 19th century brought back the Greek and Roman taste of architectural styles, so there was a huge explosion of neo-classical architecture, as much fashionable in Turkey as in the much of the rest of the world at that time. The Galata side of Istanbul, Izmir (though unfortunately most of which was lost to the big fire of 1922), and numerous towns along the coasts, one most prominent and well preserved example being Ayvalık, quickly filled with elegant neo-classical buildings. At the same time, people in the inland locations were favouring pleasant, more traditional, and less pretentious half-timbered whitewashed houses, which form picturesque towns such as Safranbolu, Beypazarı, and Şirince in the northern, central, and western part of the country respectively. It was also this time beautiful and impressive wooden mansions of Istanbul's seaside neighbourhoods and islands were built. Other contemporary trends of the epoch, such as Baroque and Rococo, didn't make much inroads in Turkey, although there were some experiments of combining them into Islamic architecture, as can be seen at Ortaköy Mosque on the banks of the Bosphorus along with some others.
As the landscapes change the further east you go, so does the architectural heritage. The remote valleys and hilltops of Eastern Karadeniz and Eastern Anatolia are dotted with numerous medieval Georgian and Armenian churches and castles—some of which are nicely well preserved but not all were that lucky. The Armenian cathedral on Akdamar Island of Lake Van and medieval Ani are two that lay somewhere on the midway between perfectly preserved and undergone total destruction, but both are absolutely must-sees if you've made your way to the east. For a change, Southeastern Anatolia features more Middle East-influenced architecture, with arched courtyards and heavy usage of yellow stones with highly exquisite masonry. It's best seen in Urfa, and especially in Mardin and nearby Midyat.
Being on the crossroads of civilizations more often than not also means being their battleground. So it's no wonder why so many castles and citadels dot the landscape, both in towns and the countryside, coastal or inland. Most of the castles built throughout history are today the main attractions of the towns they are in.
The 20th century wasn't kind on Turkish cities. Due to the pressure caused by the high rates of rural to urban immigration, many historical neighbourhoods in the cities were knocked down in favour of soulless (and usually, drab ugly) apartment blocks, and the outskirts of the major cities transformed to shantytowns. Examples of modern architecture that could be considered a gem is rather few in Turkey. Steel-and-glass skyscrapers, on the other hand, now steadily rise higher and higher in the major cities, one place where they form a distinctive skyline being the business district of Istanbul, although hardly impressive or unique compared with the traditional skyline of Istanbul's Old City.
- Along the Troad Coast — ancient legends intertwine with beautiful landscapes and the deep blue Aegean Sea
- Istanbul to Izmir — different options to travel between two of Turkey's major cities
- Lycian Way — walk along the remotest section of the country's Mediterranean coast, past ancient cities, forgotten hamlets, and balmy pine forests
- Beaches line the entire Mediterranean coast, but those with well-developed resorts are between Alanya to the east and Kuşadası on the Aegean coast to the west. There are scores more small places that only locals head for, such as the Gulf of Saros, handy for Istanbul. The Marmara and Black Sea beaches are not worth seeking out.
- Nargile (hooka or water pipe) – Once upon a time, the nargile, or Turkish water pipe, was the centre of Istanbul’s social and political life. Today some of the locals still consider it one of life’s great pleasures and is something interesting to try.
- Hamam – A visit to a hamam or Turkish bath is an essential part of any trip to Turkey and is something you'll be sure to repeat before leaving. There is at least one historical hamam in each neighborhood of Istanbul and other large cities. Take care in selecting a hamam, as they can vary greatly in cleanliness. Most places will offer a scrubbing and/or a massage. Just being in the Hamam (as a sauna), is enough for seeing and experiencing the place, but the scrubbing is a great experience. The massage is not necessarily better than those found in western countries. Many hamams cater for tourists nowadays and are widely overpriced, mind them. A traditional and authentic hamam does not have to be expensive and certainly you would not pay in euros there.
- Winter sports – Not what you might expect here, but the mountainous interior of Turkey has bitter-cold winters with reliable snow cover. Some popular resorts in the northwest are Uludağ near Bursa, Kartepe near Izmit, Kartalkaya near Bolu and Ilgaz near Kastamonu; in the northeast are Palandöken near Erzurum and Sarıkamış near Kars; and central is Erciyes near Kayseri. At Saklıkent near Antalya you're supposed to be able to ski in the morning then reach the Med for a swim in the afternoon, but its snow cover is brief and unreliable.
- Watch football – Süper Lig is soccer's top tier in Turkey, with 16 teams playing August to May. Istanbul has six teams at this level and Ankara has two. The national team usually play home games at Atatürk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul.
- Cycling – The premier race is the President's Tour of Turkey, held over a week in April.
Exchange rates for Turkish lira
As of January 2023:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
What does it cost?
Sometimes fruit and vegetable market stands have price signs. Otherwise, if you are a tourist, you will probably be quoted a much higher price. Here are some common prices from December 2019. Due to the large devaluation of the lira in 2020 and 2021, from €1 = 6.5 TL to 16 TL, most prices will have changed significantly.
The currency of the country is the Turkish lira, denoted by the symbol "₺" or "TL" (ISO code: TRY). Wikivoyage articles will use TL to denote the currency.
The lira is divided into 100 kuruş (abbreviated kr).
In 2005, Turkey dropped six zeroes from its currency, thus making each post-2005 lira worth one million pre-2005 lira (or so called "old lira"). Don't be confused if you see the currency symbolised YTL or ytl, standing for yeni lira). Pre-2009 banknotes and coins (those bearing yeni lira and yeni kuruş) are not legal tender, and can no longer be exchanged at banks.
The new Turkish lira symbol, , was created by the Central Bank in 2012 after a country-wide contest.
Banknotes are in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 TL denominations. Coins of 5, 10, 25 and 50 kuruş are legal tender. There's also a 1 TL coin.
There are legal exchange offices in all cities and almost any town. Banks also exchange money, but they are not worth the hassle as they are usually crowded and do not give better rates than exchange offices. It can seem that Turkey has more currency exchange offices per-capita than anywhere else in the world, leading to fierce competition for exchange rates. This is due to uncertainty in the value of the Turkish lira, which results in residents regularly exchanging Turkish lira into more stable stores of values such as US Dollars and Euros.
You can see the rates an office offers on the (usually electronic) boards located somewhere near its gate. To get the best rate, look for shops with the smallest difference between their buy and sell rates for a given currency pair (buy-sell spread). Euros and US dollars are the most useful currencies, with often less than a 1% buy-sell spread. But pounds sterling (good luck with getting any non-Bank of England notes deemed higher value than Monopoly money), Canadian dollars, Swiss francs, Japanese yen, Saudi riyals, and a number of other currencies are also not very hard to exchange for a good rate. Currency exchange offices typically do not charge a commission (unlike ATMs with Dynamic Currency Conversion services), with the notable exception of offices in airports.
It is important to remember that most exchangers accept only banknotes, it can be very hard to exchange foreign coins. In some places, where there is a meaningful explanation for it, more uncommon currencies may also be exchanged, e.g. Australian dollars in Çanakkale where the annual Anzac WWI commemorations take place. As a general rule, if a place attracts many visitors from a country, then it is usually possible to exchange that country’s currency there.
Tourism-oriented industries in tourism-oriented towns, as well as shops where big amounts of money change hands, like supermarkets, in most parts of the country, generally accept foreign currency (usually limited to Euro and American dollars only), but the rates they accept the currency are usually worse than those of exchange offices. Ask if they accept foreign currency.
Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted, American Express much less so. Most credit card users have to enter their PIN codes when using their cards if above a certain amount (250 TL). Older, magnetic card holders are excepted from this, but remember that, unlike some other places in Europe, salespeople haves the legal right to ask you to show a valid ID with a photo on to recognize that you are the owner of the card.
Cash machines are scattered throughout the cities, concentrated in central parts. It is possible to draw Turkish lira (and sometimes US dollars or/and euros) from these ATMs with your foreign Visa, Mastercard or Maestro card (not necessarily a credit card). Any major town has at least one ATM.
ATMs ask whether to provide instructions in English or in Turkish (and sometimes some other languages, too) as soon as you insert a foreign card (or a Turkish card which is not the operating bank’s own).
In Turkey, two types of ATMs exist: dynamic currency conversion (DCC ATMs) advertising that they offer multiple currencies, and regular ATMs without DCC (only offering Turkish Lira and generally located next to a bank branch). DCC ATMs will charge extortionate currency exchange rates (markups of 5-10% or an excessive ATM fee) that are generally impossible to decline. Whenever possible, you should only use a regular ATM without DCC, as they will usually default back to your bank's currency conversion rate and markup (which is virtually always more favourable) and in many cases, will not even incur an ATM use surcharge. If a screen pops up offering you a currency conversion rate/markup, decline it.
In central locations, you may encounter standalone buildings housing many ATMs, marketing themselves (using a logo) as being DCC ATMs or offering euros. These ATMs offer a direct currency conversion (DCC) into your home currency (€, US$, etc.), so you will then be charged in your home currency and not in Turkish Lira. This is best to avoid since the rates offered are considerably far worse than what your bank would charge you for the Turkish Lira you're about to withdraw. Wherever possible, you should use ATMs connected to bank branches that do not have a DCC logo, as these often do not charge commission or force DCC. Non-DCC ATMs for some banks may not even charge an ATM fee.
Specific costs for ATM withdrawals depend on your foreign bank, but many ATMs in Turkey add a commission / fee on-top of the dispensed amount (even for US dollar and euro withdrawals), which is then together charged to you bank. In the following an overview of banks and charges:
- Ziraat, HSBC: no ATM fee (as of 2021)
- Halkbank: no ATM fee nor DCC offered
- odeabank: no ATM fee nor DCC offered
- Sekerbank: no ATM fee
- TEB: 2.1%
- Türkiye Bankasi: 2.9%
- DenizBank and VakifBank: 3%
- Garanti BBVA: 5% (as of 2021)
- AKBank: 7.95%
- QNB: US$5
Beware: Always ask for the price ahead if it is not displayed anywhere, even if it is just for a çay. It is an extremely common practice to overcharge tourists, oftentimes 5 to 10 times the price. Furthermore, it seems a common scheme to give the wrong change, especially to the absent-minded tourist. So, always have in mind what you are supposed to receive as change and double-check immediately. Besides that never hand over a large note just like that; sometimes the change is then given on a supposedly obtained smaller note and the merchant will insist on having just received a small note. Paying by credit card will not render you immune to short-change scams, as some vendors are often set up to charge in Euros and US Dollars in addition to Turkish liras, and some vendors will go as far as to charge you the price quoted in a different currency (i.e. by entering 100 EUR rather than 100 TL into the credit card terminal). Do your best to only use large banknotes at established, reputable businesses, and to pay in near-exact change where possible.
Apart from classical tourist souvenirs like postcards and trinkets, here are a few of what you can bring back home from Turkey.
- Leather clothing — Turkey is the biggest leather producer in the world, so the leather clothing is cheaper than elsewhere. Many shops in Laleli, Beyazıt, Mahmutpaşa districts of Istanbul (all around the tram line which goes through Sultanahmet Square) are specialized on leather.
- Carpets and kilims — Many regions in Turkey produce handmade kilims and carpets. Though the symbols and figures differentiate depending on the region in which the carpet is produced, they are generally symbolic expressions based on ancient Anatolian religions and/or nomadic Turkic life which takes shape around shamanic beliefs more than 1,000 years ago. You can find shops specialized on handmade carpets and kilims in any major city, tourist spot and Sultanahmet Area.
- You seriously cannot go anywhere in Turkey without someone trying to sell you a carpet. People will approach you on the street, engage in a little friendly conversation about where you're from, how do you like Turkey, and "would you like to come with me to my uncle's shop? It's just around the corner, and has the best authentic kilims." It can be irritating if you let it get to you, but remember that a large part of these people's economy comes from tourist's wallets so you can't blame them for trying.
- Silk — Dresses and scarves. Although can be found in many parts of the country, silk fans should head for Bursa and before that, pick up basics of bargaining.
- Earthenware — Handmade Cappadocian pottery (amphoras, old-style plates, flowerpots etc.) are made of local salty clay. Salt content of clay, thanks to salt spray produced by the Salt Lake –which is the second largest lake in Turkey- in the heartland of Central Anatolia, is what makes local earthenware top quality. In some Cappadocian towns, it is possible to see how these artifacts are produced, or even to experience producing one, at the dedicated workshops. Tiles with classical Ottoman motives that are produced in Kütahya are also famous.
- Turkish delight and Turkish coffee — If you like these during your Turkey trip, don’t forget to take a few packages back home. Available everywhere. A 454 gram box of standard Turkish delights costs 50 TL, while Turkish delights from premium brands (e.g. Hafız Mustafa 1864) go for around 400 TL/kg. Turkish coffee is best purchased from a local grocery store with listed prices; grocery stores and tourist-oriented stores generally use the same suppliers, but the latter charges a significant mark-up for the boutique experience and nicer packaging.
- Honey — The pine honey (çam balı) of Marmaris is famous and has a much stronger taste and consistency than regular flower honeys. Although not easily available, if you can get your hands on it, don't miss the honey of Macahel valley, made out of flowers of a temperate rainforest almost completely out of human impact in the far northeastern Black Sea Region. Nearby Anzer in the highlands is also famous for its honey, perhaps easier to obtain. The same region also features deli bal ("mad honey"), from the toxic rhododendron flowers, with hallucinogenic effects — overindulging in it may cause serious health complications.
- Check your country's import regulations for agricultural products if you intend to take any amount of Turkish honey home.
- Chestnut dessert — Made out of syrup and chestnuts grown on the foothills of Mt. Uludağ, chestnut dessert (kestane şekeri) is a famous and tasty product of Bursa. There are many variations, such as chocolate coated ones. Chestnut dessert can be found in elsewhere, too, but relatively more expensive and in smaller packages.
- Meerschaum souvenirs — Despite its name meaning “sea foam” which it resembles, meerschaum (lületaşı) is extracted only in one place in the world: landlocked Eskişehir province in the extreme northwest part of Central Anatolia Region. This rock, similar to gypsum at sight, is carved into smoking pipes and cigarette holders. It has a soft and creamy texture and makes for a great decorative item. Available at some shops in Eskişehir.
- Castile (olive oil) soap — Natural, a silky touch on your skin, and a warm Mediterranean atmosphere in your bathroom. Absolutely cheaper than those to be found in Northern and Western Europe. Street markets in the Aegean Region and southern Marmara Region is full of olive oil soap, almost all of which are handmade. Even some old folk in the Aegean Region is producing their castile soaps in the traditional way: during or just after the olive harvest, neighbours gather in yards around large boilers heated by wood fire, then lye derived from the wood ash is added to hot water and olive oil mix. Outside of the Aegean region, note that many tourist/souvenir shops are selling the same Olive oil soap bars found in supermarkets (especially in Istanbul), except taken out of their original packaging and repackaged more nicely. In cities out of the Aegean Region, natural olive oil soap can be found in shops specialized in olive and olive oil. Some of these shops are even offering ecological soaps: made of organic olive oil and sometimes with additions of organic essential oils.
- Other soaps unique to Turkey are: laurel soaps (defne sabunu) which is produced mainly in Antakya (Antioch), soaps of Isparta enriched with rose oil which is produced abundantly in the area around Isparta, and bıttım sabunu, a soap made out of the oil of seeds of a local variety of pistachio tree native to the mountains of Southeastern Region. In Edirne, soaps shaped as various fruits are produced. Not used for their lather, rather they make a good assortment when different “fruits” are placed in a basket on a table, they fill the air with their sweet scent as well.
- Olive-based products apart from soap — Other olive-based products to give a try are olive oil shampoos, olive oil based eau de colognes and zeyşe, abbreviation from the first syllables of zeytin şekeri, a dessert similar to chestnut desserts, but made from olives.
- And, of course, the ubiquitous evil eye (nazar boncuğu) — what else?
In Turkey, bargaining is a must — particularly in souvenir shops in touristy areas and carpet shops everywhere, where the customer is expected to bargain and therefore the initial price offer is often inflated. You can even try your hand for accommodation, particularly during off-season. During bargaining, don’t look so impressed and interested, and be patient. Since foreigners (especially Western people) aren’t expected to be good at bargaining, sellers are quick to supposedly reject any bargaining attempt, but be patient and wait, the price will fall! The mutually agreed price may be only valid for cash transactions, though, so for card payments it makes sense to let the shopkeeper know somewhere down the line what your preferred payment would be.
You can get a VAT refund if you are not a citizen or permanent resident of Turkey. Look for the blue “Tax-Free” sticker on the windowpane or entrance of the shops, these kind of shops are the only places you can get a VAT refund. Don’t forget to take the necessary papers from the shop that will enable you for a VAT reclaim when leaving Turkey.
VAT Refund rates are 18% for purchases of Accessories, electronics, watches, sunglasses, cosmetics, porcelain/ceramics and homeware (over 118 TL), and 8% for Textiles and clothes, leather goods, carpets, shoes, bags, optics, books and food (over 108 TL).
Although Turkey is in a customs union with the European Union for non-agricultural goods, there is not an initiative to abolish duty-free shops in the airports and border crossings unlike in the EU.
Taking any antique (defined as something more than 100 years old) out of Turkey is subject to heavy restrictions or, in many cases, forbidden. If someone offers to sell you an antique, either you are in for a scam and offered an overpriced imitation or about to be a party to organized crime if you decide to purchase.
In general, tipping is not considered obligatory. However, it is very common to leave a 5% to 10% tip in restaurants if you're satisfied with the service. At high-end restaurants a tip of 10-15% is customary. It is NOT possible to add tip to the credit card bill. It is very common amongst Turkish people to pay the bill with a credit card and leave the tip in cash or coins. Most waiters will bring your cash back in coins as much as possible, that's because Turkish people don't like to carry coins around and usually leave them at the table.
Taxi drivers do not expect tips, but it is common practice to let them keep the change. If you insist on taking exact change back, ask for para üstü? (pronounced “pah-rah oos-too”, which means “change”). Driver will be reluctant to give it at first, but you will eventually succeed.
If you are fortunate enough to try out a Turkish bath, it is customary to tip 15% of the total and split it up among all of the attendants. This is an important thing to keep in mind when tipping in Turkey, and will ensure your experience goes smoothly and is enjoyable.
Supermarket cashiers usually round up the total sum to the next 5 kuruş if you pay in cash (the exact sum is extracted when paid by a credit card though). This is not a kind of involuntary tip, as the 2-3-4 kuruşes don’t go into their pockets. It is simply because they are not adequately supplied with enough 1 kuruş coins as it is very rare in circulation. So don’t be surprised if the change given to you is short of a few kuruşes from what should be given to you according to what the electronic board of the till says. It is totally okay to pay the exact sum if you have enough number of 1 kuruş coins.
- See also: Middle Eastern cuisine
Turkish cuisine combines Mediterranean, Central Asian, Caucasian, and Arabic influences, and is extremely rich, reflecting the cultural and biological diversity of the land. Indeed, Turkish cuisine is often said to be not a single, unified national cuisine, but a collection of several distinctive regional cuisines, with preferences on cooking styles and ingredients overlapping in some cases, and diverging in others: e.g., olive oil and other vegetable oils common in the west vs butter elsewhere, some regions are vegetable-heavy while others are meat-heavy, beef is traditionally the most important red meat in the west but lamb and goat fill that niche elsewhere (pork, although not illegal, is very hard to find anywhere due to its taboo status in Islam), seafood, mainly fish, is common in the north and west but not elsewhere, the south and southeast are heavy on spices while elsewhere is much more moderate and "bland", the main staple is rice in the north and west and is bulgur wheat elsewhere, bread is common everywhere but even it comes in a variety of shapes and forms, and so on. Of course, with the growth of internal immigration, and development of transport and communication technologies, the differences are often blurred and not as clear-cut as in the past, but the major distinctions are still there.
The primary vegetables are eggplant (aubergine), onion, lentil, bean, tomato, garlic, and cucumber, and as with other ingredients, their availability and prevalence depend on the region.
There are many kinds of specialized restaurants to choose from, since most do not prepare or serve other kinds of food. Traditional Turkish restaurants serve meals daily prepared and stored in a bain-marie. The meals are at the entrance so you can easily see and choose. Kebapçıs are restaurants specialized in many kinds of kebab. Some kebab restaurants serve alcohol (often denoted by the name ocakbaşı) while others don't. There are subtypes like ciğerci (specialized in fried liver), Adana kebapçısı (chili kebab originally from the southern city it is named after) or İskender kebapçısı (slices of roasted beef in tomato and yogurt sauce, originally from Bursa). Fish restaurants typically serve meze (cold olive oil dishes) and rakı or wine. Dönercis are prevalent through country and serve döner kebab as a fast food. Köftecis are restaurants with meatballs (köfte) served as the main dish. Other fare that can be had at specialized joints include kokoreç (barbecued & spiced ruminant intestines), tantuni (finely minced lamb or chicken meat and vegetables sandwich), mantı (a.k.a. "Turkish ravioli" often in garlic yogurt sauce), gözleme (thin pancakes filled with meat, cheese or potato, often cooked over a traditional wood-fired oven; a very common option along the roadsides or at scenic spots in the countryside), lahmacun (often denoted "Turkish pizza", minced meat, onion, and parsley on a thin, crunchy bread), pide (similar to lahmacun, but with larger chunks of meat and perhaps cheese over a thicker bread base; likely etymologically related to 'pizza'), and çiğ köfte (a wrap of mushy bulgur wheat and fresh vegetables; the original recipe included uncooked meat — hence the name "raw meatball" — but most commonly vegan nowadays). Midye (mussels with spicy rice) is often a late night snack, available from street stalls and enjoyed after a marathon of binge drinking.
A full Turkish meal at kebab restaurant starts with a soup, often lentil soup (mercimek çorbası), and a set of meze appetizers featuring olives, cheese, pickles and a wide variety of small dishes. Meze can easily be made into a full meal, especially if they are consumed along with rakı. The main course is usually meat: a common dish type and Turkey's best known culinary export is kebab (kebap), grilled meat in various forms including the famous döner kebap (thin slices of meat shaved from a giant rotating spit) and şiş kebap (skewered meat), and a lot more others. Köfte (meatball) is a variation of the kebab. There are hundreds of kinds of köfte throughout Anatolia, but only about a dozen of them are known to the residents of the larger cities, like İnegöl köfte, Dalyan köfte, sulu köfte etc.
Eating on the cheap is mostly done at kebab stands, which can be found everywhere in Istanbul and other major cities. For the equivalent of a couple dollars, you get a full loaf of bread sliced down the middle, filled with broiled meat, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes. For North Americans familiar with "donairs" wrapped in pita bread or wraps, you should look for the word dürüm or dürümcü on the windows of the kebab stands and ask for your kebab to be wrapped in a dürüm or lavaş bread depending on the region.
Vegetarian restaurants are not common, and can be found only in very central parts of big cities and some of the tourist spots. However, every good restaurant offers vegetable dishes, and some of the restaurants offering traditional ev yemeği (“home food”) have olive-oil specialities which are vegetarian in content. The Aegean region, where all kinds of wild herbs are eaten as main meals, either cooked or raw and dressed with olive oil, is really easy for vegetarian travel but the same is not true for everywhere else in the country — in the southeast for example, a dish without meat is not considered a proper meal. In such areas, supermarkets may help with their shelves full of canned vegetables or cooked olive-oil courses (imported from outside the region) and fresh fruits. However in rural areas, it's better not to tempt fate, and bring along some supplies just in case, as nonregional food might not be available.
Some Turkish desserts are modeled on the sweet and nutty Arabic kind: famous dishes include baklava, a layered pastry of finely ground nuts and phyllo dough soaked in honey and spices, and Turkish delight (lokum), a gummy confection of rosewater and sugar. There are also many more kinds of desserts prepared using milk predominantly, such as kazandibi, keşkül, muhallebi, sütlaç, tavuk göğsü, güllaç etc.
Turkish breakfast tends to comprise of çay (tea), bread, olives, feta cheese, tomato, cucumber and occasionally spreads such as honey and jam. This can become very monotonous after a while. A nice alternative to try (should you have the option) is menemen: a Turkish variation on scrambled eggs/omelette. Capsicum (red bell pepper), onion, garlic and tomato are all combined with eggs. The meal is traditional cooked (and served) in a clay bowl. Try adding a little chili to spice it up and make sure to use lots of bread as well for a filling hot breakfast. Bread is omnipresent in Turkey, at any given meal you'll be presented with a large basket of crusty bread.
Ubiquitous simit (also known as gevrek in some Aegean cities such as Izmir), much like bagel but somewhat thinner, crustier, and with roasted sesame seeds all over, is available from trolleys of street vendors in virtually everywhere at any time except late at night. Perhaps with the addition of Turkish feta cheese (beyaz peynir) or cream cheese (krem peynir or karper), a couple of simits make up a filling and a very budget conscious breakfast (as each costs about 5 TL), or even a lunch taken while on the go.
Turkish coffee (Türk kahvesi), served in tiny cups, is strong and tasty, just be careful not to drink the sludgy grounds at the bottom of the cup. It is very different from the so-called Turkish coffees sold abroad. Sade (or sade kahve) is served black, while az şekerli, orta (or orta şekerli) and şekerli (or çok şekerli) will get you a little, some or a lot of sugar in your cup.
Filter coffee (filtre kahve) and its many varieties are also very common, with many stores of the international and domestic chains, and local, nonchain copycats dishing them out in the urban centres and major roadside rest areas. Instant coffee (commonly known as neskafe, a genericized trademark) with various flavours is widely available at the grocery stores.
Coffee may be much engraved in the national culture, but tea (çay) is also very popular and is indeed the usual drink of choice. Most Turks are heavy drinkers of tea in their daily lives, and love to share their favourite drink with others — expect a round of tea after finishing your meal or during a lengthened visit to a shop. With a surprisingly brief history for such a widespread habit, tea-drinking has become popular in Turkey only from the 1930s: tea quickly gained ground against coffee as the collapse of the empire meant Yemen, the traditionally coffee-supplying Ottoman province, was now cut off, and the protectionist economic policies put into effect after World War I called for a domestic source to satisfy the caffeine needs of the populace. After a few unsuccessful trials elsewhere, the first tea plants took root in Eastern Karadeniz, and here we are. Be careful if your tea is prepared by locals, it can be much stronger than you're used to. Although it is not native-typical and a rather touristy feature, you have to taste the special apple tea (elma çayı) or sage tea (adaçayı, literally "island tea") of Turkey. Rosehip (kuşburnu) and linden (ıhlamur) teas are other commonly available variations on the theme, although mostly consumed by Turks as herbal remedies and not for refreshment.
Ayran is a popular drink of water and yoghurt not unlike the Finnish/Russian "buttermilk" or Indian "lassi", but always served without sugar (and, in fact, typically with a little salt added). If you're travelling by bus over the Taurus Mountains, ask for "köpüklü ayaran' or "yayık ayaranı", a variety of the drink much loved by locals.
Boza is a traditional cold, thick drink that originates from Central Asia, but is also common in several Balkan countries. It is fermented bulgur (a kind of wheat) with sugar and water additions. Vefa Bozacisi is the best known and traditional producer of boza in Istanbul. In Ankara, you get excellent Boza from Akman Boza Salonu in the old city area of Ulus. Boza can also be found on the shelves of many supermarkets, especially in winter, packaged in 1-litre PET bottles. However these bottled bozas lack the sourness and consistency of traditional boza, they are sweeter and less dense.
Sahlep (or Salep) is another traditional hot drink, made from milk, orchid tuber and sugar, typically decorated with cinnamon. It is mostly preferred in winter and can be found in cafés and patisseries (pastane) and can be easily confused by the looks of it with cappuccino. You can also find instant sahlep in many supermarkets sold with the name Hazır Sahlep — its taste is very similar to the traditional version, but due to environmental concerns over collecting wild plants, orchid tuber is generally replaced with starches of the cultivated plants in this variety.
Red poppy syrup is one of the traditional Turkish drinks made of red poppy petals, water and sugar by natural ways. Bozcaada is famous for red poppy syrup.
International brands of colas, sodas and fruit-flavoured sodas are readily available and much consumed alongside some local brands. In Turkish, soda means mineral water, whereas what is called as soda in English is gazoz or sade gazoz in Turkish.
Rakı is Turkey's national drink, the aniseed-flavoured twice-distilled spirit similar to anise, ouzo, sambuca and arak. It's distilled first from raisins or grapes, or less often from figs, beet sugar or other sources. The first distillation creates a very strong spirit called suma. This is mixed with aniseed and water, re-distilled, re-diluted then matured for 30 days. It's sold at 40% abv strength and always drunk in a long glass mixed with water, which turns it cloudy. You might indicate tek (single) or duble (double) for how much rakı goes into your glass, and have a second glass of iced water at hand. It's nice with appetisers, meze or seafood; don't drink large amounts without a meal unless you're Kemal Atatürk setting your country to rights. Every supermarket stocks rakı: common brands (also marketed in the west) include Yeni, Tekirdağ, and Efe.
As for Turkish wine, the wines are as good as the local grape varieties. Kalecik Karası from Ankara, Karasakız from Bozcaada, Öküzgözü from Elazığ, Boğazkere from Diyarbakır are some of the most well-known varieties. The biggest winemakers are Kavaklıdere, Doluca, Sevilen, and Kayra with many good local vineyards especially in the western part of the country. In addition liquory fruit wines of Şirince near Izmir are well worth tasting. One specific sweet red wine to try while you're there is Talay Kuntra.
There are two major Turkish breweries. Efes and Tekel Birası are two widely known lagers. In addition, you can find locally brewed Tuborg, Miller, Heineken, and Carlsberg too.
All cigarettes except ecigs are sold freely and are still relatively cheap by western standards.
Although many Turkish people do smoke, there is a growing health awareness about smoking and the number of smokers is slowly but steadily declining, and the rigid smoking ban that was introduced is surprisingly enforced.
Smoking in the presence of someone who does not smoke in a public place requires their permission. If someone does not like the smoke, they will ask you not to smoke or they will cough, then just stop and apologize. This is what the locals do.
If you are invited to someone's home, do not smoke unless the host does first, and after they do, then you can ask for their permission to smoke.
Smoking is banned in public places (e.g. airports, metro stations and indoor train stations, schools, universities, government administration buildings, in all workplaces, concert halls, theatres and cinemas) and on public transport (airplanes, ferries, trains, suburban trains, subways, trams, buses, minibuses, and taxis). Smoking is banned in sports stadiums, the only outdoor areas where this ban is extended. It is a finable offence of 69 TL. Separately smoking is also banned, in restaurants, bars, cafes, traditional teahouses, the remaining air-conditioned public places including department stores and shopping mall restaurants; and there are no exceptions as indoor non-smoking sections are also banned. Apart from a fine for smokers, there is a heavy fine of 5,000 TL for owners, for failing to enforce the ban properly and that is why it is strictly enforced by these establishments.
In Istanbul, especially in non-tourist areas, some bars/restaurants/music venues and even work places will bring you an ashtray as there will be many people smoking inside, even though there is a sign on the wall forbidding it, many people consider it to be up to the discretion of the owners/workers of the building. However, bars/restaurants/music venues in tourist areas (e.g. Beyoğlu, Sişli etc...) are relentlessly "raided" (and in case of any violations – not just for flouting the smoking ban – fined heavily) by the zabıta (municipal official), so these establishments will much less likely dare to violate the bans. Although such "raids" will be disconcerting for tourists, customers will not be affected as the zabıta does not issue fines to customers – at most will be asked to leave the place, in case of serious violations.
However the smoking ban is openly flouted in government administration buildings, where the civil servants seem to think that they are somehow above the law.
Outside the cities and tourist resorts, the smoking ban is less rigidly enforced in small towns and in the villages hardly at all, because the municipal police (zabıta) rarely comes to these places to enforce it and issue fines, leading to some establishments and its customers to ignore this, but even there it is nevertheless best to follow the less enforced smoking ban.
While smoking is strictly prohibited on public transport, you will see some taxi drivers smoking in their taxis, which are also included in the smoking ban, but is the only form of public transport where this ban is openly flouted. When entering the taxi just request the taxi driver not to smoke, and he will politely oblige - in fact most of them will put out their cigarettes immediately once they see a customer hailing them or approaching them.
Accommodation in Turkey varies from 5-star hotels to a simple tent pitched in a vast plateau. So the prices vary hugely as well.
All major cities and tourist spots have 5-star hotels, many of them run by international chains. These are mostly concrete blocks, although some, particularly in rural areas, are bungalows with private gardens and swimming pools.
If you are looking for an all-inclusive holiday package in a Mediterranean resort, you would definitely find better rates when booking back at home rather than in Turkey itself. The difference is considerable; compared with what you would pay when booking at home, you may end up paying twice as much if you simply walk in the resort.
Hostels and guesthouses
Hostels are not widespread; there are a few in Istanbul, mainly in the Sultanahmet and Taksim areas, and still fewer are recognized by Hostelling International (HI, former International Youth Hostel Federation, IYHF). Alternatively, guesthouses (pansiyon) provide low cost accommodation (expect around 75–150 TL daily per person, 2022). B&Bs are also generally covered by the word pansiyon, as most of them offer breakfast (sometimes for an extra payment; ask before deciding on a stay there).
Unique in the country, Olympos to the southwest of Antalya is known for welcoming visitors in the wooden tree-houses or in wooden communal sleeping halls.
Short term rentals of flats in low-rise beachfront properties are possible. These are called apart hotels, often come with two rooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, and basic furniture and kitchenware, and can easily accommodate four people or more. They are more commonly found in the coastal towns of the Marmara and Northern Aegean regions, which attract a larger number of Turkish families than overseas travellers. On a per person basis, these are much cheaper than hotels at about 1000–1500 TL per flat as of summer 2022 — expect the price to fluctuate depending on the location, season, and duration of your stay — but food and other similar expenses are on you.
Many timeshare condos (devremülk) accept walk-in guests. These are mostly found in areas notable for their hot springs (not necessarily on the coast or surrounded by plenty of attractions), and mostly attract either families with children or older couples. Expect to pay upwards of 250 TL/night for a flat (2022), but as with apart hotels, the cost depends on the location and season.
Like Atatürk statues and crescent-and-star flags etched into the sides of mountains, the öğretmenevi (“teacher’s house”) is an integral part of the Turkish landscape. Found in almost every city in Turkey, these government-run institutions serve as affordable guesthouses for educators on the road and—since anyone is welcome if space is available—for those traveling on a teacher’s budget (in 2022 about 200 TL/person, breakfast kahvaltı included; WiFi and hot water available).
For the most part, these guesthouses are drab affairs, 1970s-era concrete boxes usually painted in a shade of pink and found in some of the least interesting parts of town. However safety and cleanliness are never concerns.
TaTuTa (an acronym from the first syllables of Tarım-Turizm-Takas: Agriculture-Tourism-Barter) is an agritourism project aiming to connect organic farmers with interested travellers, through an exchange of overnight farm stays in return for a lending hand in gardenwork.
Camping and RV-camping
There are many private estates dotting the whole coastline of Turkey, where the owners rent their property for campers. These campsites, kamping in Turkish, have basic facilities such as tap water, toilets, tree shade (a particularly welcome treat during the scorching and fiercely sunny summers), and some provide electricity to each tent by individual wires. Camping in the cities and towns outside the campsites is usually frowned upon, so you should always ask the local administration (village chief muhtar and/or gendarme jandarma in villages, municipalities belediye and/or the local police polis in towns) if there is an acceptable spot for you to pitch your tent. Wild camping in the forest without permission is OK, unless the area is under environmental protection. Regardless of the conservational status, a campfire anywhere in forests apart from the designated fireplaces in recreational (read "picnic") areas is forbidden.
Stores offering camping gear are hard to come across, usually along back alleys in towns (often the stores offering hunting equipment are your best bet) or in the underground floors of large shopping arcades. So, unless you are exactly sure you can obtain what you need at your destination, it's best to pack along your gear. In smaller stores in non-major towns, the price of most of what is on sale is pretty much negotiable—it is not uncommon for shop attendants to ask double or even more of what it would typically cost in another store in a neighbouring town for an item.
Although a revival seems to have started in the 2020s, caravan/trailer parks are not as common as they once were; there remains only a few, if any, from the days hippies tramped the Turkish highways in their vans—perhaps the most famous one, the Ataköy caravan park, known amongst the RV-ers for its convenient location in Istanbul is long history. However, caravanners can stay overnight in numerous resting areas along the highways and motorways, many larger parking lots within the cities or virtually in any appropriate rural public space. Filling the water tanks and discharging wastewater seem to matter most.
The service to make reservations for Turkey is only available outside of Turkey. This is due to a tax struggle between the website and the government. So, you best book your accommodation before coming to Turkey. Otherwise, you can always use Tor or a VPN to get around this limitation.
- Naile's Art Home is a marbling paper (ebru) gallery and workshop in Cappadocia.
- Kayaköy Art Camp, in Kayaköy, a ghost town near Fethiye is offering art classes in summer, specializing on photography, painting, and sculpture.
- Ottoman Turkish classes in are held in Adatepe, a bohemian village in the Northern Aegean near Altınoluk. You can also participate in philosophy classes taking place every summer in nearby Assos, carrying on the agora tradition of the ancient Med.
- Glass workshops around Beykoz up on the Bosphorus in the Asian Side of Istanbul, are offering one-day classes teaching how to make trinkets out of recycled glass.
- There are many language schools where you can study Turkish in most of the larger cities. Ankara University affiliated Tömer is one of the most popular language schools in Turkey and has branches in many cities, including Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir among others.
- Many Turkish universities participate in pan-European and pan-Islamic student exchange programs (like Erasmus or Mevlana). Check with your own university and the Turkish one you intend to study at.
- Many foreigners living in Istanbul support themselves by teaching English. Finding a good teaching job is usually easier with a well-recognized certificate like the ones listed below:
- ITI Istanbul in 4. Levent runs Cambridge University's CELTA and DELTA courses year-round.
Although Turkey's economy is quite large, employment matters in the country are highly sensitive, especially for Turkish citizens. There's not enough work for everyone (the country has long suffered from high unemployment rates), the country's economic situation is fragile (the country has been experiencing an economic crisis since 2018), and average wages are quite low, due in large part to a rapidly depreciating currency. If you want to give working in Turkey a try, know that networking matters greatly in Turkey. The importance of having connections in the country cannot be overstated. Try to find people who can help you out. If you are fluent or can "get along" in Turkish, you are in good hands: you're way ahead of most foreigners applying for jobs in the country.
Work as an English teacher is reasonably easy to stumble upon. ESL teachers with a Bachelor’s Degree and TESOL Certificate can expect to earn 800-2,500 TL (monthly) and will usually teach 20–35 hours in a week. Contracts will sometimes include accommodations, airfare, and health-care.
Being that import-export is huge in Turkey, there are also many opportunities outside of teaching, though these are often much more difficult to find and require some legal work.
You need to have a work permit to work in Turkey. The control over illegal workers have grown stricter in the past five years with the consequence of deportation, so take the work permit issue seriously.
However, if you have your own company in Turkey you are allowed to "manage" it without having a work permit. Setting up what is known as an FDI (foreign direct investment) company is relatively straightforward, takes a few days and costs around 2,300 TL (April 2007). You don't need a Turkish partner, the company can be 100% foreign owned and requires a minimum of two people as shareholders. Running costs for a company average about 2,500 TL per year for a small to medium enterprise, less for an inactive company.
Owning a company allows you to be treated as Turkish in respect of purchasing real estate and bypasses the need for military permission and allows you to complete a sale in one day if required.
|WARNING: On February 6, 2023, strong earthquakes struck Southeastern Anatolia and eastern Mediterranean Turkey, causing widespread damage and casualties, especially in areas near the border with Syria. Travel within as well as into these regions is difficult and strongly discouraged. |
Aftershocks are frequent, and you should seek secure shelter when they strike. See earthquake safety for more information on surviving an earthquake.
|(Information last updated 06 Feb 2023)|
|WARNING: Because of the ongoing civil war in Syria, do not travel within 10 km of Turkey's border with that country.|
Government travel advisories
|(Information last updated 01 Sep 2020)|
Dial 112 to contact the police or the gendarme (a military-styled unit of the Interior Ministry responsible for rural safety) from any phone, free of charge.
Upon entering some museums, hotels, metro stations, and almost all shopping malls, especially in larger cities, you will notice security checkpoints similar to those found in airports. Don't worry, this is the standard procedure in Turkey and does not imply an immediate danger of attack. These security screenings are also conducted in a much more relaxed way than the airports, so you will not have to remove your belt to avoid the alarm when walking through the metal detector.
Carry your passport or other means of identification at all times. One may not be requested to show them for a long period, then all of a sudden a minibus is checked by the traffic police (or the military, particularly in Eastern Turkey), or one runs into an officer of the law with time on his hand, and one must show papers. Some government buildings may ask you to temporarily surrender your passport in return for equipment such as headphones for simultaneous translation, etc., and you may find your passport stored in an open box along with the locals ID cards which may be a little disconcerting. Hotels may request you to hand your passport in until you paid the bill, which puts you into an awkward situation. Referring to the police always made them hand the passport back, once the registration procedure was finalized. Showing a personal visiting card, one or two credit cards or knowing the address of a respectable hotel may solve the no-papers situation, but any self-respecting officer will tell you that you are in the wrong, and will be sorry next time. If treated politely however police and military can be quite friendly and even offer rides to the next city (no joke intended).
If you intend to travel to Eastern or Southeastern Anatolia, stay ahead of the news. Although it offers many beautiful sights, the situation is far from secure due to ethnic strife and protests, sometimes resulting in violence. The region is far from a war zone, but take precaution when visiting this volatile place. The real risk of threat is not very big though, if you stick on major routes and follow common sense rules (such as avoiding demonstrations).
- See also: Istanbul#Scams
The large cities in Turkey, especially Istanbul, are not immune to petty crime. Although petty crime is not especially directed towards tourists, by no means are they exceptions. Snatching, pickpocketing, and mugging are the most common kinds of petty crime. The early 2000s installation of a camera network which watches the primary streets and squares has reduced the number of snatching and mugging incidents. Just like anywhere else, following common sense is recommended.
Have your wallet and money in your front pockets instead of the back pockets, backpack or shoulder bag. Don't exhibit your camera or cellphone publicly for too long if it is a new and/or expensive model (they know what to take away, no one will bother to steal a ten-year-old cell phone as it would pay very little). The same goes for your wallet, if it looks swollen. Leave a wide berth and move away from the area quickly if you see two or more people suddenly begin to argue and fight as this may be a trick to attract your attention while another person relieves you of your valuables. Be alert, this often happens very quickly. Watch your belongings in crowded places and on public transport, especially on trams and urban buses.
Avoid dark and desolate alleys at night. If you know you have to pass one at night, don't have excessive cash on you. Stay away from demonstrating crowds if the demonstration seems to be turning into an unpeaceful one. Also in resort towns, when going to the beach, don't take any valuable equipment along if there will be no one to take care of them while you are swimming. If you notice that your wallet has been stolen it is wise to check the nearest trash cans before reporting the loss to the police. Often the thieves in Turkey will drop the wallet into the trash to avoid being caught in possession of it and thus red-handed. Obviously it is highly likely that your money will no longer be in it, but there is a chance that your credit cards and papers will be.
Have a read at the scams section of the Istanbul article to have an idea about what kinds of scams you may come across elsewhere in the country as in Istanbul.
Driving and road safety
You should drive defensively at all times and take every precaution while driving in Turkey. Drivers in Turkey routinely ignore traffic regulations, including driving through red lights and stop signs, and turning left from the far right lane; these driving practices cause frequent traffic accidents. Drivers who experience car troubles or accidents pull to the side of the road and turn on their emergency lights to warn other drivers, but many drivers place a large rock or a pile of rocks on the road about 10-15 m behind their vehicles instead of turning on emergency lights. You may not use a cell phone while driving. It is strictly prohibited by law.
Driving rural roads at night, particularly during the summer harvest, be on the watch for unilluminated agricultural machinery which move slowly in the lane, and may not be visible until you are dangerously close.
Most Turkish drivers do not respect pedestrian crossings, so be careful when crossing a street, as mentioned in the get around/on foot section.
The Turkish wilderness is home to both venomous and non-venomous snake (yılan) species. The southern and especially southeastern parts (even cities) of the country have large numbers of scorpions (akrep), so exercise caution if/when you are sleeping on open rooftops, which is common in the southeastern region in summer. If you are stung by one, seek urgent medical aid.
As for wild mammals, the most dangerous ones are wolves, bears and wild boars, but attacks on humans are extremely rare. All of these animals live only in mountainous areas (of almost all regions) and your chance of sighting one is very low (except boars which are not so rare). Wolves and bears are unlikely to attack unless you follow or disturb them (or, particularly, their young) aggressively. However, in the mating season between November and January, boars are known to attack even with the slightest provocation.
The biggest animal threat comes from stray dogs (or sheepdogs in rural areas). Don’t assume you will come across gangs of aggressive stray dogs next to the gate of Hagia Sophia or the beach club however. They are mostly found in rural areas and the non-central parts of the cities. They are usually discreet and more afraid of you than you are of them. Rabies (kuduz) is endemic in Turkey (and most of the world) [dead link], so anyone bitten by a dog or other carnivore should seek urgent treatment, despite what you may be told by your hotel or other well meaning strangers.
Many stray dogs you’ll see in the cities bear plastic ear tags, indicating the dog was cleaned up, vaccinated (against rabies and a number of other diseases), sterilized, and then returned back to the streets as this is the most feasible humane treatment (compare with keeping them in a cage-like environment or putting them to sleep). The process is going on slowly but steadily, so it can be hoped the stray dog problem in Turkey will disappear in natural ways sometime in the future.
Most of Turkey has hot summers, with extremely hot summers in the southeastern interior, and while no part of Turkey is a desert, be extra careful when going to the south and southeast if you have never been in a hot-summer climate before. Take it easy on the first few days of your vacation. It’s always an excellent idea to put extra sunscreen on and avoid alcohol as you get used to the summer heat. However despite stereotypes, Turkey isn’t hot all year round. There are harsh winters in the central and especially eastern regions of the country and in the mountains, and the northern parts of Turkey (see Marmara and Black Sea regions) have mild, maritime climates with warm but not hot summers.
Most of Turkey is prone to earthquakes.
There are "Tourism Police" sections of the police departments of Ankara, Antalya, Istanbul (in Sultanahmet), and Izmir providing help specifically for tourists, where travellers can report passport loss and theft or any other criminal activity, they may have become victims of. The staff is multilingual and will speak English, German, French, and Arabic.
Dial 112 from any telephone, anywhere, free of charge for an ambulance.
Food safety - Food is generally free of parasitic or bacterial contamination, but be prudent anyway. Look at where local people are preferring to eat. Do not eat stuff that is sold outdoors, at least in summer and at least which local folk don’t eat. They can spoil fairly quickly without needed refrigeration. Wash thoroughly and/or peel fresh fruits and vegetables. They may be free of biological contaminants but their skin is probably heavily loaded with pesticides (unless you see the not-very-common certified organic produce marker on, of course). Food in western regions of the country is OK for (western) travellers for the most part, but the more east, south, and northeast you go, the more unaccustomed contents in the food you’ll come across, like goat or goose meat or hot/heavy spices. These contents may or may not cause diarrhea, but it is wise to have at least some anti-diarrhea medicine nearby, especially if you are going to travel to places a bit off-beaten-track. An antidiarrheal derived from the probiotic yeast Saccharomyces boulardii is commonly available over-the-counter from pharmacies under the brand name Reflor, for about 80 TL as of 2022 for 10 powder packs.
Water safety — Tap water, including that comes out of the mosque fountains (şadırvan), generally isn't pleasant to drink; it's often very chalky due to the climate and the underlying geology, and is almost always heavily chlorinated, yet no one guarantees it is safe enough for drinking due to possible deficits in the distribution network. So it is better to stick to bottled water, which is readily available and comes in varying sizes from 0.25 L plastic cups to 19 L office jars, with 0.5 L and 1.5 L being the most common. Chain stores always provide it cheaper than roadside kiosks, transportation venues or museum shops; a fair price in grocery stores in 2022 is the volume in litres multiplied by 3 (e.g. 1.50 TL for 0.5 L). Even so, if you can't resist the temptation to have a nicely chilled water from the next street vendor while walking down a baking pavement in a summer afternoon, always check the bottle has a label and the production details laser printed on the top or on the cap — otherwise you may just be about to drink tap water in a reused bottle.
If you are going to be outdoors, seek local advice on fresh water availability. Narrow and rocky peninsulas (e.g., some sections of the Lycian Way) often lack water sources where you need them most to be.
Lastly, it is great to be cautious about water, but don't take it to the level of paranoia — if water gushing out of a mountain spring or a village fountain looks and smells fine, it likely is.
Hospitals — Both private and public hospitals (hastane) exist in Turkey. Private hospitals are run by associations, businesses, and private universities, and provide a similar comfort level to hotels. Public hospitals are run by the Ministry of Health and public universities. All mid-to-big size cities and major resort towns have private hospitals, multiple in many cities, but in a small town a public hospital is your best bet. Expect crowds and lines in public hospitals, except emergencies. You may also be denied entry to the public hospitals for non-emergency situations, or asked for upfront payment, if you don’t have a Turkish or travel insurance. Travel health insurance is highly recommended because the better private hospitals operate under the "user pays" principle and their rates are much inflated compared with the public hospitals. It's a judgement call whether to include air evacuation in the policy if you are going to visit remoter rural areas. In the city suburbs, there are usually also policlinics which can treat simpler illnesses or injuries. In the villages don't expect more than little clinics (sağlık ocağı, literally “health house”) which have a very limited supply and staff, though they can effectively treat simple ailments or may provide antibody against, for example, snake bite. On road signage, directions to hospitals are indicated by an "H" on dark blue , whereas village clinics are shown with a red crescent sign , the Turkish equivalent of the red cross.
There is an emergency ward (acil servis) open 24 hours in every hospital. Suburban policlinics don’t have to provide one, but some of them are open 24-hr anyway. Village clinics do certainly have a much limited opening hours (generally 08:00 to sunset).
Turkey (Istanbul and Antalya in particular) has become a popular medical tourism destination, particularly for cosmetic procedures such as hair transplants. Packages inclusive of treatment and vacation are available.
Dental health — Private dental clinics (diş hekimi) are to be found along the main streets. (There are also government-run dental hospitals, but their waiting lists are often terribly long — you wouldn't really want to book an appointment possibly weeks beyond your departure from the country.) While most dentists run on scheduled appointments, you can simply walk in for the emergencies. And don't worry in case you need an appointment; private clinics are much better at time management than governmental hospitals.
Regular toothpastes and brushes (both local and international brands) can be bought at grocery stores. For a larger variety, you may check out pharmacies. It is okay to brush your teeth with tap water.
Pharmacies — By law, medicinal drugs are only sold at pharmacies (eczane), which exist in numbers in all cities and many towns. Look for often illuminated signs with a red E. Pharmacies are open 08:30-18:00, however every town has at least one on duty overnight (nöbetçi eczane), and all others in the town usually display its name, address and phone numbers on their windows. Most basic drugs, including painkillers such as Aspirin, are sold over the counter.
Mosquitoes - Keeping a mosquito repellent handy is a good idea. Although the risk of malaria anywhere in the country is long gone (except the southernmost areas near the Syrian border which used to have a very low level of risk until up to 1980s), mosquitoes can be annoying especially in coastal areas out of cities, including vacation towns at nights between June and September. In some towns, especially the ones near the deltas, mosquito population is so large that people desert the streets during the “mosquito raid” which occurs between the sunset and one hour after that. DEET-containing aerosol repellents (some are suitable to apply to the skin while others, the ones that are in tall tin cans are for making a room mosquito-free before going to bed, not to be applied onto skin, so choose what you buy wisely) can be obtained from supermarkets and pharmacies. There are also solid repellents coming in a tablet form which are used with their special devices indoors having an electricity socket. They release scentless chemicals into the air of the room which disturb the senses of mosquitoes and make them unable to “find” you. The tablets, together with their devices, can also be obtained from supermarkets and pharmacies. Beware! You shouldn’t touch those tablets with bare hands.
Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (Kırım-Kongo kanamalı ateşi in Turkish, shortly KKKA) is a serious viral disease and transmitted by a tick (kene) species. It can kill the infected person in a very short time, usually within three or four days. This disease has claimed more than 20 lives in Turkey within the past two years. The biggest risk is in the rural parts (not urban centres) of Tokat, Corum, Yozgat, Amasya, and Sivas provinces, all situated in an area where disease-carrying tick thrives because of the area’s location between the humid climate of maritime Black Sea Region and arid climate of Central Anatolia. Authorities recommend to wear light coloured clothing which makes distinguishing a tick clinged to your body easier. It’s also recommended to wear long trousers rather than shorts if you plan to walk through dense and/or tall grass areas (the usual habitat for ticks). If you see a tick on your body or clothing, in no means try to pull it out since this may cause the tick’s head (and its mouth where it carries the virus) sticking inside your skin. Instead, go to the nearest hospital immediately to seek urgent expert aid. Being late to show up in hospital (and to diagnose) is number one killer in this disease. Symptoms are quite like that of flu and a number of other illnesses, so doctor should be informed about the possibility of CCHF and be shown the tick if possible.
Coastal Black Sea Region, Marmara Region, Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, and East Anatolia are generally deemed free of this disease (and also free of the disease-carrying species of tick) with no casualties. But in the name of being cautious, you should head for the nearest hospital anyway if you are bitten by (most likely an innocent) tick. Also remember that if you should head for the danger zone described above, ticks are not active in winter. Their active period is April to October, so is the danger period.
Public restrooms — Many central areas have public toilets, tuvalet or more politely lavabo ("washbasin") in spoken Turkish but you find them by their WC signs. If you can't spot one and are in a hurry, look around for the nearest minaret — there is always one available at a side of or under the mosques. Once in the premises, look for the signs Bay for male, Bayan for female and the associated pictograms for guidance into the correct section. Some public toilets are free of charge, but it's more likely that you are expected to hand over between 1–4 TL (2022) to the attendant at the entrance or to the automatic turnstiles — get your exact change ready. In places like Istanbul, the fee is sometimes collected by the local public transport card, so it is always a good idea to have some extra credit. Cleanliness varies extremely, from sparkling to nightmarish, but is usually in the range of acceptable. Most feature squat toilets, but more or more restaurants and roadside businesses provide sitting bowls, sometimes with illustrations about which type to expect at the cabin door. Toilet paper is seldom provided in the public toilets, but there is always a faucet within the cabin to clean yourself up afterwards. Toilet papers are commonly and cheaply available in the grocery stores, with varying numbers of rolls per package, and small packs of easy to use and carry paper napkins are a favourite merchandise of the street vendors.
Menstrual products – Different types and designs of disposable pads are widely available. Look around in the supermarkets. However, Turkish women prefer tampons much less than European women do, so they are rarer. They are available only in some of the pharmacies.
Hamam - If you haven't been to one, you've missed one of life's great experiences and never been clean. You can catch your inner peace with history and water in a bath (hamam). See hamams in Istanbul.
Ramadan is the 9th and holiest month in the Islamic calendar and lasts 29–30 days. Muslims fast every day for its duration and most restaurants will be closed until the fast breaks at dusk. Nothing (including water and cigarettes) is supposed to pass through the lips from dawn to sunset. Non-Muslims are exempt from this, but should still refrain from eating or drinking in public as this is considered very impolite. Working hours are decreased as well in the corporate world. Exact dates of Ramadan depend on local astronomical observations and may vary somewhat from country to country. Ramadan concludes with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which may last several days, usually three in most countries.
If you're planning to travel to Turkey during Ramadan, consider reading Travelling during Ramadan.
Things to do
Turks are a very friendly, polite and hospitable people, sometimes even to a fault.
- When you are invited into a Turkish home, make sure to bring them a gift. Anything is fine from flowers to chocolate and indeed something representative from your country (but not wine and other alcoholic beverages if you are about to meet the host or if you do not know them well enough, as many Turks, for religious reasons or not, do not drink alcoholic beverages, and that is why it would be considered inappropriate as a gift). When you arrive at the house take off your shoes just outside or immediately inside the door, unless the owner explicitly allows you to keep them on. Even then, it might be more polite to remove your shoes. And if you really want their respect, thank your host for the invitation and compliment them. When inside the house, don't ask for anything for they will surely offer it. The host will make sure to make you feel at home, so don't take advantage of their kindness.
- People in Turkey respect elderly people, so in a bus, tram, subway and in other forms of public transportation, young(er) people will always offer you a place to sit if you are an old(er) person as well as a handicapped person or a pregnant woman or have children with you.
- It is respectful to bend slightly (not a complete bow) when greeting someone older or in a position of authority.
- Try to use some Turkish phrases. They will be complimentary if you try, and there is no reason to be embarrassed. They realize that Turkish is very difficult for foreigners and won't scoff at all at your mistakes; on the contrary, they will be delighted at you for trying it, even if they may not always be able to understand your pronunciation!
- Showing up late to a social gathering or a party isn't rude, but it is important to be on time for business appointments and other formal situations.
- Although the Covid pandemic has put a dent in the frequency of this practice, a handshake when greeting and parting with someone is very common in Turkey, especially in formal situations. Greeting someone without a handshake is also very common and acceptable, especially in less formal situations. In Turkey, handshakes are not as firm as in the West; consequently, a grip that is too firm will be considered rude. Although likewise, the Covid pandemic has put a dent in the frequency of this practice even more, in informal situations such as among family members and close friends, a kiss once or twice on the cheek with or without a handshake is very common. Cheek kissing between men is very common in these circles and other informal situations and is done twice. Check kissing between men and women is also very common in these circles and informal situations and is done one or twice, except among the devout and in conservative areas. For people several decades your senior, especially ladies, you may opt for a hand-kiss — the traditional form is concluded by putting the hand at your forehead.
Things to avoid
Turkish people understand that visitors are usually not aware of Turkish culture and customs, and tend to be tolerant of blunders in this regard by foreigners. There are, however, some which will meet with universal disapproval, and these should be avoided at all costs:
- Article 301 of the Turkish penal code prohibits "insulting Turkishness", i.e. criticising just about anything about the country. The law is broadly defined and highly subjective. You don't have to praise the government or the country excessively; just be polite and there will be no problems.
- Turkish law also prohibits insulting the president, which is punishable by 1 to 4 years of imprisonment. Since Erdogan's presidency, the provision is used to suppress essentially any criticism deemed to be disrespectful or unacceptable by authorities.
- Patriotism is a cornerstone of Turkish culture. Even if Turkey has the most colourful history in the world, Turks love and adore their country. Bear this in mind when conversing with the Turks.
- Avoid discussing the Armenian Genocide, Kurdish separatism, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, or the Cyprus problem. These are extremely sensitive topics and are definitely to be avoided. Turkish society has a highly emotional approach to these issues. Openly acknowledging the Armenian Genocide is illegal and can get you charged with "insulting Turkishness".
- Do not mock or mimic the Turkish anthem; Turks will be offended.
- Do not desecrate or inappropriately use the Turkish flag; not only will Turks will be offended, but it is a crime punishable by up to three years in prison. If you are a flag collector and are thinking of adding a Turkish flag to your flag collection, be sure to always treat it well.
- Turks are neither Arabs, Persians, nor Greeks; keep that in mind when conversing with local people.
- Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country, and although you will see varying degrees of Islamic practice in Turkey, with many Turks subscribing to a liberal form of Islam, it is extremely rude to insult or mock its traditions or, for example, mimic the azan (call to prayer).
During Ramadan, it is disrespectful to eat, drink, smoke or chew gum in public during daytime. If you are a non-Muslim and wish to eat, doing that in your hotel room is fine. However, Ramadan etiquette is quite relaxed especially in the tourist areas and international areas of big cities.
Social custom and etiquette breaches:
- Unless they offer their hand first, don't try to shake hands with a devout Muslim (a headscarf is a dead giveaway for a lady, as are various combinations of a skull cap and full beard — the non-hipster variety — for men), especially if you are the opposite gender.
- Don't blow your nose during meals, even discreetly. This is considered extremely rude.
- Don't pick your teeth during meals, even discreetly. This is considered extremely rude.
- Do not put your feet up while sitting and try not to show the bottom of your feet to someone. This is considered rude.
- Don't point with your finger at someone, even discreetly. This is considered rude.
- Don't chew gum while having a conversation or during public occasions. This is considered extremely rude.
- Don't touch someone without permission, especially women.
- Don't bear hug or back slap someone, especially in formal situations and occasions and with someone you just met and/or you do not know well enough.
- Don't use swear words during conversation or while talking to oneself in public and also among friends. This is considered extremely rude.
- Public drunkenness (especially the loud and obnoxious variety) is definitely not appreciated and is frowned upon, especially in more conservative areas of the country. Drunken tourists may also attract the attention of pickpockets. However what is absolutely not tolerated with drunkenness especially by the police, if it is accompanied with physical aggressiveness towards other people, this may result with a fine and if this is repeated a heavier fine and/or a visit to the police station may result (if you are tourist, deportation from the country can result).
- Certain gestures common in Western Europe are considered rude expressions in Turkey. People tend to be tolerant if they can see you are a foreigner. They know you are probably doing it subconsciously, but if you take the time to keep these in mind, you won’t have any misunderstandings. Making an ‘O’ with your thumb and forefinger (as if to say “OK!”) is rude because you are making the gesture for a hole - which has connotations referring to homosexuality in the Turkish psyche. Avoid clicking your tongue. Some people do this subconsciously at the beginning of a sentence. It is a gesture of dismissal. Also the "got your nose" gesture which is made by making a fist and putting your thumb between your forefinger and the middle finger is considered the equivalent of the middle finger in Turkey.
Other things to watch for
- Public displays of affection in larger cities and tourist resorts are tolerated but might invite unnecessary stares from the public. In more rural areas it is frowned upon and is to be avoided. Gay and lesbian travelers should avoid any outward signs of affection, as this will definitely invite unnecessary stares from the public. However overt displays of affection regardless of sexual orientation is regarded as inappropriate.
- Avoid shouting or talking loudly in public. Talking loudly is generally considered rude, especially on public transportation. Talking on a mobile phone on public transportation is not considered rude but normal, unless the conversation is too "private".
- It's not so common for Turks to smile. Avoid smiling at a stranger, because if you do they most likely will not respond in kind and they will regard you either as odd. Smiling in Turkey towards strangers in public is not done and might be considered inappropriate. Smiling is traditionally reserved for family and friends; smiling at a stranger might be considered weird, as if you were making fun of them and there was something wrong with their clothes or hair.
Respectable clothing is a must in mosques. This is basically defined as no exposed shoulders and legs for everyone, plus covered hair for women. If you don't have a suitable piece of cloth on you, you can often borrow a scarf at the entrance. You don't have to bother yourself with attempting a full veil; casually wrapping your hair is good enough. If unsure, let the locals around help you.
All footwear should be removed before entering any mosque. There are desks or safeboxes just inside the entrance for depositing shoes, and some mosques provide reusable plastic bags to carry your pair around.
The same dress code applies to the shrines of the Islamic holymen, unless the site is officially a museum.
The mosques in touristy areas, which host as many sightseers as worshippers at any given time are often more relaxed. Despite the odd tourists who do not conform to the dress code, it is nevertheless best to dress conservatively and to follow all traditional procedures when entering mosques, tombs and other places of worship, not only because it is required but also as a sign of respect.
During the prayer time, worshippers generally line in the front rows of the mosques; stay behind and keep silent. During the Friday noon prayer, the most highly attended, you might be requested to leave the mosque due to space constraints — nothing to take personally. You will be allowed to enter back as soon as the worshippers are out of the gate.
Unlike some other Middle Eastern cultures, eating, drinking (perhaps except water), smoking (a strict no-no), talking or laughing loudly, and sleeping or just lying inside mosques are frowned upon in Turkish culture. Public displays of affection are definitely taboo.
Some mosques post official opening hours, but they are typically shorter than the time span the mosque is actually open to public. So they are more of recommendations than hard and fast rules.
Churches may have different clothing requirements according to their denominations, but doning yourself as if you are going to visit a mosque goes a long way. Synagogues, likewise.
Gay and lesbian travellers
Turkey is considered to be generally safe for gay and lesbian travellers, and outright violence against homosexuals is quite rare. Revealing your sexual orientation openly, however, is likely to draw stares and whispers in many regions. There are also no laws against homosexuality in Turkey, but same-sex relationships are not recognized by the government nor accepted by the majority of society. Turkey is therefore more conservative on LGBT matters than most of Western and Central Europe, though more liberal than the Arab countries. Some amount of caution will help outside big cities and holiday resorts.
Turks take relationships very seriously and they view them as long-term commitments. In the business world, Turks prefer to do business with those they know and respect. Your success in Turkey is defined by two things: your ability to build personal connections and your ability to present things in a coherent manner.
When meeting your Turkish business counterparts, it is customary to engage in small talk before discussing business matters. Having a chat about the country is welcomed and will be appreciated, so long as you refrain from discussing sensitive matters.
In the business world, the Turks, in general, can be very tough negotiators. Negotiations can be slow, long, and it is quite common for Turks to start at extremes to gauge responses. Be patient, calm, and relaxed. Try not to get frustrated easily.
All buses have USB socket to charge your phone. If you want to conserve battery power, take two USB cables and charge both your phone and a power bank.
As of 2021, all emergency services can be contacted by the phone number 112, free of charge, from any phone without inserting a calling/sim card. In case you get connected to the odd exchange in which the unified number doesn't work yet, dial 112 for an ambulance, 110 for fire department, 155 for police, 156 for gendarme (a military-styled unit for rural safety), and 177 for reporting forest fires.
Your phone may be blocked if you use an unregistered local SIM card
Foreign mobile phones without IMEI registration will be blocked after 120 days. This only happens if you use a Turkish SIM card. Phones with a foreign SIM card aren't affected by the blockage. This website explains how you can register your mobile phone in Turkey.
While not as common as they used to be, public pay phones can still be found at the sides of central squares and major streets in towns and cities and around post offices (PTT), especially around their outer walls. With the phase-out of old magnetic cards, public phones now operate with chip telekom cards which are available in 30, 60 or 120 units and can be obtained at post offices, newspaper and tobacco kiosks. (However emergency numbers can be called without card or anything from these phones.) You can also use your credit card on these phones, though it may not work in the off chance. All phones in the booths have Turkish and English instructions and menus, many also have German and French in addition.
There are also telephones available in some kiosks and shops where you pay cash after your call. To spot these, look for kontürlü telefon signs. These telephones are more expensive than the ones at the booths, though.
It is estimated that approximately 98% of the population of Turkey lives within the coverage areas of Turkey’s three cell phone line providers, and virtually everybody has one. Line providers from most countries have roaming agreements with one or more of these companies.
Pre-paid mobile phone SIM cards can be purchased for 20–50 TL. These can be purchased at the airport on arrival or from the many outlets in Istanbul and other large cities. Providers include Vodafone.
Here is a quick list of area codes for some major cities and towns of importance to tourists:
Area codes are used when calling from a mobile phone or from outside the area. Prefix the code with "0" when not using the country code, such as when calling from a landline elsewhere in the country.
Mobile phones have numbers starting with 5xx instead of the area code. This code is always used, also when dialing locally or from a phone with the same prefix.
Numbers starting with 0800 are pay-free, whereas the ones starting with 0900 are high-fee services. 7-digit numbers starting with 444 (mainly used by companies) are charged as local calls wherever they are dialed in Turkey.
Dial 00 prior to country code for international calls from Turkey. When calling into Turkey, the country code that should prefix city code and phone number is 90.
Post offices are recognizable by their yellow and black PTT signs. Letters and cards should be taken to a post office since the postboxes on the streets are rare (and there is no guarantee that they are emptied at all, even if you spot one). Nevertheless, Turkish Post (PTT) prints some beautiful stamps. Postage for cards and letters costs 1.60 TL for domestic shipments, and 3.70 TL for international shipments, PTT website for rates[dead link]. Main post offices in cities are open 08:30-20:30, whereas post offices in towns and smaller post offices in cities are usually open 08:30-17:30.
Poste restante/general delivery letters should be sent to an address in the format of: official full name of the addressee (because the receiver will be asked for an ID card, passport or anything that can prove he or she is proper recipient) + POSTRESTANT + name of the quarter/neighbourhood/district if in a city where there is more than one post office or name of the town where the post office is and the postal code (if known, not obligatory, generally available at the entrance or on the interior walls of the post office) and the name of the province in which the quarter/town of the post office is located. The receiver has to pay 0.50 TL upon receipt of mail.
Although not as widespread as they used to be in the last decade internet cafes or net cafes are still available in reasonable numbers in cities and towns. In fact, any major town has at least one. All of them have good DSL connections, and price for connection is about more or less 1.50 TL/hr. Most, if not all, of these internet-cafés also have CD writers which are available for anyone who makes an additional payment.
- Turkcell, the largest mobile operator. Sells 2 GB, 5 GB, and 10 GB mobile internet for 22 Tl, 28 TL, and 32 TL respectively, including some minutes and SMS.
- Türk Telekom, formerly called Avea
Some webpages are blocked by court order. Most internet cafés get around these blocks by tricks on their proxy settings. Wikivoyage is not blocked as of 2023 but if you can, download offline versions of the most relevant guides before your trip, either via PDF or by using OsmAnd, with which you get all guides of Wikivoyage in one download (only for Android). You can also use a VPN or Tor to bypass the blocks. The feature "Secure Wi-Fi" is usable for free on mobile devices.
- Every hotel has their own Wi-Fi. Some hotels do have trouble with their network setup or the connection due to the historical location however at the least you will have free Wi-Fi at your hotel. All you have to do is to learn the Wi-Fi password to access the internet.
- Every café, bistro, restaurant share their internet with their guests. Even the small restaurants now have internet access. Stability and speed depend on where you are and what kind of café, bistro or restaurant you are in. Starbucks, Nero, etc., typically have stable Wi-Fi unless very crowded. If you are in a Starbucks all you have to do is connect your device (SSID should be TTNET or DorukNet, and if you are in Nero DorukNet) and fill out some basic information for verification that you have to fill. After that, you are ready to go. And if you are in the other restaurant or cafés you can just ask to your waiter to get SSID and Password and after that you are ready to go.
- Free public Wi-Fi is offered by the Municipality of Istanbul in most common city centers and squares. All you have to do is (when you near of one of these centers of course) register your id via your cell phone and you will get an access password.
- You can rent a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot during your stay in Turkey. It works based on 3G connection in the whole country, and you can connect up to 10 devices at the same time. These pocket-sized devices can be easily booked online. There are plenty of international companies that rent a mobile hotspot. A well known one is Rent'n Connect.