Merhaba, fellow travelers! If you’re planning to visit the beautiful country of Turkey, here are some important travel tips and advice on the top things to know before going to Turkey! Turkey is one of the world’s most visited countries with 38 million visitors in 2018. And for good reason; travel to turkey is safe, fun, easy, and affordable. Due to the lack of updated information online, I went ahead and put together this travel blog guide to help others travel to Turkey. Hope you enjoy it & happy travels 😉
Traveling to Turkey soon? I have planned for you the perfect 10 Day Turkey Itinerary for First Time Travelers.
1. You Likely Need to Apply for a Visa to Enter Turkey — Yes, Even Americans.
Check Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs page to see what your country’s particular requirements are for entering Turkey. Americans can easily get their visa within 5 minutes of applying online here and paying $20. Since my first trip to Turkey was a surprise (missed my connecting flight), I applied for and received my Turkey visa while waiting in line to see the immigration officer.
Remember to print or do a screen capture of the bar code and the approval page and number because it’ll be an online link. You will not receive the approval information by email.
The multi-entry visa lasts for up to 90 days.
2. Wifi Can Be Spotty & Limited for Foreigners
Most wifi spots require a European or Turkish number to get the passcode to access the free wifi. This includes the Istanbul airport; a critical issue to be aware of since you may need to get your online visa when you land at the airport. The best way around this is to have an international phone plan, get a Turkish SIM card, or have a friend with a Turkish number who can spot you the passcodes to get online.
If you choose to buy a Turkish sim card, make sure to take a sim card ejector tool with you so you can remove your sim card tray to put in the sim card. If you have a new phone (approx 2020 onwards), it may support eSims so you could choose to get a Turkish eSim card instead of a physical sim card which makes things a lot easier. eSim cards are downloaded onto your phone, so you don’t have to worry about changing out your existing sim card.
Another option is to rent a portable WiFi, these can be ordered online for collection at your hotel or accomodation (someone must be available to take the delivery).
At hotels and Airbnbs, I found that the internet would drop constantly. It was frustrating when I had work to do but would have to grab my laptop and go restaurant hopping until I found a stable connection. So while the internet/wifi in Turkey usually works in most places, it’s often too slow and about 15% of my time in Turkey it would just stop working completely.
3. Some Websites Are Banned in Turkey
- Booking.com doesn’t allow you to book your stay in Turkey if you’re in Turkey. This made it really hard for a last-minute traveler like myself who couldn’t book her stay through the platform.
- Wikipedia is banned in Turkey. Here’s why. So get all your research in before you get there, or use the “cache” function on Google if it’s available for your particular search listing.
- PayPal is inaccessible from Turkey. I had a hard time doing certain business transactions without access to my PayPal account. I definitely did not want to use a proxy to access PayPal in Turkey. BUT the good news was that I realized that if you have the PayPal mobile APPLICATION, you can access your account PayPal through that.
4. Weather in Turkey
Of course, the weather depends on what part of Turkey you will be visiting. It’s a huge country spanning across two continents with diverse topography. Turkey’s weather ranges from a desert-dry climate to sizzling hot summers to cold snowy winters. Northeastern is generally colder, the center (close to/west of Cappadocia) is desert hot/cold, and the Mediterranean area including Istanbul has hot summers and mild winters.
5. Best Time to Visit Turkey
- Summer can be extremely hot, hitting 100 F (38F) but still a lot of fun to go as long as you prepare adequately for the heat. Bring UV umbrellas like this one, sunscreen, and drink plenty of water. But there will be certain places, that feel unbearable between 12 PM and 5 PM in peak summertime such as Ephesus and Cappadocia.
- Winter can be cold with snow in certain parts. The tourism low season is November through March.
- Springtime is gorgeous as everything is in full bloom and it’s not yet as hot. This is considered their high peak season (April & May).
- Fall is also a great time to go, but it’s also a high peak season (September & October). The weather is temperate in most of Turkey around this time.
6. How to Dress in Turkey
Turkey is very diverse; in topography, politics, and culture. Therefore you may cross a woman in a little black dress and then turn the corner to find another woman with everything covered but her eyes. There are parts of Turkey that are more conservative like Kayseri, and others where it feels like you’re in Los Angeles (like Izmir). Even Istanbul itself has many distinct pockets. Its young and hipster Moda neighborhood is like Brooklyn. While its historic district, Sultanahmet, is bustling with museums, markets, and hundred years old architecture.
When deciding what to wear in Turkey, bring both conservative clothes for when you notice a change in culture and don’t want to stand out, and your more “summery” clothes for parts of Turkey where you feel more comfortable.
7. Language & DIFFICULTIES Communicating
English is NOT widely spoken in Turkey. Most people could not speak English. Pictionary + memorizing a few Turkish words are essential. Most could not even say “yes” or “no” in English. Some rolled their eyes and sighed when I asked if they spoke English. I found more French or German speakers in Istanbul than English speakers. Thus, I had to learn a ton of Turkish words to get by. If you have allergies, disabilities, or food limitations, learn how to say the essentials in Turkish for those things.
8. Cost of Travel/Living in Turkey
Food ranges from $1 for street food to $5 for a plate at a cute restaurant. To $20 for a drink, appetizer, dessert, and main course at a very nice restaurant. Relative to “western” prices, this is VERY GOOD.
- Flights = $20-$60 each way within the country.
- Bla Bla Car = About $1/hour.
- Public transportation = Starting at 15 cents (1 lira). Rarely more than $1 (4 lira) each way.
- Museum Entrances = About $5-$10 USD (30 to 60 lira) for foreigners.
- Organized Day Tours = Starting at $30 USD and up for a full day of fun + lunch.
- Accommodation = This, of course, depends on what part of Turkey. But it starts at $10/night at hostels; $20/night at Airbnbs; $30/night at hotels.
- IST airport to historic center = $15-20 USD (about 130 lira)
You could also purchase an Istanbul Welcome Card starting at $75 USD. The welcome card includes access to many popular museums including Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and a Bosphorus Cruise. You’ll also get 10 public transportation tickets that can be used on buses, trams, ferry and the metro.
9. How to Get Around Turkey
It’s easy getting around Turkey. If you’re on a super budget but have lots of time on your hands you can take buses which are about $10-$20 each way. HOWEVER, if you book ahead of time you can book flights for $20-$60 each way within Turkey. This is likely the best way to travel because you’ll save time and energy. Every traveler told me that their overnight bus experience was uncomfortable and they couldn’t sleep. So is $10-$30 worth losing hours and a good night’s sleep? You can also arrange airport shuttles with your hotel/homestay for about $12 USD each way.
Within cities, public transportation works efficiently. If you’d like to move between cities then you can take buses. There are even trains that runs through some parts of the country like the Dogu Express Train.
Taxis are another story which leads me to the next point…
10. Taking Taxis in Turkey & Does Uber Work in Turkey?
Taxis in Turkey are notorious for cheating and scamming. My first taxi experience was great. But I had to direct him on how to get to my hostel and he missed a turn at the beginning. I think it was an honest mistake since the roads were windy. But sometimes they will pretend they got lost, don’t understand you, won’t stop just to wrack up the meter. They will turn the meter off quickly so you don’t see the final price. They can pretend to not have change so always carry small bills for taxi rides. Always turn on your GPS so they know that you know where you are going.
Uber didn’t work when I first arrived in Istanbul in late May. But by mid-June, I had the option to call a metered taxi via Uber. This became my go-to method of using taxis in Istanbul. And then they would enter the final meter number into the Uber app. So take a picture of the meter and let them see you taking that picture. It’s unfortunate that you have to take all these precautions, making it feel like an anxiety-inducing experience from start to finish… but better safe than sorry.
Also, remember NOT to pay Uber drivers cash. It’s already deducted from your Uber app via credit card. I paid the first two Ubers cash and they knowingly took the money. One had the audacity to ask for MORE money knowing that he was getting paid via Uber! Later I found out it was already paid for via my credit card. I complained to Uber and got my money back.
But I noticed more and more cab taxi drivers I ordered through Uber were nicer than non-Uber cab drivers likely because they care about their star rating; which is one of the great things about Uber. One of the not-so-great things is that they take a huge commission which isn’t fair… But unfortunately, taxi scams are ubiquitous and this felt like the best way to have some protection.
Not-so-fun-fact: I’ve read that a lot of the cab drivers come from harder places in Turkey, have to pay a mafia guy some sort of “taxi rent” for the car, and thus are aggressively desperate to make money however they can.
Important Turkish taxi words:
– Straight = düz (douz)
– Here = burası (burasou)
– Right = Sağ (Saou)
– Left = Sol (Soh)
– OK = tamman (tamman)
– Good = İyi (eiye)
11. Travel Adapter for Turkey
F type which is the basic European outlet. The standard voltage is 220 V.
I bought my adapter for about 10 liras ($1.50 USD) and it worked but uncomfortably. Electronic stores are more basic around Turkey and are usually just smaller shops for repairs. I finally found one with more variety and upgraded to a better converter for about $5. Great price and works really well! But I strongly suggest bringing your own from home so you don’t end up wasting time trying to find one here. I recommend this one or this one.
12. Is it Safe to Travel Through Turkey?
It’s embarrassing to think back on how apprehensive I felt about traveling to Turkey. After the news about the attacks for a few consecutive years, I feared there could be another attack at any moment. Which is silly, because there’s a gun attack where I’m from (USA), every week it seems. But I also thought that maybe it would be hard for a solo female traveler. And I wondered if I could be caught in the midst of something dangerous given some of the political tension (many hate their ultra-right-wing president the way many hate Trump in the USA). But when I got to Turkey… It immediately felt safer than NYC. Safer than much of Europe. I was shocked. And felt ashamed that I let media generalizations get the best of me the way they do to so many other countries (like the recent DR media frenzy).
In a full month of solo female traveling in Turkey, I didn’t get street harassed once. And all I did was walk and walk all around each city and town. I walked past groups of men, men’s clubs with their backgammon, schoolboys, cops, construction men, fearfully carrying the trauma of my NYC/LatAm background… anxiously anticipating a whistle or a comment… but to my relief, I got nothing. Maybe a glance at most. And this was while I was wearing all types of clothing ranting from loose pants to short-shorts. Of course, I also didn’t go out of my way to befriend strange men or joke with them or laugh with them. I always kept my conversations short with men (whether they were my waiter or hotel receptionist) but I also do this everywhere as a solo female traveler to be safe.
In summary, I never felt my life or belongings in danger. The only thing that made me fear for my life was the way the taxi drivers drive! But I think that’s everywhere in the world. So wear a seat belt.
13. Currency in Turkey
The currency in Turkey is the Turkish Lira, and in the past few years, there have been a lot of changes to its value. After some political/economic turmoil, the government cut the inflation zeros and pegged it 1:1 with the US dollar. However, this didn’t last long. And now it’s 15 liras to $1 US dollar! Wow! This is a huge value for your American (or European or British) buck.
14. History, Politics & Religion in Turkey
Much of Turkey prides itself on its secular and progressive movements. While other parts of Turkish society want a more conservative culture and to integrate Islam more into everyday parts of life including public institutions. For this topic, I strongly suggest reading up on Mustafa Ataturk. One of the most impactful and key historical figures of Turkey after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. You can also watch one of the many documentaries about him on YouTube. Scroll down to number 17 for other incredible book recommendations.
15. Food in Turkey & Turkish Cuisine
Turkish cuisine is largely influenced by Ottoman cuisine (Central Asian, Middle Eastern, Eastern European)… and of course by the myriad cultures and conquerors that passed through its lands and silk road. Today, the major flavors/ingredients used are: red chilli pepper, black pepper, mint, paprika, olive oil, cumin, and yogurt.
One of the best ways to learn about Turkish food is to take a cooking class. I did one with Cookistan in Istanbul and it was a HIGHLIGHT experience (pictured above). I learned about the historic origins of Turkish food, went shopping at markets and stores in a local Turkish neighborhood, and then we made some of the most epically delicious Turkish dishes. Plates that are traditionally cooked at home because they require more detail and time to do. I combined spices and flavors that I could have never imagined would produce such delicious meals. A cooking lesson in Turkey is a MUST cultural/foodie experience.
You could also take part in a private guided food tour around Istanbul, where you’ll spend 6+ hours exploring some of the best places to eat in Istanbul whilst tasting many of the local dishes such as tantuni or a liver wrap. You’ll also visit Misir Carsisi, which is one of the largest spice markets in Istanbul and is where locals have purchased their spices for hundreds of years.
Below are a few Turkish dishes you can NOT leave without trying. Write them down!
Baklava, Dolma, Lokum (Turkish Delight), Kebap, Mercimek Koftesi, Corba soup, Kunefe, Turkish Coffee.
16. Where to Go in Turkey? Top Places to Visit
If you’re planning your trip to Turkey, check out this helpful first-timers trip to Turkey itinerary. It includes the top places to visit, where to stay, and things to do in each place. Here are the most popular places to visit in Turkey:
- Cappadocia is a must for first-time travelers to Turkey. Don’t miss out on an iconic hot air balloon ride like this one!
- Izmir (which includes day trips to Ephesus, Cesme/Alacati, and Pamukkale)
- Antalya (including trips to the beach towns like Fethiye). A great way to explore Antalya is with this cable car, boat trip and waterfalls tour.
- Marmaris/Fethiye. Why not take a boat cruise along the Dalyan canal, enjoy a mud bath and visit turtle beach?
17. Books to Read Before Traveling to Turkey
- A Turkish Awakening by Alev Scott – One of my favorite books and a great way to get a better sense of modern Turkish life and history.
- The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak – A story about two families coming together from Turkey and the United States and the search to connect with Turkish heritage/identity.
- Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres – About the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the consequences of World War I and the forced migration of Christian Turks to Greece and Muslim Greeks to Turkey!
- A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk – Account of Istanbul in the 1900s by an Anatolian street hawker.
- Constantinople: City of the World’s Desire by Philip Mansel
- Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk
- Atatürk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey by Andrew Mango
18. Solo Traveling Turkey
Solo travel in Turkey is easy.
However, it’s one of the few countries where I: 1) Felt like it was so romantic I wish I had a loved one with me to share the incredible moments but I was still happy as heck 2) Met fewer solo travelers compared to other countries 3) Got weirded-out-eyes from other travelers when I said I was solo traveling more than I did solo backpacking Africa.
But I can assure you, I felt good, happy, and fulfilled in Turkey as a solo traveler. And I did make some other tourist and Turkish friends along the way. However, compared to South East Asia or Western Europe, it’s less common to solo travel.
Fun fact: A great way to link up with other travelers in Turkey is by staying in hostels. If you’re looking for a hostel, then why not consider staying at Moda Drei, where you get free WiFi and access to a shared kitchen. You’ll be within walking distance of Sureyya Opera House and Moda Coastal Park. 3-minutes away is Kilise Station giving you easy access to other parts of Istanbul.
19. Shopping Heaven
When I go back to Turkey, I’m packing an empty duffle bag just for shopping. Between the markets, bazaars, and the artisan craft shops your head may spin from the abundance of gorgeous and low-priced things to shop for: rugs, towels, jewelry, books, cooking ware, copper crafts, ceramics, paintings, pillowcases, special souvenirs, antiques! There’s something cool for everyone and at a bargain!
20. Istanbul is Magical
Istanbul is bursting in culture, history, and things to do. You want to dedicate no fewer than 3 days in Istanbul. If you have more time, at least 5 days. I spent two weeks and still wanted to see more and more of it. There are various neighborhoods to visit both on the Asian and European sides. Highlight experiences from cooking lessons to museums to Hamman visits. And you’ll want to dedicate some time to SHOPPING. Have I mentioned that Turkey is shopping heaven?
Here is a beautifully written summary of Istanbul’s past and future to better contextualize your experience in this special city.
21. Where to Stay in Turkey?
There are hundreds and hundreds of gorgeous hotels, Airbnbs, and hostels to choose from throughout Turkey. And best of all? Many are relatively affordable! Here are my top recommendations per region:
- Juliet Rooms & Kitchen ($)– This super cute hotel + hostel + restaurant offers delicious food, clean amenities, beautiful rooms, and is located on a gorgeous street in Moda (Eastern Istanbul).
- MGallery Galata($$$$) – Gorgeous hotel, beautiful rooms, lovely restaurants, a full spa/Hamman downstairs and in a great location!
- Four Seasons Sultanahmet ($$$$$) – Perfectly located in the heart of the city’s oldest district but in a tranquil street with a gorgeous patio restaurant.
- Airbnb ($) – Consider staying with a local for a great price. This way you connect with a fellow Turk, get great (non-hotel) prices, and personalized assistance.
- Carus Hotel ($$) – A stunning cave hotel with a gorgeous restaurant and shop right below. This is a newer hotel so the prices are relatively low for now! This is also located a few steps from everything in town.
- Mithra Cave Hotel ($$$) – One of the classic cave hotels to stay in. If you are a guest here, you can access the breakfast lookout of the balloons.
- Museum Hotel ($$$$$) – Elegant and luxurious hotel reminiscent of a museum carved out of a tall rock cave.
- Graymark Hotel ($$) – I stayed here and it was just perfect. Super affordable yet offers a top-quality stay in a perfect location.
- Spil Suites ($$) – Miss cooking? Want your own place? Rent an entire apartment in downtown Izmir!
- Renaissance Izmir ($$$$$) – a stunning and luxurious five-star hotel in the city center with state of the art amenities.
22. What to Pack for Turkey?
Traveling to Turkey doesn’t require many adjustments compared to other travel destinations around the world. But here are the things that I used the most:
- Turkish electrical adapter
- A good camera like my Canon Mark 5D or this Sony
- 35mm lens (my favorite)
- Wide lens (this is the one I use)
- Packing Cubes
- Sweater for cold nights in the desert
- Hat for sunny days
- Travel insurance
- Flowy long dresses (perfect for hot weather + layering)
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Scarf for visiting mosques
- Bathing suit for Turkish baths/Hamman
- Compact travel towel
Read more of my Turkey articles:
- From Izmir to Ephesus for $2
- 9 Unmissable Highlight Experiences in Istanbul
- Turkey Travel Itineraries: 10 Days
- Best Places to Visit in Turkey
- Things to do in Izmir (Turkey’s 3rd largest city)
- Best Neighborhoods to Visit in Istanbul & Where to Stay in Istanbul – Coming soon