5 Things to Know Before Visiting Turkey

From do’s and don’ts, to what to wear, to making sure you have enough cash, Istanbul local Lisa shares what to know before traveling to Turkey.

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Photo © Getty Images/skaman306

Turkey's wealth of historical sites, diverse landscapes, adventure activities, rich culture and delicious food make it an extremely rewarding place to explore. Before you set off to see the mosques in Istanbul, landscapes of Cappadocia, and ancient ruins of Ephesus, here are five handy travel tips to make the most of your visit.

1. Are Turkish people friendly?

Yes! Turkish people are incredibly friendly, love to help, and are very inquisitive. They often ask questions such as “How old are you?” or “How much money do you earn?” that can feel invasive, and staring is common. On a 10-hour bus ride, the headscarf-wearing village woman next to me gazed unblinkingly at my blue eyes the for the entire trip.

Anything marking you as different – skin color, hair, clothing – makes you an object of fascination, especially outside urban areas. I try to respond with good grace because Turks have a genuine desire to know about foreign life, but you don’t have to answer or engage more than feels comfortable.

2. A few Turkish words and phrases go a long way

Outside the tourist areas, even in big cities, not many people speak English, so having some Turkish language basics is really useful. If you receive an invitation to a local family home for Turkish coffee or tea, knowing even a few words is much appreciated. However, some unscrupulous people take advantage of that friendly nature.

Understanding Turkish non-verbal communication is essential, particularly when it comes to saying no. Turkish hospitality means you’re offered more food and drink than you want. To stop the flow, simply put your hand on your heart as you say no. If you’re being pressured to buy something or give money and saying no hasn’t worked, tilt your head up and back while making a brisk tsk sound with your tongue. It might feel rude to do so, but it works.

3. Currency, costs, tipping, and bargaining

Travel with a mixture of cash (in small denominations), an ATM card, and a credit card. Travelers’ checks are no longer common. US Dollars and Euro are the easiest currencies to convert into Turkish lira and change offices offer the best exchange rates. There are many ATMs throughout Turkey but check with your own bank beforehand about overseas withdrawal fees. Always carry cash on you, in case you can’t find a machine that accepts your card.

Good service is the norm in Turkey but wait staff don’t earn much, so tipping is welcomed; 10-15% is usual in upmarket restaurants, but I always leave something at small, family-run neighborhood places too. Round up the fare for taxi drivers or add an extra US $1-2 (8.40-16.80tl) if they help with your bags. Note: Turkish lira is quite volatile at the time of this writing, so this currency conversion is approximate. 

Always check prices – on menus before ordering, and the bill or taxi meter before paying – and query any discrepancies. Some negotiation is usual in carpet shops, so first learn the price and currency they’re quoting. It’s perfectly all right to ask for a better price. If that fails, stand up and say you’re running out of time before checking one last time if that’s the very best they can do. The main thing is to buy something because you love it. My house is full of carpets I’ve bought in Turkey. Looking at them still makes me smile, while the memory of what I paid is long forgotten.

4. Know how to dress appropriately

Turkey’s population is 99% Muslim, so religious beliefs influence a lot of the daily behavior and customs you’re likely to experience, be it in cosmopolitan centers or traditional rural communities. This doesn’t mean women traveling in Turkey have to cover from head to toe, but being aware of proper etiquette and dressing modestly helps you avoid unwanted attention.

A scarf is the perfect multi-purpose go-to. You can drape it around your shoulders if you’re feeling a bit exposed, or when the temperature drops. Use it to cover your hair when you want to enter a mosque and keep a bag handy in your purse to carry your shoes – you’ll have to take them off to enter.

5. Traditional Turkish toilets

While most Turkish hotels, museums, and restaurants have western-style toilets, you'll frequently encounter squat toilets on your travels. I prefer them because they’re often cleaner. The floor of the stalls is sometimes wet but don’t worry, it’s just clean water that’s been splashed around. They have a tap with running water (bidet) installed next to the squat area as Turks generally use water instead of paper, so remember to keep a packet of tissues in your bag. Hand sanitizer is a good idea, too.

If you’re wearing long pants, you might want to roll up the cuffs, and wearing jumpsuits is not advised. After you back into the stall, remove any objects from your pockets before you squat – likewise sunglasses perched on your head or hooked over your shirt front. If you forget, good luck retrieving them.

The majority of public toilets in Turkey charge a small fee so it’s wise to carry change. Most mosques have toilets (some of them free), so you’ll never be caught short.

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15 Comments

  • judy angel said

    Is it safe to go to turkey in June?????

  • Urban gal said

    I am planning to visit Turkey around next week. What’s the weather be like end of March/ beginning of April. A light cardigan will do or I need to pack layers? Would really appreciate if someone can enlighten me in terms of prices for mid range budget (other than flight and hotel). What are the best souvenirs and their prices

  • Retno said

    Turkish man I met in historical site asked me to buy him an unrefundable plane ticket to visit me. I refused because I thought this was a scam. He said sorry & told me that wasn't a scam. He still contacts me until now, eventhough I told him that there will be no money involved in this, ever (I also told him that asking me for a plane ticket makes him look really bad). He said that's fine & he wants me to go to Turkey to meet him again ASAP & that he will take care of my needs (food & lodging) there. Should I go & meet him? Is he a scam?

  • Retno said

    To clarify a bit:
    We only met for a short time then we talked via whatsapp (but not everyday) for a month. After that he asked me to buy him tickets to my country in south east asia.

    He doesnt work in hospitality industry.

  • States Girl said

    A friend of mine visited Istanbul two months ago. On leaving the airport he got a ride in a taxi. Ended up the driver was a bandit and took everything he had on him. Passport, wallet, clothes, everything. Then he beat him with a board and he ended up in the hospital for weeks. Just beware

  • Duygu said

    Damn... Reading some comments gave me a headache. I am a 26 year old Turkish woman, I am an atheist and have never had trouble saying it out loud, never ever covered my hair my entire life, I live with my boyfriend, been wearing bikinis to take a swim and drinking since forever and I have been surrounded with likeminded people my whole life. Of course there is crime, of course there are conservative people especially in rural areas, but those have always been and will always be wherever there are humans. Chill out, use your common sense and you will find many things to enjoy around here.

    Additionally, regarding to one of the comments above: Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was the founder of Turkish republic and he was a quite openminded and visionary person. A leader, I believe, any citizen would like to have, a leader we wish we had these days.

    Come along, seriously, we don't bite. Most of us are awesome people and we can hate the rest together :)

  • Duygu said

    Judy, on 24th June we have an election and I would advise against visiting here around that time. We are expecting protests and everything, we will have a lot going on and it will get tenser as the date approaches. Plus our economy is about to collapse really hard, I say wait a little longer so with same budget you will be able to enjoy a silent and beautiful country for a lot longer.

  • turkey travel said

    I am a person who travels all around Turkey. Turkey is a country in the middle of Europe, Asia and Africa. There are lots of cultures and wonderful monuments in Turkey. Turkey is the most beautiful country with its sun, sea and winter www.turkeyholidaystravel.com

  • Zeeshan said

    I visited Turkey for hair transplant and my Trip was a nightmare. In general people are rude and harass you for no reason. It started for me right at the airport. I had Evisa and US passport. The person at the entry asksd me for my birth certificate and I'm like I didn't know I need that to enter a country I thought visa and passport is good enough. They took me to interrogation room and claimed there is person with same name who is in their criminal list. When he showed me list name was same but DOB was different. I had to call my wife to fax my birth certificate to get out of that room as they insisted they will take me to police station and court without any real evidence. I asked for US embassy and they refused. Finally one guy authorized me to make call to US to my wife so I can get birth certificare faxed. Once I got out I spent a day there and once I came back to hotel the Fri t desk stopped me in elevator and asked for key while my brother told him he is in same hotel as him. On street people push you and all in all my experience was horrible. One more thing immigration officer asked me for my Religion? I would say stay away from this country.

  • Tajayb said

    I came on this website because I wanted some insight on this country and fun things to do. But instead I see a large amount of people bashing the country because they believe they were scammed. It’s giving me a serious headache. First of all that is ignorance to think that way. You have to remember, much like Jamaica where I am originally from, Turkish people need to make money so that they can look after their family. Yes marketers may change prices if they realise you are a tourist you have to use your brain and negotiate with them. At the end of the day everyone has to make a living. As you can see from the exchange rate of TL to British pounds the economy isn’t that grate so don’t be shocked and stop acting like spoil children because you felt you have been over charged when really if you convert the money back to pounds or dollars you still haven’t payed a fraction of what you would in the US or UK.

  • Sue young said

    Get a grip. Turkey is as easy going and not so exotic as any where else. Be safe in the same way as in UK, respect others as in UK, get over the need to make a bit of a travel into a big adventure and dinner party conversation. It's moved on since Midnight Express.

  • Naz said

    It never has been like Midnight Express anyway... Just the foreigner media makes always really bad and unreal news about the country since the history....

    When you break down the prejudices, you will really enjoy the country. There is good food, friendly people, landscape and history..

    And lastly, yes Turkey is culturally a mix of West and East which means everybody (secular or conservative) respects each other. So you can be anyone! No one is going to kill you beacuse you are the opposite. At least I’ve never seen one example as a Turkish.

  • Elena Ricciardi said

    I have been living in Istanbul for 5 years now, didn't have much of a probem with walking around in tiny shorts or bikinis on the beach. There are way more secular and liberal Turkish people than average European-US citizen knows of. I don't feel any different than Roma in Istanbul which is my hometown until the ezan reminds me. :) Shorts, cleavages to sum up revealing clothing are very common and fine here except for very undeveloped/unsafe neighbourhoods and also mosques. But these exist in many countries around the world, so avoid them (the unsafe neighbourhoods not the beautiful mosques!) and you'll be just fine. Beautiful country, definitely worth the visit. In my case, worth to settle in. Fethiye(Uzumlu and Kayakoy villages in particular for fine wine tastings), Kas, Rize, Cappadocia, Mardin are must see's.

  • Tim Scottious said

    Oh how I could go back and travel to Turkey again! There's so many places I haven't been to!

  • ADNAN TUNC said

    Your article made me feel a little shocked. You tell to visitors what to wear? Really?
    Turkey is a TURKISH country with a secular constitution. It's NOT a Middle East / Arabic country.
    Actually this should be the core subject of your article.
    What women wear is their personal choices and this should not be a part of an article about a country which is the 6th most visited in the world.
    You can see women wearing bikinis or mini skirts in Turkey. If they wanna wear long dresses, well it's also their choices. We are talking about Turkey, not about primitive tribes.
    Turkey is a modern country and should be much well understood!

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