Things to do:
- Water sports were the primary form of entertainment for me -- kayaking, paddle boarding, wind surfing, boating, swimming, you name it!
- Fethiye Rock Tombs: It's a bit of a hike, but well worth it for the view.
- Saklikent Gorge: Beautiful place to hike and see the cliff face over the seas.
Where I stayed:
- Letoonia: A private resort on Fethiye -- this place was incredible!! Beautiful rooms, good food, and plenty to fill your time both day and night. We went with a group of friends and had a great time, but I can imagine there would be an equal draw for families with kids.
Things to do:
- Blue Mosque: AKA Sultanahmet Camii. This mosque was constructed under the rule of Ahmed I and contains his tomb. It has hand painted blue tiles all along its interior and is absolutely breathtaking.
- Hagia Sophia: Situated right by the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia is arguably one of the most iconic Turkish monuments. It started as a Greek Orthodox basilica when the Greek had control of this area, then became an imperial mosque under Turkish rule, and is now a massive museum.
- Basilica Cistern: Right by the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, this is the largest of several massive cisterns beneath Turkey.
- Obelisk of Theodosius: The ancient, re-erected Hippodrome Constantinople sits in the city center and is a massive testament to the fusion of histories and cultures in this city.
- Topkapi Palace: Today it is a museum, but it once was the main residence of the Ottoman sultans.
- Ortakoy Mosque: Beautiful mosque on the edge of the sea at one of the most popular locations on the Bosphorus.
- Istanbul Market: Huge open air market with all sorts of food, drinks, jewelry, art, and hand crafted goods.
Where to eat and drink:
- Suada Club: This is by far the coolest restaurant I have ever been to! You take a water taxi out into the middle of the Bosphorus River so that you are literally right between Asia and Europe where you eat fresh fish on a floating island restaurant. It's unbelievable! I would highly, highly recommend going for sundown and ordering whatever your waiter recommends. We got a variety of Turkish favorites and were incredibly happy.
- Sultanahmet Köftecisi: Get the meatballs!! This is a pretty small restaurant, known mostly to locals and absolutely delicious!
Foods and drinks to Try:
Turkish cuisine is an incredible fusion of Eastern and Western tastes, and some of the best food I've ever had.
Simit: Circular breakfast bread kind of like a bagel with sesame seeds
Meze: This is more of a way of eating than an actual dish, and is basically Turkey's version of tapas. It's a great way to try a bit of everything!
Fish: Turkey has an abundance of fresh fish, and it's deliciously cooked with an array of Eastern spices. Eat as much as you can!
Doner Kebab: My absolute favorite late-night food or cheap eats. You can get these just about anywhere. It's a soft-breaded sandwich filled with meats, cucumber, tomato, and a yogurt sauce.
Turkish Coffee: Turkish coffee is sweeter, thicker, and smaller than American coffee and it's packed with caffeine. Basically, it's the best coffee in the world!
Arak and Raki: starts clear but when you add water it turns a milky color. Tastes a little like liquorish and is very popular in Turkey and Iran.
Istanbul is the only city in the world that is split between two continents -- Asia and Europe. It's really cool to bounce between the two!
Hookah is the national past-time of Turkey. Everyone smokes everywhere, and it is a very common way for young people to hangout. I recommend trying a grape flavor with a red wine base -- it's a really interesting taste!
Turkey has had its fair share of safety concerns in the years since I've been there. However, during my backpacking trip this was one of the places I felt safest. People were incredibly respectful and kind, and I had no problem relying on locals for recommendations, directions, and general advice.
As with any international trip, you should check the State Department's travel advisories before you book.
General "be a smart traveler" rules apply: keep an eye on your valuables, purse, wallet, and phone (pick pockets are common in major cities all over the world), and ask your hotel/hostel/Airbnb host which areas are safe and unsafe to wander around at night.
Transportation in Turkey:
Dolmuşes (minibuses) and taksi dolmuşes (shared taxis) are often the way to go. They operate on fixed routes, are fast, and are about the same price as a buses, which usually make many more stops.
Turkey has a great system of metros, buses, and trams all of which run fairly on time and at a low cost.
Taxis are another way to get around, but you should make sure the driver always starts the meter right when you get in! Otherwise they may demand exhorbitant fees when you end your trip. If the driver doesn't start the meter when he/she starts driving, say "saatiniz." which means "your meter."
If you're going to be traveling between cities or countries in Europe, I recommend getting a Eurail Pass. I bought a one month unlimited pass and was able to take as many trips, to as many countries as I liked for one flat rate. You can buy them for almost any length of time for whichever countries or regions you prefer. There are lots of discount flight websites if you prefer to fly. I particularly like Ryanair, Rome2Rio, and Google Flights.