8 Must Do Things in Turkey
teşekkür ederim in Turkish means – “Thank You” and the best way to remember it? By putting “tea,sugar and a dream” together – literally! Its even more poetic if one comes to know that the traditional drink of Turkey is tea, served with a sugar-cube! And the dreams? That is on travelers like us! If you want to travel to a place rich in history, culture and traditions along with beautiful landscapes, mountains, beaches, canyons and underground cities – Turkey should be in your bucket list. A cradle for the early Christians, Turkey for the past few centuries became a Muslim nation and now is a thriving secular country. If you are on a limited vacation period like me, choosing what to do and what to skip can be an overwhelming task as everyone wants to just get the best out of this beautiful destination. There are so many places to go, so many things to do that justifying everything within a small vacation is a bit difficult. Hence here’s an easy guide to what all you should not miss while on your Turkey Trip:
- Whirling Dervishes – Since I am from India, I have witnessed a few renditions of Indian Sufism along with the Turkish Whirling Dervishes performances. This was hence an experience that made into my bucket list. I was a bit skeptical on whether the performance would be worth it, or would I be missing out on the beautiful night life of Istanbul. Nevertheless, I and my co-traveller made reservations to an evening show at the HodjaPasha Cultural Centre in Istanbul and attended the complete ceremony. The performance was rather a very spiritual one, where people who attended it were given a step by step look into the various stages of the ritual. Instead of a mere performance, the aim was to give the attendees an overview behind the mysticism of the Sufi practice.
Tip* - book your seats in advance if you want to witness the mystic ritual. Since it’s an hour long ritual, if you do not want to dwelve into the spiritual Sufi aspects of the whirling dervishes you can give this a pass
2. Traditional Turkish Bath : Hamam – Now this intrigued me from the very beginning. There have been movie scenes on this, about saunas and steam rooms and then foam baths. When in Turkey, we had to give this a try. Though there’ll be a lot of places that offer these, choose the one that fits your budget. For a wholesome experience, I chose to take the bath at the hotel (Sultan Suleyman Hamam – Antusa) that I was staying – a package that was all inclusive – from bath to a full body massage to a face mask. After a long day of exploration of the city of your stay, ending the day with a hamam and body massage is just the self-love you require!
Tip* - The bath offers you a Sauna, Steam and Foam Exfoliation along with additional massage. It is available in all the major tourist hubs, so even if you miss it in Istanbul, you can avail it at other destinations. The average cost of a pocket friendly hamam+massage is between 50 to 60 euros. It may very well go up to 130 euros.
3. Istanbul City Tour – Istanbul is the meeting point of the three continents – Asia, Europe and Africa. And for the same reason, it’s resplendent with a rich historical backdrop. Though the place where we were staying was in the old city center – SultanAhmet, and each of the major touristic sites were in close proximity to it, we decided to go for a guided tour. And it turned out beneficial since it gave us a clear overview of its heritage, the significance of each of the monuments, and of course an express entry to each of the sites, which otherwise would have taken us 40-50 minutes.
Through the conducted tour, we saw The Hippodrome, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Bascilica Cisterns and the Grand Bazaar. Since it was a Monday, the Hagia Sofia was closed, which we did the next day by ourselves.
Tip* - The only bummer to both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia was them getting renovated because of which we couldn’t stand and glance at their majestically painted domes. As per our guide the renovation will take another 2 years, and hence for all those who plan to visit these sites, you too will not be able to witness these sites in all their glory for at least the next two years.
4. Bosphorus Cruise – We booked ourselves a dinner cruise over the mighty Bosphorus the day we arrived in Istanbul. There were traditional Turkish 3 course meals along with splendid performances put up by the crew members. This ranged from Turkish dervishes, to belle dancing to group dance performances and entertainment shows. There was an open dance floor by the end of the cruise ride where you could step up and dance. But the most soulful of it all was to stand at the top deck of the cruise and witnessing Istanbul, its well-lit monuments and mosques, lighthouses and the bridges on a chilly winter night and admiring the city for all the beauty it had to offer.
Tip* - For those who are time crunched, and have only 1-2 days in Istanbul, you cannot miss this experience. The nightscape of the city is fully explored through this cruise which lasts for about 3 hours along with a sumptuous 3 course meal and amazing performances by the crew.
5. Ferry Rides to Reach Galata Towers – We kept one whole day to explore the city by ourselves. Away from the old city of Sultanahmet, Istanbul is a pretty hep place with amazing wall grafittis, cool cafes, hanging umbrella streets and painted buildings. All this can be explored if one decides to travel to the neighboring Karakoy and Balat. Karakoy, has to be reached by changing ferries at Kadikoy, which was a bit tough for us to figure out, given not many people speak in English in Istanbul. Once in Karakoy, the cafes, the beautiful streets, the Galata towers are all well within walking range and are definitely worth the efforts. The ferry rides in themselves are a wonderful experience, especially when at the top deck you see people feeding sea-gulls against the Bosphorus backdrop!
Tip* - Get your Istanbul Kart at the Airport itself. It makes navigation through the city extremely hassle free – from airport shuttles, to trams, to ferries – you can navigate the length and breadth of Istanbul using this Kart. Also, one Kart is enough for all your fellow travelers, you just need to have an adequate balance in it. Recharging it is also easy, you get recharge booths at every metro/bus/ferry station.
6. Pamukkale – One of the prettiest stops in Turkey for a day is Pamukkale, widely known for its turquoise blue thermal waters against milky white calcium tavertines. This makes it a perfect spot to see a sunset, click some awesome pictures and get a faux snow clad feel while dipping your feet in warm spring waters. These deposits are apparently in the ancient ruins of Heirepolis, and the entrance ticket includes a visit to the Cleopatra pool, museum and the Amphitheatre. Pamukkale gives you a window to witness nature at its weird pristine form, and is a must go, once in a lifetime kind of a place.
Tip* - Do not stay for more than a day. If you are staying in Pamukkale, your hotel will in all probability be just walking distance from the tavertines and the ruins. Go visit the tavertines around 3pm, explore it for an hour and visit the nearby Cleopatra Pool and the Museum before heading back once again to witness the sunset by the deposits.
7. Capadoccia – Turkey mesmerizes you with its vivid landscapes. Capadoccia is another entry to this list. Its volcanic mountains, its canyons, is fairy chimneys, its cave habitation, churches and monasteries housing the early Christians and its underground cities – there’s so much to explore in this land leaving you awestruck at the unearthly geography. Most people flock to the city to take part in the hot-air balloon rides, but since it got cancelled for us, we got to explore the area – something worth the time and efforts. While we trotted on foot to the nearby Goreme Open Air museum, did a bit of local shopping and tried out the nearby cafes, the next we booked for ourselves the Green City Tour that took us exploring the farther corners of the city. It was a guided tour with 10 other people, but I did find it meaningful since its history and geography was well explained by the guide.
Tip* - If your hot-air balloon rides get cancelled, don’t lose heart since Capadoccia has a lot to offer. Book yourselves a Green or a Red tour, or explore the city by yourselves, you are not going to regret it. Also, stay at a cave hotel like the one we stayed at - for a wholesome “Cappadocia” experience!
8. Shopping – Since we are for India, we are from the land of Mega Bazaars. Almost every city of India has an old bazaar set up in the heart of it landscape, and hence the Grand Bazaar at Istanbul did not appeal to us much. Also, our preliminary research showed us that it’s a hecklers paradise, and hence we did not intend to overspend either our energies or our money there. So, here’s a quick tip for you – if you wish to buy anything from Istanbul – there’re shops in the vicinity of Grand Bazaar which are much cheaper and offer beautiful products. If you get a chance to visit Galata Towers, there are shops in its vicinity which offer souvenirs at a much cheaper price than at SultanAhmet. There are beautiful artefacts made on Pamukkale stones (70 Lira average price – don’t be conned), Ismic Tile artefacts, show pieces made of ceramics and clay, and the evil eye – which stand as the major souvenir collection attraction. Baklava, Turkish Delights, Turkish tea and its variants, Turkish Coffee are a certain edible items that are worth the purchase. While we did not find anything to shop much from Pamukkale, Capadoccia had a few shopping options, which could be explored further. A good approach is to hop in and out of a few shops to understand the overall pricing of things – so that you crack the best deal.
Tip* - Don’t buy from Grand Bazaar, buy from neighboring lanes, or you may even explore areas near to Galata Towers and Cappadocia for cheaper options. Get your souvenirs bubble wrapped and get your sweets and edibles vacuum packed to ensure their safe transfer!