99 Reasons To Visit Turkey
Many people ask if Turkey is safe to visit or not? Based on my experience it is as safe as most other countries, at the moment. Everywhere has problems, and Turkey is no different. But no matter where you live or where you go on vacation, there are pros and cons. Here are 99 pros about visiting Turkey!
Turkey’s Astounding Ancient History
- Troy Was Real!
Helen, wife of the King of Sparta, and a woman whose alluring face ‘launched a thousand ships,’ may have never existed. Her lover, the Trojan prince, Paris, may never have stolen her away, instigating the Trojan War as related by Homer. But the seaside city of Troy, centerpiece of the story, was very real. Excavated in 1870 by Heinrich Schliemann, the remains of Homer’s lost civilization may be viewed and appreciated by historians and romantics alike. There is even a giant wooden horse in the town center, symbolic of the treacherous instrument of the Trojan’s defeat.
- Santa Claus’s Real Home
Most of us grow up to learn Santa isn’t real. But actually, he was…and he lived in what is now Turkey. Legend has it Saint Nicholas, a bishop in Myra, threw small bags of gold into the window of an impoverished home. This act of kindness saved the three young women inside from a life of prostitution. ‘Noel Baba,’ as he’s known in Turkey, is buried in the town of Demre.
- Everyday Castles
There are few countries in the world where one can drive down the road and see the still-standing walls of first century castles. Such is not the case in a town such as Kale, which literally means castle! Once a Lycian town known as Simena, the village of Kale is but a piece of the larger region of Kekova, which is bursting with Roman baths, cisterns, a necropolis, an ancient shipyard, and even the ruins of a Byzantine church.
- Exquisite Maiden’s Tower
Jutting unexpectedly out of the Bosphorus River, the tiny fortress of Kiz Kulesi, once a small naval outpost, can only be reached by small boats which ferry visitors to and fro. But within the restored tower of this twelfth century icon nestles a fantastic restaurant to write home about.
- Incomparable Hagia Sophia
Gaze upon the magnificent Ayasofya from the air, and you’ll have zero doubt you are looking at one of the largest, most magnificent churches on the planet. Entire books have been written on the architecture and history of this once Christian church-turned mosque- turned public museum. Built to impress, this great church’s name comes from ‘Divine Wisdom,’ considered to be a trait of Jesus, to whom the building was originally dedicated.
- Topkapi Palace, Home of Sultans
A sprawling patchwork palace added upon by successive sultans, Topkapi takes the cake when it comes to sheer grandeur and opulence. The last of the truly great Ottoman palaces, it was itself a minor city, home to nearly 4,000 persons and covering an impressive 173 acres of prime real estate, including breathtaking Seraglio Point. With its throne of pure gold and the world’s largest diamond on display, this world-class museum is an absolute must see!
- Noah’s Ark, Found?
The biblical tale of Noah’s Arc has led hundreds of speculators to search for the remains of the sacred vessel. Some claim to have found it, embedded in the side of Mount Ararat (Agri Dagi), in the eastern regions of Anatolia.
- House of the Virgin Mary
Speaking of the bible, Mary, mother of Jesus, is said to have traveled along the western coast of Turkey with John, following the crucifixion of her son. In fact, pilgrims make the voyage to Ephesus (Efes) in order to see not only the Basilica of Saint John but also Panaya Kapulu, the alleged home of Mary herself, in the town of Selcuk. Although the evidence of Mary’s stay there is contested, the Roman Catholic Church nonetheless made it an official shine. It has even been visited by the Pope.
- The One and Only Blue Mosque
Situated in the ‘world’s largest open air museum,’ the Blue Mosque shares its domination of the old city only with the Hagia Sophia, which faces it across the street. Like towering siblings squared off for a contest, these two megastructures are tourist magnets for good reason…they leave all visitors in total awe. Known to the locals as the Sultan Ahmet Camisi, it came by the title ‘Blue Mosque’ due to the intricate blue tiles covering the interior. Ahmet himself laid the groundwork of the mosque at the age of 19, after he’d been sultan for five years already. An architectural masterpiece, the mosque is open to visitors but it should be remembered–it still serves as a functional holy site where people go to worship. Thus visitors are asked to adhere to certain dress and behavior protocols while inside.
- Formidable Rumeli Fortress
If you built a city on some of the ancient world’s most sought-after property, how would you protect it from enemy vessels sailing in from an unprotected straight? One idea…build a cannon-filled fortress on the river bank, to fire upon those invading ships. And how to keep them from escaping? In the Mehmet II’s case, he set up a massive underwater chain running the width of the Bosphorus. Then the guns of Rumeli Hisari could fire at will!
- Access to Other Roman Sites
In 330AD, the ruler of the Roman Empire, Constantine, decided to convert the whole city of Byzantium to Christianity, and rename it after himself. Thereafter, Constantinople was considered the new Rome. The western empire collapsed, but Constantinople remained until its fall at the hands of Mehmet II in 1453. Still, many Roman relics remain through the region.
- Mysterious Underground Cities
From ground-level, you may not know it, but Cappadocia contains entire intricate cities dug under the hard earth. Kaymakli and Derinkuyu are two of the best known. Going down eight stories, Kaymakli once housed up to 3,000 people and it is believed to have actually been connected to Derinkuyu at once point. The purpose of these laboriously-built hidden cities remains a topic of debate.
- The Ethereal Basilica Cistern
A 460 foot long underground water cistern, the Yerebatan Sarayi served as an important backup water reservoir until the Turks conquered the city. Due to its 336 ornate columns, the Turkish name for the cistern translates to ‘palace.’ So don’t be confused when you visit!
Spoiler alert! The climactic scene of Dan Brown’s novel Inferno was set here, and James Bond once traversed its water via canoe.
- Temple of Artemis
The ruins of temples liter the landscape of western Turkey, but one of the most significant is the Artemis Temple, resting in the Pactolos Valley. Part of the larger ruins site of Sardis, this Aegean wonder commemorates the goddess of the hunt and of the wild. Artemis was also the protector of women.
- Ciragan Palace
For a time, the palace at Topkapi was not considered good enough for the Ottoman sultans, who preferred to build their own personalized palaces. Such was the excuse for the construction of the splendid Ciragan Sarayi, completed in 1867 by order of Abdulaziz I. The palace stood less than fifty years before a fire devastated it. But one can never keep a good palace down, and soon it was restored to its former glory. In fact, for several hundred dollars a night, you can rent a room there, and enjoy the expansive grounds as if you were a sultan yourself.
- The Puzzling Piri Reis Map
A cartographer’s dream come true and a historian’s nightmare, this ancient map was on display at Topkapi Palace for years before an observer noticed something truly bizarre about it. The map accurately reflects the outline of Antarctica, as it would look if not covered by polar ice. That should not be even remotely possible, since it has been covered by ice for millennia, and since the ability to accurately map continents has not been around for so long. Thus, the Piri Reis map presents an interesting puzzle. It is known that Reis himself copied parts of his map from the charts of his predecessors–a common enough practice. But where would he have obtained a map so old as to have shown pre-glacial Antarctica?
Turkey’s World Famous Cuisine
- Voted One of the Best Cuisines on Earth
Foodies have agreed—Turkish cuisine is ranked in the top three on the planet, up there with French and Chinese. Personally I’d rate it on top! From healthy, fresh vegetable appetizers, loads of fruits and nuts, to delicately grilled meats and an abundance of seafood, the Turkish diet IS the famed Mediterranean diet which nutritionists boast should be adhered to. Turks tend to break their restaurants into these types: lokanta, for ‘home cooking,’ kebapci, for grilled or roasted meats, borekci or pideci, for savory baked dough items, corbaci, for fast and tasty soups, meyhane, for heavier nighttime meals (often involving live music and alcohol), and tatlici, which are places specializing in sweets, from cakes and pastries to traditional muhallebi (pudding), dondurma (ice cream), and baklava.
- Killer Kebaps
Turkish kebaps (or kebobs) are awesome enough to get their own section here. Anyone who has eaten a ‘kebob’ in Europe or America, please forget everything you know. Nothing compares to real Turkish kebap, spiced and grilled to perfection over a fire or slow roasted (doner) on a vertical rotisserie to baste in their own drippings. You can have them hot off skewers and served up on soft bread, with rice, salad, and a long grilled pepper; on huge sandwiches, sprinkled with onions and lettuce; rolled into durum, either spicy (Adana-style) or not; or mixed with eggplant (patlican) or yogurt sauce. Perhaps my favorite, when done right, is the epic Iskender, which is thinly sliced meat served on bread and covered in hot butter and sauce, with a large side of fresh yogurt.
81. Fish and Fishing
It would seem everyone’s either a fisherman or a fish eater, or both. Unlike most European or Middle Eastern countries, Turkey is surrounded by seas—the Black Sea, the Marmara, the Aegean and the Mediterranean. There’s also the massive Bosphorus River, bisecting Istanbul. So it is only natural for the country to be filled with fishermen and the restaurants filled with fresh fish! It’s very common to see tables of iced fish on display in front of eating establishments. The overwhelming majority of seafood is caught from the Black Sea, but it is very common to see boats parked offshore in the Marmara, and equally common to see men, young and old, casting lines from the bridges crossing the Bosphorus.
- It Is Always Time for Tea
Tea, or cay, as the Turks call it (not to be confused with the milky, sweet Indian beverage, chai), is the national drink of choice. There’s no such thing as ‘tea time.’ All day is tea time, a simple brown variety comparable to a breakfast tea. Anywhere you go, but especially in touristy or shopping districts, you’ll see young men rushing about with trays of piping hot tea in small hourglass cups. Usually without handles, and filled to the brim, these glasses should be handled cautiously, as again, the tea will be near boiling. It’s considered good manners to accept an offered glass, however in tourist areas, such as carpet shops, it can also be used as an easy way to keep a customer sitting for a few minutes, as they wait for the tea (usually an apple blend, in such cases) to cool to a drinkable temperature!
Turkey offers a variety of special deserts with Middle Eastern origins, and perhaps the most special and well known is baklava, which is named after its shape. Cut into wedges, baklava is an ultra-sweet and syrupy concoction made with layer on layer of flaky dough, upon which a variety of nuts are crushed. Fairly time-consuming to make, it’s all too easy to overeat this luxurious delicacy!
- Kahve Dunyasi
One of the larger coffee franchises in Turkey, Kahve Dunyasi is perhaps the closest to its global competitor, Starbucks, in terms of atmosphere. However, it easily outstrips Starbucks with its selection of pastries and made-to-order sandwiches, and has, in my opinion, a far better brew of filtered coffee. In a country where instant, powdered ‘Nescafe’ is the norm, Kahve Dunyasi serves as a refreshing haven for those who demand real brewed coffee, but want a break from the same old thing they can get back home. Kahve Dunyasi also specializes in fine chocolates and macarons.
- Turkish Meze
In a typical Western restaurant, appetizers are part of the standard table menu. In Turkey, they are often brought out, premade, on massive trays, for customers to see the selection for themselves. Broke into hot (sicak) and cold (soguk) meze, it’s nearly impossible to go wrong. But when it doubt, a simple starter of cheese and olives, or stuffed grape leaves (dolma) will tide you over until the main course. Most meals are served with some style of bread, either a sliced loaf in a basket, or a baked puffy type with seeds. Bread, in fact, is considered a sacred food by many locals, and should not be thrown away.
Turkish Towns and Cities
- Incomparable Istanbul
While Ankara houses the brains of Turkey, Istanbul retains is heart and spirit. If books are written about Hagia Sophia, it would take an entire library to examine this city which has passed through the centuries under various names, ruled by various cultures. A nexus of international travel, a gateway to both East and West, Istanbul is the only city on Earth to straddle both continents. Few non-capital cities attract as much attention globally; however this is due to the fact that Istanbul was, for most of its long history, the seat of power. Eventually Mustafa Kemal Ataturk decided it was, strategically, not the most defensible location for the nation’s ruler to reside, and the capital was shifted to Ankara. Yet for most of the world, Istanbul remains Turkey’s crowning jewel.
Largest of the nine Princes’ Islands (Adalar) in the Marmara Sea, Buyukada may be reached by fast ferry in under an hour. A complete contrast from the bustle of the city, Buyukada offers a respite from traffic and noise due to its prohibition of motor vehicles. Instead, horse carriages—or your own two feet—are the main mode of transport around this upper class isle of old wood homes and quaint cafes.
Turkey’s third largest city, the port town of Izmir features an airport for short trips down from Istanbul. Formerly the ancient town of Smyrna, one of the churches mentioned in the biblical Book of Revelations, Izmir is now home to modern universities, hospitals, museums, and shopping centers, as well as housing a NATO Headquarters.
- Ephesus and Other Biblical Sites
Izmir isn’t the only early city mentioned in the Christian bible; Ephesus, just south of Izmir, is a major draw for history buffs, religious pilgrims, and busloads of tourists. For centuries it has also drawn worshippers of female icons, from Cybele to Artemis to Mary. The city of ancient Philadelphia (Alasehir) is also nearby, though offers less sights for visitors. Ephesus, however, features the Basilica of Saint John, the Artemis Temple, the House of the Virgin Mary, the Odeon, the Temples of Dea Roma and Divus, Hadrian Temple, and many other sites of invaluable historical importance.
One of the many cruise ship ports along the ‘Turquoise Coast,’ the Aegean town of Kusadasi (‘Bird Island’) features long strips of restaurants and cafes along its multiple beaches. The most popular, Ladies Beach, has a decidedly European feel, while the northern sections, near to the harbor and private marina, are best known for their mix of traditional ‘bazaar’ shopping and modern, upscale boutiques. A skip away from Efes, and about an hour and a half south of Izmir, Kusadasi, despite its name, isn’t an island…but it does have a bridge to one, and there’s an intact fortress sitting atop it!
Far less known for its historical significance, Antalya is rather well known for its beauty. An ever-growing tourist hotspot, the town is not without its ancient treasures, such as the Roman Hadrian’s Gate…however, the combination of natural splendor and new visitor attractions always looking to up the ante and outdo each other make Antalya a consistently popular destination.
For those less interested in ancient ruins, and more interested in parties and active nightlife, Bodrum is what you’re looking for! Well known throughout the region as the place for young clubbers and anyone desiring a good time in a relaxed beach town environment, the bars, beaches, and clubs of Bodrum await!
- The Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia
Filled with fairytale rock formations in the shapes of chimneys, or peribacalari, Cappadocia was an Old Assyrian trade town. Later part of the Hittite Kingdom, it eventually passed to the Persians until it turned to Rome in 17AD. Over 600 Christian churches were carved directly into the rock, and religious fresco paintings may still be seen to this day.
- Unearthly Pamukkale
Another town featuring unusual natural geographic features, Pamukkale (which means ‘cotton castle’) contains not only healing hot spring pools, but also cascading, limestone cliffs. Enchanting stalactites hang from many of these surfaces, some of which are 14,000 years old.
Not to neglect the wonders of the Anatolian towns, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Black Sea town of Trabzon, famed not only for their traditional folk dances (such as the Horon) and attire, but for its importance along the Silk Road trading route.
The second largest city as well as the nation’s capital, Ankara is home not only to the politicians but to large swaths of businesses and industrial sites. The Hittites, Celts, and Romans left behind their ancient footprints, in the surrounding archeological sites. These days, the most famous attraction is the Presidential White Palace, which spans over 3.2 million square feet and contains 1,150 rooms.
- Party on Bagdat Avenue
A nearly nine mile stretch of high street on the Anatolian side of Istanbul, Bagdat Avenue is a natural venue for parades and national celebrations. It also hosts a large selection of upper and middle class residences and all the business and eateries such clientele attract.
- Fabled Mount Uludag
Greece isn’t the only country with a Mount Olympus; Turkey has one, too…Mount Uludag (the Mount Olympus of Mysia, from where the Greek gods beheld the events of the Trojan War). Rising up to 8,343 feet, the sublime mountain is the tallest in the Marmara area and home to fantastic ski resorts and hiking trails.
- Anatolian Regions
Turkey’s Anatolian regions take up the largest slices of the country, and contain evidence of Paleolithic settlements. The Akkadian Empire was the first to leave actual historical records, from around 24BC. To this day, numerous ethnic groups reside in the areas, the Turks being the largest, followed by Kurds in the southeast. An equally diverse range of geography and climate exist there. Neighboring Iraq, Iran, Syria, and others, this Asian side of Turkey retains a vital and complex role in the global affairs.
- Sailing the Seas
In a nation surrounded on three sides by calm seas, the soaring popularity of sailing is a given. Many seaside towns host sailing events, which are a delight for spectators and participants. The Turkish Sailing Federation participates in several of these.
- Outdoor Adventures
Sailing and boating are far from the only adventure options for outdoor types. Hundreds of tourist companies offer an extensive range of recreational activities, to cater to all ages, budgets, and levels of fitness. From dune buggies to zip lines, from skydiving to scuba diving, peaceful kayaking to extreme whitewater rafting, Turkey truly offers something for all ranges of adventurousness.
- Horse rides
If skydiving sounds too far out there, and water’s not your thing, Turkey has a long history of horseback riding! Since before 4000BC, horses are been part of the region, but the fine-boned Akhal-Teke is now the last ‘pure’ strain of Turkmen horse, used by the ancient nomadic tribes. For those less picky about equestrian lineage, several tours of open for tourists. Especially popular are Cappadocia, the Tauris Mountains, and of course along the Turkish Riviera.
Sometimes you just want to escape the city but don’t have the time or patience for an adventure tour. Hiking is a cheap and readily available option; all you need is a good pair of shoes and plenty of water. That said, if you aren’t traveling in a group, it is a good idea to go with someone who knows the route. Phone coverage can be spotty in many locals, so just don’t wander off the path and you’ll be fine!
Mount Uludag isn’t the only place to ski, but it’s one of the most popular. Other sites include Erzurum, Kartepe, Elmadag, Erciyes, Gerede, Sarikamis, Ilgaz, and Erzincan, to name but a few! Clearly there’s no shortage of slopes for all you snow lovers!
Mountains aren’t only for skiing; several feature options for climbing or historic sightseeing. From Ararat, Erciyes, Nemrut, Kackar Dagi, Uludag, Hasan, Suphan, Tendurek, Sipylus, Ida, Karaca Dag, and many more, those who appreciate the magnificence of mountains will be in Heaven here.
For most Westerners, Turkish and Anatolian cultures remain exotic and mysterious…for good reason! Quixotic Islamic art patterns assail the eye; fragrant scents of unknown spices lodge in the nose; the piercing quavers of Arabesque musical notes find their way into your ears; clouds of smoke wafting in the wind from the nargile lounges, mixed with aroma of cooking meats make your mouth water; the cacophony of calls from street vendors and rug sellers battle for your attention, all under the omnipresence of the ubiquitous mosques and the call of the muezzin…
Turks don’t sleep. Late nights are an everyday fact of life, and for those with the stamina to stay up, another world awaits when the sun goes down and the bars light up. From traditional Turkey meyhane restaurants to ‘Irish’ pubs, sports bars, late-night cafes, and tea shops, an endless plethora of possibilities are at hand to ease your travel-weary mind.
- Aqua Fantasy Aquapark Hotel and Spa
If you’re more of a sun person, or are looking for something to do with the kids, Aqua Fantasy in Selcuk is one of the world’s best waterslide parks. With its own prestigious hotel, resting on a massive expanse of luxuriously, meticulously maintained grounds, and featuring a private beach and a dozen bars and restaurants, Aqua Fantasy features all-inclusive packages which drop in price drastically during the off-season.
- Loads of Parks
Turkey is home to several dozen beautiful national parks and nature preserves. The largest two, by far, are Mount Ararat and Beysehir Lake National Parks, which cover 88,000 and 86,000 square hectares , respectively. After those come Kizildag, Aladaglar, Kackar Mountains, Munzur Vallay, Commander-in-Chief, and Kure Mountains National Parks.
- Istiklal Caddesi
When in Istanbul, one must stop by the area known as Taksim. Everyone else will be there, and specifically, you’ll see most walking along the broad Istiklal Caddesi, or ‘Independence Avenue.’ They say 3 million people walk the long street every day, on the weekends. Situated in the Beyoglu district, it is the main hub of activity around the historic part of town.
- The Art of Belly Dancing
Many Westerners consider belly dancing just an erotic show, however it does require a great degree of technical skill. Many dancers train for years, similar to a ballerina or other dance artists and performers. Though there is undoubtedly a sensual aspect to the style, from the revealing costumes to the hypnotic gyrations, nonetheless, dancers are respected and appreciated. Indeed, all Turks have a little bit of belly dancer in them, as a couple of drinks will often reveal.
- Sublime Carpets
It’s said that up to 70% of visitors to Turkey leave with a souvenir carpet. There’s no disputing, carpets are big business here. Functional works of art, carpets are often painstakingly handmade, displaying outrageously complex patterns requiring a sophisticated degree of skill and patience to create. Rich in symbolism and history, most are made with wool, cotton, or for those who can afford it, silk. Generally vibrant in color and texture, you will see every Turkish home is filled with rugs on every floor in the home. The higher quality ones are made to last a lifetime…or more!
- Unique In All the World
Perhaps the best way to summarize how unique the Turkish people are is by verse.
From Bozurt Guvenc’s poem, ‘We Turks!’:
European or Asian?
Shamanistic, Moslem or secular?
Settled villagers or nomadic Turkomans?
The grandchildren of Mehmet the Conqueror or
children of Ataturk?
The poem ends:
Do we belong to the East, to Anatolia or to the West?
Who are we?
From Turk Kimligi, Kultur Bakanligi, 1993
- The Nargile
You don’t have to be a smoker to try the nargile water pipe. One time won’t kill you! From traditional tobacco blends to exotic fruity mixes, a few puffs on the old pipe is sure to relax any weary traveler. Special bars cater to nargile culture; you won’t typically find them in regular restaurants.
No trip is complete without the purchase of a delicate ceramic handicraft. Some of the most valuable are the famed Iznik tiles, of which the Blue Mosque in Istanbul is filled. However, decorative, colorful tiles, display plates, and other items are readily found at more affordable prices in any town…especially around the Grand Bazaar!
- Islamic Art
The billionaire heiress Doris Duke was so impressed with Islamic art that she imported crates of it to her Hawaiian island retreat, Shangri La. Designed with intricate geometric patterns of stunning complexity, Islamic art forbids the portrayal of animal or human forms, tending instead towards shapes, mind-boggling geometric patterns, or floral patterns.
Yagli gures is the manly art of grease wrestling, and the Turks are mad about it. In fact, it is considered the national sport. Lathered up in olive oil and set out under the midday sun, the boys will have at it for up to several minutes at a time, until a contestant wins by getting hold of his opponent’s kisbet.
Unlike many predominantly Muslim countries, dancing plays an integral part of Turkish culture. Traditional dances are broken down roughly by region. For example, the altering tempo Zeybek is seen more along the Aegean and Marmara, while the Teke is more of a west Mediterranean dance. The Kasik Havasi and Karsilama are Black Sea dances, as it is circular Horon. A Bar dance is usually done outdoors, and arm-in-arm, and is widespread throughout eastern Anatolia.
- The Splendor of Turkish Weddings
Let’s just say, weddings are a big deal! The whole clan rolls out, coming from the far corners of the country, if necessary. Dancing, henna tattoos, gold coins pinned on the bride and groom, food, food, and more food. It is also common to hear a few sad songs and perhaps see a few tears shed, prior to the main part of the ceremony.
A little bit of Turkish goes a long ways, so if you want to make a quick friend, study up on a few expressions and vocabulary lists. Turks love to chat over tea, and are always impressed with foreigners who have taken the time to learn some of their language. Sadly, many don’t bother, but for those who do, you’ll easily be able to stick up a conversation.
- Children Friendly
Turks takes pride in their children, and take a familiar approach with the children of others’ as well. It is very common for strangers to come pinch your child’s cheeks, or pat them on the head. Women, especially, are always keen for a child’s hug and a little kiss on the cheek, while men will often get up from their bus seats if a child is left standing.
- Hospitality is Ubiquitous
Hospitality isn’t only offered for children, but indeed all visitors are generally treated with smiles and sincere greetings. Most Turks will immediately want to know where you are from, and are happy to make your acquaintance. The entire culture seems built around certain expressions of hospitality and good will, from stating ‘Afiyet olsun!’ after a meal (‘to your health’) to ‘Masallah!’ (‘God preserve’) as a common compliment.
- Hard Working People
Most Turks work long hours, 10 to 12 a day, 6 days a week. As they say, work hard, play hard, and many locals love to really let their hair down in their off hours. They appreciate their free time, which is one reason they stay up so late…and why, perhaps, they drink so much tea to help them stay awake in the daytime.
- Conservative but Tolerant
Many Westerners lament the loss of ‘conservative’ or traditional values in their home countries. Turkey remains a secular but conservative nation, respectful of both other cultures and of their own long history. A good rule of thumb is, be cognizant and respectful of their ways, and they’ll certainly be welcoming and grateful to you! Disrespect towards the founder of Turkey, Ataturk, or toward the government or president are strictly forbidden.
- Respect for Elders
Special care and respect is given for the elderly in Turkey. In fact, this extends literally from any younger person to their elder. It is quite common for younger persons to refer to their elders as uncle or aunt, or ‘big brother.’ But the elderly, in particular, are often extended the honor of bowing to kiss their hands, in the case of men…a holdover from their Oriental roots, perhaps. You’ll also see greetings by way of light kisses on both cheeks.
- Haggling Works!
Haggling is alive and well in Turkey, and most things outside of brand name shops and franchises can be negotiated. While many tourists are initially reluctant to engage in this practice, the Turks have generations of such dealings and are very comfortable with haggling. Don’t be shy, but maintain good manners and respectfulness. You’ll likely end up with a good bargain.
- Raki, Drink of the Bold
‘Lion’s Milk,’ as it is dubbed, is a strong aniseed-flavored alcoholic drink comparable to Greek ouzo. Undiluted with water, it is clear, but takes on a milky haze when water has been mixed into the glass. While Turks frown on outright drunkenness, most have no qualms with a relaxing drink or two of raki, usually served with fruit or other meze.
- Nasreddin Hoca
Books could be filled with the wisdom of Hoca’s tales. Often contradictory, always full of insight, Nasreddin Hoca was a 13th century philosopher who lived in Aksehir. Though several Middle Eastern cultures claim Hoca as their own, nonetheless Turks hold him dear to their hearts, and grow up hearing his stories and folk tales.
- The Relaxing Hammam
Without a doubt, the Turkish hammam bath is both famous and often misunderstood. Akin to a Roman bath, the bather first waits and sweats in a large heated room. From there they are moved into a hotter room, where they’re bathed in cool water, then massaged by a telak, who also helps wash and scrub the client.
The influences on Turkish music are myriad. From Arabic to Ottoman, Persian to Greek, the various styles reflect a melting pot mixture of sounds, beats, and instruments. Ranging from classical, folk, ‘Kanto,’ to modern pop, hip-hop, and trance, music fans will find a ceaseless variety of live musical events to attend…many a skip away, at a local restaurant. Several folk dances are adapted to specific styles; one of the most recognizable is that of the Mevlevi ‘whirling dervishes,’ who do a spinning dance set to an ayin composition.
- Turquoise Coast
The so-called Turquoise Coast, also referred to as the Turkish Riviera, runs from Cesme through Bodrum, Marmaris, Fethiye, Antalya, and on past Alanya. The famous Blue Voyage is a week-long gulet schooner trip which takes hearty travelers to visit several ports and sites along this path.
- Mediterranean Sea
Connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Strait of Gibralter, the ‘middle earth’ sea (as the name translates) is the largest inland sea on the planet. It surrounds the southwestern border of the country, and streams into numerous rivers.
- Aegean Sea
Reaching out from its Mediterranean Sea roots, the Aegean is home to several islands, and its coast is dotted with ancient historical sites. The surrounding region produces over 65% of Turkey’s tobacco crop.
- Black Sea
This mountainous northern realm takes up a sixth of the country’s surface, and features a fourth of all its forests. It is a crucial producer of corn, tea, tobacco, and hazelnuts. In fact, most of the world’s hazelnuts (filberts) come from Turkey!
- Marmara Sea
Smallest in area, densest in population, the Marmara region boosts vast fishing networks and a highly developed economy. Like the Black Sea, it fronts not only the Asian side of Turkey, but also the European.
- Unbeatable Shopping
In large part due to its physical location, Turkey is able to provide a treasure-trove of handmade items, ranging from carpets to ceramics, clothing and textiles, leather, and precious metal jewelry. Though bargains are often found in the markets of bazaars and street vendors, quality varies wildly. For this reason, if you are looking for the best quality items, versus knockoffs, you will want to stay with the modern shopping malls or known franchise shops.
If, however, you’re looking more for low prices, or you just want more adventure in your shopping, by all means hit up the local bazaars! There you will find a chaotic bustle of crowds and sellers. Keep your wits about you, and a handle on your wallet or purse, as these places can be so crowded that you may never notice someone taking what isn’t theirs. Also, avoid buying ‘antiques,’ as either these are not genuine, or are illicit (it is illegal to sell genuine antiquities).
- Modern, World Class Shopping
From the architecturally astounding Kanyon to the ice-rink in Carousel to the sprawling 200-store Cevahir, Istanbul has sprouted at least as many megamalls as its sister cities around the globe. Every name brand under the sun is available at one or more of the city’s Alis Veris Merkeziler (shopping malls). The only thing you may not find is cheap prices.
- Cost of living
The cost of living, apart from perhaps the malls or import items, is inexpensive compared to many other nearby countries, and certainly cheaper than most Western nations. Due in no small part to the foreign currency exchange rate, which tends to favor the dollar, pound, and euro over the Turkish lira, tourists can often enjoy luxuries which are out of their price range back home.
Riddled with seaside ports, cruising is a natural part of the lifestyle here for those who can afford it. Trips to Greece and other European countries are easily available, as are shorter duration local cruises. The local Turkish port cruise known as the Blue Voyage is particularly popular, if you have a week to spare on the clear, calm seas. Don’t forget the sunscreen!
Though Turkey has a climate range which spans a good portion of the spectrum of weather phenomena, things like hurricanes or tornadoes are unheard of. There are occasional earthquakes, and rainstorms, but on average, Turkey has far more sunlight and much fairer weather than most of its northern European or Asiatic peers. That’s one reason so many people travel here for the beaches!
- James Bond
It’s no secret, Her Majesty’s Secret Service agent has had a long-standing affair with Turkey. Featured in From Russia With Love, Tomorrow Never Dies, and most recently with the death-defying motorcycle chase through the Grand Bazaar in Skyfall, 007 is continually drawn into the exotic intrigues of Istanbul!
- Greek Isles
Turkey makes a superb jumping off point for Greece, especially the close islands such as Lesbos, Chios, or Samos, which are perfect for a day getaway. In under an hour, a ferry can take you from Kusadasi to Samos, or take your time on a mini-cruise, spending your day hopping to multiple ports, tanning, snacking, and chatting along the way!
- Bosphorus River
The Bogazi is 20 miles of gorgeous blue stretching from the Marmara to the Black Sea, and filled with tour boats and jellyfish. Up to 1.5 miles wide in some parts, it averages a depth of 164 feet. Fishing off one of the river’s bridges is a popular pastime; swimming, however, is not permitted due to the powerful alternating currents.
- World Class Football
Turks are fanatic about their football! With world class, long-standing groups such as Fenerbahce, Besiktas, and Galatasary, just to name a few, football (or soccer, as Americans call it) will always be able to find a cozy seat in a crowded café or bar whenever a match is going on TV. Just make sure to keep your wits about you and not shout out anything offensive about a Turkish team. Like many other societies with a passion for the sport, Turkish fans do not take kindly to anyone bad mouthing their favorite teams.
- Cheap Flights Via Turkish Airlines
One of the most respected airlines in the region, Turkish Airlines has expended their service range in a bid to become a major international player in the business. With a stellar safety record, high level of customer satisfaction, and very competitive fares, Turkish Airlines can take you nearly anywhere you want to go, comfortably and, likely as not, cheaper than any comparable airline.
- Safety and Police Presence
With the rise of foreign national threats, as well as local groups bent on disrupting daily activities, an increase in precautionary measures has come into effect. Higher numbers of police patrols and roadside checkpoints have been useful in deterring unwanted surprises. Nonetheless, one should always check their local embassy’s website for detailed information on threat conditions and travel advisories or warnings.
- Low Crime Stats
Despite the news of violent incidents associated with terrorism, Turkey still maintains a safer than average rate of crime. Petty theft is typically the choice of local criminals, whereas violent crime is much less common. In general, the thing to watch for in tourist areas, apart from pickpockets or thieves, is scams. Especially in high trafficked areas such as the Sultanahmet district in Istanbul, where scam artists will often loiter and call out to passerby, offering free sightseeing tours, which later end in you paying for their meals and drinks, or you may be enticed into an assortment of illicit activity. Many scammers are connected to larger networks, some with ties to Turkish, Kurdish, or even Russian ‘mafia’ elements, and stories have been told of tourists being lured into seedy bars or nightclubs, only to have their drinks drugged and their wallets stolen. As always, trust your gut instinct.
- Comforts From Home Are Here!
I worked with an American woman in Istanbul who refused to try Turkish food, much to her loss. But with everything from Starbucks to McDonalds, KFC, Popeye’s Chicken, and Burger King, most fast food addicts will never need to go without their fix. Several import beers and beverages are also readily available, for a slightly higher cost than local items. Meanwhile, several Western clothing brands, books, and toy merchandise can always be located in any mid-sized town or greater…again, with a higher cost, which is associated with import taxes that get passed on to the consumer, naturally.
- Many are Multilingual
If you’re worried about the language barrier, don’t be! In the big cities and also in the major tourist spots, there are always plenty of folks available to help you. Many people speak at least some English, having been taught in school, and naturally anyone associated with the tourism industry is bound to be proficient, if not fluent.
- Camel Wrestling
Few places on Earth can boast that they offer wrestling camels. Turkey is one of those few places. Thought some lament the practice, deve guresi proponents argue that the sport has not only existed for nearly 2,400 years, but that camels naturally wrestle. They were doing it long before pesky nomads got involved!
Not to be morbid but the sarcophagi and mausoleums of Anatolia are sites not to be missed. Rock-Tombs (carved directly into the sides of cliffs, and made to resemble house fronts) and tumuli (piles of soil and rock over the grave chamber) also mark the resting places of ancient peoples, and turbe, Islamic monumental tombs, may also be viewed around Seljuk
- Military Museums
Military service is still mandatory for Turkish males. Conscription is such an integral part of life, there are laws against complaining about it. No citizen may ‘undermine Turkish people’s zeal towards military’ or ‘insult the spirit of the Armed Forces.’ As a result, Turks honor their military service members, and several museums are open to the public. The Istanbul Military Museum is one of the most visited.
- Wild About Tulips
The International Istanbul Tulip Festival ( Lale Festivali) in Emirgan Park draws thousands each April. Despite popular myth, tulips originated in Turkey versus Holland, hence their use in several design patterns.
- Mad About Movies
Head to Ankara for the award-winning, annual International Film Festival! Usually running from late April into May, the festival features professional, amateur, and documentary categories, as well as ‘out of competition’ screenings.
- Izmir European Jazz Festival
Each March, the Izmir Avrupa Caz Festivali brings over some of the greatest jazz ensembles playing today! Played in the Ahmed Adnan Saygun Art Center, which was specifically built in 2009 to house the event in style, the festival has in fact been running since 1994, instituted by the Izmir Foundation for Culture, Arts and Education.
- Neon International Psychedelic Music & Art Festival
New to the Turkish festival scene, the Neon International Psychedelic Music & Art Festival in Bursa offers a very unique new spin on the concept. Considered a ‘transformational festival,’ most of the stages and artwork was made using recycled or repurposed items. The Neon Festival avoids any corporate sponsorship in order to remain as ‘indie’ as possible.
- Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival
Hosted in Antalya, this long festival of musical and performing arts is held in an outdoor Roman theater each June and July. The venue is considered one of the ‘best preserved antique theaters in the world.’ The performances and costumes, meanwhile, are equally impressive.
- International Bodrum Dance Festival
Remember we said Turks love to dance? They also appreciate the skills and performances of other cultures, hence this annual event featured in one of Turkey’s most fun-loving cities. A five day blowout, with 28 European countries participating, the Bodrum Dance Festival is recognized by UNESCO as an international event.
- Rock’n Coke
An unabashedly soda-sponsored musical event, Rock’n Coke is touted as being ‘the biggest open Turkish rock festival.’ Coca-Cola, the European Festivals Association, and organizer Pozitif bring in several headliner and side-stage groups to the Hezarfen Airfield in Istanbul for the two-day rock n’ roll extravaganza. Past performers have included such major groups as hip-hop/rock fusion bands Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, English pop band Travis, the hardcore Nine Inch Nails, the trendy Franz Ferdinand, the ever-depressing The Cure, and the outrageously bizarre Korn.
- Approximately One Thousand Other Festivals
The above was a small sampling of the festivals put on each year in Turkey. Aside from religious festival, such as Ramadan, Kadir Gecesi (Eve of Power), Seker Bayrami (Sugar Holiday!), and Kurban Bayrami (Festival of the Sacrifice), there are numerous other cultural events running from spring through the fall. Big ones (apart from the ones already mentioned) include the Conquest Celebration, the Ephesus Festival, the Hidirellez Gypsy Festival, the Kafkasor Festival, the Efes Pilsen One Love music event, Chef’s Contest, Grape Harvest/Wine Festival, Watermelon Festival, and the Tourism and Handicrafts Festival!
All photos are from Creative Commons Google Images (and labeled for reuse), or the author’s own.