Most archeological sites open daily between either 8am, 8.30am or 9pm and 6.30pm or 7pm in summer. Winter opening hours are usually shorter. Some smaller archeological sites are only guarded during the day and left unfenced, permitting (in theory) a free wander around in the evening, though, in the wake of antiquities theft, this could feasibly result in you being picked up by the jandarma.
Don’t pay entrance fees unless the wardens can produce a ticket, and keep it with you for the duration of your visit. Sites like Patara and Olympos straddle the route to a good beach. If you are staying nearby and want to visit the beach on several occasions, Smart PlajKarts are available, allowing multiple site/beach entries. One card can be shared but they are only valid for ten days.
Except near major cities, where seawater is sometimes polluted, Turkish beaches are safe to swim at, though be prepared for occasional mountains of rubbish piled at the back of the beach. Tar can also be a problem on south-coast beaches that face Mediterranean shipping lanes; if you get tar on your feet scrub it off with olive oil rather than chemical solvents. All beaches are free in theory, though luxury compounds that straddle routes to the sand will control access in various ways, and you’ll pay for the use of beach-loungers and umbrellas.
Turkey is no longer the cheap destination it used to be; prices in the heavily touristed areas are comparable to many places in Europe. Exercise a little restraint, however, be prepared to live life at least occasionally at the local level (many Turks somehow survive on TL700 a month) and you can still enjoy a great-value trip here.
Stay in a “treehouse” or backpackers’ inn, eat in local workers’ cafés or restaurants, travel around by train or bus, avoid alcohol and the most expensive sites, and you could get by on TL60–75 (€30–37.50) a day. If that doesn’t sound like much fun, double that and you could stay in a modest hotel, see the sights and have a beer or two with your evening meal. Equally, a night out on the town in İstanbul or one of the flasher coastal resorts could easily set you back over TL100 (€50), and if you intend to see a lot of what is a very big country, transport costs could be a considerable drain on your budget – though taking night buses saves accommodation costs.
The more expensive tourist sites such as Ephesus, the Tokapı Palace and Aya Sofya cost TL25 (€12.50), but there are many more sites varying between TL3 and TL15. There are no student discounts, and the Müze Kart (Museum Card), which gives admission to all state-run museums for TL30 per annum, is for Turkish citizens only.
Crime and personal safety
Turkey’s crime rate remains lower than most of Europe and North America, although pickpocketing and purse-snatching are becoming more common in İstanbul (see City crimewatch) and other major cities. Violent street crime is fortunately rare. Keep your wits about you and an eye on your belongings just as you would anywhere else, and make sure your passport is secure at all times, and you shouldn’t have any problems. Except for well-known “red-light” districts, and some eastern towns, female travellers are probably safer on their own than in other European countries.
As well as the usual warnings on drugs, note that exporting antiquities is illegal. It is also an offence to insult Atatürk or Turkey, which can result in a prison sentence. Never deface, degrade or tear up currency or the flag; drunkenness will likely be considered an aggravating, not a mitigating, factor. Also, do not take photographs near the numerous, well-marked military zones.
The police, army and gendarmerie
Turkey’s police service is split into several groups. The blue-uniformed Polis are the everyday security force in cities and towns with populations over two thousand; the white-capped Trafik Polis (traffic police) are a branch of this service. İstanbul and several other large towns have a rapid-response squad of red-and-black-uniformed motorbike police known as the yunus (dolphin) polis; they are generally courteous and helpful to tourists and may speak some English. The dark-blue-uniformed Çevik Kuvvet Polis are a rapid response team most likely seen at demonstrations, football matches and other events where large crowds are expected. In towns Belediye Zabitası, the navy-clad market police, patrol the markets and bazaars to ensure that tradesmen aren’t ripping off customers – approach them directly if you have reason for complaint. You’re unlikely to come across plain-clothes police unless you wander off the beaten track in the ethnically Kurdish southeast.
In most rural areas, law enforcement is in the hands of the jandarma or gendarmerie, a division of the regular army charged with law-enforcement duties. Gendarmes are usually kitted out in well-tailored green fatigues; most are conscripts who will be courteous and helpful if approached.
Note that it is obligatory to carry ID at all times – for locals and foreigners alike – so if you are concerned about having your passport stolen (or losing it) while out and about, at least carry a photocopy of the pages with your details and Turkish entry stamp on your person.
Security and restricted areas
There is a noticeable security presence in the Kurdish-dominated southeast of the country, with firefights between Turkish security forces and the autonomy-minded PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) continuing at the time of writing. Security is tightest along the Iraqi and Iranian borders, particularly south and east of Hakkari and around Şırnak in the mountains south of Lake Van, in the rural hinterland of Diyarbakır and in the mountainous region of Tunceli (the last not covered in this Guide). PKK attacks are invariably made in remote rural areas, often targeting military vehicles with remotely detonated bombs, though occasional fully-fledged assaults on military outposts are made – inevitably followed by major reprisals by Turkish security forces.
Kidnappings of Turkish military personnel and civilians have also become increasingly common, and in spring 2012 a British traveller was briefly detained by the PKK having been kidnapped from an inter-city bus in Diyarbakir province. Given the civil war that was raging in Syria at the time of writing, the 800km Turkish/Syrian border could also become problematic, especially as Turkey’s biggest nightmare, a proto-Kurdish state run by Syria’s Kurdish minority, appeared to be developing across the frontier.
But what does this mean to the average traveller hoping to visit this beautiful region? The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, for example, posts the following on its website (wfco.gov.uk) ‘‘Due to the high risk of terrorism we advise against all but essential travel to the provinces of Hakkari, Şırnak, Siirt and Tunceli. Visitors should remain vigilant when travelling in other provinces in southeastern Turkey’’. The official line, then, is to avoid the mountains south of Lake Van that border the de facto Kurdish state in northern Iraq – but then places like Tunceli are a long, long way from the border, and the FCO in any case also writes ‘‘There is a high risk of terrorism in Turkey’’ full stop. The problem is compounded by the ever-fluctuating state of relations between the state and the PKK, with long ceasefires interrupted by violent flare-ups. Although at the time of writing (2012) PKK attacks were fairly numerous, it’s quite possible the situation may have calmed down dramatically by the time you read this. In other words, read about what is happening in the press and on travellers’ forums, and use your common sense and judgement before you travel.
Although there are fewer checkpoints on main roads than there were, you may be stopped if you attempt to travel to off-the-beaten-track sites and/or villages, and your presence may attract the attention of the jandarma (and quite possibly the plain-clothes secret police, who generally stand out a mile from the locals). This may involve, at most, a rather tedious, though polite, interrogation. Lone males especially may find themselves suspected of being journalists and/or having Kurdish/Armenian sympathies. Avoid talking politics with anyone unless you are absolutely sure you can trust them, and, if you are questioned, keep calm, smile a lot, and emphasize wherever possible that you are a turist (tourist). Of more concern to the average visitor are the violent pro-Kurdish street demonstrations that break out from time to time in southeastern cities such as Diyarbakır and Van – though major cities in the west of the country are not immune, especially İstanbul, Adana and Mersin, which have large and sometimes volatile Kurdish communities. One traditional spark for demonstrations is the Kurdish New Year or Nevruz (Newroz), on or around March 21. For more information on the Kurdish problem see Contexts.
Turkey operates on 220 volts, 50 Hz. Most European appliances should work so long as you have an adaptor for European-style two-pin plugs. American appliances will need a transformer as well as an adaptor.
Early in 2012 Turkey changed its tourist visa rules. Prior to this amendment it was possible to enter the country on a 90-day visa, then at the end of that period slip across the border to a Greek island, Bulgaria or even North Cyprus, re-enter immediately and get a new three-month stamp. Mainly in order to stop people living and working (illegally) in the country for an indefinite period, the new visa is valid for 90 days within 180 days. In other words, stay for 90 days consecutively, and you cannot re-enter for another 90 days. Alternatively, you can make multiple trips to Turkey within the 180-day validity period of the visa so long as the total stay does not exceed 90 days.
The tourist visas (available at ports of entry for a fee) are issued to citizens of the UK ($20, €15 or £10), Ireland ($20, €10 or £10), the US ($20 or €15), Canada ($60 or €45) and Australia ($20 or €15). South Africans should be able to get a 30-day visa at the point of entry, but would be wise to enquire at a Turkish consulate before travelling. New Zealanders do not currently require visas. Everyone, regardless of nationality, should have at least six months’ validity on their passport. For the latest information on visas, check with the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs at wmfa.gov.tr.
If you want to stay in the country longer than a tourist visa allows, the best option is to apply for a six-month residence permit from the Security Division (Emniyet Müdürlüğü), preferably in a provincial capital that’s well used to foreigners. Do this well before your time expires, as it takes at least two weeks to process. You will need to complete an “Ikamet izni beyanname formu” application form and supply four passport-sized photographs, along with photocopies from your passport of the photo-page and the page showing your last entry into Turkey. The rub is that you also need to show that you have changed $500 for each of the six months – showing change receipts from a bank or döviz will suffice. Residence permit rates vary according to nationality – UK citizens for example pay $80 (payable in TL on the day, according to the exchange rate on the day you apply), but the cost of the “blue book” containing the permit is a steep TL172. This is a one-off payment, however, as once you have the book you can keep renewing your permit for periods of between six months and ten years.
Turkish embassies and consulates abroad
Australia 60 Mugga Way, Red Hill, Canberra ACT 2603 t02 6295 0227.
Canada 197 Wurtemburg St, Ottawa, ON K1N 8L9 t613 789 4044.
Ireland 11 Clyde Rd, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4 t01 668 5240.
New Zealand 15–17 Murphy St, Level 8, Wellington t04 472 1290.
South Africa 1067 Church St, Hatfield 0181, Pretoria t012 342 5063.
UK 43 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8PA t 0207 393 0202.
US 2525 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008 t 202 612 6700.
Customs and border inspections
As Turkey is not yet an EU member, duty-free limits – and sales – for alcohol and tobacco are still prevalent. Limits are posted clearly at İstanbul’s airports, and apply for all frontiers.
Few people get stopped departing Turkey, but the guards may be on the lookout for antiquities and fossils. Penalties for trying to smuggle these out include long jail sentences, plus a large fine. What actually constitutes an antiquity is rather vague, but it’s best not to take any chances.
It is essential to take out an insurance policy before you travel, to cover against illness or injury, as well as theft or loss. Some all-risks homeowners’ or renters’ insurance policies may cover your possessions when overseas, and many private medical schemes (such as BUPA and WPA) offer coverage extensions for abroad.
Rough Guides offers its own insurance policy. Most policies exclude so-called dangerous sports unless an extra premium is paid: in Turkey this can mean scuba diving, whitewater rafting, paragliding, windsurfing and trekking, though probably not kayaking or jeep safaris. Travel agents and package operators may require travel insurance when you book a holiday – you’re not obliged to take theirs, though you have to sign a declaration saying that you already have another policy. Similarly, many no-frills airlines make a tidy sum from selling unnecessary insurance at the time of booking – beware, and opt out.
Many hotels, pensions and hostels have internet access – often both terminals and wi-fi signal – as do an ever-increasing number of cafés. Access is usually free except in the more expensive international chain hotels. In more remote places in the interior, and the east of the country, only the more expensive hotels have wi-fi. Rates in internet cafés tend to be TL2 per hour. The Turkish-character keyboard you’ll probably be faced with may cause some confusion. The “@” sign is made by simultaneously pressing the “ALT” and “q” keys. More frustrating is the dotless “ı” (confusingly enough found right where you’ll be expecting the conventional “i”) – the Western “i” is located second key from right, middle row.
Post offices are easily spotted by their bold black-on-yellow PTT (Posta, Telegraf, Telefon) signs. Stamps are only available from the PTT, whose website (wptt.gov.tr) has a (not necessarily up-to-date) English-language listing of services and prices. Post offices are generally open Monday to Friday 8.30am to 5.30pm and until noon on Saturday. Airmail (uçakla) rates to Europe are TL1.10 for postcards, TL2 for letters up to 20g, TL19 for 2kg, the maximum weight for letters. Delivery to Europe or North America can take seven to ten days. A pricier express (acele) service cuts delivery times to the EU to about three days. When sending airmail, it’s best to give your stamped letter/card to the clerk behind the counter, who will ensure it gets put in the right place; otherwise, place it in the relevant slot if one is available (yurtdışı for abroad; yurtiçi for elsewhere in Turkey).
Maps of Turkey are notoriously poor quality owing to the lack of survey-based cartography. The best foreign-produced touring maps, accurately showing many smaller villages, are those published by Kartographischer Verlag Reinhard Ryborsch (1:500,000; Frankfurt, Germany), which cover the entire country in seven maps. They are usually available online, but both original and pirated versions are sold at better bookshops in İstanbul, Ankara and big resorts. Reasonable second choices, easier to obtain, include Insight’s Turkey West and Insight Turkey (both 1:800,000), both of which are easy to read and reasonably accurate, and the equally reliable Turkey Geocentre Euro map (1:750,000).
In terms of Turkish-produced touring maps, the 1:400,000 atlas produced by Atlas magazine is highly accurate but difficult to read owing to murky printing. The best regional touring maps are Sabri Aydal’s 1:250,000 products for Cappadocia, Lycia, Pamphylia and Pisidia, available from local bookshops and museums.
İstanbul, Ankara, Antalya, Bursa and İzmir (as well as overseas) tourist offices stock reasonable, free city street plans. Sketch plans from provincial tourist offices vary widely in quality.
Among Turkish-produced city maps, Net’s “All of Istanbul” 1:9000 is more comprehensive than Keskin Colour’s 1:8500 “İstanbul Street Plan”, and includes useful maps of the Prince’s islands. The most detailed A–Z-style atlas for the European side, ideal for out-of-the-way monuments, is Mepmedya’s 1:7500 “İstanbul Avrupa Yakası”, though it’s pricey (TL50) and heavy. All these are sold in town and (Mepmedya excepted) cheaper than anything produced abroad.
For trekking maps see the section Hiking equipment and safety.
Turkey’s currency is the Turkish Lira (Türk Lirası) or TL for short, divided into smaller units known as kuruş. Coins come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 kuruş and TL1, with notes in denominations of TL5, TL10, TL20, TL50, TL100 and TL200.
At the time of writing the exchange rate was around TL2.10 to the euro, TL2.70 to the pound and TL1.70 to the US dollar. As recently as 2004 hyperinflation meant that millions of lira were needed to purchase the smallest everyday item. and many Turks still talk in millions, which can be confusing when you are asked “bir milyon” or one million lira for a TL1 glass of tea.
Rates for foreign currency are always better inside Turkey, so try not to buy much lira at home. Conversely, don’t leave Turkey with unspent lira, as you won’t get a decent exchange rate for them outside the country. It’s wise to bring a fair wad of hard currency with you (euros are best, though dollars and sterling are often accepted), as you can often use it to pay directly for souvenirs or accommodation (prices for both are frequently quoted in euros). Travellers’ cheques are, frankly, not worth the bother, as exchange offices and some banks refuse them.
While most banks, such as İşbank and Yapıkredi, change money, the best exchange rate is usually given by the state-owned banks Ziraat Bankası, which has dedicated döviz (exchange) counters – but despite the automated ticket/queuing system queues can be long. Döviz, or exchange houses, are common in Turkey’s cities and resorts. They buy and sell foreign currency of most sorts instantly, and have the convenience of long opening hours (usually 9/10am–8/10pm) and short or nonexistent queues. Most do not charge commission, but give a lower rate than the banks.
Remember to keep all foreign-exchange slips with you until departure, if only to prove the value of purchases made in case of queries by customs.
Credit/debit cards and ATMs
Credit cards are widely used in hotels, shops, restaurants, travel agencies and entertainment venues and with no commission (though many hotels and shops offer discounts for cash rather than credit-card payments). Don’t expect, however, to use your card in basic eating places or small corner shops. Swipe readers plus chip-and-PIN protocol are now the norm in most of Turkey.
The simplest way to get hold of money in Turkey is to use the widespread ATM network. Most bank ATMs will accept any debit cards that are part of the Cirrus, Maestro or Visa/Plus systems. Screen prompts are given in English on request. You can also normally get cash advances at any bank displaying the appropriate sign, and in major cities and resorts some ATMs will give euros and dollars. It’s safest to use ATMs attached to banks during normal working hours, so help can be summoned if your card is eaten (not uncommon). Turkish ATMs sometimes “time out” without disgorging cash, while your home bank may still debit your account – leaving you to argue the toss with them. ATM fraud is rife in Turkey – make sure you are not overlooked when keying in your PIN. You can also use Visa or MasterCard to get cash from ATMs.
Opening hours and public holidays
Office workers keep conventional Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm schedules, with a full lunch hour. Civil servants, including tourist offices and museum staff, in theory work 8.30am to 5.30pm, but in practice hours can be much more erratic – don’t expect to get official business attended to the same day after 2.30pm. Most state banks are open Monday to Friday, 8.30am to noon and 1.30pm to 5pm. Private banks such as Garanti Bankası and Köç operate throughout the day.
Ordinary shops, including large department stores and mall outlets, are open continuously from 8.30am or 9am until 7pm or 8pm (sometimes even later in many major cities and resorts). Craftsmen and bazaar stallholders often work from 9am to 8pm or 9pm, Monday to Saturday, with only short breaks for meals, tea or prayers. Even on Sunday the tradesmen’s area may not be completely shut down – though don’t count on this.
Museums are generally open from 8.30am or 9am until 4.30pm or 5pm in winter, later in the summer. Virtually all state, and some private, museums are closed on Monday, though in İstanbul closing days are staggered so make sure you check the individual listings. All tourist sites and museums are closed on the mornings of public holidays. Mosques are theoretically open all the time, but many of the less visited ones are kept locked outside of prayer times, and many do not encourage visitors at prayer times!
Secular public holidays are generally marked by processions of schoolchildren or the military, or by some demonstration of national strength and dignity, such as a sports display. Banks and government offices will normally be closed on these days (exceptions given here). For more information, see the section on religious festivals.
Jan 1 Yılbaşı – New Year’s Day.
April 23 Ulusal Egemenlik ve Çocuk Bayramı – Independence Day, celebrating the first meeting of the new Republican parliament in Ankara, and Children’s Day.
May 19 Gençlik ve Spor Günü – Youth and Sports Day, also Atatürk’s birthday.
May 29 İstanbul’s capture by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453 (İstanbul only).
July 1 Denizcilik Günü – Navy Day (banks and offices open).
Aug 26 Silahlı Kuvvetler Günü – Armed Forces Day (banks and offices open).
Aug 30 Zafer Bayramı – Celebration of the Turkish victory over the Greek forces at Dumlupınar in 1922.
Sept 9 Kurtuluş Günü – Liberation Day, with parades and speeches marking the end of the Independence War (İzmir only).
Oct 29 Cumhuriyet Bayramı – commemorates the proclamation of the Republic by Atatürk in 1923.
Nov 10 Anniversary of Atatürk’s death in 1938. Observed at 9.05am (the time of his demise), when the whole country stops whatever it’s doing and maintains a respectful silence for a minute. It’s worth being on a Bosphorus ferry then, when all the engines are turned off, and the boats drift and sound their foghorns mournfully.
Most fixed-line telecom services are provided by TT (Türk Telekom); its website (wturktelekom.com.tr) has an English-language page listing all services and tariffs. The best place to make phone calls is from either a PTT (post office) or a TT (Türk Telekom) centre. Inside, or just adjacent, there is usually a row of card (köntürlü or smartkart) call boxes (TTs are blue and turquoise), and/or a kontürlü (metered, clerk-attended) phone, the latter sometimes in a closed booth. Public phones are to be found in squares and parks, outside many public buildings and at train stations and ferry terminals. The standard Turkish phone replies are the Frenchified Allo or the more local Buyurun (literally, “Avail yourself/at your service”).
“Smart” phonecards are available from PTT or TT centres; when using these, wait for the number of units remaining to appear on the screen before you dial, and be aware that you will have little warning of being cut off. They are bought in units of 50 (TL3.75), 100 (TL7.50), 200 (TL15) and 350 (TL19). A steadily increasing number of phones have also been adapted to accept foreign credit cards. Metered booths inside PTTs or TTs, or at street kiosks or shops (look for signs reading kontürlü telefon bulunur), work out more expensive than cards, but are certainly far cheaper than hotels, and also tend to be quieter (plus you won’t be cut off). Their disadvantage is that you can’t see the meter ticking over, and instances of overcharging are not unknown.
Overseas call rates are TL0.25 per minute to Europe or North America. Try not to make anything other than local calls from a hotel room – there’s usually a minimum 100 percent surcharge on phonecard rates. For extended chat overseas, it’s best to buy an international phonecard. Best is the Alocard, available from PTT branches and usable in public phones. Reveal the 12-digit PIN by scratching; then call the domestic access number, followed by the destination number. Rates are low – for example, a TL10 card allows 104 minutes to the UK or US. The cards can also be used for domestic calls, giving 140 minutes of calling time.
Turkey uses a system of eleven-digit phone numbers nationwide, consisting of four-digit area or mobile-provider codes (all starting with “0”) plus a seven-digit subscriber number.
To call a number in Turkey from overseas, dial your country’s international access code, then 90 for Turkey, then the area or mobile code minus the initial zero, and finally the subscriber number. To call home from Turkey, dial t 00 followed by the relevant international dialling code, then the area code (without the initial zero if there is one) then the number.
Turkey is two hours ahead of GMT in winter. As in Europe, daylight saving is observed between March and October – clocks change at 2am on the last Sunday in each month – so effectively Turkey remains two hours ahead of the UK year-round.
Most Turkish towns of any size will have a Turizm Danışma Bürosu or tourist office of some sort, often lodged inside the Belediye (city hall) in the smaller places. However, outside the larger cities and obvious tourist destinations there’s often little hard information to be had, and world-weary staff may dismiss you with useless brochures. Lists of accommodation are sometimes kept at the busier offices; personnel, however, will generally not make bookings. On the other hand, staff in out-of-the-way places can be embarrassingly helpful. It’s best to have a specific question – about bus schedules, festival ticket availability or museum opening hours – although in remote regions there is no guarantee that there will be anyone who can speak English.
Tourist offices generally adhere to a standard opening schedule of 8.30am to 12.30pm and 1.30pm to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday. Between May and September in big-name resorts and large cities, these hours extend well into the evening and through much of the weekend. In winter, by contrast, many tourist offices in out-of-the-way spots will be shut most of the time.
Turkish information offices abroad
Overseas Turkish tourist offices (often the embassy’s Information Office) will provide a few very basic maps and glossy brochures. For more information check wgoturkey.com.
UK 29–30 St James’s St, London SW1A 1HB t0207 8397778, wgototurkey.co.uk.
US 821 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017 t212 687 2194; 2525 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008 t202 612 6800; 5055 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 850, Los Angeles CA 90036 t323 937 8066, wtourismturkey.org.
An online booking service for arts, cultural, music and sports events (mainly in İstanbul and Ankara), in both English and Turkish.
Umbrella site for all the country’s hiking and horseriding trails.
Turkey’s official tourist information site.
Government website with information on the country’s state-run museums, including the latest opening hours and admission fees.
Intended for long-term residents, and strongest on İstanbul, but nonetheless an authoritative, wide-ranging site with news of upcoming events and ticket-booking functions.
Well-researched information on major trekking areas and long-distance routes, with links to relevant outdoor-activity-type sites.
Useful information portal with links to huge range of sites from scuba-diving operators to estate agents.
Not terribly innovative – but it does give a useful rundown on everything from architecture to ceramics, literature to music and lifestyles to cuisine – with plenty of photographs and illustrations.
This very useful site has loads of practical tips for journey planning, plus many links to vetted service providers.