Turkey Tourist Information and Tips
While Turkey is rightly renowned for its warm Mediterranean beaches, wintersports , especially skiing, is very much a possibility—and indeed a popular activity—in the mountainous interior of the country between October and April, with a guaranteed stable snowcover and constant below freezing temparatures between December and March. Some more eastern resorts have longer periods of snowcover.
Most popular wintersports resorts include Uludag near Bursa, Kartepe near Izmit, Kartalkaya near Bolu, and Ilgaz near Kastamonu in the northwest of the country, and Palandoken near Erzurum, and Sarikamis near Kars in the northeast of the country. Saklikent near Antalya is touted to be one of the places where you can ski in the morning and swim in the warm waters of Mediterranean down the coast in Antalya in the afternoon, though snowcover period in Saklikent is desperately short as not to let this happen every year.
In 2005, Turkey dropped six zeroes from its currency, thus making each post-2005 lira worth 1,000,000 pre-2005 lira (or so called "old lira"). During the transition period between 2005 and 2009, the currency was briefly called new lira ( yeni lira ) officially. Since Jan 1, 2009, a new series of banknotes and coins have been introduced and the currency is again simply called lira (officially Turkish Lira , Turk Lirasi , locally abbreviated TL , ISO 4217 code: TRY ; don't be confused if you see the currency abbreviated YTL , that was standing for yeni lira , just drop the Y and you'll be fine), which is divided into 100 kurus (abbreviated kr ). Since Jan 1, 2010, neither pre-2005 nor pre-2009 banknotes and coins (those bearing yeni lira and yeni kurus ) are not legal tender, but can be exchanged at certain banks till Dec 31, 2010 (for coins) and Dec 31, 2019 (for banknotes).
Banknote nominations are in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 lira, whereas coin nominations are in 1 (very rare in circulation), 5, 10, 25, 50 kuruses and 1 lira.
Money exchange — There are legal exchange offices in all cities and almost any town. Banks also exchange money, but they are not worth the hassle as they are usually crowded and do not give better rates than exchange offices. You can see the rates office offers on the (usually electronic) boards located somewhere near its gate. Euro and American Dollars are the most useful currencies, but Pound Sterling (Bank of England notes only, not Scottish or Northern Irish notes), Swiss Francs, Japanese Yen, Saudi Riyals, and a number of other currencies are also not very hard to exchange. It is important to remember that most exchangers accept only banknotes, it can be very hard to exchange foreign coins. In some places, where there is a meaningful explanation for it, more uncommon currencies can also be exchanged, too, for example Australian Dollars may be exchanged in Canakkale where grandchildren of Anzacs gather to commemorate their grandfathers every year, or in Kas , which is located just across the Greek island of Kastelorizo, which in turn has a large diaspora in Australia. As a general rule, if a place attracts many visitors from a country, then it is usually possible to exchange that country's currency there.
Tourism-oriented industries in tourism-oriented towns, as well as shops where big amounts of money change hands, like supermarkets, in most parts of the country, generally accept foreign currency (usually limited to Euro and American Dollars only), but the rates they accept the currency are usually a little lower than those of exchange offices. Ask first if they accept foreign currency.
ˆ 1 = 2.17 TL
US$ 1 = 1.51 TL
GB? 1 = 2.41 TL
(all as of Dec 25, 2009)
Credit cards and ATMs — Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, American Express much less so. Starting from June 1, 2007 all credit card users (of those with a chip on them) have to enter their PIN codes when using the credit card. Older, magnetic card holders are exception to this, but remember that unlike some other places in Europe, salesclerk has the legal right to ask you a valid ID with a photo on to recognize that you are the owner of the card. ATMs are scattered throughout the cities, concentrated in central parts. It is possible to draw Turkish Lira (and rarely foreign currency) from these ATMs with your foreign card. Any major town has at least one ATM.
What to buy?
Apart from classical tourist souvenirs like postcards and trinkets, here are a few of what you can bring back home from Turkey.
- Leather clothing — Turkey is the biggest leather producer in the world, so the leather clothing is cheaper than elsewhere. Many shops in Laleli, Beyazit, Mahmutpasa districts of Istanbul (all around the tram line which goes through Sultanahmet Square) are specialized on leather.
- Carpets and kilims — Many regions in Turkey produce handmade kilims and carpets. Though the symbols and figures differentiate depending on the region in which the carpet is produced, they are generally symbollic expressions based on ancient Anatolian religions and/or nomadic Turkic life which takes shape around shamanic beliefs more than 1000 years ago. You can find shops specialized on handmade carpets and kilims in any major city, tourist spot and Sultanahmet Area.
You seriously cannot go anywhere in Turkey without someone trying to sell you a carpet. People will approach you on the street, engage in a little friendly conversation about where you're from, how do you like Turkey, and "would you like to come with me to my uncle's shop? It's just around the corner, and has the best authentic kilims." It can be irritating if you let it get to you, but remember that a large part of these people's economy comes from tourist's wallets so you can't blame them for trying.
- Turkish delight and Turkish coffee — If you like these during your Turkey trip, don't forget to take a few packages back home. Available everywhere.
- Olive-based products apart from soap — Other olive-based products to give a try are olive oil shampoos, olive oil based eau de colognes and zeyse , abbreviation from the first syllables of zeytin sekeri , a dessert similar to chestnut desserts, but made from olives.
WARNING ! To export or to take out the antiques which are more than 100 years old from Turkey is subject to heavy restrictions or in many cases outright forbidden. If it is the case that someone offers you to sell antiques, either he/she is a liar, just trying to sell cheap imitations or he/she is committing a crime, which you are about to be a part of, if you accept to be the purchaser.
Turkish cuisine combines Mediterranean, Central Asian, Caucasian, and Arabic influences, and is extremely rich. Beef is the most important meat (lamb is also common but pork is very hard to find although not illegal), and eggplant (aubergine), onion, lentil, bean, tomato, garlic, and cucumber are the primary vegetables. An abundance of spices is also used. The main staples are rice ( pilav ), bulgur wheat and bread, and dishes are typically cooked in vegetable oil or sometimes butter.
There are many kinds of specialized restaurants to choose from, since most do not prepare or serve other kinds of food. Traditional Turkish restaurants serve meals daily prepared and stored in a bain-marie. The meals are at the entrance so you can easily see and choose. Kebapcis are restaurants specialized in many kinds of kebab. Some Kebab restaurants serve alcohol while others don't. There are subtypes like cigerci, Adana kebapcisi or Iskender kebapcisi. Fish restaurants typically serve meze (cold olive oil dishes) and Raki or wine. Donerci's are prevalent through country and serve doner kebap as a fast food. Kofeci's are restaurants with meatballs (Kofte) served as main dish. Kokorecci, midyeci, tantunici, mantici, gozlemeci, lahmacuncu, pideci, cig kofteci, etsiz cig kofteci are other kinds of local restaurants found in Turkey which specialization in one food.
A full Turkish meal at Kebab restaurant starts with a soup, often lentil soup ( mercimek corbasi ), and a set of meze appetizers featuring olives, cheese, pickles and a wide variety of small dishes. Meze can easily be made into a full meal, especially if they are consumed along with raki . The main course is usually meat: a common dish type and Turkey's best known culinary export is kebab ( kebap ), grilled meat in various forms including the famous doner kebap (thin slices of meat shaved from a giant rotating spit) and siskebab (skewered meat), and a lot more others. Kofte (meatball) is a variation of the kebab. There are hundreds of kinds of kofte throughout Anatolia, but only about 10 to 12 of them are known to the residents of the larger cities, kike Inegol kofte, Dalyan kofte, sulu kofte etc.
Eating on the cheap is mostly done at Kebab stands, which can be found everywhere in Istanbul and other major cities. For the equivalent of a couple dollars, you get a full loaf of bread sliced down the middle, filled with broiled meat, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes. For North Americans familiar with donairs wrapped in pita bread, don't try to make the comparison. Pitas and wraps are almost unseen in Turkey, they like their bread thick and crusty.
Vegetarian restaurants are not common, and can be found only in very central parts of big cities and some of the tourist spots. However, every good restaurant offers vegetable dishes, and some of the restaurants offering traditional “ev yemegi” (“home food”) have olive-oil specialities which are vegetarian in content. A vegetarian would be very happy in the Aegean region, where all kinds of wild herbs are eaten as main meals, either cooked or raw, dressed with olive oil. But a vegetarian would have real difficulty in searching for food especially in Southeastern region, where a dish without meat is not considered a dish. At such a place, supermarkets may help with their shelves full of canned vegetables, or even canned cooked olive-oil courses and fresh fruits. If you are a vegetarian and going to visit rural areas of Southeastern region, better take your canned food with you, as there will be no supermarkets to rescue you.
Some Turkish desserts are modeled on the sweet and nutty Arabic kind: famous dishes include baklava , a layered pastry of finely ground nuts and phyllo dough soaked in honey and spices, and Turkish Delight ( lokum ), a gummy confection of rosewater and sugar. There are also many more kinds of desserts prepared using milk predominantly, such as kazandibi, keskul, muhallebi, sutlac, tavuk gogsu, gullac etc.
Turkish Breakfast, tend to comprise of cay (tea), bread, olives, feta cheese, tomato, cucumber and occasionally spreads such as honey and jam. This can become very monotonous after a while. A nice alternative to try (should you have the option) is Menemen a Turkish variation on scrambled eggs/omelet. Capsicum (Red Bell Pepper), onion, garlic and tomato are all combined with eggs. The meal is traditional cooked (and served) in a clay bowl. Try adding a little chili to spice it up and make sure to use lots of bread as well for a filling hot breakfast. Bread is omnipresent in Turkey, at any given meal you'll be presented with a large basket of crusty bread.
Ubiquitous simit much like bagel but somewhat thinner, crustier, and with roasted sesame seeds all over, is available from trolleys of street vendors in virtually any central part of any town and city at any time except late at night. Perhaps with the addition of Turkish feta cheese ( beyaz peynir ) or cream cheese ( krem peynir or karper ), a couple of simit s make up a filling and a very budget concious breakfast (as each costs about 0.75 TL), or even a lunch taken while on the go.
Ayran is a popular drink of water and yoghurt not unlike the Finnish/Russian buttermilk or Indian lassi , but always served without sugar (and, in fact, typically with a little salt added). A version loved by the locals kopuklu ayran is a delicacy if you're travelling by bus over the Toros (Taurus) Mountains. Ask for yayik ayrani or kopuklu ayran .
Turkish coffee ( kahve ), served in tiny cups, is strong and tasty, just be careful not to drink the slugdy grounds at the bottom of the cup. It is much different than the so called Turkish coffees sold abroad. Sade kahve is served black, while as sekerli , orta sekerli and cok sekerli will get you a little, some or a lot of sugar in your cup.
Instant coffees, cappuccinos and espressos are gaining more popularity day by day, and can be found with many different flavours.
Tea ( cay ) is also very popular in the country. Be careful, if your tea is prepared by locals, it can be much stronger than you're used to. Although it is not native-typical and a rather touristic feature, you have to taste the special apple tea ( elma cayi ) or island tea ( adacayi ) ( sage )of Turkey!
Boza is a traditional cold, thick drink that originates from Central Asia. It is fermented bulgur with sugar and water additions. Vefa Bozacisi is the most known and traditional producer of boza in Istanbul. In Ankara, you get excellent Boza from Akman Boza Salonu in the old city in Ulus. Boza can also be found on the shelves of many supermarkets, especially in winter, packaged in 1-litre PET bottles. However these bottled bozas lack the sourness and consistency of traditional boza, they are sweeter and less dense.
Sahlep is another traditional hot drink, made from milk, orchid root and sugar, typically decorated with cinnamon. It is mostly preferred in winter and can be found in cafes and patisseries ( pastane ). You can also find instant sahlep in many supermarkets sold with the name Hazir Sahlep .
Red Poppy Syrup is one of the traditional turkish drinks made of red poppy petals, water and sugar by natural ways. Bozcaada is famous with red poppy syrup.
International brands of colas , sodas and fruit-flavoured sodas are readily available and much consumed alongside some local brands. Please note, in Turkish, soda means mineral water , whereas what is called as soda in English is gazoz or sade gazoz in Turkish.
While a significant proportion of the Turks are devout Muslims, alcoholic beverages are legal, widely available, and thoroughly enjoyed by the locals. The local firewater of choice is raki , an anise-flavoured liquor double distilled from fermented grape skin. It is usually mixed with water and drunk with another glass of iced water to accompany it. You may order 'tek' (single) or 'duble' (double) to indicate the amount of raki in your glass. Raki is a national drink of Turkey. Make sure to try it but don't overindulge as it is very potent! Remember not to mix it with anything else. There is a wide selection of different types in supermarkets. Mey , and Efe Raki are two of the biggest producers. Only the connaisseurs know which type is the best. Yeni Raki which is a decent variety has the widest distribution and consumption.
There are two major Turkish breweries. Efes and Tekel Birasi are two widely known lagers. In addition, you can find locally brewed Tuborg, Miller, Heineken and Carlsberg too.
Accommodation in Turkey varies from 5-star hotels to a simple tent pitched in a vast plateau. So the prices hugely vary as well.
All major cities and tourist spots have 5-star hotels, many of them are owned by international hotel chains like Hilton, Sheraton, Ritz-Carlton, Conrad to name a few. Many of them are concrete blocks, however some, especially the ones out of cities, are bungalows with private gardens and private swimming pools.
If you are into holiday package kind of thing in a Mediterranean resort, you'd for sure have better rates when booking back at home rather than in Turkey itself. Difference is considerable, compared with what you'd pay when booking at home, you may end up paying twice as much if you simply walk in the resort.
Dial 155 for police, from any telephone without charge. However, in rural areas there is no police coverage, so dial 156 in such a place for jandarma (Military Polices) , a military unit for rural security.
Big cities in Turkey, especially Istanbul, are not immune to petty crime. Although petty crime is not especially directed towards tourists, by no means are they exceptions. Snatching, pickpocketing, and mugging are the most common kinds of petty crime. However, recently with the developing of a camera network which watches streets and squares –especially the central and crowded ones- 24-hour a day in Istanbul, the number of snatching and mugging incidents declined. Just like anywhere else, following common sense is recommended. (Please note that the following recommendations are for the big cities, and most small-to-mid size cities usually have no petty crime problems at all) Have your wallet and money in your front pockets instead of back pockets, backpack or shoulder bag.
Don't exhibit your camera or cellphone for too long if it is a new and/or expensive model (they know what to take away, no one will bother to steal a ten-year-old cell phone as it would pay very little). The same goes for your wallet if it's overflowing with money. Have a wide space off and quickly move away when you see two persons nearby suddenly bursts into a quarrel, they may be acting to fight to have your attention while a third person is peeling you off from your valuables (or simply one of the two fighting, who acts like falling over you after a hard fist, does this “duty”). Be on alert, everything just happens so quickly. Watch your belongings in crowded public transport, especially in trams and urban buses.
Avoid dark and desolate alleys at night. If you know you have to pass such a place at night, don't take excessive cash with you, instead deposit your cash into the safe-box at your hotel. Stay away from demonstrating crowds if the demonstration seems to be turning into an unpeaceful one. Also in resort towns, when going to beach, don't take your camera or cell phone with you if there will be no one to take care of them while you are swimming. And lastly, when you realize your wallet is taken away, before going to a police station to file a report, look into the trash cans near where you think it was stolen, as tossing the wallet into the nearest garbage can is what most thieves do in Turkey, for not getting busted in possession of the wallet which proves he/she is the thief. Your money will probably be not in it, but there is a chance that your credit cards and papers are still there.
Though slightly off-topic be advised to carry passport or other means of identification at all times. One may not be requested to show them for a long period, then all of a sudden a minibus is checked by the traffic police (or the military, particularly in Eastern Turkey), or one runs into an officer of the law with time on his hand, and one must show papers. Hotels may request you to hand your passport in until you paid the bill, which puts you into an awkward situation. Referring to the police always made them hand the passport back, once the registration procedure was finalized. Showing a personal visiting card, one or two credit cards or knowing the address of a respectable hotel may solve the no-papers situation, but any self-respecting officer will tell you that you are in the wrong, and will be sorry next time. If treated politely however police and military can be quite friendly and even offer rides to the next city (no joke intended).
Dial 112 from any telephone, anywhere, free of charge for an ambulance.
Food safety - Food is generally free of parasitical or bacterial contamination, but be prudent anyway. Look at where local people are prefering to eat. Do not eat stuff that is sold outdoors, at least in summer and at least which local folk don't eat. They can spoil fairly quickly without needed refrigation. Wash thoroughly and/or peel fresh fruits and vegetables. They may be free of biological contaminants but their skin is probably heavily loaded with pesticides (unless you see the not-very-common certified organic produce marker on, of course). Food in western regions of the country is OK for (western) travellers for the most part, but the more east, south, and northeast you go, the more unaccustomed contents in the food you'll come across, like goat or goose meat or hot/heavy spices. These contents may or may not cause diarrhea, but it is wise to have at least some anti-diarrhea medicine nearby, especially if you are going to travel to places a bit off-beaten-track.