Stepping on Turkish soil, as travellers down the centuries have attested to, is like tiptoeing through a living museum and a natural wonderland of stunning beauty because there are so many places to visit in Turkey. For all its ruins, museums, natural beauty, misty mountains and quirky landscapes, the country will never disappoint, no matter how diverse your selection, choice, and demands.
From the minarets of Istanbul to the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus, the stunning coastline of the west and southern seaboard, and everything in between, creating a list of places to visit in Turkey will be the foundation stone of many more visits to this amazing country. The places and attractions that we have listed below are garnered from many years in the travel industry and are a result of what has been popular with previous guests and readers.
8 Places to Visit in Turkey
Visit The Old City District of Istanbul, Turkey’s Biggest City
The only city in the world that straddles two continents, it is full of colour, verve, and contradiction: a silent clash of tradition and modern; reserve and cosmopolitan; and yes, where East does actually West. A vast metropolis where quirky back streets, buzzing markets and the incessant chatter of Turkish bustle for attention alongside favoured and well-trodden tourist haunts of the Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, and Hagia Sophia.
The landmarks all belong to the old city district that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Alternatively, the city packs a punch with shopping delights in Sultanahmet, Beyoğlu, and Taksim, or enjoy the lazy jazz haunts, all night eateries, cruises and entertainment around the city for an all-out assault on the senses. (See our Mini Istanbul Tour)
Explore The Ancient City Ruins of Ephesus
One of the enduring favourites of tourists is a trip to the ruined city of Ephesus. Located on the west coast, about an hour from Izmir, Ephesus houses a 24,000-person capacity theatre, once the largest in the ancient world, with its three-storey stage building.
Constructed at the time of Emperor Claudius and completed in 117 AD, it also has the Library of Celsus: built to store 12,000 scrolls and serve as a monumental tomb for Celsus, the governor of Asia. Famed for the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, visitors stroll by temples, the public latrines and explore the Roman Terraced Houses with their marvellously intact mosaics. If time allows, extend your trip also to visit the nearby places of the House of the Virgin Mary, and Selcuk with Saint John’s Basilica.
Visit Cappadocia: Cave Churches, Fairy Chimneys, and Hot Air Balloon Trips
The region in eastern Anatolia is a collection of UNESCO-protected villages with settlements dating back to the 8th century B.C. Packed with rock formations of fairy chimneys; thousands of rock churches caves and living spaces left by early Christians, a mass network of underground cities also appears on most travel tours. The Goreme Open Air Museum with its collection of 14th-century cave churches is the number one place to visit. Otherwise, an early morning sunrise hot air balloon trip is another favoured activity.
Pamukkale and Hierapolis: Spa Springs and an Ancient City
Meaning “Cotton Castle” in Turkish, Pamukkale offers a unique landscape of terraces made of travertine, a sedimentary rock deposited by water with a high mineral content. Once an ancient Greek city built by the kings of Pergamon, the springs were used for therapeutic qualities. The adjacent ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis are also nearby, making this a perfect day for families, couples, and solo travellers.
Visit Bodrum: A Castle and the Centre of the Turkish Riviera
A tourist haven for the last 40 years, the town, renowned for its whitewashed buildings on the western coast, is as much famous for its imposing castle and port as it is for its golden sands, restaurant culture, and shops. Once called Halicarnassus and home to the Mausoleum of Mausolus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the monument was destroyed by a series of earthquakes. Bodrum Castle also houses the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology – a fascinating trip through the world of ancient mariners.
Places on The Lycian Way and 516 kilometres of Historical Ruins
For those looking for a more energetic holiday of places to visit in Turkey, the Lycian Way should be on your map. This 500km-long walking trail runs along the southern coast of ancient Lycia and follows the tracks of a bygone age. Along the way, you can trace the ruins of the Byzantine, Greek, Persian, and Roman civilizations; the beautiful landscape and the ghost town of Kayakoy: a museum village of hundreds of rundown but still intact Greek-style houses and churches. Also, stay overnight in the coastal resorts of Kas, Kalkan, and Patara that boasts of Turkey’s longest beach. (See our Lycian Classic Tour)
Visit Beautiful Olu Deniz
Another enduring image of tourism in Turkey, Olu Deniz village on the Mediterranean coast has a secluded bay and is dominated by its blue ‘jewel’ lagoon, and nearby Butterfly Valley. Its famed beach is a hive of attraction, but it is from the sky that you get the best views. It and the surrounding region is a must for a paragliding from Babadag Mountain.
Gallipoli, Canakkale, and the Ancient Site of Troy
A seaport southern coast of the Dardanelles, the city, is the nearest to the ancient site of Troy and the “wooden horse” used in the 2004 movie of the same is exhibited on the seafront. It is also the base for the Gallipoli battlefields of World War 1, and there is an annual pilgrimage made by Australians and New Zealanders alike for Anzac Day (April 25 April). (See our Best of Gallipoli Plus Tour)
See more places to visit in Turkey on our extensive lists of tours and excursions throughout the country.