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Planning a Trip to Turkey: A Practical Guide

Living in two different continents, my Dad and I make it a point to travel together at least once a year. It gives us some much-needed quality time together without the hustle and bustle of routine city life. We usually select a travel destination that is equidistant to both of us and a place that is both adventurous and relaxed in parts. This year was extra special because we had my fiance on the trip as well!

Hand painted Turkish plate

So how exactly did we zero in on Turkey? Well, for starters, it came highly recommended by many well-travelled friends and family members. The general opinion was that it is a place that exceeds expectations. For my Dad, the cuisine was a major deciding factor, and for us, it was a combination of history, art, and the beautiful landscape we had heard so much about! 

If you’re considering planning a trip to Turkey, this guide is for you. From the mosques and museums of Istanbul to the deep blue waters of Kaş, we bring you a personal account of our time travelling around Turkey. Read on for itineraries ranging from 3 to 15 days and everything you need to know about planning a trip to the country we fell in love with!

Visas and Arrival

Turkey issues tourist e-visas for citizens of most counties. They may be granted on arrival or may need to be applied for in advance, depending on your citizenship. Some countries have visa-free entry into Turkey. 

Several sites allow you to apply for an e-visa but be cautious as they charge a hefty service fee in addition to the government application and processing fee. Instead, apply directly through the official Electronic Visa Application System for seamless visa processing at a minimal cost. 

Turkey is well-connected to major cities across the world, with several international airports across the country. Istanbul is home to the recently opened New Istanbul Airport (IST), which is the largest in the world! That, along with Sabiha Gökçen (SAW), are two of the busiest airports in Turkey. 

We had a chance to experience both the airports as well as a few domestic airports – we flew into the New Istanbul Airport, which made a great first impression! Our return flight was from Sabiha Gökçen. We flew both ways via Al Jazeera’s no-frills flight, which, to be honest, was our least favourite air journey to date. The flip side? We saved a significant amount on air tickets, and the flight duration was not too long. There are, however, several other airlines that fly in and out of Turkey.

Getting Around

Travelling around the country was a breeze! Turkey boasts of great roads, easy air connectivity, and ample options for public transport. 

Unless you’re travelling with a large group or have difficulty walking, I would highly recommend that you explore Istanbul (or any other city) on foot and through public transport. City traffic is not easy to navigate through, and to find parking can often be next to impossible. 

We took a Havabus shuttle from the airport terminal in Istanbul to the middle of the city. A good friend had given us her Istanbulkart, which is a contactless card that can be used for fare payment on all modes of public transport in the city. We took the elevator to the second basement from the arrivals area and came out into what appeared like an endless bay for large (very well maintained) buses. We topped up our Istanbulkart and were on our way! 

The main modes of public transport around the city are buses, ferries, and the metro. Cab services are also popular. 

Istiklal Street Tram
The famous vintage tram on Istiklal Street

Getting from one city to another in Turkey is relatively simple. We took three internal flights for distances that would take more than 4-5 hours to drive. Flight fares are budget-friendly, and there are several flights connecting popular destinations during high season.

Turkey By Road
Our itinerary and modes of transport

We hired a self-drive car through Circular Car Hire for 2 days in Cappadocia and again for 8 days for our road trip along Turkey’s Turquoise Coast. 

Language

Turkish is the official language in Turkey and Cyprus. Until 1928, the Turkish script was written using the Ottoman Turkish alphabet, which is a version of the Perso-Arabic alphabet. The language, therefore, uses several loanwords from Persian and Arabic. After the foundation of the Republic of Turkey on October 29, 1923, the first president of the country Mustafa Kemal Atatürk introduced the script reform in 1928 when the Ottoman Turkish alphabet was replaced by the Latin alphabet which is phonetically better suited to the language.

Tide Detergent packaging for Turkey
Localised packaging for Tide washing detergent in Turkish

Although not everyone speaks English, we didn’t face a very apparent language barrier in most places. Most people were able to speak in English and those who could not made up for it with the extra effort they put in, in trying to communicate with us. We noticed that many hotels employed staff from Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and other surrounding countries, all of whom spoke good English and were very interesting to converse with during check-in or after a day of sightseeing.

Example of Text Expansion post Translation
Text expansion in Translation from Turkish to German and English – Mosaic Museum, Istanbul

 

What I found fascinating during my travels was the sheer number of words in Turkish that were similar or even the same as two Indian languages that I’m fluent in – Hindi and Gujarati.

Although Turkish and Hindi come from different language groups, the most reasonable explanation appears to be the influence of Persian and Arabic on Indo-Aryan languages. Hindi is very close to Urdu; in fact, when spoken, they are intelligible for all practical purposes. The difference is that Hindi follows the Devanagri script and uses Sanskrit loanwords, whereas Urdu follows the Perso-Arabic script (like Ottoman Turkish) and uses Arabic and Persian loanwords like modern Turkish. 

I was particularly intrigued by a conversation with an artisan at a ceramics shop. His ash Grey coloured cat was unwell and sitting next to him on a chair. I casually asked him what the name of his cat was, and he said, “Dunan.” I instantly recognised the word and asked him if it meant “smoke,” and he nodded in agreement. I knew this because in Hindi, the word for smoke is “Dhuan”, and because the cat was the colour of smoke, it wasn’t difficult for me to put two and two together. 

Translation of the Quran
Picked up a copy of the Quran translated into English, from the Blue Mosque, Istanbul

We had several such occurrences throughout the trip. For example, the word for air in Hindi, Gujarati, and Turkish is Hava. I knew this because the word for an airport in Turkish is “Havalimani”. Another word that we loved using was çay, which is pronounced the same as chai in Hindi and is the Turkish word for tea. These similarities motivated me to find a list of other common words. I came across this compilation of common words in Hindi and Turkish and just had to share it!

What to Eat

Two good Turkish restaurants have recently opened right next to my Dad’s house. You can probably imagine how much I’ve heard about Turkish cuisine from him over the last few months! I was actually quite excited to try the various kebabs and street food, but to be honest, my excitement was short-lived. Contrary to popular belief, authentic kebabs aren’t served with sauces and I found them rather dry without the accompaniments.

Mado Baklava
Pistachio Baklava from Mado

That said, you won’t find food to be a problem in Turkey. Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, or eat everything under the sun, there are plenty of options!

Turkish kebab platter
Kebab Platter
Golzeme at the farmer's market
Fresh Gozleme being prepared at the farmer’s market

Here’s a roundup of some of the traditional food that we tried:

Things to note (we wish we knew these before our trip)

Turkey is a predominantly mountainous country, which means most areas are quite hilly. What I considered to be romantic sloping streets lined with cafes in Istanbul, were a nightmare for my Dad, who is not supposed to climb steep slopes because of his DVT. There were several places we had to reconsider or needed to reroute to avoid the particularly hilly terrain across the country.

Goreme open air museum

If you or a fellow-traveller finds it difficult to walk but would still like to visit Turkey, opt for a conducted tour where transport is arranged. One town that may be of interest is Dalyan. Its flat landscape and coastal bounty make it a senior citizen’s heaven in the spring, summer, and autumn/fall. 

Cover Istanbul last so you can make the most of your international baggage allowance! No matter how much you resist the urge to shop in Istanbul, you simply will give in. The dried apricots are the softest ever; the baklava melts in your mouth, the Iznik pottery will virtually find a spot in your ceramics drawer and the Turkish Delights – well, they’re delightful!

Olives at Istanbul Bazaar
A bazaar shop in Istanbul selling olives

There are so many things that you can take back home from the many markets and bazaars of Istanbul, but buying them at the beginning of your trip will pose two problems (as it did for us). You will need to lug everything around for the remainder of your journey, and if you’re taking any internal flights, the maximum baggage allowance will usually be limited to 15kg (33 lbs).

Don’t exchange currency at the airport. You will get the worst possible exchange rate, and you really don’t need the local currency until you’re in the city. An international credit card can be used for payment on the Havabus into the city.

The official currency in Turkey is the Turkish Lira, but Euros, U.S. Dollars and British Pounds are generally accepted as well. Having said that, the local currency will almost always get you a better deal, and you won’t need to bother with conversions every time you make a payment. 

Depending on where you’re travelling from, it may be difficult for you to find a forex bureau that can provide you Liras. In that case, take any of the other more commonly available currencies mentioned above, and exchange them in the town or city you’re visiting. 

Invest in the Turkey Museum Pass if you plan on covering the major archaeological sites, ruins, and museums around the country. The pass costs TL375 and is valid for 15 days from the first use for a single entry into one of the 300+ museums operated by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. There are similar region or city-specific passes also available. 

Pack light, buy what you need in Turkey! We realised that prices for most things were quite reasonable, and any large town or city will have everything you need, including some well-known international brands. If you’re short on time before your trip, or simply want to go easy on the luggage, consider shopping in Turkey instead. 

Turkish Ceramics
A ceramics shop in Kaş

Confirm hotel reservations a day in advance. This is not something we usually do while travelling, but we had two separate occasions where the type of room we had booked was either not available, or the hotel had overbooked. To avoid this, we learned that it is best to call the day before you check-in and confirm your dates, number of guests, and room type. 

When to Visit

Whenever I think of Mediterranean countries, I automatically associate them with all things summer! Turkey remains a very popular tourist destination in the summer months, with the peak season being July and August. Average daytime temperatures can be as high as 35°C or 95°F, which may be comfortable for loungers on the beach but a little too warm for those who plan on exploring on foot. 

Kaputas Beach
Kaputaş Beach, Antalya

We travelled from the last week of September to the second week of October and found the temperatures to be very pleasant, especially in Istanbul and along the Southern coast. The sea was very warm from the months of the summer sun, but swimming pools were a little too chilly for my liking. We did encounter some sudden rain spells towards the end of our trip but would still recommend mid-September to early October as a great time to visit if you want to experience the county’s coastal treasures. For more serious travellers who would like to limit their trip to sightseeing, April to mid-June would be a comfortable window as well.

Although I’ve read that it is recommended to travel to Turkey up to mid-November, I would suggest that you research your destinations thoroughly as many shops and restaurants begin to wrap up for the winter. This does work in your favour though – say hello to discounted Turkish towels, ceramics, and everything in between!

Budgeting for Turkey

Turkey is one of those places that can suit just about any budget. I’ve known friends who’ve hitch-hiked across the country and others who’ve indulged in only luxury escapes.

Depending on where you’re travelling from, one of your major expenses will be airfare. Again, Turkey is well connected and it is likely that you’ll find a good deal, especially if you don’t mind travelling slightly off-season. Other than that, the type of accommodation you choose will largely affect your budget. My recommendation would be to pick mid-ranged hotels or vacation rentals in places like Istanbul, Izmir, around Ephesus and Cappadocia because you will most likely not get too much time to enjoy the properties you book.

For the average traveller, a daily budget of $100/day should be more than sufficient to cover everything from accommodation, internal transportation, meals, drinks, and entry fees.

Where to Go: Suggested Itineraries

Here are some itineraries based on our research and first-hand experience travelling around the country:

1- 3 Days

Budgeting for Turkey

For first-time visitors who really can’t spend more than 3 days in Turkey, Istanbul is the place to be! Unless you prefer a completely packed itinerary, 3 full days will give you enough time to explore the top attractions of the city along with some time left-over to shop, eat and relax. 

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

For more adventurous travellers, consider a day trip to Ephesus, Bursa or Gallipoli.

3-5 Days

3 days in Istanbul
2 days in Cappadoccia or 2 days in Ephesus and neighbouring Selcuk, Izmir or Alaçatı

Cappadocia, Turkey
The caps of Cappadocia – Zelve Open Air Museum

5-7 Days

3 days in Istanbul 
2 days in Cappadocia
2 days in Ephesus and neighbouring Selcuk, Izmir or Alaçatı

Alacati, Turkey
The beautiful covered balconies of Alaçatı

7-9 Days

3 days in Istanbul
2 days in Cappadocia
1 day in Ephesus
1 day in Pamukkale
Spend a couple of days along the Southern coast (Antalya, Bodrum, Demre, Kaş, Dalyan, Marmaris, Patara). My personal favourite was Kaş.

Kas, Turkey
The view from our Airbnb in Kaş

9-15 Days

3 days in Istanbul
2 days in Cappadocia
1 day in Ephesus
1 day in Pamukkale
3 days in Kaş
2 Days in Dalyan
2 days in Alaçatı

Hierapolis, Turkey
The ancient city of Hierapolis located next to the Pamukkale hot springs

Highlights from our Trip

I would love to include destination-specific guides for all the places that we visited, but that would be too much information to fit in just one post! I do want to mention a few of our favourite experiences so that you can experience them too!

There is so much that can be said about the wonderful place that is Turkey and the kind people that it is home to. I would recommend it to anyone for its abundant natural beauty, rich history, delicious food, and warm people!

Let us know in the comments if you enjoyed this guide and if you’d like to know more about the places that we visited.

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