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Turkey is a fantastic destination for adventurous travellers looking to discover more than just the popular seaside resorts. Backpacking Turkey is the best way to really get to grips with the country and discover this fascinating destination where Europe meets Asia.
I spent over two months backpacking in Turkey in 2022 and 2023 and travelled the entire country from east to west. I started in the pleasant seaside town of Bodrum and travelled through Mesopotamia before making my way to the ancient Armenian settlement of Van and the mountain resort of Erzurum.
On previous trips backpacking through Turkey I’ve travelled to Istanbul and along the Black Sea to Georgia. From the incredible cave dwellings of Capadoccia to the forests and mountains in the east, golden beaches to the north and south, and a dazzling capital, Turkey backpacking is a must for any serious traveller.
Ultimate Guide to Backpacking in Turkey
Regions of Turkey
Turkey is made up of seven separate regions each offering unique landscapes, history and experiences.
Aegean Region – Beautiful beaches, Greek and Roman ruins and the resort cities of Izmir and Bodrum
Black Sea Region – Mountainous northern area along the Black Sea coast
Central Anatolia – Inland area and home to the capital Ankara and Cappadocia
Eastern Anatolia – Mountainous eastern area and home to Lake Van, Mount Ararat and Erzurum
Marmara Region – Far northeastern area bordering Bulgaria and Greece and location of Istanbul
Mediterranean – Mountains, pine forests and crystal clear waters. Home of Antalya and Mersin.
Southeastern Anatolia – Wild part of Turkey bordering Syria and Iraq with Kurdish and Assyrian cities.
Check out my list of the top landmarks in Turkey for more inspiration.
One Week: Istanbul
Two Weeks: Istanbul – Ankara – Cappadocia
Three Weeks: Istanbul – Ankara – Cappadocia – Antalya – Pamukkale – Bodrum – Izmir – Istanbul
Four Weeks: Istanbul – Ankara – Cappadocia – Gaziantep – Diyarbakir – Mardin – Midyat – Van
Five Weeks: Istanbul – Ankara – Cappadocia – Gaziantep – Diyarbakir – Mardin – Van – Erzurum
Six Weeks: Istanbul – Izmir – Pamukkale – Cappadocia – Gaziantep – Diyarbakir – Mardin – Van – Erzurum – Trabzon – Istanbul
Top Tours in Turkey
1. Istanbul Bosphorus Dinner Cruise – Book with Get Your Guide
2. Cappadocia Sunrise Balloon Flight – Book with Get Your Guide
3. Cappadocia Sunset ATV Tour – Book with Get Your Guide
4. Pamukkale and Hierapolis Tour – Book with Get Your Guide
5. Full-day Ephesus Tour from Izmir – Book with Get Your Guide
Money in Turkey
Turkey uses the Turkish Lira (TL). The exchange rate in March 2023 is £1 = 22.8TL and $1 = 18.9TL.
Turkey Backpacking Budget
Turkey is inexpensive compared to western Europe and the further you get off the beaten track, the cheaper it gets. I found a Turkey travel budget of £25 ($30) per day to be about right.
- Hostel £10 ($12)
- Food and drink £10 ($12)
- Local transport and entry tickets £5 ($6)
Visas for Turkey
Citizens of 91 countries including the UK and EU can now enter Turkey visa-free for up to 90 days. Citizens of the USA, Australia, Canada and the USA can get a 90-day e-visa online.
The first time I visited in 2017 I needed an e-visa (UK passport), but now it’s possible to stay for up to three months visa-free. Check with your nearest Turkey embassy before your visit to see if you need a visa.
Getting to Turkey
Istanbul has a new international airport (IST, IGA) with flights to and from destinations around the globe. I’ve flown to and from England, China and Kazakhstan and getting from the airport into the city is easy with a shuttle bus service and plentiful taxis.
There are international train services between Turkey and Austria, Bulgaria, Iran and Romania.
Austria – Villach to Edirne (Optima Express) – 32 Hours / $164
Bulgaria – Sofia to Istanbul (Sofia Express) – Year-round – 11 Hours / $30
Romania – Bucharest to Istanbul (Bosphor Express) – Summer only – 19 Hours / $50
Iran – Tehran to Ankara (Transasia Express) – Spring-autumn (under construction)
There are international buses to Turkey from Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia and Iraq. I’ve taken buses from Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia and Iraq to Turkey on multiple occasions. Border crossings have always been straightforward.
Iraq – Erbil to Diyarbakir Bus – 10 Hours / €30
Bulgaria – Sofia to Istanbul Bus – 8 Hours / €26 – Book with Flixbus
Greece – Thessaloniki to Istanbul Bus – 9 Hours / €60
Georgia – Tbilisi to Istanbul Bus – 30 Hours / €60
Tickets can be bought at the international bus stations of each country or online using GetByBus, BusBud or Flixbus.
There are a number of ferry and cargo services that run between Turkey and Greece, Georgia, Cyprus and Lebanon.
Greece – Kos to Bodrum Ferry – 1 hour / €25 ($30)
Cyprus – Tasucu to Kyrenia Ferry – 6 Hours / €35 (3 sailing per week)
Lebanon – currently suspended
Getting Around Turkey
When backpacking around Turkey I’ve always used long-distance buses/coaches to get around as they are cheap, comfortable and enable me to save on a night’s accommodation by travelling overnight.
The entire country is well connected by bus and long-distance coach. Tickets can be purchased online via sites like Metro Turizm, BusBud or at any bus station (Otaogar).
Turkey has a comprehensive rail network covering major cities such as Istanbul and Ankara. The Turkish Railway website has an English translation and you can book tickets online.
Hire a Car
Hiring a car is a great way to get around and gives you a lot more freedom than having to rely on public transport (though not as adventurous of course). Our partners at DiscoverCars have excellent rates for car hire. Get a quote with DiscoverCars today.
Where to Stay / Cheap Accommodation
It’s easy to save on accommodation costs with lots of hostels, cheap hotels and Airbnb.
Here are a few of the budget rooms I stayed in in Turkey recently:
Bodrum: Bircan Hotel – Inexpensive and comfortable room close to the centre and beaches
Diyarbakir: Comfortable Airbnb room close to the bus station
Erzurum: Hekimoglu Hotel – Room in the centre of town a short walk from the citadel
Van: Dosco Hotel – An excellent room with mountain views, a desk and a buffet breakfast
Best Places to Visit
Istanbul – Historic city that straddles both Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus River
Capadoccia – Stunning landscapes and homes carved into the rocks
Izmir – Resort town with some wonderful nearby beaches
Bodrum – Laid back coastal resort town with a castle, old town and beaches
Mardin – Assyrian city overlooking the plains of Mesopotamia
Diyarbakir – Majority Kurdish city with an impressive Roman wall and ancient Hevsel Gardens
Van – Historically Armenian city on Lake Van with an impressive castle overlooking the lake
Erzurum – Turkey’s highest city and premiere winter skiing destination
Ankara – Turkey’s capital city
Pammukale – Impressive natural phenomenon with stepped pools of water
Ephesus – Ancient Roman city overlooking the Mediterranean
Dara Ancient City – The easternmost outpost of the Roman Empire
Trabzon – City on the Black sea coast
Midyat – An Assyrian town famous for winemaking
Check out these Istanbul landmarks for ideas on what to do in one of Turkey’s most interesting cities.
Food and Drink in Turkey
Turkish cuisine is influenced by the Mediterranean and also incorporates Russian and Middle Eastern flavours. Breakfast is typically a large spread including cheeses, olives, bread, salad and eggs.
Turkey is the home of the mighty kebab, a staple of drunk people everywhere. But this cheap and plentiful dish is served from east to west and north to south and is a great way to fill up for just a few Lira.
There are many different types of kebab from doner (grilled meat, usually lamb, is cut into small pieces and served with pitta or other bread and salad) to iskender, adana, shish and more. The Cag kebab which comes from Erzurum is a must-try (I even had a go at cooking it myself).
Manti is a type of dumpling or ravioli and dolma/sarma (stuffed cabbage or vine leaves) is also a very popular dish. I was served dolma many times throughout my visit and it’s one of my favourite foods.
Best Time to Visit
Turkey is an excellent destination at any time of the year and as it’s such a large country climates differ greatly between regions.
Summer is a great time to hit Turkey’s many wonderful beaches, north and south but this is also the busiest time and resort areas like Bodrum and Izmir will be crowded and prices high.
The shoulder seasons of spring and autumn are a great time to visit as there will be fewer people and prices generally cheaper.
Winter can be a magical time in Turkey and those that like winter sports should head to the mountains around Erzurum for skiing and other activities.
Money-Saving Tips for Backpacking in Turkey
- Pay by card and avoid expensive ATM fees
- Use hostels and Airbnb to save on accommodation
- Use long-distance/overnight buses to get around
- Street food vendors and kebabs are very cheap
- Shop at the colourful markets and bazaars for fresh fruit and vegetables
- Avoid the peak months of July and August
- Do a little research and swap the large resorts for smaller, less well-known beaches
Is Turkey Safe for backpackers?
Turkey is generally a safe country for backpackers but there are risks to be aware of. The British Foreign Office advises against all travel to the border with Syria and Iraq, however I spent over a month in the area and aside from Turkish jets screaming overhead, had no problems.
Violent crime towards tourists is rare but petty crime and scams do exist (I got scammed by shoe shiners on my first trip to Istanbul). Take usual traveller precautions and don’t flash valuables and expensive equipment. Avoid unlit areas at night.
Unfortunately, Turkey has suffered terrorist attacks in recent years due to ongoing conflicts in the region with Kurdish separatists like the PKK and YPG and the wars in Iraq and Syria. Istanbul suffered a terrorist attack in November 2022 in the central Taksim Square area that killed six people.
In February 2023 Turkey and northern Syria suffered a major earthquake that registered 7.8 on the Richter scale and killed over 30,000 people. The epicentre was near the city of Gaziantep in southeast Turkey. Since then there have been almost daily quakes registering above 5 on the Richter scale.
Read my full guide about safety for travellers in Turkey for more information.
Conclusion to Backpacking in Turkey
Backpacking Turkey is an incredibly rewarding experience with such diverse landscapes from Mediterranean beaches to the cave houses of Cappadocia, the mountainous Black Sea areas and the ancient towns and villages to the south.
I can’t wait to get back and explore more of this enchanting country at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. So, what are you waiting for? Book that Turkey backpacking trip today!
You might like my other Turkey guides:
About the author:
Steve Rohan is a writer from Essex, England. He has travelled to over 60 countries, lived in China and Hong Kong, and is now living the digital nomad life on the road.
Steve prefers “slow travel” and has covered much of Europe and Asia by train, bus and boat.
Where I am now: Yerevan, Armenia 🇦🇲