Many travelers coming to Turkey for the first time will often ask whether drinking alcohol is legal or safe. Turkey being a country that is straddling Europe and the East, it's only natural to ask such questions.
So can you drink alcohol in Turkey? There is no problem with drinking alcohol as a traveler in Turkey. Drinking is a rich part of Turkish culture and cuisine in some regions, however, there's also a large portion of Turkish people who do not drink alcohol for religious reasons.
Although the sale and consumption of alcohol in Turkey are 100% legal, there are still some specific regulations regarding the sale of alcohol and cultural drinking norms you should adhere to. Certain alcoholic beverages are also a wonderful part of Turkish cuisine and should not be missed.
Drinking Alcohol in Turkey
The dominant religion in Turkey is Islam; however, alcohol is still legal and consumed by locals. Many Turkish people, both young and old, will enjoy a friendly drink or two during the evenings.
Local attitudes shy away from excessive binge drinking, and instead, most alcoholic beverages are commonly served with a portion of small finger foods to graze on (nuts, appetizers, etc.).
The sale of alcohol in Turkey is strictly regulated by the time of day. You cannot buy alcohol from shops between 10 pm to 6 am, however, alcohol can still be sold in bars, restaurants, and hotels 24 hours a day. Depending on the city, many bars and nightclubs may stay open and serve alcohol until 5 am with most restaurants closing earlier around 1 to 2 am.
It is not uncommon, though, to find restaurants in smaller towns/cities or in more conservative neighborhoods that do not serve alcohol at all. But if you are in one of the more populated cities, such as Istanbul, Ankara, or Izmir, you should not have any problem finding a drink. It's always a good idea to check out what to expect in certain neighborhoods of the city you're traveling to.
The legal drinking age is 18 years old in Turkey. You may have to show some identification for proof of age if you do not look of age to the bartender. It is worth noting that it is illegal to sell alcohol within 100 meters of a mosque or school.
You may also notice that advertising of alcoholic beverages is also restricted in both print and television. As common in many countries, liquor bottles and alcoholic beverages have warning labels for the potential harm of alcohol.
Legal permission is required to produce or sell alcohol in Turkey, which is regulated by the Turkish Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Livestock. Avoid buying alcoholic beverages from street vendors as you may not know what they are made of. In the event you come across non-labeled alcohol, stay away and instead buy from a safe and reliable source such as corner shops, supermarkets, liquor shops, or bars and restaurants.
Drunk driving laws in Turkey are strict. The legal alcohol limit for driving is .05% BAC (blood alcohol concentration). This only applies if you are driving alone. If you have a passenger you must not have any alcohol in your system.
Police have the power to administer random alcohol tests on drivers at any time. If you are caught driving over the legal limit, you will be hit with a hefty fine by the police and your driver’s license will be suspended for a minimum of 6 months of the first offense.
If you are traveling in Turkey, it is advised to stay away from any form of drinking and driving. It’s not worth the potential legal headache and can ruin a great holiday.
Depending on the city and municipality, drinking alcohol in public places such as streets, parks, or beaches may be allowed. If you are unsure, be sure to ask a local nearby establishment or look around and do as the locals do.
If you are traveling in Turkey, be respectful of locals, learn what to do and not to do, and realize they may have different attitudes towards alcohol than those in your home country. Just as in your home country, there are still laws in place for disturbance of the peace of others, so drink responsibly.
Where to Buy Alcohol
Alcohol can be purchased in corner stores called “tekel” where a selection of local beer, wine, and spirits along with tobacco can be found. Supermarkets will generally have more cost-effective prices for alcohol with most imported and popular brand name spirits costing much more. In 2014, a tax on alcohol was raised, depending on your home country and exchange rate, prices may seem higher or more affordable.
At the supermarket, .5L of domestic beer will cost around 10 TL, a bottle of local wine 40 TL, and a bottle of mid-range liquor 200 TL. As per normal, these prices will be higher in a restaurant or bar with .5L of domestic beer costing 20 TL and a bottle of local Turkish wine costing 100 TL. Keep in mind that these prices may fluctuate with changes in the local economy.
Drink as the Locals Do
If you are traveling to Turkey, be aware of cultural norms and attitudes towards alcohol. While many Turkish people will consume alcohol, there may be a large portion that chooses not to because of religious reasons.
Turkish cuisine is very rich and best complemented with local alcoholic beverages, although they have many delicious soft drinks as well. Turkish wines are not to be skipped out on, as there are many producers and local grapes due to Turkey’s diverse topography and climates.
Some popular Turkish varieties include Kavaklıdere Yakut (Boğazkere - Öküzgözü), Paşaeli 6N Karasakız (merlot), and Vinkara Yaşasın (sparkling white). While Turkish beer may not be the best-tasting in the world, you will still find some delicious craft brews along with more familiar Western brands.
The national drink is called “rakı” which is a spirit twice distilled from grapes and made with aniseed very similar to Greek ouzo. Nicknamed “lion’s milk” for its white color when mixed with water and ice, rakı has a strong anise flavor and is commonly served with seafood or “meze” - a collection of small dishes served as appetizers. Think Spanish tapas Turkish style.
A warning to first-time rakı drinkers as it can pack a punch, with most brands in the 80-90 proof (40-50% ABV) range.
A “rakı” table is a common social gathering in Turkish culture and is to be enjoyed during moments of celebration or pain with both friends and family. When at a restaurant, you will be offered a choice of different delicious meze to start your meal.
After your meze selection arrives, the waiter will ask you if you would like to open a bottle of rakı. If it is your first time drinking rakı, ask for a small bottle (35cl) and tell the waiter you each would like a small shot (4cl).
After pouring the rakı into a highball glass, the waiter will ask if you want ice and water. Take both water and ice as this will make the drink much lighter and more enjoyable for novice raki drinkers. Graze on your meze and continue to sip rakı as you enjoy the rest of the main courses of your meal.
What About During Ramadan?
Ramadan or “Ramazan” is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting from dawn until dusk. This includes not eating or drinking and abstaining from pleasure while praying to become closer to god.
It is also a time for families to gather and celebrate. Islam is the predominant religion in Turkey, so many locals may be fasting during this time.
During Ramadan, alcohol is still sold in markets, restaurants, and bars as per normal. When in public spaces or non-touristic areas you should be conscious and respectful of those who may be fasting during the daytime.