For many, a night spent camping in the bitter cold, remembering the Australian and New Zealand forces who perished here during World War One, is the ultimate tribute on Anzac Day (April 25) – and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you want to be a part of this huge coming-together, there are plenty of ways to do it.

You can join a whistlestop tour, which includes all the commemorative events held in Gallipoli, or take the time to explore the rest of Turkey on a longer trip to learn more about the history and pay tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives 98 years ago. Here’s everything you need to know to be part of this amazing annual pilgrimage.

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Gallipoli:  We will remember them: the history

“The beach was piled up with ammunition, stores, among which lay dead and wounded, and men so absolutely exhausted that they had fallen asleep in spite of the noise and excitement around them. 

“Other parties were wandering about in the darkness and being directed up the hills by their officers. On the hills above there was a perfect inferno of rifle fire, and shells bursting. In fact, the air was buzzing with bullets, like a drone in a bee on a hot summer’s day.”

This stirring account of April 25, written by war correspondent Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, gives a glimpse into what Anzac forces experienced at Gallipoli in 1915. Sent as part of the Allied expedition that set out to capture the peninsula, the troops landed to find the resistance from the Turkish defenders far stronger than had been anticipated.

But rather than accept defeat, and in spite of casualties and sickness, they hung on, making small, hard-fought advances and enduring endless setbacks over the next eight months. At the end of the year, the remaining forces’ retreat was as courageous as the fighting that had resulted in the deaths of more than 11,400 Anzacs.

The campaign may not have been a military success, but the efforts of the soldiers have been a symbol of great national pride since. 

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On the battlefields: what to expect

Most visitors spend two to three days in Gallipoli before continuing exploring the rest of Turkey – enough time to see the main memorials, scattered at various sites.

These include the Canakkale Martyrs’ Memorial and British Memorial at Cape Helles, the Australian Memorial at Pine Ridge, and the New Zealand Monument and Ataturk Statue at Chunuk Bair.

Traditionally, campers pitch up on the eve of Anzac Day on the main battlefields at Anzac Cove, where documentaries are shown on big screens and bands play renditions of WW1 songs until late in the evening. Most people then stay awake all night. It can be a gruelling experience, but many say they wouldn’t have missed it for the world. 

The following day, a bugle sounds at first light ahead of the Dawn Service – a simple but poignant ceremony. Prayers are said and the Turkish, New Zealand and Australian national anthems are sung by the 10,000-strong crowd huddled together at the foot of the hill known as the Sphinx. 

Aussie Kris Chegwidden visited in 2009: “It was freezing and incredibly uncomfortable. We were unprepared for the cold, sleep deprived and emotional. When the Dawn Service began, we at least had almost an inkling of how unprepared [the troops] must’ve been for the whole situation. The best part is that the Turks, Aussies and Kiwis all respect the day.”

Soon after, the crowds make their way up the same path the troops themselves took nearly 100 years ago, more than 3km up the steep hill from the cove to Lone Pine for the Australian national ceremony, then heading to Chunuk Bair for the Kiwi tribute. At both sites, wreaths are placed, emotional letters from soldiers are read out and heart-wrenching stories about great acts of bravery are told. 

Fran MacKenzie, also from Australia, went to Gallipoli for Anzac Day in 2010. “It was the most amazing experience of my life … Anzac Cove and Lone Pine were just filled with every emotion – pride and heartache that you could only sample by being there,” she said.“I felt so in unity with everyone around me. It was completely amazing.”

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The Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Exploring Turkey

Istanbul 

Since alcohol has been banned at commemorative sites out of respect for the occasion, most people get their partying in early. This means there’s one a hell of a piss-up in Istanbul in the nights before Anzac tour groups head to Gallipoli. But when you’re not hitting Istanbul’s late-night bars and clubs, there’s plenty of sightseeing to do.

The Grand Bazaar is an incredible sight, whether you’re shopping or not. The covered market, which is more than 500 years old, is a labyrinth of narrow alleys lined with silver jewellery stores, sacks of pungent spices, bright lanterns, embroidered carpets and fabulously carved antique furniture.

There are more than 5000 shops along the 60 streets inside the huge two-domed building, the first of which dates back to 1455.

Also, don’t miss a walk around the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, known as the Blue Mosque, which is probably Istanbul’s most iconic sight. It’s nicknamed because of its 20,000 handmade blue Iznik tiles, but these are on the inside, so don’t be confused by the white and grey exterior. 

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The Grand Bazaar

Troy

The ancient city of Troy is a Unesco site, renowned for being the site where the legendary Trojan War – made famous by Homer’s Iliad – took place.

Enough ruins, such as the Roman amphitheatre and eminent walls, remain to give you a sense of what the city might have looked like in its heyday. And, of course, there’s a reconstructed giant wooden horse much like the one in the Hollywood movie – sadly, there’s not a shirtless Brad Pitt in sight.

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Trojan Horse at Troy

Saklikent Canyon

If you’ve done all the sightseeing your eyeballs can handle by now, it’s time to get stuck into a bit of outdoorsy adventuring.

At 300m deep and 18km long, Saklikent Canyon is one of the deepest in the world. There are plenty of activities to take part in here, including a refreshing walk along part of the gorge, going paddling down the gentle Xanthos River, enjoying an all-natural mud bath, and even staying overnight in a treehouse. 

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Recommended tours

Turkey Adventure

Want to squeeze as much out of your trip to Turkey as possible? Opt for Busabout’s tour, which takes in cultural Istanbul and the Anzac events at Gallipoli, followed by excursions to Troy, outdoorsy activities in Saklikent Gorge and more, all topped off with a three-day Aegean Sea cruise.

Length: Nine days

Price: From £549pp

Book:  busabout.com

Anzac Express

Short on time? First Festival Travel offers a super-speedy whistlestop trip, which starts with a pre-tour drinks session in Istanbul before heading to Gallipoli the following day to take part in all the Anzac Day events.

Length: Two days

Price: From £109pp 

Book firstfestival.com

Anzac Digger

On The Go Tours also offers a trip taking in Istanbul and Gallipoli, but it’s spread out over five days to give you more time to explore the Old City and nightlife. Optional bolt-ons include an ‘Istanbul by night’ extra with a bellydancing show and dinner: great for getting to know your fellow travellers.

Length: Five days

Price: From £329pp

Book:  onthegotours.com


Essential Turkey

If you have the days to spare, it’s worth taking the time to go deeper into Turkey on a lengthy tour. You can really get under the skin of the country with Travel Talk’s package, which includes a visit to the “fairy chimney” rock formations of Cappadocia and the hot springs of Pamukkale. The Anzac events fall at the end of the holiday.

Length: 12 days

Price: From £529pp

Book:  traveltalk.com

You can find further great deals on Anzac tours over at TNT Tour Search

Photos: Getty; Thinkstock