Turkey Holiday Planning Guide
Rich in culture and customs and brimming with hospitality, natural beauty, and historical heritage, Turkey serves as a crossroads between Asia and Europe. The landmass known as Anatolia on which Turkey thrives has been home to numerous civilizations and their faiths and cultures, as attested by the 13 World Heritage Sites and countless religious sites you'll find here. Relive the ancient world through the ruins, customs, and traditions that are among Turkey’s most precious heritages. Adventure-seekers have plenty to do to here, including mountain climbing, scuba diving, rafting, and skiing. A holiday to Turkey is incomplete without a cup of Turkish coffee, the pinnacle of Turkish cuisine inscribed on the Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
Places to Visit in Turkey
Regions of TurkeyTurkish Aegean Coast
: Abounding with the fragrance of local olive and citrus plantations, the Turkish Aegean Coast boasts stunning beaches and a pleasant climate, making this area an ideal Turkey vacation destination suitable for any season.Turkish Mediterranean Coast
: Affectionately known as the "Turquoise Coast," the Turkish Mediterranean Coast sits between the mountains and the sea and offers spectacular yachting for active vacationers and ancient ruins for history buffs.Cappadocia
: The region Cappadocia draws visitors with its fascinating tales of long-gone civilizations, revealed by the honeycombed hills dotted with geological rarities and two World Heritage Sites.Turkish Black Sea Coast
: A land of evergreen trees, citrus groves, cherry orchards, and tea plantations, the Turkish Black Sea Coast offers plenty of outdoor things to do, including swimming, rafting, and hiking.Denizli Province
: An area known for claiming an unusually high number of UFO sightings, Denizli Province makes an ideal Turkey vacation idea for pleasure seekers looking for a place that offers a pleasant climate, ancient sites, and popular spas.
Cities in TurkeyIstanbul
: The transcontinental city of Istanbul serves as a physical and cultural bridge between Europe and Asia, providing a convenient starting point for many organized tours of Turkey and drawing some 12 million annual visitors with its old town center, a World Heritage Site packed with minarets and church domes.Goreme
: Located in the central part of Turkey and originally settled during Roman times, Goreme is world famous for its landscape of unusually shaped stone formations and churches cut into natural rocks.Urgup
: An ideal base for tours of Cappadocia, Urgup offers a both a pulsating nightlife and the quiet charm of a small town, known for its age-old cave dwellings and traditional handmade carpets.Antalya
: A popular Turkey holiday destination on the Mediterranean, Antalya offers both sandy beaches packed with modern amenities and a historical town center filled with Roman ruins and Ottoman mosques.Uchisar
: Hot air balloon rides remain the best way to see Uchisar and the surrounding area, featuring a multitude of cave dwellings carved into steep rocks.Selcuk
: Selcuk draws big crowds due to its proximity to the ancient city of Ephesus, one of Turkey's best-preserved archaeological sites.
Things to Do in Turkey
Popular Turkey Tourist AttractionsHagia Sophia Museum / Church (Ayasofya)
: Indisputably one of the most significant architectural achievements in the world and a major place to visit in Turkey, Hagia Sophia Museum/Church is most noted for its 6th-century dome and well-preserved mosaics, containing some 30 million gold tiles.Suleymaniye Cami
: Commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1550, Suleymaniye Mosque is a masterpiece by famed architect Mimar Sinan, recognized for blending several major architectural styles.Istanbul Archaeological Museums
: Vast collections of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine artifacts make Istanbul Archaeological Museums one of the star tourist attractions in Turkey, featuring over a million objects housed in three separate buildings.Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi)
: A great place to enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee or tea as well as a great place to shop, Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi) in Istanbul remains one of the world's oldest and largest covered markets, home to over 4,000 shops selling everything from carpets and lamps, to scarves and jewelry. Bosphorus Strait
: Bosphorus Strait connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean and runs through the heart of Turkey's capital city, offering scenic views of both its European and Asian sections.Goreme National Park
: A World Heritage Site and a popular spot for hot air ballooning, the sprawling Goreme National Park boasts stunning natural rock formations, which resemble chimneys rising out of the ground.Ancient City of Ephesus
: Constructed in the 10th century BCE by Attic and Ionian Greek colonists, the remains of the Ancient City of Ephesus once served as home to the famous Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.Pamukkale Thermal Pools
: The mineral-rich waters of Pamukkale Thermal Pools, featuring a series of white terraces formed by sedimentary rock deposits, made this location a popular Turkey vacation spot thousands of years ago. Galata Tower
: Often called the "Tower of Christ," the 67 m (220 ft) tall Galata Tower was the highest structure in Turkey when the Genoese colonists built it in the 14th century.Dolmabahce Palace
: The largest palace in Turkey, the luxurious Dolmabahce Palace boasts 285 rooms and 46 halls, and is noted for preserving elements of Arabic and Persian cultures and artistic heritages.
Planning a Turkey Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Turkey with Kids
Turkey may not instantly spring to mind when you think of family-friendly vacations, yet this country boasts plenty of entertaining and informative places to visit when traveling with kids. Antalya
's popular Aquapark Dedeman Bodrum
is a good option for families with toddlers or teens, featuring a range of wave pools, water slides, and multi-tier pools. A similar attraction in Marmaris
, AquaDream Water Park
features slides, pools, and sweeping views of the surrounding area. To add a bit of history to your Turkey family holiday, head to Cleopatra Island, featuring a small beach covered with silky white sand Mark Anthony allegedly brought from Egypt as a gift for Cleopatra. Goreme National Park
offers families a chance to get a bird's eye view of a World Heritage Site known for its unusual rock formations resembling chimneys. Enrich your Turkey trip by taking the kids for a hot air balloon ride over the entire park to see Cappadocia
's stunning landscapes.
Things to Do in Turkey with Kids
Regardless of what part of the country you include on your Turkey itinerary, you'll find an abundance of family-oriented things to do with your kids. You can watch the sunrise over the Bosphorus, go on a thrilling treasure hunt through the old streets and shops of Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi)
, sail the Black Sea, or relive history at any one of Istanbul
's outstanding museums. To introduce the family to Turkey's rich cultural heritage, visit some of the country's ancient sites, like Celsus Kutuphanesi
Tips for a Family Vacation in Turkey
To optimize your family vacation in Turkey, station yourself in one of the country's popular resort towns and then split your time between the area's popular ancient sites and modern attractions. Most resort hotels offer easy access to good beaches, which you can use as your base for sailing trips in Turkey along the ruggedly attractive coastlines. Families are welcomed guests in Turkey, yet Turkish affections for children often disconcerts foreign visitors. Don't be surprised or offended if friendly locals pat your children's heads, pinch their cheeks, or even pick them up. Kids are generally welcome everywhere in Turkey, but mosques require special consideration because they require visitors to behave respectfully at all times. Females must wear headscarves inside, and everyone must remove their shoes before entering. When you take kids to see a mosque, try to visit outside of prayer time, when it’s especially important for visitors to be quiet and fade into the background.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Turkey
Cuisine of Turkey
Although Turkish cuisine combines Mediterranean, Arabic, and Asian influences, the country's best-known gastronomic contribution is kebab, which includes many different kinds of grilled and skewered meat. While enjoying your tour of Turkey, try some of the country's finest kebab specialties in Adana
, a city known for its spiced minced meat dishes. Sitting down for a hearty meal is a time-honored ritual regardless of what part of Turkey you happen to visit, and crusty loaves of bread remain the centerpiece of nearly every dining table in the country. Remember that you can explore Ankara
's modern seafood restaurants and try some gevrek bagels in Izmir
, as well as treat your taste buds to sweet baklava and strong Turkish coffee everywhere else in the country.
Shopping in Turkey
As the country's biggest and busiest city, Istanbul
offers arguably the finest shopping opportunities in Turkey, its open-air markets and bazaars filled with quintessentially Turkish treasures like handmade carpets and fragrant spices. Some of the most popular tourist attractions in Turkey include Istanbul's Egyptian Bazaar
and Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi)
, where you can try your luck at bargaining for pottery, silk, rare books, and jewelry. You'll find plenty of well-stocked modern stores and malls in all of the country's big cities, offering visitors a modern shopping experience on par with cities such as Paris, London, and New York.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Turkey
History of Turkey
Established in 1923 from the remnants of the sprawling Ottoman Empire, modern Turkey boasts a storied history spanning many centuries and bringing together vastly different cultures. Inhabited since the Paleolithic age, this land provided a home for various ancient civilizations, including Aeolian and Ionian Greeks, Thracians, and Persians. You can still see their footprints in many archaeological sites spread across the country, in popular Turkey attractions like ancient Perge Ancient City
and World Heritage-listed Hierapolis
Alexander the Great's conquests brought Western influence to these eastern lands, leaving much of the area Hellenized. Western cultural influence continued during the Roman rule and the slow and often painful transition into the Byzantine Empire. Seljuk Turks migrated into the area in the 11th century, laying down the foundations of the future Ottoman Empire and gradually pushing out Byzantine Christians.
Starting in the 13th century, the Ottomans united much of Anatolia and created a vast empire including huge sections of southeastern Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia. To witness the artistic and architectural feats of the empire's greatest rulers, include Hagia Sophia Museum / Church (Ayasofya)
and Topkapi Palace
on your Turkey itinerary.
The Ottomans reached their peak between the 15th and 17th centuries, taking over the Balkans and reaching all the way to Vienna. The easiest way to learn about the rise and fall of this powerful empire is by visiting one of the country's outstanding museums, which include the world-famous Istanbul Archaeological Museums
At the end of World War I, which the Ottomans fought and lost on the side of the Central Powers, the empire saw its final demise and split into several new states. Modern Turkey emerged several years later, largely thanks to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, considered the father of the Turkish republic. To learn about Ataturk's personal life and struggle for the establishment of a modern state, visit Alanya Ataturk House Museum
When you set foot in today's Turkey, you're following in the footsteps of all the historical figures who lived or passed through this picturesque land, including Julius Caesar and Saint Paul. At once incredibly modern and remarkably ancient, Turkey is now a democratic and secular country with a diverse cultural heritage. Witness its patchwork of cultures by devoting part of your Turkey holiday to places like Rustem Pasha Mosque
and Kariye Museum (The Chora Church)
Customs of Turkey
Though polite and hospitable almost to a fault, Turkish people continue to observe strict social etiquette and expect foreign visitors to follow in the same suit while sightseeing in Turkey. Bring a small gift when visiting a Turkish home, and address older men as "Bey" (mister) and women as "Hanim" (lady). Keep in mind that upon meeting, men shake hands, though a man rarely shakes a woman's hand unless she extends it to him first. It is always wise to remove your shoes before entering someone's house, unless your host specifically asks you to keep them on. Try to use some basic Turkish phrases to compliment your host; Turks appreciate every effort to speak their language, though they understand it might be difficult for a foreigner to pronounce words correctly.
Religious tradition demands that all women wear headscarves inside mosques. Both men and women must remove their shoes before entering. If you arrive during prayer time, stay in the background and remain respectfully silent. The most attended prayers are on Fridays, so avoid visiting any mosque on that day.
Holidays & Festivals in Turkey
In addition to official state holidays, Turkey also observes Ramadan, a month-long religious holiday of fasting, prayer, and celebration. Kurban Bayrami is the most important Islamic festival of the year, which lasts for several days. This holiday is also the time of the Hajj or annual pilgrimage to Mecca, so expect heavy traffic and big crowds in all the major cities if you tour Turkey during that time.Istanbul
is Turkey's capital for nonreligious festivals, hosting many film and music events throughout the year. Other places to visit in Turkey include Antalya
, hosts of renowned art festivals.
Turkey Travel Tips
Climate of Turkey
Turkey boasts a varied climate, which means that you can experience vastly different temperatures depending on which part of Turkey you visit. Aegean and Mediterranean coastal areas enjoy a mild climate throughout the year, which makes them popular destination for a vacation in Turkey. The Black Sea region receives more precipitation than any other part of the country, which makes for humid summers and damp winters. Interior areas, which include the capital city Ankara, have hot summers and snowy winters. Though Istanbul boasts a blend of oceanic and semi-Mediterranean climates, the city is no stranger to short summer showers and very cold winter days.
Transportation in Turkey
You can tour Turkey by every modern mode of transportation, including bus, train, or private car. Buses remain arguably the most efficient option for seeing various regions quickly, with frequent and reliable services connecting all the major cities and tourist attractions in Turkey. A growing network of high-speed trains offers a quick way to go between Istanbul and Ankara, two of the country's most visited cities. Regular ferry services cross the Sea of Marmara and link popular sections of the Aegean coastline. To explore less-traveled rural areas, consider renting a car at one of the agencies operating out of major airports.
Languages of Turkey
Turkish is the official language of Turkey, with Kurdish spoken by approximately 10 percent of the population. Many young people speak some English, but you can improve your chances of connecting with the locals by learning a few simple Turkish words and phrases. Consider taking a phrase book on your Turkey trip, and prepare to communicate with a great deal of interpretative gestures.
Tipping in Turkey
It is customary to add a 10 to 15 percent tip to restaurant bills. You can make your Turkey vacation more convenient by including tips with your credit card payments, but keep in mind that most restaurant waiters appreciate cash. Taxi and dolmus (minibus) drivers usually round up the charge displayed by the meter, so tipping them is not necessary. Tour guides, hotel porters, and Turkish bath staff expect a tip, but you can offer as much or as little as you consider appropriate.