The words “East meets West” and “where Orient meets Occident” are often used in relation to Turkey, but these do not do service to a country that is modernising rapidly and knocking on Europe's door. Although prices are rising, Turkey is one of the Mediterranean's best bargains; hotels and taxis are a steal compared to other cities. Due to this popularity, there is lots of competition on UK-Turkey routes. There are plenty of cheap flights to Turkey available.
While you're there, take advantage of the exchange rate (one Turkish New Lira converts to about £0.40) and consider buying carpets, leather and jewellery. Don't think drinking apple tea will help you blend in - no self-respecting Turk would touch it - but Turkish delight and Baklava (preferably the Gulluoglu brand) are universal favourites.
Places not to miss include Istanbul, a world capital for thousands of years and three empires; Bodrum, the package holiday favourite; Ephesus, an ancient holy city from the Roman era, close to Izmir; Cappadocia, a stunning moonscape of “fairy chimneys” that once were home to Hittites, Romans and Christians; and Nemrut in eastern Turkey, where colossal statues and two temples dominate an artificial mountaintop.
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Turkey's climate is diverse. The popular coastal areas (beside the Aegean and Mediterranean seas) enjoy a Mediterranean climate - hot, dry summers and mild winters. In the north (along the Black Sea coast) rain falls year round. Summers are warm and wet and winters are cool and wet. In Istanbul and that part of Turkey that borders the Sea of Marmara, the climate is a mixture of Mediterrean and Oceanic. Summers are dry and fairly hot and winters are cold and wet. The interior is colder and drier, with harsh winters.
When to fly to Turkey
Spring and autumn are the best times to search for cheap flights to Turkey and visit. Istanbul is best seen between April and June and in September and October. The Marmara (Bodrum), Aegean (Ephesus) and Mediterranean coasts have a typical Mediterranean climate with hot summers and mild winters. Central Anatolia (Cappadocia) has hot, dry summers and cold winters, while Eastern Anatolia (Nemrut) has mild summers and long snowy cold winters.
The winters in Turkey are harsh and the country doesn't really have a winter tourist season. While cheap flights to Turkey and cheaper accommodation are likely during this time, the weather will play a significant part in your travel plans.
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Getting around Turkey
Turkish Airlines links all the major cities, and low-cost airlines Onur Air and Atlasjet are also options. Cyprus Turkish Airlines offer domestic Turkey flights from Istanbul to Ercan, Ankara, Adana, Antalya, Dalaman and Izmir.
Renting a car in Turkey is expensive, but buses offer a good, regular and cheap service. Dolmuses (shared taxis) are a good option for short trips. They are very cheap and are a great way to get to know fellow travellers. The destination is written on the front of the vehicle, and fares are posted usually above the driver's head. Travelling this way can be be tricky if you've got a lot of luggage however and they tend to stop running in the early evening.
Trains too can be good value. Car ferries are popular and can save lots of driving time. Tourist destinations are well-served. The Fez Bus is a long-distance hop-on, hop-off service which travels to the major tourist spots of western Turkey.
Turkey insider information
- Do the museum circuit in Sultanahmet: Hagia Sofia, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern and the Turkish Islamic Art Museum - the full, stunning spread of Ottoman and Byzantine history, art and religion, and all within walking distance.
- Bosphorus trip - take the ferry along the Bosphorus towards the Black Sea, for a seafood lunch in the restaurants of Rumeli Kavagi or Anadolu Kavagi - enjoy the parade of brightly coloured Ottoman villas along the banks on the way there and stop at Ortokoy on the way back to see Turkish families enjoying ice-cream.
- Hamam - The Turks no longer attend, but the few Turkish baths still open for business give a skin-stinging insight into an ancient tradition ... get scrubbed down and then relax and gossip over a tea.
- If you visit one of the villages on the Bodrum peninsula, you may still see local women wearing the traditional pantaloons (salvar) and white headscarves.
- When visiting Ephesus, a wonderful, preserved classical city, try to get your sightseeing done in the early morning before the sun gets too hot, and bring some water with you. Drinks on the site can be expensive.
- If you're looking for accommodation in Turkey, Trivago is a useful website for user reviews. The site includes recommendations on hotels in Bodrum and hotels in Istanbul.