TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

Archeological sites

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Most archeological sites open daily between either 8am, 8.30am or 9pm and 6.30pm or 7pm in summer. Winter opening hours are usually shorter. Some smaller archeological sites are only guarded during the day and left unfenced, permitting (in theory) a free wander around in the evening, though, in the wake of antiquities theft, this could feasibly result in you being picked up by the jandarma. Don’t pay entrance fees unless the wardens can produce a ticket, and keep it with you for the duration of your visit. Sites like Patara and Olympos straddle the route to a good beach. If you are staying nearby and want to visit the beach on several occasions, Smart PlajKarts are available, allowing multiple site/beach entries. One card can be shared but they are only valid for ten days. Beaches Except near major cities, where seawater is sometimes polluted, Turkish beaches are safe to swim at, though be prepared for occasional mountains of rubbish piled at the back of the beach. Tar can also be a problem on south-coast beaches that face Mediterranean shipping lanes; if you get tar on your feet scrub it off with olive oil rather than chemical solvents. All beaches are free in theory, though luxury compounds that straddle routes to the sand will control access in various ways, and you’ll pay for the use of beach-loungers and umbrellas.  


Costs

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Turkey is no longer the cheap destination it used to be; prices in the heavily touristed areas are comparable to many places in Europe. Exercise a little restraint, however, be prepared to live life at least occasionally at the local level (many Turks somehow survive on TL700 a month) and you can still enjoy a great-value trip here. Stay in a “treehouse” or backpackers’ inn, eat in local workers’ cafés or restaurants, travel around by train or bus, avoid alcohol and the most expensive sites, and you could get by on TL60–75 (€30–37.50) a day. If that doesn’t sound like much fun, double that and you could stay in a modest hotel, see the sights and have a beer or two with your evening meal. Equally, a night out on the town in İstanbul or one of the flasher coastal resorts could easily set you back over TL100 (€50), and if you intend to see a lot of what is a very big country, transport costs could be a considerable drain on your budget – though taking night buses saves accommodation costs. The more expensive tourist sites such as Ephesus, the Tokapı Palace and Aya Sofya cost TL25 (€12.50), but there are many more sites varying between TL3 and TL15. There are no student discounts, and the Müze Kart (Museum Card), which gives admission to all state-run museums for TL30 per annum, is for Turkish citizens only.  


Crime and personal safety

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Turkey’s crime rate remains lower than most of Europe and North America, although pickpocketing and purse-snatching are becoming more common in İstanbul (see City crimewatch) and other major cities. Violent street crime is fortunately rare. Keep your wits about you and an eye on your belongings just as you would anywhere else, and make sure your passport is secure at all times, and you shouldn’t have any problems. Except for well-known “red-light” districts, and some eastern towns, female travellers are probably safer on their own than in other European countries. As well as the usual warnings on drugs, note that exporting antiquities is illegal. It is also an offence to insult Atatürk or Turkey, which can result in a prison sentence. Never deface, degrade or tear up currency or the flag; drunkenness will likely be considered an aggravating, not a mitigating, factor. Also, do not take photographs near the numerous, well-marked military zones. 

Electricity

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Turkey operates on 220 volts, 50 Hz. Most European appliances should work so long as you have an adaptor for European-style two-pin plugs. American appliances will need a transformer as well as an adaptor.  


Entry / Visa requirements

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Early in 2012 Turkey changed its tourist visa rules. Prior to this amendment it was possible to enter the country on a 90-day visa, then at the end of that period slip across the border to a Greek island, Bulgaria or even North Cyprus, re-enter immediately and get a new three-month stamp. Mainly in order to stop people living and working (illegally) in the country for an indefinite period, the new visa is valid for 90 days within 180 days. In other words, stay for 90 days consecutively, and you cannot re-enter for another 90 days. Alternatively, you can make multiple trips to Turkey within the 180-day validity period of the visa so long as the total stay does not exceed 90 days. The tourist visas (available at ports of entry for a fee) are issued to citizens of the UK ($20, €15 or £10), Ireland ($20, €10 or £10), the US ($20 or €15), Canada ($60 or €45) and Australia ($20 or €15). South Africans should be able to get a 30-day visa at the point of entry, but would be wise to enquire at a Turkish consulate before travelling. New Zealanders do not currently require visas. Everyone, regardless of nationality, should have at least six months’ validity on their passport. For the latest information on visas, check with the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs at mfa.gov.tr. 

Customs

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 As Turkey is not yet an EU member, duty-free limits – and sales – for alcohol and tobacco are still prevalent. Limits are posted clearly at İstanbul’s airports, and apply for all frontiers. Few people get stopped departing Turkey, but the guards may be on the lookout for antiquities and fossils. Penalties for trying to smuggle these out include long jail sentences, plus a large fine. What actually constitutes an antiquity is rather vague, but it’s best not to take any chances.


Public holidays

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 Secular public holidays are generally marked by processions of schoolchildren or the military, or by some demonstration of national strength and dignity, such as a sports display. Banks and government offices will normally be closed on these days (exceptions given here). For more information, see the section on religious festivals. Jan 1     – New Year’s Day. April 23  – Independence Day, celebrating the first meeting of the new Republican parliament in Ankara, and Children’s Day. May 19  – Youth and Sports Day, also Atatürk’s birthday. May 01  – Labour Day Aug 30  – Celebration of the Turkish victory over the Greek forces at Dumlupınar in 1922. Sept 9   – Liberation Day, with parades and speeches marking the end of the Independence War (İzmir only). Oct 29   – Commemorates the proclamation of the Republic by Atatürk in 1923. Nov 10  – Anniversary of Atatürk’s death in 1938. Observed at 9.05am (the time of his demise), when the whole country stops whatever it’s doing and maintains a respectful silence for a minute. It’s worth being on a Bosphorus ferry then, when all the engines are turned off, and the boats drift and sound their foghorns mournfully.  


Time

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 Turkey is three hours ahead of GMT. There is no day light saving in Turkey.

Tourist information Most Turkish towns of any size will have a Turizm Danışma Bürosu or tourist office of some sort, often lodged inside the Belediye (city hall) in the smaller places. However, outside the larger cities and obvious tourist destinations there’s often little hard information to be had, and world-weary staff may dismiss you with useless brochures. Lists of accommodation are sometimes kept at the busier offices; personnel, however, will generally not make bookings. On the other hand, staff in out-of-the-way places can be embarrassingly helpful. It’s best to have a specific question – about bus schedules, festival ticket availability or museum opening hours – although in remote regions there is no guarantee that there will be anyone who can speak English. Tourist offices generally adhere to a standard opening schedule of 8.30am to 12.30pm and 1.30pm to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday. Between May and September in big-name resorts and large cities, these hours extend well into the evening and through much of the weekend. In winter, by contrast, many tourist offices in out-of-the-way spots will be shut most of the time.    

Shopping

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Few visitors return from Turkey without some kind of souvenir; whether it’s a cheap-and-cheerful pack of local herbs and spices or an expensive carpet depends on the budget of the traveller and the skill of the salesman. The best selection of good-quality wares is to be found in the major tourist centres: İstanbul, Cappadocia, Bursa and the coastal resorts. You won’t find a bargain at the production centres themselves; wholesalers and collectors have been there long before you. 

How to bargain

Bargaining is a way of life in Turkey; whether you love it or hate it depends on your character. In general it’s acceptable to haggle over the price of souvenirs, which often lack price tags, so the vendor is able to adjust his asking price according to what he thinks you can or will pay. This applies to everything from expensive items such as carpets or kilims through to cheaper items like lokum (Turkish Delight) and spices. As a guideline, begin at a figure lower than whatever you are prepared to pay, say half the shopkeeper’s starting price. Once a price has been agreed, you are ethically committed to buy, so don’t commence haggling unless you are reasonably sure you want the item. “Assistance” from touts, whether in İstanbul, major resorts or even provincial towns, will automatically bump up the price thirty to fifty percent, as they will be getting a commission. Also, be prepared to hand over between three and seven percent extra if paying by credit card; your bargaining position is strongest with crisp, bunched notes, either foreign or TL. Don’t bargain for bus, rail or air tickets, or for fruit or vegetables at street markets.  


Bazaars, shops and markets

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Several types of traditional bazaar continue to coexist in Turkey with the modern American/European-style shopping malls that increasingly dominate the wealthier districts of large cities. Covered bazaars are found in larger towns like İstanbul, Bursa and Şanlıurfa. Essentially medieval Ottoman shopping malls, they comprised several bedestens at which particular types of goods were sold, linked by covered arcades also originally assigned to a particular trade – though strict segregation has long since broken down. Surrounding these covered bazaars are large areas of small shops, open-air extensions of the covered areas and governed by the same rules: each shop is a separate unit with an owner and apprentices, and successful businesses are not allowed to expand or merge. Street markets are held in most towns and all cities, similar to those in northern Europe and selling cheap clothes, household utensils and most importantly fruit, vegetables, cheese, yoghurt, olives, nuts and the like. More exotic are the semi-permanent flea markets (bit pazarı, literally “louse markets”), ranging in quality from street stalls where old clothes are sold and resold among the homeless, to lanes of shops where you can buy antiques and bric-a-brac. In many cities, particularly in İstanbul, everyday shopping is increasingly done in Western-style department stores, shopping malls and supermarkets.  


Carpets and kilims

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Turkish carpets and kilims (flat-weave rugs) are renowned for their quality and have a very long history (the designs on many kilims have their origins in the Neolitihic period). Be warned, though, that they are no longer necessarily cheaper in Turkey than overseas, and some dealers reckon there are now more old kilims and carpets outside the country than in it. Most visitors will find themselves in a carpet shop at some point in their visit – willingly or unwillingly. It’s very easy to be drawn into buying something you don’t really want at a price you can barely afford once you’ve been smooth-talked and drip-fed with copious quantities of apple tea. However, it’s still possible to get a good deal and enjoy the process; see our tips given here.  


Clothes & Others

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Turkish designs are beginning to match the quality of local fabrics such as Bursa silk and Angora wool. Nowadays you will pay near-Western prices for genuine locally designed items at reputable shops – local brands are aggressively protected from counterfeiting, if necessary by police raids. However, many visitors find it hard to resist the allure of the cheap fake designer clothing available everywhere, with all the usual suspects (Armani, Diesel, Louis Vuitton et al) the victims. Genuine international designer wear is priced little differently to elsewhere.  

Jewellery

Both in terms of design, quality and price, Turkey is a great country to buy jewellery, though gold prices in particular have rocketed in recent years. Gold and silver jewellery are sold by weight, with little regard for the disparate level of craftsmanship involved – at the time of writing silver was TL1.9 per gram, gold TL94 – and so too are semi-precious stones. One particularly intricate method is telkâri or wire filigree, most of which comes from eastern Turkey, particularly Diyarbakır and Mardin. Gold in particular can be very good value and is so pure (22 carat) that telkâri bangles bend easily. Also remember that sterling silver items should bear a hallmark.  

Leather goods

Leather is still big business in Turkey. The industry was originally based in western Anatolia, where alum deposits and acorn-derived tannin aided the tanning process. Today, İzmir and İstanbul still have the largest workshops, though the retail business also booms on the Mediterranean coast, particularly in Antalya and Alanya. Jackets are the most obvious purchase, the prices of which vary from around €75 from a downmarket outlet to well over €350 from a branded “designer” shop such as Matraş, Desa or Derimod. Shoes are less good value and women’s sizes rarely go over 40.

Insurance

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It is essential to take out an insurance policy before you travel, to cover against illness or injury, as well as theft or loss. Some all-risks homeowners’ or renters’ insurance policies may cover your possessions when overseas, and many private medical schemes (such as BUPA and WPA) offer coverage extensions for abroad. Rough Guides offers its own insurance policy. Most policies exclude so-called dangerous sports unless an extra premium is paid: in Turkey this can mean scuba diving, whitewater rafting, paragliding, windsurfing and trekking, though probably not kayaking or jeep safaris. Travel agents and package operators may require travel insurance when you book a holiday – you’re not obliged to take theirs, though you have to sign a declaration saying that you already have another policy. Similarly, many no-frills airlines make a tidy sum from selling unnecessary insurance at the time of booking – beware, and opt out.  


Internet

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Many hotels, pensions and hostels have internet access – often both terminals and wi-fi signal – as do an ever-increasing number of cafés. Access is usually free except in the more expensive international chain hotels. In more remote places in the interior, and the east of the country, only the more expensive hotels have wi-fi. Rates in internet cafés tend to be TL2 per hour. The Turkish-character keyboard you’ll probably be faced with may cause some confusion. The “@” sign is made by simultaneously pressing the “ALT” and “q” keys. More frustrating is the dotless “ı” (confusingly enough found right where you’ll be expecting the conventional “i”) – the Western “i” is located second key from right, middle row.  


Mail

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Post offices are easily spotted by their bold black-on-yellow PTT (Posta, Telegraf, Telefon) signs. Stamps are only available from the PTT, whose website (ptt.gov.tr) has a (not necessarily up-to-date) English-language listing of services and prices. Post offices are generally open Monday to Friday 8.30am to 5.30pm and until noon on Saturday. Airmail (uçakla) rates to Europe are TL1.10 for postcards, TL2 for letters up to 20g, TL19 for 2kg, the maximum weight for letters. Delivery to Europe or North America can take seven to ten days. A pricier express (acele) service cuts delivery times to the EU to about three days. When sending airmail, it’s best to give your stamped letter/card to the clerk behind the counter, who will ensure it gets put in the right place; otherwise, place it in the relevant slot if one is available (yurtdışı for abroad; yurtiçi for elsewhere in Turkey).  


Money

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Turkey’s currency is the Turkish Lira (Türk Lirası) or TL for short, divided into smaller units known as kuruş. Coins come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 kuruş and TL1, with notes in denominations of TL5, TL10, TL20, TL50, TL100 and TL200. At the time of writing the exchange rate was around TL 7 to the euro, TL 8 to the pound and TL 6 to the US dollar.  Rates for foreign currency are always better inside Turkey, so try not to buy much lira at home. Conversely, don’t leave Turkey with unspent lira, as you won’t get a decent exchange rate for them outside the country. It’s wise to bring a fair wad of hard currency with you (euros are best, though dollars and sterling are often accepted), as you can often use it to pay directly for souvenirs or accommodation (prices for both are frequently quoted in euros). Travellers’ cheques are, frankly, not worth the bother, as exchange offices and some banks refuse them.  

Changing money While most banks, such as İşbank and Yapıkredi, change money, the best exchange rate is usually given by the state-owned banks Ziraat Bankası, which has dedicated döviz (exchange) counters – but despite the automated ticket/queuing system queues can be long. Döviz, or exchange houses, are common in Turkey’s cities and resorts. They buy and sell foreign currency of most sorts instantly, and have the convenience of long opening hours (usually 9/10am–8/10pm) and short or nonexistent queues. Most do not charge commission, but give a lower rate than the banks. Remember to keep all foreign-exchange slips with you until departure, if only to prove the value of purchases made in case of queries by customs.  


Credit/debit cards and ATMs

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Credit cards are widely used in hotels, shops, restaurants, travel agencies and entertainment venues and with no commission (though many hotels and shops offer discounts for cash rather than credit-card payments). Don’t expect, however, to use your card in basic eating places or small corner shops. Swipe readers plus chip-and-PIN protocol are now the norm in most of Turkey. The simplest way to get hold of money in Turkey is to use the widespread ATM network. Most bank ATMs will accept any debit cards that are part of the Cirrus, Maestro or Visa/Plus systems. Screen prompts are given in English on request. You can also normally get cash advances at any bank displaying the appropriate sign, and in major cities and resorts some ATMs will give euros and dollars. It’s safest to use ATMs attached to banks during normal working hours, so help can be summoned if your card is eaten (not uncommon). Turkish ATMs sometimes “time out” without disgorging cash, while your home bank may still debit your account – leaving you to argue the toss with them. ATM fraud is rife in Turkey – make sure you are not overlooked when keying in your PIN. You can also use Visa or MasterCard to get cash from ATMs.  


Working Hours

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Office workers keep conventional Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm schedules, with a full lunch hour. Civil servants, including tourist offices and museum staff, in theory work 8.30am to 5.30pm, but in practice hours can be much more erratic – don’t expect to get official business attended to the same day after 2.30pm. Most state banks are open Monday to Friday, 8.30am to noon and 1.30pm to 5pm. Private banks such as Garanti Bankası and Köç operate throughout the day. Ordinary shops, including large department stores and mall outlets, are open continuously from 8.30am or 9am until 7pm or 8pm (sometimes even later in many major cities and resorts). Craftsmen and bazaar stallholders often work from 9am to 8pm or 9pm, Monday to Saturday, with only short breaks for meals, tea or prayers. Even on Sunday the tradesmen’s area may not be completely shut down – though don’t count on this. Museums are generally open from 8.30am or 9am until 4.30pm or 5pm in winter, later in the summer. Virtually all state, and some private, museums are closed on Monday, though in İstanbul closing days are staggered so make sure you check the individual listings. All tourist sites and museums are closed on the mornings of public holidays. Mosques are theoretically open all the time, but many of the less visited ones are kept locked outside of prayer times, and many do not encourage visitors at prayer times!