In modern Turkey, the legacy of centuries of history coexists with progressive and contemporary culture. Its exciting capital, Istanbul, spans Europe and Asia: tiny beautiful and colorful streets, arts, literature and history are squeezed between Byzantine and Ottoman structures, with calls-to-prayer from city mosques sounding above the city. The Aegean and Mediterranean coasts mix ancient Roman ruins with stunning beaches and resorts. Still, the real cultural lessons come from the Turkish people, always welcoming and eager to share their homeland’s fascinating past and present.
A country bustling with 80 million people, Turkey encompasses much diversity. Through its history, shifts in religion, and progress in politics, it has seen war, triumph, celebration, and cultural blending. It straddles Europe and Asia, dividing the nation into two continents.
This is an unusual circumstance, not shared amongst many countries. With ‘one foot’ in each continent, the traditions vary drastically, depending upon what part of the country you are standing in. As a traveler, be at the very least aware of the unique nature in each part you plan on visiting.
With 4,500 miles of coastline, a traveler can take a nice trip to the beach, soak up sun and enjoy the sound of waves hitting the shore. Greece’s neighbor, Southern Turkey shares the humid, tropical climate, especially during the summer. Variety being the spice of life, some parts of Turkey are speckled with snow-capped mountains.
If you are a traveler who admires nature, mountains, and sea, Turkey is a perfect destination. Likewise, if you enjoy breathing in the culture through gigantic souks and back-alley bazaars, Istanbul is a must. A traveler can and should embrace every nook of the Turkish experience.
Important dates in Turkey
1 January: New Year’s Day (Yılbaşı)
23 April: National Sovereignty and Children’s Day (Ulusal Eğemenlik ve Çocuk Bayramı)
1 May: Labor and Solidarity Day (Emek ve Dayanışma Günü)
19 May: Commemoration of Atatürk, Youth & Sports Day (Atatürk’ü Anma Gençlik ve Spor Bayramı)
4 June: Sugar Feast’s Eve (Ramazan Bayramı Arifesi)
7 June: Sugar Feast (Ramazan Bayramı)
10 August: Feast of the Sacrifice’s Eve (Kurban Bayramı Arifesi)
11–14 August: Feast of the Sacrifice (Kurban Bayramı)
30 August: Victory Day (Zafer Bayramı)
6 October: Liberation of Istanbul (İstanbul’un Kurtuluşu)
28 October: Republic Day’s Eve (Cumhuriyet Bayramı Arifesi)
29 October: Republic Day (Cumhuriyet Bayramı)
- It has one of the world’s oldest and largest malls, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, established in 1455.
- You might find chicken in a dessert; it is called chicken pudding, made with chicken breast, milk, sugar, and dusted cinnamon. Do not knock it until you try it; many people say it is good!
- Saint Nicholas was born in Patara, Turkey–not the North Pole!
- Turkey is country entrenched in religious history; it is said that humans were building temples as early as 2000 years before agricultural practices were established, back when we were merely hunters and gatherers.
Good to know
Ordinary passport holders are required to have a visa to enter Turkey. They can obtain three month-multiple entry e-Visas by exploring here and stay in Turkey up to 90 days within 6 months starting from the first entry date.
Culture and Etiquette in Turkey
Turkey tends to be an eclectic blend of heritage and culture; through the rule of the Ottoman Empire, Asian and European culture intertwined around one another. This resulted in the making of Turkish culture, a combination of many ethnicities, customs, and traditions combined.
This might be the only country on earth that genuinely encompasses both drastic eastern and drastic western cultural practices, in sync. It exists as one of the most westernized majority-muslim nations in the entire world. While it is westernized, with major reforms having taken place in the mid 1900s, smaller towns and rural areas still consist of more conservatism.
In Istanbul, progressive reform is more acceptable and more often implemented. With westernization, some citizens have disagreed with the dramatic regulations that have at some points inhibited their practicing religion in the traditional fashion. In certain state instances, women were banned from wearing hijab, but since, there have been additional reforms allowing more freedom of choice.
When traveling through Turkey, opt to dress up. It is usual within the culture, especially for women, to dress nice, so this is a perfect opportunity to embrace your inner fashionista. All the same, if it is not you, do not force it; one important bit–be respectful at religious sites, and if you have a head scarf, wear one.
For the most part, Turks are incredibly friendly. Generally, Turkish tradition says that families enjoy hosting and entertaining new guests in their homes. It is a way of showing a person their beautiful culture, in the most authentic way. Yes, be friendly when meeting new people, but be on guard as well.
In Istanbul, foreigners have been duped by pseudo hospitality, which has left them drunk or drugged and without money. While this is a rare happening, be weary of someone who is a little too friendly and a bit too helpful. It is a safer bet to do a little pre-travel research about interesting groups that might share a common interest with you i.e. photography club, yoga tribe, civil activists.
In Turkey, less places keep toilet paper stocked. You might want to bring your own roll in a backpack. We know, it sounds weird, but it could make a huge differences in having a ‘wonderful trip’ and have a ‘good trip’. Be equipped and invest in a 1 Euro roll of TP; you will be glad you did! If you do not need it, then no love lost.
If you enjoy pampering yourself, visit a hammam. We recommend that you visit one, even if you feel uncomfortable about the idea. Just as yoga is an experience for the mind, soul, and body–a chance to unwind, hammam bathing is similar. Be certain to check times, as some are reserved only for men and others are reserved specifically for women. More and more hammams are becoming unisex, but make sure you plan your trip accordingly to avoid disappointment. Happy bathing!