Despite the U.S. State Department’s current Level 3 (“reconsider travel”) advisory for Turkey, which stemmed from events including a terrorist attack in 2015 and a failed government coup the year after, foreign visits to the country increased by 23 percent in 2017. Royal Caribbean International, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and other lines recently announced they’re returning to Turkey in 2019, with port calls scheduled in Kusadasi and Istanbul. “I had an amazing experience on a recent trip to Istanbul,” says Enrique R. Felgueres Jr., a Virtuoso agency executive from Coral Gables, Florida. “The city is clean, safe, and full of energy, with great service at hotels and restaurants. I would strongly recommend Turkey to travelers.”

Felgueres, Jr. and other Virtuoso travel advisors traveled on a custom-planned itinerary by Heritage Tours to Istanbul, Cappadocia, and Bodrum. Below are some of the advisors’ thoughts on why now is a great time to travel to Istanbul and Turkey, and why they loved the country.

A feast for the senses.

“Istanbul is a vision for the eyes, surrounded on all sides by water, with inspiring minarets piercing the skyline. It’s also a feast for the senses of smell and taste, whether it’s walking through a bazaar, enjoying a rooftop cocktail, or fine dining in a historic palace. But what attracted me most was the city’s soul and history. From the Silk Road to Byzantium to Constantinople to today, Istanbul has been ‘the place to be’ for centuries. You can feel and see this history, all while in a chic urban destination.”
– Virginia-based advisor Beth Jenkins

Exploring rooftop views in Istanbul.

A must-go.

“It’s vitally important to emphasize the positive in Turkey – the warmth of the people, quality of the hotels, and excellent cuisine. The exotic nature of the country combines two great continents, Asia and Europe. There’s wonderful sightseeing in Istanbul, Bodrum, and Cappadocia. Add an excellent airline, Turkish Airlines, that makes international connections easy, and it’s a must-go.”
-New York-based advisor Bob Watson

It’s now simple for Americans to visit.

“We have loved Turkey since our first visit many years ago. In the last two years, there has been so much in the news with politics creating a difficult environment for Americans to visit Turkey. Thankfully, as of several months ago, that has changed and it’s now simple for Americans to visit. Istanbul is bustling, and we had an amazing tour with Heritage Tours of ‘Hidden Istanbul.’ We visited three fantastic hotels – Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul, Four Seasons Istanbul at the Bosphorus, and Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet– that were full with people hosting special events and weddings. It felt as safe as visiting London or New York.”
– Atlanta-based advisor Peter Lloyd

A view over the Bosphorus at Ciragan Palace Kempinski.

A place filled with the familiar.

“Travelers may think of Turkey as this exotic, foreign land. And while it does live up to this reputation, you may also be surprised to discover that it’s a place filled with the familiar. Did you know tulips originated in Turkey and were a gift offered to Holland in the 1500s? Or that the Sultan had a favorite dessert called sherbet – a blended mixture of snow carried down from the mountains in goat skins and mixed with fruit?

Unfortunately, when you mention Istanbul, some travelers still have images of the protests from two years ago. I experienced something quite different. Locals were very welcoming and attractions were filled with tourists.”
– Minnesota-based advisor Jim Bendt

It beguiles you every morning.

“Istanbul remains one of the most evocative and enigmatic cites in the world. It beguiles you every morning with the distant call to prayer and sparkling sunlight on the Bosporus. Some of my favorite memories: seeing the wonders of Topkapi Palace; exploring the Grand Bazaar’s 4,000 shops selling gold, leather, silver, carpets, and more; and enjoying freshly caught seafood with mezze and delicious lamb dishes.

Outside of Istanbul, don’t miss Ephesus with its unrivaled Greco-Roman architecture, enchanting Bodrum on the sea, and the treasures of Cappadocia.”
– Michigan-based advisor Phoebe Weinberg

Children play outside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

Top photo: Sunrise balloon ride over Cappadocia. All photos by Annie Fitzsimmons.