· culture · travel safety · 7 min read

12 Things to Know Before Visiting Turkey

Essential tips for an incredible trip to Turkey

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Turkey is one of the most visited countries in the world, and with good reason. The splendor of the country’s landscape and cultural history shouldn’t be missed. Discover what you need to know before visiting Turkey to have an incredible trip.

In 2019, over 51 million people visited Turkey to experience its unique blend of cultures. Turkey’s reputation as a safe, fun, and affordable travel spot has attracted tourists from around the world.

Although tourists have realized the country’s charms, Turkey has maintained its traditional charm. You’ll quickly fall in love with the culture, the people, and the food. 

So, what are some things you need to know before you visit Turkey?

12 Things to Know Before You Visit Turkey

1. Check if You Need a Visa

Visitors to Turkey require an e-Visa to enter the country. Check if your country requires an e-Visa to enter Turkey before you visit.

You can apply online and get a print off version before you arrive. Alternatively, you can buy one at the airport. This involves standing in an extra line up that is often slowed by broken machines.

The fee is lower if you register for your Visa online. Save time and money by pre-booking your visa and printing a copy for immigration.

3. Turkish Food Is More Than Kebabs

When you think of Turkish food, you probably think of kebabs and maybe baklava. But there’s so much more to Turkish cuisine than those.

Prepare for your tastebuds to be wowed at the arrays of spices and the succulence of the dishes. Be sure to try the salted yogurt drink, ayran, with a meat pide or vegetarian meze. Save room for dessert, where you can fill up on baklava and a tavukgöğsü (chicken fiber pudding).

Turkish food is a unique blend of Greek, Eastern European, and Arabic cuisines. You may recognize some dishes, while others will surprise you.

If you’re unsure of a dish, ask your server for tips. But be warned, only order things on the menu with prices. Restaurants in tourist districts may scam unknowing tourists by overcharging when there is no listed price.

2. Always Carry Extra Cash

The wifi in Turkey can sometimes be unreliable, and some American cards aren’t always accepted by vendors.

Avoid the embarrassment of being unable to pay for your food but carrying cash on you at all times.

As always keep your cash and valuables on you at all times. You’ll appreciate it if your card doesn’t work at a cafe and you need to pay for lunch.

The Turkish currency is the lira. In 2020, it’s valued at 1 USD to 7-8 TL. You’ll find the best exchange rate at banks or currency conversion offices in the city. Airport conversion offices overcharge, so you’re better off waiting until you’re in the city.

4. Always Drink the Tea

Turkish food isn’t the only delicious thing in the country. They have many exquisite drinks, and black tea is a soothing treat that you’ll quickly become obsessed with. 

Luckily, Turkish people are constantly offering tea. It’s a hospitality custom in the country that is meant to welcome guests.

The custom extends to you as the guest, where you are expected to accept the offer for tea and drink it to show your appreciation. If you don’t drink the tea, you are insulting the giver.

5. Cheek Kisses are a Common Greeting

In Turkey, handshakes are reserved for strangers. You greet your friends with kisses on the cheek, much like you would in France or Eastern Europe. Sometimes, people combine the two and use your handshake to pull you in for the kisses.

Don’t be surprised if your guide or a vendor greet you this way, as they are trying to convey their friendliness.

6. Turkey Has Four Seasons

There’s a common misconception that Turkey is a desert country that never sees snow. That’s not true.

Turkey experiences all four seasons throughout the country. You’ll find snow in Istanbul from January to February, and hot temperatures in Fethiye in July.

If you’re visiting in winter, be sure to pack clothes for cold weather. You’ll need a coat and scarf to brave the cold for walking tours.

If you’re visiting Turkey in the summer, wear loose clothing like long skirts or billowy blouses. Don’t wear very short shorts or revealing tops, as you’ll attract negative attention, especially in the more conservative regions.

7. The Toilets Aren't What You're Used To

Westerners are always surprised by the toilets in Turkey.

Although major cities and tourist destinations have Western toilets, you may notice something different. Most toilets have a built-in spray nozzle to cleanse the bum after you've finished your deed.

Depending on the establishment, toilet paper may or may not be present, but don't expect to flush it down the drain. See to the side of the toilet for a bin where the paper waste goes.

If you're traveling by bus or to rural areas, you may notice squatting toilets. These are holes in the ground with a place to stand. After you’ve used the toilet, you are expected to rinse off the area with a bucket and water from the tap beside the toilet.

Bring your toilet paper, as many bathrooms don’t have it available or overcharge for it.

8. Street Animals Are Common

Turkey is filled with dogs and cats, maybe more so than people. You’ll find stray animals on the street in every city you visit in Turkey. There are over 150 stray cats at the historical Ephesus

Why are there so many stray animals in the country? Because of an unspoken rule. The Turkish people follow this rule, offering stray animals food, temporary shelter, and water.

9. Tap Water: To Drink or Not to Drink?

There is some debate as to whether or not Turkish tap water is safe to drink. In fact, it is safe to drink, but the minerals in the water don’t taste great. Depending on your location, (smaller rural town) it may not be filtered properly.

Most people buy bottled water in Turkey. It is common for locals and tourists to stay away from the tap water except for brushing teeth and cooking.

10. Buses Go Everywhere

Buses are the best way to travel in Turkey. They go to every city and town throughout the country. Within big cities like Istanbul, municipal buses are one of the cheapest ways to navigate the city.

When you visit Turkey, prepare to take some buses. Whether you’re in the city or traveling between towns, you’ll need a bus to get where you’re going. Even the city’s airports are serviced by buses, which can help get you to Cappadocia and more.

Buses are a great way to save money on your Turkish travels and see more of the country, as the airports are quite widespread.

If you travel by bus, remember to carry toilet paper!

11. Respect Muslim Traditions

Much of the Turkish population is Muslim. When you visit Turkey, respect local culture and tradition. Dress modestly and avoid engaging in excessive PDA.

To enter a mosque, women must cover their head, shoulders, and legs while men must cover their legs. So leave your shorts and skirts and home if you plan to visit a mosque.

While there are no laws regarding clothing or PDA, you may gather unwanted attention.

12. Top Experiences to Have in Turkey

Now that you know what to do to stay safe, be hygienic, and eat well, you need to know what to do in Turkey.

Here are 10 unique Turkish experiences that you can’t miss:

  1. Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia
  2. Visiting the white travertines of Pamukkale
  3. Ride a ferry between the Asian and European continents
  4. See two wonders of the ancient world
  5. Scubadive amongst ancient cities and shipwrecks in Kaş
  6. Go to a traditional Turkish hammam
  7. Visit one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, the Hagia Sofia mosque
  8. Tour a Roman city at Ephesus
  9. Look upon forgotten gods at Mount Nemrut
  10. Paraglide over Ölüdeniz, Turkey’s most famous beach

Closing Thoughts

Tourists flock to Turkey for its pristine blue beaches and cultural significance. However, some experiences are ruined by not knowing anything about Turkey or its customs before they visit.

Now that you know what to eat, see, and do in Turkey, you’re guaranteed to have a spectacular trip through the country’s rich historical landscape.