Capital city: Ankara
Population: 76.6 million (Official Statistics Turkey)
Government: Unitary parliamentary constitutional republic
Currency: Turkish lira (TRY)
Main languages: Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic
Main religions: Islam
Bordering the Black Sea to the north, the Aegean Sea to the west, the Mediterranean in the south west and sharing land borders with Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq and Syria, Turkey is a large country which bridges Europe and Asia and invokes a rich cultural heritage. Today, Turkey is a secular republic which was founded in 1920 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who is considered the father of modern Turkey. With its unique fusion of eastern and western culture, Turkey is usually regarded as a moderate country with a strong sense of national identity.
As you might expect given its location, Turkey is ethnically diverse. Around three-quarters of the population identify themselves as ethnic Turks while large minorities of Greek, Albanian, Armenian and Kurdish origins also reside within the country. Although the state is secular, the vast majority of its citizens are Muslim.
With thousands of years of history to explore, Turkey has an abundance of museums and cultural sites to visit. Music and dance shows are popular, with everything from contemporary jazz to authentic belly-dancing performances on offer. The country has a distinctive coffee culture which forms a popular social pastime as people share a pot either at home or at a coffee shop. Football is Turkey’s biggest spectator sport, but volleyball, basketball and wrestling are also popular. A varied climate makes it possible for people in Turkey to enjoy a range of outdoor pursuits, water sports and even winter sports during the season.
Food and drink
Turkish cuisine owes much to the Ottoman tradition, which brought together Mediterranean, Balkan and Asian influences. Rice and bulgur are staple foods and popular meats include lamb, beef and chicken. Although available, pork does not play a prominent role in Turkish cooking because of the beliefs of the Muslim majority. Traditional dishes include kebabs and mezes, while the famous baklava pastry dessert originates in Turkey. Traditional Turkish coffee and black teas are the everyday drinks of choice. Despite many people abstaining, alcohol is widely available.
Turkey’s only official language is Turkish, which is spoken by over 85% of the population. There are also a significant number people who speak Kurdish as a first language, and some who speak Arabic. Many of those who consider Turkish to be their mother tongue speak fluent English or Arabic as a second language.
Although the size of Turkey means its weather varies quite significantly, it can be loosely described as three main climate areas. The western region, which covers the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, is temperate with hot, dry summers and fairly mild winters. The northern region on the Black Sea coast tends to be wetter all year round, and cooler winters mean snow is possible. Inland, the weather is more continental in nature with hot summers contrasting starkly with freezing winters.
Safety and security
Crime levels in most areas of Turkey are generally quite low. The biggest threat to foreign nationals is the risk of petty crime although like most places it pays to be alert if travelling alone or at night, particularly for women. Historically the country has experienced periods of ethnic tension and social unrest and the police response can be quite robust so visitors should be wary around any public demonstrations or protests. Be aware that you must carry photo ID at all times.
The current conflicts in Syria and northern Iraq have had a destabilising effect on some border communities in southern Turkey and it is essential to check current travel advice before attempting to enter these areas. There is also an elevated terror threat level across the rest of the country, including tourist areas, as a result of the ongoing hostilities so vigilance is to be encouraged.