Turkey is a beautiful country. It boasts everything from busy marketplaces and awe-inspiring mosques to stunning mountains, vast landscapes and perfect beaches. It pretty much has everything you could hope to see. If you’re thinking of visiting Turkey and want some great tips on how to do it, what you should see and where to stay along the way, here’s my guide on how to plan a trip to Turkey.
Making the most of your time in Turkey
To make the most of our time in Turkey we booked a tour through Travel Talk and were lucky enough to get a two for one deal. While our tour leader was fantastic I gotta say, I wouldn’t recommend Travel Talk. I fell really ill eating food organised by the company and met a brick wall when I tried to raise the issue with them. Again, not the tour leader, but the company. Also, some members of our tour were scheduled to go on a boat trip which they booked and paid for, this was cancelled on them with no explanation, no warning and no compensation. This same thing happened to a few friends of ours who had done the same trip a year earlier.
I would definitely recommend going with a larger, well-known tour company and avoiding Travel Talk. Turkey is a large country and there’s so much to see outside of Istanbul, so I definitely recommend doing a tour which will take you to all the beautiful places there are to see, including sea-side towns, mountains and bustling cities.
Things to do and what to see
There are a lot of things to see and do in Turkey. If you’re in Istanbul the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia Museum are worthwhile visiting as are the spice market and Taksim Square, just beware of the back streets as young boys will approach you for money and become agitated if you refuse.
Of course for Aussie’s and Kiwi’s ANZAC Cove, Gallipoli, Lone Pine, Chunuk Bair and the Kabatepe Museum are all very moving and you gain a great appreciation for what our soldier’s faced. These sites are definitely a must see and as an Australian, it was really emotional standing there.
Troy is a place that you may like to visit just to say you’ve been there, but the large wooden replica horse gets very boring very quickly and the ruins are also a little underwhelming if you’ve visited somewhere like Rome before. I’d still say it’s worth going but wouldn’t base my entire trip around it.
Pergamum Asklepion and Ephesus are more ruin sites and out of the three of them I would recommend you visit Ephesus the most, it can become a little monotonous visiting similar looking at ruin sites over and over again.
Marmaris is a party town, if you’re familiar with the cheesy parts of Queensland’s Gold Coast then you’ll know what I mean. However a visit to the beautiful Itzuzu Beach to see the turtles and get down and dirty in the Dalyan Mud Bath is definitely well worth it, just don’t wear your good swimsuit and prepare to smell like eggs.
The highlights of my trip were Oludeniz, where you can lay on beautiful beaches, swim in the stunning Mediterranean or do what we did and enlist the help of a paragliding company to scale the mountain for some adrenalin fueled action if the weather permits.
The other highlights being the Saklikent Gorge where you can do an amazing canyoning walk and the city of Hierapolis in Pamukkale built on top of white terraces formed by natural minerals and hot springs, this site has an amazing view that cannot be missed.
Where to stay and where NOT to stay
Romance Hotel was located near the main sites in Istanbul, there are some great food places nearby and it’s within walking distance of nearly everything. The hotel is a little on the tacky side if the name Romance Hotel didn’t already give that away for you, but the breakfast is great and the rooms are clean.
Kolin Hotel in Canakkale is the only five-star hotel in the area. It’s right on the water which makes for a beautiful sunset, close to a supermarket and sports a delicious buffet with amazing savoury and sweet options.
Ozcelik Hotel in Kusadasi is right on the water and if you get a room high up overlooking the water it could be quite nice. However, steer well clear of the food as I received a very nasty stomach infection after eating here. If you need one, there’s a hospital just up the road. Tell them I sent you.
Intermar Hotel in Marmaris is definitely a spot to avoid at all costs, not only will your shower take 15 minutes to get warm and leak everywhere you will also be able to hear every other person in the hotel talking, walking, sleeping, eating or snoring.
Dreamland Holiday Village is just outside of Fethiye and a long way from everything, but still a lovely hotel. It is quite a drive to get to the amazing beaches, in fact, it is quite a drive to get anywhere of real importance around Fethiye. The hotel is quaint with a great dinner service and lovely staff, but I would recommend staying somewhere along the beach in Oludeniz instead.
Pam Thermal Hotel in Pamukkale has its own thermal spring which has been used to form a swimming pool for guests, though you’ll need to buy a swimming cap to go in or you can fill your bathtub up with water straight from the spring via some fancy plumbing! The hotel website boasts Nicolas Cage as one of its esteemed guests, this may or may not encourage you to book depending on how you felt about the Ghost Rider franchise.
Food, drink and culture
My expectations for Turkish food were very high. I can’t say that there was one meal I had that was a standout and that I would highly recommend, I think this was more because we were on a tour and the meals were pre-arranged for us. If we had the ability to find restaurants ourselves I’m sure we would’ve had many more memorable meals.
A few things you might like to try are Menemen, Köfte, Kuzu Tandir, Lahmacun, Börek, Pide, Gülac, Meze, Dürüm, and Dolma – just to name a few!
The Apple Tea, made just for tourists, is delicious while some of the Turkish Delight can be a little hit and miss though I found the pistachio to be really enjoyable. Turkish coffee is delicious, just be careful not to drink the thick stuff at the bottom and don’t fall victim to the fortune tellers.
In terms of culture, I wanted to make sure I dressed appropriately and respectfully given the country is predominantly Muslim. Myself and the other girls on our tour spent most of our time in shorts and t-shirts. With the exception of one poor girl who accidentally exposed her bra and ample cleavage, we drew very little unwanted attention to ourselves.
We all found the Turkish people to be very kind, welcoming and friendly. Everyone we met was smiling, happy and very helpful if we had any questions or needed help with directions. When I became ill, the doctors and nurses at the hospital were absolutely incredible and so interested in talking to me to practice their English. You can read about that travel story here, if you like.
My top five tips for visiting Turkey
- Think before you eat – while a severe case of gastroenteritis can be just the kick-start your post-holiday diet needs, it’s not fun and at 700 euros per day in a hospital, it’s not quite worth it, so choose your meals carefully.
- Fly right – the Turkish government decided to put an airport in every major city in Turkey. Rather than sitting on a public bus for hours, check out Skyscanner and you may just find cheap flights direct to where you want to go.
- Budget-friendly food – the food wasn’t that cheap and if you’re on a tour you may find yourself very hungry in between stops. To avoid starving to death on your tour bus and getting stung for expensive pasta at a service station, visit local supermarkets near your hotel and stock up on snacks.
- Spare change – always carry a few Turkish Lira coins on you and some tissues/wet wipes because you will have to pay to use the bathroom every time and they’re not always clean and well stocked with toilet paper.
- Let your guard down – if you have any preconceived ideas about Turkish people, leave them at the passport control with your visa entry fee. All the Turkish people we met were incredibly friendly, helpful, welcoming and proud of their country. If you have any questions about the country or need directions, they’ll be happy to help.