A transcontinental crossroads between Europe and Asia, Turkey is a cultural melting pot of contrasting flavours, cultures, religions and histories. It’s this sensorial richness, combined with its outstanding natural wonders and ancient history, that’s earned it a place at the top of travellers’ bucket lists in recent years.
Whether you’re seeking adventure or relaxation, there’s plenty to keep you enthralled – from the fairy-tale palaces of Cappadocia to the azure waters of Olüdeniz’s Blue Lagoon. Turkey has its fair share of historical ruins and monuments too, with a succession of powerful figures and empires – from the Romans to the Ottomans – all leaving their mark. Much of this is documented through the country’s nineteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites, not to mention its forty-five national parks. There’s so much to explore. So, to help you find the very best spots, we’ve rounded up five of the most awe-inspiring places to visit in Turkey.
Blue Mosque, Istanbul
Where better to start than in Turkey’s captivating capital, Istanbul? With a cityscape framed by imperial Islamic mosques, glistening palaces and towering minarets, there’s beauty to admire behind every corner.
By far one of Turkey’s most iconic man-made structures is Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, built in the Ottoman era in the early 1600s. The building was the grand project of Sultan Ahmet, whose tomb is located on the north side of the site. Adorned with tens of thousands of handmade Iznik tiles, and painted in various shades of blue, the mosque is still used as a sacred place of worship today – while also remaining open to visitors looking to admire its architecture.
Hierapolis-Pamukkale, Büyük Menderes Valley
Nestled within a steep valley in south-western Turkey, Pamukkale’s white travertine terraces are a geological phenomenon that must be seen to be believed. The extraordinary spectacle is created by mineral springs that have cascaded down the hillside for thousands of years. The natural pools are terraced into the hillside, overspilling with the mineral-rich spring water, which over time dries and causes the calcium to petrify, leaving behind that perfect white, frozen appearance.
It can get quite busy during peak season. For a little more peace and quiet, head to the often overlooked ancient ruins and hot springs of the Greco-Roman spa town Hierapolis, built at the very top of the site.
Cappadocia, Central Anatolia
Set high on the Anatolian plateau, the curious landscapes of Cappadocia will make you feel like you’ve walked into a fantasy land. Here, honey-coloured rocks have eroded into otherworldly sculptures resembling minarets, mushrooms and ‘fairy chimneys’, while entire subterranean cities, churches and monasteries lie hidden beneath the surface, having been carved out by settlers since the Bronze Age.
Take a hot-air balloon ride at sunset, or admire the landscape from the terrace of one of the many rooftop hotels, eateries or bars. This is truly one of the most romantic spots in the world!
Blue Lagoon, Olüdeniz
Turkey is known for its sun, sea and sand, with a staggering 8,333 kilometres of coastline bordered by the Mediterranean, Black, Aegean and Marmara Seas. However, when it comes to crystal-clear waters and white sand, Olüdeniz’s Blue Lagoon and nearby beaches are hard to beat.
This bay of azure water with its strip of white sand has become Turkey’s poster child in recent decades. It’s the perfect place to kick back and relax, but if that’s not your cup of tea there are lots of activities to keep you entertained. Why not take a paragliding trip off the mountains or try your hand at paddle boarding in the lagoon?
Turkey is home to a staggering number of ancient wonders, most of which are far less visited than the likes of those in Italy and Greece. Ephesus is one such site, and arguably the most impressive of them all.
Once housing The Temple of Artemis, one of the original Seven Wonders of the World, the remains of Ephesus recount a fascinating narrative of the 9,000-year old settlement. After more than a century of excavation, we now know that it was once a vibrant city of over 250,000 inhabitants, complete with colonnaded streets, temples, a huge amphitheatre and the Celsus library, which still stands today.