Travel Tips, Turkey
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10 Travel Tips For Your First Trip to Turkey.

Amasra Turkey, travel to Turkey, Turkey trip, travel the world

In 2012, I travelled in Istanbul and northern Turkey for a month, and fell head over heals in love with the country! The Turkish countryside is full of surprises, the people are incredibly kind (especially towards Indians visiting Turkey) and Turkish culture is intriguingly different from the rest of the world.

My little guide to travelling in Turkey will help you score your Turkey visa, pick up easy phrases in the Turkish language, and assure you that vegetarian Turkish food is easy to come by and delightful.

Based on my own experiences, here are ten tips to make your Turkey travel planning simpler:

1. Get a visa for Turkey (easy even with an Indian passport).

Istanbul, Istanbul pictures, Sultanahmet

Istanbul at sunset.

[Update: Oct 2016] Good news! Turkey now offers e-visa for Indian citizens who hold a valid Schengen, US, UK or Ireland visa – and it takes only 15 minutes to get it. Apply for your Turkey e-visa.

Back when I travelled to Turkey in 2012, I didn’t hold one of the above visas, but the visa processing time at the Turkish embassy was only one day. To apply for the visa, you need to show confirmed flight and hotel bookings, and enough money in your bank statements. You can use a full fledged carrier like Turkish Airlines to make fully refundable flight bookings, and booking.com to make fully refundable hotel bookings, so as not to take a risk incase your visa falls through.

If you have an expired Schengen visa on your passport, make sure you attach a copy and write a cover letter, indicating that your passport has been approved for Schengen countries in the past. Turkey may never be able to join the European Union and the Schengen zone for political reasons, but it holds the Schengen process in high regard. I experienced it first hand when the official at the visa counter of the Turkish embassy read my cover letter, and only asked me to point him to the expired Schengen visa on my passport. I’m pretty sure that’s when he mentally approved my visa for Turkey.

Note that if you already have a valid Schengen visa on your Indian passport, you can get a Turkey e-visa online before you leave for Turkey.

Also read: 9 Countries that Allow Visa on Arrival for Indians

2. Choose your accommodation wisely.

Turkey underground city, Guzelyurt, Turkey travel tips

In the cave cities of Guzelyurt.

If you’re on a budget trip, you’ll be tempted several times to bust your budget, but don’t give in. That doesn’t mean that you need to compromise on the quality or location of your accommodation. Istanbul has an entire range of budget hotels and apartments to choose from; I was happy to rent an apartment, since they let you stay in fantastic locations at the same cost as a budget hotel far from the main town. Better still, apartments are a great way to feel like a local and acquaint yourself with life in a residential neighborhood.

Beyond Istanbul, apartments may be difficult to find, but pansiyons (pensions aka B&B) are aplenty. These are quaint houses converted into B&Bs, have the personal touch of a small property, and are good value for money. If you’re calling the owner directly for a booking, chances are you might have to learn some Turkish words to secure a booking. Asking for a discount (indireem), especially if it’s low season, can help get a lower price, but don’t be brutal about it. If you prefer to book in advance, booking.com and Airbnb are my go to places. If you are not on Airbnb yet, sign up with my referral to get 15$ off your first stay.

Also read: Why I’m Using Airbnb – and You Should Too

3. Pick up some Turkish words.

The black sea, Turkey black sea, black sea coast, Turkey Karadeniz

Gilderos Bay along Turkey’s Black Sea Coast.

Even within Istanbul, it is not easy to find an English speaker. In fact, walk into a book store, and you are likely to find no English books (heck, even Harry Potter is translated in Turkish). Luckily, the Turkish script is similar to English, making road signs easy to read. Whether to get by, order food, ask for directions, or just have a simple conversation with a local, learn some phrases in Turkish (it is fun too).

Little gestures like teh-she-kuller (thank you) and bee teer deem (it was delicious) will go a long way. See more useful Turkish words.

Also read: 7 Quirky Things About Turkey

4. Pack like you’d pack for Western Europe.

Istanbul photos, Istanbul travel blogs, Turkey travel tips

Life by the Bosphorus, in Istanbul.

Turkey is among the most liberal of West Asian countries, which means that while you still see burkha-clad women stroll along the beach, you also see plenty of women smartly dressed in western-style evening dresses. At this junction where the east meets the west, Turkey gives you the freedom to dress as you please. As always, travel light if you intend to move around a lot, and pick a backpack over a suitcase.

Summer in Turkey can be tricky to pack for, somewhat like the higher Indian Himalayas. The sun is strong and harsh, but stepping in the shade could leave you cold. Dress in layers, so you can add or remove one as necessary, and pack lots of sunscreen, a sun hat and shades.

Also read: First Time Abroad? All Your Questions Answered

5. Revel in Turkish vegetarian food.

Borek Turkey, Turkish vegetarian food

Borek. Photo by Paul Keller.

In a country that loves its kebab and doner as much as Turkey, vegetarians may anticipate a tough time. Truth be told, the Turkish love to garnish even their vegetarian dishes with meat, and the concept of vegetarianism is so alien that if you ask about vegetarian food at a cafe, you’ll almost always be offered soup and salad. After two days of surviving on that and tost (cheese toast), I got around to learning the names of vegetarian dishes in Turkish, and asking for them to be cooked without meat. For easy access, save them on your phone or on a piece of paper, and refer to them at meal times.

Turkey’s local vegetarian cuisine has uncanny similarities to Indian dishes. Don’t miss : kuru fasuliye (chickpeas, french beans, kidney beans), gozleme patata (aloo paranthas) and pilaf (pulao). The most commonly used form of cheese is peynir, which tastes somewhat like raw cottage cheese and isn’t appetizing to Indian taste buds, not mine anyway.

Also read: Turkish Food: A Vegetarian’s Delight and A Vegetarian in Turkey

6. Estimate a budget and stick to it.

Safranbolu photos, Turkey photos, Turkey pictures, Safranbolu

Safranbolu at night.

Travelling within Turkey could be almost as expensive as a Euro trip, unless you impose a budget upon yourself. As a rule of thumb, it is cheaper to pay (and to be charged) in Turkish Liras than in Euros, and bargaining is hardly uncommon. Remember you don’t have to visit every tourist attraction out there just because everyone else does. You might be better off spending the entry fee on a nice meal at a cosy seaside cafe, or experiencing a Turkish bath at a Hamam.

On a moderate budget, staying in nice B&Bs and eating local, I spent 50 Euros a day on accommodation and food.

Also read: Turkey’s Black Sea Coast: A Photo Essay

7. Beware of scams in Istanbul.

Bosphorus, Istanbul photos

Walking by the Bosphorus in Istanbul.

A Turkish lady stopped me on a sidewalk and tried to convince me that she needed to take her elderly mother to the hospital and had run out of money. She was convincing enough for me to feel guilty for refusing to offer her money, and believe or not, ten minutes later, I saw her devouring kebabs and exchanging smokes with her mother at a supper joint!

I’ve heard many friends-of-friends stories too, who were befriended by extremely friendly locals and offered to hang out at a bar, and later tricked to pay for extremely expensive bottles of wine. Sure, these would make for awesome travel stories in retrospect, but are probably not worth losing a fortune over. Wikitravel has an entire list of common scams to watch out for.

Luckily, these scams are more or less limited to Istanbul, so once you’re out on the countryside, you can losen up.

Also read: Solo Travel Moments That Left Me Scared Shitless

8. Use public transport across Turkey.

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Sunset over the Black Sea in Turkey.

Public transport in Istanbul is quite convenient, and all journeys by bus, tram or metro are priced at 2 TL, irrespective of the distance you go. Cabs are easily available past midnight, when public transport stops operating, and levy no late night charges.

All major cities & towns in Turkey are well connected by private buses, and I found the services of Ulusoy and Safran to be the best. These buses are equipped with free Wifi, stop often for rest room breaks, and on longer journeys, you are served beverages and snacks. It is, however, difficult to book to book these buses online without knowledge of Turkish. The most feasible option is to show up at the bus terminal and purchase tickets to your onward destinations. Distances between smaller towns and villages can conveniently be covered by the area’s dolmus (mini bus), which stops along every small town on the way, dropping people off.

Hitch hiking is a convenient option on the countryside, but as in any country, you need to keep your wits about you to try it.

Also read: Exploring Turkey’s Black Sea Region by Mini Bus

 9. See Turkey beyond Istanbul.

Safranbolu, Safranbolu Turkey, Turkey travel tips

A quiet neighborhood in Safranbolu.

Before I left for Turkey, the majority of people who had visited the country had only ever been to Istanbul, and at most Cappadocia. While the two are extremely beautiful and worth a visit, Turkey is more than just a 4 day stopover destination enroute to Europe.

The Turkish countryside along the Black Sea Coast is as beautiful, if not more, than the alpine countryside of Europe, and combines the quaint charm of European villages with a touch of Asia and the Arab world. Central Anatolia is home to some of the most stunning and stark landscapes, the far northeast of Turkey is a lush tea belt & replicates the terrain of Georgia, and the outskirts of Cappadocia are home to Greek ruins and underground cave cities untouched by the development of Goreme. The countryside that you’ll drive through to reach these far flung corners of Turkey is an other worldly experience in itself.

Also read: My First Impressions of Turkey

10. Get to know the locals.

Turkish people, Turkish culture, Safranbolu Turkey

Befriending a blacksmith at his workshop in Safranbolu.

For a country socially restricted by lack of a common language with the majority of the world, the Turkish people are truly kind hearted. I was touched and overwhelmed, time and again, by the hospitality and camaraderie extended to me by strangers in vastly different parts of Turkey, and under several different circumstances.

In a world where racism against Indians is hardly uncommon, Turkey is a breath of fresh air; I found that people were especially kind to me on hearing that I was from India, Hindistan as they fondly know it. Bollywood stars have fans in the smallest of Turkish towns, and our cultural similarities and larger than life attitude surely strengthen the bond. Make the best of it, even though lack of a common language will impose a barrier, and find a second home in this beautiful part of the globe.

Got any other questions or tips for a first trip to Turkey?

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34 Comments

  1. Pingback: 10 Travel Tips For Your First Trip to Turkey. | The Shooting Star | Discount Travel Tips

  2. Great Tips – Turkey has been on my list for a long time – I always prefer to stay in B&Bs rather than hotels !

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    • Thanks Ruchira, hope they’ll help you plan that much awaited trip. Let me know if you need any other recommendations!

      Like

  3. Hi Shivya,
    Great tips! btw Indian citizens can get Turkish tourist visa on arrival if they are holding a valid US/UK/Schengen visa or a PR card of Canada. The process takes another 30 minutes and costs $20 US. Turkish has lots of words that folks in India would be familiar with, I found it easy to learn the language! Finally, the food comes from a similar spice palette, India has been under the Turkic influence for centuries without knowing about it. 🙂 teshekkuerler, Priyank

    Like

    • Tehshekuller for the add ons, Priyank 🙂 So many countries have been under Persian influence for the longest time; children of the same womb.

      Like

  4. Hi Shivya,

    I would like to correct a mistake as you say “Turkey is among the most liberal Arabic countries…”

    Turkey does have a minority of %4 Arabic population in the eastern part, but we have no common roots with Arabic people except the fact that the 5-times-a-day prayer is sang in Arabic.

    And even though I know that you did not do it on purpose, Turkish people consider it “ugly” to be called arab.

    Just like, for example, Polish people when they are called a Russian.

    Like

  5. lovely tips! shivya 🙂 you’ve made sure Turkey is added to my list of places to visit! Though you may not have thought about this angle – I am curious to know what Turkey will be like for kids? young kids say 6 yrs and 8 yrs. any insights?

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    • Thanks Sapna! I’m glad Turkey’s on your bucket list; it’s such a beautiful and hospitable country. I wouldn’t know from experience what it would be like for kids, but like any other European city, Istanbul will have plenty to keep them entertained. If they are outdoorsy and enjoy hiking or the sea or just natural beauty, then they’ll love the Black Sea Coast as well. It’s quite easy to get around by public transport, so that shouldn’t be an issue.

      Like

  6. Pingback: Ask Me Anything: November 2012. | The Shooting Star

  7. Hi Shivya,

    Like all your other stories, this one to was great. I am having a tough time deciding which places to go to in Turkey. Turkey is a HUGE country, and every part of it seems equally interesting.

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  8. sorry I hit on submit without even finishing it. My bad. Anyway travelling end of March. Going for 6 days and would like to see more than istanbul. Any recommendations?

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  9. Planning to visit Turkey soon, so I stopped by. The ill elderly woman scam? I experienced the exact opposite in Delhi when a middle aged lady came crying to my auto and asked me to take her heavily pregnant bahu to the hospital. I freaked out and gave her a lot of money. 2 weeks later my friend fell for the same story and told me about it, and that’s when I realised it was a scam.
    Another few months later, she tried again with me. And I was like… Really?! :/

    Like

  10. Matt says

    Although this is an old post, you may want to correct your translation of ‘bee teer deem’. That means, “I’m finished”, Cok lezzetli (sounds like “choke lez-et-lee” would be the correct phrase for it was delicious.

    Love the pictures and your travel stories. Beautiful!

    Like

  11. Pingback: Eat, Pray, Love in Gangtok. | The Shooting Star

  12. “I quit my corporate job at age 23 to travel the world”. How? Just how?

    Great post btw. Esp the bit about not going to every single tourist attraction. I’m as much or more excited about the Turkish countryside as I am about Istanbul.

    Like

  13. Hi Shivya,

    I loved reading this post….
    Maybe the most important of all is being aware of common scams in turkey.
    Turkey is such a beautiful country to visit and these tips will surely help every traveler on their first trip to Turkey.

    Thanks

    Like

  14. Shivya… whats the latest visa procedures? I am planning a trip around end of May. Can i apply for a visa from Chennai? Would you know?

    Do we necessarily have to show hotel bookings?

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  15. I don’t know if you write travel books, but if you ever do, I’ll be sure to buy one. You make Lonely Planet look useless. Your blog is so helpful. Cheers.

    Like

  16. parvinder says

    Great tips, Shivya!! I am applying for Turkey Visa on Monday. I hope to get the visa accepted. I am little worried due to my visa rejected by Germany(earlier I was planning euro trip). I hope Turkish visa is not rejected often like Schengen. 😦 Excited to travel first time outside India!!

    Like

  17. Hi Shivya,

    If I’m applying for visa from Delhi without any Schengen visa to support my application, will Airbnb bookings for accommodation be good enough for the embassy? What was your experience like since you also used apartments in Istanbul? Looking forward to your reply. Also, do I require an invitation letter to apply for visa? If yes, what kind and how to procure it?

    Thanks in advance.

    Like

    • Hello, I would recommend making fully refundable hotel bookings for the purpose of your visa. Airbnb bookings shouldn’t be an issue I think (though I’ve never applied using them), but incase the visa doesn’t come through, you’ll lose all your deposits (depending on the cancellation policies). See my visa tips for a Canada visa – they apply to Schengen as well.

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      • Airbnb bookings can also be refundable depending on individual guest cancellation policy. That is not really my concern here. I just wanted to know if the Turkish consulate has any specific hotel booking requirements (that it has to be in hotels only and not in serviced apartments or so). In fact most of the places I plan to pick through Airbnb are small privately run hotels themselves. Also, is there such a thing as an invitation if I’m travelling as a tourist and not visiting anyone in particular there. In some places it mentions an invitation as a requirement.

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  18. Achin Kimtee says

    Hi Shivya,
    I am going to Turkey for my honeymoon in December. I would be going to Cappadocia and Istanbul. It’s a 6 day trip. I am trying to guage the daily expenses. My tour is booked – flights, hotels, pick and drops. The only major expense would be food, shopping and some of the sightseeing. Can you advise on it?

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  19. Wisely written guide for travelers to this beautiful country. And it’s nice to see that places beyond Istanbul also attract the attention of foreign visitors.

    By the way, «bitirdim» means «I finished», not «t was delicious». To say something was delicious you can say «çok lezzetli».

    Like

  20. Zohaib Khan says

    Hi shivya,

    Thanks for the tips. I am actually flying for two weeks to Turkey on 21st feb and past 3 weeks I’ve been planning my trip across turkey. I’ll be visiting Istanbul, Konya (the place for whirling Dervishes) Cappadocia and Rize. I’ve googled Rize and it looks amazing. I’d recommend everyone one who is traveling to Turkey to give Rize a look out. I will be going there next week and I’m really excited to check Rize out and the remaining locations.

    Best regards,

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Prasanna says

    Turkey is in my wish list for year’s . I think this would help me to find my way .. Btw one question to you shivya .. Exchange rates of turkish lira and indian rupees is very high so don’t you think it would be very expensive for indians?? What amount it cost you when you travelled??? Or any estimation please???

    Like

  22. Ajay Saigal says

    Thanks for such a nice article…i know its very daring for a lady like u to be traveling alone in Turkey…i am also astonished that…now a days…how bold step u took to become a traveler and leave that pathetic culture of corporate industry working there and gaining nothing ….. 🙂
    I also wanted to be a like that …i wish i could be the one ..one fine day !!!!
    Nice Article well articulated…

    Like

  23. You’re the best.Your post is really awesome.I love your post.By your experience I can completely understand all things about turkey.I have a plan to go Istanbul at next year.Because this your experience is so important and special for me.Thanks once again my friend.I want to go Istanbul.Because this I already started to learn Turkish language.I know Turkish language is so important,if anyone want to go Turkey.Thank you so much again.I don’t know how can I say thank you to you…I hope you will be write some other things about how can we travel in Turkey from India.

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  24. Hey Shivya,

    Will it be a good decision to travel to Turkey for a week or 10 days in December first week. Will it be too cold?
    What will be the approximate budget per person?

    Like

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