Turkey is an intriguing and appealing country that remains entwined with its ancient cultural influences. Turkey was once ruled by mighty empires such as Rome, Egypt, Persia, Byzantine, and Ottoman. The open-air hippodrome was once the site of Roman chariot races. This engaging country continues to acclaim its historic significance with the presence of Egyptian obelisks, beautiful mosques, towering cathedrals, grand bazaars, and traditional hammams.
The best times to visit Turkey are May and September through the middle of November when the weather is clear and pleasant. Summers are hot and dry, winters cold and snowy, but in either season always pack a sweater or jacket. Carry your visa and a passport with six months validity from the date you enter Turkey or entrance may be denied. Carry cash in small denominations, an ATM card, and credit card. Traveler’s checks are not readily accepted, and there are often long waits at banks and post offices.
Dress comfortably in modest clothing. While somewhat revealing outfits are more acceptable in large cities like Istanbul, it's best to avoid wearing minis, club-type attire, and short shorts. Blend in or risk being targeted by unwanted attention in the streets. Historic mosques are places to pray. Respect tradition and wear a cardigan or tee to cover your shoulders and arms. Cover your head with a scarf. Many mosques hand scarves out for free, but you can also purchase one at a nearby shop.
Forget about dieting during your Turkish travels. You don’t have to overeat but do try everything. Food cultures have fused over hundreds of years, so you can enjoy traditional tastes. Be sure to try apple tea, sweet and sticky baklava, Turkish candies dusted with powdered sugar, hearty kebabs and small dishes called meze. No eatery worth its salt lets a guest’s plate stay empty for long, so eat slowly if your appetite is flagging.
A visit to Cappadocia in the Antalya region of Turkey is like a trip to another universe. Hot air ballooning is a terrific way to get a panoramic view of the cone-shaped rock formations called ‘fairy chimneys’ in Monks Valley. Rock Castle, the highest point, affords magnificent photo ops, and Cavusin, an ancient hillside village, offers breathtaking vistas as well. The Goreme Open Air Museum features an arrangement of several monasteries placed side-by-side, each with its own rock-face church.
Turkish drivers are reportedly the worst in the world, breaking the rules at every turn and never stopping for pedestrians. Always exercise patience, pay attention and be careful. Rather than drive, take a bus. The system is efficient; they give out hand wipes and food. The best option of all is to flag a taxi, but only at a designated taxi stand because only taxis identified with a logo are safe. Unscrupulous non-logo taxis often rip off visitors by traveling with defective meters or transporting riders miles out of the way.
A Turkish bath, or hammam, is the quintessential experience while visiting Turkey. Some of the best hammams are found in Ankara, Istanbul, and Eskisehir. Take a breather from sightseeing and shopping and settle in for some well-deserved pampering at the hands of a professional. Weary travelers rave about the 45-minute cleansing, washcloth scrubbing, foam wash, and massage.
You can shop at malls back home, so skip the ones in Turkey and seek out one of Turkey’s famed bazaars. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul or the Kemeralti in Izmir gives you the opportunity to browse through an imposing selection of traditional, handmade arts and crafts, clothing and food. Vendors love to haggle, so you can often cut the price in half with a reasonable counter offer.
One of the best ways to make your trip to Turkey memorable is to take some of the smells and tastes you enjoyed in Turkey home to spice up your home recipes. Follow your nose to the Spice Market at the Grand Bazaar at Kapalicarsi. The colorful and aromatic spices are easy to transport, so be sure to leave some room in your luggage.
The Turquoise Coast in Antalya has it all: forest, mountains, and beaches. Ancient cities hang off hillsides, and the Lycian Way offers stunning panoramic scenery for hikers. This protected area is relatively unspoiled. You can visit archeological sites and wildlife habitats such as the sea turtle nesting grounds. If you love boating, spend time on a yacht or gulet, a two- or three-masted wooden sailing vessel built specifically for this area.
Spend a lovely evening at the Hodjapasha Dance Theater. Watch as dancers in white gowns whirl in a choreographed 800-year-old spiritual dance. The semazens’ symbolic performance is accompanied by traditional music, Persian chanting, and poetry. Take time to inspect the 15th-century architecture in this former hammam. You are welcome to relax at the bar before or after the entertainment.