Turkey travel guide: Everything you need to know before you go
A popular destination for sun and sea, Turkey has more – much, much more – to offer travelers, whether you fancy big-city bustle, mountain adventures, a relaxing rural getaway or a deep dive into thousands of years of history. From grand mosques to fairy chimneys, from alpine plateaus to ancient ruins, each corner of the country has its own attractions, as well as distinctive landscapes, cultural traditions and culinary specialties.
Current ravel restrictions and entry requirements
Turkey has removed all travel restrictions related to Covid-19 as of June 1, 2022. Masks are no longer required in indoor or outdoor spaces, with the exception of hospitals. British citizens do not need a visa to visit Turkey for stays of up to 90 days out of 180 days.
Best time to go
The turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea beckon during the summer months, but the resorts, Istanbul and other main attractions are often crowded and expensive during the sultry high season. Spring and fall are perfect for exploring the ruins and wealth of Turkey’s natural wonders, and it’s still warm enough to take a dip in the sea or watch the sunset from a rooftop bar with a drink. the hand. The otherworldly rock formations of Cappadocia are especially dreamlike when covered in snow in winter.
Main regions and cities
Coveted by emperors and sultans, Istanbul has captured hearts for centuries and remains an intoxicating mix of grand historical landmarks and bustling modern life. There are must-see sites like the opulent Topkapı Palace and the architecturally impressive Hagia Sophia, of course, but take the time to wander the city’s alleyways and sample what its various neighborhoods have to offer. Immerse yourself in the contemporary art scene of Beyoğlu or the trendy nightlife of Kadıköy, explore the traditional neighborhoods of Fatih and Üsküdar or take in the views of the Bosphorus and the chic café culture of Arnavutköy and Bebek. Whatever you do in Istanbul, make sure it includes a ride on one of the city’s ferries, which offer million-pound sights for little change.
Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, nearly 1,000 miles long, is a major draw with resorts to suit all budgets, from luxury suites in upscale Bodrum to package holidays for families in Alanya. But this scenic region is also dotted with exquisite and little-visited ancient ruins like the mountaintop town of Termessos, the pine-encircled coastal settlement of Phaselis, and the sand-dusted remains of Patara, which sits just off one of the best in Turkey. beaches. Even in the big resort towns, you don’t need to step away from your deck chair to soak up some history: Antalya has a fine archaeological museum displaying treasures from across the region, while Alanya has a spectacular Seljuk-era castle and shipyard.
Fantastic formations of soft volcanic rock grow amid rolling hills and valleys in Cappadocia, a region in central Turkey known for its ethereal landscapes. See it from above, carried by one of the colorful fleets of hot air balloons that fill the sky at sunrise. Or plunge many stories deep into the earth inside one of the labyrinthine underground cities where the ancient inhabitants of the region took shelter from marauding forces. Other highlights include visiting the elaborate frescoes inside the cave churches of the Goreme Open Air Museum, hiking one of the many trails through the scenic valleys of Cappadocia, tasting the local wine and the stay in a troglodyte dwelling transformed into a boutique hotel with character.
Among the most important cities of the ancient Mediterranean world, Ephesus is today one of the best preserved Greco-Roman ruins in the world, with the imposing facade of the Library of Celsus, a 40,000-seat theater carved into the hill and the mosaic-adorned terraced houses and frescoes of the elite class. Stay in nearby Selçuk, a pleasant town with its own impressive historical attractions, or in the picturesque hilltop village of Şirince. Ephesus is about an hour’s drive from Izmir Airport, making it easy to combine with a trip to the Çeşme Peninsula for some quality beach time.
Best under-the-radar destinations
Eastern Black Sea
The lush mountains that rise from Turkey’s eastern Black Sea coast are home to some of the country’s most beautiful and biodiverse landscapes – rugged peaks, mist-shrouded valleys, plateaus dotted with wildflowers – and a wealth culture that goes with it. Search for abandoned medieval Georgian churches and monasteries in remote areas of Artvin and Erzurum provinces; visit the tea plantations in the Rize foothills that produce the country’s favorite caffeinated beverage; or visit the Greek Orthodox Sumela Monastery, founded in the 4th century on a steep perch in the mountains around Trabzon.
A crossroads of cultures for thousands of years, the cities of southeastern Turkey are steeped in history. Visit the Neolithic temple of Göbekli Tepe, where archaeological discoveries have changed our understanding of human history; explore the sacred sites and sprawling bazaar of Şanlıurfa; stroll through the winding alleys of Mardin, where churches rub shoulders with mosques; and marvel at the Roman mosaics housed in the fine museums of Gaziantep and Antakya – both also among the country’s most notable gastronomic destinations. Contemporary culture is alive and well too: Mardin hosts an international art biennale and Diyarbakır is an important center for Kurdish artists, writers and musicians.
Just above the mountains north of Antalya, the lake region around Isparta and Burdur is best known, if at all, for its fields of roses and lavender, the latter of which have become a popular backdrop for photo shoots during the colorful harvest season. But there is much more to discover here, starting with the stunning ruins of Sagalassos, Kibyra and more than a dozen other ancient cities, through the Seljuk Caravanserai and the richly decorated Ottoman mansions and mosques. Nature lovers can wander through bucolic rural villages or eponymous lakes or venture into massive caves and deep gorges.
The best things to do
Taste Turkish cuisine
Blending influences from the many cultures that have lived there over the centuries, the food in Turkey is as varied as it is delicious: hearty mountain fare (lots of dairy, beans, greens and a cornmeal fondue) from Black Sea with spicy dishes. from kebabs and sweet filo pastries in the southeast to fresh seafood and wild herbs along the Aegean coast. As Istanbul is a city of migrants, you can make your way through Turkey’s regional cuisines without leaving its borders. Don’t miss a sumptuous Turkish breakfast and an evening with a table full of meze in a bustling meyhane – two convivial meals meant to be shared and lingered.
Take a blue cruise
If your idea of an amazing vacation is to do nothing at all, we suggest spending a few nights – or even an entire week – aboard a traditional wooden boat. schooner as it slowly meanders through the idyllic coves, bays and uninhabited islets of Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. Known as Blue Cruise (mavi yolculuk), this is a classic get-away-from-it-all. You might be surprised how easily you can fill your days with swimming, eating, napping, and starting over. For more active travelers, there are plenty of opportunities to disembark and hike to secluded ruins and scenic lookout points.
Hit the trails
If you’ve got the time and the stamina, there’s no better way to immerse yourself in Turkey’s beautiful landscapes than by hiking one of its long-distance trails, which often allow you to visit ancient archaeological sites and a taste of local village life. The 310-mile Lycian Way along the southern coast is the oldest and best-known of these routes, but there are also some amazing hikes to be had in the Kaçkar Mountains above the Black Sea, the Aladağlar in southern Cappadocia, the Phrygian Way through the Western Steppe or the historic St Paul’s Trail which crosses the mountains from Antalya to the Lake District, to name a few.
Direct domestic flights from Istanbul’s two airports serve almost all parts of the country. There is also an extensive bus network, ranging from overnight intercity coaches to village minibuses. Rail service is much more limited, although Istanbul is connected to the capital Ankara, as well as Eskişehir and Konya, by rapid train. Roads are generally well maintained, making a rental car a good option for exploring the countryside.
How to get there
Pegasus Airlines and Anadolu Jet (a subsidiary of Turkish Airlines) generally have the cheapest flights from the UK to Istanbul, while easyJet, Jet2 and other budget airlines and charters fly direct to coastal destinations like Dalaman, Antalya and Bodrum during the summer months. The train journey to Istanbul from the UK is a multi-day journey involving multiple transfers.
Tip to save money
If you can, avoid traveling to Turkey in the height of summer, when hotels and airfares to Istanbul and resort towns soar with temperatures and crowds. Early fall is still warm and inviting for both sightseeing and swimming.
What weather is it?
Summers are hot: humid in Istanbul and on the coasts, and dry inland. Winters are cold and wet in Istanbul, snowy in central Turkey, and range from rainy to relatively mild along the Mediterranean.
What time zone is it in?
All of Turkey is in GMT+3 all year round.
What currency do I need?
Turkish lira, although some hotels and tour operators accept pounds, euros or dollars.
What language is spoken?
Turkish. In major cities and tourist areas, you can usually find speakers of at least passable English; elsewhere, most people will find brilliant ways to overcome the language barrier. Any attempts by visitors to learn some subtleties in Turkish tend to be warmly welcomed.