A major part of Turkey’s campaign for acceptance into the European Union is the strengthening of its economy. This has led to the development of its tourist industry, and the rapid growth of Turkey’s popularity as a vacation spot. Thanks to this trend Turkey’s already spectacular natural, historical, and cultural sights are now more accessible to visitors than ever.
Flying to Turkey from JFK is relatively inexpensive and convenient. Turkish Airlines runs daily nonstop flights between JFK and Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul for as little as 0. In the summer the lowest prices generally available are around 5, in the spring 0, fall 0, and winter 5. Americans visiting Turkey must have a visa, which can be obtained either before or upon entering the country. The cost of tourist visas for US citizens has recently been reduced from 0 to to encourage tourism from the US. Port fees for visiting cruise ships have been reduced as well by 40% to 50%, depending on the port.
Within the country there are several modes of relatively inexpensive transportation. Most taxi boat trips cost between and . Share taxis, a cross between buses and taxi cabs where the vehicle accommodates several different people but may stop anywhere along a route and doesn’t have a set time schedule, are also available, costing just over a dollar (around 1.4 Turkish new lira) to go as far as you like in either direction. These are fun to use, and generally less expensive than regular taxis.
Once in Turkey there are a variety of great choices of accommodation. Ibrahim Pasha, located in Istanbul, costs around 0 minimum for the night. An historical structure, this four-story century-old townhouse is named after the palace of Ibrahim Pasha which, along with its divine Islamic Arts museum, stands across from it. The cushy rooms are well decorated and fitted with a range of amenities. A roof deck and homey lounge/café/bar/breakfast room complete this comfortable experience.
In the city of Bodrum, the Aegean Holiday Village is a great value for your money. At a night average, a friendly, peaceful environment is provided at just a short walk away from the main center of the city. Rooms offer views of the gardens or private beach. The buffet style food is of good quality, variety, and service. There is an exceptionally large pool offering a number of fun water activities and great music. This is a great place for families.
In Marmaris, the Mares Hotel comes highly recommended and well priced, with an average room rate of 0 per night. It is woven gracefully into a beautiful beachfront area in which visitors can bathe, participate in a variety of water sports, or simply soak up the sun. There is a wide range of restaurants, from the casual self-service dining area to the romantic, seaside fish restaurant.
In Belek, you can rely on the staff at the Kaya Hotel to do everything in their power to assure that you enjoy your stay. Rooms are comfortable, have a sea view, and cost less than on average per night. Offering both indoor and outdoor-pools, tennis courts, a private beach, shops, pubs, a teen nightclub, amenities for business travelers, and several restaurants, there is assuredly a way to keep family members of all ages occupied.
An exceptional facility is the Sultan Saray Hotel in Kemer, costing about 0 a night. Not only is the hotel surrounded by beautiful pine trees, it also has great views of the sea. Its four restaurants all serve a different type of ethnic food, and snack bars throughout the hotel serve food such as hamburgers, hot dogs, shish kebabs, fresh fruit, and candy. On the beach a wide array of water sports are available, such as sailing, jetskiing, and parasailing. What really brings warmth to the beauty and luxury of the facilities, though, is the enthusiastic, friendly, and hardworking service, especially the animators.
The Club and Hotel Letoonia in Fethiye is versatile enough to accommodate young families and young couples on a romantic vacation equally well. A diverse though always high quality and elegantly presented food is served. The Moonlight restaurant is a favorite, set on the end of the peninsula where a romantic sunset can be enjoyed with dinner. Others are more lively and better for children. With beautiful grounds and mountain views and a convenient location, it is difficult not to be satisfied with the Club and Hotel Letoonia, including the room rates, which fall around 0 per night on average.
The Crowne Plaza Izmir is both well located and equipped with a variety of its own luxuries. The hotel is just 25 minutes from the airport, 15 from the center of the city and fair ground, and close to historical sites such as the House of the Virgin Mary, the antique cities of Ephesus, Aphrodisias, and Sardis. Within the hotel complex there are several restaurants, bars, and a nightclub. Perhaps the most irresistible luxury offering is the Agamemnon Thermal Spa and Wellness Center, featuring both indoor and outdoor pools, a thermal pool fed by the famous health springs of Balcova, a sauna, a solarium, hydrotherapy, bath therapy, aromatherapy, steam rooms, Turkish baths, and a fitness center. Group or individual business travelers are well accommodated here too.
A reliable, well-located place to stay in the city of Side, with an average nightly room rate of , is Club Voyage Turtel Sorgun Holiday Village. For around per night for a room the Hotel Ozkaymak in Alanya is comparable, featuring a pool full of waterslides for children and a short distance from the market, beach, and the lively town of Avsaller. The Houston Hotel in Ankara is similar, ideally location in a very fashionable area of the city known for great restaurants, hotels, and nightlife. Rooms cost an average of 0 per night. The Tusan Beach Resort is a wonderful place to stay in Kusadasi, notable for its Turkish baths, exciting in-hotel nightlife, and modest room rates of on average per night. For some wonderful home cooking, a warm friendly welcome, The Venus Hotel is a cozy way to experience the famous thermal pools of Pamukkale. The comfortable, newly renovated rooms are just a night on average.
Turkish cuisine is a fusion of Central Asian and Mediterranean influence. Not afraid to experiment, you will find many creative variations on this already interesting mange served at restaurants throughout Turkey.
While in Istanbul, a chic restaurant to visit is 360, named for the 360-degree view of St. Antoine’s, the Bosphorus Strait, and the rooftops of Beyoglu that its rooftop location provides. Most of the dishes are made to be shared and sized like appetizers, including dishes such as duck dim sum (.20), chicken satay (.50), polenta-crusted calamari with almond aioli (.20), and grilled sardines in vine leaves (.50). Pasta is either “east” style, consisting of glass noodles with spicy Mongolian chicken and shrimp () for example, or “west,” such as squid ink tagliatelle with salmon and basil (). Different ethnic variations on pizza such as the “Bollywood,”with tandoori chicken (.70), and the “Local,” with sucuk (spicy Turkish sausage), olives, and goat cheese (). Dinner hour is complemented by lounge music, whereas a DJ accompanies various exotic drinks and inspires dancing after midnight.
Another trendy rooftop eatery in Istanbul is Leb-I-Derya. This high altitude, greenhouse-like structure provides a comfortable, stylish setting for enjoying the view of Istanbul over the Bosphorus in the breezes of summer or by a fire in the winter. A counter set up with chairs around the perimeter of the roof offers great views, whether you go for dinner or brunch. The food is an assortment of dishes from different cuisines. Appetizers include choices of potato skins, spiced fries, nachos, and Cajun chicken. Dinner entrees include steak in various forms, such as kebabs, with eggplant and Tulum cheese. Entr salads and pastas are also available. Brunch generally consists of simit (a kind of croissant with sesame), eggs, borek (a type of Turkish pie made with a flaky crust and filled with cheese, meat or vegetables), kashar cheese (similar to aged provolone), and homemade bread. Although fairly expensive, the view from Leb-I-Derya is so spectacular that it is worth a visit, even if all you order is a drink.
In the Beyoglu district of Istanbul you will find many meyhanes, or Turkish taverns, that provide an authentic Turkish dining experience. The drink to order at these is raki, though beer and wine are available too. There are many appetizer choices, making it possible to try a variety of dishes. Some good meyhanes to try are Boncuk, Kadir’in Yeri, Saki, Imroz, and Sofyali, and all are very inexpensive.
For traditional Turkish food in Istanbul with a bit more elegant an ambience, a good lunch option in the Sultanahmet district is the friendly, casual Doy-Doy. Well-located with views of the Hippodrome and Blue Mosque, it serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner with entrees such as pizza, kebabs, lamb chops, dolma, and moussaka, generally costing around .50.
Bursa is a great area for seafood. One restaurant of note is Smiley’s in Kas. While the high quality authentic Turkish food, waterfront location, and prices within and are more than reason enough to dine here, there is an additional attraction. Guests are invited to drink fresh wine amidst the 3000 year-old remains of pottery in the Lykian wine cellar below amidst the 3000 year-old remains of Lykian pottery. A more casual, very inexpensive meal can be enjoyed at the Ferry Wharf, where fish sandwiches sold from beautiful boats by men in traditional costume go for under .
Dinner is an adventure at the Maiden’s Tower, a restaurant perched on a tiny 6th century BC lighthouse rock just off the Asian coast with gorgeous views of Istanbul at all times of day. The culinary offerings include a wide variety of seafood, lamb, and vegetables. Meals will generally come to around per person, including the round-trip boat fare to the island. The live musical group Leandros plays a wide variety of pieces, making a candlelit dinner especially enjoyable.
While dining can often include historical and cultural experiences, there are many other ways to explore the 10,000 year-old heritage of Turkey. Its 20 different ancient civilizations are represented by a wealth of ruins, with new discoveries made all the time.
Marmara is a beautiful combination of nature and grand architecture. Placed amid lovely fields of sunflowers, vineyards, the Bosphorus Strait, Sea of Marmara, and the Dardanelles, the Sinan masterpiece the Selimiye Mosque appears still more grandiose than it is on its own. Built in the 16th century, it is known for its soaring minarets and enchanted infusion of natural light.
Many of the most famous architectural sites of Turket are in the “old city” section of Istanbul. Perhaps the best known among them is the Hagia Sophia. This 6th century building, whose name means “Church of Holy Wisdom,” was originally a church, then a mosque, and is now a museum. Often considered the Eighth Wonder of the World, the lighting adds a sense of magic to the interior of the structure, giving the illusion that the dome is floating. Richly colored mosaics and marbles add to its opulence. The nearby 17th century Blue Mosque is another architectural treasure of Turkey, dominating the skyline of the city when seen from the sea with its cascading domes and six minarets. As the former administrative center of the Ottoman Empire, the Topkapi Palace of the 15th century is a memorable visit for its superb view of the Bosphorous Strait and complex of buildings that provide a complete view of royal life. The few remaining fragments of the hippodrome, once a horseracing track and social center of Constantinople, are a fascinating symbol of the ancient Greek presence in Turkey.
Several other historical sites offer their own cultural significance. Xanthos-Letoon, for example, was at one time the capital of Lycia and its ruins illustrate the blend of Lycian and Hellenic traditions that was created there, especially through the inscriptions on much of the funerary art. At Hattusha, the former capital of the Hittite Empire, many urban structures from the second millennium BC, such as temples, royal residences, fortifications, the richly decorated Lions’ Gate and Royal Gate, and the stone reliefs at Yazilikaya depicting the pantheon of Hittite gods remain. The ruins of Pergamum, including pillars and a theater of the acropolis, are impressive as detritus of one of the most influential societies of the ancient world. Ephesus is one of the best-preserved ancient sites in the Mediterranean. Among these remains can be seen the Library of Celsus, some parts of terraced houses, the public latrine, and various other marble structures. There is also an archaeological museum located on the site that showcases artifacts such as statues, reliefs, and everyday items. The underground cities of Derinkuyu and Kaymakli, compose of several layers, served to protect people from various sources of danger in the second century BC. Built to accommodate as many as 20,000 people at once, they are now an intricate tangle of passageways that allow visitors to literally immerse themselves in history. The archaeological sites of Zelve and Geme offer firsthand views of cave churches decorated with medieval frescoes and cave dwellings that give insight into everyday troglodyte life.
There are several more museums worth mentioning. The Bodrum Underwater Archaeology Museum displays pre-14th century shipwreck items and the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara exhibits items that illuminate the development of these civilizations from their beginnings, as far back as 2000 BC. Prehistoric cave paintings, archives of commerce, statuettes, and remnants of wedding ceremonies and chariots can all be seen here.
There are many ways to enjoy the modern culture of Turkey as well, centered in Istanbul. The only metropolis in the world to span two continents, Istanbul’s European part, the old city, offers a much different experience from its more modern section, lying in Asia across the Bosphorus Strait. The city’s historical influences of the Roman and Ottoman Empires are still evident in the architecture, food and art of modern Istanbul. Byzantine buildings, domed palaces, and grand Islamic architecture are juxtaposed with hip bars, chic restaurants, and high-end boutiques giving the city a unique character. The Kapali Carsi, or Grand Bazaar, is one of the largest covered markets in the world, comprised of 4000 shops selling goods such as jewelry, pottery, spices, leather, and carpets and exemplary of traditional Turkish culture.
Istanbul has a blossoming art scene as well, with several museums and galleries showcasing local artists of the past and present. The Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center in Beyoglu features work from Turkish and foreign artists, the Pera Museum boasts a permanent display of Ottoman portraits as well as a set of rotating exhibits, and the Istanbul Modern, also in Beyoglu, is a former warehouse showcasing a permanent collection of contemporary Turkish painting for an admission price of .50.
There are many traditional Turkish spa treatments that are both soothing and culturally enriching, such as the world famous Turkish baths. Known as hamams, a historically authentic example is the Cemberlitas Hamami, offering a “hot area” with a hot stone surrounded by bathing basins where attendants can provide exfoliating scrubs, massages, and washes without any time limit. Istanbul’s Ritz Carlton is tops in luxury when it comes to hamams, as well as in price, at an charge for private access.
Located along a major geothermal belt, Turkey is one of the top seven countries in the world for thermal springs. Many luxury facilities enable the enjoyment of these natural wonders, especially in the Marmara and Aegean regions. The Pamukkale Thermal is another good place to enjoy this natural spa, particularly through swims in the Sacred Pool of Hierapolis. Both the Celik Palas Hotel and Kervansaray Thermal Hotel have beautiful enclosed pools.
There are many other natural sights to be enjoyed throughout Turkey, which has a stunning diversity of plant and animal life. With beaches on four different seas, Turkey has no shortage of seaside lounging possibilities. There are many ways to enjoy the stunning marine sights of Turkey. Yachting is popular in all four seas, as is sailing. Diving provides views of historical sights such as sunken ships and the remains of ancient cities, and natural attractions such as complex underwater cavern systems. Water sports such as rafting, canoeing, and waterskiing are also widely enjoyed.Other adventures to be had in Turkey include spelunking in the country’s approximate 40,000 caverns, hiking, rock climbing, paragliding, skiing, and camping throughout its diverse terrain. From afar, the nature of Turkey can be enjoyed by hot air balloon. Balloon rides, including luxury transportation to and from the hotel, a buffet breakfast, a one-hour tour on the balloon, a champagne toast upon landing, and insurance costs about 5 per person, half price for children ages 6-12, children under 6 are free.
Whether you tour ancient ruins across the country, practice your bargaining skills in the Grand Bazaar, do some nature exploration, or get a taste of the lively nightlife, the more you immerse yourself in Turkey the more fun you will have. As a supporter of the burgeoning tourism industry, and also as a guest and friend, you will be welcomed warmly throughout your adventures.