Monday, 21 Oct 2019

The ultimate guide to backpacking Turkey

Turkey is a vast and diverse country, but many of its ancient treasures and natural wonders are yet to become staples on the backpacker trail.

That’s good news for adventurous travellers, who can bask on the pristine beaches of the Aegean and the Mediterranean coasts, before wrestling free of the crowds and striking further east. Here you’ll find more monuments and charming towns, plus a mighty dose of rugged natural beauty – think teetering mountains and deep, blue lakes.

Throw in buzzing cities, a world-class food scene and great swathes of postcard-worthy backcountry and you’ll wonder why you didn’t explore this beautiful country sooner. If you’re dreaming of a trip now, we’re here to help. Whether you’ve got one week or one month, here’s how to plan your perfect backpacking Turkey adventure.

Jump straight to:

  1. The best time to visit Turkey
  2. Turkey visa
  3. Getting around Turkey
  4. Turkey budget
  5. Hostels in Turkey
  6. Best places to visit in Turkey
  7. Turkey itinerary
  8. Turkish food
  9. Turkish culture
  10. Is Turkey safe?
  11. Turkey travel advice

backpacking turkey - man standing under lanterns in market

? @_nana.kweku_

Best time to visit Turkey

The climate varies across this huge nation, so it’s worth being prepared. Turkey weather patterns shift depending on the region. As a general rule, it’s best to avoid the southwestern Aegean and southern Mediterranean coasts throughout the summer (roughly June to September). During peak season, these seaside areas are burning hot and flooded with people. Visit from April to May or October into November instead for more pleasant climes and a chance of finding a quiet slice of the beach.

The north-western Marmara region (the area including Istanbul) can be humid and muggy in the summer too – spring and autumn make for more comfortable temperatures, though the bustling city remains busy.

Temperatures in Eastern Anatolia tend to be much cooler than out west, so a summer trip will work well if you’re visiting these parts. Meanwhile Central Anatolia, the country’s massive interior, experiences plummeting temperatures in winter, but dry sizzling heat in the summer. The Black Sea Coast, on the other hand, remains pleasant, lush and green from plenty of rain throughout the year.

Winter in Turkey generally means fewer crowds and lower prices, but much more chance of rain in most parts, including in Istanbul and along the coast. During this season, some travellers come to Eastern Anatolia to ski. The top spot for winter sports is Palandöken in Erzurum, which has good facilities, lots of places to stay and, of course, plenty of snow.

A few other factors may help you decide when to come to Turkey. Much of the country’s population is Muslim and this means most people observe Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, during which time Muslims fast. It falls on the ninth month of the Islamic year, though the specific dates vary annually, since the Islamic calendar is lunar. For the most part, sites of interest to tourists will remain open, though it’s worth checking in advance, especially if you’re travelling to more remote cities that are less geared up for visitors.

This goes for cafés and restaurants too – larger tourist-focused spots will likely stick to their usual schedules, while smaller family-run venues may close. While non-Muslim travellers are not expected to fast, remember to be considerate to those who are (avoid feasting on that delicious-looking baklava on the street, for example).

Depending on your interests, other dates to put in the diary include the Istanbul Film Festival, which kicks off at the start of April – and, for culture vultures headed towards the coast, the Side Culture and Art Festival in September is well worth a look too.

backpacking turkey, girl standing by turkish flag

? @findingalexx

Turkey visa requirements

If you’re a British national, you’ll need to get a visa to visit Turkey. You can easily apply for an e-Visa through the official online Republic of Turkey Electronic Visa Application System – it will cost $20 (roughly £16.50) and is valid for up to 90 days within a 180-day window.

Make sure you organise your visa at least 48 hours before your big trip to avoid any problems. It’s advisable to keep your e-Visa printed out with you as you backpack around Turkey too.

Getting around Turkey

Turkey is a big place, but its decent public transport system means that travelling around the country is not a struggle. Buses, trains and domestic flights all play their part in connecting the dots.

Turkey buses

Intercity buses generally prove the most reliable and comfortable way to travel across the country. In fact, rattling through the Turkish countryside on a long-distance bus may even prove to be a highlight of your trip.

The vehicles operating on long-distance bus networks tend to be much more luxurious than you might expect, with relatively comfy seats, music, air conditioning and a complimentary drinks and snacks service. Some even have free wi-fi and a multimedia screen on the seat in front of you.

Of all Turkey’s bus companies, Metro Turizm and Ulusoy offer the most extensive networks, with their routes criss-crossing large swathes of the country. Between the two of them, they cover major cities and backpacker hotspots such as Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya, Göreme in Cappadocia and Kayseri nearby.

They also reach out west to Turquoise Coast resort cities such as Bodrum and Fethiye, and up to the Black Sea Coast for destinations such as Trabzon. Metro Turizm also strikes out eastward, taking in little-touristed cities such as Erzurum and Van (more on these later). Both Ulusoy and Metro Turizm have easy-to-use websites so you can plan your itinerary in advance too.

Other good companies include Pamukkale Turizm, which mainly covers the western Aegean Coast and Kamil Koç, which also offers a wide-reaching network.

Unless it’s a public holiday, there’s generally no need to book in advance to use Turkey’s buses. You can simply turn up at the bus station (called an otogar in Turkish) and purchase a ticket. Many longer journeys run overnight, and it’s also worth noting that unmarried men and women are not supposed to sit together. This rule is unlikely to affect a mixed-sex group who are travelling together, but if you’re journeying solo you may be asked to sit with members of the same sex.

Some of the most common journeys backpackers take are best travelled by bus. First up, you can travel from Istanbul to Antalya with Metro Turizm – the journey takes around 12 hours, but there will be plenty of rest stops along the way. You can expect to pay around 135 Turkish Lira (just under £20).

Other popular journeys include Istanbul to Cappadocia. This route is also served by Metro Turizm and should take around 10 hours. The trip from Ankara to Cappadocia is much quicker, however. With Metro Turizm, you can travel from the capital to Nev?ehir (another gateway to the Cappadocia region) in as little as 3.5 hours and for as little as 70TL (about £10). You can also make this journey with Kamil Koç.

backpacking turkey, girl looking out over mountains

? @pounelemieux

Car rental in Turkey

Given Turkey’s great bus network, there’s no desperate need to rent a car. Having said that, having your own vehicle grants you the freedom of the open road, and the chance to get right off the tourist track. Imagine cruising through the rugged Turkish countryside, stopping off at pint-sized towns and villages along the way. Sound good? If so, a rental car might be for you – but there are a few things you should know before you get behind the wheel.

First, be aware that Turkish driving can be erratic and road accidents are fairly common – you’ll need to be an extra-vigilant and confident driver to take on Turkey’s roadways.

Having said this, road conditions are generally good with decent signage, especially around the most visited parts. The further east you go, however, conditions tend to deteriorate a little, particularly away from the bigger cities. Be sure to research your route carefully before you set out and ask locals if you’re unsure – this is most important when it comes to mountainous areas and regions with harsher winters (such as north-eastern Anatolia).

If you’re sold on driving, renting a car in Turkey is straightforward. You’ll need to be at least 21 years old and you must have had a driving license for one year – those under 25 may also face extra charges. Reputable companies such as Hertz, Avis and Europcar are good options, and can be found in major cities and airports. It’s best to stick to these big names where possible.

Domestic flights in Turkey

Turkey is also well-served by domestic flights. This option tends to be quicker than travelling by long-distance bus, but it’s also more expensive and less environmentally friendly. You’ll also have fewer chances to admire views of the Turkish countryside as they whip past, or to strike up conversations with fellow travellers.

If you’re really on a tight schedule though, flying will shave off some of your travel time. The national carrier is Turkish Airlines, while Anadolu Jet, Pegasus and Sun Express also have wide-reaching networks that whizz travellers all over the country – from big cities such as Istanbul and Ankara to lesser-visited spots such as Trabzon and Gaziantep. Outside of peak season, you can find super cheap deals on flights.

Trains in Turkey 

While improvements are being made when it comes to comfort and coverage, the train network in Turkey is less developed than the bus system. However, it does represent a cheaper option than bus travel, which will be attractive to those on a budget. A sleeper train will also give you back valuable time in your itinerary.

The train network is operated by Turkish State Railways and some fairly new high-speed routes are proving popular and useful to backpackers. These include Istanbul to Ankara (via Eskisehir) and Ankara to Konya. It’s estimated that by 2023, most of Turkey will benefit from a high-speed train network, which will be sure to further open up the country to curious travellers.

backpacking turkey, hot air balloons over rocks

? @estudiodelmar

Turkey budget

Turkey cost per day

Especially around the most touristy areas, prices in Turkey have continued to rise over the years, as the country maintains its reputation as a holidaymaker’s haven.

Having said that, it’s still cheaper than some other destinations in western Europe and you can easily backpack around the country on a budget. Of course, this depends on the value of the Turkish Lira against your home country’s currency at the time of your trip too. As is usually the case, you’ll also save money if you travel outside of the peak season and don’t solely stick to the most travelled tourist cities and resorts.

You could spend as little as 150TL (about £20) per day if you stay in hostels, stick to buses and trains (rather than hiring a car or taking flights) and eat at no-frills restaurants and street-food stalls (where you’ll often find the most traditional eats anyway).

It’s wiser to budget for about 350TL per day (around £50) if you’re spending lots of time in more expensive cities such as Istanbul, soaking up the nightlife and paying to enter attractions such as Topkap? Palace.

Food and drink prices in Turkey are reasonable if you know where to look too. Look for lokantas, the most laid-back and affordable of Turkish restaurants, and you can expect to pay as little as 30TL (just over £4) for your meal.

A beer may be 10–20TL (£1.50–3) and you can normally expect to pay less for domestic beer over international brands. Again, your tipple will be cheaper if you opt for traditional Turkish spots over trendy bars geared towards tourists.

Hostels in Turkey

You’ll have no trouble finding a place to rest your head in Turkey – backpacker hostels, family-run digs and guesthouses are dotted all over the country. Here are my favourite spots to overnight, area by area.

The best hostels in Istanbul:

  • Cheers Lighthouse Hostel: You’ll find this sleek hostel, one of the most popular in Istanbul, in the old part of the city. Top draws include amazing ocean views, plus a sauna and hot tub. Get ready for a day exploring the city by feasting on a slap-up Turkish breakfast, included in the price of your room.
  • Second Home Hostel: “Second Home” is a fitting name for this friendly hostel, which organises pub crawls and city tours and offers plenty of colourful communal spaces to meet other travellers. Explore the big sights, such as the Hagia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar – both within walking distance – before coming back to hang out on the music-filled rooftop terrace.
  • Bahaus Guesthouse Hostel, Istanbul: A top pick for the most sociable travellers, this hostel organises everything from rooftop barbecues to belly-dancing shows, so you’ll have no trouble getting to know your fellow guests. It also boasts a great location a stone’s throw from the city’s top landmarks. Choose between bright dorms or private twin or double rooms and don’t skip on the belly-busting Turkish breakfast in the morning.

backpacking turkey, cheers lighthouse hostel room with single beds

? Cheers Lighthouse Hostel

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The best hostels in the Antalya province:

  • Gold Coast Hostel: Tucked away in the city’s historic district, Gold Coast Hostel makes a great base for backpackers wanting to discover Antalya’s biggest sights (from the castle to Hadrian’s Gate). The rooftop terrace affords pretty views of both the city and the mountains on the horizon, while dorms, private rooms and communal areas are colourful and design conscious – think bright feature walls, potted plants and wooden finishes.
  • Kadir’s Tree House: Perhaps the most famous hostel in all of Turkey, Kadir’s Tree House is one of several of its kind in the backpacker haven of Olympos. You’ll be perfectly placed to explore Turkey’s Turquoise Coast, from its beaches to its ancient ruins, while the hostel itself has plenty to keep you busy. Revel in its quirky wooden design and make the most of the on-site nightclub, volley-ball court and adventurous excursions, from diving to paragliding.

backpacking turkey, kadir's tree house

? Kadir’s Tree House

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The best hostels in Cappadocia (Göreme):

  • Sato Cave Hostel Göreme: Many of Göreme’s hostels make the most of Cappadocia’s distinctive landscape, with its caves and curious rock formations. Family-run Sato Cave Hostel is located in the town of Göreme in Cappadocia and boasts five stunning cave rooms. Common areas afford guests jaw-dropping views of the surroundings, plus breakfast and a welcome drink are thrown in for good measure.
  • Hostel Terra Vista: Nestled away on Göreme’s main street, the Hostel Terra Vista has bright airy dorms, plus an atmospheric cave lounge perfect for getting to know other backpackers. Your friendly hosts will also organise trips around Cappadocia, including horse-riding tours and hot-air balloon trips over the spectacular landscape.
  • Homestay Cave Hostel: Homestay is another glorious cave hostel in the region. Get cosy in the cave dorms or private rooms and take advantage of the huge range of events and organised tours, including a cooking class run by a Turkish family right in the hostel. Dog-lovers will also be pleased to know that this spot is also home to a friendly four-legged guest: Fifi, the hostel dog.

backpacking turkey, homestay cave hostel dorm room

? HomeStay Cave Hostel

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The best hostels in the Mu?la Province: 

  • Oludeniz Hostel: The perfect spot for beach bums, this trendy hostel is only 2km from the sand. Expect pared-back dorms, cool, irreverent wall art and a sun-trapping terrace. Some of the facilities here are unavailable outside of the summer, however, so be aware of this when booking.
  • La Luna Hostel: This friendly hostel enjoys a sought-after spot right in the centre of Bodrum. You’re a hop and a skip from the ocean, and within easy reach of the bus station and Bodrum’s bars and cafés too. The hostel also has an eco and wellness focus, with cool recycled furniture and yoga sessions from the property’s owner, who doubles as a certified yoga instructor.
  • Karaca Apart Hotel: Perfect for getting back to nature, this easy-going budget hotel places you in the charming town of Dalyan, within easy reach of attractions such as ?ztuzu Beach. Hang out in the hostel’s friendly restaurant and bar, cool off in the swimming pool and be sure to milk the fantastic location.

backpacking turkey, la luna hostel outdoor terrace with chairs

? La Luna Hostel

The best hostels near Pamukkale:  

  • Bellamaritimo Hotel: A comfortable hotel with a friendly hostel vibe, Bellamaritimo makes the perfect base for visiting Pamukkale’s travertine pools. Get ready for your adventures by feasting on homemade traditional food at the hotel’s restaurant and make time to take a dip in the pool, which is filled with Pamukkale’s famous calcium-rich waters.
Compare more hostels in Pamukkale

Best places to visit in Turkey

From beaches to buzzing cities, Turkey has no shortage of attractions for backpackers – these are the ones not to miss.

Top cities in Turkey: 

  • Istanbul: A cultural hub packed to the gills with historic landmarks, museums and artistic treasure troves, Istanbul features high on most backpackers’ wish lists. The largest city in Turkey, it’s the starting point for many travellers, who come for big-hitting sights such as the Hagia Sophia – a sacred sixth-century building known for its dome, minarets and interior mosaics. Don’t miss a trip to the Grand Bazaar, either – this mammoth covered marketplace swells with everything from handmade souvenirs to spices.

backpacking turkey, view of istanbul with birds in the sky

? @ashta

  • Ankara: Though often overshadowed by Istanbul, Ankara, some 300 miles south-east, has its own charms. It’s second in size only to Istanbul, and though it boasts fewer historic landmarks, it wins over backpackers with its buzzy vibe, modern attractions and top food scene. Make a beeline for the central K?z?lay neighbourhood, where no-frills Turkish restaurants are packed tight with hip coffee shops and high-street stores. If you’re into museums, the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations is a worthy pit stop, offering a firm grounding in Turkey’s fascinating ancient history.
  • Antalya: A sure bet for beach lovers, the resort city of Antalya on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, is known for its large hotels, sandy swathes and labyrinthine historic district. Kaleiçi, the city’s old centre, should be the first port of call for history buffs – it wows modern visitors with its Ottoman-style architecture and bold Roman-era gate (Hadrian’s Gate). The sandy beaches of Konyaalt? and Lara are both within easy reach of the city’s historic sights.
  • Çanakkale: Çanakkale is best known as a springboard for the ancient ruins of the city of Troy – but it has plenty to offer travellers in its own right too. It’s fringed by beautiful Blue Flag beaches and boasts a charming city centre finished with a camera-loving 19th-century clock tower.
  • ?zmir: Affectionately nicknamed the sunshine city of Turkey, ?zmir sits on the Aegean coast. It’s too often skipped over by backpackers keen to push south to the Turquoise Coast, but it’s well worth staying a while. A day or so here and you’ll discover a city rich in history, whose stunning architecture is a nod to the many rulers over the years (from the Romans to the Ottomans). Make time to get lost in the city’s sprawling bazaar too: Kemeralt? is fit to burst with traditional trinket stores, sweet and pastry shops and spots to sip Turkish tea.

Famous landmarks in Turkey: 

Historic monuments: 

  • Hagia Sophia, Istanbul: Perhaps the most famous landmark in all of Turkey, Istanbul’s head-turning Hagia Sophia dates right back to 537 AD, when it began life as an important Greek Orthodox church. It was later repurposed as a mosque, and now serves as a museum, pulling in droves of tourists, who marvel at the structure’s mighty dome and intricate mosaic artworks.
  • Topkap? Palace, Istanbul: Snapping at the Hagia Sophia’s heels is Topkap? Palace, also in the city of Istanbul. This imposing building was at the heart of the Ottoman empire acting as a political hub and living quarters. Now it’s an important museum, which chronicles this slice of Turkey’s past through a beautiful tangle of rooms, complete with vaulted ceilings and decorated columns.

backpacking turkey, girl with pink umbrella outside castle walls

? @bratpackerss

  • Ephesus: This ancient city was the home of the famed Temple of Artemis, one of the original “Seven Wonders of the World”. Sadly not much is left of the historic temple, but there’s plenty else to hold travellers’ intrigue. The wonderfully preserved ruins offer a glimpse into Turkey’s bygone eras, from the Hellenistic to the Roman times – particularly impressive are the Great Theatre and the library of Celsus.
  • Archaeological Site of Troy: You’ve no doubt heard of Troy and the legendary Trojan War, when the Greeks hoodwinked and defeated the people of Troy by hiding in a giant wooden horse. Though the true boundaries of the ancient city have been much debated, modern visitors can explore the UNESCO-protected Archaeological Site of Troy. It sits on the mound of Hisarlik, with its stone walls and reconstructed horse.
  • Nemrut Da?: It’s worth striking east for Nemrut Da?, a Hellenistic temple tomb perched atop a towering mountain in Turkey’s Eastern Taurus range. The monument was built for an ancient king, and most jaw-dropping of all are the giant statues of sombre heads that dot the site.

Natural wonders: 

  • Cappadocia: This otherworldly landscape could have been borrowed from another planet, but you’ll find it in Turkey’s Central Anatolia region. In the classic brochure image, brightly coloured hot air balloons glide above the bizarre rock formations (known as “fairy chimneys”) and caves, and it’s a great spot for hikers too. Ever a crowd-pleaser is the Göreme Open-Air Museum, home to a slew of breathtaking rock-hewn churches.

backpacking turkey, girl standing in small cave

? @findingalexx

  • Mount Ararat (Mount A?r?): Mount Ararat is actually a pair of soaring peaks: Little Ararat and Greater Ararat, the tallest mountain in Turkey, rising to more than 5,000 metres. It’s also believed to be the final resting place of biblical Noah. The sight of these snow-crowned crags is a major highlight of any trip to the far east of Turkey and adventurous travellers will be glad to know that it’s possible to climb to the summit. You’ll need a permit to make the ascent and an experienced local guide will accompany you on the three to four-day trek.
  • Köprülü Canyon National Park: One of the most scenic national parks in Turkey, Köprülü Canyon National Park is a mecca for water-sports enthusiasts, with fantastic opportunities for white-water rafting. Koprucay River beats a path through the rugged canyon walls, which stretch for some 14km and soar to heights of 400m. If you prefer to stay on dry land, the park is a paradise for hikers too, who come to explore its forests, spot ancient ruins and snap photos of the Roman-era Oluk Bridge.
  • Bafa Lake Nature Park: You’ll find this vast lake on the Aegean coast, close to the seaside town of Didim. Salty Bafa Lake is a quiet spot worlds away from the buzzy holiday resorts not too far from its waters. It’s ringed by lush countryside and ancient ruins and is the home of abundant birdlife too. Take to the hiking trails, explore the waters by kayak or even try a lakeside yoga session.
  • Pamukkale: These glossy travertine pools are one of Turkey’s most lauded natural wonders, gracing the pages of travel guides and wowing backpackers who make the trek here. Situated close to the city of Denizli in southwest Turkey, Pamukkale (meaning Cotton Castle) is formed by mineral-rich hot spring waters rushing over the hillside. Make time to visit the ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis close by too.

backpacking turkey, view of pamukkale travertine pools

? @xooox

5 best beaches in Turkey: 

Turkey is blessed with oodles of beautiful beaches, from peaceful strands with few amenities to lively stretches of sand peppered with umbrellas and lined with cafés. While it’s hard to pick favourites, these stunning slices of the coast stand out from the rest.

  • Belcekiz Beach and the Blue Lagoon, Ölüdeniz: The resort area of Ölüdeniz, on Turkey’s southwestern coast, is without a doubt one of the country’s most beautiful, all powdery white sands and turquoise sea. The Blue Lagoon is nothing short of paradise, with its perfectly clear and calm waters offering perfect conditions for snorkelling or canoeing. Belcekiz Beach is more developed, but also very easy on the eye – here you can bask on sands flanked by cliffs and lined with laid-back restaurants.
  • Ç?ral? Beach, Ç?ral?: For those keen to escape the tourist trail, secluded Ç?ral? is the perfect option. Southwest of the city of Antalya, this peaceful crescent is hugged by mountains and woodland and has escaped the overdevelopment of many beaches not too far away. Best of all, Ç?ral? is a gateway to Turkey’s chimaera, curious eternal flames burning from mountain rocks.
  • Konyaalt? Beach and Lara Beach, Antalya: Antalya is one of Turkey’s most popular beach getaways, and there are some picture-perfect beaches within easy reach of the city. The huge expanse of Konyaalt? Beach is a crowd-pleaser. It’s made up of sand and shingle, with hazy mountain views and loads of cafés to choose from. A glitzier option, east of Konyaalt?, is Lara Beach. This upmarket strand is known for its swanky hotels and fine restaurants.

backpacking turkey, turquoise sea with a boat in antalya

? @yolda1deli

  • Patara Beach, Patara: Often touted as Turkey’s most beautiful strand, Patara is a glorious sandy sweep and the longest beach in the country. It’s wonderfully pristine, with dunes and mountains and the ruins of a Roman city – and because of its huge size, you’ll not be elbow-to-elbow with fellow travellers either. Look out for (and be sure to respect the habitats of) the loggerhead turtles who nest here through the summer months.
  • ?ztuzu Beach, near Dalyan: This beach is known as “Turtle Beach”, due to the loggerhead turtles that make their home here. Nesting sites are carefully marked and protected, and the beach remains happily unspoilt as a result. Its calm waters and soft sands mean it’s a great spot for a swim too.

Backpacking south Turkey – top things to do: 

For golden sands kissed by clear waters and crumbling ruins dotted with pine trees, most travellers hotfoot it to the south of Turkey. Here you’ll find the country’s sun-drenched Mediterranean coast and some of its most visited attractions.

The slice of coastline from Antalya to Bodrum is known as the Turquoise Coast, for its world-class beaches, beautiful resorts and wonderful weather. Here are a few places not to miss while backpacking south Turkey.

  • Ölüdeniz: You can’t visit the Turquoise Coast without basking on the fabulous beaches of Ölüdeniz. If you’ve a head for heights, this is also a top spot for parasailing.
  • Fethiye: Very close to Ölüdeniz, Fethiye is a lovely port city with yet more blinding beaches and an attractive harbour. It also makes a great base for visiting Kaya Köyü, a haunting (and little known) ghost town abandoned in the 1920s after the Greco-Turkish War.
  • Olympos: Olympos is an important fixture on most backpackers’ itineraries, mainly for its evocative ruins, cool treehouse hostels and lively backpacking scene. Olympos was also an ancient Lycian city dating right back to 300BC, and today curious travellers can wander the tree-dotted remains, which include a Roman theatre. Of the quirky tree houses, Kadir’s Tree House, with its colourful murals and trio of bars, remains a favoured choice.

backpacking turkey, boat near the shore on clear blue water

? @yolda1deli

  • Antalya: The largest city on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, Antalya has history and natural beauty in abundance. Come for the atmospheric historic district and the easy access to natural wonders, including Köprülü Canyon National Park, the Düden Waterfalls and, of course, a bounty of beaches.
  • Perge and Aspendos: Within easy reach of Antalya and the resort town of Side, Perge and Aspendos are both ancient cities and intriguing historic sites. An impressively preserved Roman theatre at Aspendos, and the ruined pillars of Perge’s agora are the highlights here.

Backpacking east Turkey – top things to do: 

The less-travelled eastern part of Turkey remains a mystery to many backpackers, who choose to stick with landmark-packed cities such as Istanbul and the delights of the Turquoise Coast. But those who venture east will be rewarded with rugged scenery, punctured by lakes and waterfalls, and jaw-dropping monuments, from rock-carved temples to mountaintop mausoleums. Here are a handful of sights and destinations that should be on your itinerary:

  • Mount Ararat: You can’t mention eastern Turkey without a nod to Mount Ararat, the teetering peak, as steeped in legend as it is in snow.
  • Lake Van: Another of eastern Turkey’s natural treasures, Lake Van could be plucked straight from an Icelandic landscape, with its eye-popping blue waters and its rugged mountainous surrounds. Tatvan, on the lake’s western edge and Van a little further east are both good bases for exploring the scenic region. You can also take a boat to Akdamar Island, in the southern part of the lake, which is home to a photogenic church.
  • Göbekli Tepe: One of the most incredible and curiously under-visited sites in Turkey, Göbekli Tepe is widely considered to be the world’s first temple, potentially dating back to 10,000 BC. The site is made up of large slabs of stone, artfully carved with animals from lions to scorpions.
  • Sumela Monastery: Another breathtaking and underrated site, the Sumela Monastery lies around 30 miles south of the Black Sea coast city of Trabzon. The Greek Orthodox monastery hugs a sheer cliff face, high above the Alt?ndere valley, and can be reached by a wooded trail.
  • Gaziantep: One of the oldest settlements in this part of Turkey, Gaziantep manages to honour its past while keeping one eye set towards its future. Most people come for the impressive Zeugma Mosaics Museum, one of the finest collections of mosaics in the world, retrieved from the ancient city of Zeugma.

Turkey itinerary

Turkey is a large and diverse country and you’d need to come back time and time again to truly cover the top sights (and have time to relax on the beach…). With that in mind, if you have limited time, it’s generally better to choose a pocket of the country and stick with it – that way you’ll avoid mammoth overland journeys that eat away at your itinerary.

You’ll get a vastly different experience if you stick to the Aegean and Mediterranean regions of Turkey than if you strike out east, so decide which suits you best and build an itinerary around your wish list.

The itineraries below largely focus on a specific region – either enjoy getting to grips with a distinct part of the country or join them up for a longer adventure.

7 day Turkey backpacking itinerary: Istanbul and an Aegean odyssey

Best for: big cities and historic sights

Day 1:  Fly into Istanbul Airport and jump straight into exploring the city’s slew of cultural and historic sights. Aside from the Hagia Sophia and Topkap? Palace, the Blue Mosque (whose official name is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque) is another must-see landmark. It’s equal in beauty to the Hagia Sophia, and its interiors are filled with glittering blue tiles that afforded the building its nickname.

There’s plenty more besides historic sights too. The Kad?köy neighbourhood (on the city’s Asian side) is a great place to hang out, with its markets, murals (courtesy of the Mural Istanbul Festival) and cool café culture. Creative types should make a beeline for ArtHere, a hip studio, gallery and café with plenty of artsy goings on.

backpacking turkey, view of the blue mosque in istanbul

? @adliwahid

Day 2: It’s well worth spending a second day in Istanbul to make sure you’ve sized up the big sights and spent some time in the city’s boho neighbourhoods (Karaköy and Galata are other top districts to check out).

Day 3: Rise early and journey southwest to the city of Çanakkale – by long-distance bus, this journey will take roughly 5 hours 30 minutes, the longest you’ll spend on the road during this itinerary. Make your base in Çanakkale whose large student population fills the city with a chilled-out, feel-good vibe. It’s well worth making the short journey out to the ancient city of Troy, before heading back to enjoy Çanakkale’s bars and buzzy waterfront.

Day 4: Next set your sights south once more and head some three hours down the Aegean coast to reach the seaside town of Ayval?k. This colourful port town is a joy to wander and makes a restful base for the night. Head inward to the Old Town to drink in the town’s picturesque Greek-style houses and make time for a drink by the water.

Day 5: Another three-hour push south will land you in ?zmir. Pick up souvenirs in the gargantuan bazaar and check out the nightlife in the Alsancak neighbourhood.

Day 6: A pleasingly short journey south (generally around an hour) will bring you to the little town of Selçuk, still in the ?zmir province. History buffs will appreciate Selçuk’s series of ancient sites, from Byzantine-era aqueducts to Selçuk castle. Best of all though, the historic town is a portal to the ancient city of Ephesus. This stunning ancient Greek city remains wonderfully intact.

Day 7: For the final leg of your trip, make for Denizli, around a 2.5-hour jaunt east of Selçuk. This industrial metropolis makes a handy base for exploring the dazzling pools of Pamukkale (just 10 miles to the north) and another intriguing ancient city: Laodicea, 5 miles north.

10 day backpacking Turkey itinerary: a trip to the Turquoise Coast

Best for: beaches, natural beauty and buzzing cities

Day 1: Fly direct to the city of Bodrum, a marvellous gateway to the Turquoise Coast. This seaside spot is ever popular with holiday makers and it’s not hard to see why: its castle gives it a certain majesty, while getting lost amid the white-washed houses and sprawling bazaar can eat up an entire afternoon. A handful of great hostels means you’ll have no trouble bedding down here for the night.

Day 2: Travel southeast towards Dalyan (if you take the bus, you’ll need to change at Ortaca), a busy little town with some intriguing attractions in its midst. ?ztuzu Beach, famed for its loggerhead turtles, is within easy reach, while the stunning rock tombs of ancient city Kaunos are right across the Dalyan River.

Day 3: Next, continue the journey southeast and in a little over an hour you’ll come to Fethiye (again, you’ll need to change at Ortaca if you choose to travel by bus). Beyond the city’s own harbour and the nearby ghost town, top attractions include the cliff-hewn Amyntas Rock Tombs and gorgeous Butterfly Valley. As its name suggests, this incredible landscape of cliffs, sands and waterfalls is home to around 100 species of butterfly.

Day 4: Carve out a day to spend swimming in the sea and basking on the beach at Ölüdeniz, just 10 miles south of Fethiye. The Blue Lagoon here remains one of the most beautiful strands in the country.

Day 5: Push on south to reach Patara Beach, known for its ancient ruins and miles of golden sand. Overnight in one of the family-run guesthouses here.

Day 6:  Some 30 miles southeast is Ka?, a laid-back coastal town that makes a great base for water-based adventures, from diving to kayaking. Dive centres can take you beneath the water to spot marine life and eerie wrecks including a pair of planes. If you’re not a diver, this watery paradise is a great place for snorkelling too.

backpacking turkey, view from the top of antalya beach with sun loungers

? @sebulllba

Day 7: It’s a straightforward two-hour bus ride east from chilled-out Ka? to backpacker hotspot Olympos. The treehouses here are the stuff of legend, and no backpacking trip to this part of Turkey is complete without staying in one. Spend the day mingling with fellow backpackers and swimming in the sea – and make time to see Olympos’s ancient ruins.

Day 8: After the buzz of Olympos, you’ll be glad of your next destination: the secluded beaches of Ç?ral? and the famous chimaera.

Day 9: For the final stretch of your Turquoise Coast adventure, set out north along the coast to reach Antalya, with its enchanting old town and easy access to the surrounding province’s natural wonders. Spend your first day getting to grips with the historic district, Kaleiçi – it comes to life at night, with thrumming bars and plenty of spots playing live music.

Day 10: Spend your last day unwinding on the beach before the flight home. Or, if you’ve still got some energy left, both Köprülü Canyon National Park and Mount Güllük-Termessos National Park are ideal spots to get back to nature. Each are laced with hiking trails, specked with ancient ruins and home to abundant flora and fauna.

14-day itinerary: an Anatolian adventure

Best for: getting off the beaten track

Day 1: Fly into the city of Antalya on Turkey’s Turquoise Coast and take in the sights at a relaxed pace before your off-the-tourist-trail adventure begins.

Day 2: It’s a two-hour bus journey north to E?irdir, a serene oasis on the shores of the eponymous Lake E?irdir, with hiking trails all around. Swim in the lake’s mountain-fringed waters or while away an afternoon with a scenic boat trip before heading back into town.

E?irdir itself has plenty of attractions to keep travellers interested, including its hulking castle. Some 30 minutes south you’ll also find another area of stunning natural beauty: Kovada Lake National Park, with its glossy mountain lake, pine forests and abundant wildlife. Adventurous travellers come here to climb, hike and camp in the picturesque surrounds.

Days 3–4: From one breathtaking landscape to another: next strike north east to the little town of Göreme, the perfect base for Cappadocia. It’s a lengthy journey (taking a little over 5 hours when driving, and likely over 7 by bus) – if you have a rental car you could break up the journey in Konya, a university city known for its religious significance.

Given the long travel time it’s also worth spending a couple of days in this region to really soak up all it has to offer. A hot air balloon ride over the fascinating “fairy chimney” landscape will leave you in awe, while a night spent in one of the area’s cave hostels is a cool experience too.

backpacking turkey, man standing underneath hot air balloons in cappadocia

? @canmandawe

Day 5: Get up early and prepare for another lengthy stretch of travelling – it will be worth it. The city of Gaziantep in Turkey’s southeast is often overlooked by backpackers, but given its cool vibe, stellar food scene and plethora of historic monuments, that’s a real shame. It’s around 300 miles southeast of Göreme, and you’ll need to catch the bus from Kayseri, a larger mountain-flanked city just north of the town.

There’s plenty to keep you busy in Gaziantep, not least the mammoth mosaics museum. Beyond the cultural and historic attractions, this city has a buzzing café culture that backpackers will love. It’s also famed for its fantastic food scene. It’s widely billed as dishing up the best kebabs in the country, and also the finest pistachio baklava. Feast on both at laid-back restaurant Imam Cagda.

Once you’ve uncovered the charms of this underrated city, you may even decide to stay a few extra days.

Day 6: You’ll welcome a shorter journey today: an easy two-hour bus ride or drive east to the attractive and sacred city of ?anl?urfa. Most travellers wishing to see Göbekli Tepe make their base here – this incredible ancient temple site is well worth a visit. Back in town the sprawling bazaar is an assault on the senses, while the expansive archaeology museum sheds light on the history of the area.

Day 7: More incredible ancient sites await once you’ve journeyed northeast to Malatya, a large city often skipped over by tourists. It’s the gateway to mountain temple tomb Nemrut Da?, with its gargantuan stone heads – tour operators head out from here if you fancy travelling in a group.

If you’re in Malatya in the last two weeks of July, you’ll be in time for the city’s annual apricot festival too.

Day 8: Now head northeast to the high-altitude city of Erzurum with its heart-stirring mountain views and incredible architecture. The city is surrounded by snowy peaks and filled with stunning mosques and other religious monuments (including the striking Yakutiye Medresesi with its cylindrical towers and pointed turrets).

If you happen to be travelling in winter, this is a great area for skiing too – be aware, though, that temperatures sink into the minus thirties.

Day 9: Journey north again, with your sights set on the under-touristed region of the Black Sea Coast. Just over 150 miles away from Erzurum is Rize, a lush city known for its tea gardens and trails. Looking at the verdant terraces, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d been plucked from Turkey and dropped in Thailand – but, back in town, the stunning ?eyh Camii mosque, with its squat dome and minarets, reminds travellers where they really are.

Day 10: Rize makes a fantastic springboard for exploring the Kaçkar Mountains National Park, filled with lofty peaks, rivers and dense forests. It’s a popular place for trekking, and hikers should look out for wildlife such as hares and circling birds of prey.

Day 11: From Rize, begin making your way west along the Black Sea Coast to the green city of Trabzon, one of the most important in the region. The beautiful main square (Atatürk Alan?) is the city’s spirited hub. Many also make the trip out to the Sumela Monastery, a breathtaking cliff-side monastery that could have been whisked right from the Himalayas.

Day 12: The (long) drive along the Black Sea Coast, from Trabzon to Sinop (one of the highlights of this region) is an itinerary highlight in itself, given the wide watery vistas.

The final destination is well worth the extensive journey too. Often billed as the prettiest spot along the Black Sea coast, Sinop has a lovely harbour dotted with fishing boats, plus hulking city walls. It’s a pleasant place to wander and once your feet are tired, rest up with a sundowner by the water.

Day 13: Another push westward will bring you to Amasra, another good-looking port town on the Black Sea Coast. It delights backpackers (and Turkish natives on their holidays) with its photogenic Roman bridge, its busy harbour and its handful of beaches. Once night falls, you’ll have no problem finding a lively bar.

Day 14: Finish up in Ankara, Turkey’s underrated capital, and immerse yourself in its laid-back neighbourhoods and tangle of historic attractions before your flight back home. Landmark sights include An?tkabir, the mausoleum of Kemal Atatürk, founder of modern Turkey, and Ankara Citadel, whose imposing walls contain a web of attractive winding streets.

backpacking turkey, person standing on hill overlooking ankara

? @febiyanr

Bonus itinerary: highlights of the Med

This mini itinerary picks out some top spots along Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. Starting from the city of Antalya, it can easily be slotted into a longer itinerary.

Day 1: Make your base in the city of Antalya, then head out to the ancient city of Perge. Tucked away in Antalya’s bucolic backyard, Perge is thought to date back to the 13th century BC. Now its remains wow modern travellers, who come to gaze at the site’s crumbling basilica, agora and vast theatre.

Day 2: It’s a cheap and swift (around 1.5 hours) journey east along the coast to Side, a historic port city and pretty resort town with a scenic harbour and golden beaches. Side has ancient sites too, including the Roman theatre and the temples of Apollo and Athena.

Best of all, it makes a fantastic springboard for the Manavgat Falls, a stunning cascade that attracts boat-trippers and photographers. Swimmers can also take a dip in the refreshing waters of the Manavgat Stream.

Day 3: Next, head eastward again to the town of Alanya, another gorgeous base along the Med. It’s a popular tourist haunt for good reason, with access to great beaches and its enigmatic Seljuk-era castle. Hit the sands of Kleopatra Beach, take a stand-up paddle-boarding tour with Surf Center Alanya and visit the Damlatas Caves, with their striking stalagmites and stalactites.

The Lycian Way

If you’re a keen hiker, then the Lycian Way might already be on your radar. It’s considered one of the world’s top long-distance hiking trails, stretching for more than 300 miles. The path winds its way east from Fethiye on the Aegean to Antalya on the Med, kissing the coast and beating a track through unspoilt wilderness peppered with ancient ruins.

If you want to hike the whole stretch, you’ll need around a month. Picturesque Mediterranean towns like Kalkan make pleasant stops to overnight along the way or, to truly get back to nature, you can choose to pitch up a tent under the stars instead.

Turkish food 

Turkish cuisine is, simply put, delicious. Restaurants benefit from a bounty of fine, easily accessible produce from around the country, and top dishes range from comforting pastries to veg-packed stews. In fact, foodies traditionally hold Turkish cuisine up as one of the three great cuisines of the world – the others being French and Chinese.

There’s only one way to see if you agree: feast on Turkish delicacies on your travels, from fresh meze platters to cockle-warming soups. Here are the foodie delights you shouldn’t miss.

Turkish breakfast

 The Turkish know how to start the day right and their breakfast feasts are rightfully famous. Head out first thing to a no-frills Turkish café to see what all the fuss is about – alternatively, depending on where you’re staying, you may be treated to a full brekkie at your accommodation.

backpacking turkey, Turkish breakfast

A traditional Turkish breakfast is known as kahvalti (meaning “before coffee”) and is a diverse spread of breads, meats, cheeses and olives, plus sweet preserves and Turkish tea. Common meats on the table include sujuk, a kind of spicy, garlicky salami, and past?rma (cured beef), while egg dishes may include omelettes and menemen: eggs cooked with peppers, onions and tomatoes.

There’ll be no shortage of delicious Turkish breads or pastries either. Look out for simit, a sesame-sprinkled ring of bread much like a bagel, or börek, a flaky filo-pastry treat often filled with spinach and feta.

Turkish meze

You can’t leave the country without sitting down to a Turkish meze (which means “appetizer”). Leisurely grazing on a whole variety of smaller dishes as you catch up with your fellow diners is a true joy. Common dishes you’ll see on the table include sarma (cabbage or chard leaves stuffed with minced meat or rice), dolma (stuffed veggies such as peppers) and imam bay?ld? (aubergine with onion, garlic and tomatoes).

You can also expect cheeses (such as white Ezine cheese or rich Kars gruyère cheese), plus pickles, hummus, olives and bread.

backpacking turkey, turkish meze with olives, dips, tomatoes and pita

Traditional Turkish food – 5 dishes to try: 

The beauty of Turkish cuisine is in its variety, but there are a handful of dishes you can’t leave the country without trying. You’ll be able to find these delicacies in traditional restaurants across the country. Look out for lokantas especiallythese are very laid-back spots focused on home-style cooking, often with pre-cooked food ready to be doled out to hungry punters.

Here’s how to get a true taste of traditional Turkey:

  • Manti: Often described as a kind of Turkish ravioli or Turkish dumplings, manti are filled with minced meat and onions, then smothered in melted butter, dolloped with yoghurt and finished with chilli flakes and zingy herbs.
  • Kuru fasulye: This is a warming stew of white beans in a rich tomato sauce. It’s especially great if you’re backpacking Turkey in winter.
  • Pide: You’ve probably heard of pide – this boat-shaped pizza has become popular in the UK too, finding its way into trendy concept restaurants and street-food pop-ups, as well as traditional Turkish joints. You can find it topped with all sorts of satisfying ingredients, from minced lamb meat to eggs, and of course, lots of cheese.
  • Çorba (soup): The Turkish are big fans of soup too, and you can find traditional broths all over the country. Top picks include a rich red lentil (mercimek) soup and tarhana soup, made from fermented yoghurt and grains.
  • Turkish bread: Whatever meal you’re eating in Turkey, it will likely be accompanied by some kind of bread or pastry, and there are several types traditional here. These include lavas, a kind of versatile puffy flatbread, great served with soup or even just goats’ cheese and butter. Also worth a try is the naan-like bazlama bread and gloriously springy pide bread.

backpacking turkey, pide

Pide ? @eatonthestreetldn

Turkish street food – 8 top eats: 

Street-food stalls are at the heart of the Turkish food scene and, especially in the bigger cities, you’ll see vendors whipping up delicious delicacies on every street corner. From belly-busting meat-filled wraps to indulgent sweet pastries, here are eight street-food dishes you shouldn’t miss on your travels.

  • Dürum: This Turkish delight is far from your post-pub doner kebab. Here you’ll most likely eat your doner meat in a dürum – a kind of Turkish wrap usually made from lavash flatbread – or sometimes in a soft, white baguette. The wrap is filled out with fresh veg from tomatoes to peppers and finished with yoghurt or cheese. Sometimes you’ll find dürum filled with chicken or veggies too.
  • Kokoreç: It’s true – this particular Turkish street-food delicacy may prove somewhat divisive. Turkey’s answer to Scottish haggis, kokoreç is actually sheep’s intestines chopped up and cooked with plenty of spices. It’s then served in soft, white bread and garnished with cooked veggies such as peppers and onions. It’s apparently a favoured post-night-out food among Turkish youngsters too.
  • Bal?k ekmek: The Turkish love their hearty street-food sandwiches and another one comes in the form of the bal?k ekmek. This one is filled with fresh fish and, unsurprisingly, is mostly found in Turkey’s seaside cities. In many places, you can even buy it straight from boats docked at the water’s edge. It’s also very commonly sold in Istanbul in the harbourside Eminonu area.
  • Misir: One for the veggies, this moreish corn snack is commonplace across the country. Simple, but delicious, corn is grilled, seasoned and served hot.
  • Midye dolma: Another tasty seafood snack, midye dolma is actually stuffed mussels. The mussels are filled with herby rice and finished with a generous squeeze of lemon. The vendor will keep doling them out until you’re feeling full.
  • Kumpir: Few things are more comforting than a baked potato, and the Turkish know how to do them right. This rib-sticking delicacy is one of the most ubiquitous street-food eats in the country, and especially abounds in the little Istanbul neighbourhood of Ortaköy. The choice of fillings is yours, but the most common picks are olives, sausage, cheese and Russian salad (with peas, carrots, pickles, herbs and lots of mayo).
  • Nohutlu pilav: One of the most straightforward of all Turkey’s street-food treats is nohutlu pilav, a filling dish of chicken, chickpeas and white rice. It really is as simple as that.
  • Baklava: You’ll find all kinds of Turkish breads and pastries sold by street vendors across the country. A favourite is baklava, a sweet syrupy pastry with nuts and honey – the best anywhere can be found in the eastern city of Gaziantep. Beyond the baklava, look out for börek and simit being sold at street-food stalls too.

Turkish drinks: 

  • Rak?: Rak?, affectionately known as “lion’s drink”, is Turkey’s national tipple. It’s not to everyone’s taste, since it boasts a strong aniseed flavour, but sipping this drink is a rite of passage for most backpackers. Rak? is generally paired with cool water or ice and served during a meze. It’s considered an extremely social drink, so rope in some fellow backpackers before you prop up at the rak? Be sure to toast with a clink before you begin sipping too.
  • Ayran: Lesser known than rak?, ayran is generally served in the summer. It’s a simple, non-alcoholic beverage made from yoghurt, water and salt. Though it may sound a strange combination, it’s surprisingly refreshing.
  • Tea: Turkish tea has long been a sign of hospitality and respect. Drunk all over the country and at any time of day, it’s not served with milk, but you could add sugar or lemon if you wish. You’ll find some of the finest in the Black Sea Coast region, where much of Turkey’s tea is grown.

backpacking turkey, turkish tea

? @bratpackerss

Turkish culture

Turkish customs: 

Turkey has its own distinct set of customs and noting them before you go will make for a smooth backpacking trip. Here are a few things you should know:

  • You’ll need to keep your passport with you at all times: It’s actually a legal requirement to carry photographic ID with you in Turkey, and random checks may occur, especially in big, busy cities. Keep your passport (and your printed e-Visa) safely in a zipped compartment in your backpack to avoid getting caught out.
  • Dress conservatively at mosques and other religious sites: For women, this means covering your hair, shoulders, upper arms and knees. Men should avoid shorts or sleeveless t-shirts/vests too. Also remember to be quiet and respectful as you visit these sacred sites.

It’s also worth remembering that, while Turkish people are used to Western tourists, Turkey is still a fairly conservative country when it comes to dress. Out of respect, it’s best to cover up once you’ve left the beach or poolside, and avoid super skimpy clothes, especially if you’re going off the tourist trail.

  • Avoid PDAs: For the same reasons as above, try to keep public displays of affection to a minimum to avoid causing any offence to locals.
  • Don’t overdo the drinking: Social drinking is a part of the Turkish culture – but while the Turkish are fond of a rak? or two, public drunkenness is frowned upon, especially beyond the touristy hot spots. Make sure you know your limits.
  • Be respectful: It’s actually a legal offence to speak ill of the Turkish nation or its government while here, and to do so could even land you with some jail time. Make sure you think before you speak.
  • Expect a few invitations to tea: The Turks are known for their hospitality. If you do end up accepting an invite, be sure to bring along a small gift for your host and take off your shoes before entering their home. Be aware that it’s also considered rude to point your feet towards anyone.

backpacking turkey, coloured steps in street

? @antony_sex

Women in Turkish culture

As is common in many (or most) countries around the world, attitudes towards women vary, and in Turkey things tend to be more traditional and conservative than in the west. It’s best for foreign female travellers to dress modestly if they’re venturing beyond the most touristed parts of the country (namely large western cities and coastal resorts).

Turkish religion

Turkey is a secular country, though around 98 percent of the population is Muslim. With this in mind, you’ll almost certainly hear the sound of the call to prayer numerous times during your trip and spot beautiful mosques all over the country.

Much of the population observes Ramadan too – if you’re travelling to smaller towns and more remote cities during this time, it’s best to take your own food with you. Restaurants in the bigger cities such as Istanbul will remain open, but it’s worth noting your surroundings and being considerate to those around you before you tuck into your lunch.

Turkish traditions

Turkey is a country rich in tradition – here are a couple you might want to know about:

  • The Evil Eye (the Nazar Boncugu): This striking blue eye is a common sight hanging in Turkish bazaars, shops, restaurants and homes, and you’ll also see it worn as jewellery. Turks believe the piercing eye wards off evil.

backpacking turkey, a tree hanging with the turkish evil eye

? @bratpackerss

  • Turkish hammam: If you have the time, be sure to visit a traditional Turkish hammam or bath and lose yourself in its relaxing rituals. Many locals still make visiting a hammam a common part of their routine. During your time, you’ll experience a multi-stage ritual including time spent in both hot and cold areas, plus a foam wash, exfoliating body scrub and massage.
  • Oil Wrestling Festival: Turkey has its fair share of festivals, and this is one of the country’s quirkier events. The K?rkp?nar Oil Wrestling Festival (which is exactly what is sounds like) has been running for more than 650 years. It’s even on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

Turkish language basics

While many people speak English here, Turks will always appreciate it if you make an effort to learn a few words or phrases in their native language. The good news? Turkish is a phonetic language. That means each letter has just one sound to get your head around, so a word is always pronounced how it’s written down.

Here are a few simple things to get you started:

  • Hello – Merhaba
  • GoodbyeHo?çakal or güle güle
  • YesEvet
  • NoHayir or Yok
  • How are you? – Nasilsin?
  • Please – Lütfen
  • Thank you – Te?ekkür ederim
  • How much is it? – Ne Kadar
  • Where is the bus stop? – Otobüs dura?? nerede?

Is Turkey safe?

The attempted coup of summer 2016, as well as terrorist attacks such as the 2017 Istanbul nightclub shooting, have raised questions around the safety of travelling in Turkey.

According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), most visits to Turkey are “trouble free”, though there are specific areas you should avoid. The FCO advises against all travel “to areas within 10 km of the border with Syria.” It also advises against all but essential travel to all other areas of Sirnak, Kilis (including Kilis city) and the Hatay provinces, plus the provinces of Diyarbakir, Tunceli and Hakkari (for more information see the FCO summary).

Backpackers travelling to any other part of Turkey, including holiday hotspots such as Marmaris and Antalya, are simply advised to familiarise themselves with the FCO’s guidelines before embarking on their trip. It goes without saying that backpackers in Turkey should be vigilant and exercise caution and common sense as they would anywhere else in the world.

When travelling in large cities such as Istanbul, keep an eye on your bags and expensive items such as phones and cameras at all times – as in most major cities, pick-pocketers may be active.

Finally, be aware that some parts of Turkey are prone to earthquakes. The FCO suggests travellers read the useful US government guidelines covering what to do in the event of an earthquake and, of course, follow any advice given to you by officials on the ground in Turkey itself.

backpacking turkey, view of istanbul with market and churches

? @bananablackcat

Turkey travel advice

Do you need vaccinations for Turkey?

For travellers coming from the UK, so long as you are up to date with all routine vaccinations and relevant boosters, at the time of writing, no additional vaccinations are required.

However, this is subject to change, so it’s important to check the most up-to-date information on the National Travel Health Network and Centre website. Here you’ll find the most recent information regarding any necessary vaccinations and also details of any outbreaks that may affect your upcoming trip.

However tempting, it’s also important not to pet any stray dogs you see in Turkey – there’s a possibility that they may carry rabies.

A couple of last tips: 

You’re almost ready for your Turkish adventure, so here are a few takeaway tips to see you off:

  • Travel overnight to claw back time in your itinerary: Many train and bus routes can be travelled overnight and, if you’re any good at sleeping on public transport, this is a great option to allow for more time in your intended destination. Given Turkey’s size, some journeys in your itinerary may be up to twelve hours, so this can make a real difference. Sleeping cars are available on some trains and Turkey’s bus system is known for being super comfortable.
  • Carry some cash: While cards are commonly used in larger restaurants and tourist areas, in smaller establishments and destinations less geared up for visitors, cash rules. You’ll find plenty of ATMs, so make sure you’re prepared. Remember too, locals will expect you to haggle in bazaars – be polite and respectful so both you and the vendor come away with a fair price.
  • Bring a scarf or two with you: For women, a scarf or shawl can be an easy way to cover up before entering religious sites such as mosques, where modesty is required.
  • Eat the street food: Turkey’s street food scene is among the best in the world. You really can’t go wrong with any of Turkey’s street-food staples, which are all cheap, comforting and delicious.
  • Be adventurous: As a general rule, you’ll get out of Turkey what you put in. While the most popular beaches, cities and ancient sites are celebrated for a reason, a short hike might reward you with a sandy crescent all to yourself.

backpacking turkey, girl in hot air balloon in cappadocia

? @findingalexx

So much of Turkey still lies beneath the traveller radar – it’s time to get out there and discover it for yourself!

About the author:

Jacqui is a freelance travel writer and editor. When she’s not on the road, you’ll find her eating her way around north London or stalking dogs on Hampstead Heath. Follow her adventures in the USA, Europe and beyond on Instagram and Twitter.

Keep reading: ?

? 10 things to do in Cappadocia

? Top 16 things to do in Istanbul

? The ultimate guide to backpacking Greece

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