By Catie Funk
In 2008 I boarded a plane by myself to move to Turkey, a country I had never been to before, for at least two years.
Even though I was a well-traveled college graduate, I see now my innocence in making such a big move just one year out of university.
And you know what?
The solo move to Turkey was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and it’s one of the reasons I now live here again today.
Best Turkish cities for solo women travelers – at least I think so!
I love this country, what I know and what I have yet to discover. But if it’s your first time and you’re on your own, here are seven wonderful Turkish cities that would make a great starting point for your travels.
Izmir: the Smyrna of Antiquity
I may be a little partial since I live in Izmir, but this city of 4 million is filled with worthwhile sights. Climb a castle to see the vast city, shop the scaled-down ‘Grand Bazaar’ in Kemeraltı district or ride a ferry across the bay to explore local residential areas.
Izmir is your ideal stop if you’re a lover of history and archaeology. Founded by the Trojans and known as the birthplace of Homer, the city was governed by many rulers until it finally came under the dominion of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. Today it is a city whose vibe is positively Mediterranean, with plenty to do or to use as a base to travel to the ancient cities of Ephesus and the salt deposit of Pamukkale.
The ‘salt pools’ of Pamukkale are made of limestone and are rich with calcium, their waters dripping down to collect in pools. There’s nothing new here – people have been flocking to these thermal waters for over 2000 years.
Istanbul: the world’s only transcontinental city
Want to experience a city of 20 million people?
The city of Istanbul is the only transcontinental city in the world!
Once the old city of Constantinople, prowl the neighborhood of Sultanahmet and its Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia, the city cisterns, Topkapı Palace, the Archeological Museum, the Blue Mosque…
But my favorite places to explore are outside the area. Enjoy a cruise up the Bosphorus while keeping an eye on both Asian and European sides of the city.
Eat a sweet waffle and kumpir (stuffed potato) in Örtaköy, and tour the ancient lookout tower of Rumeli Hisar. Better yet, grab a food tour and eat your way across two continents.
IN ISTANBUL: Try a walking tour of street foods
Cappadocia’s underground cities
Having been here three times, I think it is a perfect destination any time of year. This former area of Galatia is home to underground cities where Christians used to hide from Ottoman invaders, and to above-ground rock formations with cave churches. Choose from the many cave hotels and restaurants and enjoy a hot air balloon ride to see the sights from above.
Although some will tell me the warmer weather is better, I think it is great location even during the winter.
IN CAPPADOCIA: The one thing everyone dreams of trying
Ankara, Turkey’s capital
Ankara is the political heart of Turkey and its capital, having taken over from Istanbul/Constantinople when modern Turkey was founded in 1923. If you are a historian, choose from several museums, Ankara Castle (over 1000 years old) and most of all, the remarkable mausoleum commemorating the life of Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey.
Every August this city has a special summer festival. Usually, five different mountain villages open their home to visitors, feed everyone, and then enjoy a relaxing evening dancing and visiting. While the logistics are somewhat difficult to figure out for the festival, it is well worth it if you can. (This article can give you a bit of a feel.) The area is in northeastern Turkey near Georgia and the landscape consists of forested cliffs that drop off into the sea. Visit the Rize tea fields and factories, see the Sumela Monastery, and stay in a beautiful summer villa in an area that reminds me of Austria and Switzerland.
For sea lovers, Fethiye is a wonderful resort area. Options range from sunbathing at the beach, sailing the sea, or exploring the nearby deserted Greek village of Karakoy – hopping a boat is easy here.
If you want to venture outside Turkey for a day trip, a short ferry ride will take you to the Greek island of Rhodes, hugely popular among both Europeans and Turks in summer. That said, Fethiye won’t be your first choice if you’re looking for a more local, cultural experience.
Bodrum, known in Antiquity as Halicarnassus, sits right across from the Greek island of Kos, which you can visit by ferry or hydrofoil for the day. It is popular for its beaches and resorts but also has major cultural and historical sights. These include Bodrum Castle, Bodrum Amphitheater and the Mausoleum, one of the original seven wonders of the world. Spend your day strolling around the small downtown area, filled with lovely shops and restaurants.
So yes, Turkey has long been a second home to me, the place I learned to be a single female adult. These cities are only a starting point… please come, and discover the rest for yourself!
Is travel to Turkey safe?
The news surrounding Turkey saddens me.
There are definitely major problems here (as there are in many other countries), but the people are strong and sensitive. Most Turks I have come to know are generous and welcoming to any guest. Countless times I have found myself sitting in a shop enjoying a local çay (or tea) with someone I’d just met earlier that day, or getting invited into someone’s home for dinner.
Plus, the foreign currency exchange rate has never been better. As Turkish is the national language, I would suggest sticking with the larger, well-traveled cities where English is more widely known. If you would like to explore the remote areas, consider booking a tour with a Turkish tour group (it’s what the Turks do too).
With the right amount of research and thoughtfulness, you can enjoy traveling solo and safely through almost all areas of Turkey. As a foreigner, it is even safer for you.
Travel tips for solo female travelers in Turkey
- Book your accommodations and transfers ahead of time. While I tend to be a go-with-the-flow type traveller, I usually make sure two things are in place when I travel – transfers and accommodations. Hotel hospitality in Turkey tends to be above and beyond the norm, and hotel management is often able to help you if your travel problems hit a snag.
- Dress respectfully. Western Turkey may be modern but don’t forget this is an Islamic country – and increasingly so, with conservative neighborhoods even in the largest cities. Even in resort areas, wear city clothes unless you are actually on the beach – the only people walking around in bathing suits are foreigners. Mosques will also require you to cover your legs, arms and heads before entering.
- Be respectful of three things: Islam, Ataturk, and the President. In short, Turkey does not have a free press and Ataturk is the beloved founder of this nation. Showing respect towards him will bring you much goodwill, as he is highly esteemed and you’ll see his picture hanging in every shop.
- Keep an eye on your bag. In big cities like Istanbul and Ankara, it is always wise to make sure your bags are zipped up. There are people who drift into urban areas and while most are harmless, it’s always wise to keep your items secure.
- Learn some key words and phrases. Turkish is not widely known beyond the country’s borders, and the more remote the area, the less English is spoken. This isn’t usually a problem – use gestures, and even a little Turkish goes a long way! People’s faces instantly light up when they hear you say ‘Merhaba’ (hello) and ‘Kolay gelsin’ (May it come easy) to someone who is working.
- Don’t stay out late in unfamiliar areas. When I mean late, I mean past midnight. For the most part, Turks are a ‘late to bed and late to rise’ culture, at least in summer. Sometime between 11 and 11:30 is probably as late as you should be in the streets on your own, or earlier if you’re looking for frequent public transportation.
- Make sure your taxi starts the meter. This only happened to me once. That said, having GPS on your phone is helpful because taxis can and do get lost.
These safety tips will see you through a lot more than seven cities – the entire country, in fact. Just remember that not all of Turkey is accessible, especially in the eastern border area because of the war in Syria. As for the rest of the country, it’s open for business, and just waiting for yours.
Catie Funk is an American expat who lives with her husband in Izmir, Turkey. She is a travel writer, part-time language learner and co-host of The FunkTravels Podcast. Visit Funk Travels to listen to her podcast and read up on her expat lifestyle, local events and travels.
SOLO FEMALE TRAVEL: TURKEY TRAVEL RESOURCES
- You might enjoy these foodie and cooking tours around Turkey
- Here are some useful websites on Turkey, along with my favorite oldie, Turkey Travel Planner
- Here’s the UK government’s travel advisory for Turkey (and you’ll find the US one here) but do take these with a grain of salt: it’s the job of governments to warn citizens of every possible thing that could go wrong
- Find the best hotel deals across Turkey with Booking.com
— Originally published on 13 May 2017