Turkey, a country where two continents meet, despite the unfortunate events in the recent time, is still one of the favourite destinations among tourists from around the world. This is not difficult to understand, since it is one of those places with stunning scenery and rich historic legacy where you can feel the mixture of old and modern culture where the traveler is looking for breathtaking coastlines, remote beaches or heavenly food. If you’re planning a trip to Turkey anytime soon, we will tell you where exactly to go and why!
Sultan Ahmed Mosque / Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)
Seeing the Sultan Ahmed Mosque from afar, with its ascending system of domes and sky-cutting minarets, is already much of a thrill, but come inside and this initial excitement will instantly melt away giving way to speechless admiration and awe. This combination of spaciousness, wondrous mosaics, dizzying lighting system, and flamboyant stained glass, coupled with the sight of people practicing their faith makes for a totally eye-opening experience that you’re bound to be recalling any time you enter another place of worship. Spectacular!
Pamukkale Thermal Pools
Leave your skis at home for this is not a glacier or any snow formation. No skiing down the slope or speedy slaloms; what you can enjoy instead are healing sessions in thermal pools. The amazing frosty landscape of dazzling white calcareous castles has been formed by limestone-laden thermal springs which let the calcium deposits grow into potholes, stalactites and cataracts. The water curing properties to the ills of asthma, rheumatism as well as eyes and skin are probably even doubled when you apply them amidst the historical remains of Hierapolis.
What a spectacle of color and spirituality it is! You may not be able to understand the purpose behind sema – a Sufi ceremony aiming at a mystical union with God and religious purification – but you will certainly be hypnotized with the whirling fabric, communal recitation, controlled ecstasy, and spiritual fervor that’s the inevitable part of the rite. The usual venue for Sema is Galata Mevlevihanesi, which, sadly enough, is currently closed for restoration. For the time being the Dervishes perform on Sundays at 6 pm at the Muammer Karaca Tiyatrosu just north of the Netherlands Consulate, and trust us, this is something you would not want to miss!
Goreme National Park (Goreme Milli Parklar)
Why don’t you feed your travel bug with some moon dust this time? Set in the deep heart of the country, Cappadocia will have you agape and bewildered with its spectacular lunar landscape. With white volcanic ashes sprinkled over ‘fairy chimneys’ and other astonishing rock formations it does make you think of space exploration rather than trekking the good old Earth. World famed for underground rock-carved cities and churches as well as great examples of Byzantine frescoes, Cappadocia is an irresistible holiday choice. While the Dervishes do their Sufi whirls, why shouldn’t you enjoy some Cappadocian moon walk?
If you belong to those who put culture exploration over any other benefits that stem from traveling, you can’t be closer to the heart of Turkey than that. There’s nothing like Adam and Eve nudity plus a good scrub in an age-old hamam. It may take a bit of self-inhibition breaking, but is definitely held by non-Muslim tourists to be the most authentic and revelatory experience ever. Cemberlitas is definitely recommendable but it’s wise to go off hours if you don’t want to be rushed through. Well, time is money, even at the Turkish Bath.
Hagia Sophia Museum / Church (Ayasofya)
Dedicated to the Holy Wisdom, Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in the world for over a thousand of years. First a patriarchal basilica later converted to a mosque is today a magnificent example of Byzantine and Islamic art alloy. With its majestic body crowned with an enormous dome it makes you feel small and humble in the presence of God. Enter to witness an impressive performance of light, polychrome marble and gold mosaics which along with the Islamic calligraphic roundels suspended from the dome present a fascinating religious contrast right in front of your awed eyes.
Once the Turkish writers realized how powerful an inspiration can be derived from a voyage along the Turkish Riviera, they successfully introduced the concept to literature and even gave it a name – The Blue Cruise. Once the Turkish Tourism Industry realized that the men of letters had bred the hen that lays the golden eggs, they incorporated the term to offer what is now a unique boating experience with connotations in art and history. Typically starting in Bodrum and terminating in the port of Antalya, the cruise takes you to picturesque bays, ancient cities, busy ports, and deserted coves. Whether you sail on your own or with a gulet company, make sure you choose a route that passes stunning Kaputas Cove or Patara beach, once voted best in the world by the Sunday Times. By the way, Patara is the birthplace of St Nicholas, widely held to be the model for our precious Santa Clause.
Ruins of Ephesus
Asia Minor, home to one of the Seven Wonders of the World and a large port in the past, today Ephesus is the most visited antic site of Turkey. With its biblical association with the Virgin Mary and the Evangelists along with immense archaeological remains, it represents a great treat to archeology bums and religious travelers. Just follow the pathways to explore the temple of Hadrian, the magnificent Theater where, as it is believed, Paul preached to the pagans or the Temple of Artemis to inhale some Christian spirit and Roman grandeur.
Nargile is yet another brick in the wall of Turkish adventure. And just like a wall will still stand with one brick missing, your visit will too remain valuable without a puff of Turkish tobacco from the communal hookah pipe, but neither the wall nor your experience can then be called complete. Dating back to the 17th century Ottoman Empire, the interest in nargile’s calming vapors currently sees its revival the world over. The down-at-heel nargile bars have gained the status of trendy cafes, now serving phenomenal coffee to go with the traditional water pipe service. Besides, those ornamental glass bottles with long flexible hoses attached can on most occasions be considered art objects, so if you’re not much into smoking or coffee, there’s at least something really nice to lay your eyes on.
Çoruh River Valley
Kayakers feel like riding the white waters of the Çoruh River to no end, hikers don’t want the meandering trails to end, and nature buffs tread carefully not to miss a single species of extraordinary flora. Smelling of orchid, universally recognized as one of word’s few biodiversity hotspots, and brimming with opportunities for outdoor endeavors, the valley is a wild alternative to the sandy-emerald vistas of the Turkish Riviera. So, swimsuit may still come in handy, but what will more is a pair of comfy walking shoes and an an open mind ready for an adventure.
Archaeological Site of Troy
With its record of 4,000 years of history, the Archaeological Site of Troy shall surely not be overlooked. Immortalized by Homer in his memorable Iliad, this site is a real treat for the history buffs truly interested in archeology. The extensive remains including altars, mounds as well as temples and numerous fortifications are of great significance in the understanding of the early stages of European civilization. For even more of Troy war experience, climb up the ladders of the fake Trojan Horse. You’d better do it on weekdays to avoid a trap, this time the trap being the Horse’s interior crammed with school kids!
Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsisi)
Do prepare for the visit to the Grand Bazaar in Instanbul for the biggest and most vibrant shopping experience awaits you! Just plunge into the world of jewelery, hand-painted ceramics, carpets, embroideries, spices and antique shops. Let the jostling vibe of its labyrinthine streets lead you through a myriad of colors and a symphony of sounds. Spend a leisurely afternoon bargaining for your purchases or just laze in one of the bazaar’s cafes watching the coral and turquoise, gold and maroon mosaic of shoppers and goods drift by.
Mount Nemrut (Nemrut Dağı)
As it usually happens, places of unique beauty are remote and not too easy to reach. Undoubtedly, Mount Nemrut confirms this theory. But the unforgettable sight of huge carved monuments and giant heads of the Ancient gods watching you combined with the breathtaking scenery make the long escapade worthwhile. Visiting the mountain at sunrise or sunset will be a stunning performance of light wrapping the site with a golden cloak. Don’t miss the stone reliefs or the Nemrut Dag National Park either as, designated the World Heritage Site, the whole area tops the list of must-destinations in Turkey.
Yerebatan Sarayi (Underground Cistern)
James Bond rowed through it in From Russia With Love, and now you have a chance to follow in his footsteps. The first thing you notice when you enter the Basilica Cistern, across the street from the Hagia Sophia, is the soothing, subterranean coolness that revives your body and mind battered with the summer heat. But this refreshing sensation is not the key attraction here. This tremendous engineering feat hidden underneath Istanbul streets consists of brick vaults supported on 336 marble columns spaced at four-meter intervals and could once hold 80.000 cubic meters of water, transported from the Belgrade Forest. You sure don’t want to miss it.
Parks of Ankara
It may be the capital, it may have amazing mosques and museums, but it definitely comes second after Istanbul in the popularity race. Let it be, but there’s something that the city has got and Istanbul cannot boast, namely the parks. With numerous delightful open spaces and vast well-landscaped parkland areas whose history goes back to the early days of the Turkish Republic, Ankara has something for virtually everyone. So there is Atatürk Farm and Zoo for fresh milk enthusiasts, Kurtuluş for ice skaters, Gençlik with an amusement park for kids and adults alike, Kugulu famous for its swans, and Harikalar Diyarı claimed to be the biggest urban park in Europe. Zooming from one park to another, you’ll certainly discover the city’s undeniable charm and perhaps think it, too, deserves a crown.
For a true trekking experience head for the Mount Ararat, the huge inactive volcano towering above the arid steppes of Eastern Turkey. The supposed final resting place of the Noah’s Ark, the mount has fascinated mountaineers, geologists and Ark hunters for decades. As the area is a military one you will need appropriate permits and remember, only group climbing is allowed. But embrace the hardships for the views from the top overlooking the cradle of ancient civilizations are simply amazing. Go in summertime for most enjoyable conditions or winter if you want to practice some crampon or snow-climbing techniques!
Sandwiched between the highway and the Mediterranean coast, the place is so impressively well preserved one may think it is a modern reconstruction. In fact, Mamure Kalesi rests on 3rd-century foundations, and was continually rebuilt or innovated due to various twists in its history. Home to the Romans, Crusaders, and Ottomans, the castle reveals most exquisite craftsmanship and the extremely elaborate fortifications reflects its rich history as a formidable defensive center. Nested well off the beaten track, the place gives an awesome opportunity for some ordinary beach lazing in an extraordinary setting.
Ibrahim Pasa Palace (Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts)
Housed in the restored 1524 palace of Ibrahim Pasha, the museum boasts a near comprehensive collection that covers all historical periods and includes notable examples of all fields of art that has ever played a role in the formation of the broadly defined Turkish culture. From Turkish carpets, illuminated Kur’ans, and calligraphy to splendid wood works, glass, porcelain and stone, let alone the ethnographic section in which dwellings from different time periods and regions are recreated with great authenticity and remarkable attention to detail.
If you’re looking for wilderness and stark beauty, this is where your path should lead. Bordered by high mountains to the south, by plateaus to the east, and by a complex of volcanic cones to the west, dotted with uninhabited islands connected to the land by small boats’ service, and so salty that only a species of herring can handle it, Lake Van is this kind of place where earthly problems seem to melt away. Just steps away are numerous towns of great historical significance and splendid heritage so, given fantastic infrastructure, you can alternate between sights to focus your camera on and those which can only be captured with your heart.
Once inside the vast Ottoman palatial complex, there are myriad directions to follow, including spacious grounds, lofty chambers, four courtyards, and a magnificent Treasury, but funnily enough, most visitors rush straight to the Harem. What they’ve known from oriental tales about sultans and their beautiful concubines can now be experienced first-hand in authentic settings that far outplay what the readers have imagined. Here history mingles with fantasy, and if you add to it the hordes of visitors who hit the gates every day, you’re bound to be transported to the court’s heyday, when it housed more than 4000 people behind its walls.
The Bosphorus Ferry Ride
One magnificent palace rubs shoulders with another, giant Rumeli fortress casts a grave shadow onto a smooth body of water, historical waterfront houses flank its sides, the Maiden’s Tower rises from its depths, and the inspiring Galata Bridge spans the Golden – the Bosphorus is not just one of the world’s most strategic waterways, connecting the Black sea to the Mediterranean, and splitting Istanbul into the Asian and European part. It is a grandiose museum in the open air that you can marvel at from board of a ferry taking you from where one sea ends to where the other begins and back.
Guided by a black icon of the Virgin Mary to a high spot on the cliff of Mt Mela, two monks, Barnabus and Sophronus started what is now a large monastic complex. Known as the Sumela Monastery, the building clings tenaciously to the rock and seems to defy gravity. The climb of 1200 m might be a strenuous one but it’s surely worth the effort. Once you enter the complex through a tiny entrance an unforgettable view of chapels, churches and chambers carved in the solid rock will spread surprisingly right in front of your eyes. Topped with colorful frescoes, though a bit vandalized, the sight shall not be forgotten.
Put your hiking boots on and off we go! The 500km way-marked trail will make you meander past spectacular mountain and coastal scenery and numerous historical remains from the Lycian and Roman periods. Let the footpath walk you through pine forests, olive groves and tiny picturesque villages to experience a bit of the traditional rural way of life and local hospitality. Once you hit the trail, make sure you have something to nibble on as well as some really comfortable trekking footwear as you will be walking remote mountain routes often quite rough underfoot.
Yalıboyu Houses in Amasya
Endowed with historical and cultural abundance as well as rich natural beauty, a perfect inland climate and unique fertility, Amasya welcomes its visitors with juicy apples, cherries and peaches. But it also pleases the eye with great examples of the Ottoman architecture, the Yalıboyu Houses. Sitting peacefully between the fortress cliff and the river bank, they provide clues as to how their citizens lived in days gone by. Take a stroll along the shore to admire their peculiar side-by-side structure, bay windows, grooved tiles and cantilevered balconies, all blending ideally with the local landscape.
Usually too short a stop down the trail of Turkey’s tourist attractions, Pergamum does deserve a bigger interest. Sitting atop a high hill and overlooking fertile plains, it once was an important capital city of the ancient times. Looking for the greatest of monuments and the most spectacular of views, don’t you forget that Pergamum is a home of Turkey’s two most celebrated archaeological sites, the Acropolis and the Asklepion, one of the first medical centers of spa kind, built in honor of Asklepios, the god of healing. The complex included pools and fountains, temples and underground chambers – all of which you can explore, hopefully with a healing effect!