Turkey, now also known as Turkiye, is a rich land filled with history, charm, culture, and exquisite natural beauty. The Zitango team loves Turkey! We are experts in this destination, and we love travelers who are enthusiastic about discovering all there is to see and do in this amazing land. Even the hard-to-please jaded traveler or the bored ‘tween will find something to love here. In addition to Istanbul, we are also featuring nine other places worthy of a visit on a first (or second, even a third) trip to Turkey.
Istanbul will most likely be your first introduction to the history and culture of Turkey. Located in the northwest of Turkey, Istanbul is the 10th most visited city in the world. Home to 15 million people, it’s the cultural and historic capital of Turkey, although Ankara is its administrative capital. Most visitors will stay in the old – or European – section of Turkey, where there are more tourist sites. There’s so much to see and do in Istanbul that it needs a top 10 (or 20) of its own, but here are just a few “must-sees”: Hagia Sophia (“holy wisdom” in Greek) is an incredible achievement in architecture, embodying the Byzantine and Ottoman influences that make Istanbul such a historic and cultural treasure. First, a church, then a mosque, then a museum, and it is again a mosque. An 8-minute walk away is the Blue Mosque, which is frequently closed for renovation, so be sure to check. It is known for its blue interior tiles and was constructed hundreds of years after the Hagia Sophia by a young Sultan who wished to build something more impressive. Both are magnificent in their own right. Not far away is the covered Grand Bazaar, with thousands of individual shops featuring artisanal-crafted gold, ceramics, leathers, carpets, and so much more. Don’t forget to bargain. The Spice Market is nearby, and it’s fascinating to see all the colors and displays of tantalizing foods and spices. Topkapi Palace, about 15 minutes away by foot, is the former palace of the sultans, where their stunning treasures are on display. The best views over the entire city are from Galata Tower. A relaxing way to enjoy Istanbul is a cruise along the Bosphorus, one of the best ways to view both the Eastern traditions and Western modernity that makes the city so special.
Cappadocia is a magical site known for its fairy chimneys rising high above an alien-looking terrain. The landscape was formed by volcanic lava and ash millions of years ago, and it is one of the most unique places to visit in Turkey. Once civilizations were established, the area became part of an extensive trade route that was subject to raiding. Beneath that lunar-looking landscape were cities where people lived in dwellings of hollowed-out soft rock and traveled through tunnels to stay safe. Later, when the Romans occupied the territory, early Christians used the same dwellings to escape persecution and observe their new religion. Derinkuyu is the deepest of the underground cities. Kaymakli is another such city, over 100 feet below the surface. It is possible to tour 4 of the 8 floors of this city that were once home to 3,000 people. At the Goreme Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage site, visitors marvel at churches carved into the rock, with interiors depicting biblical scenes on vibrant frescoes. Another can’t-miss is to explore the region from above by taking a sunrise hot-air balloon ride over the landscape. This is a romantic option for adults and exciting for the younger set, although be forewarned, you will have to get up very early in the morning. Even better, enjoy an authentic experience in one of the area’s many cave hotels.
Ephesus is on the list of must-see places in Turkey. Every year, millions of visitors visit this important ancient center of trade along the Mediterranean coast to explore its ruins. There are amazing monuments from Greek and Roman histories, like the Temple of Hadrian and a hill into which terraced houses have been built, with mosaic floors and wall frescos preserved. The many must-see ruins here include the Library of Celsus, built to house 12,000 scrolls, and the world’s largest amphitheater. Originally from the third century BC, it is still used today for the annual Ephesus Festival held each summer. Ephesus is also where Christian and even Muslim pilgrims come to visit the House of the Virgin Mary. Some Catholics believe this is where her body was taken into heaven upon her death. Today, many people visit the Church of St. Mary on pilgrimage to drink the waters, which supposedly have healing properties.
Turkey’s Turquoise Coast is a must for those who love beaches and crystal blue waters, and tree-filled mountains. This area runs south from the town of Fethiye (accessed by Dalaman Airport) and hugs the coast east to Antalya, boasting pristine waters, sandy beaches, ancient ruins, and many out-in-nature activities like hiking, diving, and paragliding. There are beautiful villages with fewer crowds, like Kaş with its white-washed houses. And there is delicious seafood to try along your trip. An effortless way to discover this region is by embarking on a Blue Voyage via gulet, the traditional wooden motorboat, or a private sailing yacht. These can range from one to three days; even week-long voyages are available, sailing as far as Antalya.
Gobeklitepe in southeastern Turkey is another ancient ruin that draws travelers fascinated by archaeology. This mysterious site, about which there are still many unknowns, is estimated to be some 12,000 years old. That’s thousands of years older than the Egyptian pyramids! First discovered in 1963, Gobeklitepe is considered to be the world’s oldest temple. The site was briefly closed to build a protective roof, but archaeological work has been ongoing and is expected to continue for decades as scientists work to discover more about the people who first built this and for what purpose. Scientists believe the ruins here were built by hunter-gatherers, as the carvings and statues depict many species of animals, including lions.
Mount Nemrut, as the name implies, is a mountain, and you can climb it, but that’s not why people travel to this incredible UNESCO World Heritage site. Giant statues representing ancient Greek, Armenian, and Persian gods, are on two terraces and will have visitors channeling their inner Indiana Jones as they explore. Nemrut is a burial mound, a place of eternal rest for ancient kings to explore during the cooler mornings or enjoy sunsets in the late afternoons. Atop the mountain is the tomb of King Antiochus I. On the way down the mountain, there is a carving of the king depicted shaking hands with Hercules.
Hierapolis and its surroundings are said to be civilization’s first resort and, some say, “retirement” village, with the travertine terraces of PAMUKKALE (or “Cotton Castle” in Turkish) the first spa. This area is magnificent, as the minerals from the hot springs have cascaded down the terraces for millennia and resemble melting snow. It is possible to still sit and soak in the mineral-rich waters of the hot springs, although we recommend you come early in the morning and be sure to remove your shoes to protect the terraces from further erosion. From there, take a climb up the hill to Hierapolis and observe one of the best-preserved amphitheaters in the Mediterranean region.
ANCIENT TROY & GALLIPOLI
Ancient Troy has been behind so many legends, movies, and novels that it’s possible to imagine the romance, treachery, and military strategy here in this setting about 19 miles from the charming sea town of Çanakkale. Along with the ruins, there is a replica of the Trojan horse, left by the production company after the Brad Pitt epic was filmed here, which ensures an equally epic selfie. The Troy Museum is a must-see for a better understanding of the history here. Much more recent history of the horrors of war is remembered nearby in GALLIPOLI, the scene of a nine-month-long WW1 battle. Allied forces (UK, Australia, New Zealand, India, France) landed on the beaches here in April of 1915 to battle the Turks, who had sided with Germany. Unlike the Normandy invasion of WWII, the Turks won under the brilliant strategic command of army officer Mustafa Kemal, who later became Atatürk, the founder of modern-day Turkey. The ongoing battle resulted in 130,000 dead and more than half a million casualties. The pine-covered hills of Gallipoli are filled with heart-wrenching memorials of the sacrifice of both sides.
KONYA & RUMI’S TOMB
Konya, in the southwestern portion of Turkey’s Anatolia region, is another site for those considering a spiritual journey. One of the oldest urban centers in the world, archaeologists found evidence here of continuous settlement from 3,000 BC. The city was home to Rūmī, the 13th-century Persian scholar, philosopher, and best-selling poet of today who founded an order of mystics of the Sufi sect of Islam. Rūmī wrote…. a lot, espousing universal love, tolerance of race and religion, spiritual development, and enlightenment. Today the curious will find examples of these mystical teachings in the brotherhood known as the Whirling Dervishes. Rūmī was well-respected during his time, and his messages of love and connection enjoyed widespread value, so even local Jews and Christians were in the crowd after his death, carrying his body through the streets to bury him in the Green Tomb, now the Mevlâna Museum.
Antalya, the ‘capital’ of Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, makes an excellent base for an exploration of this beautiful area, a can’t-miss for any vacation to Turkey. Antalya International Airport is 6 miles away, making it convenient to visit this modern sprawling city whose charming, historic center, Kaleici, is worth a day to explore on its own. The old Roman port is still a great place to arrange a boat trip or look at the ruins of the old Roman Walls and Hadrian’s Gate. The city is home to an aquarium, with one of the longest underwater tunnels that both kiddos and adults will love to walk through. The main beach here, Konyaalti, is lovely, although somewhat pebbly, and the water is an incredible shade of blue.
There’s so much to see and do in the beautiful country of Turkey. Get inspiration from Zitango sample luxury Turkey tours and tell our destination specialists what’s on your wish list; we’ll arrange a journey with memories that will last a lifetime.