Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Turkey

From understanding different social norms to knowing not to drink the water, these are the things you need to know before going to Turkey
From understanding different social norms to knowing not to drink the water, these are the things you need to know before going to Turkey | © Anton Aleksenko / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Talya Arditi
2 September 2021

From diverse cuisine to fascinating history, Turkey is an exciting place to visit for any traveller. Whether it’s for a quick stopover or long break, here’s what you need to know before entering the country.

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Turkish cuisine is vegetarian-friendly

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Although Turkish cuisine is known for being meat-heavy, most local restaurants carry a wide variety of vegetarian options. Some offer zeytinyagli dishes, which are vegetables in olive oil. All fish and kebab restaurants have meat-free mezes on their menu that include yoghurt, herbs, hummus and eggplant salad.

Always carry cash

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Credit cards are widely accepted in major cities like Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir but many smaller towns and independent shops will require you to pay by cash. You’ll also need to carry change for taxi fares, tipping waiters (so that it goes to them directly) and public bathrooms.

Street cats and dogs are part of the scenery

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Free-roaming cats and dogs are found everywhere – from the doorstep of Starbucks to luxurious beaches on the Mediterranean coast. They are mostly taken care of by the locals and are quite friendly, so there is no need to fear them. There is even a statue of Tombili – a famous street cat that died in 2016 – in Istanbul.

Don’t drink tap water

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The quality of tap water varies from region to region but it’s not used for drinking purposes in any part of the country. However, it’s okay to use it to cook food, make tea after boiling it and brush your teeth, as long as you don’t swallow the water. Filtration systems are in place in big cities but locals still choose not to drink tap water just to be on the safe side.

Greetings are done by kissing both the cheeks

Turkish people are generally quite affectionate and this is apparent in the way they greet others. Although first encounters tend to include a handshake, when meeting a friend or someone you already know, the general rule is to kiss both cheeks regardless of gender. This, at times, tends to be coupled with a hug.

Be careful when crossing the street

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Traffic in Turkey is notorious for cars but it’s no easy feat for pedestrians either. The pedestrian crossing doesn’t mean much, so don’t expect any car to stop for you when you’re walking to the other side. The safest way to cross a street is at the traffic light but, even then, it’s wise to check that the cars are definitely at a standstill.

Public displays of affection are frowned upon

Seeing a couple kissing passionately on the street is quite uncommon in Turkey, even in liberal neighbourhoods. Holding hands is OK, but do it with a side of caution if in a conservative area. Most public declarations of affection will be noticed but those between LGBT couples might especially be frowned upon.

Turkish charm goes beyond Istanbul

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When planning your itinerary, look further than Istanbul and the more common historical sites. Turkey has a variety of landscapes to explore, from the hiking routes of Lycia and the valleys of the Black Sea region to the fairy chimneys in Cappadocia and the largest lake, Van Golu, in the southeast. Different seasons call for different nature tours, so make sure to check the weather beforehand and plan accordingly.

Tea is a sign of hospitality

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As you head towards the historic neighbourhoods of Istanbul or to smaller towns in Turkey, be prepared to drink several cups of tea every day. The avid tea drinkers that they are, shopkeepers will interrupt your shopping spree by offering tea. When visiting a Turkish household, the host will most likely offer a freshly-brewed cup as well. This is done as a sign of hospitality and friendship; some may get offended if you refuse the drink.

There is zero tolerance towards drug use

Turkey is very strict about drug use. There is no leniency when it comes to using or selling drugs within the country, although smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol is acceptable.

Alla turca toilets are abound

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If you’re only visiting Istanbul, you might not even come across these traditional toilets. However, if you’re bound to set off beyond the city, you’re likely to find yourself in an unexpected squat challenge. These old-school toilets are very hygienic (if they are clean) and exist alongside modern-day toilets in many areas.

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