For my most recent escapades across the Aegean Sea, while the Greek Islands were what I was looking forward to the most, Turkey was the place that really surprised me. Istanbul quickly climbed my list of favorite destinations and now holds a solid place as one of the top three cities I’ve ever been to. I wish we had allocated much more than two days to see everything as we severely underestimated its sheer size and all it had to offer.

Going in with the impression that the Turks were pushy, aggressive and rude to women (all things I’d heard from fellow travelers), our experience was quite the contrary. Much like France, where the men get a bad wrap, I found the Turkish hospitality to be pleasant, accommodating and the very definition of service.

While I rarely like to repeat locales, Turkey is definitely somewhere that deserves another look (especially for the amazing cave hotels and air balloon rides in Cappadocia!). Here are just a few of the reasons the country is so great (not even including that their National Sport is Oil Wrestling. Seriously, Google It.).


A City By The Sea

Unlike Athens, which is a dirty, polluted commuter hub, Turkey’s central city is amazing. The European San Francisco if you will, Istanbul is divided into neighborhoods surrounding the Bosphorus strait on one side and the Black Sea on the other, which makes the division between the old section of town and the modern world very apparent, along with a clear separation where the country straddles Europe and Asia (Be sure to take the ferry to Chinatown!). Almost everywhere you go you can smell the sea and walk with the breeze in your hair.


Way More Ruins, and Way Less Trashed

If you think only Greece is famous for the Parthenon and the Acropolis (that were sadly both littered with cigarette butts), think again. Kusadasi, a Turkish port town, is actually home to Ephesus, the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean and some of the best-preserved ruins in the world. Estimated to have only excavated about 15%, one of the must-sees is the Temple of Artemis, one of the original Seven Wonders of the World.


Mediterranean Cuisine…Elevated

I couldn’t have been more excited to devour Greek food from its place of origin, and believe me, the fresh feta tomato salads, spanakopita, and baklava were everything I’d hoped they’d be and more. Until I got to Turkey that is. Using same Mediterranean flavors as a base, Turkish cuisine packs even more of a punch, with a strong emphasis on saffron, paprika and cumin from the plentiful spice markets sprinkled throughout the country. One standout dish was the Testi kebab, a Turkish stir-fry cooked in a clay pot, set ablaze and cracked open in front of you with a flourish. How Turkish cuisine has managed to stay under the radar is beyond me because it’s insanely creative and satiable.


Even More Shopping and Way Cheaper

While Greece offered plenty of souvenir and shopping opportunities, unlike the Euro, the Turkish Lira’s exchange rate swings heavily in our favor. Second to none is the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. It’s the only time I’ve ever felt like I was going to faint shopping it was so claustrophobic, but the experience was memorable and one for the books.


Interesting Spa Treatments

Plenty’s been written about Turkish bathhouses, and truthfully, the experience is hit or miss depending how high end you’re willing to go. Since we settled for the only one that was open at 11pm, it’s no surprise our experience was a little strange. Presumably run by the Russian mob, these women were no joke, singing us Russian lullabies, while stripping and scrubbing us raw. More hilarious than relaxing, it’s all for the story.

Looking for things to do in Alanya, Turkey? Check out this post.

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  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I find this to be exactly the other way around. I have traveled 2 times to Turkey and 15+ times to Greece and I can say that Turkish food is absolutely not better nor fresher. Greece’s cuisines are of incredible taste and flavor. And while in Turkey I too have had some great foods, I have also had truly appalling foods, with the worst tomato I have had in my life. And that says a lot as I come from the Netherlands where I always complain about tomatoes compared to Greece. Yes Istanbul is a place with many restaurants, but just because it’s a bigger city does not make the food better.

    2. Now Athens and Istanbul itself. First of all. I loved Istanbul’s history as well and it’s monuments. But really, the history and the ambiance of Athens is truly spectacular. And it’s acropolis dominates the horizon from any point of view of from other great monuments dotted around the city. It makes the city’s views truly great. And there are many gorgeous places in Athens. I’m not a fan of the graffiti here and there, and the city has had it’s economic woes, but the times I have been there it was not filthy at all. I did notice on 2 squares there where about 5 to 10 refugees. But that’s about it.
    Now my (our) stay in Istanbul was truly a horrible one. From the first minutes in Turkey we got scammed when buying a Visa. Our hotel was the most filthiest fungus rich hotel room we have ever had in our lives, and on that same first day we had Turkish people saying “here we don’t steal from you”. I thought like: wow that says a lot about your country.
    But then every single day after that we had atleast 5 attempts of people scamming us in various ways. My girlfriend got sick as well by the horrible hygiene, and the city itself had a very strong East Germany dilapidated feeling to it. The city smelled around and I have never seen so many Gypsies in my life. We have even went out exploring the city and went to the city parts Balat and fenice. The energy was so negative there and hateful even. All in all I haven’t explained every example here (way too many) but my girlfriend never wants to put one foot again in Turkey.

    Meanwhile people in Greece where far more genuinely friendly from heart, and not from getting money from you. And regarding Athens. Athens has some other great advantages over Istanbul. First of all. Athens is surrounded by mountains, and in front the sea, and on that horizon a tapestry of sea, islands, and mountains around. The views are just absolutely breathtaking. And there are many hills and places inside the city to have stunning sunset and sunrise views. And again. That Acropolis view from the city gives a splendor that I haven’t seen anywhere. For instance. I love Rome also one of my favorite cities. But it’s great monuments like Colosseum is hardly visible unless you come close. In Athens you have all these great things around. You can hike in the forested mountains just around Athens, and another great advantage is that around Athens you can quickly go to incredible beaches, or the great island Euboea, or the Peloponnese or Central Greece with it’s incredible mountain ranges. Or another advantage take the ferry to any of the Argo Saronic islands or any of the Cycladic islands.

    3. Since this is about the countries in general. Turkey is a mountainous country with a inner plateau. It’s more beautiful parts are on the sides due to the bigger elevation differences. In Greece however 80% is mountains, 6000 islands, 16.000 km of the most crystal clear beaches of any kind. 32% forests (Turkey 15%). Both countries have great historic sites of a wide array from various periods
    The beauty on average in Greece I have also found to be higher than in Turkey for the reasons I mentioned. Both have incredible standout places like the geological formations in Turkey and Greece, but in Greece there are stunning views all around in every corner, much more so than in Turkey.

    So bottom line is. It really depends on which factors you take into account to come on a conclusion. I take almost every aspect of both countries into account and to us Greece beats Turkey hands down for many reasons. But the fact alone that people in Greece have never tried to steal from me, while in Turkey this has practically been on a daily basis, I would still have the same conclusion. When I come to Greece I feel home.

    • Lo
      Lo says:

      Wow, thank you for the detailed feedback. I completely agree that travel is a personal experience and different people like different places. It was more about the expectations I had in my head about Greece and hearing virtually nothing about Turkey before I visited, I was trying to get it on more people’s radars.


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