There are a lot of amazing places to visit in Turkey. It’s a country where you can find unique blend of cultures of the east and the west. Unique natural treasures are countless. Only few countries in the world witnessed more historically important events.
After you read this list of must-see places in Turkey, you will not have a doubt about where your next trip is going to be! So let’s start:
What to see in Istanbul
Istanbul is huge! It lies on two continents, Europe and Asia, and it’s the fifth-largest city in the world by population within city limits. Istanbul, the city where the east meets the west, has been the crossroad of civilizations for thousands of years.
Arrive at Istanbul Airport and take a Istanbul airport taxi to where you need to go!
Most of the best places to visit in Turkey are located in Istanbul.
1. Hagia Sophia
The best way to feel ancient Constantinople is to visit the church that turned into a mosque – the magnificent Hagia Sophia. This great church of Constantinople is considered to be the greatest house of worship in both christian and muslim worlds. Hagia Sophia was built as a church by Byzantine emperor Justinian between 532 and 537, which was converted into a mosque by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. It was one of the grandest architectural endeavors of its time. Its dome was the biggest in the world for 900 years, until the cathedral of Florence was built. Today, Hagia Sophia is a museum.
2. Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque is a mosque with extraordinary beauty, built by the Sultan Ahmed in the 17th century. That is why it’s also called The Sultan Ahmed Mosque. With it’s beauty, architecture, and it’s 6 minarets, The Blue Mosque is as grandiose as The Great Mosque in Mecca (the holiest in all Islam). The grand courtyard at the mosque entrance welcomes the muslims that gathers for worship. It is called The Blue Mosque because its interior is decorated with lots of distinct blue tiles. Because blue is the popular color in Turkey, early French visitors named the color – the color of the Turks, or Turquoise.
3. Topkapi Palace Museum
For almost 400 years, Topkapi Palace was the main administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire. It is the largest and the oldest palace that survived. In 1924 Topkapi Palace was transformed into a museum. You can find a lot of traces of Ottoman culture and history there. The museum contains a large collection of weapons, Ottoman treasures and jewelry, Islamic calligraphic murals, porcelain, robes, shields, armor, and many other historic artifacts.
4. Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul really justifies it’s name. It’s one of the largest covered market in the world. There are about 5,000 shops. Between 250 000 and 400 000 people shop jewellery, spices, antiques, hand-painted ceramics, carpets and many other things, every day. Over 550 years old, the Grand Bazar complex even contains fountains, mosques and hamams. Quick tip: you have to bargain there, shop owners expect that. If you don’t bargain, they’ll rip you off!
5. Spice Bazaar
The Spice Bazaar is one of the oldest markets in Istanbul. Spices were imported from Egypt, which is why Turkish people also call it Mısır Çarşısı, meaning The Egyptian Bazaar. You can find anything from kaviar to gold, silver, hand made and unique souvenirs, many variety of Turkish delights and, of course, all possible spices you can think of.
6. Rumeli Fortress
Rumeli Fortress (Rumelihisarı) is a 14th century castle built on a hill at the European side of the Bosphorus. The Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II built this fortress between 1451 and 1452. Sultan Mehmed II conquered Constantinople and brought an end to the Byzantine Empire in 1453. Rumeli Fortress was built in order to control the sea traffic on the Bosphorus. That’s why it’s built at the narrowest point of Bosphorus, only 660 meters wide.
7. Galata Bridge
Walk across The Galata Bridge is a good way to experience the magic of Istanbul. Witness the nargile cafes under the bridge, the fishermens on the bridge, the spectacular view on hills and many minarets and mosques. You’ll have a perfect view at sunset.
8. Great Palace Mosaic Museum
If you are visiting The Blue Mosque, you should also visit The Great Palace Mosaic Museum. They are next to each other. You’ll see 6th century mosaics that decorated the floors of The Great Palace in Byzantine Constantinople. Mosaics artistically represent mythical beasts, hunting scenes, everyday life, etc.
9. Suleymaniye Camii
On the city’s third hill, visible from all directions, is The Suleymaniye Camii – the most beautiful mosque in Istanbul, and the city’s largest Osmanic building complex. Sultan Süleyman, also known as Süleyman the Magnificent, ordered the building of this mosque. The Suleymaniye Camii is a masterpiece of the architectural genius Mimar Sinan. It was built between 1550 and 1558.
10. Istanbul Archaeology Museums
Since many of the interesting places to visit in Turkey are historical treasures, you can imagine how important it is to visit their archeological museums. Istanbul Archaeology Museums are three separate museums: the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Orient and the Museum of Islamic Art. In these museums you can find over a million objects from all around the world, from almost all of the eras and from almost all civilisations in world history!
One of the worlds most fantastical landscapes, Cappadocia region, should definitely be on your top list of places to visit in Turkey. Outstanding landscape was created by the volcanic eruptions about one million years ago. You’ll enjoy this wonder of nature! Here is what you can do or visit there:
11. Cappadocia hot air balloon ride
There are hundreds of hot air balloons flying over Cappadocia each morning. Those flights are a bit pricey, but if you can afford them, you surely won’t regret the experience. You’ll have the best view, and the most amazing photos if your flight is early in the morning. On a nice weather, color changes are particularly beautiful as the sun rises.
12. Underground city
There are more than a hundred underground cities in Cappadocia region. It is estimated that 20,000 people could have lived there at one point in time. They are built in the Bronze Age for safety and religious reasons, and were used mostly in the Byzantine period. There are many churches, dungeons, storage rooms, winemaking rooms and even heavily fortified castles underground. Quick tip: watch your head, if you are tall! 🙂
13. Göreme Open Air Museum
The Göreme Open-Air Museum was the monastic settlement for some 20 monks during the Byzantine period. Later, from the 17th century, it was a pilgrimage site. The Göreme Open-Air Museum complex contains more than 30 rock-cut churches and chapels. Fresques on some of the churches are very well preserved, and you can see religious paintings almost as what they looked like when they were made. This UNESCO world heritage site is usually a first thing Cappadocia tourists visit, since it’s only 15 minutes walk from the Goreme village center.
Göreme Open Air Museum – Cappadocia
Göreme Open Air Museum. Photo by LWYang
14. Güvercinlik Vadisi (Pigeon Valley)
The Pigeon Valley got it’s name for the many pigeon houses carved into the rocks and cliffs. Pigeons were important in Cappadocia as message carriers. They were also used as food and fertilizers.
I recommend taking a half-day walk in Pigeon Valley to admire those amazing pigeon houses!
Konya, the city of art, science and culture since the 13th century and now one of the richest Turkish cities, has a lot of stories to tell.
The oldest known human community, existed from 7500 BC to 5700 BC, is located near Konya.
During the Renaissance, Turkish carpets, popular in Europe, were produced in Konya. Those carpets were a symbol of wealth and status of it’s owners. Whirling Dervishes are one of the symbols of Konya and Turkey. While in Konya, make sure to try their local pizza-like dish – Etli ekmek.
15. Mevlana Museum
Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, Mevlana, was born in 1207. He was a poet, jurist and theologian. Invited by the sultan, he moved to Konya in 1231 where he spent the rest of his life. He died in 1273. After his death, his successor built a mausoleum over his grave. Mausoleum later expanded, become the dervish lodge, and in 1926 was turned into a museum.
A lot of interesting cultural, artistic and historical things are exhibited in the museum.
Although it is known for its archeology, Çatalhöyük is very important for many reasons. It is a prehistoric art center, spiritual site, a place to connect with The Mother Goddess, and a source of inspiration for contemporary art. It is an education, heritage and tourism place, and a place rich in local tradition.
Çatalhöyük is very special to archaeologists since it holds the evidence of a daily life of humans some 9000 years ago.
Stay in Selçuk for a day or two to visit the ancient city of Ephesus, the Isabey Mosque, Efes Müzesi and The Temple of Artemis – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Ephesus is one of the best preserved and the biggest ancient cities in the world. It also was one of the most beautiful cities. He owns its glory to the developed trade, big and protected harbor, and the fact that it was a starting point to the famous King’s road. The city was also a religious center. The Library of Celsus is the most beautiful preserved building.
18. The Temple of Artemis
It is a little bit disappointing that only one pillar has left of the great Temple of Artemis, or Artemision – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Artemis was a Greek temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis. This Hellenic goddess was a protector of the childbirth, virginity, young girls, hunt, wild animals and wilderness. She was the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo.
The Temple of Artemis was unsurpassed by its beauty and architecture.
19. Isabey Mosque
Isabey Mosque is placed in Selçuk between the Temple of Artemis and saint John church. It was built in 1374–75 in honor of the Aydinid İsa Bey. It is one of the oldest pieces of Turkish architectural history built during Anatolian beylik period.
20. Efes Müzesi
The Ephesus Archaeological Museum, or Efes Müzesi, has a huge collection of artifacts. Those artifacts are mostly from the neighbourhood ruins. Its best-known exhibit is the statue of goddess Artemis, retrieved from the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus.
Best places to visit in Turkey’s other regions
Antalya, one of the most visited cities in the world, is located on the Mediterranean coast in southwestern Turkey. It is considered to be the most beautiful city in the Turkish Riviera. Antalya offers to its visitors beautiful art, historic sites, extraordinary beaches, hotels and resorts, and a modern nightlife.
22. Antalya Museum
It’s not very well known outside Turkey, but Antalya museum can easily rival most world class museums. There is an outstanding collection of 5000 works of art exhibited in the 13 halls and the open air gallery. There are also almost 30000 artifacts that are not exhibited, lying in the storage.
23. White cliffs of Pamukkale
Besides many cultural and historic treasures, Turkey has natural wonders that are more beautiful than many of the world’s most famous ones. One of those, Pamukkale, is on our list of the best places to visit in Turkey. It’s a nature-made masterpiece located in the Aegean Region of Turkey.
Pamukkale in Turkish means “cotton castle”. They look like ice formations, but those cotton-white terraces and pools are in fact made of carbonate minerals from the water flowing out of hot springs.
It is believed that even Cleopatra swam in these pools.
As a big city, founded in the 2nd century BC, Hierapolis has a very well preserved Roman theatre. This theatre could accommodate 25000 spectators. There are a lot of preserved pieces of art representing ancient mythology. As one of the best preserved ancient theatres, it is used even today for a theater performance, especially during the Pamukkale festival.
Everyone has heard of Troy, the Trojan Horse, and brave Greeks who used deception to enter and conquer this, up until then, unconquered city.
All who have read the Iliad, an epic poem by Ancient Greek poet Homer, wants to believe in a Trojan War myth. A war that lasted 10 years was fought for a woman – Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the world. It all started when Paris of Troy took Helen from her husband Menelaus, the king of Sparta. The most known Trojans and Greek heroes fought in this war.
You’ve probably seen the movie Troy with Brad Pitt. 🙂
Today, you can see the remains of the 9 layers from the 9 Troy periods, from the bronze age to the Hellenic – Roman period.
26. Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
In 353 BC, when the king of Halicarnassus, Mausolus, died, his queen, Artemisia, was inconsolable. She wanted to build the finest tomb the world has ever seen. Artemisia gathered the best Greek sculptors and architects to build a king’s memorial. They labored for many years, carving beautiful images into the stone walls and creating marvelous statues made of marble. The few works that survived until today, despite the damage that has been accumulated throughout the centuries, testify about the artists dedication and skills. The queen died before the tomb was completed. The sculptors decided to finish the work, because it was not only a monument to the king, but also to the art.
What they built was also one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
I hope that, by now, you have realized how beautiful Turkey really is, and how many stories it has to tell. Besides these places, Turkey offers a lot more reasons and deserves to be your next adventure destination. Turkey has one of the best cuisines you’ll ever taste, and the people are very friendly and kind.
I know that there is much more than 26 places you should visit in Turkey, but this is my Turkey bucket list. I’d like to hear what are your favorites, and what did I miss.