Turkey is one of the sixth most visited tourist destinations in the world and for good reason; travel to turkey is safe, fun, easy, and affordable. It is still somewhat unknown to Americans so we wanted to share it with you and tell you all about it. The #1 questions that is always asked is, “is it safe to travel to Turkey.” It definitely is but here are all of the things that will make you more prepared and your trip more enjoyable.
1. You Likely Need to Apply for a Visa to Enter Turkey.
Check Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs page to see what your country’s particular requirements are for entering Turkey. Americans can easily get their visa within 5 minutes of applying online here and paying $20. I applied for my visa while waiting in line to see the immigration officer.
Remember to print or do a screen capture of the bar code and the approval page and number because it’ll be an online link. You will not receive the approval information by email.
The multi-entry visa lasts for up to 90 days.
2. What you need to know about dress code
Although Turkey has a large Muslim population, it’s heavily influenced by Europe and is therefore relatively relaxed in terms of clothing. For women, it’s not a requirement to cover-up unless entering a religious site or certain conservative towns. Generally speaking, modest regular clothing will suffice; but if anything, dress a little more formally than at home.
3. Is it safe.
Without a doubt, the question I am asked most about Turkey is whether it’s safe. My answer: absolutely yes! As with traversing any other country in the world, there are risks. Things can go wrong and you can be caught in the wrong place at a bad time. Travelling is inherently unpredictable. But is Turkey any more dangerous than other tourist destinations? I don’t believe so. In fact, locals are incredibly hospitable to visitors, offering traditional tea and coffee at every opportunity.
Take regular safety precautions, like carrying small amounts of cash, avoiding sketchy areas at night and notifying someone of your location. If you’re sensible and respect the culture, I guarantee you’ll be as captivated by the country as I was.
4. Language & DIFFICULTIES Communicating
English is NOT widely spoken in Turkey. Most people could not speak English. Pictionary + a memorizing a few Turkish words are essential. Most could not even say “yes” or “no” in English. Some rolled their eyes and sighed when I asked if they spoke English. I found more French or German speakers in Istanbul than English speakers. Thus, I had to learn a ton of Turkish words to get by. If you have allergies, disabilities, or food limitations, learn how to say the essentials in Turkish for those things.
5. Istanbul is on two continents
Istanbul may be Europe’s largest city, but half of it actually extends into Asia. More than a century after a sultan dreamed of a rail link beneath the Bosphorus Strait, Turkey opened the Marmaray metro line in 2013. The former imperial city is also home to the Tünel, a short funicular that’s the second-oldest continuously running underground railway after London’s. You can also cross continents via ferry.
6. Turkey is packed with cultural heritage
In fact, there are 13 spots in Turkey inscribed on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites, and a whopping 62 on the tentative list. They range from a Mesolithic temple (Göbekli Tepe) to a Biblical city (Ephesus) to a World War One battlefield (Gallipoli), and help make Turkey the sixth most-visited tourist destination in the world.
7. Traditional Turkish Toilets
While many Turkish hotels, museums and restaurants have western toilets, you’ll definitely encounter a few squat toilets. At first, everyone is surprised but they’re plenty easy to use and you end up getting used to them quickly.
It’s a good idea to remove any objects, such as your phone or wallet, from your pockets before you squat. If you forget to do this, good luck retrieving it. There is usually a tap with running water (bidet) located next to the squat, which you can use to flush.
Don’t forget to carry toilet paper and small change with you at all times, as most public toilets in Turkey (and toilet paper provided) are not free. Antiseptic wipes aren’t a bad idea, either.
8. Taxis and Ubers
Taxis in Turkey are notorious for cheating and scamming. My first taxi experience was great. But I had to direct him on how to get to my hostel and he missed a turn at the beginning. I think it was an honest mistake since the roads were windy. But sometimes they will pretend they got lost, don’t understand you, won’t stop just to wrack up the meter. They will turn the meter off quickly so you don’t see the final price. They can pretend to not have change so always carry small bills for taxi rides. Always turn on your GPS so they know that you know where you are going.
Uber is now a thing in Turkey thankfully. This is what I’d recommend at all times. The driver will enter the final meter number into the Uber app at the end of the ride, so take a photo of the meter and let them see you taking that picture. It’s unfortunate that you have to take all these precautions, but better safe than sorry.
I noticed more and more cab taxi drivers I ordered through Uber were nicer than non-Uber cab drivers likely because they care about their star rating.
Important Turkish taxi words:
– Straight = düz (douz)
– Here = burası (burasou)
– Right = Sağ (Saou)
– Left = Sol (Soh)
– OK = tamman (tamman)
– Good = İyi (eiye)
9. You might find chicken in your dessert.
The signature Ottoman treat is tavuk göğsü, or chicken breast pudding. It’s a strange blend of boiled chicken, milk, and sugar, dusted with cinnamon. And it’s delicious. Look for it on menus across the country.
10. It has one of the world’s oldest and biggest malls.
Istanbul‘s Grand Bazaar, or Kapalı Çarşı, dates to 1455 and was established shortly after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. Over the centuries it has grown into a warren of 61 streets lined by more than 3,000 shops and currently occupies a nearly incomprehensible 333,000 square feet. You’ll never possibly be able to explore it all, but that doesn’t keep people from trying.