Turkey Travel Guide, is on the Mediterranean, in the Anatolian region of West Asia, with a small section in Southeastern Europe separated by the Turkish Straits (Bosphorus, Sea of Marmara, and Dardanelles). With the Black Sea to the north and the Aegean Sea in the west and Mediterranean Sea to the southwest, Turkey is surrounded by Bulgaria and Greece to the west, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to the northeast, Syria, Iraq and Iran to the southeast.
While it may sound like a tourism brochure cliché, Turkey really is a curious mix of the west and the east—you may swear you were in a Balkan country or in Greece when in northwestern and western parts of the country (except that Byzantine-influenced churches are substituted with Byzantine-influenced mosques), which are indeed partly inhabited by people from Balkan countries, who immigrated during the turmoil before, during, and after WWI, while southeastern reaches of the country exhibit little if any cultural differences from Turkey’s southern and eastern neighbors. Influences from the Caucasus add to the mix in the northeast part of the country. It can be simply put that Turkey is the most oriental of western nations, or, depending on the point of view, the most occidental of eastern nations.
Perhaps one thing common to all of the country is Islam, the faith of the bulk of the population. However, interpretation of it varies vastly across the country: many people in northwestern and western coasts are fairly liberal about the religion (being nominal Muslims sometimes to the point of being irreligious), while folk of the central steppes are far more conservative (don’t expect to find a Saudi Arabia or an Afghanistan even there, though). The rest of the country falls somewhere in between, with the coastal regions being relatively liberal while inland regions are relatively conservative as a general rule. The largest religious minority in the country are the Alevites, who constitute up to 20% of the population and who subscribe to a form of Islam closer to that of the Shiite version of Islam and practice Shamanistic rituals of ancient Turks. Other religious minorities—the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Jews, Syriac Oriental Orthodox, and Roman Catholics, the latter of whom mainly settled in Turkey within the last 500 years from Western European countries—once numerous across the country, are now mostly confined to the large cities of Istanbul and Izmir, or parts of Southeastern Anatolia in the case of the Syriac Oriental Orthodox. Despite its large Muslim majority population, Turkey officially remains a secular country, with no declared state religion.
The climate in Turkey has a vast diversity depending on the diverse topography and latitude.
Aegean and Mediterranean coastal areas enjoy the typical Mediterranean climate. There is hardly a drop of rain during the sunny and hot summer (May to October). Winters are mild and rainy in these regions, and it very rarely snows at coastal areas, with the exception of mountainous areas higher than 2000 metres of these regions, which are very snowy and are frequently not passable. The water temperature in the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas is warm during the long summer season (May to October) which constitutes the swimming season and fluctuates between 23° and 28°C from north to south.
The region around the Sea of Marmara, including Istanbul, has a transitional climate between an oceanic climate and a semi-Mediterranean climate, but it does rain, albeit not a lot, during the very warm summer (as showers which tend to last for 15-30 minutes). Its winters are colder than those of the western and southern coasts. Snow is common at coastal areas, although it doesn’t stay on the ground for long and is limited to only a few days every winter. The water temperature in the Sea of Marmara is also colder than the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, with the water temperature reaching only between 20° and 24°C during the summer (June, July and August) and the swimming season is restricted to those summer months.
The Black Sea region has an oceanic climate (thanks to the protective shield effect of Caucasus mountains) with the greatest amount of precipitation and is the only region of Turkey that receives high precipitation throughout the year. The eastern part of that coast averages 2,500 millimeters annually which is the highest precipitation in the country. Summers are warm and humid while the winters are cool and damp. Snow is common at coastal areas, although it doesn’t stay on the ground for long and is limited to only a few days every winter, though mountains are very snowy as it is expected to be and are frequently not passable, there are glaciers around the year in the highest zones. The water temperature in the whole Turkish Black Sea coast is always cool and fluctuates between 10° and 20°C throughout the year, and is even less suitable for swimming during the summer than in the Sea of Marmara.
Most of the coastal areas have a high level of relative humidity during most of the year which makes hot weather feel hotter and cold weather feel colder than it actually is.
Interior areas like Ankara, generally have hot summers (though the nights are cool enough to make someone who is wearing only a thin t-shirt uncomfortable outdoors) and cold and snowy winters. The more easterly the location is, the colder the winters are and the heavier the snow is. The northeastern part (around Erzurum and Kars) is the only inland area which has cool and rainy summers.
The southeastern region near the Syrian border has a desert-like climate, temperature is frequently above 40°C during summers with no rain. Snowfall is occasional in winter.
- Ankara — the capital of Turkey and its second largest city
- Antalya — the fastest growing city, hub to an array of beach resorts
- Bodrum — a trendy coastal town in the Southern Aegean which turns into a crowded city in season when it serves as a playground for Turkish and international holidaymakers alike, featuring a citadel, Roman ruins, trendy clubs and a number of villages surrounding the peninsula each with a different character from classy to rustic
- Bursa — the first capital of the Ottoman Empire
- Edirne — the second capital of the Ottoman Empire
- Istanbul (Constantinople) — Turkey’s largest city, the former capital of both the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires, and the only major city in the world to straddle two continents
- Izmir — Turkey’s third largest city
- Konya — a quite large city that is the heartland of mystic Sufi order, the site of Rumi’s tomb, and with some elegant Seljuq architecture, all surrounded by vast steppes
- Trabzon — the wonderful Sümela Monastery is just outside the city and it is a great gateway to exploring the Turkish Northeast
- Urfa — magical city with beautiful architecture and extremely friendly locals at the gates of Eastern World
- Ani — impressive ruins of medieval Armenian capital in the far east of the country
- Cappadocia — an area in central highlands best known for its unique moon-like landscape (the “fairy chimneys”), underground cities, cave churches and houses carved in the rocks
- Ephesus — well-preserved ruins of the Roman city on the west coast
- Gallipoli — site of 1915 Anzac landing and many WWI memorials
- Mount Nemrut — a UNESCO World Heritage site with head statues dedicated to ancient Gods on its summit
- Ölüdeniz — imcomparable postcard beauty of “Blue Lagoon”, perhaps the most famous beach of Turkey which you will see on any tourism brochure
- Pamukkale — “the Cotton Castle”, white world of travertines surrounding cascading shallow pools filled with thermal waters
- Sümela — stunning monastery on the cliffs of a mountain, a must-see on any trip to the northeast coast
- Uludağ — a national park featuring school textbook belts of different types of forests varying with altitude, and the major wintersports resort of the country
Turkey has two long-distance waymarked hiking trails, one of them is the famous Lycian Way, between Fethiye and Antalya, the other one is the Saint Paul Trail, between Antalya and Yalvaç up to the north, in the Turkish Lakes District. Both are about 500 km, and signed with painted stones and signboards. Since Lycian Way is much older, it has more facilities for shopping and accommodation in the villages situated along or near its route.
Eastern Black Sea region covers very beautiful quite long trekking routes between the greenest of green plateaus well above the clouds as well, and some tourism agencies in the main cities of Turkey are offering guided trekking tours –including the transportation- in this region.
Inside the cities, there are white-, or rarely yellow-painted pedestrian crossings (zebra crossing) on the main streets and avenues, which are normally pedestrian-priority spots. However, for many drivers, they are nothing more than ornamental drawings on the road pavements, so it is better to cross the streets at where traffic lights are. Still, be sure all the cars stopped, because it is not unusual to see the drivers still not stopping in the first few seconds after the light turns to red for vehicles. As a better option, on wide streets, there are also pedestrian overpasses and underground pedestrian passages available. In narrow main streets during rush hour, you can cross the street anywhere and anytime, since cars will be in a stop-go-stop-go manner because of heavy traffic. Also in narrow streets inside the residential hoods, you need not to worry about keeping on the sidewalk, you can walk well in the middle of the road, only to step aside when a car is coming.
The sole official language of Turkey is Turkish. Turkish is an Altaic language and its closest living relatives are other Turkic languages, which are spoken in southwestern, central and northern Asia; and to a lesser degree by significant communities in the Balkans. Because Turkish is an agglutinative language, native speakers of Indo-European languages generally find it difficult to learn. Since 1928, Turkish is written in a variant of the Latin alphabet (after so many centuries of using the Arabic one, evident in many historical texts and documents) with the additions of ç/Ç, ğ/Ğ, ı, İ, ö/Ö, ş/Ş and ü/Ü, and with the exclusions of Q, W and X.
Kurdish is also spoken by an estimated 7-10% of the population. Several other languages exist, like Laz in the North-East (also spoken in adjacent Georgia), and in general people living near borders will often be speaking the language at the other side too, like Arabic in the South-East.
English is increasingly popular as a foreign language among the younger generation, though proficiency tends to be poor due to a lack of practice and exposure. To improve your chances of being understood, stick to simple words and avoid long sentences. Senior citizens rarely speak English, but they’ll try to help you anyway with gestures or similar words. Outside the major cities (Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir) and tourist areas (like Bodrum, Antalya), English is generally nonexistent, so take a phrase book and be prepared for slow communication with a lot of interpretive gestures..
Thanks to migration, even in rural areas most villages will have at least somebody who has worked in Germany and can thus speak German. The same goes for other West-European languages like Dutch (often mistakenly called “Flemish” there) or French. Recent immigration from Balkans means there is also a possibility to come across native Serbo-Croatian, Bulgarian, and Albanian speakers mainly in big cities of western Turkey, but don’t count on this.
As a general rule, most museums and sites of ancient cities in Turkey are closed on Mondays, although there are numerous exceptions to this.
 Ancient ruins and architectural heritage
Streets of Alaçatı, Aegean Region
At the crossroads of civilizations, all parts of Turkey are full of a mindblowing number of ancient ruins.
Hittites, the first indigenous people that rose to found a state in Anatolia—although there is one certain Çatalhöyük preceding them, the earliest settlement ever found to the date in Turkey—left the proof of their existence at the ruins of Hattuşaş, their capital.
Ancient Greeks and closely following Romans left their mark mostly in Aegean and Mediterranean Regions, leaving behind the marble ruins of hundreds of cities, temples, and monuments. Some are largely restored to their former glory, such as Ephesus as well as numerous others along the Aegean coast which are on the checklist of most travellers to Turkey, along with some more obscure ones off the beaten path such as Aphrodisias near Denizli, and Aizonai.
In the meantime, some other indigenous peoples, such as Lycians, were carving beautiful tombs—many of which are fairly well preserved and can be seen all around Lycia—for their dearly departed ones onto the rocky hillsides.
Legendary Troy stands out as an example of different civilizations literally living on the top of each other. While what is visible today is clearly Hellenistic, the place has its roots as Hittite Wilusa, and later re-built many times over by Ancient Greeks.
Perhaps the most unique “architectural” heritage in the country, some of the Cappadocian cave houses and churches carved into “fairy chimneys” and underground cities (in a literal sense!) date back to early Christians hiding from persecution.
Successors of Romans, the Byzantines, broke new ground with more ambitious projects, culminating in grand Hagia Sophia of Istanbul, built in 537, and which had the distinction of being the largest cathedral in the world for almost a thousand years. Most of Byzantine heritage intact today is found in Marmara Region, especially in Istanbul, although a stray monastery or two dating back to the era can be found in almost any part of the country.
Seljuks, the first ever Turkic state to be founded in Asia Minor, built most of their monuments—which incorporates large majestic portals and heavily delicate stonework, reminiscent of some landmarks in parts of Asia—in major centres of the time in Eastern and Central Anatolia, especially in Konya, their capital.
Ottomans, who had considered themselves as a Balkan state until their demise, built most of their landmarks in Balkans and the natural extension of Balkans within today’s Turkey—Marmara Region—just like the Byzantines, whom the Ottomans inspired to in so many ways. Most of the earlier Ottoman monuments were built in Bursa, which have little Byzantine and comperatively large Seljuk influences, and later, when the dynasty moved to Europe, in Edirne, some of the major landmarks of which exhibit some kind of “transitional” and fairly experimental style. It wasn’t until the Fall of Constantinople that the Ottomans adopted Byzantine architecture almost full scale with some adjustments. However, the Ottoman imperial architecture possibly reached its zenith not in Istanbul, but in Edirne—in the form of Selimiye Mosque, a work of Sinan, the great Ottoman architecture of 16th century.
19th century brought back the Greek and Roman taste of architectural styles, so there was a huge explosion of neo-classical architecture, as much fashionable in Turkey as in the much of the rest of the world at that time. Galata side of Istanbul, Izmir (though unfortunately most of which was lost to the big fire of 1922), and numerous towns along the coasts, one most prominent and well preserved example being Ayvalık, quickly filled with elegant neo-classical buildings. At the same time, people in more inland locations were favouring pleasant, more traditional, and less pretentious half-timbered whitewashed houses, which form picturesque towns such as Safranbolu, Beypazarı, and Şirince in northern, central, and western part of the country respectively. It was also this time beautiful and impressive wooden mansions of Istanbul’s seaside neighbourhoods and islands were built. Other contemporary trends of the era, such as Baroque and Rococo, didn’t make much inroads in Turkey, although there were some experiments of combining them into Islamic architecture, as can be seen at Ortaköy Mosque on the banks of Bosphorus along with some others.
As the landscapes change the more east you go, so does the architectural heritage. The remote valleys and hilltops of Eastern Karadeniz and Eastern Anatolia are dotted with numerous medieval Georgian and Armenian churches and castles—some of which are nicely well preserved but not all were that lucky. Armenian cathedral on Akdamar Island of Lake Van and medieval Ani are two that lay somewhere on the midway between perfectly preserved and undergone total destruction, but both are absolutely must-sees if you’ve made your way that east. For a change, Southeastern Anatolia features more Middle East-influenced architecture, with arched courtyards and heavy usage of yellow stones with highly exquisite masonry. It’s best seen in Urfa, and especially in Mardin and nearby Midyat.
Being on the crossroads of civilizations more often than not also means being the battleground of civilizations. So it’s no wonder why so many castles and citadels dot the landscape, both in towns and countryside, and both on the coasts and inland. Most of the castles built during different stages of history are today main attractions of the towns they are standing on.
20th century wasn’t kind on Turkish cities. Due to the pressure caused by high rates of immigration from rural to urban areas, many historical neighbourhoods in cities were knocked down in favour of soulless (and usually, drab ugly) apartment blocks, and outskirts of major cities transformed to shantytowns. There is not really much of a gem in the name of modern architecture in Turkey. Steel-and-glass skyscrapers, on the other hand, are now slowly and sparsely being erected in major cities, one example where they concentrate much as to form a skyline view being the business district of Istanbul, although hardly impressive compared with major metropolises around the world known for their skyscraper filled skylines.
While Turkey is rightly renowned for its warm Mediterranean beaches, wintersports, especially skiing, is very much a possibility—and indeed a popular activity—in the mountainous interior of the country between October and April, with a guaranteed stable snowcover and constant below freezing temperatures between December and March. Some more eastern resorts have longer periods of snowcover.
Most popular wintersports resorts include Uludağ near Bursa, Kartepe near Izmit, Kartalkaya near Bolu, and Ilgaz near Kastamonu in the northwest of the country, Palandöken near Erzurum, and Sarıkamış near Kars in the northeast of the country, and Erciyes near Kayseri in the central part. Saklıkent near Antalya is touted to be one of the places where you can ski in the morning and swim in the warm waters of Mediterranean down the coast in Antalya in the afternoon, though snowcover period in Saklıkent is desperately short as not to let this happen every year.
In 2005, Turkey dropped six zeroes from its currency, thus making each post-2005 lira worth 1,000,000 pre-2005 lira (or so called “old lira”). During the transition period between 2005 and 2009, the currency was briefly called new lira (Türk Lirası) officially. Since Jan 1, 2009, a new series of banknotes and coins have been introduced and the currency is again simply called lira (officially Turkish Lira, Türk Lirası, locally abbreviated TL, ISO 4217 code: TRY; don’t be confused if you see the currency abbreviated YTL, that was standing for yeni lira, just drop the Y and you’ll be fine), which is divided into 100 kuruş (abbreviated kr). Since Jan 1, 2010, neither pre-2005 nor pre-2009 banknotes and coins (those bearing yeni lira and yeni kuruş) are not legal tender, but can be exchanged at certain banks till Dec 31, 2010 (for coins) and Dec 31, 2019 (for banknotes).
Banknote nominations are in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 lira, whereas coin nominations are in 1 (very rare in circulation), 5, 10, 25, 50 kuruşes and 1 lira.
Money exchange — There are legal exchange offices in all cities and almost any town. Banks also exchange money, but they are not worth the hassle as they are usually crowded and do not give better rates than exchange offices. You can see the rates office offers on the (usually electronic) boards located somewhere near its gate. Euro and American Dollars are the most useful currencies, but Pound Sterling (Bank of England notes only, not Scottish or Northern Irish notes), Swiss Francs, Japanese Yen, Saudi Riyals, and a number of other currencies are also not very hard to exchange. It is important to remember that most exchangers accept only banknotes, it can be very hard to exchange foreign coins. In some places, where there is a meaningful explanation for it, more uncommon currencies can also be exchanged, too, for example Australian Dollars may be exchanged in Çanakkale where grandchildren of Anzacs gather to commemorate their grandfathers every year, or in Kaş, which is located just across the Greek island of Kastelorizo, which in turn has a large diaspora in Australia. As a general rule, if a place attracts many visitors from a country, then it is usually possible to exchange that country’s currency there.
Tourism-oriented industries in tourism-oriented towns, as well as shops where big amounts of money change hands, like supermarkets, in most parts of the country, generally accept foreign currency (usually limited to Euro and American Dollars only), but the rates they accept the currency are usually a little lower than those of exchange offices. Ask first if they accept foreign currency.
Credit cards and ATMs — Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, American Express much less so. Starting from June 1, 2007 all credit card users (of those with a chip on them) have to enter their PIN codes when using the credit card. Older, magnetic card holders are exception to this, but remember that unlike some other places in Europe, salesclerk has the legal right to ask you a valid ID with a photo on to recognize that you are the owner of the card. ATMs are scattered throughout the cities, concentrated in central parts. It is possible to draw Turkish Lira (and rarely foreign currency) from these ATMs with your foreign card. Any major town has at least one ATM.
ATMs ask whether to provide instructions in English or in Turkish (and sometimes some other languages, too) as soon as you insert a foreign card (or a Turkish card which is not the operating bank’s own). When withdrawing money from ATMs, if the ATM in question does not belong to the bank that you already have an account in, they charge some percentage (generally 1%-one per cent) of what you withdraw from your account each time. This percentage is higher for advance withdrawing with your credit card.
No establishments require a commission surcharge when using a credit card.
Tipping — A 10% of the total bill or simply rounding up to the next lira for smaller purchases is welcome, though this is not a custom to be strictly followed. Tipping ceremony is performed like this, especially in the restaurants and cafes: first you ask for the bill, the waiter/ress brings the bill inside a folder, and puts it on the table and goes away. You put the money into the folder (with the bill), and after a few minutes later waiter comes back to collect the folder. A few minutes more later, waiter comes again with the same folder in his/her hands and leaves it once more on the table. This time there is change in it. You leave the amount of change you think waiter deserves and close the folder. The waiter comes again last time a few minutes later to take it. If you think they don’t deserve any tip, walking out into the street without leaving anything is totally okay, and there is no need to feel ashamed. Some establishments charge an additional 10% on your bill that you have to pay, that is the “service charge”, and sometimes it is not declared to the customer until the bill shows up. There is obviously not a reason to leave any more tip in that kind of places. It’s also a bit odd to tip in self-service restaurants and cheap&dirty bars.
Taxi drivers usually tend to round up what the meter says to the next lira and give your change accordingly. So tipping is not necessary. If you insist on taking your exact change back, ask for para üstü? (pronounced something like “pah-rah oos-too”, which means “change”). Driver will be reluctant to give it at first, but you will succeed eventually.
Supermarket cashiers usually round up the total sum to the next 5 kuruş if you pay in cash (the exact sum is extracted when paid by a credit card though). This is not a kind of involuntary tip, as the 2-3-4 kuruşes don’t go into their pockets. It is simply because they are not adequately supplied with enough 1 kuruş coins as it is very rare in circulation. So don’t be surprised if the change given to you is short of a few kuruşes from what should be given to you according to what the electronic board of the till says. It is totally okay to pay the exact sum if you have enough number of 1 kuruş coins.
Bargaining — In Turkey, bargaining is a must. One can bargain everywhere that doesn’t look too luxurious: shops, hotels, bus company offices, and so on. During your bargaining, don’t look so impressed and interested, and be patient. Since foreigners (especially Western people) aren’t expected to be good at bargaining, sellers are quick to reject any bargaining attempt (or are at least quick to look like so), but be patient and wait, the price will fall! (Don’t forget, even if you are successful at your bargaining attempt, when you get your credit card out of your wallet, rather than cash, the agreed price may rise again, though probably to a lower level than the original one)
VAT refund — You can get a VAT refund (currently 18% or 23% on most items) if you are not a citizen or permanent resident of Turkey. Look for the blue “Tax-Free” sticker on the windowpane or entrance of the shops, these kind of shops are the only places you can get a VAT refund. Don’t forget to take the necessary papers from the shop that will enable you for a VAT reclaim when leaving Turkey.
Although Turkey is in a customs union with the European Union for some goods, unlike the situation in the EU, there is currently not an initiative to abolish duty-free shops in the airports.
What to buy?
Apart from classical tourist souvenirs like postcards and trinkets, here are a few of what you can bring back home from Turkey.
- Leather clothing — Turkey is the biggest leather producer in the world, so the leather clothing is cheaper than elsewhere. Many shops in Laleli, Beyazıt, Mahmutpaşa districts of Istanbul (all around the tram line which goes through Sultanahmet Square) are specialized on leather.
- Carpets and kilims — Many regions in Turkey produce handmade kilims and carpets. Though the symbols and figures differentiate depending on the region in which the carpet is produced, they are generally symbollic expressions based on ancient Anatolian religions and/or nomadic Turkic life which takes shape around shamanic beliefs more than 1000 years ago. You can find shops specialized on handmade carpets and kilims in any major city, tourist spot and Sultanahmet Area.
- You seriously cannot go anywhere in Turkey without someone trying to sell you a carpet. People will approach you on the street, engage in a little friendly conversation about where you’re from, how do you like Turkey, and “would you like to come with me to my uncle’s shop? It’s just around the corner, and has the best authentic kilims.” It can be irritating if you let it get to you, but remember that a large part of these people’s economy comes from tourist’s wallets so you can’t blame them for trying.
- Silk — Dresses and scarves. Although can be found in many parts of the country, silk fans should head for Bursa and before that, pick up basics of bargaining.
- Earthenware — Handmade Cappadocian pottery (amphoras, old-style plates, flowerpots etc) are made of local salty clay. Salt content of clay, thanks to salt spray produced by the Salt Lake –which is the second largest lake in Turkey- in the heartland of Central Anatolia, is what makes local earthenware top quality. In some Cappadocian towns, it is possible to see how these artifacts are produced, or even to experience producing one, at the dedicated workshops. Tiles with classical Ottoman motives that are produced in Kütahya are also famous.
- Turkish delight and Turkish coffee — If you like these during your Turkey trip, don’t forget to take a few packages back home. Available everywhere.
- Honey — The pine honey (çam balı) of Marmaris is famous and has a much stronger taste and consistency than regular flower honeys. Although not easily attained, if you can find, don’t miss the honey of Macahel valley, made out of flowers of a temperate semi-rainforest, which is almost completely out of human impact, in the far northeastern Black Sea Region.
- Chestnut dessert — Made out of syrup and chestnuts grown on the foothills of Mt. Uludağ, chestnut dessert (kestane şekeri) is a famous and tasty product of Bursa. There are many variations, such as chocolate coated ones. Chestnut dessert can be found in elsewhere, too, but relatively more expensive and in smaller packages.
- Meerschaum souvenirs — Despite its name meaning “sea foam” which it resembles, meerschaum (lületaşı) is extracted only in one place in the world: landlocked Eskişehir province in the extreme northwest part of Central Anatolia Region. This rock, similar to gypsum at sight, is carved into smoking pipes and cigarette holders. It has a soft and creamy texture and makes for a great decorative item. Available at some shops in Eskişehir.
- Castile (olive oil) soap — Natural, a silky touch on your skin, and a warm Mediterranean atmosphere in your bathroom. Absolutely cheaper than those to be found in Northern and Western Europe. Street markets in the Aegean Region and southern Marmara Region is full of olive oil soap, almost all of which are handmade. Even some old folk in the Aegean Region is producing their castile soaps in the traditional way: during or just after the olive harvest, neighbours gather in yards around large boilers heated by wood fire, then lye derived from the wood ash is added to hot water and olive oil mix. Remember – supermarkets out of the Aegean Region are generally offering no more than industrial tallow based soaps full of chemicals. In cities out of the Aegean Region, natural olive oil soap can be found in shops specialized in olive and olive oil. Some of these shops are even offering ecological soaps: made of organic olive oil and sometimes with additions of organic essential oils.
- Other soaps unique to Turkey are: laurel soaps (defne sabunu) which is produced mainly in Antioch, soaps of Isparta enriched with rose oil which is produced abundantly in the area around Isparta, and bıttım sabunu, a soap made out of the oil of seeds of a local variety of pistachio tree native to the mountains of Southeastern Region. In Edirne, soaps shaped as various fruits are produced. Not used for their lather, rather they make a good assortment when different “fruits” are placed in a basket on a table, they fill the air with their sweet scent as well.
- Olive-based products apart from soap — Other olive-based products to give a try are olive oil shampoos, olive oil based eau de colognes and zeyşe, abbreviation from the first syllables of zeytin şekeri, a dessert similar to chestnut desserts, but made from olives.
Adana kebap, a skewer of minced meat spiced with chili and topped with pide bread, a speciality of Adana
Turkish cuisine combines Mediterranean, Central Asian, Caucasian, and Arabic influences, and is extremely rich. Beef is the most important meat (lamb is also common but pork is very hard to find although not illegal), and eggplant (aubergine), onion, lentil, bean, tomato, garlic, and cucumber are the primary vegetables. An abundance of spices is also used. The main staples are rice (pilav), bulgur wheat and bread, and dishes are typically cooked in vegetable oil or sometimes butter.
There are many kinds of specialized restaurants to choose from, since most do not prepare or serve other kinds of food. Traditional Turkish restaurants serve meals daily prepared and stored in a bain-marie. The meals are at the entrance so you can easily see and choose. Kebapçis are restaurants specialized in many kinds of kebab. Some Kebab restaurants serve alcohol while others don’t. There are subtypes like ciğerci, Adana kebapçısı or İskender kebapçısı. Fish restaurants typically serve meze (cold olive oil dishes) and Rakı or wine. Dönerci’s are prevalent through country and serve döner kebap as a fast food. Köfeci’s are restaurants with meatballs (Köfte) served as main dish. Kokoreçci, midyeci, tantunici, mantıcı, gözlemeci, lahmacuncu, pideci, çiğ köfteci, etsiz çiğ köfteci are other kinds of local restaurants found in Turkey which specialization in one food.
A full Turkish meal at Kebab restaurant starts with a soup, often lentil soup (mercimek çorbasi), and a set of meze appetizers featuring olives, cheese, pickles and a wide variety of small dishes. Meze can easily be made into a full meal, especially if they are consumed along with rakı. The main course is usually meat: a common dish type and Turkey’s best known culinary export is kebab (kebap), grilled meat in various forms including the famous döner kebap (thin slices of meat shaved from a giant rotating spit) and şişkebab (skewered meat), and a lot more others. Köfte (meatball) is a variation of the kebab. There are hundreds of kinds of köfte throughout Anatolia, but only about 10 to 12 of them are known to the residents of the larger cities, kike İnegöl köfte, Dalyan köfte, sulu köfte etc.
Eating on the cheap is mostly done at Kebab stands, which can be found everywhere in Istanbul and other major cities. For the equivalent of a couple dollars, you get a full loaf of bread sliced down the middle, filled with broiled meat, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes. For North Americans familiar with donairs wrapped in pita bread or wraps, you should look for the word “Dürüm” or “Dürümcü” on the windows of the kebab stands and ask for your donair kebab to be wrapped in a dürüm or lavaş bread depending on the region.
If you want to really taste the real Turkish food and have time, try to go where the locals go. Usually, restaurants where crowded touristic places and serving to the tourists are lower in quality and taste compared to the places when locals go. So if you have the opportunity ask locals where to go for a good meal. You may not be able to find alcoholic beverages in most of them if not in all but it is also most likely to taste much better quality and tasty food.
Vegetarian restaurants are not common, and can be found only in very central parts of big cities and some of the tourist spots. However, every good restaurant offers vegetable dishes, and some of the restaurants offering traditional “ev yemeği” (“home food”) have olive-oil specialities which are vegetarian in content. A vegetarian would be very happy in the Aegean region, where all kinds of wild herbs are eaten as main meals, either cooked or raw, dressed with olive oil. But a vegetarian would have real difficulty in searching for food especially in Southeastern region, where a dish without meat is not considered a dish. At such a place, supermarkets may help with their shelves full of canned vegetables, or even canned cooked olive-oil courses and fresh fruits. If you are a vegetarian and going to visit rural areas of Southeastern region, better take your canned food with you, as there will be no supermarkets to rescue you.
Turkish Breakfast, tend to comprise of çay (tea), bread, olives, feta cheese, tomato, cucumber and occasionally spreads such as honey and jam. This can become very monotonous after a while. A nice alternative to try (should you have the option) is Menemen a Turkish variation on scrambled eggs/omelet. Capsicum (Red Bell Pepper), onion, garlic and tomato are all combined with eggs. The meal is traditional cooked (and served) in a clay bowl. Try adding a little chili to spice it up and make sure to use lots of bread as well for a filling hot breakfast. Bread is omnipresent in Turkey, at any given meal you’ll be presented with a large basket of crusty bread.
Ubiquitous simit (also known as gevrek in some Aegean cities such as Izmir), much like bagel but somewhat thinner, crustier, and with roasted sesame seeds all over, is available from trolleys of street vendors in virtually any central part of any town and city at any time except late at night. Perhaps with the addition of Turkish feta cheese (beyaz peynir) or cream cheese (krem peynir or karper), a couple of simits make up a filling and a very budget concious breakfast (as each costs about 0.75 TL), or even a lunch taken while on the go.
The legal age of drinking alcohol is 18 in Turkey.
Ayran is a popular drink of water and yoghurt not unlike the Finnish/Russian buttermilk or Indian lassi, but always served without sugar (and, in fact, typically with a little salt added). A version loved by the locals köpüklü ayran is a delicacy if you’re travelling by bus over the Toros (Taurus) Mountains. Ask for yayık ayranı or köpüklü ayran.
Turkish coffee (kahve), served in tiny cups, is strong and tasty, just be careful not to drink the slugdy grounds at the bottom of the cup. It is much different than the so called Turkish coffees sold abroad. Sade kahve is served black, while as şekerli, orta şekerli and çok şekerli will get you a little, some or a lot of sugar in your cup.
Instant coffees, cappuccinos, and espressos are gaining more popularity day by day, and can be found with many different flavours.
Despite coffee takes a substantial part in national culture, tea (çay) is also very popular and is indeed the drink of choice, and most Turks are heavy drinkers of tea in daily lives. Having entered the scene just in 1930s, tea quickly gained ground against coffee due to the fact that Yemen, the traditional supplier of coffee in Turkey then, was cut off from the rest of Ottoman Empire in early 20th century, and the first tea plants took root in Eastern Karadeniz after some unsuccessful trials to grow it in the country, as a result of protectionist economic politics that were put into effect after WWI. Be careful, if your tea is prepared by locals, it can be much stronger than you’re used to. Although it is not native-typical and a rather touristic feature, you have to taste the special apple tea (elma çayı) or sage tea (adaçayı, literally island tea) of Turkey!
Boza is a traditional cold, thick drink that originates from Central Asia, but also common in several Balkan countries. It is fermented bulgur (a kind of wheat) with sugar and water additions. Vefa Bozacisi is the most known and traditional producer of boza in Istanbul. In Ankara, you get excellent Boza from Akman Boza Salonu in the old city in Ulus. Boza can also be found on the shelves of many supermarkets, especially in winter, packaged in 1-litre PET bottles. However these bottled bozas lack the sourness and consistency of traditional boza, they are sweeter and less dense.
Sahlep is another traditional hot drink, made from milk, orchid root and sugar, typically decorated with cinnamon. It is mostly preferred in winter and can be found in cafes and patisseries (pastane). You can also find instant sahlep in many supermarkets sold with the name Hazır Sahlep.
Red Poppy Syrup is one of the traditional turkish drinks made of red poppy petals, water and sugar by natural ways. Bozcaada is famous with red poppy syrup.
International brands of colas, sodas and fruit-flavoured sodas are readily available and much consumed alongside some local brands. Please note, in Turkish, soda means mineral water, whereas what is called as soda in English is gazoz or sade gazoz in Turkish.
While a significant proportion of the Turks are devout Muslims, alcoholic beverages are legal, widely available, and thoroughly enjoyed by the locals. On May 2013, the government applied a restriction to the sale of alcohol from 22.00 to 06.00, however restaurants and bars are not affected. The local firewater of choice is rakı, an anise-flavoured liquor double distilled from fermented grape skin. It is usually mixed with water and drunk with another glass of iced water to accompany it. You may order ‘tek’ (single) or ‘duble’ (double) to indicate the amount of rakı in your glass. Rakı is a national drink of Turkey. Make sure to try it but don’t overindulge as it is very potent! Remember not to mix it with anything else. There is a wide selection of different types in supermarkets. Mey, and Efe Rakı are two of the biggest producers. Only the connaisseurs know which type is the best. Yeni Rakı which is a decent variety has the wıdest distribution and consumption.
As for Turkish wine, the wines are as good as the local grape varieties. Kalecik Karası from Ankara, Karasakız from Bozcaada, Öküzgözü from Elmalı, Boğazkere from Diyarbakır are some of the most well-known varieties. The biggest winemakers are Kavaklıdere, Doluca Sevilen, and Kayra with many good local vineyards especially in the Western part of the country. In addition liquory fruit wines of Şirince near Izmir are well worth tasting. One specific sweet red wine to try while you’re there is Talay Kuntra.
There are two major Turkish breweries. Efes and Tekel Birası are two widely known lagers. In addition, you can find locally brewed Tuborg, Miller, Heineken, and Carlsberg too.
All major cities and tourist spots have 5-star hotels, many of them are owned by international hotel chains like Hilton, Sheraton, Ritz-Carlton, Conrad to name a few. Many of them are concrete blocks, however some, especially the ones out of cities, are bungalows with private gardens and private swimming pools.
If you are into holiday package kind of thing in a Mediterranean resort, you’d definitely find better rates when booking back at home rather than in Turkey itself. The difference is considerable, compared with what you’d pay when booking at home, you may end up paying twice as much if you simply walk in the resort.