If you’re planning your summer holiday already and can’t decide between Greece or Turkey, then we’ve got you covered. This JTG guide will run through all the ins and outs of both these sun-scorched European gems. The aim? To help you pick the right place for you and your travel crew.
We’ll take a look at some of the most important features of both countries. Starting, naturally, with the beaches, we’ll then run through where’s best for budget travel, where has the top food, where offers the most immersive cities, and where you’ll find the most happening nightlife scenes.
Of course, it’s hardly clear-cut stuff. Greece and Turkey have lots of differences, but they also have loads of similarities. Both enjoy long summers and oodles of sun. Both have immersive historical sites that date back millennia. And both are famed for their rich kitchens and complex cultures. So, let’s dig down a little and help you pick…
Greece or Turkey for beaches
You’re going to be wowed by the beaches no matter which of these places you pick. Seriously, they both have epic sands and shimmering coastlines. Turkey’s most famous stretch of shore is the so-called Turquoise Coast. It’s called that on account of the rich, sky-blue color of the sea, which hits a zenith and the appropriately named Blue Lagoon in Oludeniz. The truth is that there are hundreds of beaches running from around about Antalya all the way to Izmir, including the likes of Icmeler Beach and mountain-backed Kabak Beach.
Greece does all that and then some. Yep, with it’s over 6,000 isles and 8,400 miles of coastline, this is one of the most beach-heavy countries in Europe. And it’s spectacular stuff, too. Places like pink-tinged Elafonisi (Crete) and the iconic Shipwreck Beach (Zante) stand out from the crowd. But even the more hidden beaches like the ones on the Deep Mani peninsula or on small isles like Hydra are lovely, and everywhere has its stars – Sarakiniko on Milos, Lindos on Rhodes. One tip: You’re best avoiding Santorini if you want beaches. It’s not really known for them.
Greece or Turkey for getting there
Because both of these spots are up there with Europe’s top holiday destinations, then you shouldn’t find it too hard to get to either. However, Turkey’s perhaps a touch trickier to reach. That’s down to a few things. Mainly, though, it’s because it’s not in the EU and is further from major continental hubs, so flights from London and Frankfurt aren’t so common. It also only has a couple of major airports, including a major international hub in Istanbul and smaller airports close to the beaches in Dalaman and Antalya. Also remember you might have to apply for an e-Visa to Turkey, which can cost upwards of $60.
Greece gets oodles of flight connections to EU hubs and is a member of the Schengen Zone, which eases visa requirements for US citizens (it’s basically 90 days in any 180 days and all done on arrival). Almost all long-haul connections come into Athens, but you can also catch low-cost flights in the peak season (May to September) to all manner of islands, from Santorini to Corfu. Lots of travelers then use the comprehensive Greek ferry network to get out to the smaller islands. There are also cross-Adriatic ferries to Greece from Italy – Venice to the islands, anyone?
Greece or Turkey for food
Now here’s a tricky one. Turkey is famed for its fusion of flavors from east and west. Just a stroll around the Golden Horn area or the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul should reveal everything from spice emporiums to Arabic teahouses, selling mint brews, kebabs straight off the grill, flatbreads, and saksuka veg salads. Mezze is the key in Turkey – you order lots of small dishes and share them as a group. Popular options include dolma rice leaves, kofte balls, and gozleme pastries.
The food of Greece is famed all around the globe. It’s taste-bud-tingling stuff, with some dishes that really hit the headlines: Moussaka (a mix of sliced eggplant, mince, and bechamel sauce), saganaki cheese (grilled white cheese served with lemon), and Greek salads (a simple but uber-tasty mix of fresh tomatoes and feta). Again, it’s mezze that’s the real winner here. Order lots of small dishes to sample Greek dips like taramasalata and tzatziki alongside highland greens and BBQ fish straight from the Aegean.
Winner: It’s got to be a draw!
Greece or Turkey for towns and cities
There are very few cities in Europe than can match the sheer immersion of Istanbul. Welcome to the ancient capital of the Byzantine empire, and, later, the epicenter of the Ottoman realm. Thousands of years of history coalesce on the edge of the Bosporus Strait. They come in the form of the Grand Bazaar, built in the ages of the Old Silk Road, and the Topkapi Palace, the onetime home of the sultans. Other towns can be enticing, too, like charming Antalya and lively Marmaris with its seaside bars.
Greece offers two pretty fun cities: Athens and Thessaloniki. The first hardly needs and introduction. It’s the ancient home of the Athenian Empire, and still offers some of the world’s most iconic historical landmarks – think the Acropolis, the Parthenon, and the Athenian Agora. Thessaloniki has an eastern hint to it, and is hailed as the culinary capital, not to mention a lively student party town. Other places that could entertain include the Venetian city of Chania on Crete, and the fun-filled resorts of the Ionian islands – Kavos, Laganas.
Winner: Turkey wins this on account of Istanbul.
Greece or Turkey for budget
A holiday to Turkey can vary a lot in price. You can backpack your way through the country, hopping hostels and traveling by bus. Or you can bed down in chic five-star hotels by the Aegean Sea and navigate from cove to cove in a private yacht charter. However, a good ballpark estimation for the average cost of a holiday to Turkey is about $300 per person, per week, not including flights to the country and based on midrange stays throughout.
That’s very good compared to Greece, which we think is generally the more expensive destination overall. The only thing that’s likely to be cheaper this side of the border is your initial flight or ferry in, mainly because of the sheer abundance of options on the menu. After that, we think you’re looking at around an average $1,000 per person for a whole week, which reflects the pricier food and accommodation in the home of feta and moussaka.
Greece or Turkey for nightlife
There’s no chance you’ll get bored in Turkey if you’re on the hunt for nightlife. There are some true party destinations in this country. Istanbul surely leads the way. The district of Beyoglu there is a real hodgepodge of bars and cocktail joints that gets packed to bursting with all sorts. It’s especially famed for its rooftop clubs, which open to offer sweeping views of the Bosporus. You can also head to Bodrum, a yachter’s paradise that goes off the hook in the summer months. And then there’s Marmaris, which is closer to the 18-30s resorts of Greece.
Talking of Greece…there’s nightlife all over this country, from the eastern Aegean to the seas of Ionia. Yep, almost every island chain has its pumping resort; some have two! In the Cyclades that’s Ios and Mykonos (one of Europe’s top LGBTQ+ destinations). In the Dodecanese it’s Kos and Rhodes, especially thanks to Faliraki. In Crete you’ve got Malia. In the west you have Laganas on Zante and Kavos on Corfu. Really, there’s loads to pick from!
Greece or Turkey for history and culture
Turkey is steeped in history. The old meeting point between Europe and Asia sports dramatic palaces and castles. Istanbul is the place to start, what with the old forts of the Ottoman sultans and the immersive walks of the Grand Bazaar, all of which come overlooked by the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia. Move elsewhere and UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Pergamon, Ephesus, Hierapolis, and even Troy open up windows on history that’s far more than 2,000 years old.
Over the seas in Greece and you can drop into some of the planet’s most treasured ancient relics. The Acropolis (and the all-new adjoining Acropolis Museum) are the jewels, but they are backed up by dramatic citadels in Corinth, in Knossos, and in Mycenae, along with famous ancient hospitals in Epidaurus and on Kos. You can also spy out the incredible floating monasteries of Meteora and the stoic monkish retreats of Mount Athos, along with crumbling temples to Apollo in Delphi and beyond. My god, it’s fantastic!
Winner: Greece. Not that Turkey lacks history, but Greece is downright incredible!
Greece or Turkey – the verdict
Our guide puts Greece just ahead here, but it’s important to note that this is a very close-run thing. Yes, Greece might beat Turkey on the beach front, but there are still spectacular beaches aplenty along the Turquoise Coast. That said, we do think Greece is an all-round better spot to hop islands, laze on the sands, be immersed in ancient history, and sample authentic Mediterranean food. Turkey is more off the beaten track, with better yachting towns like Bodrum and a fantastic capital in Istanbul, along with amazing places out east, like Cappadocia and the lake city of Van.