Tips for visiting Turkey
I’ve visited Turkey a few times now. The first time just after my 21st birthday in November 1989 when I went on my first solo overseas trip. 4 years ago I went with a group of girlfriends to Marmaris and more recently on a fabulous girls weekend away in Fethiye. Some things have changed over the years and some have stayed the same. Here are my 10 top tips for girls visiting Turkey today.
Expect to hear the call the prayer 5 times a day. I love the sound of the call to prayer and it reminds me of our years living in the Middle East, but it’s not to everyone’s taste. Shops won’t close and the world won’t come to a standstill, but if you’re near a mosque at the time you will see people going in to pray. Be respectful, keep your voice down and don’t take pictures of people praying particularly women.
Turkey was officially still a secular country when we visited thanks to the first president Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. We didn’t see women covering their faces or men in long white robes. This isn’t the Middle East. Though you will see some women wearing head scarves and covering their arms and legs.
There’s a beautiful big Mosque in the Fethiye main town, but see if you can find the tiny old one sandwiched between shops and cafés in the bazaar.
Visitors are always welcome inside mosques just remember ladies to cover your head, shoulders and knees. No low cleavage or transparent clothing either.
All the restaurants and bars we went to served alcohol, where the prices were similar to Greece. Strong drinks like Yeni Raki are very expensive in the shops. This is due to high taxation as the government is openly against drinking.
There are bars and clubs in Fethiye and we saw parties going on, particularly in the bar street area near our hotel. We enjoyed the local wine and I loved the Yeni Raki (very similar to ouzo)
As with anywhere else you travel in the world, show respect, don’t go over the top and lose control, that only puts yourself and others at risk.
Turkish is a phonetic language where letters only ever have one sound. The only basic word I tried throughout the trip was ‘thank you’ Teşekkür ederim with varied success and at times lots of giggles. I think my attempts were at least appreciated. A couple more I meant to try but didn’t; ’hello’ merhaba and tamam meaning ok or alright.
Though our Turkish was poor we did find that most people spoke at least a little English. The market traders all had UK ‘Essex’ like accents announcing their prices as better than ‘Primarkie’!
All signs and names are in Turkish if you’re getting a taxi either have a business card or write down the name of the place you are going to make it a lot easier.
I’ve produced a little free printout of the Turkish alphabet, some useful words and phrases and some to look out for one or two I wish we knew before we travelled, download your free pdf of a little bit of Turkish
4. How to interact with men
As a tourist, you will mainly meet men. In tourist areas, you must be prepared to deal with a fair bit of hassle. Many times you’ll see a western woman enjoying the banter as they would at home and they are then shocked when the approach becomes quite aggressively sexual.
Turkey is a relatively modern secular society but you can not expect to behave with men as you would at home. What we see as friendly may be misunderstood.
Similarly with the shopkeepers, if you don’t want to be hassled, walk on and don’t engage. Do what the Turks do, ignore them. It will feel like you’re being rude and is difficult to do at first, but it really is normal. Check out my shopping guide to Fethiye (coming soon).
If you want to be pulled into conversation go for it. The Turks are really charming and it can be all part of the experience. But if it’s not what you want, don’t be afraid to ignore them.
Most visitors worry about being conservative in dress but don’t really realise it’s just as important to monitor your behaviour.
Euro’s were easy to change in the money changer shops and readily accepted most places in the tourist resorts. Though it’s much easier to simply change your money into Turkish Lira (TL) or get it out of the ATM. Make sure you get small notes the larger ones can cause problems with getting change or being scammed out of your change.
Tipping should be done TL and not everywhere will accept cards or foreign currency.
Some ATM’s won’t accept all overseas cards, in larger towns and cities you’ll find one that works in more rural areas maybe not.
Currently, tourists on days trips to Turkey by ferry from Greece don’t need visas. You hand over your passport on arrival in Turkey and it is returned when you get back on the ferry to return.
If your trip is for over 72 hours or you arrive by plane you will need a visa. It was very easy to apply for online for our visas, they cost $20 and were valid for multiple stays up to a maximum of 90 days. in a 180 day period.
Find out more on the official Turkish e-Visa site.
Visa requirements for any country can change always check first.
The toilets in the areas we visited were the standard sit down type with paper. Without exception, they were all very clean. I have heard and read stories about the drop toilets, and lack of toilet paper, which I did come across in Istanbul years ago.
My advice always when travelling is to have a packet of tissues and wet wipes in your bag just in case, you never know!
Turkey has been well known for years as a hot spot for scamming tourists. At the point where Asia and Europe meet, Turkey is a culturally fascinating place to visit, but keep your wits about you. Yes, you do get scam artist all over the world but here are a few tips to watch out for in Turkey.
Do be wary of the “would you like a drink” and “hello my friend” scams, fake carpets/coins, overpriced items, currency scam, shoe shine scam, no change back, faulty credit card machine scam, rogue taxi drivers, your car/wheel is damaged scam, ferry cruise touts, and many more!
Don’t try and buy antiques or anything that looks old as there are some strange laws about being able to purchase but not export anything over 75 years old.
Many of the goods in the tourist shops are also available in general markets and stores where the prices are better and the weights and measures a lot more correct.
Basically always ask the price of something up front and pay with cash and don’t carry too much with you.
When packing for a girls holiday to Turkey think about where you are going. If you’re staying in the resorts on the Mediterranean coast then you will see lots of people in ordinary western dress. If you’re out and about in the towns or countryside it’s best to be a little more conservative.
It can still be stylish though, go for loose clothing that’s cool but covers shoulders, knees and isn’t too transparent. Also, take a pretty scarf to cover your head if you want to enter a mosque.
At the end of the day, it’s about respect for the country and culture, if you show it in your dress you’ll also receive more respect in your dealings with people there.
Here’s my girls packing list for Turkey download your own free copy.
Dress: Think linen to keep cool, the boho look works in Turkey and there’s some great colours around. Shorts sleeves mean you can wear this anywhere
Kaftan: great for when you’ve just come off the beach and are going for a drink, I’ve got several in different lengths
Top: Slightly longer sleeves and a scarf combined with style and some colour. Linen cool and will look good crumpled
Hat: Not only will it protect you from the sun when exploring the sites, it looks really good on those pictures for Instagram
Shorts: Go for longer styles in light comfortable cotton or linen. Even in tourist areas, too short will be seen as disprespectful.
Short dress: Cotton linen mix to put over your swim suit when going for lunch or wandering around the markets
Top: A pretty cotton blend in a good choice of different colours and easy to wear anywhere, loose fitting and cool.
Shoes: Love those heels but ancient sites are not flat you’ll need something comfortable, practical and stylish
Harem: You’re going to the land of harem pants they just look right here and you’ll end up buying lots more pairs while you’re there
Skirts: Long ones for evening or daytime are great in more conservative areas and look good too
Top: Again cool and linen, this one has short sleeves so you won’t feel uncomfortable anywhere you go
Light cover: You never know if an evening will be cool or you’ll need to cover those shoulders to feel more comfortable.
Cropped trousers: Great for wandering around the countryside and clambering around ancient sites. Go for hard wearing but light cottons.
Maxi dress: Cool and comfortable and easy to dress up for evenings. Well a girl has to have one with her just in case
Tankini: I’ve never been a bikini girl but I love my tankini’s the shorts are just so much more practical.
Scarves: Great to cover your head if you want to enter a mosque, keep one in your bag just in case
10. Know a little history
Turkey is a large a varied country with a fascinating history and rich culture. Research and read a little before you go to get the most out of your trip.
This is just a small snippet: The Trojan wars took place in western Turkey. The first church built by man is St Peter’s church in Antakya. The oldest human settlement is in Catalhoyuk.
Two of the 7 wonders of the ancient world are in Turkey Ephesus and Halicarnassus. St. Nicholas (Santa) lived on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast and Noah’s Ark landed on a mountain in Eastern Turkey.
The silk road came into Europe through Anatolia and they brought coffee to Europe. Lastly, baclava was invented for the Ottoman court.
A culture shaped by its Ottoman empire and more recently by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who founded modern Turkey and became President in 1923. He is the father of modern Turkey, he changed everything from the language to the clothes people wear, the education system and made it a secular state.