Turkey travel guide: all for your trip to Turkeyby | October 6, 2023
Are you visiting Turkey? Then you must know all about the country you are about to visit. To travel in Turkey is a dream for those who are looking for history, culture, and breathtaking landscapes. Visiting Turkey will allow you to see the ancient alleys of Istanbul, the majestic views of Cappadocia and the sun-drenched beaches along the Mediterranean coast. And these are just some of the things to explore during your trip to Turkey.
All about its flag, geography, culture, currency and more in this Turkey travel guide.
Over the centuries of the Ottoman Empire, numerous Turkish flags emerged, with a common theme of featuring the crescent, star, and the colors red or green. In June of 1793, the flag which is now adopted as the Turkish national flag was introduced for the navy, albeit with eight-pointed stars instead of the current five.
The official national current flag of Turkey was adopted on June 5, 1936. Turkey’s flag is red with a moon crescent and a star. The origins are not perfectly known, but the crescent and star has been associated with Islam.
Some explain that the flag symbolizes the moon's glow alongside a star mirrored in the blood of Turkish warriors. The crescent moon is employed to pay tribute to the nation and its people's religious ties, whereas the white star embodies the richness of Turkish culture.
Where is Turkey?
Turkey is a large peninsula that unites the continents of Europe and asia. Its neighboring countries are Bulgaria, Greece, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Georgia, Syria to the south and Iraq. Turkey is surrounded by the black sea, mediterranean sea and the Aegean Sea.
An interesting fact is that Istanbul is built on land in the Bosporus seaway which makes it partly in Europe and in Asia. The area of Turkey is about 302,535 square miles (783,562 square kilometers) and it has a population of almost 82 million people.
Before traveling to Turkey, you must know that Turkey is a predominantly mountainous country, and it is located in one of the most seismically active regions in the world, experiencing 13 significant earthquakes within the last 70 years.
Mount Ararat, Turkey's highest peak, boasts two summits, with the Great Ararat rising to an impressive 16,945 feet (5,165 meters). This mountain holds deep cultural and religious significance for many, as it is believed to be the place where Noah's ark came to rest following the legendary flood.
Its geographical location places Turkey in the Turkey Time zone (TRT) which is UTC+3. There are no Daylight Saving Time clock changes.
History and heritage in Turkey
Any Turkey travel guide would be incomplete without explaining the history of Turkey. Turkey's history dates back thousands of years. It is believed to be one of the earliest settlements in the world. The first settlement it is believed to be from 8,800 years ago when there was 150 mud homes joined together called Catal Hoyuk. In this labyrinth there were no streets in between and people had to enter the homes through holes in the roof.
Centuries later, in 334 B.C., Anatolia fell under the dominion of Alexander the Great, marking a period of Macedonian Greek influence. This continued until Roman authority took hold, integrating Anatolia into the realm of Roman Asia Minor. In A.D. 330, Emperor Constantine established a new capital, Constantinople, ushering in the era of the Byzantine Empire after the decline of the Roman Empire.
A pivotal moment in Turkish history occurred with the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. This triumph established the Ottomans as a formidable global force, encompassing vast territories including Anatolia, North African regions like the Maghreb, parts of southeastern Europe, segments of the Arabian Peninsula, the Persian Gulf, modern-day Iraq, and swaths of the Caucasus.
Subsequently, Turkey became a pivotal part of the expansive Ottoman Empire. Following the aftermath of World War I, Greece's invasion prompted the Turkish War of Independence in 1920, a conflict spearheaded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. It was in 1923 that the Turkish Assembly formally declared Turkey a republic.
It is important to highlight different reforms that Atatürk made in Turkey. These changes included the conversion of the Turkish script from Arabic to Latin, the promotion of Western-style clothing, and the integration of legal codes from Germany, Switzerland, and Italy into Turkish law. Moreover, he modeled the government after Western-style parliamentary democracy.
Presently, Turkey's strategic partnership with the West, its pivotal geographic location, and its distinctive identity as a predominantly Muslim nation with a secular and democratic constitution solidify its role as a significant player both regionally and globally.
Culture and traditions in Turkey
Turkey is characterized by being ethnically homogeneous. You will find people from diverse backgrounds. There are Turks, which are the majority, and other minority groups like Laz, Georgian, Circassian, Bosniaks, Bulgarians and Pomaks. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the Kurds are the largest minority (they represent one fifth of the population), followed by Arabs, Armenians and Greeks.
Turkish people are hospitable, and a big part of their daily life and festivities revolve around food and family. If you are invited to any of their homes, you should be respectful and take of your shoes when entering the house.
When it comes to religion, the majority of people are Sunni Muslims. However, Turkey is home to diverse Muslim communities, including the Alevis, alongside various Christian and jewish minorities. While Turkey is officially a secular state, it's worth noting that religion is a part of the curriculum in public schools.
Deeply rooted in Turkey’s culture is the Nazar Boncuğu or Evil Eye, is a talisman thought to protect from danger. You can find them in homes, offices, restaurants, cars and buses.
It is worth mentioning that Turkey is famous for a particular way of wrestling. It is called Oil Wrestling (Yağlı Güreş) and it is a traditional Turkish form of wrestling where competitors wearing special leather pants and cover themselves in olive oil.
Turkish is the official language and it is spoken by 87% of the population. You can also find people who speak English, French and German.
Remember that, although Turkey is a modernized country, you should dress appropriately to enter religious sites. We recommend being respectful and, if you are a woman, you should cover your head with a scarf. Both for men and women it is recommended to avoid wearing short trousers, tight shorts and cover your shoulders and knees.
Lastly, some key festivities in Turkey are:
- Ramadan. Turkey is a majority Muslim country, with 99% of the population registered as Muslim and 0,1% Christian. When you travel to Turkey you should bear in mind the most important Muslim holidays which are Ramazan Bayramı (Eid al-Fitr or Ramadan) and Kurban Bayramı (Eid al-Adha) which marks the end festivity of 30 days of fasting.
- Istanbul Jazz Festival. This international jazz festival is held in Istanbul in July and attracts artists from all over the world. Add it to your Istanbul itinerary and also visit the main sites of Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, and Galata Tower among others.
- Selçuk Camel Wrestling Festival. On the third weekend of January, Selçuk, a town in the countryside near the ruins of Ephesus is home to a camel wrestling festival. During the festival two male camels wrestle over a female camel in heat.
- Istanbul Tulip Festival.Every year since 2015, the local authorities plant millions of tulips in the city's parks and streets. It is a sight not to be missed!
- Cappadocia Balloon Festival. Cappadocia is one of Europe’s most enchanting regions due to its underground cities, cliff-carved churches and the annual ballon festival in the town of Ürgüp hosts.
- Other dates to keep in mind are the Commemoration of Ataturk, Youth and Sports Day on the 19th of May, Victory Day on the 30th August and the Republic Day on the 29th October.
Although it is not a cultural fact per se, you must know that Turkey’s plug types are C and F.
Turkey is internationally famous for its cuisine, which heavily shows a Mediterranean Coast influence. Traveling to Turkey will allow you to try some of the freshest and mos delicious dishes on the planet. Some of their most known dishes are kebabs made from grilled lamb. Nevertheless, there are plenty other dishes to try:
- Piyaz, a salad based with candir beans mixed with tahini, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, garlic, parsley and olive oil.
- Ezogelin Corba, a soup consisting of red lentils, domato salca (tomato paste), grated fresh tomatoes and onions and with dried mint and pul biber (chili flakes) on top.
- Saksuka, a dish consisting on purple skinned cubes of green flesh are cooked with zucchinis, garlic, tomatoes and chilli.
- Yaprak Dolma, rice cooked with tomatoes, a bunch of parsley, onion, garlic, tomato paste, olive oil, black pepper, salt and water. All of this is rolled in a vine leaf.
Lastly, you should definitely try the national drink which is tea. Make sure to try Rakıin, a traditional teahouse called “kahvehane”. Men usually go during the week, while women and families go at weekends.
Weather in Turkey
The weather in Turkey is diverse. The weather in Turkey will differ depending on the region you visit and what time of year you go. The coastal areas near the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, as well as Istanbul, have a warm and temperate Mediterranean climate and can get extremely hot in the summer. In winter the weather on the coast will be cold and wet.
We can say that the best time to visit Turkey is during Spring and Fall, so from April to May and September and October. From April to May, you can find moderate temperatures, the greenest nature and some vulture events such as the International Istanbul Film Festival. From September to October you will be able to sightsee with comfortable temperatures. During those months, you will enjoy warm temperatures, but not as hot as during summer and you will avoid tourist spots that are too crowded.
To travel in Turkey, you will need to get a hold on Turkey’s currency. The Turkey currency is the Turkey lira (TRY). One lira is 100 kuruş. You will also see that there are 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5 lira bills; and coins of 1 lira and 5, 10, 25 and 50.
If you're in a tourist area or a large city, you may spot prices marked up in euros, US dollars or pounds. Hotels and airports are not the best places to exchange currency in Turkey. The best thing is to exchange only a few liras there, enough to get to the Grand Bazaar area in the centre of Istanbul, where you can go to an exchange bureau. There, is where you will get better exchange rates.
Turkey tourist attractions
Turkey is a country full of fun activities to make. Here we recommend some of the main Turkey tourist attractions and activities to do during your Turkey trip.
Istanbul is one of Turkey’s tourist attractions and one of the cities in Turkey to visit. There, you can see the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Taksim Square, Galata Tower, Topkapi Palace or the sunset from a ship sailing through the Bosphorus.
You should not leave Istanbul without paying a visit to the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest markets in the world. It’s located in the center of the old city of this inspiring capital, a must-see of all the cities in Turkey.
In the capital of Turkey you can see:
- The Anıtkabir (Atatürk's Mausoleum): The resting place of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey and a museum displaying his personal items.
- The Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, located in a historic 15th-century building. This has a big collection of artifacts from various ancient Anatolian civilizations.
- The Haci Bayram Mosque and Temple of Augustus. The first one is an important pilgrimage site, and the second one is a well-preserved Roman structure.
- The Ankara Castle (Ankara Kalesi): This ancient citadel dates back to Roman times and offers panoramic views of the city. Inside, you can find museums and exhibitions.
The cappadocia is a unique and very visited region in central Turkey known for its stunning geological formations, ancient cave dwellings, and rich history. There, you will be able to enjoy the famous hot air balloons rides that offer breathtaking views of the landscape.
Another popular attraction in Turkey located in Cappadocia is The Göreme Open Air Museum, where you can visit rock-cut churches and chapels with imposing frescoes dating from the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries.
It is also essential to take a hiking route through the Valley of the Doves. Other activities you must do are contemplating the fairy chimneys from the Göreme Lookout and looking for rocks with animal shapes in the Devrent Valley.
Ephesus is a region in Turley known for its ancient city. The ancient city of Ephesus has well-preserved ruins of this ancient Greek and Roman city. Ephesus also has the house of Virgin Mary, which is a significant pilgrimage site for Christians. It is believed to be the house where the Virgin Mary spent her last years.
Two other must-sees in Ephesus are the Basilica of St. John and the Ephesus Archaeological Museum. The latter one has a collection of artifacts excavated from the ancient city, including statues, pottery, and inscriptions.
Pamukkale Natural Pools, which literally means “cotton castle”, located in Denizli province, are one of Turkey attractions that everyone needs to visit. The area has been declared a World Heritage Site.
These white pools located on the side of a 160-meter-high hill and the water that has been forming white layers of limestone and travertine create a huge frozen waterfall. We recommend you to wait until sunset, when the rock begins to turn pink.
In Antalya there are many Turkey tourist attractions such as idyllic beaches with crystal clear waters. It is a well-kept city that breathes modernity, although you can also see an old wall dating back to Roman times and some wooden houses from the 18th century, which are now prepared to accommodate tourists. In the Antalya Old Town (Kaleiçi), you will be able to see narrow and cobbled streets and visit historical sites like Hadrian's Gate, Hıdırlık Tower, and the Tekeli Mehmet Paşa Mosque.
Some other key spots in Antalya are the Antalya Archaeological Museum, the Yivli Minare Mosque and Hıdırlık Tower.
Is Turkey safe?
Is it safe to travel to Turkey? Overall, Turkey is safe to travel. Nevertheless, we recommend you to keep an eye on the surroundings, avoid protests, get away from the crowds, be careful with your credit cards and carry a shawl in your purse to cover your head if you go to sacred places.
Istanbul and Ankara are two of the most important cities in the country and have huge security measures, so you shouldn't experience much trouble.
Do I need a visa for Turkey?
You might be wondering How to get a visa for Turkey? For the most part, it is a pretty easy procedure. All nationalities must have a visa to fulfill the Turkey travel requirements. If you are traveling for tourism or business purposes you can obtain the visa online.
Applying for a visa for Turkey online is much quicker and easier. All you have to do is fill in an online form with your correct details. Once your application has been accepted, the agents will approve your visa within approximately 48 hours and send it to your email.