How Is Turkey Travel Right Now? Our Recent Experiences.
Wondering about Turkey travel right now? What’s it like—what’s open, is it worth going, should you wait? My wife and I just spent a week and Turkey, which is a popular destination right now. Given how easy it is to visit at present (it doesn’t require quarantine, as compared to other destinations, but you will need a negative COVID test starting December 28), you might be considering a trip to Turkey. I want to share with you our recent experiences, which include what’s open/closed, arrival and departure, and travel within the country. I’ll highlight any deals you should watch for, also.
What’s Open / Closed?
We visited 2 places: Istanbul & Goreme in Cappadocia. While Turkey is a huge country, and those 2 cities don’t cover a large percentage of it, those are also the 2 most popular destinations. Thus, it should cover a majority of foreign visitors’ interests and questions about Turkey travel right now.
All restaurants in Turkey are presently take-away / delivery only. The exception to this is hotel restaurants, which should serve you but at very reduced seating capacity. Cafés allow you to come in to order a coffee for take-away, but most restaurants had a menu outside for ordering at the door. Both were pretty easy. Your hotel can help you call for delivery orders if there’s a language barrier (but we didn’t really run into this, to be honest). Note that restaurants are only open 10am-8pm.
For delivery in Istanbul, you can download the app called Yemeksepeti. It’s like Uber Eats in Istanbul. It has an English version. Set your hotel as the delivery address, and the hotel will notify you when the delivery arrives. (Unlike Uber Eats and similar apps, you can’t track how close the delivery is.) You can set your payment preference as cash on arrival or as credit card on arrival. We paid by card every time and had 0 issues, since the drivers carry a credit card machine.
Tourist Sites – Istanbul
Within Istanbul, you can basically use the “open space / enclosed space” distinction. Is this place enclosed, where everyone will be breathing the same air? It’s closed. Restaurants, the Basilica Cistern (underground museum, enclosed), several smaller museums, etc. fall under this rule. Unfortunately, spas and Turkish baths fall under this and are closed.
If it’s a big place with open air, it should be open. This applies to the Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, etc. (Note: major renovation project inside the Blue Mosque, so you can’t see any of the ceiling or lighting right now) The Hagia Sophia nearby had no line and no visitors when we went, which was shocking.
Of course, outdoor things are open, like the gardens at Topkapi Palace or the old Constantinople city walls. Additionally, hop-on-hop-off buses are operating and Bosphorus river cruises are operating.
Tourist Sites – Cappadocia
Again, enclosed vs not enclosed. The outdoor things and natural sites are obviously open. Balloon flights are running (see our experience here). Outdoor tours and walking trails are all functioning normally. The hop-on-hop-off bus is running. Open-air museums are open. The Underground City in Cappadocia is open with reduced hours, but from things the tourist agencies said, I expect them to close in the near future.
The HES Code
The HES Code is mandatory for residents/citizens but optional for tourists. Since nothing we wanted to do actually required it, we didn’t fool with it. It’s a contact tracing system and health registry in Turkey. The only time it even came up was when we tried to enter an open-air mall near Taksim Square in Istanbul just to look at a Christmas display. You had to scan your QR code from the HES system, we didn’t have it, and we couldn’t go in. For online check-in for flights inside the country, the Turkish Airlines app wanted a HES code, but I checked in without it on the website using my laptop.
By the time I write this, the information might change. Suffice to say that Turkey is implementing curfews. However, tourists are largely exempt from the rules. That being said, don’t expect to go out and do whatever you want at any time. Because locals must be at home after 9pm until 5am, that also means they’re closing their shops in time to get home by curfew. Night clubs are closed. There are fewer taxis on the road. Restaurants are closed. Yes, you can be out walking around, but there’s not much to do when all of the locals have closed up shop to be home for curfew.
There’s also a curfew on the weekends, but you will find essential businesses open (supermarkets, food delivery but no take-away or pick up allowed on weekends). The curfew runs from 9pm Friday night to 5am Monday morning. Tourists are not bound to the curfew, but locals are, and they operate everything you want to use, see & do. After curfew can be a good time for a walk along the river or through a park. However, be prepared to show your passport and prove that you’re a tourist if stopped by police.
Arrival and Departure
We flew in and out through the new Istanbul IST airport. It’s massive. It has 1 giant terminal, with domestic flights at one end (door 1) and the middle/other end for international flights.
On arrival, we filled out a health form. We also had to fill out a health form before boarding in Amsterdam, but no one ever asked us for this. Not sure who it was supposed to be for… The health form and passport control process was pretty simple and functioned very normally. We walked past a camera taking body temperature scans of passengers. Other than that, the arrival process felt super normal.
If you’re requesting Uber to leave the airport, they can only pick you up upstairs (departures area) near doors 5 and 6. FYI.
On departure for our domestic flight and for leaving Turkey, the only difference in the standard process is a health form and body temperature scanners in the airport. The rest of the process is very normal. In Turkey, by the way, you will clear security to enter the building (including your checked bags going through the scanners) and then again the “normal security” to go to your gate. Passport control was standard, and everything felt much more “normal” than “different”.
There are currently no requirements to provide a negative COVID-19 test to enter or leave Turkey. That being said, where you’re coming from or going to may require it. Keep up to date with the latest testing requirements here or on this info map. If something changes at the last minute, and you’re scrambling for a test to fly to your next destination, there’s a testing center in the airport. Following the signs near doors 4 & 5 (departures level) to find the testing center. Pay 25 euros and get your results in 4-5 hours. You’ll get them by email, but you can go back to the test center for a print-out if needed.
Note that you cannot do this in the international transfer / connection area. It’s airside, so you will need to clear passport control / customs and go upstairs to the check-in area.
Deals To Watch For
Because tourism is down, there are a ton of deals in Turkey right now. The hop-on-hop-off buses are about 25% off. Hot air balloon rides in Cappadocia are close to 70% off—just $50 per person now. Hotel prices are much cheaper than normal, including our stay at the Grand Hyatt Istanbul for $80 per night. We flew on Turkish Airlines from Istanbul to Cappadocia for $49 one way. Turkish Airlines also has a really flexible change policy right now. Our flight leaving Turkey (different airline) changed, so we changed our flights to Cappadocia for no cost. Then, the times changed, so we switched to a different airport in Cappadocia for no fee. Since prices are so cheap, it wasn’t worth using points or miles for these bookings.
Another deal to watch for is Turkish hand-made goods. This is especially true at the carpet / rug stores. Given that these are world-famous, I’m including it, even though it’s not travel. If you’re interested, read on. Prices for rugs in Cappadocia were much cheaper than in Istanbul, even at the Grand Bazaar. Before our dog died, he lost control of his bladder and ruined the rug in the living room. We were planning to buy if we could find a deal. We bought a hand-made rug that is 6ft x 4ft + a table runner as a Christmas gift for my mom. Total cost: 60 euros. We could’ve talked him down lower but felt bad that we were his only sale for the past 3 days.
I know a lot of people are looking at traveling to Turkey, so I wanted to share our experiences with Turkey travel right now. Hopefully, you have a better picture of what’s open and closed, as well as what you can and can’t do there right now. There are some amazing deals right now, so I’d actually say that Turkey is a great destination if you’re itching to travel. Not everything is perfect, so take into consideration how much “eating at a restaurant” matters on your vacation. One thing we really loved, though: to keep people from taking off their masks, it’s temporarily illegal to smoke when you are around strangers in public.