Memories of vacations always stick with you forever, especially the ones spent in the most beautiful countries of the world, right? Turkey is where the best time traveling can be experienced. From its dreamy beach destinations on the Mediterranean coast to the fascinating metropolis of Istanbul; but honestly, Turkey is so much more. There are so many places in Turkey that you could spend years visiting them. I got a chance to live in Turkey for a year but Oh My! that was not enough to fully explore the country despite going on multiple touristic trips.
Turkey is a dazzling destination that straddles Asia and Europe. It is packed to the brim with ancient monuments of much historical significance and showcases beautiful natural scenery. The vibrant culture, famous food, and vast history wow all who venture here. The glorious landscapes-from the sun-soaked Mediterranean to the mighty mountains and arid steppe- never fail to impress. There is far more to Turkey than the packed holiday resorts. You can explore the sites away from the crowds to find ancient architecture and some extraordinary landscape. Whether you want to lap up the Byzantine and Ottoman glories, laze on the beach, delve into history, or see some of the world’s most surreal panoramas- this country has it all.
Turkey has a transcontinental culture-clash, east-west spice-mix of influences, flavors, cultures, religions, and histories. This is a land of sensorial richness, in its bazaars and mosques, its food and arts; of exoticism and romance, from its Ottoman palaces to fairy-tale Cappadocia. In summer, Turkey’s exceptionally beautiful Turquoise Coast is plied by gulets sailing on their Blue Voyages from the Aegean to the eastern reaches of the Mediterranean. They drop anchor to swim in bays of crystal-clear water and take long lunches in fishing villages. This life of some Turks has gone on unchanged for thousands of years. To help you find these spots, this blog rounds up the most beautiful places to visit in Turkey.
Renowned as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, the spellbinding Byzantine glory of the Aya Sofya Museum (Hagia Sophia) is not only one of the top things to do in Istanbul, but also in Turkey. The delicate minarets rim the staggering bulk of its exterior. Which was added after the Ottoman conquest, while the sumptuous and cavernous frescoed interior is a grand reminder of old Constantinople’s might and power. This famed monument is a must-do for every tourist visiting the country.
The city’s architectural masterpiece, the Hagia Sofia, began life 1,500 years ago as a Byzantine cathedral, was converted to a mosque by the Ottomans, then in the 1930s became a museum – until, the summer of 2020, contentiously, it became a mosque once again. But all visitors are still welcome, to pray or just contemplate in awe beneath its soaring golden dome, shafts of sunlight piercing its stained-glass windows like the fingers of God. Beside it sits the Blue Mosque, built in the Ottoman era, its interior lined with handmade Iznik ceramic tiles and overhead, painted various shades of blue, and so beautiful
TWO MOSQUES OF ISTANBUL
Across the Golden Horn, the more modest Ortaköy Mosque is one of the city’s prettiest, white in marble and stone, with pink mosaics within; located at the water’s edge beside the Bosphorus bridge, it is breathtaking at sunset with the golden light, and in the morning, when the call rings out across the water. Some of Istanbul’s most beautiful places are its mosques. that even Pope Benedict couldn’t stay away; when he visited in 2006 thanked ‘divine providence’ for it. Built by Süleyman the Magnificent in the 16th century, Süleymaniye Mosque is just that. High on Istanbul’s Third Hill amid gardens and marble colonnaded grandeur, it has magnificent views of the city, too.
THE FAIRY CHIMNEYS OF CAPPADOCIA
High on the Anatolian plateau, the curious landscapes of Cappadocia resemble a fantasy world. Honey-colored rocks have eroded into sculptural forms resembling minarets, magic mushrooms, and what has become known as Fairy Chimneys, while underground, settlers since the Bronze Age have been busy carving out cave houses, churches, and monasteries from the soft volcanic rock – even entire subterranean cities.
The thing to do is take a hot-air balloon ride at sunrise or sunset; alternatively, see it on horseback or two wheels – or watch the spectacle from the terrace of your cave hotel in the town of Göreme (try Sultan Cave Suites for its rooftop, Museum Hotel or Kayakapi which all have outdoor pools; rustic-charming Cappadocia Cave Suites; or film-set-like Yunak Evleri) as hundreds of balloons drift overhead and the low sun casts apricot light on this extraordinary land. The surreal, swooping rock valleys of Cappadocia are every photographer’s dream. Panoramas of wave-like rock or wacky-shaped pinnacles have Cliff ridges and hill crests. And if you don’t feel like hiking for the views, this is one of the world’s top destinations to take a hot air balloon ride. Nestled in these valleys are the frescoed rock-cut churches of the Byzantine era when this area was an important early Christian site.
The mighty ruin of Ephesus is a city of colossal monuments and marble-columned roads. One of the most complete, still-standing Roman cities in the Mediterranean region, this is the place to experience what life must have been like during the golden age of the Roman Empire. A sightseeing trip here will take at least half a day to cover the major highlights and longer, if you really want to explore, so make sure you plan your visit so you don’t feel rushed.
One of Turkey’s most famous natural wonders, the pure white travertine terraces of Pamukkale (“Cotton Castle” in English) cascade down the slope looking like an out-of-place snowfield amid the green landscape. Although the travertines are themselves a highlight of a Turkey trip, the vast and rambling ruins of Roman Hierapolis, an ancient spa town, lie on the top of this calcite hill, providing another reason to visit. The beauty of this site attracts many photographers. For the best photographs, come at dusk when the travertines glow as the sun sinks below the horizon.
The top sightseeing drawcard for Eastern Turkey, Mount Nemrut’s summit funerary mound is scattered with the broken remnants of once mammoth statues, which guarded it. This weird and lonely place has to be one of Turkey’s most peculiar archaeological sites. The giant stone heads of long-forgotten gods stare out from the summit, casting an eerie atmosphere over the barren mountaintop. The time to come is at sunrise, so you can watch the statues as they loom out of the dark.
Sumptuous beyond belief, the Topkapi Palace takes you into the fantastical, opulent world of the sultans. It was from here that the sultans of the Ottoman Era carved out an empire that would extend up into Europe and down through the Middle East and into Africa. The interiors, with their decadently exuberant tiling and lavish jeweled decor, are an unforgettable peek into the Ottoman’s power base. The surrounding public gardens were once the sole domain of the Royal Court but are now open to the public and provide a tranquil, green respite from the city streets.
With its stunning, lonely setting, built into a cliff face, Sumela Monastery (Monastery of the Virgin Mary) is the star attraction for visitors along the Black Sea Coast. Wandering around this abandoned religious complex, with its church interiors crammed with dazzling and vibrant frescoes, is a must for anyone who makes the long journey to Turkey’s northeast region. The monastery first opened during the Byzantine era and was only closed in 1923. Today, wandering its empty cells, it’s easy to imagine the isolated lives of the monks who once lived here.
CRUSING THE MEDITERRANEAN
Turkey’s Mediterranean coastline has ruins galore and many things to do, but for many people, it’s all about soaking up the sun while enjoying the gorgeous coastal views. Cruising on a yacht is the number one activity for visitors to Bodrum and Fethiye for good reason. The steep forest-clad slopes, hidden coves sporting tiny white-sand beaches, and hundreds of scattered islands are the perfect place for exploring by sea. Even diehard landlubbers will be impressed. One of the most famous trips is known as the “Blue Cruise” and travels from Fethiye south down the coast until disembarking near Olympus, home to the famous natural phenomenon of the Chimaera.
The derelict buildings of the powerful Silk Road city of Ani sit abandoned on the plains close to Turkey’s modern border with Armenia. Once the Armenian capital, Ani’s golden age came to an end in the 14th century after Mongol raids, earthquake destruction, and trade route tussling all played their part in the city’s decline. The beautiful red-brick buildings still crumbling away amid the steppe grass have a mesmerizing effect on all who visit. Don’t miss the Church of the Redeemer or the Church of St. Gregory, with their elaborate stone masonry and fresco remnants still visible.
Turkey has an abundance of Greco-Roman ruins, but none can be so romantically placed as ancient Pergamum in modern-day Bergama. Once home to one of the ancient world’s most important libraries, Pergamum’s remaining temple remnants now preside dramatically on a hilltop. It’s an incredibly atmospheric place to explore, with an Acropolis area and a theater cut into the hillside with sweeping panoramic views from its top seating tiers. This is a great place to visit if you want to get a real feel for life in the Roman era.
Just south of Antalya, the jaw-dropping mammoth bulk of the Roman Theater of Aspendos celebrates the pomp and ceremony of Marcus Aurelius’ rule. Considered the finest surviving example of a classical age theater still standing in the world, it is one of antiquity’s star attractions. Although the theater is the main reason for a visit here-and for most visitors on a half-day trip from nearby Antalya or Side, the theater is all they see there are more ruins to explore over a vast hilly area if you have time.
Istanbul’s artsy neighborhood of Balat, the old Jewish quarter, has color-popping pockets amid its more down-at-heel residential streets – bright-painted stairs (like those up to Incir Ağacı Kahvesi café), street art, parasol-shaded streets and terraced wooden houses in sugary pastels and rainbow shades (try Kiremit Caddesi). Wind around the steep cobbled lanes to dig out surprises in the rootsy cafés and vintage shops, live music venues, and edgy art galleries.
BUTTERFLY VALLEY, FETHIYE
One of the greatest rewards for walkers on the Lycian Way is the spectacular view as you pass above Butterfly Valley: a jag of cove sheered out of the land, colossal cliffs rising sheer and scrubby either side of the narrow blue bay, fading to turquoise at the shore. On the toenail of sand-and-pebble beach at the foot of it, accessible only by boat, there’s a campsite with a beach bar serving beers and grilled fish, and yoga classes are held beneath the trees. Heading inland, the valley (used for all eternity as a goods route) leads through lush greenery and waterfalls, and in springtime, is filled with 100 species of butterfly.
Far enough from the big seaside hubs to keep it offbeat, the old fishing village of Kaş remains a hideaway for hippie travelers and boho-chic Turks. Crazy-paved streets are lined by traditional white-washed houses, wooden balconies overhung with billowing bougainvillea, against a backdrop of mountains. It sits beside the most delicious turquoise sea, rustic swimming terraces, and daybeds built over the water, piled with bright cushions and textiles. The village’s Kaputaş beach is a knock-out, all dazzling white and bright blue, surrounded by dramatic cliffs; and nearby, off the island of Kekova, there’s an underwater city to explore with snorkels, visible beneath the crystal-clear water.
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