Turkey is a country that has so much to offer its visitors. Spanning across both Asia and Europe, it has a combination of exotic flavor mixed with cosmopolitan flair. Choosing the best places to visit in Turkey is no easy task.
It is the 37th largest country in the world and because of its sheer size, it has such a diverse topography. Apart from its natural beauty, Turkey is bursting with history and culture.
There are endless must-see places in this magnificent country, which makes skimming the bucket list down just that much more difficult.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Turkey (Country Guide)
30 Best Places to Visit in Turkey
Table of Contents
In a city like Istanbul, you’ll find that east meets west, creating a beautiful dance of culture, history and modern flair. The city is not only extremely photogenic but chock-full of things to do and places to explore.
Most travelers will visit Istanbul as it has the largest air hub in the country. My advice is to plan several days to explore the city at the beginning or end of your Turkey itinerary to ensure you get to experience this amazing city.
Discover Istanbul’s European and Asian sides and taste a range of delectable Turkish delicacies on this full-day, small-group tour. Meet your guide in the morning in Istanbul’s Old City, and be sure to come hungry: you have a day of feasting ahead of you. Explore a spice market, and enjoy a traditional Turkish breakfast, before crossing the Bosphorus to trendy Kadikoy. Sip Turkish coffee, visit multiple restaurants and discover Istanbul’s must-try dishes.
2. Ancient City of Ephesus – Selcuk
One of the most impressive ancient cities in all of Turkey is Ephesus. Built by the Greeks in the 10th century BC, it was once the trade and commercial center of the ancient world.
Its Greco-Roman ruins are among the biggest and most well-preserved in the world. Ephesus is about one and a half miles from the center of Selcuk and because the ruins are so extensive you can easily spend an entire day exploring the spectacular city.
Explore the ancient ruins and religious sites of Ephesus on a full-day, small-group tour with lunch and an experienced guide. Follow the trail of the Virgin Mary to her mountainside house, then trace a route through the ancient city’s ruins, temples, theatre and the great Celsus Library. See an iconic mosque made of brick, marble, and tiles, then see the ruined foundations of the Temple of Artemis, once a Wonder of the Ancient World.
3. Ancient City of Troy – Canakkale
Located on the northwest coast is the legendary Ancient City of Troy. Troy is the name of the Bronze Age city that was attacked in the Trojan War. It is a place of so much mystique and wonder as it was thought of as just a myth for so many years.
In the mid 19th century, its ruins were finally uncovered leaving historians with evidence from their findings. Don’t miss the opportunity to take a photo with the Trojan horse that was made famous during the 2004 blockbuster hit featuring Orlando Bloom and Brad Pitt.
Ancient Troy and the World War I battlefields of Gallipoli are must-visits while you’re in Canakkale, and this convenient tour covers both in one day. Experience the ancient ruins of Troy as you hear the myths and facts behind the Trojan War in the morning, and spend the afternoon visiting the key battle sites and cemeteries at Gallipoli. Your tour includes transport, ferry ride, entrance fees, and lunch in Canakkale.
4. Anitkabir – Ankara
Located in Turkey’s capital, Anitkabir is the mausoleum of the great Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – leader of the Turkish War of Independence and the founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey.
It is also the final resting place of the second president of Turkey, Ismet Inonu who died in 1973. Entering the mausoleum through massive brass doors, you are then ushered into a hall that is lined in red marble and beautiful mosaics representing the many ages and civilizations of the new Republic of Turkey.
Ataturk’s tomb is located on the north side of the mausoleum and on the east side of the courtyard there is a museum that holds his personal items and memorabilia.
Explore the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations and other ancient attractions during this private sightseeing tour in Ankara. Discover remains from the Stone and Neolithic ages. Learn about the Hittites, Phygians, and Uratians as you venture into the past with your expert guide. Plus, this tour uncovers the history of the Citadel of Ankara and Ataturk Mausoleum.
5. Village of Karahayit
Just 5 miles from the center of Pamukkale is the village of Karahayit. Here you can experience one of Turkey’s most well-known religious ceremonies. The Mevlevi Order was founded by Rumi followers after his death in 1273.
They believe in performing their dance and musical ceremony as a spiritual journey. Watch the 1-hour ceremony and gain a better understanding of how their practices sought to find love and truth.
The beaches in Cirali are largely undiscovered by tourism, so it’s the perfect place to relax and get away from it all. The town also offers some great hiking along the coast.
The one thing you shouldn’t miss in Cirali is the hike up Mount Chimera to discover the Eternal Flames of Chimera that have been burning for thousands of years. This is a rare and natural phenomenon where gas emerges from cracks in the earth.
When the gas comes in contact with the air it catches fire immediately. Experiencing this spectacle in the dark is pretty magical and definitely something that I will remember forever.
The official gateway to Cappadocia, Goreme was settled around 1800-1200 B.C. where Christians fled to escape Roman persecution. Because it was located between rival empires it became a religious refugee and the perfect place to build an underground city.
Monks excavated dwellings into the rock formations and underground and many of them still stand today. The literal translation of Goreme actually means invisible or not seen, which is perfectly suited to this unique area.
Staying in Goreme is a memorable experience because not all of the historic dwellings are museums. Some still serve as homes, hotels and even restaurants.
Not only do you have access to hot air balloon over the Cappadocia valley, but you can also spend your days exploring the many caves in the area and learning about the unique history of the area.
See Cappadocia on a full-day tour that visits both historical and natural attractions. Check out the views from Göreme Panorama and Yaprakhisar Panorama, enter the subterranean chambers of Derinkuyu Underground City, and see ancient rock-cut churches at Selime Monastery. Also, take a leisurely 1-hour walk through the scenic Ihlara Valley, and check out Pigeon Valley.
Located in Western Turkey, Pamukkale is known for its mineral-rich white limestone terraces. It is also home to the ancient Roman spa city of Hierapolis as well as its therapeutic hot springs.
A visit to this special piece of Turkey is almost surreal. It is possible to soak in some of the pools and of course walk around to explore the vast, otherworldly area. This is easily one of the best places to visit in Turkey and shouldn’t be missed.
Glide over the Pamukkale travertines on a 35 minutes hot air balloon flight, and get privileged views of the unique landscape from the air. Watch the sunrise over the valleys, and enjoy a Champagne toast upon your safe landing.
For a change of pace and opportunity to get in touch with nature, Dalyan is the perfect Turkish escape. This town, set on the coast, offers an incredible stretch of beach, great hiking trails and a beautiful river system.
The highlight, though, is one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Turkey, Iztuzu Beach. This beach is unique in that it stretches out like a long peninsula, with a freshwater delta from the Dalyan River on one side and salt-water from the Mediterranean on the other.
The two and a half-mile stretch of sandy beach is also the nesting grounds of the endangered Caretta Caretta sea turtles. On the southern end of the beach, you can even visit the Sea Turtle Research Rehabilitation and Information Center.
Visit some of Turkey’s most stunning outdoor settings without the hassle of navigating the countryside on your own. This tour packs multiple Daylan excursions into a single action-packed outing. You’ll stop at an ancient harbor, 9th-century rock-cut tombs, and two wildlife-filled beaches. Enjoy free time to relax, topped off by a boat cruise.
A small fishing village in the province of Antalya, Kas is the picture-perfect destination in the Turkish Riviera. Although Kas is known for its stunning beaches, it’s also a crowd-pleaser for those who love to dive.
There are so many incredible dive sites all within a half-hour of Kas. You can explore canyons, caves, shipwrecks and even sunken cities.
Explore Kas on a full-day snorkeling and boat tour including lunch. Start at Twelve Island where you have the chance to see an underwater canyon and shipwreck up close with your snorkel gear and underwater camera. From there, cruise to two or three other snorkeling spots chosen by your captain depending on the weather conditions. Tuck into a freshly prepared organic lunch grilled to order onboard and enjoy tea, coffee, and snacks during the day.
Kekova is the name of a region made up of islands, turquoise bays and ancient cities that lay within the Antalya province. The region was declared a Specially Protected Area in 1990 to preserve the natural, cultural and geographic richness of both Kekova Island and it’s beautiful coastal villages.
The uninhabited Kekova Island is a site to be discovered by boat as the Lycian city of Simena was sunk by several violent earthquakes. The ruins are still visible just below the crystal clear blue waters.
Experience Demre, Myra and Kekova during this guided day trip. Discover ancient Lycian ruins in Myra and cruise the tranquil waters to Kekova Island. Enjoy an expedition to the sunken city of Simena and savor plenty of opportunities to swim and snorkel along the way.
Situated along the hilltops, the city of Mardin is a must-see destination for any traveler. The city itself is a maze of meandering streets that cascade down a hill. It is one of the oldest settlements in the region and is located in southeastern Anatolia.
It is known for its vibrant cultural diversity of Kurdish, Yezidi, Christian and Syrian cultures. Dotted with sandstone buildings, beautiful mosques and one of the oldest monasteries in the world, Mardin is bound to satisfy its visitors with a plethora of monumental historical attractions.
13. Mount Nemrut
Sitting atop one of the highest peaks in the Eastern Taurus Mountain Range in southeast Turkey are the astonishing heads of Mount Nemrut and the tomb of King Antiochus I of Commagene.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, this historical site is home to massive statues of the king himself, two lions, two eagles and various Persian, Armenian and Greek Gods.
The massive statues weigh 6 tons and at one time stood approximately 32 feet tall. Today the giant heads lay scattered throughout the site, giving it an ominous but unbelievable backdrop.
This site is easily one of the best places to visit in Turkey and you shouldn’t miss it.
14. Oylat Cave in Bursa
Located in the northwest part of the country is the well-known Oylat Cave. The 3 million-year-old cave is famous for its colorful stalactites and stalagmites and has two main sections to visit.
The total length of the cave is nearly 2400 feet long and 300 feet high and is said to take approximately an hour and a half to explore. Not only does this cave boast its natural beauty but it also is believed to help with a variety of health problems due to the pure oxygen and high humidity levels.
15. Princes’ Islands
Just 12 miles off the coast of Istanbul in the Sea of Marmara lay nine small islands. Only four are inhabited, but the largest, Buyukada is definitely worth a visit. During the Byzantine and Ottoman days, these islands were used as a place of exile.
When members of the royal family were caught misbehaving they were sent into exile to one of the islands – this was how the name Princes’ Islands came to be.
Getting to Buyukada could actually be worth the trip in of itself. You need to travel by ferry across the Bosphorus, so capturing the beautiful Istanbul skyline from the sea is absolutely priceless.
Once on the island, you will be charmed by its simplicity as there are no motorized vehicles allowed and the only mode of transport is either by bicycle or horse-drawn carriages. There are plenty of things to do on the island, making it a perfect day trip away from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul.
Experience the serenity of the biggest Princes’ Island in Turkey, Büyükada, on this full-day guided tour from Istanbul. After traversing the Sea of Marmara by boat, arrive on the quaint island to spend time exploring by horse-drawn carriage. On Büyükada, learn about the island’s history from your guide, and enjoy ample time to lounge on its beautiful beaches.
About 15 minutes from Selcuk is the cutest little Greek-influenced town. Surrounded by orchards and vineyards, Sirince has become a tourist hot spot with colorful shops and cafes dotted around the cobblestone streets. Spending a day wine tasting and wandering the friendly streets is a highlight to anyone’s Turkish itinerary.
Experience the ancient Greco-Roman wonders of Ephesus, including the Temple of Artemis, Celsus Library, and Temple of Hadrian, on this all-inclusive fully-customizable guided tour. Explore narrow streets once walked by Roman emperors and Christian saints, assisted by our friendly guides. Also included in this tour is a visit to the Sirince Village.
17. Sumela Monastery – Trabzon Province
Located on the Mela Mountain in the Pontic Mountain range is the extensive ruins of the Sumela Monastery. There is no question that this Greek Orthodox monastery is truly impressive as it literally clings to the edge of the mountain high above the green carpet of forest.
Built in the 4th century, it is one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is currently undergoing restoration and most likely will soon become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Awesome Things to do in Turkey
18. Attend a Football Match – Istanbul
When you travel around Turkey you quickly come to understand that football is more than just a sport to the nation. It is a way of life and unites the country like nothing else.
Attending a football match is definitely a highlight and experience that any traveler will never forget, no matter if you are a fan of the sport or not. Istanbul is the hub of all the action as there are three main clubs to cheer for – Galatasaray, Besiktas, and Fenerbahce.
Watching Besiktas play at Vodafone Arena is nothing less than spectacular as noise from fans has been recorded at a whopping 132 decibels.
The Turk Telekom Arena is the new arena for Galatasaray and Fenerbahce retains its original stadium that dates back to 1908 called Sukru Saracoglu Stadium.
19. Balloon Ride Over Cappadocia – Goreme
One of my favorite things I did in Turkey was taking a hot air balloon flight over the fairy chimneys and mushroom-shaped pinnacles of Cappadocia. Located in the Central Anatolia region, is the magical but peculiar town of Goreme.
This bizarre but captivating landscape was created millions of years ago when volcanic eruptions covered the region in thick ash. Over time it solidified to rock where nature molded the landscape in the most interesting ways.
Soar through the skies of Cappadocia on this magical hot-air-balloon tour in Turkey. Choose your flight duration, and ascend into the atmosphere where you can admire the region’s lunar landscape from above. Before your flight, enjoy a buffet breakfast with coffee or tea, and cheers with a glass of Champagne upon landing.
20. Blue Mosque – Istanbul
Located in the heart of Istanbul is one of the city’s most photographed sites called Sultan Ahmet Mosque, or more famously known as the Blue Mosque. Although it is still an active mosque, visitors are allowed to visit around prayer times.
It truly is a historic marvel with its 13 blue-tiled domes, 6 towering minarets and 200 stained glass windows. The Blue Mosque is absolutely jaw-dropping and will satisfy any photographers palate.
Explore the top attractions in Sultanahmet (the old city) on a full-day tour with a knowledgeable guide. Take in UNESCO World Heritage sites and famous monuments in Istanbul including the stunning Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and Hippodrome. Then follow your guide through the Grand Bazaar, browsing the shops of hundreds of vendors with an array of textiles, jewelry, perfumes, spices and more.
21. Cotton Castle – Pamukkale
Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, the cascading white travertine terraces is another must-see stop while traveling around Turkey. For nearly a thousand years mineral-rich water has flowed over the cliffs creating calcium deposits on the slopes.
Turquoise blue pools have collected within the deposits and geothermal activity has created hot pools – some that reach temperatures of 96 degrees Fahrenheit.
Explore the stunning archaeology of Pamukkale on this full-day small-group guided tour. During your visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site, stroll along the white travertine rock plateaus and hear about the site’s geology. Gaze over Pamukkale to towards the ancient city of Hierapolis and learn about its history as you discover its fascinating ruins. Also, enjoy a cleansing soak in Hierapolis’ natural springs and pools.
22. Dalyan Mud Baths
Just a short boat ride from Dalyan’s town center is the spa-like natural thermal springs and mud baths that have been said to have been used by Cleopatra. There are a series of stations you go through as you work your way through this outdoor spa.
The hot springs reach temperatures of 104 degrees Fahrenheit and are known to be rich in iron, calcium, potassium as well as several other minerals. It is said that these hot springs and mud baths have numerous health benefits, from arthritis to wrinkles.
23. Dalyan Rock Tombs
One of the most prominent features in the town of Dalyan is the ancient Lycian Rock Tombs that date back to the 4th century BC. Six intricately carved tombs are perched high above the waterfront and at night are lit up to give a magnificent presence over the town.
The Lycians believed that if they placed their king’s tombs on the highest peak, they would be closer to God and the souls of the deceased would be transported to the afterlife quicker.
24. Goreme Open-Air Museum
Located just 1 mile from Goreme’s town center is the amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site called the Open-Air Museum. It consists of a series of monasteries that have been carved into different rocks that date all the way back to the 10th century.
There are 11 refectories to explore within the complex and because the caves have had limited light, the frescoes have retained their original vibrancy.
Spend the day exploring northern Cappadocia with a small group and a guide. See the unusual landscape of Devrent Imagination Valley as you walk through the moon-like surface of the valley. The tour includes lunch at a local restaurant and visits to Uchisar Rock Castle, and the Goreme Open Air Museum.
25. Grand Bazaar – Istanbul
Not only a shoppers paradise, but Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is also a spectacle in itself. It is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. The original core of the bazaar was completed by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1461, where today you can still see its intricately painted ceiling.
Today the bazaar is full of over 60 streets and 4000 shops and is said to have around 250 000 to 400 000 visitors each day!
Explore the fascinating history of Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern and Grand Bazaar during this half-day privately guided tour of imperial Istanbul. Discover the ancient church, former mosque and now internationally famous museum, the Hagia Sophia. This tour will wind you through the Grand Bazaar where you can haggle for Turkish treasures and then take you 500 feet below ground into the historic Basilica Cistern.
26. Gulhane Park – Istanbul
Just adjacent to and located on the grounds of Topkapi Palace is the beautiful Gulhane Park. Over the years, Gulhane Park – which means home of the rose has served many uses. During the Byzantine period, it was home to military warehouses and barracks.
During the Ottoman period, it was a place of celebration and ceremonies and was the main garden for Topkapi Palace. Finally, in 1912 it was opened to the public and since has been a popular oasis for both tourists and locals alike.
The park grounds cover a massive area with flowers, trees, pools and outdoor cafes that look on to the Bosphorus. During the last 3 weeks in April, Gulhane Park is host to the Istanbul Tulip Festival where visitors are able to enjoy an abundance of tulips displaying 120 different types.
27. Hagia Sophia Museum – Istanbul
One of the most awe-inspiring sites in all of Istanbul is the Hagia Sophia Museum. It was first built in 537 AD and was used at that time as a Greek Orthodox Cathedral for 916 years.
After the conquest by Fatih Sultan Mehmed, the Hagia Sophia was then converted and used as a mosque for the next 482 years. Finally, under the order of Ataturk in 1935, this incredible monument was converted into a museum so that all could revel in its historical wonder.
The sheer size of this architectural masterpiece is enough to stop you in your tracks. It is impressive from the outside but perhaps even more stunning from within. To solidify its grandeur it became an official UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
28. Hierapolis – Pamukkale
Hierapolis was a Hellenistic spa town that was booming in the 2nd and 3rd century AD. It was founded by the Attalid kings of Pergamon and it is said that the wealthy came from far to spend their later years in the healing spas.
The remains of the Greco-Roman period lay perched above the extraordinary travertines and today you can explore so many monumental sites. One such highlight is Cleopatra’s Pool (also known as the Antique Pool).
This geothermal pool is unique in that it has a champagne bubble effect. I am also pretty sure that there is nowhere else in the world that you can swim among ancient Doric Columns.
Discover the UNESCO-listed wonders of Pamukkale and the ancient city of Hierapolis on this full-day coach tour from Belek, including lunch and dinner. See how Pamukkale earned the name ‘Cotton Castle’ as you climb the striking white travertines, admire the Roman Amphitheatre at Hierapolis, and perhaps take a swim in the legendary Cleopatra pool.
29. House of the Virgin Mary – Selcuk
Located about 5 miles from Ephesus is the monumental House of Virgin Mary. This is said to be where Mary escaped persecution and spent her last years. Today it is a pilgrimage for both Muslims and Christians alike.
Travel back to Ancient Greek and Roman times as you explore the ruins of UNESCO-listed Ephesus, make a pilgrimage to the House of Virgin Mary and view the ruins of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. This all-inclusive private day tour includes round-trip air-conditioned transport from Kusadasi, lunch, and admission fees, plus a guided walking tour of Ephesus.
30. Topkapi Palace Museum – Istanbul
Topkapi Palace Museum is another one of Istanbul’s incredible historical sites. Originally construction of the palace began in 1459 and was called the New Palace. In the 19th century, it was given the new name of Topkapi and became the political center of the Ottoman Empire.
The massive palace was home to the ruling sultans and their families, and with each new sultan, a different hall was added on to the palace. At the height of its time, there were up to 5000 residents living in the palace, but at the end of the Ottoman Empire, it was converted into a museum.
Today it is a sprawling maze of beautiful buildings that house galleries displaying such things as Ottoman clothing, weaponry, manuscripts, religious relics and even the Spoonmaker’s Diamond.
This diamond is an 86 carat, pear-shaped diamond that is considered to be the 4th largest of its kind in the world!
The list of places to explore in this beautiful country is almost endless. Narrowing it down to a select few is purely based on my personal experience.
No matter where you go I promise that you too will walk away discovering a piece of the world that leaves you utterly speechless.
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