Turkey is often an overlooked gem in Europe. The gorgeous country offers travellers a unique mix of east and west, boasting incredible beaches, breathtaking mountains, eclectic cities and, of course, delicious food.
The secular country straddles both Asia and Europe, however many confuse Turkey as part of the Middle East, and are perhaps apprehensive of visiting due to its location. Whilst you should always be cautious when travelling overseas, you definitely can't discount Turkey.
If you're keen on exploring the country by joining a sailing tour and swimming in the crystal clear water, seeing the hot air balloons in Cappadocia, feasting on meze or getting lost in Istanbul's bazaar, we've put together a travel guide to ensure you're prepared.Sunset at night, a true Turkish travellers delight. Image credit: @nextwetravel.
Currency - In Turkey, you'll be using the Turkish Lira. Euro's are accepted in tourist areas; however, you'll get a much better deal using Lira. You may also see a lot of prices advertised in USD. If you're joining a tour, many companies will require payment in USD, so be sure to check before you leave.
The Lira is divided into the following denominations:
Coins - 1 lira and 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 kurus
Notes - 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 lira
Turkey is primarily cash-based, so be sure to have plenty of notes on hand. With this in mind, you can still use a card in bigger shops, hotels and restaurants. There aren't many, if any, travel cards that hold the Turkish Lira. If you are opting to take a card, we recommend loading a Cash Passport Platinum with either NZD or EUR to use.
Bartering is common practice in most market stalls, so figure out what you are willing to pay, smile and stand your ground.
Tipping is also expected though not mandatory. 10% is standard for excellent service.
Tip - Depending on their age, both the 5 and 50 lira notes look the same. Make sure you check before paying.
Language - The national language is Turkish. While many people speak English, it will be harder and harder to find the further afar you go from major cities.
ATMs - ATMs shouldn't be too hard to find in major cities. Be sure to use those attached to banks as they have better rates and lower fees compared to private ATMs. Not all ATMs will have English options, so it's worth having a translation app handy just in case. To avoid accumulating heaps of fees, withdraw more significant amounts at a time.
Getting around - There are a few transport options depending on where you need to travel and how much time you have.
- Flights are rather inexpensive and quick if you don't have time to spare. Keep an eye on discount sites for good deals.
- Coaches are great for longer trips between towns and cities if you have less cash to splash and more time on your hands. They are clean, efficient and affordable.
- Mini-buses or 'dolmus' are great for quick trips around cities and towns. Generally, there will be a sign at the front of the bus outlining the route and price.
- Car hire is accessible but kind of touch and go, mainly because Turkish roads are quite different from home. Traffic signs and speed limits are more of a guide rather than the law.
- Bikes are an excellent option for exploring cities. Depending on where you are, hiring one should be inexpensive and stress-free.
In towns and cities themselves, you can choose between buses, taxis and sometimes the metro and tram to get around for a relatively low cost. For buses, metro and trams it's worth buying a smart reloadable ticket.
Safety - The nature of the region means Turkey is sometimes caught in conflict. We recommend staying up to date with travel warnings and advice posted by Smart Traveller, airlines and any tour companies you may be travelling with.
Further to this, when you are in Turkey keep the following in mind:
- Don't keep all of your money in one place. Divide and conquer your cash in some creative hiding places. Stuck on ideas? We've got you covered with some tips and tricks
- In bigger cities, especially Istanbul, be vigilant against pickpockets. Bustling Bazaars are a pickpockets dream, so avoid putting cash in your pocket and opt for a travel wallet if possible.
- Should anything unsavoury happen while in Turkey, make sure you are well protected with travel insurance. You can also contact the local tourism police.
What to eat in Turkey
You can't visit Turkey without gobble-gobbling up these delicious delicacies. Word of warning, though, the Turkish are incredibly hospitable and will continue to feed you until you burst. Eat in moderation to ensure you have enough room to try everything.
I tell you what, the Turkish love their cheese and for a good reason too. Cheese consumption starts at breakfast and continues throughout the day. There are options to suit every taste and complement every meal, so loosen your waistband and pray to baby cheesus you can make it through.
There seems to be a gozleme stall at every market in New Zealand, so most have us have dabbled in its glory. If you've been living under a rock, gozleme is the Turkish answer to fast food and is like a crepe with different fillings. Cheese and spinach is a cracker, so try that if you're new to the gozleme game.
The locals call it Lokum, and it is so much better than that nasty pink addition to the Cadbury Favourite box. Lokum isn't covered in chocolate; instead, it is presented as delectable little sugary squares filled with fruit and nuts.
Let's be honest with ourselves, Kiwi baklava isn't that great unless your Turkish mate's grandma makes it from scratch. Forget the subordinate baklava of your past and dive headfirst into the syrupy pool of goodness that is authentic baklava.
A kebab meal where the bread is soaked in sauce under the meat slices. Yes, in my belly now, please.
A delicious selection of dishes that are generally served with your pre-dinner drinks. Think yoghurt, koftas (meatballs), eggplant salad, cheese (duh) and warm pide. An ah-mezze-ing way to start a meal if you ask me.
Turkish Apple tea
You're full but thirsty. Have no fear; the Turkish apple tea is crisp, light, refreshing and ready to quench your thirst.
Where to visit in Turkey
Black Sea Region
The coastline is dotted with small villages and empty beaches, it is the best way to escape the world and soak up nature at its finest. Think mountains, waterfalls and crisp, clean air. Serious Hans Christian Anderson forest vibes that will make you put away your phone and soak up the glory and magic of a landscape we can't experience at home.
Chances are you will fly into Istanbul, the nation's capital. Stay for a while and visit the intricately beautiful Saltan Ahmen Mosque before visiting one of the worlds biggest bazaars. Boasting over 4000 shops selling gold, carpets, leather, clothing, souvenirs and everything in between, you can very quickly lose yourself in the maze of alleys and colours. Spice up your life at the nearby spice bazaar as well.
We've all seen the jaw dropping pics of Cappadocia's balloons at sunrise or sunset. The balloons themselves are actually for people to have a unique perspective of the 'fairy chimney rocks' that Cappadocia is famous. The village of Goreme serves as the main tourist centre for this area.
Located in South-Western Turkey, Pamukkale is known for its sweeping white limestone cliffs and pools of powder-blue water. These are known as the travertine terraces and offer incredible photo oppsand the chance of a swim in the mineral-rich water. Just be sure to pack your sunglasses as the white on white on white can be pretty glary under the Turkish sun.
All Kiwi’s visiting Turkey are encouraged to visit Gallipoli and pay their respects to the ANZACs. Not only are the cliffs a stunning backdrop, but they allow for some immense reflection and an insight into the conditions faced by the ANZACs.
Turkey Travel tips
- Learn some basic Turkish phrases. Not only will the locals appreciate the effort, but it will help in areas where there is limited English.
- 'Put a ring on it'. A tip for the ladies, wearing a wedding ring, even if you aren't married, is a way to avoid any unwanted harassment.
- Don't drink the tap water in Istanbul. It's nasty, and you'll be seeing the toilet instead of the bazaars.
- Prepare for 'turkey time'. It's not thanksgiving, but rather Turkey's version of 'island time' where things happen at a slower pace.
- Cover up in Mosques and sacred buildings. Apart from that, Turkey is relatively cosmopolitan so, providing you're modest, you don't have to completely cover up like you would in neighbouring countries.
- Wifi isn't too bad in major cities, but it can be pretty patchy the further out you go.
- You can't tip with a card, so always have cash on hand.
How much to budget for Turkey
While Turkey isn't crazy expensive, it certainly isn't as cheap as some of the countries that surround it. Try our budget planner to get an idea of how much you'll need for your trip.