Planning tips for a one week trip to Turkey

17 Oct

We are just back from a week-long trip to Turkey and loved everything about this country and its diversity – from the epic and diverse landscapes, to the delicious vegetarian food, the beautiful mosques, so much ancient history and the awesome urban culture. While one week is definitely not enough to visit even the main sites here, we had limited leaves and decided to cover as much as we could in this time. And as always, left the rest for our next trip here 🙂

Hot Air Balloon at sunrise, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

While it’s an easy country to navigate you definitely need some planning and based on my own experiences and all the research online, here are some tips to make your Turkey travel planning simpler –

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Views of Istanbul, Turkey

Safety – When we told people that we were visiting Turkey we faced many questions around the political situation and general safety there. And if that wasn’t enough, during our trip Turkey invaded Syria.

From our personal experience, we felt that Turkey is (at least for now) safe for tourists and we did not face any issues whatsoever. We had read of minor scams, pickpocketing etc. but thankfully didn’t face anything. That said you should always be aware and cautious, just as you would be no matter where you are – at home or abroad. In addition to that a few things that you can do are as follows –

– Plan and book a fully refundable trip. That way you can assess the political and safety situation closer to your travel dates and take a call.
– Avoid traveling to areas around the Syrian border.
– Monitor local news and adjust plans accordingly.

Ancient ruins of Ephesus, Turkey

Best Time to Visit – Being a vast country Turkey has a varied weather across different parts of the country. Though largely it’s pleasant all year round with hot summers and cold winters. The ideal time to visit depends more on the places you want to visit and the activities you have planned. April-May and September-early November are cooler months and considered as the best time for outdoor activities and exploring archaeological sites. June-September are normally hot and dry, hence a good time for island hoppers and beach lovers. From November-March, the weather is cold especially in the interiors with snow in many parts, thus a perfect time to visit for snow clad views and for less tourists in the normally crowded areas.

We visited in early October and got a good weather – it was hot in the day with clear blue skies and cold in the evenings. We were also lucky and didn’t get any rain though the days were shorter.

Rose Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

Plan your itinerary – Turkey has a lot of options for everyone, and depending on your areas of interest and time available you can pick and choose what you want to do. A few examples of places you can visit are as follows –

– For ancient history – you can visit Ephesus, Hierapolis, Aphrodisias, Priene, Miletos, Didyma, Gallipoli, Troy.
– For amazingly unique landscapes – you can visit Cappadocia, Pamukkale, Nemrut Dagi
– For beaches and islands – there are multiple options along the coast in Antalya, Fethiye, Bodrum
– For the spiritual and the Rumi followers there is Konya
– For the adventurous spirits – there are multiple hiking routes with the most famous being the Lycian way
– And of course, a city experience of Istanbul is a definite must.

There are so many options that you can easily spend a month here and still not cover everything. We had 9 days and decided to visit the vibrant city of Istanbul, the fairy tale valley of Cappadocia and the historical ruins of Ephesus and left everything else for our next trip. Our broad itinerary was as follows – 1 day for Ephesus, 1.5 days for Cappadocia and 4.5 days for Istanbul.

Important Point to note – While booking your trip do keep in mind that Turkey is a big country with quite a bit of internal travel between these places. We lost nearly 2 days in this internal travel.

Flying into Turkey

Flights to Turkey – Check on the flight pricing across multiple websites before booking your trip. From India, Indigo Airlines has a code share with Turkish Airlines and offers direct flights to Istanbul.

We booked our trip a month in advance and the price for the direct flight with Turkish Airlines kept jumping up by Rs. 10,000/- (~USD 150/-) per day (we cleared cookies, tried different booking websites, different Wi-Fi connections, different airports, everything). So ultimately we booked a flight with Kuwait Airlines with just a 1.5-2 hour layour in Kuwait both ways.

Istanbul has two airports – Sabiha Gokcen International Airport (SAW) and Istanbul New Airport (IST) and depending on traffic, it can take about 60-120 minutes travel time into the city.  We took the airport shuttle buses i.e. Havaist from IST and Havabus from SAW to Taksim Square. Both the rides cost 18 TL (~USD 3/-) each and were convenient and super comfortable. Buses are at 30 minute intervals and drop and pick you up near Taksim Square. You can either walk or take a bus /train /taxi/ferry to your hotel from Taksim Square.

Baklava, a Turkish dessert, Istanbul, Turkey

Traveling to various cities in Turkey – The two most popular ways for internal travel are domestic flights and overnight buses. Domestic flights can be pretty cheap and we flew everywhere as we got these flights for pretty much the same price as the bus tickets. We flew Turkish Airlines, AnadoluJet and Sun Express and they were all very good. Before booking internal flights do check the airports. There are multiple airports in Istanbul and Goreme and cheaper flights normally operate out of SAW airport in Istanbul and Kayseri airport in Cappadocia.

With buses you also save on the expense of overnight hotels. So if you are on a tight budget trip you can consider long distance overnight buses for internal travel.

Dolmabache Palace, Istanbul, Turkey

Visa – Turkey has different visa requirements for different nationalities. It is not a part of the EU or the Schengen zone, so a multi-entry Schengen visa doesn’t work here. Nationals of some countries are visa exempt and some are eligible for e-visa.  So do check visa rules for your country at the MFA website.

If you are an Indian citizens holding a valid Schengen, US, UK or Ireland visa then you are eligible for an e-visa and can apply for it here. You just have to fill an online form (took us about 10 minutes), pay the fees (USD 43) and download your visa instantly. This visa is valid for 6 months from the date of arrival you have entered in the form, it’s single entry and you can stay for upto 29 days in Turkey.

Indian citizens not eligible for the e-visa need to apply for a visa and can check Gateway Globe website for the application process and documentation requirements.

Important Point to note – Please carry a copy of your Turkish visa on entry and exit from the country. They asked us for our copy of the visa for stamping when we were leaving and thankfully had a copy of the same with us.

Our Cave Room, Goreme, Turkey

Book your accommodation – Turkey has multiple options available for stay – across types of accommodation and price. I love staying in apartments and B&Bs and booked a B&B in Selcuk and an apartment in Istanbul, both in the heart of the city. For both these places we paid ~Rs. 3,000/- (~USD 40) per night for 2 people including breakfast in Selcuk. In Goreme, we wanted to stay in a cave hotel and realized that the minimum price for this was ~Rs. 10,000/- (~USD 140) per night. But hunting on Booking.com helped and we finally found a really nice room in a cave hotel for Rs. 6,000/- (~USD 83/-) per night for 2 people including breakfast. The owners of all these places were really friendly and helpful and we had a great stay.

Important Point to note – While booking hotels do keep in mind that if you are already in Turkey you cannot book hotels using Booking.com, as it’s blocked (so is Wikipedia and I understand that they planning to do the same for all booking websites including Airbnb). We booked our hotels through Booking.com outside Turkey and reconfirmed these bookings directly with the hotel in advance. Our bookings were confirmed and we did not face any issues at all with our stay. Hence my recommendation will be to try and book your hotels before you travel to Turkey.

Views from Galata Bridge, Istanbul, Turkey

Plan and book the main activities – After you have planned and booked the flights and accommodation, decide on the main activities / tours you really want to do and book them. Turkey is always busy and things get fully booked. We had a big issue with a balloon tour in Goreme even though we started looking for a tour one month in advance of the trip. Everything was full and finally we had to get the hotel to help us. I got similar all booked responses to some food and walking tours in Istanbul and all this was in October, a not so busy season as the summer.

Grandeur of the Harem, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey

Budgeting for your trip – Turkey is cheaper than Europe but there are many ways to end up with an even more expensive vacation than Europe. So start your plans with an overall budget in mind and work on accommodation, activities, food etc. accordingly. Accommodation (except Cappadocia) and food are pretty cheap and the most we paid was for the activities. Based on your budget and interests, you can pick and choose what you want to do. On a broad basis, USD 50-60 per day is a pretty comfortable budget for accommodation, food and tickets for the main sites in any place. Please note that this does not include any adventure sports including the hot air balloon ride in Goreme.

Additionally, do remember to ask for pricing / discounts if you pay in cash (in many places there are discounts for cash payments) and as much as possible pay in Turkish Lira (the conversion rate in shops from EURO / USD to TL is pretty bad).

Isa Beg Mosque, Selcuk, Turkey

Currency Turkey uses Turkish Lira (TL) and do carry some cash when you leave the airport.  You can either carry these from your home country, or withdraw some from the airport or convert some at the airport. Convert a minimum amount at the airport as the rates are pretty bad, and you get better rates at exchange centres in the city.

Apart from that too, always carry sufficient cash with you as many places refused to accept our non-Turkish cards.

For Indians, we recommend using the NiYo card as your forex card. In case of any forex card, you first have to purchase a card, then load the foreign currency on it, you then spend this forex on your trip and upon return you convert the remaining forex into rupees.  There is a difference in cost of buying and selling forex (always a loss) and you pay fees twice for these two conversions. NiYo is a rupee denominated prepaid card, so you load it with rupees (Rs.) and it converts Rs. into any local currency you swipe the card in, using the exchange rate of that day. We used many cards during this trip i.e. NiYo, Amex and Visa (across banks) but got the best rate with NiYo (at least 3-4% cheaper than the other cards).  The only risk is you loose if Rs depreciates during your trip but you also gain if Rs. appreciates during the trip. Anyways we totally recommend this card and if you want one we request you use the following link to apply for a Rs. 300 activation bonus.

Paintings in rock cut churches, Rose Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

Dressing in TurkeyThere are no dressing limitations in Turkey and you can wear anything you like. However if you want to visit the local mosques, you have to cover your knees, arms and head. I suggest you always carry a scarf to cover your head for these visits.

We went in October but the sun was still strong and harsh during the day, and cold in the shade and in the evenings. We kept a light jacket for the cold and used a lot of sunscreen, a sun hat and sunglasses.

Mosiac work at Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Learn a few Turkish words – Surprisingly not a lot of people speak fluent English in Turkey. While Istanbul was easier, we largely met people who either didn’t speak English at all or spoke very rudimentary English. So we recommend you learn a few basic words of Turkish and also download a google translator.

Tram in Kadikoy, Istanbul, Turkey

Additional Tips for the trip  –

  1. Turkey is very crowded no matter what the season. So either try and visit tourist sites early or be prepared for long queues.
  2. Being a vegetarian is not an issue here and all menus (restuarants and street food) have quite a few vegetarian options to choose from.
  3. Though we didn’t face any pickpockets or scams in Turkey, we heard its quite common here so do be alert about your surroundings and personal belongings.
  4. Public transport is very good in all places (except Cappadocia) and you can easily visit everywhere DIY. In Istanbul do buy a Istanbul card to pay for public transport. One card can be used by max 3 people and works seamlessly on metros, furniculars, trams, buses and ferries. There are machines all over to refill this card and there is a fixed ticket of TL 2.6 per ride, no matter where you go.
  5. You can’t use Uber in Istanbul so do download and activate the BiTaksi app for calling cabs. Also, if possible, don’t use the local cabs as we have heard quite a few stories of tourists getting fleeced by these cabs.
  6. Always buy travel insurance for a trip even if it’s not a mandatory requirement for the visa.
  7. There are loads of cats all over Turkey so be mentally prepared to run into them everywhere.

Are you planning a trip to Turkey and have any specific queries? Feel free to send in your queries in the comments section below and I’ll try and revert on these as soon as I can. Happy Travels 🙂

14 Responses to “Planning tips for a one week trip to Turkey”

  1. ourcrossings October 17, 2019 at 23:56 #

    Cappadocia is such a bucket-list destination! Would love to see it in person one day – thanks for sharing and have a good day 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • getsetandgo October 18, 2019 at 10:51 #

      Thanks for visiting the blog. Cappadocia was awesome and I hope you can visit it soon 🙂

      Like

  2. Govardhan October 18, 2019 at 11:21 #

    Reblogged this on Vijayagiri views.

    Like

  3. lexi@thelifebus October 30, 2019 at 07:55 #

    I was in Istanbul about 20 years ago. I absolutely loved it and would love to spend more time in Turkey. My father operated on the former President’s sister so my parents got an amazing tour of the country but I missed that trip. Between their photos and your post I need to get back to see more … but truthfully am somewhat hesitant about travel there.

    Like

    • getsetandgo November 2, 2019 at 20:15 #

      Wow, your parents must have had an amazing trip then… We spent 4.5 days in Istanbul and I still feel that there is so much more still left to see. Its super safe and we didn’t face any issues there at all…

      Liked by 1 person

      • lexi@thelifebus November 4, 2019 at 02:35 #

        Yeah … definitely the trip of a lifetime I missed for stupid reasons … aargh. I agree that there is so much to do and see. Just the Bazaar alone, the Baths, and Hagia Sophia mosque alone I could spend hours in each. I’m a history nut so a city with such ancient history is just truly fascinating to me. Glad you had a great time.

        Like

      • getsetandgo November 4, 2019 at 10:41 #

        I know and hope you can make it there soon.. Happy travels 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Chocoviv November 9, 2019 at 07:58 #

    Amazing!

    Like

  5. Bon Repos Gites November 9, 2019 at 14:51 #

    A great post with some great ideas and wonderful photos!

    Like

  6. Theresa November 16, 2019 at 04:34 #

    This is fabulous! Turkey has definitely been on the list – this’ll be helpful. 🙂

    Like

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