At the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Istanbul has a long and storied history.
A succession of civilisations have left their mark: Greece, Rome, Byzantium, the Ottoman Empire and today’s Republic of Turkey. Compare Byzantium’s Aya Sophia, to the Ottoman Empire’s attempt to outdo it, the Blue Mosque. Outside of Istanbul, Turkey offers glorious landscapes and even more history. Explore the alien soft-stone peaks of Cappadocia, the mineral baths of Pamukkale, or the numerous Greco-Roman ruins scattered around the countryside. And of course, make sure to dig into some Turkish food – freshly baked bread, kofte (or Turkish meatballs), gozleme – before finishing off with baklava.
Odyssey travels by coach and occassionally uses local transport, including trains and ferries. Specifics are always outlined in your tour itinerary. The rail network in Turkey is ever evolving, with increasing high-speed options available. There is a decent rail network connecting the major cities, as well as rail options from within Turkey to other European nations including Bulgaria and Romania.
In major cities, Odyssey stays in centrally located 3-4 star hotels, with easy access to public transport. In smaller towns or rural areas, we usually stay in family-run hotels or guesthouses.
Odyssey always engages local guides with regional knowledge to ensure an authentic experience during which you can learn as much as possible about the history and culture of places you visit.
Geography, Weather & environment
Turkey crosses the continents of Anatolia in Western Asia and the Balkan Peninsula in Southeast Europe. As a result of its transcontinental location, the culture is diverse and unique. 97% of the country is geographically Asian. Turkey shares land borders with Greece and Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, the Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Syria. It is also met by the Aegean, Black and Mediterranean Seas.
Turkey’s landscape is varied – the result of tectonic movements, earthquakes and volvanic eruptions. Turkey is divided into seven geographical regions including the Marmara, Aegean and Anatolia. In general, the Anatolian platea becomes more rugged the further east you go.
Turkey enjoys a temperate Mediterranean climate in its coastal areas of the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. These weather conditions are blocked from reaching the rest of the country by the mountains; as a result, the central plateau experiences a continental climate with distinctive seasons. Winters are cold, and summers hot. Snow falls here and by the Sea of Marmara, but does not last long. At the Black Sea, the climate is oceanic, characterised by warm and wet summers, and cold and wet winters. July and August tend to be Turkey’s driest months, with May at the other extreme.
World Heritage sites
Turkey has 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. You can view the official list of the sites here (http://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/tr). While every single site has something of value, here are a few highlights:
The historic areas of Istanbul, which contain architectural masterpieces like the Hagia Sophia and Topkaki Palace.
The Archaeological Site of Troy, harbour of over 4,000 years of history. These remains are evidence of the contact between Anatolic and Mediterranean civilisations.
The Great Mosque and Hospital of Divriği, a combined building encriched with exuberant, decorative sculpture. Its enclosed design is thought to reflect a harsh climate.
Festivals & events
Turkey is home to many festivals and events. There are four important national festivals per year. August 30 is Victory Day, and is commemorated by Turkish flags and images of Mustaga Kemal Ataturk. 29 October is Republic Day, on which people attend performances and participate in traditional processions.
National Sovereignty and Children’s Day is unique in that it is dedicated to children. They take seats in the Turkish parliament and symbolically govern for a day. Families host children aged 8-14 from around the world to participate in the celebrations. Ataturk dedicated the day in order to recognise children as the future of Turkey.
There is also a national day devoted to Youth and Sports on May 19, which is a public holiday in Turkey. Sports events are held around the country in celebration.
For something different, Ankara hosts an International Film Festival in the spring, playing local and foreign films. Another seasonal event is camel wrestling in the west, which takes place during the winter months.
The major cities like Istanbul and Ankara host a variety of events throughout the year, including the Instanbul Opera Festival, Shopping Festival and the Istanbul Biennale. An annual kite festival is held in Muğla.
- Turkey: A Short History by Norman Stone
- The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East by Eugene Rogan
- Birds without Wings by Louis de Bernieres
- The Popes: A History by John Julius Norwich
- My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk
Eating & Drinking
Turkish people are lovers of food and ceremony. This is unsurprising given that food was at the centre of the Ottoman Empire. Today, Turkish cuisine reflects the diversity of its neighbours, with Middle Eastern, African and West Asian influences. Locals enjoy eating out, and frequent restaurants serving traditional fare. The cuisine is regional, with seafood and olive oil predominant in the Aegean, and meat-based dishes to the southeast.
A typical Turkish breakfast is rich and hearty, and often features eggs with sucuk – a spicy sausage, sheep’s milk cheese and bread. Tea is served with breakfast; coffee appears later. Street food is a huge part of culture in Turkey (if you’re adventurous, look out for kokoreç – a kind of offal sandwich). And meze – small plates like Spanish tapas – are often served before a meal.
Delicious Turkish coffee is served later in the day rather than breakfast. There are two national drinks – a salted drinking yoghurt and rakı, or “lion’s milk” – an aniseed flavoured alcohol often served as an aperitif. Desserts can be divided according to whether or not they are milk-based (tavuk göğsü is a custard of milk and chicken. Yes chicken). Baklava falls into the second category. It is a beloved desert whose provenance is the source of rich debate with the Greeks!
Health & Safety
It’s always best to check the latest details before setting out on a trip to Turkey on your Government website. Certain parts of Turkey should be avoided for the time being, particularly the border with Syria. There are risks associated with certain areas, and it is important to take these into consideration when planning your trip. But countries like Turkey rely heavily on tourism, and refusing travel can be detrimental to a struggling economy. Stay apprised of government recommendations for Turkey in order to be best prepared for your trip.
Whenever you travel overseas, it’s always wise to take an appropriate travel adaptor. Plugs in Turkey have two round pins, and are of types C and F at 220V/50Hz apiece.
Turkey time (TRT) is 3 hours ahead of UTC. In 2016, Turkey opted out of observing Daylight Savings Time. Plans to reintroduce it in October 2018 have been reneged, so for the time being, you do not need to take this into account when planning your holiday
If you’re on an Odyssey tour, we take care of tipping. So, when you’re with the group, you don’t need to give it a second thought. However, in your free time, or if travelling independently, it’s essential that you make sure you tip an appropriate amount for services, as is the case throughout much of Europe. It’s customary to tip 5-10% of the bill at restaurants, cafes and bars. It’s polite to round a bill up the bill for taxi fares. Hotel staff expect 5-20 Turkish Liras for their service.
Internet access is available, and most hotels and many cafes will be able to offer it.
Check with your cell phone provider to see whether you’re able to make calls and use data while in Turkey. Many providers will allow you to pay a daily fee that allows you to make calls and check the internet while only being charged your regular rates. However, be certain to inform your provider that you’re heading overseas, because just like a bank they can turn off your service as a result of unusual activity.
Responsible Travel Tips for Turkey.
- Learn at least the local greetings to break the ice. Although many locals speak English, the more you know of the native language, the greater your experience of the country will be.
- Carry a business card in your wallet or purse from your local hotel, to assist you with the return journey if you do become lost.
- Always ensure that you are covered by travel insurance. If you need advice on this feel free to contact Odyssey and we’ll be able to help.
- When travelling independently, make sure you check the opening hours of shops and museums so that you don’t miss out! Museums and galleries are often closed on Mondays. Also be certain to check whether your trip coincides with any public holidays, so you can plan accordingly.
- Consider contacting your bank to inform them that you may be making purchases overseas. Otherwise, they may flag any activity on your account as suspicious. Also, check which ATMs and banks are compatible with your cards, to ensure you can withdraw cash with minimal fees.
- Before departing, make sure you have some Turkish lira in a range of denominations. You don’t want to be carrying around enormous amounts of cash, but take enough to make it easy to pay in locations that might not accept credit card. It will also help you avoid card transaction fees, and it makes tipping a breeze.