Turkey travel guide

2 minute summary

Geography and belief suggest Noah's Ark may have come to rest between the mighty twin peaks of Mt Ararat after the Biblical Flood. And Turkey still feels like a blessed landfall for travelers from afar. White-capped mountains contrast white sand beaches where giant turtles lay eggs in the shade of honey-stoned ruins that include the world's oldest city. The very rocks of Turkey seem magical: eroded into 'fairy chimneys' amid the cave dwellings of Cappadocia, or bringing forth eternal natural flames in Lycia. Timeless traditions combine the spiritual and surreal, from religious fervour embodied in endless whirling to wrestlers grappling for grip on bodies smeared with olive oil! Multiple cultures find harmony here too. Muslim calls to prayer blend with Byzantine church bells, sizzling street food stalls and the chatter of friendly locals in vibrant markets and cafes. Our Turkey travel guide salutes a uniquely stimulating kaleidoscope.

What we rate & what we don't

Our best & worst of Turkey vacations


Cirali Activity holidays Hamams Snow!


Set in an environmentally protected enclave, this mellow resort nestles between pine-clad headlands on the Lycian peninsula. It's not just savvy humans that love it loggerhead turtles paddle through pale blue ocean to lay their eggs beneath the coarse sand of a 3km beach backed by groves of orange, lemon and eucalyptus, plus charming old farms.

Activity vacations

Hikers and bikers will love Turkey's rugged peaks: legendary Mt Ararat; the rugged Taurus range; the forested Kackars. Add beautiful 500km walks like the Lycian Way or ancient St Paul's Trail. Sea kayak over ancient underwater ruins at Kekova, canoe the Xanthos River's eco wonderland, get white-water kicks on the Coruh, and enjoy world-class windsurfing at Alcati.


Turkey's body-tingling bath-and-rub routine (aka Turkish baths) can be post-activity ache-relievers or just a blissful treat - often in beautiful historic Ottoman surroundings, such as Antalya's 13th century Sefa Hamam or 16th century Sokollu in Edirne. The locals may go for a full monty of twisting and being walked over - but you decide your comfort level!


Despite its sun-baked image, Turkeys mountains offer wonderful snowy enclaves for skiers and walkers. From December to April, powder junkies can hit pine-forested slopes at Sarikimis near Kars, Cappadocia's rugged Erciyes Dagi or the lake-ringed Davraz Dagi in western Anatolia. The Kackars offer cross-country skiing, while Cappadocia and Mt Ararat are great for snow-shoeing.


Gulet cruises Kayaking Ancient ruins Beaches

Gulet cruises

Voyages on gulets traditional sailing boats based on former sponge-diving vessels are traditionally called 'Blue Cruises' (mavi yolculuk), referring to the sea and sky that envelop guests along the Turquoise Coast from traditional start point Fethiye. Drop into secluded coves, idyllic island anchorages, ancient sites and beguiling fishing hamlets, with exciting inland excursions thrown in.


Where else can you kayak over the ruins of a submerged classical city? Or paddle by steep rugged cliffs into deserted sandy bays ripe for snorkelling, or coves backed by ancient ruins awaiting stretch-your-legs exploration. For company, you might have dolphins or sea turtles. End each day camping on wild beaches beneath starry skies.

Ancient ruins

Blockbuster sites like Ephesus and Pergamum (aka Pergamon) are magnificent - but so are less-crowded gems: the mountain-top sanctuary of Zeus at Labraunda; Eastern Anatolia's 10th century Armenian ruins; painted churches in Cappadocia's volcanic valleys; eerie stone heads scattered across Mt Nemrut; and Gobleki Tepi a Neolithic site 6500 years older than Stonehenge.


Turkey's beaches turn sand and sea into sophisticated art forms. Patara combines 18km of white strand with glorious ancient ruins, while the Turquoise Coast offers dreamy coves like Kaputas and boho camping idylls like Kabak. For seclusion, hit the Teke peninsula and its sandy pauses on the Lycian Way. Want sand-fringed islands? Try Gokceada and Bozcaada.


Tourist food Fezes All-inclusive package resorts Ankara

Tourist food

Skip tourist menus and dodgy kebabs! Chow on real local cuisine at simple diners (lokantas) and taverns (meyhane), or amid the fire and smoke of street stalls. You'll discover a vibrant culinary tradition - and the food will be better and cheaper! Look too for distinctive Turkish wines such as elegant red Kalecik Karasi or floral white Emir.


Turks aren't necessarily as keen on the truncated conical hat as famous fez-wearers like Tommy Cooper. Revered leader Kemal Ataturk actually banned them in 1925 in his drive to make Turkey a secular modern society, judging fezes backward garb on a par with the veil for women. Tourist shops sell them - but don't consider them popular local wear.

All-inclusive package resorts

Turkey's fantastic coastline sadly has its share of fly-and-flop resorts low on ethical cred and high on ugliness and environmental impact. All-inclusive resorts get particular black marks - research suggests less than 10% of daily tourist spend goes to local permanent shops outside the vacation bunker. Youll enjoy Turkey more if you get out and connect with local life.


Ankara is Turkey's capital (no, it's not Istanbul), but this Anatolian metropolis is a bit 'meh' - a place for business and acting sophisticated rather than enjoying an atmospheric historic vibe. If you are passing through, though, visit the superb Museum of Anatolian Civilisations in a lovely 15th century building, and potter the lanes by the 9th century Citadel.

Food, shopping & people

Travel like a local on your Turkey vacation

Eating & drinking in Turkey

Try street food like kokorec (a spicy lamb sandwich)
Turks love strong Black Sea tea (ay) but only tourist cafes will offer milk (st). To get it weaker, say aik.
Sweet treats include almond-stuffed dried figs, baklava or local dondurma ice-cream.
Classic meze dishes include lakerda (salted kingfish), muhammara (walnut, tahini and lemon dip) and sigara boregi (cigar-shaped pastries stuffed with cheese)

The ancient Lycian port Patara was the 4th century birthplace of gift-giving St Nicholas inspiration for Santa Claus!

People & language

Some English is spoken in major cities and resorts, far less in rural areas. Hello is merhaba, yes is evet, no is hayir ('ha-yuhr'), please is lutfen and thank you is tesekkur ederim. 'Do you speak English?' is Ingilizce konusuyor musunuz? Note that little squiggles under letters like '' and 's' softens the sound to 'ch' and 'sh' respectively.

Turkish waiters can sometimes try to take your plate before you've finished. Saying 'kalsin' ('let it stay') should help. When you have finished put your cutlery together.

Gifts & shopping

Beautifully crafted carpets and kilims are classic Turkish products buy with a knowledgeable guide for advice on quality and price

Hammered bronze or copper vessels are striking souvenirs

Bags of fresh almonds, pistachios, pine nuts and sumac spice at a fraction of UK prices make ideal foodie gifts, as does pomegranate syrup (great for salad dressings)

Wire-filigree jewellery (telkari) is a beautiful memento. Do NOT buy coral jewellery, plundered from a vulnerable marine eco-system.

Sweet-tooth? Buy multi-flavoured Turkish Delight (lokum)!

Fast facts

Traditional chewy Turkish ice-cream dondurma is thickened with salep, made from the powdered bulbs of wild orchids.

How much does it cost?

Meal for one in an inexpensive restaurant - 4
Half-litre (about a pint) of local beer - 2
Taxi from Dalaman airport to Fethiye - 55
Public bus from Dalaman to Fethiye - 3
1-day windsurfer hire in Alcati - 35

A brief history of Turkey

Turkey's location twixt Europe, Asia and the Middle East puts it front-line in various 21st century geo-political balancing acts. As well as troubled neighbours like Syria, Iraq, Iran and Greece, Turkey faces internal insurgency involving Kurdish separatists which since 1984 has claimed over 30,000 lives. An ever-present challenge is Turkey's admirable effort to run an essentially secular society with an 80% Muslim population in a region where Islamic fundamentalist pressures simmer. The country's most recent problems have focused on its borders with Iraq and Syria, where years of war have seen vast numbers of refugees flee into Turkey. Read more ▼
Photo credits: [Top box - Gulet cruise: Stew Dean] [Cirali: Lisa Joanes] [Activity vacations: Ran Yaniv Hartstein] [Hamams: Marsyas] [Snow: Jurgen] [Kayaking: Tim Wilson] [Ancient ruins: LASZLO ILYES] [Beaches - Patara: William Neuheisel] [Tourist food: ] [Fezes: Stuart Stalley] [All inclusive package resorts: Omer Unlu] [Ankara: Jorge Franganillo] [Eating & drinking: Jorge Cancela] [People & language: William Neuheisel] [Gifts & shopping - turkish delight: Fajrul Islam] [How much: Erik Cleves Kristensen]
Written by Norman Miller
Small group tour of Turkey

Small group tour of Turkey

The perfect introduction to cosmopolitan and memorial Turkey

From 599 8 days ex flights
Cappadocia walking vacation in Turkey

Cappadocia walking vacation in Turkey

Trek the unique and fairytale landscape of Cappadocia

From US $1005 8 Days ex flights
Turkey small group tour

Turkey small group tour

Music the wonders of Turkey on this 10 day tour

From 819 10 days ex flights
Lycian activity vacation

Lycian activity vacation

High adventure under the Mediterranean sun

From US $1125 8 Days ex flights
Beach vacation in Cirali, Turkey

Beach vacation in Cirali, Turkey

Boutique beach bungalows with lots of rustic charm

From 320 7 Days per person per week
Kalkan village accommodation, Turkey

Kalkan village accommodation, Turkey

Romantic cottage in Turkish village with sea views

From 300 per week (sleeps 2-4)
Eastern Europe cultural tour

Eastern Europe cultural tour

Descend to the dark ages on this tour of Dracula's country.

From US $1549 15 days ex flights
Cirali beach accommodation, Turkey

Cirali beach accommodation, Turkey

Luxurious beach bungalows on Cirali's stunning beach front

From 840 per cottage per week (sleeps 2)
Self guided walking vacation in Turkey

Self guided walking vacation in Turkey

Enjoy walking the Lycian Way

From 300 7 Days ex flights
Photo credits: [Page banner: ]