20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Turkey
Modern-day Turkey is often an afterthought on the classic Mediterranean vacation. Yet the country has a fascinating and colorful history and an ancient culture which is certainly worth exploring. It's hard to believe that ancient Anatolia, the plain that includes the sites of Troy and Ephesus, and modern-day Turkey, are part of the same country. A trip to Turkey today will certainly be memorable, both for its history and its stunningly beautiful landscape.
Home to over 25 ancient civilizations, from the Hittites to the Lycians and the Phrygians, modern-day Turkey offers a vast array of well-preserved archaeological sites that date back thousands of years. Greece may be the best-known destination, but ancient Turkey is no less intriguing, with the sites of Ephesus and Troy waiting to be explored.
While Turkey does not have the towering monuments that Italy boasts, this country also has a rich heritage to explore. Check out the ancient ruins of Assos, Ephesus, Pergamon, Bosphorus, and Pamukkale. Join in the fun with our list of the best places to visit in Turkey.
Cappadocia, a region near modern-day Turkey's eastern border, was an important trade route between the Hellenistic and Byzantine eras. Inhabited since 3000 BC, the rugged landscape of carved-rock, fairy chimneys and mysterious underground city-dwellings has inspired writers from Herodotus to Mark Twain to Jack Kerouac to John Keats. In the central and eastern regions of Cappadocia, things to do include visiting the underground cities, built in valleys below the area's easily accessible rock formations and offering both natural and human-made underground venues for recreation and for housing. Cappadocia is best reached by land or air and can be reached from Istanbul's Atatürk Airport.
Made up of the city of Antalya, known for its famous blue-water gulf and secluded resorts; Kemer, a lively city of white marble buildings set in a sea of flowers; and Alanya, the Turkey's second largest city, with several sights of its own. Notable buildings include the magnificent Pezarma Tower, Antalya's tallest, as well as the world's first true artificial port, built in the 18th century. Antalya hosts the international Mediterranean Film Festival, in June every year, which is regarded as one of the world's top ten film festivals. Highlights of the film festival include a number of open air movie theaters showing films alongside sand beaches and pine forests. Sights in Antalya include the remains of the ancient city of Kemer, Alanya, a new modern city with an intriguing 19th century clocktower, and the seaside town of Kekova, noted for its series of dry rock and whitewashed villas. Inland attractions are centered around Cappadocia, the "Land of Rock," with two less-travelled locations, Ihlara and Avanos.
Read more 👉 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Antalya
Bursa is located in northwestern Turkey, 45 miles west of Ankara and contains the palace that was built in the 15th century by Ottoman sultan, Murad I (r. 1481-1520). Today, the Bursa Museum occupies the palace and is one of the largest and finest in Turkey. With beautiful floor tiles, ancient artifacts, textiles and carpets, the building is largely devoted to the life of Murad, but there is also a section of the palace that covers the art, design and architecture of the Ottoman Empire, and later years. Other highlights include the colorful stone carvings, painted ceilings, mosaics and ornate wooden ceiling. The museum also holds many of the largest and most important archaeological treasures of the whole empire. There are also galleries on the life of the Turks, and a large collection of paintings. There are also displays on Bursa's history and traditional life of the local population. Visitors can also visit the Thacana Palace (3500-1894), a former residence of the Selim II and Ahmed III, which was razed by fire in 1894 but rebuilt after a fire in 1908. At the entrance to the palace, also built in 15th century, is the so-called Kümbet, the hall where the sultan listened to the petitions of the people, and a royal processional door from which the sultan would enter his audience hall.
Ephesus is a great little city in Turkey, a former Roman metropolis which still retains some of its former glory. Today, many ruins can be visited by those who take the time to appreciate the architectural and archaeological beauty of this ancient city. Located some 90 kilometers southwest of Izmir, the site is particularly popular with schoolchildren. Ephesus and its environs was the capital of the first known Greek empire and the ancient City of Ephesus, visited by the likes of Mark Twain, Henry James, and H.G. Wells, is just a short drive away from the city. The towering Acropolis is just a few kilometers east of the city center.
With a population of more than 14 million, Istanbul is one of the largest cities in the world. A hub for trade since its founding in 659 BC, it has been the gateway to and the center of many empires, from ancient Roman and Byzantine times to the Turks. It also has been known for its many religious buildings, many of which are stunning, and for its more secular buildings of later periods, such as the numerous hotels, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. Located at the heart of one of the world's great historical and geographical crossroads, Istanbul is in many ways a meeting place for all things that have ever happened. It's possible to wander the city's well-marked and relatively quiet old town quarter to see its impressive medieval and Ottoman architectural masterpieces; cruise the Bosphorus on the Galata and Taksim Bridge, and enjoy the experience of walking the spice market; enjoy the scent of baklava on the waterfront of the Golden Horn and climb the nearby hill of Topkapi for breathtaking views of the city. Be sure to visit the Blue Mosque, the largest in the world, the Imperial Harem and the Hagia Sophia before your trip ends.
Read more 👉 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Istanbul
The best known palace in Istanbul, Topkapi was built by the Ottoman Turks in 1472 for their governor and only ruler, Sultan Mehmed II. This grand palace was the jewel of the 16th century's Golden Age, when it became a beacon of art and culture under the rule of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. Today, Topkapi remains an architectural landmark, with its distinctive domed twin towers and arcades giving it a uniquely Gothic character. Though much of the palace's wood-carved interior has been painted white, much remains. Of interest are the luxurious rooms that remain in an almost unchanged condition and the palace's numerous gardens. The complex is enclosed by several inner and outer walls, each a different color.
Blue Mosque, Istanbul
Blue Mosque was built by the Ottoman ruler Sultan Abdulmecid in 1616 and was for a time the largest mosque in the world. Overlooking the winding Bosphorus Strait, the striking monumental structure boasts 5,528 highly decorated domes made from hand-painted multicolored ceramic tiles. Inside, awe-inspiring frescoes depict the life of the Prophet Muhammad and beautiful interior stonework includes fragments of Imperial Roman monuments. The famed Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan designed the mosque, and it is regarded as a masterpiece of the imperial period, expressing the wealth and power of the empire. The mosque is closed to non-Muslims and admission is limited to around 25,000 per day on Fridays, the day of Islamic prayer. Visitors must wear clothing that covers their shoulders, elbows, knees and feet and have cameras and video cameras banned. A popular attraction, Blue Mosque is served by several ferries to the Asian side of the Bosphorus and a few each day to the European side of the strait. If you wish to avoid the long lines, make sure you travel to the mosque early in the morning or the late evening. A typical Turkish breakfast includes several items including salads, fruits, roasted chestnuts, hard-boiled eggs, keser (cheese bread) and white cheese called "Pastirma."
Best known for its idyllic beaches and abundant seafood, Marmaris is one of Turkey's main tourist destinations. Located on the southern coast of the Turquie, Marmaris is a popular destination for both tourists and the Turkish elite. Among its attractions are the natural wonders of the Gulf of Antalya, some 25 kilometers from the town, which is dotted with colorful bays and islets. These include Kalkan, the area's main town, a maze of whitewashed buildings on the edge of a turquoise sea and a magnet for yachting enthusiasts. Marmaris is also a major seaside resort, home to the Club Med Resort, located on the northern shores of the Gulf, a few kilometers from the mouth of the River Cayster. Other good places to visit in Marmaris include the great natural caves near Yeşilköy; the fairytale Büyükada island and castle; and Pamukkale, the famous site of natural hot-water springs.
Muğla is on the coast of southwest Turkey and the largest town in a region of extraordinary natural beauty, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and cut into rock, and with the unique maritime climate of a continental plateau. The most interesting landmarks to visit in Muğla include the archaeological remains of Muğla the most important city in the region, the 5th century BC Phaselis and the archaeological park of Kaya is a museum and park of treasures excavated from this area.
Read more 👉 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Muğla
The azure-blue waters of Bodrum's turquoise seas are some of Turkey's most photographed and best-known images. This beautiful seaside resort is almost entirely an entertainment destination, with plenty of bars and nightclubs. There are also plenty of restaurants and places to stay, with more than 50 hotels on the coastline serving a variety of budgets and tastes. There is a wealth of things to do in Bodrum, including visiting the ruins of the ancient city of Halicarnassus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was once part of Rhodes. If you prefer to enjoy the sea, Bodrum offers world-class diving, fishing, and snorkeling. Inland, there are several attractive coastal towns and a small inland lake.
Amasya is a prosperous town in Turkey's northwestern Black Sea region. In addition to its heavy industries, Amasya also has a history of Islamic learning and culture. It was for centuries the location of two important theological schools. Today, it is also home to Istanbul's first Anatolian Hotel, where the owner is determined to preserve the traditional atmosphere of the Turkish bath. There is much to do and see in Amasya, the main sight being the white-walled mosques of the old quarter of the town. The splendid white buildings with overhanging eaves house religious learning institutes.
Denizli is a lovely and bustling provincial town in western Turkey. The main attraction here is the Marmara Sea coast which has a lovely black sand beach. The historical center is old and interesting and contains many traditional houses, including the famous "Cockcrow" which is a building with steep roof and large semicircular roofed windows. The main square, and the largest in the town, is Devlet Pazar. The climate in Denizli is warm and pleasant and enjoys a Mediterranean climate. Denizli is close to Istanbul, and many tourists like to spend a day or two in the city.
With its high limestone cliffs and huge fields of sumac, Lake Bafa is Turkey's largest inland body of water and is located 30 km from the capital city of Ankara. The area attracts waterfowl and migratory birds from both Europe and Asia, as well as beautiful butterflies, wild geese, and ducks. Waterfalls and cycling trails lead visitors from one lake-shore town to another, although most people end up simply relaxing at one of the luxury lakeside hotels.
Canakkale is a beautiful city on the Turkey-Syria border, its busy bazaars and beautiful gardens making this a great city for exploring on foot or by bike. A short bus ride from Turkey's northern border and 2 miles from the Greek border, it is an easy place to explore, with many attractions for the art lover, hiker, or history buff. There are two main tourist sights to see in the city: the Amed Koyunlu Museum and the Hasan Koyunlu Mosque.
Located just east of the central Anatolian plateau, the historic region of Ürgüp is a center for the production of rose water, honey, and opium. The town itself is surrounded by old town walls with a number of historic mosques and churches. Ürgüp's red-sandstone architecture, a central bazaar, and narrow lanes are charming. Best of all, there is a private archaeological museum which holds one of the greatest archaeological discoveries ever in Turkey: a 4,000-year-old Christian basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In 1934, construction workers dug up a cylindrical bowl containing a 1,400-year-old statue of Mary, which was greeted as a miraculous icon by villagers. Aside from the basilica, the city is full of small, ancient mosques, churches, and mausoleums. The site also has one of the largest underground lakes in the world.
Grand Bazaar, Istanbul
Istanbul's famous Grand Bazaar, the city's most famous shopping centre, dates back to 1478, when it was first built to sell the silk and goods of foreign merchants in Istanbul. Today, it's still one of the world's largest and most fascinating market places, but has been redesigned and modernized in recent years and is still every bit the capital of the world's sari shops. The market is of particular interest to foreigners, as it is one of the world's oldest and most traditional and fascinating places to shop for souvenirs. In addition to saris, carpets, kimono, and so on, it also offers a wide range of spices and incense, medicine, ceramics, Turkish delight, stuffed animals, lacquerware, ornaments, carpets, and clothing. The selection of wooden goods for gift giving is particularly wonderful, with every type of wood imaginable, including logs and sawdust, decorative boxes, matchsticks, musical instruments, and more. As the bazaar is in one of the oldest parts of the city, local vendors and artists will often be found selling their crafts and artists' work. Most of Istanbul's modern city attractions, including the Blue Mosque, Topkapı Palace, and Galata Tower, are covered on our tours, but the Grand Bazaar makes a nice excursion in its own right.
The Bosphorus is the dividing line between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. It begins at the narrow Straits of the Dardanelles in Turkey and extends to the Sea of Marmara. It has for centuries been the great maritime route between Asia and Europe, and it is currently the second most-traveled river in the world, after the Nile. Because of the geography of the area, the Bosphorus has long been a subject of international dispute, which means that you can count on seeing warships of all sizes passing by, from Japanese warships to the giant French ship l'Ephimeris, built in 1938. Notable places to see while on board include Marmaris's zoo, which houses a variety of exotic animals. The old city of Istanbul is also nearby. There are also a number of places of interest to visit in between the ports, such as Selimiye Barracks, where Turkish soldiers once trained, and Rumelihisar, which lies within the man-made Grand Park.
It is not unusual to find the three most important peaks in the world (Mount Everest, the Matterhorn and Mount Kilimanjaro) all less than 1,000 km away from one another. This is just one of the reasons Mount Uludağ is so popular; it is located in the highlands near the ancient Turkish capital of Ankara. While most of the world-class climbs around here are quite difficult and use mountain guides, visitors to this part of Turkey can still hike through ancient trails and follow a route across the snow-clad summit to a traditional fortress perched on the top. The mountain is part of the Uludağ National Park, and one of the few protected areas in Turkey where visitors can climb up to the peaks, which range in altitude from 1170 meters to 1848 meters. Most trips take two days to hike, and there are many interesting and attractive places to visit in the park, including a natural hot spring lake and a large 16th century stone fortress. Mount Uludağ is relatively close to the busy city of Ankara, and can be reached by car and bus.
A perfect Mediterranean island, Kemer, 22 kilometers from the northern tip of the Turkish Mediterranean coast, is a stunning island of untouched beaches and shimmering blue waters. Here you can rent a scooter and make a day of touring. Sightseeing is limited, so most people spend their time relaxing on the pristine beaches or sitting in cafés watching the world go by. Diving and snorkeling are available in the sheltered waters of the island, particularly at the far western tip, where there are wrecks. Some of the best beaches are at the village of Ayvalık, or the towns of Beldibi and Kilit, along the western coast. This island has a reputation for being hard to get to, as access by sea is only possible during the winter months and access by road requires careful negotiation. This can be done through Yabancı Yayla (, Yabancı Yayla Büyükşehirleri) at Karşıyaka, opposite the ferry landing. Visit the island's capital, Demre, to see the marina and marvellous fish market and to buy seafood.
Famed for its shape like a giant crater, Mount Ararat is one of the world's highest peaks. It rises from a plateau inside a very large caldera in Turkey. According to tradition, Ararat is the resting place of Noah's Ark, and geologists believe it is the site of a dormant volcano. The highest point of the mountain is 5,137 meters (16,806 feet) above sea level. Views from the summit of Ararat are breathtaking and are sure to leave you in awe of this active volcano. There are two routes up to the top. The simplest and best one is to hike to the actual peak, though a more adventurous option is to first take the Sulukulelu Dağları (Sulukule Mountains) trek, a short but bumpy climb with breathtaking views of the crater and surrounding area. Once on top, you can either hike back down or camp up in the mountains for a few nights. The location of Mount Ararat has attracted many travelers, and the people of Turkey claim the site to be the resting place of Noah's Ark. The biggest festival is the Ararat Hıristiyanları, held every year in September.