I’ll never forget the feeling of standing in Taksim Square, freshly roasted corn-cob in hand and awestruck eyes. The scents, the architecture, the energy; Istanbul is a city that takes you on a whirlwind tour of your senses. Now, even after returning to this incredible city for return visits, and many times passing through with Turkish Airlines, it’s still a city that captures my imagination beyond words.
This year, as for many of us, my travel plans have been torn to tatters. I should have spent May and June on a dream trip, through Egypt, Jordan and then Turkey, finally exploring all the incredible history, hospitality and heritage in this region I had longed to see. While this dream trip of mine is now on hold until 2021, the good news is for those who need to cure that travel itch, Turkey is open again for travellers from August 2020, and at the time of writing is on the UK Air Bridge list making it even more accessible.
3 Amazing places for 3 types of traveller
Turkey, spanning two continents, is packed with various cultures, cuisines and attractions, picking out a few highlights is no easy task. Here are a few suggestions to start, but once you start digging into where to visit in Turkey as I have, you’ll quickly realise you will need more than one trip!
While now must be incredible to visit some of these attractions without the normal tourist crowds, please remember we certainly aren’t fully back to ‘business as normal’ – so some places may be temporarily closed.
Istanbul – a city I truly fell in love with
For city lovers: Istanbul
Istanbul is one of a few cities that I fell in love with, it’s also a place I can’t give you specific reasons why. When I first visited, I wrote about how it was a place to be, rather than visit, where hours upon hours of walking around, soaking up the atmosphere and drinking tea brought me so much joy.
The architecture is incredible for sure, the monuments are mesmerising, and the magic of being at a point where two continents meet is truly special. But, the magic of Istanbul for me was in eating corn in Taksim Square watching stray cats play, listening to the call to prayer as the sunset sipping on a mint tea, or finding a little place on a back street to eat Balık Ekmek (a fish sandwich) whilst taking in the general buzz.
The Sultanahmet part of the city will draw you in, with Egyptian and Roman ruins, Byzantine architecture and Christian mosaics in the Hagia Sofia, but the city stretches out, with countless places to just wander, and admire completely with an energy unlike many other places I’ve been. In total, across three visits, I’ve spent 7 days in Istanbul, and I still would love to go back, so embrace now as a time for slower travel and stretch out that city break.
Don’t miss: The Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque for architecture, a visit to the Basilica Cistern for historic waterworks, a cruise along the Bosphorus river for a different angle and the Grand Bazaar for shopping.
COVID-19 Situation in Turkey
The Coronavirus situation and response in Turkey has been relatively well managed, highlighted by its inclusion on the UK Approved Travel list. Please check the most recent information with your local government travel portal.
Precautions you should expect when in Turkey are similar to a lot of nations. Social distancing and sanitising, the use of masks in crowded and enclosed spaces (some destinations require masks at all times) and, although most other restrictions have now been eased, please check for updated advice as these can vary for Turkish Nationals and Foreign Visitors.
Domestic and international flights are back in the skies ready to transport you on a summer holiday, with a new world-class and high-tech airport in Istanbul perfect for limiting contact during check-in and the like.
If you’re flying to Turkey, Turkish Airlines have a range of safety procedures in place – many of which you would expect, but some nice bonuses like a Hygiene Kit for every passenger, and an app for your phone so you can control the inflight entertainment without touching it.
Also, Turkish Airlines are offering their own Support and Insurance package, details of which can be found here – with many Insurance policies still catching up to our new normal, these destination-specific options are becoming even more common.
Turkish Airlines is currently offering a very relaxed ticket change policy at the moment, and even a 40% offer for healthcare works, again, these details are available on their website.
For years I thought Cappadocia was a specific place, but it wasn’t until I started planning this trip I realised it is actually a whole region.
Located in central Turkey, this rugged, rocky and semi-arid location is famed for the unique homes carved into Caves, some of which you can even stay in, and the towering cone-like rock formations that you’ll find all over Instagram.
The history here is incredible and dates back beyond the Bronze Age, so it’s no wonder that the region is now UNESCO listed. The underground cities, such as Derinkuyu where air-vents bring breathable air down underground look insane, and I can’t wait to witness them with my own eyes.
There are different towns you can choose to stay in, and while Göreme would be my pick, spots like Ürgüp or the Ihlara Valley are also popular with plenty of options.
Don’t miss: The chance to sleep in a historic cave hotel, the incredible views along the Pigeon Valley and the stable sun-rise hot air balloon ride.
To get to Cappadocia: you’ll have to take a domestic connections to Kayseri Erkilet Airport, from which an hour transfer will take you to the famous sights of Cappadocia.
✈️ It’s the perfect time to visit Antalya where the sun, the sea and the sand meet with history so you can discover unique ancient cities!
Antalya is the gateway to the Mediterranean region of Turkey on the south side. Where the long stretch of coasts offers turquoise waters and relaxation opportunities. Popular year-round, with winter sun also a possibility, here you’ll find accommodation options for all. From the splashy and luxurious resorts to the more laid-back budget-friendly accommodation.
Popular nearby resort destinations include Belek, where golf courses and luxury resorts can be found in lush greenery along the coast, Antalya itself, and further along, a range of hotels, including the popular destination of Side around an hours transfer away.
Antalya itself offers a good combination of beach break, with the accessibility and attractions of a city. The Old Harbour is nice for a stroll, and you’ll spot reminders of Antalya’s previous life as a Roman Port, particular with the imposing Hadrian’s Gate.
Don’t miss: If you want a break from the beach, visit some of the nearby waterfalls or the Roman ruins.
To get to Antalya: both direct international flights and domestic connections are available.
Flying with Turkish Airlines
My experiences on Turkish Airlines have always been great, and I’ve flown with them both to visit Istanbul, and internationally with connections to India and South East Asia. Generally, they are often the best value option, thanks to their competitive pricing and strong product.
The planes are modern and well thought out, with spacious seating and fantastic in-flight entertainment. They also have some cool quirks, which vary between service levels, but the ‘flying chefs’ ensure the meals are fantastic quality, while the ‘flying nanny’ service is on hand to help with childcare needs. Of course, in COVID-19 times we should expect some of these services to be adapted or not fully running. I also love the fresh orange juice and home-made lemonade they offer onboard a nice little touch.
For me, the main reason for my loyalty to Turkish Airlines and why I happily recommend them is their customer service. You really see what a company is like when things go wrong, and when a connecting flight with Turkish Airlines was slightly delayed, and I missed my next flight, they were quick to get us booked into a luxury hotel with meal vouchers, kept us informed, and re-booked us onto the next available flight with the bonus of some time to explore one of my favourite cities in the world. Having been in this situation with a few airlines, this was by far the best management of a re-scheduled connection I’ve had.
I’m also really excited that the new Istanbul Airport has now opened, as one of the downsides on connecting flights previously was just how busy the old terminal was, given how quickly the airline had grown, but now, with a new world-class airport and plenty of space, the experience should be much more seamless.
Let me know in the comments where you’ll be travelling this summer, and if you have any suggestions for me in Turkey when my trip finally goes ahead, I’d love to hear them. Safe travels!
*Advertorial content created in partnership with Turkish Airlines, written by Dan Flying Solo