Turkey doesn’t have the largest landmass, but every centimeter of it unveils another adventure. Once the center of the Ottoman empire, this cultural mecca has more to do in it than one could prepare for.
Thousands of years ago, ancient civilisation crossed paths with Turkey during the Bronze Age. Around the turn of the first century, after the Roman’s had had their way with much of the coast and inland, as did many others before them, the Seljuk Turks cruised in about 1000 C.E. bringing Islam and a Middle Eastern lifestyle with them. A bit later, in the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire expanded to be a top contender as the Arab world expanded. Things went downhill, as with most countries after their golden age, and pretty much declined up until after WWI. Their modern lifestyle is a testament to Ataturk, translation, Father of the Turks; who created the Republic of Turkey and became Turkey’s first president. Ataturk modernised the country extensively bringing them into the 20th century. Apart of the Western world, Ataturk changed laws enforcing rights for women and laws that forced citizens to use the latin alphabet instead of the arabic one.
That’s just the tiny tip of the surface, Turkey’s been through a lot of changes and is hard to nail down. And, you will want to stay when your time in Turkey is over. You’ll feel like you’ve just started watching a 10 part mini series and only the introduction has been covered. Because Turkey is so expansive, it’s highly recommended to visit Istanbul for more than 3 days, then spend some time in the center of the country and make your way south to the beaches.
This is a big city, like New York, or London, or Sao Paulo, and things are happening all the time, rain or shine. Istanbul lies in two continents, it’s dynamic because it’s people are an actual European to Asian rainbow, with a rich history in religion and civilization. Don’t expect to relax.
Must do Istanbul:
– Full of adventure and sites to see. Beautiful, romantic, historic and fantastical, but where are all the women? Not here. Start by leaving the airport with an Istanbul card for easy access to the entire city.
- Check out Hagia Sophia which is across from the Blue Mosque and are both a glimmering examples of different cultural hands in the Turkish Empire pot. The Blue Mosque an old simple, elegant quiet atmosphere and the other an example of the hustle and bustle of tourism.
- The Grand Bazaar is certainly a place one could get lost in for hours. If you like to shop, if you like textiles, if you like lamps, or leather, or pretty much any other souvenirs, spices, or fake Polo T-shirts, the Grand Bazaar will have it.
- Topkapi Palace and the Archeology museum conveniently located on the same massive plot of land. The Archeology Museum has sarcophagi inside but is time consuming and and in depth history dating back thousands of years. While Topkapi is more of a stroll. Both are worthwhile if you have the time.
- The Spice Bazaar is also worthwhile and not far from the water and main terminals for ferries to the other parts of Istanbul.
- Check out a cool coffee shop nearby called Brew Coffeeworks.
Long Walk from the Old City to Taksim Square
- Cross the Galata Bridge after grabbing yourself a cheap fish sandwich (called balek ekmek and recommended by the locals). Snap a few shots of the trolling fisherman along the way and move over the Bosporus to Asia.
- Then find your way to the Galata Tower created circa 507 (bring a map or download one to your phone) and wiggle your way to Istiklal Caddesi which is the main road running through neighbourhood Beyoglu and turns into a pedestrian friendly throughway of coffee shops, stores, and a very lively atmosphere.
- Then the walk up towards Taksim Sqaure get damn good chocolate from Meşhur Beyoğlu Çikolatıcısı.
- A very young and hip walk down, away from the bustle of Istiklal Caddesi is Yeniçarşı which turns into Boğazkesen Cd and meets up towards the sea near the Modern Art Museum. Independent shops and coffee havens like Kronotrop are hidden away along this quiet funky road.
The Rest of the City
- Bosphorus Tour goes across the massive straight of the Bosphorous and see the magnificent houses on the body of water that separates Europe from Asia. There are about 1 million companies that do this tour, so you can walk along the river at any touristy point and find a company to take you for as little as 10TL for the most minimum of tours.
- Modern Art Museum – a spectacular display of the finest artistic talent in Turkey. On certain nights of the week the museum plays a movie that’s included with your ticket.
- Kadikoy is modern and lively and only a ferry ride to get there from the Old City or from nearby the Modern Art Museum. You could stay in Kadikoy if you want a less touristy feel and a more down to earth day to day Istanbul lifestyle. It’s full of restaurants and is near the sea, for a beautiful setting. The area is pumping with a market feel and funky independent stores line the street.
Cappadocia is located in the center of Turkey, closer to the west than the east still, so easily accessible by bus from Istanbul and other major cities. It’s a heavily historic city with outdoors hiking and adventure at it’s peak during the summer months. It’s unbelievable how old Turkey’s roots are. This particular area dates back over 5000 years and continues to be a display of traditional Turkish culture. Farmers used to collect pigeon droppings as their fertilizer by carving holes into the soft mountains, but still use the somewhat baron land to farm crops annually. The entire area with the picturesque “caps on the mountains” is actually a triangle and quite large. It’s better to focus on one area or rent a car for 1 or 2 days to explore the greater expanses of this region.
Must do Cappadocia:
- Hot air balloon ride over the crevasses carved by rain and wind. These book up quickly and only run if weather conditions are suitable.
- Stay in Goreme which is the most geared towards tourists but the best place see a lot of sights by foot. There’s also a place called Coffeedocia, which is over priced but worth a visit for the novelty.
- Walk from the center of town Goreme to the Open Air Museum.
- Explore a trail or two in the valley of the tall lean rock formations, easily found from the center of town.
- Take a day tour if you don’t want to rent your own car. They’ll be three basic tours that all companies provide. This will take some questioning of the right tour guide for your party.
- Sleep at Ufuk Pension. Ismail is helpful and humble. He and his brother serve guests tea on cold days and set up adventures on warm ones. They are all too happy to help their patrons and treat everyone like their own family, which hangs around the hotel too. Try their lemon tea and fresh quintessential Turkish breakfasts.
Antalya & the Turkish Riviera
Antalya is a great spot to spend a few days in the sun, but can be a bit without for an extended period of time. Hosting one the busiest airports in the world, Antalya is a gateway to the rest of the Turkish Riviera. Turkey’s epic coast line is nothing short of ancient, it’s easy to imagine Greek sailboats coming up the shores, or ancient Romans building towers around the city like Hadrian’s Gate in honour of a trip made almost 2000 years ago. It’s quite easy to take the tram and busses around Antalya and to nearby sites. The city is approachable with friendly people out any time the sun is shining.
Must do Antalya:
- Konyaalti beach, on the west side of Antalya, is something special with a coastline made of pebbles and vivid colours that you will want to fill your pockets with. You can easily take a tram there or walk along the tram tracks until you can see the beach. Note that there are only very touristy shops around this beach.
- Lara beach is far from the center of Antalya past a few malls and resorts. There aren’t too many boutique hotels and the area thrives on tourists at their massive all inclusive retreats. The beach is long and fills up during summer.
- Visit the Lower Düden Waterfalls along the coast line when returning from Lara. The falls crash into the Mediterranean at a scenic park with benches, families, children, and puppies. They are a worthwhile stop, but ask the bus driver to help out.
- Old Town/Kaleiçi falls below the clock tower and towards the sea. Spend half a day to a whole day exploring the bustling old town. Wander around the winding roads the Romans once gathered on and walk in and out of markets, beware though some are full on imitation designer clothing and nothing specifically Turkish and the vendors can get quite aggressive.
- You’ll want to spend a few hours ogling the Roman Harbour and the boats that come in and out. If it’s a nice day there are tours of the coast line that start from here.
- Eat fresh mussels, 2 for 1TL, (hello fresh off the fishing boats stuffed with rice) at the Kaaralioglu Parki. Stroll down the promenade picking up treats along the way and spectacular views of beyond Konyaalti beach and the surrounding snow capped mountains.
- Nearby the park is one of Ataturk’s homes that’s been converted into a museum dedicated to the father of modern Turkey.
- After have dinner and a drink with Turkish hipsters at the local spot Public restaurant in Old Town.
- There are plenty of small pensions to stay in when visiting Antalya, and the Old City is recommended as a central point.
If you have 3 nights or more, head to one of the beautiful neighbouring beach towns. The main terminal bus station, called Otogar, goes to every nearby beach town for reasonable rates. —-
Hamam – the famous Turkish Bath; a scrub down and sauna, sometimes including a facial and massage, available everywhere in Turkey.
Street food – treats are on every corner, are safe to eat, and is just as good as many of the restaurants.
Donner – cheap and worthwhile street food wrapped in a pita with chicken or lamb.
Phone – Avea is relatively inexpensive for 1g of data and a bit of airtime to be connected pretty much everywhere.
Wifi is easily accessible in most areas.
Public Transportation is convenient and extensive in most cities.
Bus – 60-100 TL Official sites for these buses are in Turkish, you can buy tickets form any local tour guide. The station in Istanbul is complicated and confusing to get to, so if they offer a transfer to the bus station for a cheap price it’s worth it. The smaller cities are easier to get to and from the bus stations.
Plane – can be cheap on an off day – A list of all Turkish Airlines
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