Turkey is a country that’s almost as multifaceted as the two continents it straddles. With an epic history of conquering and reconquering, Turkey has been left with a boisterous culture and fascinating ancient heritage, and it’s more than worth visiting.
If you’re a fan of architecture, Turkey can’t disappoint with its rich selection of mosques, churches, and cities as old as time. There’s also Turkey’s 1,175 kilometers of Mediterranean coastline to enjoy, ideal for anybody looking for a dynamic getaway. Still, it’s easy to get carried away relaxing into the culture when exploring anywhere new. but it’s important to remember you’re a guest when visiting Turkey.
Turkey has a diverse population with a high percentage of Sunni Islamic people who follow rules and etiquette that might be unfamiliar to westerners. Our guide covers everything to look out for and all the things to avoid in Turkey to make sure you get the most out of your trip. Let’s get into it.
Entering a mosque with your shoes on
Turkey is home to a multitude of mosques, some rivaling European cathedrals in grandeur, like the coveted Blue Mosque in Istanbul. However, it’s important to remember when entering any religious site, even a humble village mosque, to remove one’s shoes.
In Islam, the soles are shoes and are seen as unsanitary and so wearing the same footwear that you would in the streets is a disrespect to God and anyone who shares the space. Turks refrain from wearing shoes even in their own homes, so keep this in mind when entering any Islamic building. After all, you wouldn’t want to offend locals or cause unnecessary embarrassment for yourself.
Ignoring local table etiquette
Trying the local cuisine is a must for steeping yourself into any new culture. However, table etiquette can be another tricky one for newcomers to navigate in Turkey, as some casual Western table manners might be construed as offensive in Turkish culture.
For example, when using a toothpick it is rude to not cover one’s mouth with your hand. It is also customary to say “Afiyet olsun” (“may what you eat bring well-being”) before eating, and to say “Elinize saglik” (“compliments to the hostess”) after finishing a meal.
It’s also important to make sure you finish all of the food on your plate as leaving leftovers can be seen as a sign that the meal wasn’t enjoyed, so don’t over-order. Also, remember to put your knife and fork together to signify that you’re done.
Turks have an entirely different culture and what we might consider rude they might not, and vice versa. A perfect example of this is smoking at the dinner table. Smoking is ubiquitous in Turkey, many people will smoke between courses of dinner. As such, it’s best to allow, or even ignore a smoker at your table since it’s so ingrained in the culture.
Obscuring the view of someone in prayer
When passing a Turk in prayer one should try not to walk directly in front of them, if possible, to avoid obscuring their view. The reason for this is that Muslim custom dictates that when this happens, the prayer is null and void and they are obliged to begin again.
As part of the tradition, Muslims pray several times a day to the east, in the direction of Mecca. This is especially common at the time of Ramadan, the holy month of their fasting and spiritual discipline. So, be sure to maintain a heightened awareness if you’re visiting Turkey in March or April.
Ignoring Ramadan practices
On the topic of Ramadan, there are a few key points to remember during this holy time for Muslims. Ramadan is also never on a fixed date so it’s important to check if the month overlaps with your stay in any Islamic country each year.
For starters, Muslims fast during daylight hours when it’s Ramadan, to the extent that they may not drink water, chew on anything or even smoke. As such, we suggest you avoid doing these activities in an obvious manner in front of Turks during Ramadan or abstain from doing them at all in public.
As we all know people can get “hangry” when they haven’t eaten, it’s best not to rouse any tension from locals during your stay. Nevertheless, if you’re fortunate enough to be invited to an “Iftar” or evening meal when the fast is broken for the day, then it would be rude to decline such a generous offer.
Muslim women also follow varying degrees of dress code depending on the area from which they originate. Although the Quran (the Islamic holy book) does not directly instruct a strict dress code, many Muslim states maintain the practice of covering certain parts of the female body. Some require no rules for dress, but some allow only the face and hands to be seen, and others, just the eyes.
Though it isn’t expected that foreigners dress in the same way, it is generally seen as respectful to dress modestly, meaning keeping most of the legs, arms, and chest covered. Turkey is far more lenient on these rules than many Islamic countries, although men and women are encouraged not to wear shorts in religious areas. Women are also expected to cover their hair as Muslims do when entering a mosque.
Forgetting other Islamic customs
It’s a good practice for men to avoid addressing young or single Muslim women directly in public since it can be seen as a threatening act. Women may also notice that Turkish men will always address their male companions first, but don’t be offended or feel left out as this is a harmless tradition. Muslims see this as a way of protecting feminine virtue. Whether you agree with this sentiment or not, you should expect it.
Muslims also refrain from consuming alcohol, which may explain their love of other vices, namely cigarettes and coffee, which are abundant in Turkey. Although tourists and even Turkish citizens are allowed to enjoy alcoholic drinks at their own leisure, overindulging is disrespectful. Adhering to and respecting these practices will go a long way in Turkey.
Traveling around before doing your research
With it being caught between Western Asia and Eastern Europe, Turkey’s ancient history is fraught with civil war and religious conflict. Violence persists in some parts of the country today, but don’t let this scare you off.
The majority of tourists in Turkey have a wonderful and problem-free stay, but it’s best to stay clued up as there are some areas that tourists should avoid. Turkey is known to have a low rate of petty crime, but since there is a stark divide between the rich and poor, you should always exercise precaution.
It is suggested that you also avoid taking taxis without an official logo as chance takers may try to swindle you with harsh rates. If you feel taxi prices seem unfair, they probably are! Try installing the BiTaksi App to locate a trustworthy ride.
Traveling to the Syrian border
Certain areas in Turkey are deemed dangerous and potentially hostile by the UK foreign, commonwealth, and development office (FCDO). For example, travel to all areas within six miles of the Syrian border is ill-advised. Clashes have been ongoing since 1978, with a high risk of terrorism and violent crime against civilians.
Kilis is a city in south-central Turkey with a fascinating history. Kilis was an important province in ancient Asia Minor for frontier commerce but a surge of Syrian refugees, fleeing conflict, has created problems for Kilis City in recent years. Rocket strikes as recently as 2021 make Kilis largely unsafe for visitors. It might be a safe zone for refugees, but for now, it’s not a place for tourists.
The Hatay province also shares a border with Syria and should be avoided as a result. Terrorist groups have been trying to establish a foothold in the area for years and violent crime is high as a result.
Traveling to Diyarbakir City
The Diyarbakir city and province is also a zone where all non-essential travel is ill-advised in Turkey. Although tourists can enjoy the city, problems are often reported, and might find that your travel insurance is unwilling to cover anything but lost luggage if you choose to venture there.
This is due to a rebel Kurdish militant group, known as the PKK, sometimes displaying violent methods in the province during their now 30-year insurgency in the area. Needless to say, it’s best to stick to safer regions.
Traveling to the Tunceli Province
The Tunceli province, though strikingly beautiful, remains one of the less politically stable regions in Turkey. Many parts of the east are off limits due to their proximity to military operations.
As of late, the Tunceli province has proven to be an up-and-coming tourist destination, yet it is still advised that visitors travel with a guide and avoid solo trips. Although the last incident with the PKK was in 2016, Turkish officials prefer visitors to stay in regions that are controlled by local authorities.
Traveling to The Sirnak Province
The Sirnak province, located just a few kilometers away from the Iraq-Turkey border in the southeast, with national parks and scenic mountains, is, unfortunately, another area that’s best avoided due to military clashes.
As recently as 2020, PKK militants were captured here after being caught crossing over from Iraq. Terrorism and civil unrest are ongoing issues in the border towns in Turkey and all over the middle east. Civilians and militant groups tend to be heavily armed and tourists are a rare sight.
Entering Mount Ararat
Mount Ararat is a stunning snow-capped, dormant volcano with great biblical significance, depicted in the book of Genesis as the resting site of Noah’s ark. But sadly, it is now a military-restricted zone and has been since 2020, so if it’s on your travel bucket list, it’s best to remove it. Opt for other iconic landmarks in Turkey like the historic Church of Saint Peter instead.
Ankara is a beautiful and relatively safe city to visit in Turkey and political developments have given way to a thriving tourism scene in recent years that it more than deserves. In fact, Ankara is even safer than many European and North American cities. However, if you’re planning to head here, you might want to avoid some neighborhoods that are still unsafe for tourists.
Cincin is one of Turkey’s most dangerous places. Infamous for being a “no-cop-zone”, even policemen avoid entering the gang turf. The district has been associated with theft and drug dealing for the last 70 years. Locals are distrustful of tourists and likely to be hostile.
Be that as it may, we must stress that, for the most part, Turkey is an amazing and safe destination to explore, receiving multitudes of happy travelers annually. Its people are friendly and welcoming, but just like any tourist destination, it’s better to be clued up on potential dangers rather than learn the hard way.
When do Muslims celebrate Ramadan?
Ramadan is never at the same time on the western calendar every year because the Islamic calendar follows a 12-month lunar pattern. Ramadan is held during the ninth month, which in 2023, will dominate the end of March and the first half of April in the Gregorian Calendar. Eid follows at the beginning of the 10th month, or Shawwal. Each month begins with the new crescent moon and lasts 29 or 30 days.
When is the best time to visit Turkey?
Turkey is a big country and the weather can vary depending on where you go, but it can get very hot in the summer months, and April and May, as well as September and October, tend to be the most pleasant times to visit. Temperatures are mild and you can spend time outdoors without worrying about the heat. Summer holidays crowds won’t yet have descended yet too, or will have started to disperse, meaning fewer people to navigate and better deals.
Is alcohol illegal in Turkey?
Despite having a large Muslim population, alcohol consumption is not illegal in Turkey and anyone can drink alcohol as long as they are above the age of 18. Since the Turkish Republic was founded in 1923, drinking alcohol has been lawful and was only banned for a brief period during the Independence War. Islam prohibits drinking alcohol but this responsibility remains in the hands of the individual in Turkey.