Top Ten Highlights of Turkey

Wed, 07/08/2019 - 3:19pm
Read Time: 5.4 mins

Spanning two continents, Turkey's combination of history, stunning landscapes and coastal surprises make it one of the world's most fascinating countries. Experience the nation's compelling heritage, get active on outdoor adventures, and be inspired in vibrant cities and relaxing coastal resort towns.

1. Istanbul

Twilight over Sultanahmet, Istanbul’s historic centre. Photo: Creative Commons

One of the world's greatest cities, Istanbul combines the echoes of millennia of history with the energy of the 21st century modernity. Explore iconic buildings like the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya and seek out bargains at the Grand Bazaar. Catch a ferry across the Bosphorus from the European side to the Asian side to relax amid the cafes, galleries and street art of up-and-coming Kadikoy.

2. Cappadocia

Hot air balloons, Cappadocia. Photo: Creative Commons

This region's quirky landscape of wind-eroded rocks and canyons is best seen from a balloon at sunrise. But hiking and horse-riding are also popular ways to explore the area, especially the ancient rock-cut churches and underground settlements where the first Christians made their refuge. In villages like Urgup and Goreme, cafes, restaurants and luxury hotels have all been carved into Cappadocia's singular terrain.

3. Ephesus

The library of Celsus, Ephesus. Photo: Pixabay

All of Turkey is awash with ancient sites, reinforcing the many civilisations that have impacted on the country. But Ephesus is one of the Mediterranean's finest and best-preserved destinations, a place where you can wander down marbled avenues, take a seat in the Odeon theatre, and admire the facade of the Library of Celsus. The stunning Roman frescoes in the ancient city's Terraced Houses are a jaw-dropping peek into the lives of wealthy Ephesians.

4. Pamukkale

The terraces at Pamukkale. Photo: Antoine Taveneaux / CC BY-SA 3.0

Translating to 'Cotton Castle' in English, Pamukkale is Turkey's answer to New Zealand's famed Pink and White Terraces. Rising from the dry and dusty plains of Anatolia, the spectacular travertines (limestone terraces) are crowned by the Roman- and Greek-era ruins of Hierapolis. From Pamukkale, it's an easy day trip to Aphrodisias, an ancient site almost as spectacular as Ephesus but with a fraction of the visitors.

5. Gallipoli

Anzac Cove, Gallipoli. Photo: Brett Atkinson

An important pilgrimage for New Zealand travellers, the former battlefields of Gallipoli are now a pine-infused peninsula fringed by the quiet and compact beaches of the Aegean Sea. Particularly poignant is where our soldiers' first landed at Anzac Cove and the New Zealand cemetery at Chunuk Bair. It's also an important destination for Turkish travellers who uniformly offer respect and friendship to Southern Hemisphere visitors from Yeni Zelanda.

6. Troy Museum

The replica Trojan Horse at the entrance to the Troy archaeological site. Photo: Jorge Lascar / CC-BY-2.0

Opened in late 2018, the spectacular new Troy Museum outlines the story of one of the most famous ancient cities. It includes many interactive and innovative displays on the Trojan War as told by Homer in The Iliad and The Odyssey, as well as a replica Trojan wooden horse on display nearby the actual site of the ancient city. Both Troy and its museum can easily be combined with a visit to Gallipoli.

7. Turkey's Aegean Coast

The town square of Cesme, on the Aegean Coast. Photo: Brett Atkinson

Bustling coastal resorts like Bodrum and Marmaris are popular with visitors from around the world. For a quieter alternative, try destinations preferred mainly by Turkish travellers, especially in the shoulder season months of May and September. Wander through the historic, formerly Greek towns of Cunda, Cesme and Assos on the sparkling Aegean Coast, and dine on the freshest of seafood and mezze in emerging food and wine hotspots like Alacati and the island of Bozcaada.

8. Turkey's Turquoise Coast

Ölüdeniz on the Turquoise Coast. Photo: Sevtap Ön / CC BY 3.0

Based in coastal towns like Fethiye and Kas, Turkey's southern Mediterranean coast is the focus for the country's yachting scene. Cruise along the lush forested coastline in a traditional gulet (Turkish yacht) or kayak above the underwater ruins of Simena near Kekova Island. The ancient city was destroyed by an earthquake in the 2nd century AD. 

9. Southeast Turkey

The heartland of Turkey's Kurdish population, southeast Turkey is a destination for more intrepid and adventurous travellers. The astounding archeological site of Gobekli Tepe near the city of Sanliurfa is estimated to be around 11,000 years old, predating Stonehenge by around 6,000 years. To the east is Mardin, a honey-coloured ancient city rising from the plains of Mesopotamia. It’s a popular destination for urban Turkish visitors from Istanbul and Ankara.

10. Black Sea Coast

The Kackar Mountains, northern Turkey. Photo: Creative Commons

With its forested valleys sometimes shrouded in a soft maritime mist, Turkey's northern Black Sea coast is very different from the rest of the country. Fly to Trabzon to take in the audacious clifftop location of Sumela Monastery before continuing east for excellent hiking in the Kackar mountains near the border with Georgia. Close to the Armenian border is the remote Ani, once a major trading hub on the Silk Route and one of the world's biggest cities.


Brett Atkinson

Brett Atkinson is a full-time travel and food writer who specialises in adventure travel, unusual destinations, and surprising angles on more well-known destinations. He's based in Auckland but frequently on the road for Lonely Planet and other publishers in New Zealand and abroad. @travelwriterNZ