Turkey is a land for those seeking an uncommon holiday. A land of mystery, deep historical significance, rich culture and modern infrastructure.
When you visit Turkey, you stand where civilization began. Turkey is more often than not considered three countries in one. It has unmatched diversity of geography, architecture and landscape. The west coast of Turkey offers a wide range of sites and activities for the traveler, from trekking, hiking, sailing, diving, paragliding, skiing and hot air ballooning to partaking in traditional Turkish folklore evenings and shopping in many of the local street markets.
The East is untouched by tourism and offers more genuine experiences while still playing host to some of history’s most interesting and religious sites, including Ishak Pasa Palace in Dogubeyazit overlooking Mt. Ararat; the mystical van cats with one green and one blue eye; the former Armenian capital of Ani; Akdamar Island and the Holy Cross Church on Turkey’s largest lake; the mud huts of Urfa; the stone heads of the gods at Mt Nemrut; and the first church known to man in Antakya.
The Black Sea Coast, often referred to as the Emerald Coast, offers a lush, green and fertile environment. Along Turkey’s northern coast you can visit such places as Trabzon, which plays host to the Sumela Monastery, built on a sheer cliff face; the boat-making village of Sinop; the traditional Ottoman Houses in Safranbolu; or the beach in Sile. Turkey is literally the bridge where East meets West, both physically and culturally.
Trains are not a recommended method of travel in Turkey. The two major lines run from Istanbul to Ankara and Istanbul to Denizli. Both are twice as slow as bus transport and a little more expensive.
Renting a car will give you more flexibility and freedom but be aware that Turkey has the worst statistics for casualties on roads than any other nation and fuel is quite expensive, ranging from $6-8 per gallon.
See backpacker tours section for Turkish operators.
Frequent, modern and cheap buses run between cities, towns and villages of all sizes. There can be over 1,000 bus networks operating throughout Turkey at any one time. For longer journeys, it is recommended to use one of the more reputable companies such as Ulusoy, Varan or Kamil Koc. These companies are generally more expensive but offer greater comfort. Local bus tickets can be purchased from any travel agency in any city or town, or direct from the bus station. When booking with an agency in Istanbul, make sure you are offered a free transfer to the bus station.
A dolmus, a mini van used for public transport, will take you from one small town to another or from suburb to suburb within a town. There are no set dolmus stops so you are expected to wave them down as they pass. Make sure you look on the front or side of the vehicle for names of places the dolmus will visit. You are free to jump off the dolmus at any time by signaling the driver to stop (dur).
Sultanahmet, the old city of Istanbul, plays host to the majority of tourist sites. All are within a short walking distance of each other. Start with the Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Saint Sophia Museum, Hippodrome, Underground Cistern, Grand Bazaar and Egyptian Spice Markets. If these aren’t enough, get out of touristville and visit the Dolmabahce Palace, Camlica Hill (highest point in Istanbul on the Asian side), cruise up the Bosphorus (stretch of water separating Europe from Asia) or check out the Prince’s Islands in the Marmara Sea. If it’s bars you’re after, Akbiyik Caddesi is lined with cafés and bars, but if you wish to go where the locals go, try Taksim or Ortakoy.
Highly recommended is the tour of Gallipoli with Professor Kenan Celik of Trooper Tours.
The ruins of Ephesus is a must see in this area! Selcuk is the closest village to the ruins, but most hostels/hotels offer free lifts from Kusadasi as well. Inside, you’ll see, among the ruins, the Grand Theatre and Celcus Library, the first advertisement known to man. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World lies in the Temple of Artemis opposite the bottom gate of Ephesus. Nearby is the cave of the seven sleepers. The Greek village of Sirince, 4km from Selcuk, plays host to some Turkey’s funkiest wines. Also check out the trekking opportunities in the Finger Mountains.
Kusadasi, a more commercialized town, is a great place to party. Bar Street is just a short walk from all major accommodation places, but be warned it can be a little expensive! For good swimming, Kusadasi has some excellent beaches. Check out Ladies and Green Beaches. Kusadasi is also a port town for the Greek Islands. If you’re thinking about island hopping, then this is the place you would no doubt want to depart from.
The Cotton Castles are said to have existed for over thousands of years. This natural phenomenon is the only must see in this tiny village. The ruins of Hierapolis, which lie overlooking the calcium terraces, are also worth a look.
Jump on board a gulet (yacht) from Marmaris to Fethiye for 4 days and live like a king or queen. This is by far the best option available here and if you have time, it really shouldn’t be missed!
Koycegiz, translated, means small poor village. It is slowly becoming a highlight on the backpacker and independent travelers’ scene. There are many options here for the adventurous spirited traveler. Jump on a boat to Turtle Beach, where you can visit the mud baths and the Caunos ruins. Head to ‘The Waterfall’, just a mile or two out of Koycegiz, where the natural flowing stream is a great place to swim and jump off the rocks. Whitewater raft down the Dalaman River where rapids can reach up to Grade 4. Or feed your sweet tooth with homemade ice cream sold near the center of town.
If it’s adventure you’re after, this is the place you’ve been seeking. From Fethiye (port town) you can jump on a yacht (gulet) from here and either sail to Olympos for four days (highly recommended) or spend three days on board back to Fethiye. There are numerous water sports available. Alternatively, you can catch a boat out to Butterfly Valley (the only home to the Jersey Tiger butterfly) and chill out on the platforms, which are available to sleep on.
Oludeniz is popular spot for paragliding for which it is rated the second best place in the world. If you’re keen to jump off a cliff with a parachute strapped to your back from 2000 meters, this is the place. Other area activities include the deserted village of Kayakoyu, close to Oludeniz, and a day trip to Saklikent Gorge for a trek of a lifetime.
This village offers some great shopping as well as daily boat trips to the sunken city of Kekova. You can also paraglide here or hire a sea kayak for the day and paddle in the Med!
The eternal flames of Chimeara are a must see! Most accommodation places offer nightly tours for less than $3US. You may need a torch as you will have to trek up the hill to access the site. Check out the ruins of Olympos, close to the beach. The small fee is worth the fun you will have finding the ancient city hidden in the scrub. Daily boat trips are also available with several opportunities to swim.
The surreal land of Cappadocia offers tons of activities for every type of traveler. This is the most visited place in Turkey and after you arrive, you’ll know why! Open-air museums and Underground cities are a must see, as is Rose Valley and Uchisar Castle. While in Cappadocia, make sure you check out Selimiye, where they filmed the beginning of the original Star Wars film. Also try a traditional Turkish folklore evening featuring belly dancers, folk dancers and food. Adventure seekers should take a ride in a hot air balloon, a favorite among most travelers, as is hiring a moped for the day and exploring the region independently.