Turkey is one of those special countries that leaves a traveler yearning to see more. Visitors can easily spend over a month exploring the country’s landscapes, history, and culture by train, bus, plane, and ferry. In collaboration with expert travel bloggers, we’ve compiled a bucket list of the best places to visit in Turkey to help you make the best decisions in planning the perfect trip to Turkey.
Are you a first-time traveler to Turkey? Don’t miss 22 Things to Know Before Traveling to Turkey.
Best Places to Visit in Turkey
Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, is the crown jewel of Turkish destinations to visit. Spanning across two continents (Europe and Asia), Istanbul has been situated at a crossroads of civilizations for thousands of years. As such, today it is rich in cultural influences, impactful history, and majestic beauty. The city offers dozens of pockets to explore so allocate at least 4 days to really appreciate this special city. There is no shortage of activities to do in Istanbul, but here are a few highlights you can’t miss:
- Visit the Spice Bazaar
- Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
- Hamman Experience
- Bosphorus to Kadikoy and Moda
- Visit the Many rooftops
- Go shopping!
- Take cultural workshops in cooking and art
- Spend a few day neighborhood hopping
How to get there: Istanbul is one of the world’s most popular airports, so you could also easily fit it between destinations as a multi-day stopover
Izmir is like the Los Angeles of Turkey: trendy, liberal, on a coast, full of delicious restaurants, spacious parks, and lots of boutique stores. You likely won’t run into many tourists here, yet it is the third-largest city in the country. And what makes Izmir even more special for travelers is that it is the perfect launching pad to visit the ancient city of Ephesus and the gorgeous beach towns of Cesme and Alacati (all listed below).
Izmir is a fun city to walk independently while discovering its nooks and crannies. Stay in the downtown center so you can walk through the gorgeous parks, catch a weekend street market, stop by the many boutique shops, and enjoy the trendy restaurants.
Don’t miss out on Izmir’s:
- Ancient Agora – Ancient ruins located in the middle of the city
- Kemaralti Market – A maze of local markets and shops
- Walk, run, or bike through the Kordon Waterfront
- Konak Square – The busiest central district of Izmir
For history lovers, Ephesus is a definite must-visit destination in Turkey. Originally built as a port city by the Greeks, it was later taken over by the Romans. Today, Ephesus with its well preserved structures, is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On your visit through this magnificent site, don’t miss the Library of Celsus – arguably the most famous structure in Ephesus featured on many of the Ephesus postcards. Once one of the largest libraries in the ancient world, holding over 12,000 scrolls, its façade is still almost completely intact.
Other monuments worth seeking out include the Great Theater, which had a seating capacity of 24,000, and Hadrian’s Temple. Emperor Hadrian was famous for his travels throughout the Roman Empire and for his epic gay love story with his partner Antinous. — Wendy Werneth
How to get there: Ephesus lies about 80 kilometers south of Izmir and just 4 km from the small town of Selçuk, which is where most tourists base themselves when visiting the site.
Keep reading: How to Get to Ephesus from Izmir for $2 in 4 Easy Steps
CESME & ALACATI
Cesme and Alacati are beach towns located less than an hour west of Izmir. They are well worth the visit for a beautiful day between the beach and taking leisurely strolls through the cobblestone streets of these quaint towns.
How to get there: You can get there by hiring a driver for the day to take you to each town. There is a combination of local transportation you can use, but it’s a bit complicated to use and not time-efficient.
If you haven’t heard of this famous region in Central Anatolia, you’ll almost certainly recognize Cappadocia’s dreamy landscape photos of hot-air balloons over its lunar-like topography.
Cappadocia is one of the most popular travel destinations in Turkey for good reason you can do dozens of cultural, historical, and outdoor activities for days. So consider spending at least 3 full days here. Base yourselves in Göreme, a cute village full of fairy chimney restaurants and cave suit hotels. The town also offers lots of bars, shops, tourist excursions, and is an excellent jumping pad for hiking, horseback riding, and/or mountain biking.
Must do in Cappadocia: take a balloon flight and the half day “green tour” which takes you through Pigeon Valley, the underground city of Derinkunyu and Pigeon Valley, the ancient underground city of Derinkunyu, Selim Monastery, and a refreshing hike through the lush Ihlara Valley.
Another popular point of interest in Cappadocia is the Goreme Valley Open Air Museum, one of the best places to enjoy the monastic enclaves, weird drawings, and rock-cut churches. Inside the cave churches, there are numerous frescoes that date all the way back to the 10th Century BC. –– Ivan Tannenberg
How to get to Cappadocia: It only takes an hour and a half to get there from Istanbul by plane. Fly into Kayseri or Nevsehir airports, and from there take a shuttle bus or private taxi to Goreme.
After spending a month traveling in Turkey, Erin can confidently say Kas was one of her favorite places to visit in Turkey. Kas is situated along the stunning Turkish Riviera and is built upon a slight hill, making for excellent ocean views.
Kas offers a perfect mix of relaxation and outdoor activities. Visitors can easily spend a week here basking in sunshine at Kaputaş Beach one of the few white sandy beaches in the region or Ada Beach, a cute pebbly cove closer to the town. When you’re ready for something more adventurous take a water taxi to Nuri Beach and enjoy a few drinks at the beach bar or hike back to town along the Lycian Way. If you’re a big hiker, you could spend more time hiking part of this 540 km long-distance trail. Another draw to Kas is the wonderful alfresco dining options around the main square. – Curiously Erin
How to Get There: The closest major airport to Kas is in Antalya which is a 3-hour drive away. The easiest way to get here would be to hire a car and explore more of the coastline while you’re at it. I reached Kas by taking a favourite road trip between Izmir and Antalya and would recommend this to all travellers.
Antalya is located in the Southern Mediterranean region of Turkey known as the Turquoise Coast or the Turkish Riviera. It’s well worth visiting while you’re touring Turkey for 4 special reasons:
1- The Old Walled Town Kaleici
Kaleici is the historic city center perched on a cliff-top with a maze of narrow cobbled streets built around the picturesque old harbor lined with restored Ottoman houses, shops, bazaar, and mosques.
2 – Magnificent beaches
Three of the most popular beaches are the sandy Konyaalti Beach, stretching for miles between cliffs and mountains, the pebbled, historic Cirali (Olympus) Beach with its many family-run guesthouses; and the beautiful Lara Beach with its fine sand and plenty of action.
Antalya is also home to several of the most stunning waterfalls in Turkey. The wide Kursunla Waterfall is set in the middle of a pine forest and canyon. The magnificent Duden Waterfalls, upper and lower waterfalls, run from the Taurus mountains to the Mediterranean Sea and the Manavgat Waterfall, 3 km north of Manavgat.
4- The ancient Roman ruins
Make sure you see the ruins of Perge which has one of the largest preserved stadiums in the world, built to watch chariot racing, plus two unusual gate towers and it’s Great Theatre. Another fascinating set of ruins is the ancient city of Aspendos also with its huge ancient theatre.
Travelers should allocate at least three days for exploring Antalya. —Maureen Spencer
Fethiye is an idyllic seaside town on the southern coast of Turkey. Fethiye offers a real mix of activities to enjoy, varying from ultra relaxing to adrenaline-pumping.
A trip to the Blue Lagoon in nearby Oludeniz is a must, as is Butterfly Valley. The beautiful waters around Fethiye are also a great place to:
- try stand up paddle boarding
- Hire a jetski
- Take a kayak out onto the ocean
- Explore the nearby ghost town of Kayakoy
- take a gulet cruise day trip to visit nearby islands and swim in some of the bluest seas you’ll ever see
If you prefer a less water and more action, Babadag Mountain is just a short drive away and is one of the best spots in the entire world for paragliding.
You can easily fill a week in Fethiye, especially if you want to take time to enjoy the sunshine and sea in-between your time spent exploring. — Jodie from Alajode
How to get to Fethiye: It’s only a 40-minute drive from Dalaman airport, which has flight connections from all over Europe, making it an easy place to get to for a shorter trip, too. If you can, stay close to the harbor to enjoy the most incredible sunsets every evening.
FARALYA & KABAK BEACH
If you’re looking for a postcard-perfect getaway, Turkey’s southern coast has many places that’ll check the box. Here, you can find plenty of resort towns that boast stunning beaches, nightlife and shopping. And if you’re seeking something away from the crowds and off the typical tourist path, Faralya will be your version of paradise.
What Faralya lacks in a main street it makes up for in views. Residents and tourists who visit this cliffside neighborhood will find themselves enchanted by its sweeping ocean views.
While you won’t find the level of luxury as you would in nearby Ölüdeniz (listed above), most hotels in Faralya have pools, an inviting Bohemian vibe, homemade meals, and affordable rates. Oh, and we can’t forget those epic sunset views that’ll make your stay in Faralya one of the highlights of your time in Turkey.
Aside from watching the sun rise and set over the sea, the best part of staying in this little-known area is its access to Kabak Beach. This secluded stretch of sand is only accessible by foot, making it a true hidden gem. It’s a bit of a hike from the top of the cliff, but your effort will be well worthwhile when you reach the aquamarine waters. — Katie of Two Wandering Soles.
Along the Turkish Riviera, the coastline is peppered by resort seaside towns, beautiful beaches, and rocky mountain ranges. One such place is not one you’ll find on any Google map though.
What looks more like a hippie enclave than a tourist destination, is the village of Olympos. Olympos is a small rugged village in the shadows of Mount Olympos and only steps away from a sprawling complex of ancient Lycian ruins. Because Olympos is in a protected area, the only structures permitted here must only be made of wood. You’ll find glamping like accommodations here, mostly wooden huts with their own bathrooms and fully functioning restaurants.
Only a brief 15 minute walk away from the camps you’ll find the ruins of Olymos where you can explore the ancient Lycian Way of life. Keep walking through the ruins and you’ll reach a picturesque pebble beach with views of Mount Olympos in the distance. Here, you can also climb the cliffs to reach an old Lycian castle offering panoramic views of the sea.
One of the most popular things to do in Olympos that brings visitors to the area is hiking along the Lycian Way – an ancient trade route. Although some choose to do overnight treks here, you can easily opt for a shorter 6-hour route to a neighboring village and getting a taxi back. — Alex of the Wayward Walrus
How to get there: Olympos can be reached by car or bus, but once you get off the main road be prepared for dirt roads the rest of the way. Depending on what you plan to do in Olympos, it’s best suited for at least a 2 night stay.
When in Istanbul, an easy island getaway option from the busy city is visiting the nearby Prince islands. There are a total of nine islands situated in the sea of Marmara the most famous ones being Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgazada and Kınalıada. All these islands do not allow cars, and thus the main modes of transportation are by horse carriage or bicycle.
It is advisable to spend at least two days in Büyükada to enjoy walking in the main town, go on a bicycle tour around the island, and relax in the many beach clubs. And while it is not possible to swim on the beach in Istanbul, it is possible in the Prince islands.
If you want to stay on one of the Prince islands for the night (which is recommended to enjoy them to the fullest), it is best to book in advance as there are very few accommodation options available! The island of Büyükada has the most on Airbnb. — Amandine Hach
How to get there: To get to any of the Prince Islands, visitors can take the public ferry from Eminonu in Istanbul. It will take approximately 1.5 hours.
There are so many places to visit in Turkey, that deciding where to go can make a traveler’s head spin. But for special experience unlike any other consider visiting the Pamukkale travertines. This incredible natural wonder has been the result of mineral rich water flowing over the cliffs and forming calcium deposits with pools of aquamarine water.
People have been coming here since Roman times to bathe in the pools and benefit from their healing properties. Modern day travelers are welcome to take a dip in the pools and people come from all over the world to soak in the warm water and coat themselves in mud.
Tip: Shoes are not to be worn on the travertines so bring a bag to carry them in.
There are plenty of other fun activities in Pamukkale here just a few:
- Visit the ancient city of Hierapolis
- Swimming in Cleopatra’s pools
- Discover the ruins of Laodicea
- See the sunset over the travertines
— Audrey Chalmers
How to get there: Pamukkale is located around 600 kilometres from Istanbul in the South-Central Aegean Region of Turkey. The easiest way to get there is to fly into the nearby city of Denizli from there Pamukkale is only a 40-minute bus ride away.
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