Bringing together eastern and western culture, traditions and history, there is no country that offers an experience like Turkey. From the architectural marvels of the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya, to the sounds, sights and smells of the Grand Bazaar, and all the way to the underground cities of Cappadocia, you will be drawn to explore this country’s wonders. I’ve always been fascinated by Turkey and especially by Istanbul, so I jumped at the chance to come here during my first backpacking trip through Europe. That trip, I was lucky enough to receive some local advice on how to best experience Turkey. Here are some of the best tips for you.
The Bosphorus River from Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.
One of the highlights of Turkey, culminating with the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, is the number of local markets and bazaars for you to visit. To this day, spending time in the Grand Bazaar ranks as one of the best days of my life. I still remember walking around and taking in all of the sights and sounds of the local merchants bartering with locals and tourists alike.
Local markets allow you to interact with people, taste local cuisine and pick up authentic souvenirs for your friends and family. Visiting markets gives you a unique perspective of a culture too, and part of that perspective involves bartering with the merchants, be it for a piece of cheese or a locally made scarf. Of course mastering the art of bartering is easier said than done – especially when it isn’t done back home. Finding a local market or bazaar where you can haggle a little bit will make you feel a lot more comfortable when you try it in places like the Grand Bazaar. (I’ve even practiced with friends to make sure that I feel comfortable bartering with the locals.) I’ve also found that pre-determining a game plan and setting the maximum price in your head that you’d be willing to pay are great ways to keep yourself calm and engaged at the same time. I also recommend starting with something small (like a bracelet) before buying the pricier items on your wish list, to give yourself more practice. Finally, know when to walk away. Don’t feel pressured to buy something just because you’ve been haggling for a while. If the price is over what you’re willing to pay, walking away may be the best thing you can do. I highly recommend this Lonely Planet article on bartering.
Visiting markets in Turkey will give you a unique perspective on the culture. Photo by S Dean.
When traveling to a new place it’s always important to be at least partially familiar with their local cultural customs. This is especially true in Turkey, where customs play a large role in everyday life. To start off shaking hands is very important in Turkey and if someone offers you their hand you should always reciprocate. Be careful though when extending your own hand, as in many parts of the country, it’s considered rude to shake hands with someone of the opposite sex. Remember also to keep eye contact with someone after having initiated a conversation as it is considered rude to look anywhere else. In Turkish culture, they also have a different way of saying ‘no’ than in most western cultures. While they will nod their head when they say ‘yes,’ when saying ‘no’ they will often raise their eyebrows while lifting their head gently and will sometimes even make small sounds. Also, if you’re traveling with a loved one, know that public displays of affection are generally frowned upon. Finally, when you’re taking a break from your activities, remember to never show the soles of your feet when sitting down, as it’s considered rude.
Tea defines cafe culture in Turkey. Photo by M Brenn.
Packing for a trip to Turkey is much more than just about packing for comfort. Wearing shorts and a t-shirt will be fine in most situations during summer months, but when visiting certain sites like religious buildings and mosques throughout the year, wearing longer length pants and a nicer shirt will show you have a level of respect for the Turkish people and their religion. Footwear is not as important because you will be taking off your shoes in these situations. I also found that wearing nicer clothes in the evenings had other benefits. I think I was treated more like a local than a tourist, meaning I got more inside tips from the locals in Istanbul.
The Aya Sofya in Istanbul.
It’s easy to see why Turkey is considered one of the premier destinations for passionate travellers. With its mix of history, culture, food and most importantly, its people, I can easily say the experience I had visiting here was one I’ll never get anywhere else. It’s a place where people, history and continents have combined to form one of the great places in the world.
Make your own journey to Turkey a reality one day. G Adventures runs a number of departures encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.