From the majestic monuments of Istanbul and the fairy tale landscape of Cappadocia to the ancient glories of Ephesus and the glorious beaches of the Turquoise Coast, Turkey is a country that is literally littered with incredible sights that are just waiting to take your breath away. Here are 10 that you definitely don’t want to miss…
Istanbul is a city of contrasts. It’s a city where continents collide, with Europe sitting on one side of the Bosporus and Asia on the other. This city is practically drenched in history, having been the capital of three empires: the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman. Each empire left a whole host of beautiful castles, breathtaking palaces and monumental places of worship behind it.
Make sure you take the time to marvel at the architectural gem that is the Hagia Sophia. At more than 1,500-years-old, it has a mind-boggling history: it was commissioned by the Byzantine emperor Justinian, consecrated as a church in 537, converted into a mosque by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453 and declared a museum by Atatürk in 1935.
Nestled on the Silk Road, Cappadocia is a fantastical place of out-of-this-world rock formations, subterranean homes and underworld churches. There are some 3,000 rock-churches in the area, because this is the area Christians fled to in order to escape persecution during the 7th century.
The village of Goreme, where many of the locals still live in cave dwellings, is the heart of Cappadocia. Out in the open air, incredible rock formations lovingly referred to as ‘fairy chimneys’—bizarre, natural conical structures sculpted by millions of years of volcanic activity—stretch up to 45 metres into the blue sky.
Burdened with a heartbreaking military history, the Gallipoli Peninsular is today a place of peaceful forests and idyllic beaches. It’s a magnet for the countless Australians and New Zealanders who want to pay their respects to the soldiers who were lost there during World War I, as well as the Turks who come to remember the 57th regiment and its commander, Mustafa Kemal, who went on to become Ataturk.
Set in 33,500 hectares, the Gallipoli Campaign Historic Site protects 20 Turkish and 40 Allied cemeteries. Half of the deceased were never found or identified at Gallipoli, so the cemeteries’ massive cenotaphs are a moving sight to see.
Pamukkale truly is a sight to behold. Known as the ‘Cotton Castle’, soothing waters cascade over dazzling white calcified terraces at this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The healing waters of Pamukkale have been revitalizing people for millennia, and there are five thermal springs with mineral-rich water to soak in—so don’t forget your swimsuit.
This natural wonder sits at the foot of the Roman and Byzantine ruins of the spa city of Hierapolis. There’s an incredible Roman theater to see there, as well as a second century agora, which is said to be one of the biggest ever discovered.
Today Pergamon is the laid-back town of Bergama, but in its heyday it was the capital for the Hellenistic Attalid dynasty and a major center of learning in the ancient world. This is one of Turkey’s most impressive archaeological sites, where you can see the ruins of the Temple of Trajan, a 10,000-seat Hellenistic theater, the Temple of Dionysus and the Altar of Zeus.
It’s also home to the fascinating Asklepion, which was one of the most important healing centers of the Roman world. Ahead of its time, this medical center was a maze of baths, temples and treatment rooms, and the patients were treated with everything from mud baths to dream analyses.
Located on the Turquoise Coast, Fethiye was once the site of the ancient city of Telmessos. All that remains of the ancient city today are the Lycian rock tombs which overlook the modern town, a couple of Lycian sarcophagi and a 6,000-seat Roman theatre. Up on the hillside above the town there’s a ruined tower of a Crusader fortress, built by the Knights of St John at the start of the 15th century.
Today Fethiye is a market town offering a chilled-out vibe and some incredible cuisine. Sitting on a stunning natural harbour that’s dotted with yachts and colorful Turkish gulets, it’s a great place to catch a boat trip to the surrounding islands.
Despite the fact that 80 percent of the city of Ephesus is yet to be excavated, the Greco-Roman world really comes to life as you wander around this ancient metropolis. At its peak, some 250,000 people lived here, making it the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire after Rome, Alexandria and Antioch.
Ephesus was bustling with people from all walks of life. Sailors and scholars rubbed shoulders with pilgrims from across the ancient world who where visiting the city’s Temple of Artemis—one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. You’ll be amazed at the sight of the Library of Celsus, the Great Theater, the Temple of Hadrian, the public baths, the agoras, the merchant shops—and even a well-preserved brothel.
If you’re looking for something cute, Sirince’s got you covered. After all, this exceptionally pretty traditional village’s name actually means ‘cute’ in Turkish.
Nestled in the hills and surrounded by fertile fields, vineyards and orchards, this is a peaceful place of traditional stone-and-stucco houses and winding cobbled streets. Vehicles are prohibited in the center of the village, but you may see the occasional horse stroll by. Go on a culinary adventure at Sirince Bazaar, where the local produce on sale is simply incredible.
Troy may not be Turkey’s most impressive archaeological site, but as it’s shrouded in legendary tales of Greeks and horses, it is one of the world’s most famous. While imagining what life was like in Troy is no where near as easy as it is to imagine what life was like in Ephesus, Troy is a place of legends—and it doesn’t get any more legendary than the story of the siege of Troy, which was immortalized by Homer in The Iliad.
Excavations at the site have uncovered nine distinct layers of consecutive urban developments, spanning some four millennia. You can see the city’s fortifications, the site of the Temple of Athena, a Roman concert hall and the Troy Palace complex. There’s also a reconstruction of the Homeric wooden horse at the site’s entrance. You can even climb a ladder up into the horse’s belly.
The protected blue lagoon and lush national park of Oludeniz is picture postcard pretty. Backed by pine-clad hills, this is a peaceful family resort with a long stretch of sandy beach, traditional architecture and plenty of friendly seafront bars and restaurants to chill out in. It’s also one of Turkey’s top tandem paragliding destinations, with happy paragliders catching views of the Blue Lagoon, Butterfly Valley and the Greek island of Rhodes on the descent from the 1,960-meter-high Mount Baba.
Do you dream of taking a dip in the mineral-rich waters of Pamukkale? Of seeing the ‘fairy chimneys’ of Cappadocia? Of chilling out on the beach at Oludeniz? Yes? Then come with us to Turkey. Not only will you have the experience of a lifetime, but you will have a sophisticated itinerary that has been lovingly-created by Indus’ Turkey experts. To find out more about our tours to Turkey, please feel free to contact us at any time.
About the Writer: Vickie Sam Paget
Vickie is a freelance writer and editor based in Vancouver, BC. When she’s not creating dynamic travel or tech content, globetrotting or gazing at the North Shore Mountains, you can usually find her curled up with a good book or sipping a pint of the good stuff in her local Irish bar.