Castle Rock of Ortahisar, Cappadocia, Turkey. Photo: R. Hackenberg/Corbis
Istanbul is the logical starting point for exploring Turkey, where low prices, improving infrastructure, and a stunning wealth of archaeology (more Roman ruins than Italy, more Greek ruins than Greece) are among the top draws for backpackers. Sitting astride the Bosporus Channel between Europe and Asia, Istanbul has a millennia-long history that has always been shaped by water. That’s why it’s worth taking an afternoon to visit the Rahmi M. Koç Müsezi, in a former Ottoman Navy anchor foundry on the shore of the Golden Horn. Here the quirky and wide-ranging nautical collection includes a 1961 “Amphicar,” whose engine drives both rear wheels and propellers, and a 1944 U.S. Navy submarine that saw action in WWII. It later served in the Turkish Navy for 30 years, and if you’re lucky a former sailor will be on hand to give tours.
From Istanbul it’s a 290-km drive west to the slender Gallipoli Peninsula, where in 1915 and 1916 some half a million soldiers were injured or killed during some of the most brutal—and some would say most senseless—fighting of WWI. A century later, you can take a day tour of the battlefield at the Gallipoli Historical National Park and learn how the eight-month campaign was critical in the development of modern Turkey, Australia, and New Zealand, all of whom, including the United Kingdom, sent troops to the slaughter. Step back even farther in history on the other side of the strait of Dardanelles, where a new museum opened in 2015 at the Troy Archaeological Park, of wooden horse fame.
How To Get There Until the Istanbul New Airport is finished, Istanbul Atatürk Airport is Turkey’s main air hub.
How To Get Around Trains and luxurious long-distance buses connect major cities, while shorter trips are best done by private cars or minibuses called dolmuş (“stuffed” vehicle).
Where To Stay The famous cliffs and canyons of Cappadocia are riddled with dwellings, churches, and even entire villages carved out of the soft volcanic stone. Some have been converted into memorable lodgings, like the Asmali Cave House, a boutique hotel with three roomy and elegant suites. Tastefully decorated with sculptures, artwork, and muted lighting, each one has a kitchen, open fireplace, and private terrace. The Kale Konak Cave Hotel is another good option, with 17 rooms and views of the “fairy chimneys” (hollowed stone towers) from a terrace restaurant.
What To Eat Or Drink In İzmir, Turkey’s third largest city, Üzüm Cafe offers local wine and some of the best homemade hummus you’ll ever have, in an outdoor garden setting complete with resident cat. It’s the perfect spot to unwind after a day exploring the Greek ruins at Ephesus. If you still have the energy, steer for the nightlife hot spot of the Alsancak neighbourhood, where the bartenders at Öküz serve cutting-edge cocktails as DJs spin tunes until the early hours.
When To Go Although Turkey’s Mediterranean coast is pleasant virtually year-round, late October and early November is probably the best time to visit, combining not too hot weather with a dearth of crowds. In general, travelling off-season (i.e., not between June and early September) is the best time to find and bargain for deals.
Helpful Links: www.goturkey.com
Currency Turkish lira
Don’t Miss The full experiences of a hamam, or public Turkish bath, starts with a good sweat in a steaming hot room. Next comes a brisk cool bath and (if you want) a vigorous massage, followed by a final unwinding in a cooling-down room.
Fun Fact St. Nikolaos of Myra, the original inspiration for Santa Claus, was born in the third century in Patara, Turkey.
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