Best Places to Visit in Turkey

Best Places to Visit in Turkey

A Guide Turkey's Top Travel Destinations

Istanbul_Skyline_and_Galata_Tower_View
PUBLISHED ONDecember 10, 2023
Sunlit Old Town with Minaret by the River
Source: Photo by Enes Aktas on Unsplash

If you are planning a trip to the enchanting land of Turkey, you're in for a treat. Get ready to explore a country rich in history and natural beauty. Connecting Europe and Asia, Turkey promises something special for all travel enthusiasts.

From the seascape of the Aegean region through the wonders of Istanbul to the fairy-tale-like terrain of Cappadocia, we have curated a guide that expounds on the best places to visit in Turkey.

This guide aims to take you through significant sites, historic landmarks, natural wonders, and more to ensure you experience Turkey at its best. Pack your bags and get set for an adventure of a lifetime!

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia Istanbul Exterior View
Source: Photo by Igor Sporynin on Unsplash

When exploring the best places to visit in Turkey, a trip would only be complete with seeing the majestic Hagia Sophia. It is a place that you'll remember not just for its breathtaking architecture but also for the historical significance it holds. This iconic landmark, once a Byzantine church, later converted into a mosque and now operating as a museum, is a harmonious blend of Christian and Islamic cultures, making it a unique treasure in the heart of Istanbul.

The Divine Dome

Hagia Sophia Interior Dome and Chandeliers
Source: Photo by Mirza Polat on Unsplash

When you're in Turkey, take advantage of a chance to marvel at the divine dome of Hagia Sophia. This impressive structure combines Byzantine and Islamic styles, creating a stunning dual aesthetic.

Once inside, be sure to gaze at the breathtaking dome. As the heart of this historical site, it stretches an impressive 180 feet high. Its size, beautiful mosaics, and Islamic calligraphy are bound to leave you speechless.

The Imperial Gate

Once you set foot in Hagia Sophia, you will be greeted by the Imperial Gate. This feature was solely used by the emperors during Byzantine times, giving it a grand historical significance. It's magnificently adorned with intricate mosaics, cherubs, and other divine symbols that genuinely showcase the rich artistic heritage of the period.

The Omphalion

The Omphalion is a historical spot embedded within the marble floor of Hagia Sophia. Historically significant, it is the exact spot where Byzantine Emperors were crowned.

Derived from Greek, "Omphalion" refers to the central or focal point, symbolizing its significance during the Byzantine Empire. This rectangular area, adorned with beautifully colored marble panels and circular designs, carries historical importance. The beautiful aesthetics and rich history make the Omphalion a must-see among the best places to visit in Turkey.

Mosaics

As you explore Hagia Sophia, take advantage of the chance to marvel at the exquisite mosaics that adorn its interiors. Over the centuries, these stunning pieces of art have survived wars, invasions, and even earthquakes, offering a unique insight into the grandeur of this Byzantine architectural masterpiece.

Prominently displayed in the Apse, the Virgin and Child mosaic is considered one of the finest examples of Byzantine mosaic art. Observe the precise details and vivid colors illuminating the faces, giving them life and depth. The Deësis Mosaic in the upper gallery showcases a poignant scene featuring Christ, the Virgin Mary, and John the Baptist, their expressions beautifully capturing the emotions of the period.

Library of Mahmud I

Sultan Mahmud I added this library, an exquisite example of Ottoman architecture, to the Hagia Sophia in 1739. Noted for its stunning design featuring colored Iznik tiles and intricate woodwork, this library once housed a rich collection of religious, historical, and philosophical manuscripts.

Today, it is a testament to Turkey's remarkable historical journey, revealing its dedication to arts and education during the Ottoman era.

Ephesus

Regarding the best places to visit in Turkey, a journey through ancient history is only complete with stepping foot in Ephesus. This splendid city is among the oldest and best-preserved in the Mediterranean region.

The Celsus Library

One visit to Ephesus is only complete with a stop at the Celsus Library. As one of the best places to visit in Turkey, the Celsus Library symbolizes the tremendous historical significance of Ephesus. Constructed between 114 and 117 A.D., this ancient structure is more than just reminiscent of a time long past; it's an emblem of enlightenment and knowledge.

The library once held around 12,000 scrolls, making it a vital educational institution. Its architecture is truly captivating, with a facade showcasing ancient Roman artistry's grandeur. The two-story structure is adorned with Corinthian-style columns, statues, and elaborate carvings.

Although the scrolls are no longer housed within its grand walls, the ornate remains of the structure are more than enough to whisk any visitor back in time.

The Grand Theatre

Ancient Amphitheater Ruins in Hierapolis
Source: Photo by Bhumil Chheda on Unsplash

Standing tall in all its ancient glory, the Grand Theatre is a testament to the architectural brilliance of the Roman Empire. This immense structure, which once buzzed with performances and gladiator games, could accommodate an awe-inspiring 25,000 spectators.

Today, it continues to inspire awe with its stunning architectural detail, steep steps, and exceptional acoustics.

The Temple of Artemis

Based in Ephesus, this old, impressive structure is a must-see in Turkey. The temple is a tribute to Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting, the wild, plants, and childbirth. Though only a few columns and foundations remain today, it was once a spectacle and part of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The temple, also known as Artemision, was one of the largest temples in the ancient world, standing approximately 450 feet long and 225 feet wide. What remains of the temple's existence today is a single column built from the scattered ruins. Rising to the sky, this lone pillar is a poignant reminder of the Temple's grandeur in its heyday.

Visiting the Temple of Artemis, you will also discover that it was a significant center of commerce. Its secure confines and tax-free status made it a popular destination for merchants, kings, and travelers worldwide. The countless artifacts found in the vicinity of the temple provide ample proof of the diversity of cultures that used to converge at this place.

Terrace Houses

Remarkably well-preserved, these houses were the residences of Ephesus' wealthiest citizens during Roman times. Once inside, you'll find yourself stepping on vibrant mosaics and walking past fresco-covered walls, a testament to the luxurious living these occupants once enjoyed.

Six luxury villas on display stand out because of their interior decorations. Their artistic expression is so detailed and intent that it feels like a moment frozen in time.

The houses are covered with protective roofing, and the site has walkways suspended above the remains, allowing for an immersive experience that doesn't disrupt the archaeological site.

St. John's Basilica

If you visit Ephesus in Turkey, check out the stunning basilica on Ayasuluk Hill. It is believed to be John the Apostle's burial site and was built in the 6th century. The basilica's large size and beauty give us a glimpse into the grandness of the Byzantine period.

Unfortunately, natural disasters over time have left it in ruins. But don't let that deter you. There's still so much beauty to appreciate here.

Mosaics and frescoes unearthed by archaeologists add to its allure. Plus, the breathtaking panoramic views of the region are unbeatable.

You'll also find the tomb of John himself inside the basilica. Standing in this tomb is a touching experience, regardless of your religious beliefs. It's often described as a place of tranquility and reflection where time seems to stand still.

Cappadocia

Known for its surreal, otherworldly terrain of fairy chimneys and cave dwellings, Cappadocia offers history enthusiasts, photographers, and adventure lovers an unforgettable journey into its enchanting world.

From hot air balloon rides across the sunrise-kissed skies to exploring its ancient underground cities, there's an adventure around every corner of this magical landscape.

Göreme Open-Air Museum

Located in the core of Cappadocia, this UNESCO World Heritage site is like a page out of a fairy tale. It's well-known for its churches carved into rocks and caves full of ancient frescoes. This place not only showcases the area's historical importance but also provides a glimpse into the lives of its early residents.

The museum is an enormous monastic complex composed of scores of refectories. Here, nuns and monks lived under the rule of Saint Basil, indeed a sight to behold.

As you explore, you'll see some of the finest rock-cut churches within the complex, including the Apple Church, Saint Barbara Church, and the Snake Church, each adorned with intricate carvings and vibrant frescoes depicting biblical scenes. Dedicated to several Saints and often named after them, each place of worship allows you to absorb religious history in an immersive way.

Hot Air Balloon Ride

Imagine soaring above valleys, fairy chimneys, and unique rock formations in a hot air balloon. In Cappadocia, you can do just that.

One of Turkey's best places to visit, it offers stunning early morning sky views. You'll see a sunrise that douses the landscape in shades of gold and purple. To say this is a breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime experience would still be an understatement.

Ballooning in Cappadocia is an unforgettable experience. Many travelers highlight it as a top moment during their visit.

You'll get an extraordinary view of the region's unique and beautiful geology. It's a great way to understand the sheer size and magnificence of the area.

Trips generally last around one hour and cozily end with a traditional champagne toast upon landing. Remember to book in advance to secure a spot for this popular activity.

Derinkuyu Underground City

Derinkuyu, created as far back as the 8th – 7th centuries B.C., offers more than just a selection of chambers. It's a detailed web of underground rooms, hallways, and ventilation routes waiting for you to uncover.

This mind-boggling structure was a refuge for the local population during hostile invasions, thanks to its complex network of tunnels and limited access points. You can wander through a labyrinth of kitchens, stables, churches, and even wine cellars here.

Uçhisar Castle

Uçhisar Castle, chiseled from a natural rock hill, delivers an unrivaled view of Cappadocia. Its towering shape is more than just eye-catching—it's a quiet homage to the region's deep-rooted history.

While climbing Uçhisar Castle, you'll admire the detailed carvings and tunnels left from its time as a strategic fort. Much like an ancient cliffside apartment, the Castle is full of intertwined homes. A peek from the windows offers a stunning view of rock formations, lush vineyards, and charming villages.

Uçhisar Castle at sunset is a truly magical sight. The final rays of sunlight ignite the sandstone's rosy hue, creating an enchanting scene reminiscent of a fairy tale. Don't miss the chance to capture this breathtaking moment on camera; it's a sight that travelers often hold dear in their hearts.

Ihlara Valley

Carved by the Melendiz River thousands of years ago, this deep, lush valley winds past towering rock cliffs for an impressive 14 kilometers. It is a must-visit when choosing the best places to visit in Turkey.

The Ihlara Valley's blend of splendid natural sights and historically significant landmarks makes it unique. Scattered along the valley, countless rock-cut churches and monasteries dating back to the Byzantine era. These structures, many still adorned with ancient fresco paintings, bear testament to the region's rich past.

With trails for all fitness levels, hiking in the valley is a must-try. You'll see magnificent views and local wildlife. After, relax by the river and watch the sunset over the valley.

Practical tip: Remember to pack some food and drinks for a picnic along the river and good walking shoes for the hike.

Pamukkale

If you're searching for serenity and breathtaking natural beauty, Pamukkale should be at the top of your list of the best places to visit in Turkey. Known as the "Cotton Castle" because of its dazzling white calcium terraces, Pamukkale offers a uniquely relaxing experience. The potent combination of thermal spa tourism, rich history, and incredible panoramas makes it a must-see marvel of Turkey.

Travertine Terraces

Let's take you to the magical Travertine Terraces in Pamukkale. It's one of Turkey's best places to visit, known for its fascinating, snow-white limestone landscapes. These terraces, called travertines, were formed over time by flowing thermal waters rich in calcium carbonate.

During summer, the terraces turn into natural warm baths that you can indulge in. The waters at Travertine Terraces are believed to have therapeutic benefits similar to a spa experience.

Not only are they a sight to behold, but they also offer an unrivaled relaxation and rejuvenation experience. As you soak in the panoramic views, you'll see why the ancient Romans saw this as a place of healing and relaxation.

Hierapolis Ancient City

As a UNESCO World Heritage site, this city is a doorway to the past. Its impressive architecture and fascinating history captivate visitors. Renowned as a healing center during the Roman and Byzantine eras, the city's thermal waters offer therapeutic benefits.

As you stroll along the old stone pathways, you're met with a large ancient burial site boasting over a thousand grave markers. Spot the massive Roman theatre and fragments of the famous Frontinus Street. Don't miss the striking Plutonium, also known as the cave noted "to hell," agate for its history of mystic ceremonies.

Remember to visit the Hierapolis Archaeology Museum, conveniently located on the site. It houses many artifacts recovered from Hierapolis and its surroundings, offering insightful context to your exploration. If you're seeking the best places to visit in Turkey, Hierapolis Ancient City deserves a spot.

Cleopatra's Pool

Cleopatra's Pool, also known as the Antique Pool, is another must-visit spot in Pamukkale. Steeped in history and elegance, it is said that this thermal pool was a gift to the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, from her lover, Mark Antony.

The pool is nestled amid the remnants of ancient marble columns, supposedly knocked into the water by a past earthquake, adding a touch of enigmatic charm to your swim.

Remember to bring your swimsuit and towel, as you'll undoubtedly want to take a dip and absorb some of the reputed therapeutic benefits of the mineral waters.

Karahayıt Hot Springs

Take advantage of the opportunity to visit the Karahayit Hot Springs when exploring the best places to visit in Turkey. Nestled just a short drive from Pamukkale, these hot springs are distinctly enriching due to their higher concentration of iron and minerals.

The waters of the Karahayıt Hot Springs possess healing properties, providing therapeutic relief for various ailments like rheumatism and skin diseases.

The experience of immersing yourself in the therapeutic mud and hot water pools, framed with red-colored travertine terraces, is a delight for any spa and wellness seeker. Around the facility, you'll find a range of hotels and day spas tailored to fit any budget.

Pamukkale Natural Park

The park is not only beautiful to look at, but it also offers a peaceful retreat into nature. The sight of natural mineral baths cascading amongst rich greenery is genuinely captivating.

Pamukkale Natural Park is also acclaimed for providing a peaceful ambiance that can make your trip a truly calming experience. You can stroll amidst the beautiful flora, sit by the enchanting water formations, or partake in a fun-filled picnic with your loved ones. The park brims with bio-diversity, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts and wildlife photographers.

The park is well-connected to the main city areas, and ample facilities, ranging from eateries to washrooms, ensure a comfortable visit.

Topkapi Palace

In Istanbul, the magnificent Topkapi Palace should unquestionably be on your bucket list as one of Turkey's best places to visit. With its historic charm and grandeur, the palace houses multiple exhibition rooms that showcase the luxury of the Ottoman Empire.

From the stunning Golden Horn view in the palace grounds to the much-praised Harem, an array of luxurious pavilions, and the treasury filled with sparkling gems, the Topkapi Palace is a remarkable testament to Turkey's rich heritage.

The Harem

The Harem, traditionally the private space for the Sultan's family and concubines, brings alive the grandeur of the Ottoman era. Once a closely guarded realm, it's now accessible to all. You can visit its over 300 stunning rooms adorned with intricate carvings, vibrant murals, and impeccable tiling.

Don't forget to explore the Courtyard of the Favorites – the most prestigious area in the Harem where the Sultan's favorite concubines used to live.

The Imperial Treasury

In this palace section, you'll find a stunning collection of valuable items, each richly detailed and brimming with exciting history. Prepare to be amazed by an assortment of treasures like gold, diamond-studded daggers, emerald crowns, and various jewels and gifts from around the world. Each item symbolizes the empire's immense wealth and global prestige.

Take the chance to see the 86-carat Spoonmaker's Diamond, one of the collection's largest and most famed pieces.

The Sacred Relics Chamber

Regarded as one of the palace's most treasured divisions, this chamber is a hallowed sanctum with items believed to belong to Prophet Muhammad and other prophets of Islam.

Appropriately adorned in rich, regal hues, this chamber possesses a certain holy ambiance capable of leaving a lasting impression on any visitor. Within its confines, you'll find sacred belongings such as the Prophet's mantle, bow, tooth, and even strands of beard, among others.

Tourists and faithful worshippers alike will learn and appreciate this chamber's rich Islamic heritage and history. It provides a glimpse into the religious dimensions that played a significant part in Ottoman life, making it, without a doubt, a landmark addition to your list of the best places to visit in Turkey.

The Fourth Courtyard

Aptly referred to as the Sofa Koşkü, it's an elevated viewing platform offering mind-blowing vistas. Here, you'll be surrounded by a lush green garden as you rejoice in panoramic views of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn.

Historically, the Fourth Courtyard served as the Sultan's private garden for quiet, tranquility, and reflection. You'll spot multiple kiosks and pavilions dotted around, adding an element of grandeur to this serene space. One of the standouts is undoubtedly the Revan Kiosk, a beautiful little building that's a masterstroke in Ottoman architecture.

The Sultan's Costumes Collection

Stepping into the Sultan's Costumes Collection feels like time-traveling directly into the opulence of past sultanic eras. Here, you'll find an array of luxurious attire, each carrying a historical richness that is hard to comprehend. Venerable robes, ceremonial kaftans, intricately embroidered turbans, and precious accessories, each piece telling stories of the Ottoman Empire's ancient sultans.

Observe the meticulousness in making these costumes that underscore the grandeur of the Ottoman court. Be it precious silk or elegant brocade, the fabrics reveal the remarkable craftsmanship owned by the tailors of the time. Many textiles have magnificent decorations and embroidery, often with gold and silver threads.

The Arms and Armour Collection

If you're a history buff or love intriguing artifacts, you can't miss the Arms and Armour Collection at Topkapi Palace. This exhibit offers a unique glimpse into Turkey's rich military history with various historical swords, bows, shields, and other military equipment Ottoman soldiers and sultans used.

The collection is renowned for its detailed and ornate weaponry, many adorned with intricate designs, precious gemstones, and carved inscriptions. Prominent among these is Sultan Mehmet, the Conqueror's gilded sword, a priceless piece that captures the luxury and might of the Ottoman Empire at the peak of its power.

Mount Ararat

Featuring the highest peak in Turkey, Mount Ararat truly stands out. This colossal massif is steeped in folklore, referred to as the resting place of Noah's Ark, and Turks assert that Ararat means 'the place where mankind was reborn.'

As you explore this magnificent landform, you'll witness stunning views, various wildlife species, and unspoiled nature on your adventure. It's undeniably one of the best places to visit in Turkey for adventurous souls who thirst for thrilling experiences and memorable panoramas.

The Summit

If you're up for an adventure, the Summit of Mount Ararat should be on your list of the best places to visit in Turkey. Reaching the peak of this towering mountain isn't for the faint-hearted - it's the highest point in Turkey, standing at a jaw-dropping height of 5,137 meters.

But the challenge is well worth it. Once you ascend to the top, you'll be rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views that will beat anything you've ever seen. It's the closest you can get to touching the sky in this part of the world!

Noah's Ark National Park

While visiting Mount Ararat, you must take advantage of the renowned Noah's Ark National Park. This park is an essential point of interest due to its unique blend of natural beauty and intriguing historical significance. It is believed to be the resting place of the biblical Ark, making it a significant site for many.

Embark on a hike through the park and feast your eyes on the marvelous landscape that unfolds. It offers a refreshing break from the bustling cities and is full of lush greenery and wildlife. The park often hosts guided tours narrating the rich history of Noah's Ark.

Durupinar Site

Named after its discoverer, İlhan Durupınar, this site lies near Mount Ararat. Revered by many believers as the final resting place of Noah's Ark, the Durupinar site features a unique, boat-shaped formation that is truly a sight to behold.

Uncannily, the dimensions of the formation align with those mentioned in religious texts, which has led to much speculation and debate. While some view it as mere coincidence, others consider it concrete proof of the biblical tale. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, the site offers an intriguing opportunity for exploration and reflection.

Take advantage of the Visitor's Center, where you can engage with educational exhibits that provide more context and insight into this fascinating location.

Ahora Gorge

Mount Ararat's north side drops an impressive 4,000 meters into a magnificent gorge. This geological marvel is filled with unique plants and animals. A stunning waterfall graces the valley's center, adding to its awe-inspiring beauty.

Keep your camera ready; you want to capture the awe-inspiring vistas this site grants you. Visitors should be prepared for a hike, but rest assured, the captivating view is well worth the effort.

Çalışkaya Ski Center

Located on the snow-capped slopes of Mount Ararat, the Çalışkaya Ski Center is an essential stop for winter sports enthusiasts while touring Turkey. This arena is a paradise for those fond of skiing and snowboarding. Even if you're not a skier, the stunning alpine vistas are well worth the trip.

You can hop on a chairlift to enjoy the awe-inspiring panoramic views of the grandeur of Mount Ararat. The ski Center also offers ski equipment rentals and professional ski lessons, so it's an excellent place for beginners to get their start.

After a day on the slopes, warm up in the center's cozy cafés with a cup of hot Turkish tea or a hearty meal. Truly one of the best places to visit in Turkey during the winter season.

Importance of an International Driving Permit (IDP) in Turkey

Your IDP is a significant supporting document that effectively validates your driver's license internationally.

Steering the wheels on the fascinating roads of Turkey can indeed be an enticing idea, but it's crucial to understand the importance of an IDP here. Some key points to remember are:

  • Instant Approval: Once you apply, you can quickly secure your IDP. The process is simple, efficient, and designed to ensure minimal delays. It means you can hit the roads soon after landing.
  • Fast & Easy Process: The process is straightforward, from applying to obtaining your IDP. Even someone new to this can navigate the process hassle-free.
  • Duration: Your IDP can be valid from 1 to 3 years, a broad window that caters to various types of travelers - whether you aim for a short visit or plan to stay longer.

Now, picture the scene - you're traveling down a scenic Turkish road, the sun is setting, and you've the reassurance of a valid IDP in your pocket. The delights of Turkey are best enjoyed when you're at ease, and having your IDP by your side provides just that.

Closing Thoughts

Turkey is a traveler's paradise. With mesmerizing spots like the monumental Hagia Sophia, the historic ruins of Ephesus, the ethereal Cappadocia, and the refreshing springs of Pamukkale, it's a feast of history, culture, and nature.

Remember, to make the most of your Turkish adventure, having an International Driving Permit (IDP) is highly recommended to navigate the roads comfortably and legally.

So, don't wait. Apply for your IDP today and start planning a trip to Turkey's best places to visit!

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