It’s always fun being a tourist in Turkey, especially if it’s your first time to this magical country. While traveling to unfamiliar places may sound scary in the beginning, the easiest way to avoid any problems is to know about them in the first place, right? Hence, we set out to write this mega guide on the top mistakes tourists make in Turkey!
Indeed, we’ve written a handful of posts on Turkey travel tips and what to do, but it’s also just as important to highlight what not to do in Turkey, don’t you think?
There are many common travel mistakes in Turkey, such as not having a visa, trying to cram everything in one trip, avoiding certain places, and not knowing the cultural norms.
But no worries, these 30 essential turkey travel tips are here to help!
This article will go over some of the most important do’s and don’ts when traveling to Turkey on topics like accommodation, transportation, food and drink, and other practicalities.
Whether you’re visiting Turkey for the first time (or your tenth!), be sure to remember these common Turkey travel mistakes so that you can enjoy stress-free trip. 🙂
Biggest Travel Mistakes in Turkey
Thinking its Unsafe
Let’s start off with the biggest travel mistake you could make: not coming to Turkey!
Thanks to some unfortunate stereotypes and sensationalist news stories, some people have this notion that the country is unsafe (and, therefore, a reason not to go to Turkey) — but this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Despite some issues a few years ago, Turkey is very safe to travel. In fact, more than 50 million tourists visited in 2019, making Turkey the 6th most-visited country in the world.
Likewise, Turkey’s economy relies heavily on tourism, and the government makes safety a priority — there is even a tourist police force in major cities that speak English and are employed to specifically help tourists.
We will say this, however: Turkey is very dangerous… to your waistline. 😉
Trying to do Everything in One Trip
Istanbul, Izmir, Antalya, Ephesus, Cappadocia, Pammukkale —- whew, our heads are spinning with excitement!
While it may be tempting to try and cram everything into one trip (we get it, Turkey is fantastic and has so much to offer!), we recommend doing the opposite. Enjoy Turkey’s regions one by one, or at least spend a few days in each city instead of doing a whirlwind tour. Otherwise, you’ll be spending a lot of time in transit, whether that’s taking a taxi to the airport, sitting in a plane/bus/train, or driving to your destination!
Plus, saving some places for next time is a great excuse to come back and visit Turkey again — and we’ll be waiting to welcome you . 🙂
Underestimating Turkey’s Size
Since we’re on this topic, another important Turkey travel tip is to never underestimate the country’s size. Let us explain with one of our favorite examples:
If you were to drive from Turkey’s westernmost city (Canakkale) to the easternmost city (Igdir), it would take you about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 mi) and almost 24 hours without a break.
Likewise, Turkey is twice the size of California (USA) and 11 times bigger than Ireland, so you can imagine how massive it really is!
… So what does this mean for you? If you only have a few days in Turkey, we recommend sticking to one area (such as Istanbul or the Izmir region). If you really want to travel between two places, it’s better to take the plane instead of renting a car or taking this bus — most flights are between 1 to 2 hours, while bus rides and driving will take much longer.
Thinking Turkey is Only All-inclusive Resorts
Growing up in an Eastern European household, we used to think that Turkey was only limited to all-inclusive hotels and summer resorts for, well, Eastern European tourists. Oh, how wrong we were! 😅
While it’s no secret that there really are some awesome all-inclusive resorts in Turkey, the country is so much more than that!
Let’s take a look at the facts: there are more than 19 UNESCO sites in Turkey, as well as nearly 500 museums and 28 famous ancient ruins.
But wait, there’s more! Turkey also has virtually every natural wonder imaginable, including 400+ beaches across a 8,000 kilometer (5,000 mi) coastline, arid plains in central Anatolia, thousands of rugged mountains in the east, and fairytale-like valleys and caves across Cappadocia.
Overall, you could spend years exploring Turkey and never get bored (which is coincidentally our mission for this website!)
Booking Accommodations Too Late
If you’re the type of person who loves to plan ahead and has a meticulous spreadsheet for every
day hour of your trip, you’ll love this travel tip. And if you’re not, then this tip was written for you. 😉
In essence, we recommend booking your accommodation(s) as soon as you know your travel dates. There are two reasons why:
1- Like we mentioned in the first point, more than 50 million tourists visited Turkey in one year, and naturally, the good accommodations get booked up very quickly. If you have your eye set on a particular hotel (or want to get the best price-to-quality accommodation), be sure to book it way ahead of time.
2- Booking.com, one of the most popular accommodation sites in the world, is banned in Turkey. 😅
Technically, it’s only banned if you’re already in Turkey and want to book a hotel in Turkey (i.e. you’re in Istanbul and want to book your next hotel in Cappadocia), but it’s still an unpleasant situation to be in. The best way to avoid this is booking in advance (before you travel) or using a VPN if you’re already in Turkey.
Forgetting About a Turkish Visa
At first glance, Turkey might seem like a very welcoming and tourist-friendly country, and many travelers believe they don’t need a visa to enter.
However, that’s not entirely true! Turkey has a fairly generous visa policy: travelers from more than 90 countries can enter the country visa-free, while citizens of 28 countries can apply for the electronic visa (also known as the Turkish eVisa).
Countries with 90 days of visa-free access include the entire European Union and EFTA, plus Argentina, Brazil, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Montenegro, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom, among others.
Likewise, cities of the following countries can apply for the electronic visa: Bahrain, Canada, China, Mexico, Oman, South Africa, Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.
Being Late for Breakfast
One of the biggest travel mistakes you never, ever, never want to make in Turkey is … missing breakfast.
Seriously! The famous, mouthwatering, and delectable Turkish breakfast (kahvaltı) is the stuff of legends: imagine dozens of jams, cheese, hams, bread, veggies, and other little dishes dispersed in front of you (at lightning speed!) along with a hearty cup of çay (tea) and a smile. You’ll thank us later.
Oh right, where were we? Most restaurants will typically stop serving Turkish breakfast around 11am or noon on weekdays, so be sure to get there in time. On the weekends, many places offer brunch, and some even have all-day breakfast!
Don’t forget to set your alarm. 🙂
Thinking Istanbul is the Capital
Nope, it’s actually Ankara 🙂
But Istanbul is the biggest city in terms of population (with more than 16 million inhabitants!), so maybe that’s where the impression came from?
If you’re really curious about why Istanbul is not the capital of Turkey, it’s because of historical events. When Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (founder of modern day Turkey) defeated the Ottoman Empire in the early 1920s, he specifically chose Ankara as the new capital. Istanbul was the capital city of the former Ottoman Empire, and Ataturk wanted to symbolize that the former monarchy was gone for good.
Forgetting That it Snows in Turkey
Despite the stereotype that Turkey is a summer paradise — complete with warm weather, sandy beaches, and all-inclusive resorts — it actually snows here.
Whaaaat? Yes, really!
In fact, let us woo you with some fun facts about snow in Turkey. If you visit Kars, one of the easternmost cities in Turkey, you can expect about four months of snow on average. In addition, Kars ‘enjoys’ an average temperature of about -15 C (5F) in winter — but temperatures can plummet to -30C (-22F) on a cold day!
If you love winter, then you’ll definitely love Turkey. Beyond the picturesque snow-covered streets of Istanbul and magical landscapes of wintery Cappadocia, there are plenty of other places to explore. In fact, Turkey is quickly becoming a destination for skiers, snowboarders, and travelers on winter break — some of the most popular ski resorts in Turkey include Sarıkamış (Kars), Uludag (Bursa), and Palandöken (Erzurum).
Forgetting to Learn a Few Phrases
While English is spoken in touristy areas (i.e. the Sultanahmet district in Istanbul, plus Cappadocia, Antalya, etc), sometimes you might go a little off the beaten path — and find out that nobody speaks English.
Not to worry! The Turkish language is fun, and locals are always happy when someone makes that extra effort to say a few words in their language.
Not Using Your Bargaining Skills
Turkey was a major stop along the Silk Road, and many elements of this legendary trade route are still alive to this day — especially haggling and ornate bazaars. 😅
If you’re planning to visit at least one bazaar during your trip through Turkey, make sure to brush up on your bargaining skills beforehand if you want to score a deal (and have fun doing it)!
If you’re nervous, don’t be! Many sellers expect people to haggle and raise the actual price accordingly.
To haggle, just have your ideal price in mind and try to get as close to it as possible. Typically, we take half of the initial price and bargain until the seller meets us in the middle.
Once you get the hang of it, you’ll see that haggling is fun! Just keep two things in mind: be respectful and bargain only if you really plan to buy the item, and bargain only in markets and bazaars. Shopping malls, grocery stores, and ‘regular’ shops are off limits 😉
Refusing a Cup of Çay
While we’re on the topic of bargaining, you may encounter a shopkeeper who will invite you to drink some çay (Turkish tea) with them. If you’re not in a hurry, go ahead and accept their offer, as çay is the ultimate symbol of hospitality — and may lead to some interesting conversations with your new friend!
Not packing a pair of stretchy pants …
Three words: delicious Turkish food. 😉
Remember what we mentioned in the beginning? Turkey’s food is very delicious, and it’s tempting to try everything in sight (we know we did back when we moved to Istanbul 😁) … so plan ahead and pack the right pair of pants! Besides, your comfortable pants will come in handy when taking long bus or plane rides.
… Or an Extra Duffle Bag (Or Two!)
There’s no doubt that you’ll be enchanted by Turkey’s incredible souvenirs — make sure you have some space in your luggage to store your newfound gifts!
If you shopped ‘til you dropped, you can always buy an extra carry-on. 😉
Forgetting to Pack Comfortable Shoes
If you’re planning to see the sights of Turkey, you’ll be doing a lot of walking — whether that’s hiking up steep Istanbul hills, strolling along cobblestone streets in Antalya, or roaming the valleys of Cappadocia.
Keep your feet happy and wear some comfortable shoes on those serious days of exploration. Your feet will thank you!
Relying on (Good) Wifi
While we love Türkiye with all of our heart and soul, one thing that really gets to us is the lack of good WiFi. 😅
But don’t worry, it’s not everywhere! If you’re planning to stay in an Airbnb or apartment, ask your host if they can do a speedtest before you book (especially if you’re a digital nomad or rely heavily on having internet during your travels).
Another solution is to buy a SIM card with a generous internet allowance, like Turk Telekom’s tourist plans.
Not having Paper Money on Hand
In rare cases, foreign cards might not work in Turkey, as some terminals (POS systems) only accept Turkish cards. Or the restaurant/store/cafe just doesn’t accept cards at all. 🥲
To avoid this problem, it’s best to always have some banknotes on hand — and ask beforehand if the place accepts cards!
Taking an Overpriced Taxi From the Airport
If you’re traveling light (i.e. with a carry-on), this tip is definitely for you. Instead of forking over money and taking an expensive taxi from the airport, use the official airport shuttle bus instead!
For only a few lira, you can enjoy a comfortable ride with reclining seats, free WiFi, and panoramic windows (in case you need a backdrop while you’re daydreaming about all the amazing places you’ll get to visit soon!)
To learn all about airport buses and shuttles, check out our Travel Around Turkey by Plane post!
Speaking of, this brings us to the next point …
Exchanging Money at the Airport
A common mistake we see when we arrive at IST Airport from a trip abroad are the huuuge lines at the airport currency exchange kiosk. If you want a good exchange rate, it’s best to avoid that area entirely!
Remember what we mentioned about airport shuttles above? If you need Turkish lira immediately after you land (to pay the airport bus, for example), it’s best to exchange a small amount. Once you’ve arrived in the city, you can ‘shop around’ for the best exchange rate and get more bang for your buck!
Psst — Another good option is to book your activities in advance and prepay. That way you don’t need to rush around the city looking for a currency exchange kiosk! We recommend GetYourGuide.
Spending Your Entire Trip in Istanbul
Look, we love Istanbul (we’re biased because we live here 😉) but there are so many other amazing places that deserve your attention too!
Looking for some inspiration? Consider these places…
Love strolling along a seaside promenade and prefer a laid back atmosphere? Izmir is calling your name. If you’re a foodie who’s craving the best local dishes, make a trip to Turkey’s culinary capital, Gaziantep. Perhaps you’re a wine aficionado? No worries, the charming town of Sirince instead.
There are more than 50 plateaus with stunning views and cozy bungalows waiting for you along the Black Sea region, or adorable cats and ancient ruins in Van.
Of course, we can’t forget about the beautiful valleys and hot air balloons soaring above Cappadocia, or the blue and white thermal terraces of Pamukkale!
Not Reading up on Common Scams
Just like any touristy country, Turkey is not immune to petty scams. The best way to avoid them is to know them beforehand! Here are a few common scams in Turkey:
- The Drink / Nightclub Scam — A friendly local (or group of locals) will come up to you and ask if you want to join them at a bar/nightclub/tavern. Once the bill comes, the final price will be some exorbitant amount. If anyone invites you somewhere (especially a person you just met!), it’s best to approach with caution and even decline politely.
- Incorrect Change — This typically happens with snack vendors near touristy areas (i.e. a fruit juice vendor near Sultanahmet), who will hand you back incorrect change. Count all your change as soon as you receive it, or pay the exact amount.
- The Shoeshine Scam —The most classic scam of them all! As you’re walking around the city, a local shoe shiner will ‘accidentally’ (and very obviously) drop one of his brushes right in front of you. If you pick it up and alert him, he’ll graciously express gratitude and offer to shine your shoes for free — although, in the end, he’ll actually demand payment.
- Pickpocketing — Not quite a scam, but something to look out for! Typically in crowded places and public transportation. Avoid pickpockets by holding your purse close to your body (with your hand on the top) and keeping an eye on it.
Worrying About the Dress Code
While Turkey is a Muslim country, the dress code is much more relaxed than neighboring countries. As a guideline, it’s best to wear knee-length dresses and shorts, and cover your chest and shoulders.
Likewise, it depends on where you plan to travel. Cities with lots of tourists (such as Istanbul, Izmir, and Antalya) tend to be casual and accepting of a more casual dress code, while other parts of Turkey (such as the central areas and Konya) tend to be more on the conservative side.
In any case, Turkey is full of amazing and budget-friendly stores that sell the latest in fashion and trends. If you forgot to pack something (or need to add a few items to your list), don’t hesitate to do some shopping!
Expecting That Hot Air Balloons Will Fly in Cappadocia Every Day
Cappadocia is famous for the colorful hot air balloons that light up the sky every morning, and it’s no surprise that many tourists want to ride a balloon as well.
However, there are some things to remember…
Even if you booked a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia, it might be canceled on the morning of your flight (or the night before) due to bad weather.
While this is disappointing, keep in mind that hot air ballooning is Cappadocia’s main tourist attraction, and the local authorities want to keep visitors safe. Every evening, the local aviation administration looks at the weather forecast for the next day and sends out a notice to the hot air balloon companies noting if they’re allowed to fly or not.
Likewise, it’s worth staying in Cappadocia for more than one day (we recommend two or three). Even if your hot air balloon doesn’t fly on the first day, you’ll automatically get rescheduled and might have better luck on day two or three. 🙂
Which leads us to our next point…
Traveling to Cappadocia Only to Ride a Hot Air Balloon
Hot air balloons are cool, but Cappadocia is chock-full of other fun things to do!
Let us count the ways…
- Walk through Cappadocia’s mysterious underground cities
- Learn more about Anatolian arts (including carpet weaving, pottery, and jewelry classes)
- See the ancient cave churches and Keslik Monastery
- Watch a legendary whirling dervish ceremony
- Go wine tasting and stroll around Cappadocia vineyards
- Take an ATV ride through Cappadocia’s valleys
- See the famous fairy chimneys!
Best of all, you can typically pair a hot air balloon flight in the morning and then go on a tour to fill up the rest of your day.
Not Booking Your Hot Air balloon in Advance
Last one about Cappadocia, we promise! One final word of advice when planning a trip to Cappadocia is to book your hot air balloon in advance (especially if you’re traveling during peak season!)
Despite the large number of companies that offer these tours, hot air balloon rides are booked up fast. Don’t be left scrambling for a reservation when you land in Cappadocia!
Booking Your Hotel in the Wrong Neighborhood
This is technically aimed at travelers who are planning to visit Istanbul, but it’s a good tip to keep in mind for other cities as well 🙂
Istanbul is quite a big city, and doesn’t have one single ‘best area’ to stay in. If you’re a first-time traveler (or only have a few days), check out the Sultanahmet neighborhood: it’s close to all of the major attractions and has everything you need nearby (souvenirs, cafes, etc).
Conversely, if you prefer to avoid tourist hotspots, then Beyoglu (Galata, Taksim, and Karakoy) might be more suited for you.
Of course, there are other areas: Besiktas and Sisli are upscale and chic; Kadikoy is more nightlife and foodies; and Ortakoy is for luxury hotels.
Not Going to Eastern Turkey
Most tourists focus on the western and southern parts of Turkey, but eastern Turkey also deserves some love!
Seriously, it’s awesome: there’s the City of 1001 Churches called Ani; the famed Nemrut Dag mountain with statues atop its summit; and the awe-inspiring double minaret Medrese in Erzurum.
There’s also the sprawling Karanlık canyon and the famous Lake Van (which is also known for its breakfast spreads!). Going during the winter? Don’t miss a chance to ski or snowboard at the Palandöken Ski Center, one of the best in Turkey.
Not Going Beyond the Tourist Attractions in Istanbul
One of our friends once compared Istanbul to Tokyo (Japan), and it’s stuck with us ever since.
While both cities have many interesting “must-do” tourist attractions, the real fun is going off the beaten path and seeing places not written in guidebooks and oversaturated travel blogs.
For example, take a ferry and bike through the Prince Islands, or hop across the Bosphorus and stroll the streets of chic Kadikoy. Into colorful mansions? Visit the gorgeous Ottoman-era waterside houses in Arnavutköy. Buy some amazing antiques in Cihangir. End the day drinking tea with a view at Pierre Loti Hill. There are so many amazing things waiting for you!
Psst — This tip is also good for eating and shopping! Sultanahmet is the most touristy area in the entire city of Istanbul, which means you can expect overpriced food and souvenirs. If you want to eat somewhere local and delicious, try Karakoy, Kadikoy, Besiktas, etc.
Renting a Car in Istanbul
If you value your sanity, please don’t rent a car in Istanbul. 😅
Imagine this: you’ve just driven off the car rental office’s parking lot and there’s bumper-to-bumper traffic already waiting for you. After spending some time moving at 2 kmph, your GPS tells you to turn onto a narrow alley (complete with cobblestone streets!) before being suddenly cut off by a passing taxi… And all of that is before you find adequate parking. Doesn’t sound very fun, does it?
Besides, with more than 135 km (85 mi) of underground metro tunnels, 400 bus lines, and two dozen ferry lines, it’s easy to see why the city has amazing public transport (and plenty of taxis for those last mile places!)
Visiting the Turkish Riviera in Winter
Turkey’s Mediterranean Coast (and Aegean region) really comes alive during summer, as crowds of tourists flock towards the country’s sandy beaches, summer resorts, and blue waters.
However, once the end of October rolls around, it’s quite a different story. After the peak tourism season of the summer, many places along the Turkish Riviera close up for the winter season, including hotels, restaurants, and shops. One thing to note is that this usually affects smaller towns and cities, and many places in Antalya are still open.
Fun fact: Locals have an easy way of remembering the end of the tourist season. It coincides with October 29, which is the day Turkey officially became a republic back in 1923!