Turkey offers the variety of dozens of destinations all wrapped up in one sun-soaked package. From the east-meets-west charm of Istanbul in the north to the bobbing yachts and sparkling beaches of Marmaris in the south, you’ll quickly find that this endlessly enticing country has a speed to suit everyone. Add well-preserved ruins of ancient cities and a host of breathtakingly beautiful natural attractions into the equation, and planning what to see when you visit Turkey quickly becomes a daunting task.
To help you get started, we’ve rounded up a few of the destinations that remain favourites with visitors year after year – and with good reason.
Few people who have a reasonable length of time to explore Turkey choose to skip Istanbul, rightly considered by many to be one of the most unmissable stops on the Turkey tourism trail. There are quite a few world cities that tend to be described using the phrase “east meets west”, but Istanbul is the only one where this is literally true, sitting partially in Europe and partially in Asia.
Turkey’s biggest city and the former capital of the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires, Istanbul is packed with wonderful relics of its long, rich history. Most Turkey Tours will stop in Istanbul to take in big-name sights such as the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace. But beyond the must-see list there’s a wealth of life waiting to be uncovered amid the tea shops, cafés, bars and shops of this dizzyingly varied city.
If you’re staying in Istanbul, this dazzling lake makes a brilliant choice for a daytrip. Keep an eye out for birds, boar, foxes and a great deal of wildlife besides as you hike the dense forests that fringe the lake. Alternatively, unwind completely aboard one of the many boats that takes to the water every day, or even charter your own.
From one natural wonder to another: Pamukkale is an UNESCO-protected site consisting of a bright white landscape pockmarked with thermal springs. Naturally carved from a carbonate mineral, the springs have a completely alien appearance. Whether you believe in the legendary healing properties of the waters here or not, the experience of unwinding in bath-warm waters in such a bizarre place is an incomparable one. And when your skin starts to wrinkle, you can always take a break to explore the various ancient Roman ruins in the vicinity.
As it acts as a key transfer point from various forms of transport, Ankara is very likely to feature on your itinerary when you visit Turkey. Although it’s less rich in visible history than Istanbul, this modern city has enough cultural attractions to keep you busy for a day or two. The impressive Museum of Anatolian Civilizations is a highlight.
Marmaris is probably Turkey’s best-known coastal destination. With pure white beaches, crystal-clear waves and superyachts galore, the resort embodies the upscale elegance and natural beauty for which the Turkish Rivieria – the area along Turkey’s southwest coast – is famed.
Pracically everything in Marmaris – from restaurants to bars to historic sites – is squarely targeted at tourists, but the constant buzz of the area does nothing to diminish the astonishing beauty of its heavily forested mountains and seas filled with colourful fish. And when you feel like a change of scenery, you’ll be well located for a daytrip to a range of appealing places, from the hot springs of Pamukkale to the ancient ruins of Ephesus. Away from the heart of Marmaris, you’ll also find a range of easily accessible picturesque villages where the pace of life is distinctly slower.
Less glitzy than Marmaris, Bodrum is nonetheless another Turkey tourism favourite and a mainstay of many Turkey tours. It’s also famed for its beaches and – as with so many places in Turkey – its well-preserved ancient buildings and ruins.
Bodrum has excellent tourist infrastructure, with restaurants, bars, shopping centres and water sports facilities all offering lots to do when you want a break from the sand. Bodrum Castle, or the Castle of St. Peter, is one of the area’s most visited attractions. This 15th-century castle, now a museum, occupies a dramatic elevated position overlooking the pretty harbour.
Spectacular Ephesus is a truly awe-inspiring sight, and one not to miss when you visit Turkey. There is no better preserved classical city anywhere in Europe, and the site still houses the foundations of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Established in 1,000 B.C., the city was initially a Greek enterprise before it passed into the control of the Roman Republic. The completeness of many of the structures on the site helps build a truly vivid picture of ancient life. Highlights include the vast theatre, which is in such good shape that performances are still held here throughout the year; as well as the wonderfully intact two-storey façade of the Library of Celsus.
Like Pamukkale, the Cappadocian landscape is utterly strange – and utterly natural. Conical rock formations rise from the landscape like towers.
The mere sight of these would be unusual enough, but the destination is made even more unique by the fact that Cappadocia’s residents have adapted to their unusual home over the course of thousands of years by carving houses, places of worship and entire underground networks into the rock. The square holes you’ll spot in many of the stone towers don’t just look like windows; they really are windows.
A sunrise balloon ride over the rocks and a stay in a subterranean hotel are both popular tourist experiences in Cappadocia.