Turkey with its amazing Ottoman architecture, whimsical landscapes, broad spanning beaches and bubbling thermal pools is as vast as it is diverse. With so many amazing and somewhat unique places to visit it's hard to choose which are the essential must-sees. To help you make this tricky decision, we've listed some of the best places to visit in Turkey.
The only city to span two continents, Istanbul sits on the Bosphorus - the strait of water that divides the continents of Europe and Asia. Its illustrious past has left behind a rich legacy of churches, mosques, palaces and museums, complemented by the behemoth Grand Bazaar and colourful street life. Sultanahmet, the compact old city of Istanbul, is full of parks, gardens and stunning sights. The Blue Mosque is famed for its blue Iznik tiles and unique six minarets. Hagia Sofia was constructed in the 6th century and reigned as the grandest and biggest church in Christendom until the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, when it became a mosque. And just around the corner is Topkapi Palace.
The Gallipoli Peninsula is a picturesque stretch of coastline located on the European side of Turkey with the Aegean Sea to the west and the Dardenelles straits to the east. Here you can pay homage to those who valiantly gave up their lives in the doomed mission at Gallipoli in the First World War. As well as being a historical national park, Gallipoli also has stunning natural appeal with a wide range of flora and fauna from wildflowers to sunflowers and an array of birdlife. You can also enjoy pristine beaches that even in summer remain uncrowded, and once you've finished here you are just a short while away from the legendary city of Troy.
Positively the best-preserved classical city in the eastern Mediterranean, Ephesus was once a vast Roman city with a population nearing 250,000. It revelled in its prosperity from commerce and visiting pilgrims who came to see its great Temple of Artemis - one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. Top sights within the huge archaeological area include the Great Theatre, once capable of seating 25,000 spectators at one time; Curetes Way, one of the main thoroughfares; the Temple of Serapis, the elegant façades of the Temple of Hadrian and the Library of Celsus. Look out for some of the ancient Roman graffiti and inscriptions on Curetes Way!
The mysterious rock formations and underground cities of Cappadocia are perhaps the jewel in Turkey’s crown. Whole troglodyte villages, subterranean churches and fortresses have been hewn from the soft, porous, eerily eroded rock. The World-Heritage listed Goreme has over 30 magnificently frescoed Byzantine rock churches open for exploration. Cappadocia is also an excellent region for the purchasing of carpets and for adventurous activities such as mountain biking and hiking. A hot air balloon ride over this magical landscape is highly recommended!
Known locally as the Cotton Castles, Pamukkale was formed when warm, calcium rich mineral water cascaded over the cliff edge, cooling and depositing in the process. The calcium builds natural shelves and pools on the cliffs known as travertines. At the very top of the travertine pools is Pamukkale Thermal, where a pleasant dip can be enjoyed in the warm waters. It is thought the natural pool once formed the centre of the ruined Roman spa town of Hierapolis, which was a cure centre founded around 190 BC by the Romans. You can wander through the marble remains of Hierapolis and the star attraction has to be the partially restored Roman theatre, once capable of seating more than 12,000 spectators.
Ancient Pergamum is famous in antiquity for its library, which in its time was thought to have rivalled the great library in ancient Alexandria. Sitting in a stunning location on top of a hill, Pergamum is also famous for its hillside amphitheatre, one of the steepest in the classical world. Down the hill (and viewable from the ancient city) is Pergamum’s Asclepion or medical centre. The Asclepion is entered along a street where upon entering there is a Roman column carved with snakes, the symbol of Asclepios the God of Medicine. There are various ruins including a Roman theatre, Sacred Well (which still gives off drinkable water) and the Temple of Telesphorus.
A seaside town on Turkey’s Turquoise Coast, fringed by the Taurus Mountains, Fethiye is stunningly situated. It's a charming coastal port with a breathtaking outer bay strewn with islands and a good base from which to opt to enjoy a good range of beaches and coastline. Fethiye itself offers a choice of charming cafes, bars and restaurants, not to mention shops, just perfect for a relaxing afternoon. From here you can opt to take a boat cruise to some of the offshore islands, explore the Lycian ruins dotted about the coast or just maroon yourself at a beach or bar! Fethiye is also usually the port from which gulet cruises depart.
Mount Nemrut, also known as Nemrut Dagi in Turkish, is an inactive volcanic mountain in southeastern Turkey, famed for the mysterious large statues that sit atop the summit. This is definitely one of Eastern Turkey's star attractions and has been given UNESCO status. It is believed these statues mark the location of the tombs of a pre-Roman local king and his three female relatives. Many visitors arrive at Mt Nemrut at dawn to witness a breathtaking sunrise as the morning light brings the surrounding ruins to life.
The mystical pilgrimage town of Urfa is one of the greatest religious and historical sites in Turkey with many legends related to the prophets of the Bible. Today it is an exotic blend of Middle Eastern flavour and architectural wonder with a vast and magnificent fortress. Close by are the archaeological remains of ancient Harran, once home to Abraham and an important centre of trade, culture and religion first inhabited back in 3rd millennium BC.
One of the four islands in Lake Van, the largest lake in Turkey, Akdamar Island is home to a ruined 10th century Armenian Church. Known as the Cathedral Church of the Holy Cross, it has an extensive range of bas-relief carvings depicting scenes from the Bible. The church enjoys a breath-taking mountain setting and is considered on of the best examples of Armenian religious architecture. Akdamar Island gets its name from a famous legend, Tamar - a girl who lived on the island who was in love with a common boy from the mainland. Each night she'd hold her lantern so he could see to swim across - but one night her furious father smashed the lamp and the boy was later washed up on the shore. When found, his mouth was frozen with the words "Akh Tamar" (Oh Tamar) on them.