I wrote travel guidebooks for 35 years, so I think it's fine to find your way around Istanbul and Turkey with a book and a map. Turkey is not the kind of place where a personal guide is essential to protect you and lead you through chaos every day. That having been said, there's no denying that seeing the sights with your own private guide is the best way to fully appreciate the richness of Turkey's history, culture, and cuisine. Unlike a guidebook, a private guide can answer any question that may pop into your head, explain what you're seeing right at that moment, and provide far more information than can fit in a book.
Depending on preference, some visitors will choose to employ a guide for a day or two (particularly in Istanbul), and others may choose to have a guide accompany them throughout their entire trip.
Why You Want a Tour Guide
- Guides have priority to buy tickets to touristic sites. Your guide will go right up to the ticket window, buy your tickets, and lead you in ahead of the crowds.
- Guides know how to use your precious travel time most efficiently—no need for backtracking or waiting needlessly in traffic when a better itinerary would have spared you.
- Guides know the tricks of the trade and the current situation. They'd know that Bosphorus cruise boats departing from Eminönü this week are very crowded, but that identical boats departing from Kadıköy are not.
- Guides know all the best photography angles and locations. Want good souvenir shots without the hassle? Want to know if it's culturally appropriate to take that shot? Ask your guide.
5. Guides can find the café, restaurant, or shop that is just right for your taste because they know them all. Tell them what you like, and they'll take you there.
Choosing a Guide
Turkey has thousands of licensed tour guides. If you want a private guide, how do you choose? My Turkish Tour Guide List includes the tour guides I know personally. It is in no way a complete list, but it represents the connections I have made in my many years traveling throughout Turkey.
Tourist guides in Turkey are required by law to complete a rigorous training program of several years and to obtain an official government tour guide's license. It is against the law for anyone who has not been trained and licensed to function as a tourist guide in Turkey. As anyone who has ever employed a guide knows, it is not just a guide's knowledge that makes a tour successful, but also his or her personality and sensitivity to your needs and wants.
- Note that professional guides provide their services for a fee. Although they welcome inquiries about scheduling and availability of their services, they expect to be paid when they provide tourism information. If you contact them for information and trip-planning help, you may be asked to arrange payment by credit card before questions are answered, and before their time is scheduled—just as with other travel services such as hotels and flights.
- Also be aware that guides are not travel agents, and are not licensed to make reservations or other travel agency services. (For those services, contact one of my recommended travel agencies.) In addition, note that guides cannot be drivers. The two professions are separate in Turkey, with separate licenses. In fact, guides are prohibited by law from driving clients.
- I cannot guarantee that any particular guide will be successful for any particular tour or location(s), or that a guide will have the right "chemistry" with your personality to make your tour 100% successful. I can only say that the guides on my list have great reputations from previous travelers who personally have told me so.
Turkey's professional tourist guide organization is the Tourist Guides Union (Turist Rehberleri Birliği, or TUREB), of which the affiliated Chamber of Istanbul Tourist Guides (İstanbul Turist Rehberleri Esnaf Odası, or İRO). Each important tourism destination in Turkey also has its local organization. By employing a guide who is a member of one of these organizations, you are more likely to have a good tour experience, and you will have recourse to the organization if there is a problem. If you employ a guide for a private tour in Turkey, you may want to send a report to TUREB on your experience. This will help the organization maintain high standards of quality among their member guides.