Turkey Tours & Vacations
Overflowing with Mediterranean energy and Middle Eastern hospitality, Turkey feels like a continent unto itself.
With Greco-Roman ruins, a sun-drenched Turquoise Coast, tiny hillside villages, delicately decorated minarets, and the world’s most spectacular historic mosques – Turkey is impossible to pigeonhole. If you know where to look among the shifting mountain backdrops, you’ll find one-of-a-kind sights and experiences that will set up camp in your heart. Break bread (and the fast) with new friends during Ramazan in the courtyard of the 17th-century Blue Mosque. Explore the hand-forged cave churches of Cappadocia in a landscape of towering wind-carved fairy chimneys. Sink your teeth into a gozleme filled with veggies you pulled from the dirt yourself. Discover Turkey with a local who is passionate about the land they call home.
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Turkey at a glance
Approximately 85 million
(GMT+02:00) Athens, Bucharest, Istanbul
Type C (European 2-pin) Type F (German 2-pin, side clip earth)
Learn more about Turkey
Culture and customs
Turkey has a strong national identity still heavily influenced by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey. You’ll see his likeness everywhere – on grand statues, on money and in pictures hanging on the walls of some homes and businesses. Your familiarity with his name and at least a few of his key policies will be very well received by locals.
Both its location and the legacy of the Ottoman Empire have contributed to a cultural mix of influences from Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Cultural practices vary significantly depending on which region of Turkey you are traveling in. It's important to remember that while most Turkish cities are modern metropolises, Turks can still be quite traditional.
Travelers will find Turkish people to be polite and quite formal in their greetings, kind and hospitable as hosts and friendly as new acquaintances.
Frequenting hammams (Turkish bathhouses) and coffee houses are popular pastimes for Turkish people, although contemporary hangouts like bars and nightclubs are the standard entertainment for most young people in the big cities, with Istanbul having one of the world's hottest nightlife scenes.
While Turkey is nominally secular, the vast majority of the population identifies as Muslim and Islamic holidays like Ramazan (Ramadan) and Eid are widely observed and recognized as public holidays.
Clothing and behavior
Restrained behavior and clothing that covers you from elbows to below the knee is appropriate in (or even around) mosques. Female travelers should carry a scarf to wear when visiting mosques.
While bars and nightclubs are common in big cities like Istanbul, outside of these environments it’s a good idea to take your cues from the locals and behave in a subdued manner. This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, but raucous behavior should be contained to the appropriate venues and kept off the street.
How to be a respectful traveler in Turkey
- Clean your plate
If you’re eating with locals (particularly as a guest in their home), you’ll make them very happy if you eat multiple servings and finish everything on your plate. Plan ahead and arrive on an empty stomach for extra points.
- Know when to haggle
Remember the first rule of bartering is to decide how much you’re willing to spend beforehand and use that as your guide. In regular shops – as opposed to markets – don’t attempt to haggle over prices.
- Respect the elderly
Small gestures like letting elderly folks go ahead of you through doors, offering them your seat on public transport and generally being considerate and respectful of older people will be greatly appreciated.
- Keep criticism private
It’s a good rule of thumb not to criticize the culture, government or politics of Turkey. While not all Turks are strict nationalists, you could cause a lot of trouble and offense. You should especially avoid discussing topics related to the Kurdish or Armenian people. When in doubt, follow the conversational lead of the locals. If you’re traveling with Intrepid, ask your leader for guidance. If you’re after a little insight into the geopolitical complexities of Turkey, check out the 'further reading' list below for some perspectives from Turkish authors.
History and government
There is evidence of hominin habitation in the region known as Anatolia, or Asian Turkey, that dates as far back as 500,000 years and ample evidence of numerous Neolithic settlements popping up between 8000 and 10,000 years ago.
Notable civilizations who occupied the prehistoric Anatolian region were the Hattians (circa 2500 BC to 2000 BC), the Hittites (circa 1700 BC to 1200 BC) and the Assyrians. From around 2000 BC, Greeks began settling in north-western Anatolia and the southern coasts, establishing individual city-states.
The majority of Anatolia was conquered by Alexander the Great in 334 BC. After his death, a succession of various Greek-Macedonian rulers controlled the area until 133 BC when the region was given to the Roman Republic.
Roman control had little impact on the dominant classical Greek culture, which continued to thrive in Anatolia until the region’s absorption into the Byzantine Empire.
Between the sixth and 11th centuries a massive wave of what is known as the ‘Turkic migration’ occurred, and millions traveled across Central Asia into Europe and the Middle East. Among this migratory wave were various Turkic tribes who brought the Islamic religion and Turkic languages that dominate modern Turkey.
The Byzantine Empire sustained a number of invasions and limped forward before finally collapsing in the 14th century, by which point much of Anatolia was already controlled by tribal micro-kingdoms. One of these Turkic tribal groups, the Ottomans, emerged as the dominant regional power during the 15th century and enjoyed a few hundred years of expansion and growth until territorial losses forced its eventual decline in the 19th century.
The final dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after defeat at the hands of the Allies in WWI was followed by a brief period of Allied occupation before the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk became the republic’s first president and introduced radical reforms to modernize Turkey and imbue it with a unique identity that was separate from that of the former empire. His ideas continue to be influential in contemporary politics today.
In the decades since the death of Ataturk in 1938, Turkey has seen a number of swings between democratic and autocratic governance, interrupted by brief periods of military governance and occasional political chaos.
Turkey today is a presidential republic where the ruling political parties have historically been nationalist and somewhat economically liberal, with a varying amount of Islamic influence.
Far-left political activist groups and minority rebel groups have waxed and waned in terms of public and political influence. The most notable is the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant political group originally formed with the intention of creating a Kurdish separatist state. The arrest of PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan in 1999 was a crushing blow to the once-powerful group, though they continue to operate with the stated aim of ensuring the rights and autonomy of the Kurdish people in Turkey and beyond.
More recently, Turkey has experienced relative prosperity and political stability, though the economy – based on mineral mining, agriculture, tourism and construction – continues to fluctuate between growth and stasis.
Eating and drinking
Home to some of the tastiest produce you can get your hands on, traditional cooking methods and influence from Asia, Europe and the Middle East, Turkey’s food is surprising, delicious and delightful (pun definitely intended).
Many Turkish favorites are already non-meat. Gozleme, simit and cig kofte are all vegetarian and easy to find in markets, street corner food stands and restaurants. Vegans will have a trickier time finding pre-made dishes that contain no animal products. However, Turkey has an abundance of markets selling fresh produce, bread and extras like hummus and fava bean dip. With a little planning, vegans will be able to assemble meze-style lunches when pre-made options aren’t available.
In dishes like soups and stews it’s a good idea to watch out for beef stock – called et suyu – as it is used frequently even in ‘vegetarian’ dishes.
Must-try Turkish dishes and beverages
This spinach and cheese pastry is a tasty budget-friendly bite that will satisfy everyone (especially vegetarians).
Love it or hate it, this divisive treat (known internationally as Turkish delight) can be found in shops, bazaars and street stalls nearly everywhere in Turkey. Made from rosewater, lemon, sugar, cornflour and water, it's relatively easy to make… and even easier to eat.
As far as quick and easy snacks go it’s hard to pass up simit, a bread similar to a sesame-encrusted bagel. Carts selling simit can be found at bus and train stations, main streets and other busy thoroughfares in most cities.
- Cig kofte
Made with bulgur, onion, tomato paste and spices, this south-eastern specialty is essentially a big ol’ vegetarian ‘meatball’. The traditional kind (made with raw meat) is now banned, so you can eat without fear of food poisoning.
- Fish sandwiches
Particularly if you’re spending time in the Bosphorus, a fish sandwich (or balik ekmek) is a must-try local dish. Made with white fish, onion and salad, it’s a simple classic that hits the spot.
Though the ingredients that fill these handmade dumplings vary, the best kind are filled with lamb and served with yogurt and butter. It’s hard to move after polishing off a plate, but so worth it.
- Turkish coffee
Turkish coffee is known around the world for its unique brewing method. It's made with arabica beans which are ground into a fine powder and boiled with cardamom and water in a cevze – a pretty copper or brass pot with a long, thin handle.
Turkey travel highlights
One of the best-preserved classical cities in the Eastern Mediterranean and arguably the greatest Greco-Roman site in the world, the ruins of Ephesus are essential viewing for amateur historians.
Boasting incredible Roman ruins and a harbor that proves the term ‘Turquoise Coast’ is well-deserved, Antalya is a sophisticated slice of Mediterranean Turkey.
People are passionate about Istanbul. Allow at least a few days to explore the sights of this continent-straddling city and discover the indefinable quality that inspires such devotion.
Turkey Real Food Adventure, 11 days
The main base for exploring stunning Cappadocia, Goreme has many buildings that are carved into the same soft volcanic rock that forms the fairy chimneys and spires the region is famous for.
Cappadocia Short Break, 4 days
5. Mt Nemrut
Hike to the summit of this remote mountain and you’ll be rewarded with the ruins of an ancient mausoleum, including gigantic stone heads which are all that remain of epic statues of various gods.
Cruise to the sunken city of Kekova, where you can swim and snorkel in crystal blue waters, taste fabulous local cuisine, float over an ancient sunken city or explore Lycian tombs.
Geography and environment
A fairly mountainous country sharing borders with Bulgaria, Greece, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, Turkey also has wide stretches of coastline along the Aegean, Mediterranean and Black Seas.
Blessed with large tracts of fertile soil, Turkey is one of the world's biggest agricultural producers, and visitors can expect to see many farms, orchards, plantations and areas of permanent crops occupying certain regions.
Due to its location, Turkey is home to a wide variety of landscapes, from the rocky, forested coastline of the Black Sea region to the fertile plateaus of the Marmara, the white sand beaches of the Aegean and the limestone formations of the Mediterranean. Adding further environmental diversity, the Anatolia highlands (considered the heartland of the country) feature rugged snow-capped peaks and crystalline lakes.
With one of the biggest bazaars in the world, flea markets aplenty and a cutting-edge contemporary fashion scene in the bigger cities, shopping in Turkey is more diverse than you might think.
It's a good idea to check with your local customs officials to ensure that you are able to bring certain items back into your home country, particularly perishable items. Australia and New Zealand, for example, generally have strict quarantine laws.
A note on ceramics
While beautifully decorated tiles and ceramics overflow from Turkey’s market stalls, you should keep in mind that their point of origin can be hard to decipher. In other words, watch out for fakes. The real deal tends to be pretty expensive (but worth it, if you ask us). Of course, if you’re just after something pretty to remind you of your travels, don’t feel too bad about reaching for the inexpensive option.
Things to buy in Turkey
- Handwoven carpets
Turkish carpets are a worldwide phenomenon and represent centuries of artistic tradition woven into a beautiful work of art. Go in with an idea of how much you’re willing to pay and don’t be afraid to bargain a little. Just keep in mind that quality craftsmanship deserves to be rewarded with a fair price. A lot of vendors and stores will give you the carpet in a bag suitable to transport as luggage, or you might consider shipping it back home.
- Nazar boncuk (evil eye talisman)
Want to bring home a little piece of Turkey and ward off evil spirits and intentions at the same time? An evil eye talisman is a perfect thing. You’ll see these little blue ‘eyes’ in every shop and the majority of Turks carry one with them wherever they go.
Turkey's artisan-made gold and silver earrings, rings and bracelets are good buys. Bazaars, boutiques, museum gift shops and silversmiths offer a wide range of designs from modern to Ottoman-inspired.
- Brass and copper
You can find an assortment of brass and copper decorative objects for the home in the bazaars of Turkey. Serving platters, pitchers, trays, pots and urns will add some souvenir flair to your kitchen.
Festivals and events
If you want an adventure with a point of difference, consider planning your travels to coincide with these popular events.
Whether or not you want to travel during Ramazan (Ramadan) will depend on what kind of adventure you’re after. If you love immersing yourself in local culture and religious practices (and don’t mind a little inconvenience) you might just find traveling during this holy month a fascinating and enriching experience. While the days are dedicated to fasting and contemplation, the evenings are full of colorful celebration and, of course, feasting! Plus, there are fewer tourists around to compete with.
Anniversary of the Anzac campaign
Thousands of people head to Gallipoli every year to pay their respects to fallen Australian, New Zealand and Turkish soldiers who died during the bloody Gallipoli campaign of WWI. The moving dawn ceremony is an iconic event that grows in popularity each year, so if you're hoping to head to Gallipoli in April for Anzac Day, plan ahead.
Efes Pilsen One Love Festival
This annual summer music festival held in Istanbul presents two days of rock, pop, folk and electronic entertainment for masses of locals and visitors keen on soaking up some tunes and summer love.
Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Championships
Want to see thousands of oiled-up men wrestle and grapple with each other? Then this is the festival for you! This wrestling championship is held over several days, usually in late June, when Turkey's national sport is celebrated with gusto and fanfare. Apart from the one-on-one wrestling bouts, there’s Romani bands, traditional food and belly dancers providing the perfect sideshow attractions.
Set in the otherworldly landscape of Cappadocia, this eco-friendly music festival features artists and musicians performing on solar-powered stages and inside the ancient caves that the region is famous for. Held around June, the festival was originally an annual event but has moved to a biennial timetable.
For inspiring stories to prepare you for your Turkey adventure, check out these books:
- Turkey: A Short History – Norman Stone
- The Bastard of Istanbul – Elif Shafak
- Last Train to Istanbul – Ayse Kulin
- Poems of Nazim Hikmet – Nazim Hikmet
- Istanbul: Memories and the City – Orhan Pamuk
- Portrait of a Turkish Family – Irfan Orga
- A Fez of the Heart – Jeremy Seal
- Turkish Coast Through Writers' Eyes – Rupert Scott (ed.)
We have a variety of similar destinations, trips and routes that you could consider! Tie another trip into your holiday, or, see how we can help you get from A to B. We have tours departing from a variety of locations around Turkey. The options below may be of interest:
Turkey travel FAQs
Trips from 1 January 2023 onwards
From 1 January 2023, Intrepid will no longer require travelers to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 (excluding all Polar trips and select adventure cruises).
However, we continue to strongly recommend that all Intrepid travelers and leaders get vaccinated to protect themselves and others.
Specific proof of testing or vaccination may still be required by your destination or airline. Please ensure you check travel and entry requirements carefully.
You may need a visa to enter Turkey depending on where you’re from. Foreign nationals from several countries will need an e-visa that allows stays of up to 90 days within a 180-day period, including:
- South Africa
Travelers from many countries – including New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland – don’t require a visa for stays of less than three months if the trip is for tourism or business purposes.
Large land mass and diverse topography mean Turkey has quite a variable climate, so be sure to check the weather FAQ below for a full breakdown of expected temperatures for each season.
In general, Mediterranean, southern and western Turkey, already the most popular regions with tourists, tend to be (understandably) busy during the warmer months between May and August.
The cooler months are quieter and accommodation (when still open) is cheaper. Depending on where you are and what you’re used to, the weather can be pleasantly crisp instead of freezing, though travel in December and January isn’t recommended unless you’re a fan of snow and ice.
October and March are good options for travelers who prefer to share the streets with locals rather than tourists and don’t mind cool weather, though keep in mind accommodation can be trickier to find on the coast and in resort towns.
If you are planning to travel to the eastern reaches of Turkey during Ramadan/Ramazan, it’s important to consider that many restaurants and shops will either be closed or operating at reduced hours. However, the festive atmosphere that erupts when the fast breaks in the evening is magical, so travelers who enjoy immersive cultural experiences might prefer to travel during the holy month.
- Spring (March, April, May): Spring temperatures in Turkey range from 32°F to 71°F (0°C to 22°C), with northern, southern and western Turkey experiencing fairly mild weather. In central and eastern Turkey expect very cold nights.
- Summer (June, July, August): Summer temperatures in Turkey range from 70°F to 95°F (21°C to 35°C), peaking in mid-July. Expect hot, humid days on the coast and in the north.
- Fall (September, October, November): Fall temperatures in Turkey range from 37°F to 79°F (3°C to 26°C), with November cooling considerably. Central and eastern Turkey experience chilly fall nights.
- Winter (December, January, February): Winter temperatures in Turkey range from 23°F to 50°F (-5°C to 10°C), with Eastern Anatolia (and some central regions) seeing considerable snowfall and frigid average temperatures.
While tipping isn't mandatory in Turkey, a cash tip that equals a small percentage of the total bill is very much appreciated in restaurants.
It's also customary to tip staff while visiting hammams (bathhouses). It's not necessary to tip taxi drivers, although rounding up the fare for convenience is commonplace.
Free wi-fi is common in Turkey’s cities, but the quality of connection varies. Alternatively, Turkey has an abundance of internet cafes in large cities, and most of them serve coffee and snacks so you can refuel while you catch up with folks back home.
Internet access can be spotty or non-existent in rural areas, so it’s best to treat travel in these regions as an opportunity for a digital detox.
Cell phone coverage is good in Turkey, especially in large cities. Coverage may not be available in more remote areas. Ensure you have global roaming activated with your carrier before you leave home if you wish to use your phone.
Turkey has a mix of Western-style and squat-style toilets, sometimes with a jug of water for manual flushing. The latter becomes more common the more remote the region.
Many public toilets require a small payment for use, so make sure you carry change when out and about.
You may find the standards of hygiene and sanitation in Turkey are laxer than you are used to.
Turkey's unit of currency is the lira (TRY). Here's what you can expect to pay for a:
- Half-litre of beer = 15-25 TRY
- Simit (local bread roll) = 1.50 TRY
- Casual restaurant meal = 59-119 TRY
- Mid-range restaurant meal = 99-297 TRY
- Basic hammam visit = 300+ TRY
Drinking tap water isn't recommended in Turkey. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water or carry water purification tablets with you. It's also advisable to avoid ice in drinks and to peel fruit and vegetables rather than eating washed or unwashed produce.
Major credit cards are widely accepted in tourist shopping areas and large hotels in Turkey, but are less commonly accepted by smaller vendors, in remote towns and rural areas. We recommend carrying cash for purchases to avoid being caught out.
ATMs are available in large cities in Turkey but are not common in rural areas and smaller towns. Be prepared for this by having enough cash before traveling out of the city.
Absolutely. All passengers traveling with Intrepid are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of their trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.
For more information on insurance, please go to: Travel Insurance
- 1 January New Year's Day
- 23 April National Sovereignty and Children's Day
- 1 May Labour Day
- 19 May Youth & Sports Day
- 15 July Democracy and National Unity Day
- 30 August Victory Day
- 29 October Republic Day
View a full list of public holidays in Turkey.
The 30-day Islamic holy month of Ramazan (Ramadan) is widely observed in Turkey. The exact dates change every year, so it’s important you check when Ramazan will take place in the year you plan to travel. As a general rule, there are five consecutive public holidays observed at the beginning of the month and a few observed at the end.
The level of celebration varies considerably depending on what part of Turkey you are in. The east has a larger Muslim population and therefore a more devoutly observed Ramazan, whereas the southern and western coasts will be less affected.
Kurban (Eid al-Adha)
A four to five-day public holiday is observed during Kurban (Eid al-Adha), though like Ramazan the exact dates of this observation change every year.
LGBTQIA+ travelers should be aware that while Turkey is nominally secular it can also be very conservative. As such, negative attitudes towards LGBTQIA+ individuals are common, particularly outside major cities.
While same-sex relationships and non-normative gender presentation are not against the law in Turkey, LGBTQIA+ people have no legally enshrined protection from discrimination. Legal prohibitions against ‘ offenses against public morality’ can and have been used to persecute LGBTQIA+ folks, though the likelihood of this being used to target travelers is low.
Transgender travelers, in particular, should be aware that trans people in Turkey report being the targets of violence and overt discrimination.
Istanbul and Ankara have established queer scenes, both of which are primarily oriented around cisgender gay men and to a lesser extent cisgender gay women. However, same-sex couples are still unlikely to engage in public displays of affection in these cities.
For more detailed and up-to-date advice, we recommend visiting Equaldex or ILGA before you travel.
If you are traveling solo on an Intrepid group tour, you will share accommodation with a passenger of the same gender as per your passport information. If you don’t identify with the gender assigned on your passport, please let us know at the time of booking and we’ll arrange the rooming configuration accordingly. A single supplement is available on some tours for travelers who do not wish to share a room.
Intrepid is committed to making travel widely accessible, regardless of ability or disability. That’s why we do our best to help as many people see the world as possible, regardless of any physical or mental limitations they might have. We’re always happy to talk to travelers with disabilities and see if we can help guide them toward the most suitable itinerary for their needs and, where possible, make reasonable adjustments to our itineraries.
While infrastructure is improving, much of Turkey remains difficult to navigate for wheelchair users and people with mobility concerns. Many cities in Turkey have been occupied for thousands of years and their design reflects that, with little regard given to making streets and attractions accessible. Travelers with impaired mobility will find that while tourist locales in Istanbul, such as hotels and mosques, are fitted with ramps and connected by an accessible tram, getting around the rest of the city can be challenging. Rural regions like Cappadocia will be difficult for travelers with mobility impairment to navigate independently.
Squat toilets remain the norm in many parts of Turkey, which can pose problems for travelers with certain disabilities.
Traffic in Turkey can be chaotic, and even when traffic lights and pedestrian crossings exist drivers do not always obey them. Taxis are, for the most part, not wheelchair-friendly.
Travelers who use battery-operated hearing aids should consider bringing a stash of extra batteries, as they can be difficult to locate in Turkey.
If you do live with a visual, hearing or other impairment, let your booking agent or group leader know early on so they’re aware and suitable arrangements can be made. As a general rule, knowing some common words in the local language, carrying a written itinerary with you and taking to the streets in a group, rather than solo, can help make your travel experience the best it can be.
Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travelers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travelers check with their government or national travel advisory organization for the latest information before departure:
Go to: http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/
Go to: https://travel.gc.ca/
From the UK?
Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/
From New Zealand?
Go to: http://www.safetravel.govt.nz/
From the US?
Go to: http://travel.state.gov/
The World Health Organization also provides useful health information.
Traveling with Intrepid is a little bit different. We endeavor to provide travelers with an authentic experience to remember, so we try to keep accommodation as unique and traditional as possible.
When traveling with us in Turkey you may find yourself staying in a:
These locally run guesthouses are the perfect blend of a comfortable homestay and a hotel, combining well-situated and authentic Turkish accommodation with modern conveniences.
Immerse yourself in local village life and enjoy Turkish hospitality (and food) during a homestay. Share a home-cooked meal with your hosts and embrace the slow life.
Intrepid believes half the fun of experiencing a new country is getting there, and getting around once there! Where possible, Intrepid uses local transport options and traditional modes of transport – which usually have less of an environmental impact, support small local operators and are heaps more fun.
Depending what trip you're on while in Turkey, you may find yourself traveling by:
Explore the rugged beauty of Turkey’s coast on a traditional Turkish sailing gulet. Spend days exploring submerged ruins and nights cozied up on deck under the stars.
Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or you’re about to embark on your first trip, traveling can be as intimidating as it is exciting. That's the beauty of a small group tour. From handling the logistics and organizing amazing cultural activities to local leaders who know each destination like the back of their hand (like which street has the best markets and where to get the most authentic food), traveling on a small group tour with Intrepid will give you unforgettable travel experiences without the hassle that comes with exploring a new place. Plus, you'll have ready-made friends to share the journey with. All you have to do is turn up with a healthy sense of adventure and we’ll take care of the rest.