Turkey has a unique geography that stretches across Europe and Asia and covers vast and diverse landscapes from the Taurus Mountains to the coastal beauty of the Aegean Sea. What sets Turkey apart though, is not just its sheer size or stunning scenery, but the added layer of ancient historical influences, including Byzantine and Ottoman, that are woven into its landmarks and culture. Whether you’re wandering through the ancient streets of Ephesus, marvelling at the architectural wonders of Istanbul, haggling at the local bazaars, or enjoying a hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia, the echoes of Turkey’s history can be felt everywhere, making it a truly special destination.
We’ll explore some of the best bits of this fascinating country in our latest Travel Guide – and don’t forget, if you’d like us to craft your own Turkey multi centre holiday adventure, please get in touch!
Istanbul: Where Asia meets Europe
Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey and once served as the country’s capital. With centuries of history and an intriguing blend of European and Asian cultures, Istanbul has a thriving and vibrant feel. A great place to start exploring the city is the bustling Grand Bazaar. With 21 gates, it’s fairly easy to find an entrance, and from the moment you step inside, you’ll find rows of aromatic spices, local crafts, and hidden treasures – a sensory experience on every level. The city’s skyline on the European side features two iconic landmarks: the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The Blue Mosque is a masterpiece of Ottoman architecture, with stunning blue tiles and six towering minarets. Across the road, the Hagia Sophia, initially a cathedral and later a mosque, showcases a magnificent blend of Byzantine and Ottoman design, and as you wander around, you’ll find intricate mosaics and an impressive dome centrepiece that reflects light in all directions creating the feeling that it’s floating in the air.
Istanbul’s Asian side, or the Anatolian side, boasts its own distinctive charm with highlights including Üsküdar, which is situated along the river and home to the Maiden’s Tower with stunning views of the Bosphorus. Also on the Asian side is the area of Kadıköy, one of the oldest settlements in Istanbul and home to numerous historic monuments. It’s also great for shopping, ranging from the bustling Kadıköy Fish Market to the upscale boutiques along Baghdad Street. Kadıköy also comes alive at night with lots of bars and live music venues, especially in the trendy Moda area.
If your feet are weary, a great way to see the city (on both sides) is on a Bosphorus River cruise. The Bosphorus strait connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and also separates the European and Asian sides of the city. Along the river, you’ll see sights such as the Dolmabahçe Palace and the Rumeli Fortress. Back on dry ground, make sure you indulge in the renowned Turkish ice cream, known as ‘dondurma.’ Beyond its delicious taste, the experience is made extra special by the sellers who turn the serving of your ice cream into a wonderfully theatrical spectacle.
Cappadocia: Fairy tales and Hot Air Balloons
It’s almost like stepping into a fairy-tale world when you visit the region of Cappadocia, with its surreal landscape of unique rock formations and fairy chimneys. Situated in the heart of Turkey, its unique architecture involves structures built into soft boulders and rocks, meaning that many of the hotels, restaurants and homes are nestled inside caves or underground, making it a truly a magical place to visit.
One of the best ways to experience Cappadocia is on a hot air balloon ride – ideally at sunrise – giving you a breath-taking panoramic view of the expansive landscapes, ancient caves, and huge rock formations. If you’d rather be on solid ground, get yourself a Turkish coffee and sit back and marvel at the view of the graceful balloons as they float across the city. One of the largest museums in Cappadocia is the Göreme Open-Air Museum. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is located near the town of Göreme and has a collection of rock-cut churches and monasteries dating back to the Byzantine period. There are also other smaller museums and historical sites throughout Cappadocia including the Kaymakli Underground City and Derinkuyu Underground City. Cappadocia also offers a great selection of shops, bars, and restaurants, ranging from traditional Turkish cafes to Michelin-starred restaurants.
The Taurus Mountains: Majestic Peaks and Outdoor Pursuits
The Taurus Mountains, which stretch across southern Turkey, are an area of natural and rugged beauty. This huge mountain range boasts a diverse landscape of mountain peaks, deep valleys and canyons offering a raft of pursuits for outdoor enthusiasts. Some of the activities available in the region include trekking along scenic trails, exploring caves formed in the limestone terrain, and navigating the thrilling rapids of rivers. The area is also steeped in history and its ancient ruins and archaeological sites add to the richness of the area, with popular tourist spots including the well-preserved ruins at Termessos, situated on top of a mountain plateau and also Aspendos which is famous for its Roman theatre which is still used for performances today.
Bodrum & The Aegean Coast: Seaside Splendour & Secluded Coves
Stretching along the western coast of Turkey, the Aegean coast offers a blend of beaches, secluded coves, crystal-clear waters, and a wealth of cultural attractions.
Bodrum is one of the most well-known resorts on this coastline with vibrant nightlife, bustling markets, historical sites, most notably Bodrum Castle, and a range of upscale hotels. Bodrum Marina is a hub of activity with luxury yachts, sailing boats, and traditional Turkish gülets. Taking an evening stroll along the marina promenade offers beautiful views of the sea and the castle, making it a perfect for dining with a scenic view. Gumusluk, a smaller yet equally enchanting village on the Aegean coast, provides a more relaxed and authentic experience. Known for its seafood restaurants along the beach, with sparkling lights and lanterns, and the remnants of Myndos, an ancient city submerged in the sea, Gumusluk offers a peaceful escape. Çeşme is another gem on the Aegean coast and offers thermal baths, iconic windmills, and stunning white sandy beaches, such as Ilıca Beach.
Ankara: History in the Heart of Turkey
Often referred to as the heart of Turkey, both for its location in the centre of the country but also for its position as the country’s capital, it has a plethora of historical landmarks to explore. One of the best places to start is to wander around the Old Quarters and the Ankara Citadel. Here you’ll find traditional markets, local shops, of course the Ankara Citadel, where you can explore its ancient walls, gates, and towers and take in the wonderful views of the city. Another must-see is the Atatürk Mausoleum which is a symbol of the Turkish Republic, dedicated to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey. Here you can explore the mausoleum, stroll around Peace Park, and visit the Hall of Honour. History buffs will also delight in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations which is housed in an historic building near Ankara Castle. This museum showcases a vast collection of artifacts representing various civilisations throughout history, from Paleolithic artifacts to Hittite and Phrygian treasures.
When the sun goes down, Ankara comes alive with nightlife, with an eclectic mix of bars, clubs, and live music venues. The city’s restaurant scene is equally buzzing, offering traditional Turkish restaurants serving up kebabs, mezes and local specialities such as Ankara Tava (slow cooked lamb) and more ‘trendy’ restaurants offering international and fusion cuisine. Also head to the markets for a different perspective on the city’s food scene with fresh produce and spices galore.
Ephesus: Ancient Roman Wonders
Also on the Aegean coast is the ancient city of Ephesus, which once played a crucial role in the culture and politics of the Roman Empire. Today, it is one of the most well-preserved archaeological sites in the world, attracting people from all over the globe to explore its history and learn more about the incredibly advanced architectural achievements of the ancient world.
As you wander around the marble-paved streets of this UNESCO World Heritage Site you’ll find fascinating structures such as the Library of Celsus, which was one of the largest libraries in the ancient world and the Great Theatre, which is believed to have had a seating capacity of 25,000 people. Here you can climb the seating tiers and get a sense of its impressive scale – including imagining yourself watching a gladiatorial combat. Another must-see is the Temple of Artemis, a magnificent structure dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis, just a few minutes outside of the main Ephesus site.
Troy: Ancient Legends & Archaeological Marvels
History lovers will be familiar with Troy being the battleground of the legendary Trojan War. This major city was conquered by the Greek army who implemented their clever strategy of infiltrating the city gates by concealing themselves within a wooden horse, disguised as a peace offering. The iconic Trojan Horse therefore played a pivotal role in securing victory for the Greeks. Wandering around this UNESCO World Heritage Site and the ruins of the city walls, gates and houses, you get a real sense of the history that played out all those centuries ago. One of the highlights is of course the huge wooden Trojan horse but other sights to visit include Megaron House, which shows insights into how the upper classes lived, the Bouleuterion, where important civic discussions took place and the Odeon, a small theatre-like structure.
Pamukkale and Hierapolis: Cotton Castle & an Ancient City
Pamukkale, often referred to as the ‘cotton castle’ is a natural wonder renowned for its unique terraces which have been formed by white mineral-rich thermal waters cascading down the slopes. These terraces, which look like a series of sparkling white cotton-like pools, create a surreal landscape that is truly a sight to be seen. Day trips to Pamukkale usually include walking through the terraces, enjoying the thermal pools and taking in the stunning views.
Situated next to Pamukkale is the ancient city of Hierapolis, which dates back to the 2nd century BC. Hierapolis is a collection of ancient structures, streets, and monuments that collectively tell the story of this once-thriving city. Some of the sights you’ll see whilst wandering around include the well-preserved theatre that once housed 15,000 spectators, the Necropolis – a vast ancient cemetery with an array of intricately carved tombs and the Sacred Pool or Cleopatra’s Pool where, according to legend, Cleopatra herself swam during her visit to the region.
The Turquoise Riviera: Coastal Charms & Crystal-clear Waters
The Turquoise Riviera, also known as the Turkish Coast, is a stretch of coastline that connects the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, renowned for its crystal blue waters and picturesque beaches. Among the many gems that dot this coastline are Göcek and Fethiye.
Göcek has pretty marina that attracts sailing enthusiasts from around the world and is a hub for yacht chartering, where you can hop on a day or multi-day trip to visit the pristine bays and secluded coves of the region. Meanwhile, Fethiye, the larger of the two resorts, has a vibrant charming harbour and the town truly comes to life in the evenings, boasting lively, bustling markets where local crafts are sold. The waterfront promenade is ideal for leisurely strolls, offering an array of restaurants. Both resorts and indeed the whole of the Turquoise Coast’s bays and coves provide secluded havens for sunbathing and swimming in their crystal-clear waters.
Dalyan: Mud Baths & Turtles
Nestled slightly inland along the Turkish Riviera, Dalyan is renowned for its therapeutic mud baths and serves as a vital nesting site for Loggerhead Sea Turtles. The mud baths in Dalyan attract visitors seeking the rejuvenation and healing powers of the mineral-rich mud (and of course, the fun of covering yourself in brown mud!) The process involves applying yourself in mud, basking in the sun to let is dry, rinsing off then immersing yourself in the hot springs – all set against a breath-taking backdrop of lush landscapes and mountains.
Another must-do activity in the area is to take a boat excursion along the Dalyan River to reach Iztuzu Beach, a protected sanctuary for Loggerhead Sea Turtles. Recognised by their distinctive reddish-brown shells and powerful, paddle-like flippers, these turtles play a crucial role in the region’s ecological diversity. Female Loggerheads return to the beach of their birth to lay eggs, typically during the warm summer months. The safeguarded status of Iztuzu Beach ensures the preservation of these nesting grounds, allowing the eggs to incubate undisturbed.
If this travel guide has left you wanting to explore Turkey for yourself, please get in touch with us at eShores and one of our expert advisors will be happy to chat.
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