In modern Turkey, the legacy of centuries of history coexists with progressive and contemporary culture. Its exciting capital, Istanbul, spans Europe and Asia: here, upscale eateries and swanky nightclubs are squeezed between Byzantine and Ottoman structures, with calls-to-prayer from city mosques sounding above the city. The Aegean and Mediterranean coasts mix ancient Roman ruins with stunning beaches and resorts. Still, the real cultural lessons come from the Turkish people, always welcoming and eager to share their homeland’s fascinating past and present.
Flying time to Istanbul is 10–11 hours from New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, or Chicago; 12–13 hours from Houston; and 13–14 hours from Los Angeles or San Francisco. (Turkish Airlines has announced it will launch additional direct flights from Miami in 2015 and Atlanta in 2016.) Flights from Toronto to Istanbul take 10–11 hours. London to Istanbul is a 4–hour flight. In Turkey, security checks for travelers to the United States mean that you need to be at the airport at least two hours before takeoff regardless of which airline you are flying, though lines for check-in at Turkish Airlines are generally long no matter what.
Turkey’s major international airport is Atatürk Airport, about 18 km (12 miles) from central Istanbul. Sabiha Gökçen Airport serves the Asian part of Istanbul and offers an increasing number of flights to European destinations along with international charters and domestic flights.
Adana, Adıyaman, Ağrı, Alanya, Amasya, Ankara, Antakya (Hatay), Antalya, Balıkesir, Batman, Bingöl, Bodrum, Bursa, Çanakkale, Dalaman, Denizli, Diyarbakır, Elazığ, Erzincan, Erzurum, Gaziantep, Hakkari, Iğdır, Isparta, İzmir, Kahramanmaraş, Kars, Kastamonu, Kayseri, Kocaeli, Konya, Kütahya, Malatya, Mardin, Muş, Nevşehir, Ordu-Giresun, Samsun, Siirt, Sinop, Sivas, Şanlıurfa, Şırnak, Tekirdağ, Tokat, Trabzon, and Van all have domestic airports.
Ground Transportation from Airports
In major destinations such as Adana, Ankara, Antalya, Bodrum, Çeşme, Dalaman, Elazığ, Gaziantep, Hatay (Antakya), Hopa, İzmir, Kayseri, Konya, Malatya, Ordu-Giresun, Samsun, Sivas, Şanlıurfa, and Trabzon, the Havaş company operates shuttle buses to the airports. (In Istanbul, this service is provided by the similarly named, but separate Havataş.) These run at regular intervals in the major cities and in the provinces are timed to coincide with incoming and outgoing flights.
An alternative is to take a taxi. From the smaller airports, it is sometimes possible to negotiate with a taxi driver for less than the metered fare. Many hotels will arrange for a driver to collect you from the airport and for someone to take you to the airport. In Cappadocia and other popular tourist regions, it is not unusual for hotels to offer this transportation free of charge, although the driver will still appreciate being tipped a couple of TL.
Transfers Between Airports
If you have a connection between an international flight and a domestic flight in Istanbul, try to ensure that they both use the same airport, which will most likely be Atatürk Airport. While domestic flights to Sabiha Gökçen Airport are usually cheaper than flights into Atatürk Airport (although prices to the latter vary considerably according to the time of day), if you have a connecting international flight from Atatürk Airport, any savings will be more than offset by the time and expense of transferring between airports by taxi—the trip could easily take two to three hours at a busy time of day.
THY/Turkish Airlines operates nonstop flights from U.S. and European gateways, though an international carrier based in your home country is more likely to have better connections to your hometown. Third-country carriers (foreign carriers based in a country other than your own or Turkey) sometimes offer low fares. Air France, for instance, often has well-priced flights from the United States to Istanbul via Paris. Popular low-cost carriers like SunExpress and Pegasus offer cheap flights throughout Turkey and to/from European cities.
Turkish Airlines operates an extensive domestic network, with more than two dozen flights daily on weekdays between Istanbul and Ankara alone. In summer many flights to coastal resorts are added. Note that at provincial airports it may be necessary for checked luggage to be identified by boarding passengers before it is put on the plane, and all unidentified luggage is left behind and checked for bombs or firearms. If any luggage has not been identified, an announcement will be made on the plane before departure, based on the name on the luggage label, but attempts at the pronunciation of foreign names can often mean that they are unrecognizable. Airline staff will always announce whether you need to identify your luggage at some point before boarding but the messages may be difficult to hear or understand. If in doubt, ask a member of the airline staff as they are checking your boarding pass.
In the greater Istanbul area, ferries can be the most efficient (and pleasant) means of getting around. On the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, boats are used mostly for leisurely sightseeing and yachting.
Şehir Hatları, a subsidiary of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, and private companies Dentur Avrasya and Turyol provide regular ferryboat services within Istanbul, while İDO offers boats to Yalova and Bandırma (both in the Marmara region) and to Bursa, as well as a ferry to Istanbul’s Princes’ Islands. From Bodrum and other Aegean resorts, ferries make frequent runs between Turkey and the Greek islands in the summer.
In Turkey, buses are generally faster than most trains and provide inexpensive service almost around the clock between all cities and towns, and they’re usually quite comfortable. Most offer complimentary tea, soda, and biscuits, though with smaller companies you will want to bring your own water in case beverages are not available. All are run by private companies, each of which has its own fixed fares for different routes and, usually more significantly, its own standards of comfort. Most bus companies, such as Varan, Ulusoy, Kamil Koç, Metro Turizm, and Pamukkale, which go between major cities and resort areas, can be counted on for comfortable air-conditioned service with snacks. There is often a close correlation between price and comfort, with the more expensive companies such as Varan providing the best amenities. Most of the larger companies have their own terminals and in larger cities run shuttles from locations around the city to the main terminal. Note that ekspres buses running between major cities are significantly faster and more comfortable than local buses. By law, all buses are nonsmoking.
Fares and Schedules
Buses traveling the Istanbul–Ankara route depart either city nearly every 30 minutes, and cost about 55 TL to 65 TL for a one-way trip. The Istanbul–İzmir fare ranges from about 70 TL to 85 TL. All buses make periodic rest stops along the way.
The larger companies have their own sales offices as well as websites and call centers offering e-tickets, though travelers without a Turkish ID number will likely have to purchase their tickets in person. For smaller companies, tickets are sold at stands in a town’s otogar (central bus terminal); the usual procedure is to go to the bus station and shop around for the best route and price. All seats are reserved. When buying your ticket, tell the ticket agent that you would like to sit on the shady side of the bus; even on air-conditioned buses the sun can feel oppressive on a long trip.
In Turkey a driver’s license issued in most foreign countries is acceptable. While Turkey has one of the world’s highest car accident rates, driving is an excellent way to explore regions outside the major cities and having a car allows you the freedom that traveling by bus, train, or plane does not. Turkey has 40,000 km (25,000 miles) of paved and generally well-maintained highways, but off the intercity highways, surfaces are often poor and potholes frequent. A system of four-lane toll roads is now in place around Istanbul, Ankara, and İzmir, but most major highways are two lanes, and cars overtake with some frequency. Sometimes roads have a third lane meant for passing; although the lane is usually labeled with which direction of traffic is meant to use it, drivers don’t always follow this rule, so be extremely careful when passing. In general, always expect the unexpected. Don’t, for example, assume that one-way streets are one-way in practice or that because you wouldn’t do something, such as trying to pass in a dangerous situation, the other driver wouldn’t either.
In major cities, it’s possible to hire a driver along with a car. In some remote places, a driver is usually included in the package with the rental car and will either be the owner of the car or an employee of the agency. If you’re particularly happy with the service you may wish to give a tip in addition to the price you pay to the agency. Around 20 TL for a day’s driving is reasonable.
Driving in Istanbul and other major cities is best avoided. Urban streets and highways are frequently jammed with vehicles operated by high-speed lunatics as well as otherwise sane drivers who constantly honk their horns. In Istanbul, especially, just because a street is marked one-way, you never know when someone is going to barrel down it in the wrong direction. Parking is also a problem in cities and larger towns. In these places, it’s best to leave your car in a garage and use public transportation or take taxis.
If possible, avoid driving on highways after dusk. Drivers often don’t use their lights and vehicles may be stopped on the roads in complete darkness. Carts and other farm vehicles are often not equipped with lights.
Highways are numbered or specified by direction (e.g., the route to Antalya). Trans-European highways have a European number as well as a Turkish number (European Route E80 is also known as Turkish Route O-3, O-2, O-4, and D100 as it passes through Turkey, for example). Note, though, that route numbers may be inconsistent from map to map. Archaeological and historic sites are indicated by brown signposts.
Road rescue service is available on some highways; before you embark on a journey, ask your car rental agency or hotel for contact numbers to use in case of an emergency. Most Turkish gas stations have someone with some knowledge of car mechanics who can diagnose problems and provide “first aid” or advice, such as directions to the nearest mechanic. Make sure to take all the car-related documents with you if you leave the car in the shop.
Gas costs about 4.7 TL per liter, making Turkey one of the most expensive places in the world to fuel up. Many of the gas stations on the main highways stay open around the clock, others generally from 6 am to 10 pm. Almost all Turkish gas stations provide full service and have unleaded gas. Many attendants will clean your windows while the car’s tank is being filled. Tipping is not obligatory though not uncommon if the attendant has been attentive—1 or 2 TL is usually enough. There may be long distances between gas stations in rural areas, so if you’re heading off the beaten track, don’t allow the tank to run too low. Most gas stations in towns and major highways take credit cards, though you may need cash in rural areas. Many gas stations also have small shops, or just a cooler, where you can buy snacks and chilled drinks.
Renting a Car
In many places, such as Cappadocia and the Turquoise Coast, you may want to rent a car so you can explore on your own. When traveling long distances, however, you may find it easier to take public transportation (either a bus or plane)—unless you plan on sightseeing en route—and renting a car at your destination.
Car rental rates begin at about 160 TL ($60) a day and TL 950 ($350) a week for an economy car with unlimited mileage. The majority of rental cars are equipped with a manual transmission, though it’s possible to get an automatic (usually for a much higher price). Car seats for children are not compulsory and are often difficult to find, although offices of the multinational firms in larger cities may be able to provide them. A wide variety of mostly European car makes are available, ranging from the locally manufactured Tofaş (the Turkish licensee to build Fiat models) to Renault and Mercedes.
Check the websites of the major multinational companies to see if they have offices at your destination. Many reliable local agencies also operate throughout Turkey.
Hotels often rent cars or have a relationship with a local agency—the local agency is usually anxious to keep the hotel happy by providing a good service, and it’s not unusual for the owner of the agency to be a relative of someone at the hotel. The rates for deals done through the hotel, which will include insurance, etc., are often much lower than rates charged by multinational firms.
The rental agency will usually tell you what to do if you have a breakdown or accident and will provide a contact number—often the personal cell number of someone working at the agency—if they don’t, ask for one. It’s worth remembering that in the case of an accident, Turkish insurance companies usually refuse to pay until they have seen a police report. It is particularly important to obtain a police report if another vehicle is involved, as the driver will need to submit the report when filing a claim with his or her insurance company or with your rental agency. In such a situation, call the contact number for your rental agency and allow a representative to handle all the procedures.
Most likely, agencies will ask you to contact them before attempting to have any repairs done and will usually bring you a replacement car. Most major car manufacturers in Turkey (for example, Renault, Tofaş, and Opel/General Motors) also have roaming 24-hour services and rental agencies may ask you to contact one of them.
Throughout rural Turkey, roads are often not well marked, lighting is scarce, and roads are sometimes rough. City traffic is generally chaotic. The top speed limit of 120 kph (about 75 mph) is rarely enforced on major highways, although it is not unusual for the Turkish police to set speed traps on other roads. Drive carefully and relatively slowly. Be prepared for sudden changes in road conditions and be alert to the behavior of other drivers.
Road maps can often be found in tourist areas, and the rental company will usually provide you with one. Remember, though, signposting is erratic and maps are often not very accurate.
Rules of the Road
Driving is on the right and passing on the left. Seat belts are required for front-seat passengers and should be used by those in back as well. Using a cell phone while driving is prohibited—but this law is seldom obeyed. Turning right on a red light is not permitted, but it is legal to proceed through a flashing red light provided no traffic is coming the other way. Speeding and other traffic violations are subject to on-the-spot fines. Fines for driving under the influence of alcohol are steep and are often accompanied by imprisonment. Most rental companies do not allow you to cross international borders in a rented car.
Taxis in Turkey are yellow and easy to spot. Fares in Istanbul are about 2 TL for 1 km (about ½ mile) with a starting flat rate of 3.20 TL; the former difference between the day and night rates has been abolished. Prices in other large cities are similar. Be aware that taxi drivers in tourist areas sometimes doctor their meters to charge more; don’t ride in a taxi in which the meter doesn’t work. Before setting out, ask at your hotel about how much a ride should cost and have a sense of what direction you should be traveling in. Note that saying the word direkt (direct) after giving your destination may help prevent you from getting an unplanned grand tour of town. In cities it’s fairly easy to flag down a taxi, or you can go to a taxi stand where drivers wait for fares. In Istanbul and Ankara many of the larger hotels will find a cab for you, usually with drivers or companies they know and trust. The website Online Taksi lists taxi companies all over Turkey, while Taksiyle lets you estimate fares for point-to-point trips in major cities.
As a tip, it’s customary to round up to the next lira. There are no extra charges for luggage. In Istanbul, if you cross one of the Bosphorus bridges, you will be expected to add the 4.25 TL cost of the toll to the bill regardless of which direction you are going (vehicles only pay going from west to east—the theory is that even if he does not have to pay to take you across, the taxi driver will have to pay to go back). Particularly in Istanbul and Ankara, taxi drivers are often recent arrivals to the country, with a very limited knowledge of the city and will have to ask bystanders or other taxi drivers for directions.
Dolmuşes (shared taxis) are generally bright yellow minibusses that run along various routes. You can often hail a dolmuş on the street, at bus stops, or at dolmuş stands marked by the signs “D.” The destination is shown either on a roof sign or a card in the front window. The savings over a private taxi are significant. A trip by dolmuş is often just as fast as by taxi, and service extends through the wee hours of the morning. Although dolmuşes only run along specific routes, they generally go to tourist destinations, as well as nightlife hot spots. If you’re not familiar with your destination, tell the driver where you are going when you get in; he will usually try to drop you as close to your destination as possible.
It is not customary to tip dolmuş drivers, and they will probably be confused if you try to hand them something extra.
Train routes in Turkey tend to meander, meaning that train travel is usually much slower than bus travel—sometimes twice as long. With a few exceptions, the term ekspres tren (express train) is essentially a misnomer in Turkey. A high-speed rail line now connects Istanbul and Ankara (with some trains stopping in Eskişehir), reducing the travel time between the two cities to about four hours, but the Istanbul terminus is in Pendik, far from the city center. Trains also run between Ankara and İzmir and between İzmir and Konya. Note that ongoing work expanding the Marmaray rail system has heavily disrupted service between Istanbul and Edirne, as well as to Bulgaria and Greece, with buses filling in for part of the route.
Dining cars on trains between major cities usually have waiter service and offer decent and inexpensive food. Overnight express trains have sleeping cars and bunk beds. The Ankara—Adana run, for example, costs about 30 TL for a berth in a two-bed room; although advance reservations are a must, cancellations are frequent, so you can often get a space at the last minute.
Fares are generally lower for trains than for buses, and round-trip train fares cost less than two one-way tickets. Student discounts are 20%. Ticket windows in railroad stations are marked gişeleri. Some post offices and authorized travel agencies also sell train tickets. It’s advisable to book in advance, in person, for seats on the best trains and for sleeping quarters.
Long-distance trains offer a number of accommodation options, such as Pullman (first-class type, reclining seats), compartments with six or eight seats, reclining or not, couchette (shared four-bunk compartments), and sleeper (private one- or two-bed compartments). In Turkish, Pullman is pulman, compartment is kompartımanlı, couchette is kuşetli, and sleeper is yataklı.
Most train stations do not accept credit cards, foreign money, or traveler’s checks, so be prepared to pay in Turkish lira.
Turkish State Railways (Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Devlet Demiryolları) operates train service throughout the country. The website is helpful (when its English-language version is not being revamped) and provides information on how to buy tickets at the station or through travel agencies as well as pictures and maps. Seat61.com is another useful website about train travel in Europe and Turkey. Both Eurail and InterRail passes can be used in Turkey.
The Orient Express
If you have the time—and money—consider the still-glamorous Venice Simplon–Orient Express. The route runs once a year from Paris to Istanbul via Budapest and/or Bucharest.
Most hotels, even basic establishments, provide an Internet connection or Wi-Fi, if not in the rooms at least in public areas; ask when you make a reservation. In most cities and tourist destinations, you’ll also be able to find Internet cafés and other establishments with Wi-Fi.
Remember that the Turkish electricity supply runs on 220 volts. Many laptops, tablets, and other devices are equipped with built-in converters, but you will need an adapter that allows you to plug into wall outlets, which take European-type plugs, with two or three round prongs.
Telephone numbers in Turkey have seven-digit local numbers preceded by a three-digit city code (toll-free numbers might have fewer or more digits). In Istanbul, European and Asian Istanbul have separate area codes: the code for much of European Istanbul is 212, and the code for Asian Istanbul (numbers beginning with 3 or 4) is 216. Mobile phone codes vary depending on the carrier but generally start with 5. The country code for Turkey is 90.
Calling Within Turkey
Within a city you don’t need to dial the code for other numbers with the same code, but in Istanbul you need to dial the code (0212 or 0216) when calling from the European to the Asian side of the city or vice versa. All local cellular calls are classed as long distance, and you need to dial the city code for every number.
To call long-distance within Turkey, dial 131 if you need operator assistance; otherwise dial 0, then dial the city code and number.
With the increase in the use of mobile phones very few people now use pay phones, but it’s still possible to find them. Directions in English and other languages are often posted in phone booths, along with other country codes. Directory assistance is not terribly efficient and it can be difficult to find an English-speaking operator; you’re best off asking the staff at your hotel to help you find a number.
Public phones use phone cards, which can be purchased at post offices and, for a small markup, at most corner stores, newspaper vendors, and street stalls. Pay-phone-only cards can be purchased with 4 TL worth of credit at a time, while a card that can be used with both public phones or landlines comes in denominations of 5 TL, 10 TL, and 25 TL; buy a larger card for long-distance calls within Turkey, a smaller one for local use. Make sure to ask for a calling card for a public phone (ankesörlü telefon), as calling cards for cellular phones are also available, and you cannot use the two interchangeably. Very few public phones (and only in cities) also take credit cards.
To make a local call, insert your phone card or credit card, wait until the light at the top of the phone goes off, then dial the number.
Some kiosks selling newspapers or small stores have phones that you can use to place calls. The cost is usually approximately the same as it would be for a standard payphone. If you want to use one, say “telefon” (Turkish for telephone), and the proprietor will usually either produce a phone or show you where you can find one.
Calling Outside Turkey
The country code is 1 for the United States. To make an international call from a public phone in Turkey, dial 00, then dial the country code, area or city code, and the number. If you need international dialing codes and assistance or phone books, you can go to the nearest post office or Internet café. In general, calling from a hotel is almost always expensive, because hotels often add huge surcharges to calls. An inexpensive option is to make international calls from call centers or the post office, and calling cards usually keep costs to a minimum.
Internet cafés typically offer international calling service with prices comparable to a phonecard, but be sure to ask for rates first.
If you have a multiband phone (some countries use frequencies other than those used in the United States) and your service provider uses the world-standard GSM network (as do T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon), you can probably use your phone in Turkey. Roaming fees can be steep, though—99¢ a minute is considered reasonable—and you will probably pay the toll charges for incoming calls. It’s almost always cheaper to send a text message than to make a call since text messages have a very low set fee (often less than 5¢).
Renting a phone in Turkey is very expensive, and it’s not easy to find shops that rent. The best solution is to buy a SIM card to install in your phone, along with a pay-as-you-go service. Note that if you are staying in Turkey for more than two weeks, you will have to register your foreign phone to use it with a Turkish SIM card or risk having the phone blocked. The bureaucracy and cost (there’s a 139 TL tax) involved in this task may make buying a cheap local phone the more pragmatic choice. There are several mobile phone providers in Turkey. The largest is Turkcell, followed by Vodafone and Avea. Each has a network of clearly marked stores, where it is possible to buy SIM cards and pay-as-you-go cards (be sure to bring your passport with you when you go to buy a SIM). Most salespeople speak enough English to conduct business and answer basic questions. All stores post easy-to-understand signs that indicate unit packages and prices. Expect to pay about 25 TL for 500 minutes (sometimes referred to as units, or kontör), regardless of the company. An international call will generally cost about three times as much as a call within Turkey of the same duration.
Turkish customs officials rarely look through tourists’ luggage on arrival. You are allowed to bring in three boxes of cigarettes, 50 cigars, 250 grams of tobacco, 1 kilogram of coffee, 1 kilogram of tea, 2 liters of wine or champagne, and 1 liter of hard alcohol. (Note that these limits do change periodically; check the signs in the duty-free shop before heading up to the counter.) Items in the duty-free shops in Turkish airports, for international arrivals, are usually less expensive than they are in European airports or in-flight. Pets are allowed into the country provided that they have all the necessary documentation. Full details can be obtained from the Turkish diplomatic representative in your own country.
The export of antiquities from Turkey is expressly forbidden, and the ban is rigorously enforced. If you buy a carpet or rug that looks old, make sure to obtain certification that it is not antique. The seller will usually be able to help you. The ban on antiquities extends to historical artifacts, coins, and even pieces of masonry. There have been several recent cases where tourists, some of them children, have tried to take small pieces of stone home as souvenirs and been arrested at the airport on suspicion of trying to export parts of ancient monuments. A genuine mistake is not considered sufficient excuse. Even where the tourists have been ultimately acquitted, they have still had to spend many months either in detention or, more commonly, out on bail but denied permission to leave the country. Turkish antiquities laws apply to every piece of detritus, so don’t pick up anything off the ground at archaeological sites.
Visit the Turkish Embassy website in Washington, D.C., and the websites of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Ankara for more information.
The restaurants we list are the best in each price category. A small service or “cover” (kuver in Turkish) charge of a few liras per person (a charge just for sitting at the table, the bread, the water, etc.) is often added to the bill, especially in meyhane-style restaurants but you should tip 10% on top of this. If a restaurant’s menu has no prices listed, ask before you order—you’ll avoid a surprise when the bill comes.
Meals and Mealtimes
Breakfast, usually eaten at your hotel, typically consists of beyaz peynir (soft white cheese, made from cow, sheep, or goat’s milk), sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and yogurt with honey and fresh fruit, with a side order of fresh bread, perhaps a hard-boiled egg or basic omelet, and tea or Nescafé; the menu varies little, whether you stay in a simple pansiyon or an upscale hotel.
Breakfast starts early, typically by 7 am. Lunch is generally served from noon to 3 pm, dinner from 7 to 10 pm. You can find restaurants or cafés open almost any time of the day or night in cities; in villages getting a meal at odd hours can be a problem. Many Turks fast during daylight hours during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. If you’re visiting during Ramadan, be sensitive to locals and avoid eating on public transportation or other places where you might make mouths water. During Ramadan, many restaurants, particularly smaller ones outside the major cities, close during the day and open at dusk.
Unless otherwise noted, the restaurants listed are open daily for lunch and dinner.
Most relatively upscale restaurants, particularly those in western Turkey, take major credit cards. Smaller eateries will often accept only cash.
Reservations and Dress
It’s a good idea to make a reservation at popular restaurants. We mention when reservations are essential (there’s no other way you’ll ever get a table) or when they are not accepted. We mention dress only when men are required to wear a jacket or a jacket and tie.
The electrical current in Turkey is 220 volts, 50 cycles alternating current (AC). If you’re going to be using U.S. appliances, make sure that you have a voltage converter and an adapter, which allows you to plug into wall outlets; in Turkey these take European-type plugs, with two or three round prongs.
Most laptop, tablet, camera, and mobile phone chargers, and some other small appliances are dual voltage (i.e., they operate equally well on 110 and 220 volts) and so require only an adapter. Always check labels and manufacturer instructions to be sure, though. Don’t use 110-volt outlets marked “for shavers only” for high-wattage appliances such as hair dryers.
If your passport is lost or stolen, contact the police and your embassy immediately. If you have an emergency, you’re best off asking a Turk to call an emergency number for you because it’s unlikely you’ll find an English-speaking person at the other end of the telephone, even at the Tourism Police. Bystanders will almost invariably try their utmost to be of assistance and will usually know of nearby hospitals or doctors. The Turkish words for ambulance, doctor, and police—ambulans, doktor, and polis, respectively—all sound about the same as their English equivalents, as does telefon for telephone. Say whichever is appropriate, and you can feel fairly certain that you’ll be understood.
No serious health risks are associated with travel to Turkey, and no vaccinations are required for entry. However, travelers are advised to have vaccinations for hepatitis A and typhoid and to take precautions against malaria if visiting the far southeast. To avoid problems at customs, diabetics and other persons who carry needles and syringes for medical reasons should have a letter from their physician confirming their need for injections. Rabies can be a problem in Turkey, occasionally even in the large cities. If bitten or scratched by a dog or cat about which you have suspicions, go to the nearest pharmacy and ask for assistance.
Even in areas where there is no malaria, you’ll want to use something to ward off mosquitoes. All pharmacies and most corner stores and supermarkets stock a variety of oils and/or tablets to keep mosquitoes at bay, as well as sprays and creams you can apply to exposed skin; it’s generally easy to identify these products as the packaging usually includes a picture of a mosquito. If you can’t find what you want, try asking using the Turkish word for mosquito: sivrisinek. It often seems as though mosquitoes favor foreigners, particularly the fair-skinned, so a Turk’s assurances that mosquitoes in a particular place are “not bad” can be both sincere and misleading.
Given the high temperatures in summer, dehydration can be a problem, especially in southern and eastern Turkey. Remember to sip water throughout the day rather than waiting until you are very thirsty.
For minor problems, pharmacists can be helpful. Pharmacists at any eczane, or pharmacy, are well versed in common ailments and can prescribe some antibiotics and other medications for common travelers’ illnesses. Many of the same over-the-counter remedies available in Western countries can be found in Turkish pharmacies, which are usually well stocked. Even a Turkish pharmacist who doesn’t speak English will often be able to recognize a specific remedy—particularly if you write the name down—and be able to find an appropriate alternative if that medication is not available.
Doctors and dentists abound in major cities and can be found in all but the smallest towns; many are women. There are also hastanes (hospitals) and kliniks (clinics). Road signs marked with an “H” point the way to the nearest hospital. Even if doctors cannot converse fluently in English, most will have a working knowledge of English and French terminology for medical conditions. Turkish dentists, called diş hekimi, diş doktoru, or dişçi are highly regarded.
Food and Drink
Tap water is heavily chlorinated and supposedly safe to drink in cities and resorts. It’s okay to wash fruits and vegetables in tap water, but it’s best to play it safe and only drink şişe suyu (bottled still water) or maden suyu (bottled sparkling mineral water, also referred to simply as soda), which are better tasting and inexpensive. Do not drink tap water in rural areas or in eastern Turkey. Turkish food is generally safe, though you should still be careful with some types of street food, such as chickpeas and rice (nohutlu pilav) and stuffed mussels (midye dolması), which can host a number of nasty bacteria.
Distribute your cash, credit cards, IDs, and other valuables between a deep front pocket, an inside jacket or vest pocket, and a hidden money pouch. Don’t reach for the money pouch once you’re in public.
Violent crime against strangers in Turkey has increased in recent years but, when compared with Western Europe or North America, is still relatively rare. You should, nevertheless, watch your valuables, as professional pickpockets do operate in the major cities and tourist areas. Women should be careful of the prospect of bag snatching both when walking and when sitting at open-air cafés and restaurants. Bear in mind that organized gangs often use children to snatch bags.
Though the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has waged an armed campaign in southeastern Turkey, cities and major highways are relatively safe. You should be cautious about visiting more out-of-the-way villages in the region and using unpaved roads or traveling after nightfall, especially in the border areas near Syria and Iraq, where ongoing violence is increasingly rattling nerves in Turkey (and occasionally spilling over into the country). Many U.S. actions in the Middle East have been deeply unpopular in Turkey, and Turks will often have little hesitation in letting you know how they feel. However, they will invariably distinguish between the actions of the U.S. government and individual Americans. For an up-to-date report on the situation, check with the State Department website.
As different countries have different worldviews, look at travel advisories from a range of governments to get more of a sense of what’s going on out there. And be sure to parse the language carefully. For example, a warning to “avoid all travel” carries more weight than one urging you to “avoid nonessential travel,” and both are much stronger than a plea to “exercise caution.” A U.S. government travel warning is more permanent (though not necessarily more serious) than a so-called public announcement, which carries an expiration date.
The U.S. Department of State’s website has more than just travel warnings and advisories. The consular information sheets issued for every country have general safety tips, entry requirements (though be sure to verify these with the country’s embassy), and other useful details.
You should keep your credit cards within sight at all times to prevent them from being copied. In many restaurants waiters will swipe your card at the table. If a waiter takes the card away, you should either ensure that it remains within eyesight or ask to accompany the waiter to the POS terminal (you can manufacture an excuse, such as telling the waiter that your bank sometimes asks for a PIN).
There have been a few cases of tourists traveling alone being given drugged drinks and then being robbed. The doctored drinks are usually soft drinks such as sodas. Turks are naturally anxious to ply guests with food and drink, and in the vast majority of cases, there should be no cause for alarm. However, if, for example, you are traveling alone and someone is particularly insistent on you having a cold soft drink and comes back with one already poured into a glass, treat it with extreme caution. If the drink is drugged, the person giving it to you will probably be suspiciously insistent that you drink it. If you have any doubts, do not consume it. Someone who is being genuinely hospitable will probably be confused and maybe a little hurt; but both are better than your being robbed.
In crowded areas be aware of a common scam in which two men stage a fight or similar distraction while an accomplice picks the tourist’s pocket. Single male travelers in particular should also be aware of another popular scam that starts with an innocent-seeming conversation on the street (sometimes initiated by being asked the time: “Saat kaç?”), continues with an invitation to go grab a beer, and ends with a preposterously large bill being presented to the unsuspecting foreigner. In extreme cases, the hapless visitor has been brought by force or threat to an ATM to withdraw enough money to pay the tab.
Less intimidating, but annoying, is the “shoe shine trick”: an itinerant shoe shiner “accidentally” drops his brush as he walks past a foreigner, who helpfully calls out to him and picks up the brush. The shoeshine man feigns effusive gratitude, and insists on shining the shoes of the visitor—then overcharging, and sometimes refusing to clean the polish off until the price is paid.
Before taking a private taxi, it can be useful to ask the information desk at your hotel what route (i.e., past what landmarks) the driver will likely drive, how many minutes the ride usually is, and what the average cost is: this way you will avoid an unwanted, and often lengthy, tour of the city. Note that Turkish hospitality is such that if you need directions, someone will often insist on accompanying you part or all the way to your destination.
Women in Turkey
Turkey is a generally safe destination for women traveling alone, though in heavily touristed areas such as Istanbul’s Sultanahmet, Antalya, and Marmaris, women unaccompanied by men are likely to be approached and sometimes followed. In rural towns, where visits from foreigners are less frequent, men are typically more respectful toward women traveling on their own. In the far east of the country, though, you should be particularly careful; women traveling alone have been known to be harassed in this region. As in any other country in the world, the best course of action is simply to walk on if approached, and avoid potentially troublesome situations, such as walking in deserted neighborhoods at night.
Some Turkish men are genuinely curious about women from other lands and really do want only to “practice their English.” Still, be forewarned that the willingness to converse can easily be misconstrued as something more meaningful. If you are uncomfortable, seek assistance from a Turkish woman or move to a place where other women are present; when it comes to harassment by males, there really is safety in female solidarity. If a man is acting inappropriately toward you, it is acceptable to be forward and tell him to go away. The phrase çok ayıp (“shame on you”) will come in handy, as it will also attract attention from passersby. Another phrase, defol (“get lost”) is more severe and should dispel any persistent men you may encounter. Women who are pregnant or have small children with them are generally treated with such respect as to be virtually immune from harassment.
Turkey, especially outside tourist areas and major cities, is not the place to sport clothing that is short, tight, or revealing. Longer skirts, and shirts and blouses with sleeves, are less likely to attract unwanted attention. Women are expected to cover their heads with scarves when entering mosques.
Many hotels, restaurants, and other eating spots identify themselves as being for an aile (family) clientele, and many restaurants have special sections for women and children. How comfortable you are with being alone will affect whether you like these areas, which are often away from the action—and you may prefer to take your chances in the main room (though some establishments will resist seating you there).
When traveling alone by intercity bus, you will almost certainly be seated next to another woman (and often refused a ticket if such a seat is not available). If a man sees that you are traveling alone, he will probably offer his own seat so that you may sit next to a woman.
Schools and many offices often close for a full or half-day on major Turkish holidays, which are as follows: January 1 (New Year’s Day); April 23 (National Independence Day); May 1 (Labor and Solidarity Day); May 19 (Atatürk’s Commemoration Day, celebrating his birthday and the day he landed in Samsun, starting the independence movement); August 30 (Zafer Bayramı, or Victory Day, commemorating the final Turkish victory over Greek forces in 1922, during Turkey’s War of Independence); and October 29 (Cumhuriyet Bayramı, or Republic Day, celebrating Atatürk’s proclamation of the Turkish republic in 1923—many businesses and government offices also close at midday, usually either 12:30 or 1, on the day before Republic Day). November 10, the anniversary of Atatürk’s death, is not a full-day public holiday but is commemorated by a nationwide moment of silence at 9:05 am. Many provincial towns also hold celebrations to mark the anniversary of the date that the Greeks were driven out of the area during the Turkish War of Independence.
Turks also celebrate the two main Muslim religious holidays each year: the three-day Şeker Bayramı, marking the end of Ramadan (called “Ramazan” in Turkey) and the four-day Kurban Bayramı, which honors the prophet Ibrahim’s (Abraham in the Old Testament) willingness to sacrifice his son to God. Because the Muslim year is based on the lunar calendar, the dates of the two holidays change every year, both moving earlier by 11 to 12 days each year. The precise timing may vary slightly according to the sighting of the moon. Many businesses and government offices close at midday, usually either 12:30 or 1 pm, on the day before the religious bayrams. In 2016, Şeker Bayramı is due to begin at midday on July 4 and last until the evening of July 7; in 2017 it will begin on June 25 and end on the 27th. Kurban Bayramı will begin at midday on September 11, 2016, and continue through the evening of September 15; in 2017 it will begin on August 31 and end on September 4th. A word of note: if a religious holiday takes up three or four days of a working week, the government will often declare the rest of the week an official holiday as well. However, such decisions are usually made less than a month before the holiday actually begins.
Banks and Offices
Banks in Turkey are normally open weekdays from 8:30 am until noon or 12:30 pm and then from 1:30 until 5 pm, but select branches of some Turkish banks, especially those in major cities, now remain open during the middle of the day. Many banks throughout Turkey, even those in small towns, provide 24-hour ATMs with service in English.
Most gas stations are open from early morning until late evening, commonly from 6 am to 10 pm, although there are no fixed rules and there can be considerable variation. In the larger cities and along major highways it is usually possible to find gas stations open 24 hours. Look for the sign 24 saat açık.
Museums and Sights
Museums are generally open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30 am until 5 or 5:30 pm and closed Monday—this is not a rule, though, so check the times listed in our individual listings. Palaces are open the same hours but are generally closed Monday and Thursday (with the notable except of Topkapı Palace, which is closed Tuesday), while during the summer many popular archaeological sites are open seven days a week and close around sunset. Some museums and palaces may have slightly longer summer hours as well. Many museums and sites stop selling tickets 30 minutes before the actual closing time. Sometimes this is explicitly stated in the official times, but not always. To be on the safe side, try to ensure that you arrive at least 45 minutes before closing time.
Most pharmacies (eczane in Turkish) are open the same hours as shops, and, as with shops, there are variations according to the whim of the pharmacist. Typically, they are open 9:30 am until 7 or 7:30 pm, Monday through Saturday. In larger cities, one pharmacy in each neighborhood is open 24/7 and is called the nöbetçi eczane. When a pharmacy is closed, there will be a sign in the window or door with details of the location of the nearest nöbetçi eczane, which your hotel will also be able to help you find.
Shops and bazaars are usually open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 am to 7 pm with varying open hours on Sunday. Smaller shops often close for lunch between 1 and 2 pm, although all large stores and even most small shops in the major cities remain open throughout the day. In tourist areas, shops may stay open until 9 pm or even 10 pm and all day Sunday.
Conversational English, German, and often French are widely spoken in hotels, restaurants, and shops in cities and resorts. In villages and remote areas you may have a hard time finding anyone who speaks anything but Turkish or Kurdish, though rudimentary communications are still usually possible. English is taught in public schools, starting from the primary level, but instruction is often poor, so try to learn a few basic Turkish words; your efforts will be appreciated.
Turkey used to be the least expensive of the Mediterranean countries, but prices have risen in recent years. At press time, Istanbul was roughly equivalent to other cities in the Mediterranean in terms of cost, but in the countryside, and particularly away from the main tourist areas, prices are much lower—room and board are not likely to be much more than $50 per person per day.
Coffee can range from about $2 to $5 a cup, depending on whether it’s the less-expensive Turkish coffee or American-style coffee, and whether it’s served in a luxury hotel, a café, or an outlet of a multinational chain such as Starbucks or Caffè Nero. Coffee lovers beware: much coffee listed on menus in a restaurant unless specified otherwise (e.g., as filtre kahve, or “filter coffee”), is likely to be instant coffee (Nescafé). Tea will cost you about 75¢–$1.50 a glass, rising to $2–$3 for a cup (the latter is larger). Local beer will be about $3–$6, depending on the type of establishment; soft drinks, $1.50–$2; and a lamb shish kebab, $5–$8.
Prices are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.
ATMs and Banks
ATMs can be found even in some of the smallest Turkish towns. Many accept international credit cards or bank cards (a strip of logos is usually displayed above the ATM). Almost all ATMs have a language key that enables you to read the instructions in English. To use your card in Turkey, your PIN must be four digits long.
In Turkey, as elsewhere, using an ATM is one of the easiest ways to get money. Generally, the exchange rate is based on the Turkish Central Bank or the exchange rate according to your bank.
Turkey largely uses the “chip and PIN” system for debit and credit card payments, a more secure method than swipe-and-sign. (The chip in the card contains identifying information.) The card is inserted in the POS terminal, which reads the chip and sends the information down the line. The user is then asked to enter his/her PIN and this information is also sent down the wire; if everything matches, the transaction is completed. If you don’t have a PIN, check with your bank to get one before you leave the United States.
It’s a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you’re going abroad and don’t travel internationally very often. Otherwise, the credit card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity—not a good thing halfway through your trip. Record all your credit-card numbers—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen—in a safe place. American Express, MasterCard, and Visa have numbers you can call (collect if you’re abroad) if your card is lost. If possible, you’re better off calling the number of your issuing bank, which is sometimes printed on your card. Note that American Express is not commonly accepted in Turkey.
Although it’s usually safer to use a credit card for large purchases (so you can cancel payments or be reimbursed if there’s a problem), some credit-card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to all foreign transactions. Check on these fees before using your card.
Before you charge something, ask the merchant whether or not he or she plans to do a dynamic currency conversion (DCC). In such a transaction the credit-card processor (shop, restaurant, or hotel) converts the currency and charges you in dollars. In most cases, you’ll pay the merchant a 3% fee for this service in addition to any credit-card-company and issuing-bank foreign-transaction surcharges.
DCC programs are becoming increasingly widespread. Merchants who participate in them are supposed to ask whether you want to be charged in dollars or the local currency, but they don’t always do so. And even if they do offer you a choice, they may well avoid mentioning the additional surcharges. The good news is that you do have a choice.
Credit cards are accepted throughout Turkey, especially in larger cities or towns, but many budget-oriented restaurants or hotels in rural areas do not accept them.
Currency and Exchange
The Turkish lira is divided into 100 kuruş, and is issued in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 TL notes; 5, 10, 25, 50 kuruş; and 1 TL coins.
Your bank will probably charge a fee for using an ATM abroad, and the Turkish bank may also charge a fee. Even so, you’ll get a better rate than you will at currency exchanges or at some banks.
Hotels and banks will change money, as will larger post offices, but in Turkey, the rates are usually better at the foreign exchange booths (look for signs saying “foreign exchange” or “döviz”). Most are now connected online to the currency markets and there will be little difference between them.
Exchange bureaus are found only in big cities, usually in the center, so if you are heading to small towns make sure you change your money before leaving.
Bureaus in tourist areas often offer slightly less attractive rates—rarely more than 2%–3% difference—than bureaus in other places. Almost all foreign exchange bureaus are open Monday–Saturday. Hours vary but are typically 9:30 am to 6:30 pm. In tourist areas, it is sometimes possible to find bureaus that are open later or on Sunday, but they will usually compensate for the inconvenience by offering a rate 2%–3% worse than during normal working hours.
İş Bankası (İş Bank) is Turkey’s largest bank, with many branches in the cities and at least one in each town, usually in the center of town.
Although Turkey is an informal country, it is often said that Istanbul isn’t Turkey—it’s Europe. Expect to see the full spectrum in Istanbul when it comes to style and coverage. You may walk down the street next to a girl in a miniskirt, followed by a woman wearing a headscarf or completely covered from head to toe. Istanbul is a cosmopolitan city, so if you plan on a night out on the town, come prepared to dress accordingly. For men, nice jeans coupled with a clean button-down shirt and decent shoes will usually get you in the door; a jacket and tie are only appropriate for top restaurants in Istanbul, Ankara, and İzmir. Women should feel comfortable wearing fashionable styles but, as in any place, consider what kind of attention you want to attract.
Outside major cities, women would do best to avoid overly revealing outfits and short skirts. The general rule is: the smaller the town, the more casual and, at the same time, conservative the dress.
On the beaches along the Mediterranean, topless sunbathing among foreigners is increasingly common, though not always looked kindly upon by locals. Shorts are acceptable for hiking through ruins, but not for touring mosques. The importance of a sturdy, comfortable pair of shoes cannot be overemphasized. Whether you are in Istanbul, where “everything is uphill,” or you’re hiking the ruins at Ephesus, you’ll be glad you sacrificed style for comfort.
Light cottons are best for summer, particularly along the coast. If you’re planning excursions into the interior or north of the country, you’ll need sweaters in spring or fall and all-out cold-weather gear in winter. An umbrella is advisable on the Black Sea coast, but as anywhere else in Turkey, as soon as rain begins to fall, people will appear almost magically on the streets to sell cheap umbrellas; so if you don’t want to bring one with you, it’s almost always possible to find one.
Sunscreen and sunglasses will come in handy. It’s a good idea to carry some toilet paper and hand sanitizer with you at all times, especially outside the bigger cities and resort areas. You’ll need mosquito repellent from March through October, a flashlight for exploring caves in Cappadocia, and soap if you’re staying in inexpensive and moderately priced hotels.
All U.S. citizens, even infants, need a valid passport and a visa to enter Turkey for stays of up to 90 days. Visas must be obtained prior to arrival by filling out an application via www.evisa.gov.tr. The cost is $20.
Even though visas are multiple entry and usually valid for 90 days out of a 180-day period, they cannot be issued for periods longer than the validity of the passport you present. If your passport has less than a month to run, or does not have enough blank space for entry and exit stamps, you may not be given a visa at all. Check the validity of your passport before applying for the visa. Turkish officials may impose stiff fines for an overstay on your visa.
If your trip includes a stopover to the Greek side of Cyprus before you come to Turkey, make sure you don’t get your passport stamped. Instead, ask for a slip of paper indicating your legal entry to Cyprus. Otherwise, you may encounter difficulties getting through passport control in Turkey. This is not an issue if you’re coming from Greece proper, however.
Public facilities are common in the tourist areas of major cities and resorts and at archaeological sites and other attractions; in most, a custodian will ask you to pay a fee (typically ranging from 50 kuruş to 1 TL). In many public facilities, including those in some small restaurants, toilets are Turkish style (squatters) and toilet paper is often not provided (to cleanse themselves, Turks use a pitcher of water set next to the toilet). Sometimes it’s possible to purchase toilet paper from the custodian, but you are well-advised to carry a supply with you as part of your travel gear. Alas, standards of restroom cleanliness tend to be a bit low compared to those in Western Europe and America.
If you’re away from tourist areas, look for a mosque, as many have restrooms as part of the complex of washing facilities for Muslims to perform their ablutions before beginning their prayers. Standards of cleanliness at mosque restrooms are usually higher than at public facilities. Most, but not all, restaurants and cafés have restrooms, but, again, the standard of cleanliness is extremely variable. In general, five-star hotels have the best facilities, and the staff rarely raise any objection if restrooms are used by foreigners not staying at the hotel. Many gas stations have restrooms.
The value-added tax, in Turkey, called Katma Değer Vergisi, or KDV, is 18% on most goods and services. Hotels typically combine it with a service charge of 10% to 15%, and restaurants may add a similar charge for service.
Value-added tax is nearly always included in quoted prices. Certain shops are authorized to refund the tax (but you must ask).
When making a purchase, ask for a VAT refund form and find out whether the merchant gives refunds—not all stores do, nor are they required to. Have the form stamped by customs officials when you leave the country. After you’re through passport control, take the form to a refund-service counter for an on-the-spot refund (which is usually the quickest and easiest option), or mail it to the address on the form (or the envelope with it) after you arrive home—the processing time can be long, especially if you request a credit-card adjustment.
Global Blue is a worldwide service with 270,000 affiliated stores and more than 700 refund counters at major airports and border crossings. Its refund form, called a Tax Free Check, is the most common across the European continent. The service issues refunds in the form of cash, check, or credit-card adjustment.
A 10%–15% charge may be added to the bill in restaurants (look for it under the label servis). In top establishments, waiters expect tips of 10%–15% in addition to the service charge. Although it’s acceptable to include the tip with your credit card payment, cash is much appreciated.
In Turkey, taxi drivers are becoming used to foreigners giving them something; round off the fare to the nearest 50 kuruş. Dolmuş drivers do not get tipped. Hotel porters expect about 2 TL. At Turkish baths, staff members who attend to you expect to share a tip of 30%–35% of the bill: don’t worry about missing them—they’ll be lined up expectantly on your departure.
Tour guides often expect a tip. Offer as much or (as little) as you feel the person deserves, usually 10 TL to 20 TL per day if you were happy with the guide. If you’ve been with the guide for a number of days, tip more. Crews on chartered boats also expect tips.
Restroom attendants will not expect a tip in addition to the charge for using their facilities.
Comprehensive trip insurance is recommended for all vacations purchased through Vacays4U. Comprehensive policies typically cover trip cancellation and interruption, letting you cancel or cut your trip short because of illness, or, in some cases, acts of terrorism. Ask about insurance policies that cover evacuation and medical care. Some also cover you for trip delays because of bad weather or mechanical problems as well as for lost or delayed luggage.
Always read the fine print of your policy to make sure you’re covered for the risks that most concern you. Compare several policies to be sure you’re getting the best price and range of coverage available.