Rick Steves' Turkey > travel tips
Reading & viewing list

Recommended reading / books on Turkey;
  • Ataturk: A Biography by Lord Kinross – Provides information for understanding modern Turkey.
  • Muhammad by Karen Armstrong – A vivid, detailed biography that presents a balanced view of prophet Muhammad.
  • Memed, My Hawk by Yashar Kemal – Young boy fights small-town corruption in the 1930s.
  • Poems of Nazim Hikmet – translated by Randy Blassing and Mutlu Konuk.
  • Regards from the Dead Princess by Kenize Mourad – Real life story of an Ottoman Princess, by the grand daughter.
  • Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain – Entertaining account of Twain’s travels; check out the chapter on Turkey.
  • A Fez of the Heart by Jeremy Seal – An intimate portrail of Turkey’s sights and people.
  • The White Castle by Orhan Pamuk – Historical novel set in 17th century Istanbul.
  • Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk – Istanbul through the eyes of Nobel prize winner Turkish novelist.
  • Byzantium by John Julius Norwich – history of the Byzantine Empire.
  • Mythology, Timeless Tales of Gods and Heros by Edith Hamilton – Greek divinities in current day language.
  • The New Testament – particularly Ephesians, Revelation and Acts.
  • Rick Steves' Guide to Istanbul – written by Lale & Tankut Aran of SRM Travel.
  • Lonely Planet: Turkey.
Videos, films, and so on;
  • Video series on Byzantium – documentary, based on the books of John Julius Norwich - for history buffs.
  • Topkapi, starring Peter Ustinov – trying to steal the dagger from the palace treasury.
  • Abduction from the Seraglio, opera by W.A.Mozart.
  • Istanbul Under My Wings – dramatized story of Hazerfan, the first man ever to fly – and intercontinental! - in history.
  • Borrowed Bride by Atif Yilmaz – a new Turkish movie about an interesting tradition that died long ago.
  • Rick Steves' Istanbul TV show for Public TV series.
Intercity & public transportation

Airlines --- Turkish Airlines is the major carrier within the country. Istanbul is usually the final destination for international flights, and the hub for Turkish Airlines, offering domestic flights to all operating airports in the country. If your tour starts/ends in an other city/location, ask for connecting flights or combined tickets through the airline you book the international flight. You may get discount rates as Turkish Airlines is a destination partner to various airline organizations.
Other private airline companies also operate scheduled domestic flights between major airports, but they do not offer as many flights. Information is available on;
Turkish Airlines; www.thy.com
Pegasus Airlines; www.flypgs.com
Atlas Jet; www.atlasjet.com
Onur Air; www.onurair.com.tr

Bus services --- Turkey has a fairly decent network of highways connecting every corner of the country. Bus transportation system is casual, and easy to figure out. Every major town in Turkey has a bus terminal.
Bus liners usually have ticket offices centrally located in the city, and operate shuttle services to the main terminal.
If there is no direct service to a particular destination, you can take a bus to another regional location, and change at the terminal, or use the shuttle service provided by the bus company. Or, you can get off the bus at a convenient location en route.
Give roughly 1,5 hours for every 60 miles or ~100 km’s, including breaks. Regular services stop every two hours or so for a break to use the facilities. There usually is a WC, and tea/coffee/snack service aboard.
Some of the better companies have express services (including meal/s) to major destinations. They do not make stops en route to collect passengers. There usually is a steward on the bus for service.

Public transportation --- Public transportation in Turkey takes a great deal of getting used to. It is inexpensive and rather casual. It may be very complicated though, as when you take a municipal bus, it is hard to tell where you are heading, or where to get off. Busses may get very crowded, especially during rush hour.
“Dolmus” is the alternative way. It is a shared taxi or a van that operates between set points at a set fare. You can get on and off anywhere on its route.
Taking a cab is the easiest way to get around in Istanbul. Due to the law, all taxicabs have to be registered at local stations. Still, Istanbul is a great wave-’em-down taxi town. You may easily find a cab waiting by the side of the road, or passing by.
In Old Town Istanbul, the tram is rather convenient, and makes a private car unnecessary. Stops are centrally located, within short walking distance to major attractions. Recently the track was extended over the Golden Horn to the new district, as part a new project to ease the city traffic.
On the other hand, public ferries provide a great alternative to land transportation between Asian and European districts of the city.

Railroads --- It actually is quite an experience to travel on a train, although services are limited, and not up to current standarts on certain destinations. New overnight trains that operate between major destinations are convenient, and they usually have compartments for two.

Personal expenses

It is a frequently asked question, estimated daily expenses while you are traveling. Here is a few guidelines;

Sites and museum entrance fees vary between USD 2.- to 15.- per ticket. There may be discounts for students (international student id. required) and locals. Istanbul museums and popular sites - such as Ephesus - are at the higher end of the spectrum. Fees are re-adjusted every year in April, due to changes in exchange rates and inflation.
Although not a common practice, a seperate admission fee may be required for particular sections in a museums. In Topkapi Palace for instance, you will need to get separate tickets for the museum entrance, and the Harem.

Average cost per meal is about $ 20.- to 35.- without the drinks in an above average restaurant in Istanbul, and other popular destinations. On the other hand, there are several self service and city restaurants that serve good food for considerably less, and are worth checking out if you are traveling on a limited budget.
In city restaurants, $10.- to 20.- is what you will pay for a decent meal. These restaurants may not serve alcohol, as it is not easy to get a licence, and it is costly. Sea food restaurants tend to be more expensive, especially in Istanbul.

An average %10 tip is customary, but only if you are satisfied with the service. There may be a service charge included in the bill, but this is not for the personnel.

Value added tax (VAT) is usually included in services or items that you purchase in Turkey. Non residents of Turkey may claim a tax rebate, but only if the item is purchased from an authorized dealer.
Value added tax for services, as well as food, drinks, and tobacco products are not rebatable. Service charge is not very common other then in upscale restaurants and hotel services.

Tips for solo women travelers

... from an article by Lale Surmen Aran;

This is a common subject that people ask me about. To start with, I would like to say that I am a woman, and I have been leading tours and traveling by myself since I was 18. I do not remember a threatening moment during all these years I have traveled through Turkey.

Truth usually hurts, but the image of Western women in the eyes of a common Turk can be similar to what they have been watching on the TV series and movies for decades; Dallas, Dynasty, Young and Restless, and the list goes on... Well, misconceptions can exist all the time, and this is not the fault of the individuals.

Violent crimes are less common in Turkey compared to many Western countries. Social traditions and customs play a major role in this.

Especially as you travel in the countryside, you need to understand the social rules and respect them. Social encounters between men and women are more formal than in the West, and this formality is maintained for a longer time.

Take common sense precautions and observe the norms. Watch the behavior of locals for a while, as you start any social contact. This will tell you a lot about how you should use your gestures, body language, and how to socialize.

Most Turkish men are quite courteous, and they will not make a move unless a woman shows interest. So you are the one to keep it all under control. When you smile back at a man to be pleasant, or keep direct eye contact for too long, he may misunderstand and accept this as an invitation. No one is right or wrong here, it is just a cultural difference. Local women usually act more formal, and they do not smile back at a man, until they are sure the smile will not be misunderstood. They also avoid too long an eye contact. A nice way to exchange greetings is a polite nodding of your head.

Physical contact, even a small touch as you are talking to a man, and not keeping an acceptable distance between you and the locals, may as well be considered inviting. The distance I would recommend is a minimum arms length.

Don’t overreact to men showing interest in you, just walk away graciously. Dress neatly and act reserved, and you will travel without being bothered. Put on modest clothes, and do not expose much of bare skin, unless you are at the beach.

In remote areas in the countryside, you may attract the attention of the locals, just because you look different. They mean no disrespect. They are simply interested in knowing you, like you are interested in knowing them...

do's & don'ts

It is considered rude to signal to someone with your hands or your fingers, except when you’re hailing a cab or trying to get your waiter’s attention.

Don’t get too close to people as you talk. Allow some personal space (an arm’s length is fine). Especially when talking to someone of the opposite sex, keep your distance and don’t touch them as you talk.

A cute hand gesture may be seen as an insult in a different culture. Putting your thumb between your index and middle finger and making a fist is like showing the middle finger! Making a circle with your thumb and index finger as you twist your hand is a homophobic insult. If you would like to imply something is good with your hands, just do thumbs up.

Be aware of Turkish body language for “yes” and “no”. A Turk nods her head down to say yes. She shakes it back and forth to say no, like we do. But she might also say no by tilting her head back..

People of Turkey love to share what they have, but someting offered to you is offered to you only. When you invite others, it may put this person in a difficult position, as they may not have more of it to offer. This is a very humiliating situation for the Turks.

Don’t blow your nose at the dining table. Either leave the table, or turn to face the other way. And afterwards, don’t shake hands right away.

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