Turkey is unique in every way. It is a mosaic of modern and traditional, the quiet and vibrant. Its capital embraces two continents, one arm to Asia, the other to Europe. Iconic landmarks pay homage to a confluence of religions, and superstition. There are Sultan’s palaces gilded in gold and jewels. Surreal lunar landscapes dotted with fairy chimneys. Bazaars of glittering treasures.
There’s plenty to do and see in this fascinating country, but here are the top ten places you just have to visit on your trip to Turkey.
Every traveller’s itinerary begins in Istanbul (not Constantinople). The city is actively used as a location for fabled Hollywood movies, and is often ranked atop London and Rome as one of the best cities to visit on Trip Advisor.
Istanbul is Turkey’s largest city. It straddles two continents at once, with the Bosphorus Strait acting as the border that splits the city into two halves: one lying in Europe and the other in Asia. It is filled with must-visit places such as the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Palace, and the underground Basilica Cistern. Plus, it has the Grand Bazaar where you can shop to your heart’s content.
In recent years, neighborhoods such as Fener, Moda, Kadikoy, and Balat are also rising in popularity as it offers a glimpse into quiet local life in this bustling city.
This prominent riviera hub in Turkey sits on the Mediterranean coastline. It is one of the most popular beach towns in the country with the Konyaalti and Lara beaches being the most visited. Compared to other resort cities of Turkey, reaching Antalya is easier due to its location on the D400 highway.
There are a lot of must-see locations for you to visit that include the Duden waterfalls, the old neighborhood of Kaleici and the Archaeological Museum. (If you are feeling particularly sporty, Turkey’s golfing capital, Belek is just 40 minutes away.) Plus, the center of Antalya is well connected to nearby attractions such as the Apollo Temple and the ancient ruins of Side, Mount Tahtli cable car, and ancient cities of Aspendos and Phaselis.
Travellers can also visit the town of Kas in Antalya. With several diving schools, it is the best spot in Turkey to explore underwater life.
This portside city is located on Turkey’s southwestern Turquoise Coast. There’s plenty to do here. Scenic natural attractions such as the Butterfly Valley, Saklikent gorge and the Blue Lagoon all are just a short bus ride away.
Those looking for more offbeat experiences can visit the Kayakoy ghost village or watch the famed sunset at the Calis beach on the outskirts of Fethiye center. And those looking for some excitement can head to the Ece Marina, a world-class sailing establishment that hosts yachts from all over the world.
Bursa is a large city that is located in north-west Turkey. It offers travellers a respite from the buzzing capital and seaside towns. Instead, it is known as a city full of green parks and hills (the city’s nickname is ‘Yeşil Bursa’ or ‘Green Bursa’), filled with lovely Ottoman-era architecture (at one point in time, Bursa was the capital of the Ottoman empire).
If you are visiting Bursa during the winter, make sure you visit the ski resort of Mount Uludağ that is a major attraction for skiers in the country. During summers, Bursa turns into a mountain vista, providing you respite from the heat. When the weather is pleasant, head to the Ottoman village of Cumalıkızık ( a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Once you are done exploring, don’t forget to pick up some mementos such as ceramics, calligraphy, metal art and ebru paintings from the Kayhaan Bazaar.
Turkey’s carefree capital, Izmir has remained off the radar for the most part, despite it being the third-largest city in Turkey. However, it’s fast becoming a favourite destination for travellers looking for a quieter getaway by the sea. The best thing to do here is to enjoy the sun and sea, and take in the sights at your leisure. Head to the Kordon promenade for some delicious seafood and to people-watch. Alsancak is the party and shopping hub while Karsiyaka is the best spot in the city to watch the sunset.
The Turkish capital is quite like Istanbul, just quieter, but it never bores its visitors. There’s plenty to do and see here. A must-do is visiting the Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of the founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. It is the structure that dominates the skyline in the city. If you want a full exotic view of the city, then you can head to the Ulus Bentderesi District of the Old Quarter that houses the Ankara Citadel. From the Citadel you can take a calm walk on the cobblestoned alleys of the traditional Ottoman houses. If you are in a mood to light up your evening then visit the Kizilay Square that’s filled with buzzing restaurants and cafes.
Also known as the City of Rumi, the romantic city of Konya lures dreamers and poets to Turkey. Most travellers who come to Konya do so to pay their respects to the famed poet. His work has been published in several languages and is regarded as the greatest poet in the world.
Rumi’s tomb is located in the Mevlana Museum that also displays a collection of art and antiques. At the same museum, you can witness the famous Sema ritual, a performance involving spinning around in circles to become one with God. For an evening stroll, you can head to the Alaeddin Tepe park where you can also enjoy Turkish tea.
Pamukkale translates to “cotton castle” and you will know exactly why when you get a glimpse of its whitewashed terrain. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has been attracting visitors since the 2nd century B.C. because of its unusual appearance and its hot springs. Travellers will love the open spa experience once you take a dip in calcium-rich travertines. Then you can head to the Pamukkale Castle, the ruins of Hierapolis City or visit the Roman ruins of Laodikeia to learn about Cicero. You should also visit Pamukkale at dusk when the travertines glow as the sun sinks down.
Trabzon is a city on the Black Sea coast of northeast Turkey. It has its own Hagia Sophia, which is smaller than the one in Istanbul, but no less impressive. When in the city you are a short bus ride away from the fabled natural green landscapes of stunning Macka National Park and its prized Sumela Monastery.
A city of colossal monuments and marble-columned roads, Ephesus is a must-visit for history lovers when touring Turkey. Located about an hour away from Izmir, the city was once a great Greek settlement; today, you can explore its ruins such as the Temple of Artemis, The Basilica of St. John, the Ephesus Museum and the Temple of Hadrian. In the museum, definitely visit the Gladiator Room and the statue of Artemis. As one of the most complete Roman cities still standing, here you also find sites of religious importance including the Isa Bey Mosque and the Meryemana. Set aside at least a day to visit all the historic landmarks of the golden age of the Roman Empire.
Thanks to its famous landmarks, sites of historic importance, nightlife, and natural attractions, Turkey is a delight for every kind of traveller.