A Cultural Guide to Turkey From An Insider

Category: About Turkey | March 19, 2012

Turkey upon Anatolia, the cradle of civilizations stands out not only with its extremely rich history but also with its intangible cultural heritage thanks to the countless number of peoples once lived in this vast land. Here, you will find useful tips about the life of Turkey to prepare you for our rich culture before you pack and help you go off the beaten track for a striking visit. 

Favorite Food

Boiled Apricots in Grape Molasses: A Delicacy of Cappadocia

Very famous dessert in Cappadocia. Try in September when locals freshly make grape molasses.

Eggplant Salad in Antakya

Baked eggplants are carefully peeled, finely chopped, mixed with olive oil and garlic, marinated for three hours before serving. The best in Turkey.

Oltu Cag Kebab in Erzurum

Since stock breeding is very developed in Erzurum, tender lamb meat is abundantly available. Meat chunks are placed along a spindle which is fixed horizontally and revolved around the oak embers. Cag kebab master skewers  the cooked parts of the lamb by means of chopping them off from underneath. It is then ready to go served with grilled tomato, grilled pepper, yogurt, onion and flat yufka bread. Attention: it is highly addictive!

Favorite Restaurants


An excellent place with genuine local décor. Reputable in the region of Cappadocia as a value restaurant because of its very fast service, reasonable prices, gorgeous food and generous portions. Waiters are very friendly and polite. The chief waiter has a great sense of humor. All the food is prepared with gourmet style compliant with the excellence of local Turkish cuisine and comes to your table with a great presentation.

Address: Cumhuriyet Meydani No: 9 Urgup, Nevsehir Phone: +90 384 341 8442

Cicek Lokantasi

A basic place but it is literally packed on every dinner time. Extremely quick service. Cheap and only locally renowned, so rarely would you find any tourists there! A huge variety of freshly cooked stews. Big portions of pide, kebabs and grilled chicken are available. Food is very tasty, may be the best of that particular kind one can ever try. Excellent Turkish desserts. Friendly crew top to bottom.

Address: Cankiri Cadddesi No:56/B Ulus, Ankara Phone: +90 312 311 1497

Neighborhoods/Attractions/Areas of Interest

Egirdir Lake, Burdur

One should not die without visiting this heaven on earth. Choose Karatepe crest (1830 feet) near the town center to look out on the whole lake basin and watch local paragliders over the lake. Teenagers here also attend wind surfing courses enjoying the background of oak covered lash mountains. It is such a dramatic landscape awaiting your discovery.

Butterfly Valley, Fethiye

This remote cove is only accessible by a boat service daily operated from the mainland. Stepping on the beach, you may go for a stroll trying to locate the cool cascade, do hands on practicing organic farming, trace the beauty of a dozen of endemic butterflies, learn to play the Turkish string instrument saz, chase the ducks and should you have any time left, swim in the crystal clear sea.

Gulhane Park, Istanbul

Literally meaning house of flowers, the oldest park of Istanbul forms a contrast to the hectic city texture thanks to its lash atmosphere. This vast park was inaugurated as a public recreation area in 1912 adjacent to the grounds of Topkapi Palace. Note the wild parrots seen here and there in the trees, in fact two kinds: “the rose-ringed” and “the alexandrine parakeets”. Rumor has it, the ancestors of these wild parrots once lived in the exotic countries like India. Having been delivered to Istanbul airport for an exhibition, they managed to escape their cages placed in a pet-vehicle when the car wrecked in a traffic accident on the way to the exhibition hall! Start your wander from the waterfront, Sarayburnu and proceed inside towards the Gulhane gate, the biggest one of the sultanate walls. You may consider extending your walk upon going out of the gate. Simply turn to your left and there starts Sogukcesme street furnished with some of the best preserved Turkish-Ottoman civil houses.

Lake Aktas, Ardahan

What an interesting spot! So many birds fly around and across the lake is Georgia! Lovely village people always smiling and very friendly. Everywhere is covered with green grass. You can combine this visit with the nearby eagle’s nest Devil’s Castle.

Iconic Places

  • Nusrat mine layer war ship in Tarsus. Renown for its big success in the Gallipoli campaign that literally changed the course of the war.
  • Mt Ararat, the highest mountain in Turkey. It is a biblical mountain owing its fame to the great flood and Noah’s Arc.
  • Urfa, Prophet Abraham was born there.
  • Tarsus. Saint Paul’s birth place.
  • Ağırnas village, Kayseri. The world famous Architect Sinan was born in this village.
  • The portrait room in the Topkapi Palace museum is always overlooked yet, it is definitely my favorite one where you can admire the unique portraits of all the Ottoman sultans.

A Favorite Hidden Gem

Markiz Pastahanesi

Opened in 1940, Markiz patisserie serves some of the most exquisite food and beverages of the city. The art-nouveau interior décor forms a perfect ambient helping you travel in a time machine back to the old Stamboul.

Address: Istiklal Caddesi No: 360 Beyoglu, Istanbul

Best Way to Get Around 

Take a Phaeton to Visit Saint Dimitrios Church on Buyukada Island, Istanbul

Multiple tasks involved for one goal all of which are rather fascinating. Hop on an eastbound tram from Sirkeci station and get off by the terminal stop, Kabatas. There you can board the traditional public ferries called “ada vapuru” leading you to Buyukada Island. The sail onboard these symbols of Istanbul takes rather long: 2.5 hours, so make sure you have got the whole day dedicated for the job. Upon your arrival, walk straight up the street to reach phaeton departure area. Show them your destination and ask for the price before you go. Leave the phaeton on the bottom of the hilly trail taking you up to the church. At the top, you will have a well deserved scenery overlooking all around the sea of Marmara and the main land. Visit the desolate yet still functioning Saint Dimitrios church. Don’t forget to discover the next-door-restaurant serving home cooked dishes to be washed down with a cold Efes beer. The restaurant is situated on a perfect spot to watch the sunset while cargo ships silently pass by far below in the foreground. Back the same way!

Iconic Items to Buy

Purchase an Evil-eye Bead

In order to safeguard your beloved ones reflecting the evil looks away, you ought to own one of these beads originated from this Turkish cult originated from our central Asian origins. Go westbound along the tram from Sultanahmet square, any souvenir shop you pop in will be selling “nazar boncugu (evil eye bead)”.

Genuine Copper Pepper Mills

This is a very famous Turkish handicraft of Istanbul. However, it is unfortunately very pricy within the touristy districts of the city. Instead, can you not just take a pleasant half an hour walk along the embankment of the Golden Horn due west from Eminonu square and let your instincts poke you when you near the veteran mill manufacturer.

Address: Mercan Uzuncarsıbasi Caddesi No:146 K. pazar Eminonu, Istanbul  Phone: 0212 522 78 07

Web: www.bakirdunyasi.net/en/category-bulk-pepper-mill.html

Bargain Spots

Terkos Street Beyoglu, Istanbul

It is an old trend to wander around this compact budget shopping paradise. Second hand clothes in superb condition as though they are brand new. All kinds of styles, protest t-shirts, fancy party clothes and more would be found in this ever crowded heaven.

Itfaiye Square Ulus, Ankara

This place is a dedicated recycling district where you can find cheap antique lots. How did you think your elders were listening to music even before you were born? Here is where we get our genuine gramophone records after a heavy bargaining with the retailers. The outcome, though, is fantastic as you can listen to some of the oldest Turkish classic music tunes featured by famous early republican Turkish standouts.

Cultural Phrases

“Cam Cama Degil Can Cana”

A way of saying cheers that literally means “not glass to glass but soul to soul”.

“Bayraminiz Kutlu Olsun”

The indispensable must to learn in Turkey meaning “may you have a good festival.” Every religious festival (bayram) in Turkey is celebrated face to face with this phrase. In order you to acknowledge other people’s bayram, you’d better bear this saying in mind, as well. In fact, everybody would love to hear that from you!

Customs or Rules of Etiquette

  • No blowing your nose by a dining table.
  • No stretching your legs or showing the bottoms of your feet to an elderly person.
  • No dropping bread crumbs on the bare ground nor should we step on them as bread is considered to be a food of respect.
  • No whistling after the sunset as this may invite the bad spirits.
  • No making fun of the Turkish flag or the Turkish nation as we are a very patriotic country.

Local Tipping

Tipping is a widely recognized part of lives here inTurkey. Do it whenever your heart tells you to consider tipping somebody who succeeded in serving you for a memorable experience. You’d better give it without much publicity. Don’t ever expect them to sing your praises in return because Turkish people are very shy when it comes to receiving a recognition from somebody outside their family.

Special Advices for Travelers in Turkey

Not much to say really. Smile, be honest, stay sincere, leave your prejudices at home and relax for a wonderful experience. We are a very hospitable nation and more then happy to greet you, embrace you and take care of you here in Turkey as good as we can. Because, you are our guest and we love guests. That will all do.

Legend or a Historical Figure

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938)

Ataturk is the founder of modern Turkey. We are so much grateful to him therefore his image can be seen around every corner of the country. Ataturk’s Mausoleum in Ankara is the number one place to visit to learn more about himself and why he is so important to us.

Fatih Sultan Mehmet II (1432-1481)

Mehmet the Conqueror was perhaps the most intelligent leader of his time because of his outstanding plan for taking of Istanbul at the age of mere 21! Panorama 1453 museum in Istanbul is a good place to learn the undertake of surrounding Istanbul.

A Place Where Locals Would Go to Socialize and Hear Music

Cave Venues in Cappadocia

These famous cave venues organize the most brilliant Turkish folk dancing nights on a daily basis. Imagine sitting in a tremendous cave with everything chipped out from tuff rock including your table, the stage and even the sound cabin! This ensures perfect acoustics to listen the playful tunes of Turkish folk music. Turkeyis so proud of its well preserved folkloric culture that goes with a vast variety of local tunes and traditional outfits. A glass of our national spirit drink raki, distilled grapes in anise would perfectly match the joy. Prepare for the bonfire and be informed lots of dancing will be involved!

A Favorite Dance Performance

Oh well, “kafkas” folk dancing in Kars is always very fascinating. Because, it is very active and joyful. You must see their outfits are so smart. Great tricks demonstrated including knife throwing. It is truly a worthwhile stage show.

Popular Culture

TV Show

“Cok Guzel Hareketler Bunlar! (These Are Great Gestures!)” is a real time, on stage comedy by young stage actors performing the pure Turkish sense of humor. If you want to out what our nation laughs at, here is the answer: http://www.cokguzelhareketlerbunlar.com/


The band, “Ezginin Gunlugu (Diary of the Tune)”. A Turkish modern folk music performer band. Each song is another melancholy. They are very popular especially among Turkish intellectuals.


The song by the same band, Ezginin Gunlugu, “Sigaramin Dumani (My Cigarette’s Fume)” is such a moving tune.


My Cigarette’s Fume

I wish I can surround u by my cigarette fume and hide you

I wish I can surround u by my cigarette fume and hide you

Don’t go, don’t go… cant be returned back on the road u have gone

Don’t go, don’t go, you’ll be stranger my beloved, it hurts me

Even your absence gets longer, I wont forget you

Even your absence gets longer, I wont forget you

Don’t go, don’t go… cant be returned back on the road u have gone

Don’t go, don’t go, you’ll be stranger my beloved, it hurts me

On sunset time, sorrow hugs me again

My heart is fire scene, come and save me from you!

On sunset time, I walked around on the streets

On a torn poster, I saw u on the wall

I wish I can surround u by my cigarette fume and hide you

I wish I can surround u by my cigarette fume and hide you

Don’t go, don’t go… cant be returned back on the road u have gone

Don’t go, don’t go, you’ll be stranger my beloved, it hurts me


“Su Cilgin Turkler (Those Mad Turks)” by Turgut Ozakman, a best seller perfectly depicting the Turkish war of independence. An in-depth analysis of our proud nation.


“Eskiya (The Bandit)” is a classic Turkish movie questioning the cultural extremes of Turkey. It is portraying the sad story of an honest man who got forced into becoming an outlaw by the unmerciful events of life.

Local CDs or Music Recordings

Dost Kitabevi, Ankara

A major book and CD store. Literally all kinds of Turkish music can be found here. A recommendation to find  is “Anadolu’nun Kayip Sarkilari (Lost Songs of Anatolia)”, a brilliant Turkish documentary based on the diversity of Anatolian folk songs.

Address: Karanfil Sokak No:11 Kizilay, Ankara  Phone:  0 312 425 24 64

Art Galleries or Museums

Istanbul Modern, Tophane Istanbul

Formerly the warehouse of city’s port, Istanbul modern is a gigantic venue to follow the trends of world’s art movements. For instance, it has recently hosted the famous body worlds exhibition.

Chora Monastery, Edirnekapi Istanbul

Now a museum, the monastery is a living example of the late period Byzantine fine arts. It is a fantastic place indeed! You can literally spend hours staring at those golden gilding mosaic panels some of which are the best in world. Don’t forget to find the depiction of anastasis

Iconic Events

  • Istanbul movie festival (April). A must to watch and understand the Turkish cinema.
  • Istanbul jazz festival (June). Who says we don’t perform or listen to jazz inTurkey.
  • Malatya, eastern Anatolian dance festival (February-May)
  • Attend a Kurdish village wedding. Just pop in and enjoy! Attendants are so colorfully dressed and music is great.
  • Attend a primary school parade in a rural town on the commemoration day of “Atatürk, Youth and Sports Day” (May the 19th). See the kids diligently playing their drums and marching don the street with their teachers.
  • Gazientep, Turkish wrestling festival (May and October). A good option to watch our old national sport.

A Local Joke

Turkish people are too caring at times;

One day Turkish guys Temel and Dursun bump into a penguin down the street and decide to take him to the nearest police precinct. The officer at the station tells them to take the penguin to the local zoo. They confirm and leave the place. Time goes by and the night falls, the officer gets off duty and leaves the precinct. On the way home, he runs into our guys Temel, Dursun and behold the penguin is still there with them wearing a conical hat, eating pop-corn and in fact looking rather happy. He crosses the street to the blokes, stops them and asks:

-Why did you guys not take him to the local zoo as I instructed?

And Temel goes:

-Oh yeah sure we did sir and now that we are going to the movies!

Enjoy Your Visit!

Tolga Kanık

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