Wondering where to go on vacation in Turkey? We asked seventeen professional travel writers for their recommendations for the best places to visit in Turkey. There’s everything from big cities to charming villages to UNESCO World Heritage Sites and natural wonders.
Map of the Best Places to Visit in Turkey
Travel Writers Tell Us Their Favorite Places in Turkey
In no particular order…
When I hear the word Istanbul, I’m immediately taken back to the images that first inspired my fascination with this city.
Its was these stunning aerial shots above the city with beautiful mosques like the Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia) and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) sitting on the horizon, reaching for the heavens.
It was this gripping chase scene involving a motorcycle on the roof and inside of the historic Grand Bazaar as James Bond was in hot pursuit of a villain in possession of top secret information.
The movie was Skyfall and after watching that explosive opening scene, I knew I wanted to visit this beautiful city.
Istanbul sits on two continents (Europe and Asia) divided by the Bosporus Strait. It holds a strategic position along the historic Silk Road between Europe and the Middle East as well being the only sea route between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.
Aside from Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and shopping at the Grand Bazaar you can get a taste of what it was like to live like a Sultan at Topkapi Palace or explore the cultural wonders of the Whirling Dervishes. From Taksim Square to Galata Tower, Turkish Coffee to Turkish Tea and romantic daytime and nighttime river cruises along the Bosporus. Be sure to head over to Galata Bridge which not only crosses the Bosphorus strait, on the top you’ll find men and boys fishing while beneath you’ll find some of the best fresh fish restaurants selling the fish freshly caught. Delicious.
My cousin married a Turkish woman and together with their son as well as a good friend of mine (Istanbul local) helped me put together a fantastic post called 48 Hours in Istanbul, Turkey. Check it out if you want to see more of this gorgeous city!
Dreamy photos of hot-air balloons over Cappadocia convinced me to add it to my Turkey itinerary – and boy was I glad when I reached there.
The sheer joy of getting up in the air and admiring the Mars-like landscape of Cappadocia while gliding over its weird rock formations put a smile on my face that refused to go. Once that was done, there was Goreme’s open-air museum to explore. A curious place with past monastic enclaves, strange drawings, and rock-cut churches, this is a museum worth spending time at.
The next couple of days were spent exploring the rest of Cappadocia with stops in Nevsehir – the region’s main province, Uchisar – the highest point of the region, hiking through Pigeon Valley and exploring the underground city of Derinkunyu. The region is blessed with extraordinary beauty and taking it slow will give you enough time to explore the richness of this beautiful part of Turkey. While here, don’t miss an opportunity to stay in a cave hotel. It’s one of the most unique things you can do in Cappadocia.
Having spent almost four days here, I can say with certainty that it was time well spent. All in all, it’s fair to say that Cappadocia is as beautiful on the ground as it is from up above.
Contributed by Priyanko from Constant Traveller
Bodrum is located in the Aegean region of turkey and has a little bit of everything. It’s a popular holiday destination due to its crystal clear water and lovely sand beaches, but there are plenty of other things to do in Bodrum too. Allow a week to see the sights and enjoy a little relaxation time.
Bodrum is a port city and has an impressive selection of historical sites including the Bodrum castle. Built from 1402 onwards by the Knights of St John, the Castle is now home to the Museum of Underwater Archeology – definitely worth a visit for some impressive shipwrecks!
Bodrum was once known as the ancient walled city of Halicarnassus, and the remains of one of the city’s gates can still be seen, as well as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world; the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. This tomb was built around 353 B.C. for Mausolus, a satrap of the Persian Empire, and his wife.
Treat yourself to some Turkish Delight direct from the producers and don’t miss Gümüslük, an area of restaurants lining the water’s edge, lit with lanterns – it has to be one of the most romantic spots in Turkey! And finally – hit the beach – or book a trip on a sailing boat and enjoy the beauty of Bodrum from the Aegean.
Contributed by Hayley from A Lovely Planet
Fethiye is a coastal city located on Turkey’s southwestern Turquoise coast and is known for its natural harbor, incredibly beautiful (blue) water and some ancient places nearby. In my opinion, Fethiye is one of the best places in Turkey to spend beach holidays.
To get there, the easiest way is to catch a flight to Dalaman Airport, from where you can take one of the many buses for tourists.
While Turkey has many beautiful places to spend beach holidays, Fethiye has something special about it. I highly recommend taking a boat from one of the main beaches (mainly Oludeniz Beach), which will allow you to explore some of the most incredible beaches of Turkey.
During these trips, you will explore “hidden beaches” (hidden because you can’t reach them without the boat), the incredible Butterfly Valley (which is a designated nature reserve) and much more. Food and drinks are usually included.
If you have the budget, it would be a good idea to get a private boat, as you could avoid other tourists and enjoy the beautiful places on your own.
One of the highlights is paragliding in Fethiye – which I also did, as the price was unbeatable (I paid around 70$ in 2017). The pilots are experienced and you will be able to enjoy the stunning views from above – if you’re lucky you can even spot some big turtles that are swimming around the bay of Fethiye.
As there are some interesting ancient sites around the area (like the ancient city of Tlos) I would recommend to spend at least 3 days in Fethiye – if you plan to do some relaxing beach holidays probably a bit more!
Contributed by Michael from mscgerber
The Library of Celsus in Ephesus
If you’re visiting Turkey, one of the highlights that you should see is the Library of Celsus in Ephesus. It was built in 135 AD by Gaius Julius Aquila in honor of his father Celsus, who was the governor of Asia at the time. His tomb was also located in a sarcophagus under the main floor.
At its peak, it held up to 12,000 scrolls, which meant it was the third largest library of ancient times. A single hall faces east so the morning sun can shine in. The library was also decorated with many colorful paintings, carvings, and statues.
The actual Library of Celsus was destroyed over time with invading armies, fires, and earthquakes. But it has been faithfully rebuilt to what all the records show it looked like.
If you want to have the Library to yourself, it’s best to go early in the morning at open or visit during low season in November. In the summer, it does get quite hot and crowded, so remember to bring sunscreen and water.
After seeing the Library, you should walk around the UNESCO listed city of Ephesus and see the other highlights such as the Amphitheater, terraced houses, and main harbor street. Some other places nearby include Isa Bey Mosque, Ayasoluk Castle, Ephesus Archaeological Museum and Temple of Artemis.
Contributed by Henry from This Life of Travel
Ruins of Myra
Myra is an ancient city founded on the river Myros and nowadays located 3 km away from the city of Demre.
It is not known exactly when Myra was founded, but the ruins and rock tombs located around Demre are dated back to the fifth century BC.
By the 3rd century BC, Myra became the most important city and a religious center of Lycia. The prosperity continued for many centuries until a huge flood in the 7th century. After that, the city began to lose its strength, but remained a place of pilgrimage, as the Church of St. Nicholas was located there.
The Church of St. Nicholas was built in the fourth century by Byzantine architects on the site of the ancient temple of Artemis. Throughout the centuries, the church suffered from war destructions and later from a major flood. A lot of time passed before the church was accidentally re-discovered in 1850.
At present, there is little left of Myra. There is an open-air museum where you can see some remains of the past such as an amphitheater, sarcophagi, tomb rocks. Lycian rock-cut tombs in the cliffs of Myra are especially spectacular.
Opening hours are: daily from 9:00 to 19:00 (April – October), from 8: 00-17:00 (November – March). You can choose to visit Myra along with the Church of St. Nicholas as a day trip.
Contributed by Inna from the Executive Thrillseeker
Pamukkale in Turkey is the beautiful spot known for the unreal pictures of perfect blue pools of water in what appears to be snowy surroundings. This unreal spot is actually mineral-rich thermal waters flowing down white travertines (terraces) on a nearby hillside.
The gleaming white calcite terraces look like snowy slopes on photos and the warm mineral-rich waters form gleaming blue pools that is nice to swim in and a spot not to miss when you travel in Turkey.
Pamukkale means cotton castle in Turkish and the name is self-explanatory if you look at photos.
The terraces neighbors Hierapolis, an ancient Roman spa city founded around 190 B.C. Ruins there include a well-preserved theater and a necropolis with sarcophagi that stretch for 2km. This Unesco World Heritage site gets thousands of daily visitors arriving on tour buses that start arriving at about 9 in the morning.
The gates open early at 6 am. If you arrive when the gates open you can have this entire amazing site to yourselves for about 2 hours until hundreds of tourist buses start swarming the place. My advice would be to arrive early and walk around as much of the site as you can for the first 2 hours taking beautiful photos in the soft light with few tourists, then go and enjoy swimming in the pools when the masses arrive.
Contributed by Campbell and Alya from Stingy Nomads
On a hillside above the town of Pamukkale, white terraces stretch up towards the top. These terraces – called travertines – are one of the natural wonders of Turkey and have been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
They’ve been formed over many years by calcium that has washed down in the water and gradually hardened. They are solid to touch but in many of them are pools of water.
There’s a path you can take up through the travertines but you need to take your shoes off so you don’t damage them. It’s worth going to the top because, up here, you can look down and get the best view of the cascading terraces.
Up the top, you can also see the ruins of the ancient spa city of Hierapolis. Well before today’s tourists started visiting, people were coming here to bathe in the waters in the travertines. It’s thought that they had special health benefits. These days you’re not allowed to go in them, though.
You only need a couple of hours to see the travertines at Pamukkale. I think the best time to go is at sunset because you get beautiful colors reflecting off the water.
But Pamukkale is also a good base to do a day trip to the nearby ruins of Aphrodisias, which are also a World Heritage Site.
Contributed by Michael from Time Travel Turtle
Saklikent Gorge is the longest canyon in Turkey and the second longest in Europe. However, it’s not the length that makes it one of the best destinations to visit, but the fact that you can walk through it. The experience is very enjoyable, as the freezing cold water, the impressive scenery, and the hot air temperature keep walkers alert and focused on the present moment. This walk is mindfulness meditation at its best.
Saklikent Gorge is at 40 minutes of driving from Fethiye. As it is one of the most popular attractions in the area, there are lots of organized tours from Fethiye, Kalkan, Oludeniz or Patara, so you don’t really need to drive if you don’t want to. The area is organized as a national park, with bars, restaurants and cool activities such as rafting and kayaking.
If you want to make the most out of your experience, it’s best to make it a full day trip. The walk itself may take anywhere from one hour to three or even four hours, but you’ll surely want to enjoy a nice lunch or some refreshments in one of those restaurants built above the river, just by the entrance to the canyon.
As you’ll walk through the river, you should wear water shoes. The bottom is rocky and slippery and the rapids can easily take away flip-flops and crocs. You’ll see such footwear floating along. If you’re fast enough, you may even catch some in your photos. As there’s not much shadow along the way, you’ll need to wear a hat and a generous layer of sunscreen. You’ll also need to carry drinking water.
Contributed by Violeta from Violeta Matei
If you’re looking to escape the crowds that fill the beach towns along Turkey’s Mediterranean Coast, consider making a day trip to Kayaköy.
Only a few kilometers south of Fethiye, Kayaköy was once a bustling community full of Greek residents. However, in the 1920s the government of Turkey struck a deal with the government of Greece, in which all Greek Orthodox residents of Turkey would be exiled to Greece and, in return, all Muslims in Greece would be exiled to Turkey. The town was abandoned within weeks, and further efforts to repopulate it were hindered by the dry, rugged environment and a huge earthquake in the 1950s.
Today, when you arrive in Kayakoy from Fethiye (either by car, minibus or foot, if you’re a skilled hiker) you might think you’ve stumbled upon Ancient Greek ruins. There are crumbling churches, hundreds of windowless houses and uneven stairs connecting the remaining structures that line the hillside.
It’s amazing to think that less than one hundred years ago, this was a self-sufficient town in its own right, as you feel like you’re looking at a thousand years of destruction. You’ll want at least two or three hours to explore the entire ghost town of Kayakoy, and it’s preferable to visit in the early morning or the late afternoon as there is little shade during the hot mid-day hours.
Although there are not many tourist services available in Kayaköy, there are a few family-owned restaurants around the entrances that serve delicious, home-cooked meals based on local, seasonal ingredients (often grown right in their own gardens). Consider stopping for a meal before or after your ghost town tour.
Contributed by Carly from Fearless Female Travels
The Dogu Express
It is not a specific place, rather you get to see most of Turkey. One of the best things to do in Turkey is the Dogu Express. The longest train journey from Ankara to Kars in the most Northeastern part of Turkey. It takes 24 hours through some of the most remote and beautiful parts of the country. Getting tickets for this train is not easy and they are often sold out in days.
This train is rightly popular. 24 hours might sound long, but with the beautiful scenery outside of your window, you will not be bored for one second.
The friendly people you meet along the way in the train are part of the experience. Not many tourists travel on this train and you will receive a warm welcome and some genuine curiosity what brings you to these parts of Turkey.
The Dogu express is one of the cheapest ways to cross through the country and reach the isolated region of Northeastern Anatolia. The train stops at Kars and this could be the end of your journey or the start of a new adventure exploring one of Turkey’s more off the beaten path regions. Kars is a nice city in itself with the Kars castle. From here it is easy to visit the nearby Ani ruins or travel further to Dogubayezit for the Ishak Pasa Palace and famous Mount Ararat.
Contributed by Ellis Veen from Backpack Adventures
Trabzon & Rize
Trabzon and Rize are on the Black Sea in northeastern Turkey and offer great places to base yourself for explorations of this part of Turkey.
One of my favorite trips from Rize was to the Ayder Valley where you are surrounded by the lush green slopes of the Kaçkar Mountains. It seems there is a waterfall around every turn in this valley and some of the most picturesque stone bridges I have ever seen. Kaçkar Dağı is the highest peak in the Kaçkars at an elevation of 12.917 feet (3,937 meters). The craggy peak presents a formidable challenge for climbers but offers hikers spectacular views.
The village of Ayder is a higgledy-piggledy array of houses, lodges, and businesses on the hillsides that rise up from the Kavran Dere /Kavran Creek. I can recommend the Ayder Doga Resort Hotel. The walk up the steep hill is well worth it for the views across the valley. They use a rope/pulley system to haul your luggage up from the road that runs through the center of town along the creek.
A visit to Ayder isn’t complete without a stop at the steam baths for a soak and coffee with the locals at one of the street-side cafes. The only thing I found more interesting than the mountains were the amazing faces of the citizens of Ayder.
Other things to see in the area are:
- Zilkale, a medieval castle built in the 14th or 15th century. It is located in the nearby Fırtına Valley which translates to Stormy Valley. The castle is built of the edge of a high cliff some 1,250 feet above the Fırtına Creek.
- The amazing craftsmanship of the stone bridges over the Kavran Dere River. You can ride a Zipline under one of these beautiful bridges.
- The Tar Şelalesi / Tar River Waterfall is accessed by a trail just off the Ayder Yaylasi Yolu / Ayder Yaylasi Road.
- Nearer to Rize you can visit a tea plantation to see how this favorite beverage is grown in the terraced fields of the valleys.
Contributed by Jerome fromTravel Boldly
Antalya & Upper Duden Falls
Antalya is the largest city on the Turkish Mediterranean coast. Gateway to Turkey’s turquoise coast, Antalya is a modern city famous for its stunning beaches and wonderfully preserved old-city. Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway or an adventurous holiday, Antalya has everything you need.
With its many buildings from Roman times, lovely hotels and restaurants, Antalya’s historic center is the place you don’t want to miss. In Kaleiçi, you can admire the beautiful Hadrian’s gate, enjoy a stroll along shop-filled streets, or eat an ice cream near the harbor. Don’t forget to visit Antalya’s museum, you will be amazed by its incredible archeological collection.
If you’re looking for natural beauties, head to the Duden waterfalls. The Lower Duden Falls are unique, as they drop off directly into the mediterranean sea. The Upper Duden Falls is located 15km outside the city, and are totally worth a visit.
Antalya is also a great place to relax. Konyaalti beach is stunning, tucked between the cliffs and the Beydağları mountains. It stretches out for miles and is surrounded with plenty of restaurants and cafes. Your second option would be Lara beach, where you’ll also find the amazing open-air museum Sandland.
Antalya is a fantastic city that really deserves at least 3 to 4 days to be enjoyed. But there’s always something new to discover, so staying longer would be even better.
Contributed by Camille from Crafty Explorer
Antalya & Lara Beach
With 300 sunny days a year, Antalya is a paradise for beaches, water sports, gastronomy, and shopping. Recognized as the most popular holiday destination for the Turks, Antalya is the right choice for both a family holiday and an escape with friends.
The city has plenty of attractions to see. The oldest building in the old city is the Gate of Hadrian, built in AD 130, on the occasion of the arrival of the Roman Emperor in the city. Another important attraction is the famous Lara Beach, one of the longest beaches in Turkey.
To the east of the Antalya rocky slope, almost next to the Duden Falls, is Lara Beach, a strip of land with an exit to the Gulf of Antalya. Antalya is an attractive and picturesque city with palm-lined boulevards, narrow streets, luxurious hotels, and impeccable service. Definitely one of the best places to spend a few days in Turkey!
Şirince is an ancient village in Izmir Province, located about 11 kilometers from Ephesus and 8 kilometers from Selçuk town. The 15-minute ride from Selçuk to this hilltop village is winding and scenic with lush roadside mountain views. The small village was once a Greek Orthodox settlement, where early Christians from Ephesus fled to evade persecution. It was later populated with Turks after the governments of Turkey and Greece agreed to exchange Greeks living in Turkey with Turks living in Greece.
Today, Şirince Village is a living representation of the cultural fusion between Turks and Greeks. Its narrow cobblestoned streets are rimmed with a red-tiled roof and old-fashioned stone houses typical of ancient Greek architecture. Parts of the village had admittedly been touristy, lined with souvenir shops, fruit stands, restaurants and old Greek houses turned into guesthouses.
After spending half a day in Şirince, I believe that this quaint village has nonetheless retained its authentic and rural charm. You can see local women in traditional Turkish clothes pleasantly chatting around or selling handicrafts and homemade products. Likewise, villagers remain engaged in farming, having olive oil and fruits as their major produce.
Wine production from grapes, black mulberry, and other fruits is a popular cottage industry, as well. Several wine houses around the village serve as attractions, where the locals will happily offer you a taste of their sweet wines. Also unique in Şirince Village is the harmonious presence of a Greek Orthodox Church and a Muslim mosque within a small area of 700 inhabitants.
A day in Şirince would be good enough for a relaxed exploration of the village. On the other hand, an overnight stay is also recommended to witness the daily village life during the early morning and evening time while most day tourists are away.
Dancing with the Laz People of the Black Sea in Rize
Start talking about Turkey and most travelers will immediately conjure up images of ancient Roman ruins, blue azure Mediterranean beaches, towering minarets, and massive domed mosques. Of course, that is Turkey, but there’s so much more to this amazing country once you leave the shores of the coast and wonders of Istanbul.
In fact, in the northeast of the country, travelers might be excused for feeling they’ve stepped off the bus and wandered into an Alpine paradise replete with rich green carpeted mountain meadows and craggy mountain peaks.
This is the Kackar mountains and the home of the Laz people. These ancient wandering folk are said to be the descendants of Jason and have been trying to maintain their old customs, traditions, and language as the world changes around them. Most Sundays in spring and summer, if the weather is fine, impromptu gatherings will come out to the mountain pastures to share food and gossip and meet new friends.
As the gathering starts to grow and grow, a small traditional music group, replete with a curious sounding bagpipe, will launch into a merry tune and soon everyone is up and dancing in one large circle of 50-60 people or more. A trip to Turkey and the Black Sea would not be complete without a journey into the mountains around Rize to dance with the famous Laz people.
Contributed by Jim and Corinne of Reflections Enroute
Derinkuyu Underground City
Derinkuyu Underground City sits about 40 km from Goreme in Cappadocia, central Turkey. From above ground, you’d never know that beneath your feet is a subterranean network of caves and tunnels going down 85 meters and 11 floors deep.
The vast city was discovered in the 1960s when a man dismantled a wall in his cellar to find a room behind it. The room led to another room and another and eventually to a whole city which once gave shelter to thousands of people in times of siege. In key tunnels, massive millstones can be rolled across the entrances and locked in place and only operated from the inside.
This kept invaders out and the people inside safe. An underground river at the bottom of the city and air vents dropping down through the floors meant the occupants could survive inside for months on end. Food storage chambers and evidence of cooking fires can also be seen.
Many types of chambers are found in the city with a myriad of tunnels leading to churches, family units, large halls, animal pens, and even a wine press. One particularly small and eerie tunnel leads to a temporary burial chamber. Some of the tunnels are so low that you’ll need to bend double to get through them.
The tours last around an hour and take in the key sites of Derinkuyu. You probably wouldn’t want to be underground any more than that and obviously, it’s not for the claustrophobic. Around 10% of the underground city is accessible to the public.
Tours can be booked to explore the cave network of Derinkuyu and other nearby attractions from tourist offices and hotels.
Contributed by Suzanne Jones from The Travelbunny
Don’t Leave for Turkey without Travel Insurance!
Finally, make sure you always travel to Turkey or anywhere in Europe with a valid travel insurance policy. Istanbul is a very safe place to travel, but accidents or theft can easily ruin your trip if you don’t have the travel insurance coverage to recover the losses. Recently my aunt fell on a train in France and needed surgery, but luckily her travel insurance covered the costs in full. Thank goodness!
For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.
Pin This for Your Trip to Turkey
Stephanie has been living in and traveling around the Balkans for the past three years. She’s written for National Geographic Online, appeared on CNN Arabic and in the New York Times, and ridden more Balkan buses than is good for a person.