A Solo Traveller’s Guide to Turkey

The diverse landscape of Turkey offers adventures for every type of solo traveller
The diverse landscape of Turkey offers adventures for every type of solo traveller
Ashley Pope

Cheap, cheerful and deeply cultural, Turkey may well be the best place in the region for your dream summer holiday. It’s got the beaches, the transparent sea, the extraordinary sights (architectural and natural), the cuisine (filling, appetising and diverse) and – most importantly – people who truly care that you’re there. Beyond the hot months Turkey has plenty to seduce you, from big-city exhilaration to otherworldly landscapes. Ready to plan your solo adventure? Read on.

What’s the vibe?

In a nutshell: welcoming. Maybe it’s something they tip in the water, but Turks are hospitable, friendly and helpful to a fault. Whether you need directions or help with a menu, you’re bound to find someone willing to use their English, however limited, to assist. Yes, this is a Muslim country, and therefore traditions often dictate modesty over excess – certainly beyond the big cities and beach resorts. But you won’t feel repressed, only surprised and delighted at discovering such a special country.

A Turkey solo trip overview

This is a wildly diverse country, stretching from the Aegean in the west – with its international resorts and luxury holiday living – hundreds of miles across to its eastern borders with Armenia, Iran and Syria. In between lie Anatolian expanses where life is simple and agrarian. In all honesty, it’s the former (western part) you’re likely to want to experience, although the Black Sea coast to the north is untamed, untouristed and utterly bewitching for a coach trip ending in Trabzon.

Aim for at least four days if visiting Istanbul for a city break, and a week to a fortnight if chasing summer sun on the Aegean and/or Mediterranean shores.

With TRIPS by Culture Trip’s 12-day small-group adventure From Istanbul to Antalya: the Ultimate Turkey Itinerary you can see all this and squeeze in the lunar landscapes of Cappadocia, further east.

A trip to Trabzon offers the chance to visit the Sumela Monastery

Where to stay in Turkey as a solo traveller

Luxury, local, boutique, budget – it’s all here. In big cities, such as Istanbul, hotels range from five-star-international to funky-designer to simple B&Bs and self-catering apartments in cool neighbourhoods. Whatever your budget, you’re sorted. On the coast, you’ll easily find uncomplicated pansiyons at affordable rates, serving lavish breakfasts of cheese, bread, honey and ripe tomatoes. And, of course, the boutique hotels and slinky resorts are booming, from Bodrum to Antalya.

For an indispensable accommodation steer, take a look at our round up of the best hotels in Turkey.

What to do in Turkey as a solo traveller

City nights, sunseeking or remote exploration (with a hot-air balloon ride thrown in)… Turkey keeps you sated. But the following should definitely be on your to-do list.

Istanbul by ferry

The city born Byzantium later rechristened Constantinople and now known as Istanbul has had a love affair with the sea since it was founded. Water defines the place – from the broad blue (or iron-grey in winter) Bosphorus strait, which the city clusters either side of, to the Golden Horn creek that flows in from the west, to the vast Sea of Marmara to the south, sprinkled with islands. So public transport is crucially about ferries, which are elegant, often old-fashioned (despite some modern closed-in versions) and beautiful to sit on, tea in hand, taking in the city as it unspools before you. Whether you want to cross from Europe to Asia, head north to the Black Sea, or venture out to Buyukada island, with its tiny Byzantine church at the summit, you need a ferry.

Spend an afternoon exploring the Bosphorus on an old-fashioned ferry while in Istanbul

The Datca Peninsula

Stretching west into the Aegean Sea, almost interlocking with various Greek islands, the peninsulas of Turkey’s western and southwestern coast make for ethereal summer holidays. Most famous is probably the Bodrum peninsula, since the resort of the same name has attracted superstars of the Mick Jagger order for decades. We like the slower pace of Datca, to the south. Luxury resorts with infinity pools and cocktail specialists are decidedly thin on the ground, but its coves and white-pebble beaches are blissful and timewarped, set against backdrops of pines and craggy heights. Highlights include swimming at Palamutbuku (with a seabass and wine lunch afterwards), visiting the ancient Greek ruins of Knidos, and drinking in the atmosphere of Datca town by night, with happy crowds and black moonlit port waters.

Cappadocia

Next stop: east-central Anatolia, and the natural wonder that is the Hobbity landscape of the Cappadocia region. You’ll have seen it on posters – extraordinary volcanic conical-rock formations rising from the harsh plateau, among time- and weather-eroded valleys. The best way to take it all in is by hot-air balloon, at dawn or dusk, when the area is at its quietest and most numinous. At ground level (and below) there’s further beauty – discover rock-cut churches from Byzantine and early-Islamic times before checking in at your (probably also) cave-enclosed hotel.

Visit Cappadocia with a small group on our 12-day From Istanbul to Antalya: the Ultimate Turkey Itinerary

See romantic Cappadocia from up high with a hot-air balloon ride

Eating and drinking in Turkey

You won’t go hungry – Turkish cuisine is surely the ultimate comfort food. Think puffy bread, creamy dips (cacik, like Greek tzatziki), crisp-fried pockets of cheese (borek), and honey-soaked pancakes (gozleme) to mop up the hangover at breakfast.

You can go high-brow with food cultivated for sultans in Ottoman times – think grilled meats with savoury rice (try hunkar begendi: lamb stewed with tomato sauce then laced with aubergine puree); or low-brow – you’ll fill up on the simplest simit (sesame-coated bread ring) or balik ekmek (freshly caught fish in a hunk of bread).

There are five-star city restaurants with spectacular wine lists and views. And there are lazy coastal fish restaurants doing grilled levrek (sea bass) with a bottle of rosé. In essence, Turkey is tastebud heaven – and the prices are great too. To drink? Turkish wine has come a long way thanks to the emergence of boutique vineyards. Look out for okuzgozu red from Anatolia and rosé from Cappadocia-grown narince grapes.

Stay safe, stay happy in Turkey

Don’t come to Turkey fretting – you’re in safe hands, Turks being among the most accommodating, friendly people on earth. To be 100 percent relaxed (or as near as dammit) just use the common sense you would anywhere else – no drinks from strangers, no dodgy-looking taxis after dark, no walking around rough areas on your own, and no getting plastered then trying in vain to find your hotel.

Stick to the travel basics and you should be fine going solo in Turkey

Getting around in Turkey as a solo traveller

Taxis are plentiful in cities and coastal resorts. They’re cheap too. For longer distances, buses, such as those from Kamil Koc, are the obvious option (driving is not the most relaxing way to spend a holiday, and road accidents are rife). Explore the rail-travel options – after all, you can journey easily by train between the big cities, such as Istanbul and Ankara.

Cultural need-to-knows in Turkey

Bear in mind that Turkey, for all its 21st-century modernity and beach-holiday liberal living, is a Muslim nation, and decorum in dress sense as well as comportment must be observed when not on the sands or in the nightclubs. Modesty applies particularly when visiting religious sites. On which note, always be aware of Ramadan dates – when the faithful are fasting in daylight hours, show respect and refrain from consuming in public places.

Be considerate when visiting religious sites, such as the Yeni Cami in Istanbul

Fancy exploring Turkey as part of a small group of like-minded travellers? Sign up for TRIPS by Culture Trip’s 12-day small-group adventure From Istanbul to Antalya: the Ultimate Turkey Itinerary. You’ll witness highlights including Istanbul, Cappadocia and the coast at Antalya.
This is a rewrite of an article originally by Feride Yalav-Heckeroth

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