A popular sun-and-sea destination, Turkey has more – much, much more – to offer travellers, whether you fancy big-city buzz, mountain adventures, a relaxing rural escape or a deep-dive into thousands of years of history. From grand mosques to fairy chimneys, alpine plateaus to ancient ruins, every corner of the country has its own attractions, along with distinctive landscapes, cultural traditions and culinary specialties.
Current ravel restrictions and entry requirements
Turkey eliminated all Covid-19-related travel restrictions as of 1 June 2022. Masks are no longer required in any indoor or outdoor spaces except hospitals. British citizens do not need a visa to travel to Turkey for stays of up to 90 days out of every 180 days.
Best time to go
The turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea beckon in the summer months, but beach resorts, Istanbul and other top attractions are often crowded and expensive in the sweltering peak season. Spring and autumn are perfect for exploring ruins and Turkey’s wealth of natural wonders, and it’s still generally warm enough take a dip in the sea or watch the sunset from a rooftop bar with a drink in hand. The otherworldly rock formations of Cappadocia are especially dreamlike when blanketed with snow in winter.
Top regions and cities
Coveted by emperors and sultans alike, Istanbul has been capturing hearts for centuries and remains an intoxicating mix of grand historical monuments and vibrant modern life. There are must-see sights like the opulent Topkapı Palace and architecturally awe-inspiring Hagia Sophia, of course, but spare some time to wander the city’s backstreets and sample what its different districts have to offer. Immerse yourself in the contemporary art scene in Beyoğlu or the hip nightlife in Kadıköy, explore the traditional neighbourhoods of Fatih and Üsküdar or take in the Bosporus views and chic café culture of Arnavutköy and Bebek. Whatever you do in Istanbul, be sure it includes a ride on one of the city’s ferries, which offer million-pound panoramas for pocket change.
Turkey’s nearly 1,000-mile-long Mediterranean coastline is a top draw with its beach resorts for all budgets, from luxury suites in posh Bodrum to family-friendly package holidays in Alanya. But this picturesque region is also dotted with exquisite, little-visited ancient ruins like the mountaintop city of Termessos, the pine-shrouded coastal settlement of Phaselis and the sand-dusted remnants of Patara, which just happens to sit next to one of Turkey’s best beaches. Even in larger resort towns, you don’t have to stray far from your sun lounger to soak in some history: Antalya has a fine archaeological museum featuring treasures from around the region, while Alanya boasts a spectacular Seljuk-era castle and shipyard.
Fantastical formations of soft volcanic rock sprout amid undulating hills and valleys in Cappadocia, a region of central Turkey known for its ethereal landscapes. See it from above, carried aloft by one of the colourful fleet of hot-air balloons that fills the skies at sunrise. Or delve many storeys deep into the earth inside one of the labyrinthine underground cities where ancient residents of the area took shelter from marauding forces. Other highlights include touring the elaborate frescoes inside the cave churches of the Göreme Open-Air Museum, hiking one of the many trails crisscrossing Cappadocia’s scenic valleys, sampling the local wine and staying in a cave dwelling turned character-filled boutique hotel.
Among the most important cities in the ancient Mediterranean world, Ephesus is today one of the best-preserved Greco-Roman ruins anywhere, boasting the towering façade of the Library of Celsus, a 40,000-seat theatre carved into the hillside and the fresco- and mosaic-bedecked terrace houses of the elite class. Stay in nearby Selçuk, a pleasant town with its own impressive historical attractions, or in the quaint hilltop village of Şirince. Ephesus is about an hour by car from İzmir airport, making it easy to pair with a trip to the Çeşme peninsula for some quality beach time.
Best under-the-radar destinations
Eastern Black Sea
The lush mountains rising up from Turkey’s eastern Black Sea coastline hold some of the country’s most dramatically beautiful and biodiverse landscapes – rugged peaks, mist-shrouded valleys, wildflower-dappled plateaus – and a cultural richness to match. Hunt for abandoned medieval Georgian churches and monasteries in remote parts of Artvin and Erzurum provinces; tour the tea plantations in the foothills of Rize that produce the country’s favourite caffeinated drink; or visit the Greek Orthodox Sumela Monastery, founded in the 4th century on a steep perch in the mountains around Trabzon.
A crossroads of cultures for thousands of years, the cities of south-eastern Turkey are steeped in history. Visit the Neolithic temple at Göbekli Tepe, where the archaeological finds have changed our understanding of human history; explore the sacred sites and sprawling bazaar in Şanlıurfa; wander the winding alleyways of Mardin, where churches sit side-by-side with mosques; and marvel at the Roman mosaics preserved in the fine museums in Gaziantep and Antakya – both also among the country’s most noted gastronomic destinations. Contemporary culture is alive and well too: Mardin hosts an international art biennial, and Diyarbakır is an important centre for Kurdish artists, writers and musicians.
Just over the mountains north of Antalya, the Lakes Region around Isparta and Burdur is mostly known, if at all, for its rose and lavender fields, the latter of which have become a popular backdrop for photo shoots during the colourful harvest season. But there’s much more to discover here, starting with the stunning ruins of Sagalassos, Kibyra and more than a dozen other ancient cities, and including Seljuk caravanserai and ornately decorated Ottoman mansions and mosques. Nature-lovers can stroll around bucolic rural villages or the eponymous lakes or adventure into massive caves and deep gorges.
Best things to do
Sample Turkish cuisine
Blending influences from the many cultures that have lived there over the centuries, food in Turkey is as diverse as it is delicious: from hearty mountain fare (lots of dairy, beans, dark greens and a ribsticking cornmeal fondue) in the Black Sea to spicy kebabs and sweet filo-dough pastries in the southeast to fresh seafood and wild herbs along the Aegean coast. Since Istanbul is a city of migrants, you can eat your way through Turkey’s regional cuisines without leaving its borders. Don’t miss having a lavish Turkish breakfast and an evening with a tableful of meze at a lively meyhane – both convivial meals meant for sharing, and lingering over.
Take a blue cruise
If your idea of an amazing holiday is doing a whole lot of nothing at all, may we suggest a few nights – or even a whole week – on board a traditional wooden gulet as it slowly plies the idyllic coves, bays and uninhabited islets of Turkey’s Mediterranean coastline. Known as a blue cruise (mavi yolculuk), this is a classic get-away-from-it-all escape. You may be surprised at how easily you can fill your days with swimming, eating, napping and doing it all over again. For more active travellers there are plenty of opportunities to disembark and hike to remote ruins and sweeping viewpoints.
Hit the trails
If you have the time and stamina, there’s no better way to immerse yourself in Turkey’s gorgeous landscapes than by hiking one of its long-distance trails, which often allow you to visit ancient archaeological sites and get a taste of local village life as well. The 310-mile Lycian Way along the southern coast is the oldest and best-known of these routes, but there are also extraordinary treks to be had in the Kaçkar mountains above the Black Sea, the Aladağlar range south of Cappadocia, the Phrygian Way through the western steppe or the historical St Paul Trail running north through the mountains from Antalya to the Lakes Region, to name just a few.
Direct domestic flights from Istanbul’s two airports go to almost every part of the country. There’s also a vast bus network, ranging from overnight intercity coaches to village minibuses. Rail service is much more limited, though Istanbul is connected to the capital city of Ankara, as well as Eskişehir and Konya, by fast train. Roads are generally well-maintained, making a hire car a good option for exploring the countryside.
How to get there
Pegasus Airlines and Anadolu Jet (a Turkish Airlines subsidiary) typically have the cheapest flights from the UK to Istanbul, while easyJet, Jet2 and other low-cost airlines and charters fly direct to coastal destinations like Dalaman, Antalya and Bodrum in the summer months. Train travel to Istanbul from the UK is a multiday trip involving several transfers.
If you can, avoid travelling to Turkey in high summer, when hotels and airfares for Istanbul and the coastal resorts soar along with the temperatures and the crowds. Early autumn is still warm and inviting for both sightseeing and swimming.
What’s the weather like?
Summers are hot: humid in Istanbul and on the coasts, and dry inland. Winters are cold and wet in Istanbul, snowy in central Turkey, and range from rainy to relatively mild along the Mediterranean.
What time zone is it in?
All of Turkey is in GMT+3 year-round.
What currency do I need?
Turkish lira, though some hotels and tour operators will accept pounds, euros or dollars.
What language is spoken?
Turkish. In big cities and tourist areas, you can usually find speakers of at least passable English; elsewhere, most people will genially find ways to overcome the language barrier. Any attempts by visitors to learn a few niceties in Turkish tend to be warmly received.
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