If you are looking for a country with incredible history, fascinating culture, and beautiful landscapes, you might consider visiting Turkey.
Turkey straddles two continents, Europe and Asia, which creates a unique tapestry of traditions and scenery unlike anywhere else.
There are so many unique and incredibly diverse places to visit in Turkey, but with a country so large, it can help to fine-tune your Turkey itinerary based on your interests.
From ancient ruins to beautiful beaches, these are the ten best places to visit in Turkey.
Note: As of 2022, Turkey has asked the international community to recognize the country as Türkiye rather than its anglicized name Turkey. The name change has been adopted formally by the United Nations.
Don’t Forget to Get a Turkish Visa Before You Leave
Most non-Turkish nationals will require a tourist visa to enter Turkey. The new e-Visa system makes it very straightforward to obtain a Turkish visa online.
You can check your visa requirement and apply online here and have your visa in less than an hour in most cases.
Top Attractions in Turkey to Visit
In the Central Anatolian region of Turkey is Cappadocia, a place with incredible history and an otherworldy landscape that will capture the imagination. Cappadocia is where many of the iconic photos of hot air balloons at sunrise are captured, which makes it one of the most famous places in Turkey – But the region is much more than that.
Cappadocia is known for its unique fairy chimneys – the tall, cone-shaped rock formations carved by wind and rain over millions of years. Historically, some of these fairy chimneys were even used as dwellings.
Aside from the whimsical fairy chimneys, there are over 200 underground cities in the Cappadocia region. The most famous is the Derinkuyu Underground City, which is 85m deep with a series of connecting tunnels. These complexes were used for hundreds of years to hide from Roman, Persian, and Arab invaders.
Cappadocia is also home to several cave churches carved out of rock formations in the Byzantine era. Many of these churches, some with original frescoes on the walls, are still in use today.
Cappadocia is also home to charming small towns and villages, where visitors can enjoy traditional Turkish cuisine and culture.
From hot air balloon flights to gentle hikes through ancient rock cities to exploring tiny villages and cities, there is so much to see in Cappadocia. You can find out more about visiting Cappadoccia here.
There are daily flights to Nevsehir, Cappadocia from Istanbul. To drive or bus from Istanbul will take a minimum of 8 hours.
2. Hagia Sophia
One of the most famous historical places in Turkey, Hagia Sophia is, without a doubt, one of the best places to visit in Turkey.
Hagia Sophia was originally built as an Orthodox Greek Church in the 6th century by Emperor Justinian under the Byzantine Empire.
At the time it was built, it was seen as a symbol of the empire’s power and considered one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. The magnificent dome, 180 feet tall and 108 feet wide, was the second largest at the time it was built. It was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, it is considered one of the greatest architectural marvels and a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture.
Aside from a brief period between 1204 and 1261 when it was converted into a Roman Catholic Cathedral, Hagia Sofia remained Orthodox until 1453.
After the Ottoman conquest in the 15th century, it was converted into a mosque until 1931, when it was secularised and opened as a museum in 1935. In 1985 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In 2020, President Erdogan returned Hagia Sophia to the status of a working mosque. This means the building no longer retains museum status and, like the Blue Mosque, will be run by clerics rather than museum curators.
The religious importance and grandiosity of Hagia Sofia have never faded, as it is still one of Turkey’s most popular tourist destinations.
Hagia Sophia is free to enter but is closed to visitors during prayer time.
3. The Blue Mosque
A few minutes from Hagia Sophia is another of Turkey’s most recognizable sites – The Blue Mosque.
Unlike Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque is much newer, being built in the early 1600s under the Ottoman Empire. It was built as a display of the wealth and dominance of the Ottoman Empire and to rival the magnificence of the Hagia Sophia.
On the exterior, visitors can see its iconic six minarets, which only the holiest mosques in Islam had at the time. But if you look carefully, you’ll notice that the Blue Mosque is not exactly blue, so why is it called the Blue Mosque?
The mosque gets its name from the 20,000 Iznik blue tiles that adorn the interior of the building. Because of these tiles, the mosque’s interior is even more stunning than the exterior.
Make sure you don’t miss the courtyard, a beautiful open space surrounded by arches and columns. It is one of the most beautiful places to take photos in Istanbul.
The Blue Mosque is also only open to visitors outside of prayer times.
If you are into history and ruins, then make sure you visit the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey. The ancient archaeological site was once a thriving metropolis and was visited by some of the most important figures in early Christianity and history.
Queen Cleopatra and the Roman Emporer Marcus Antonius visited. Saint Paul worked on spreading the word of God from Ephesus, and The Virgin Maru and St John spent their final days there.
The historic city is home to several other significant sites, but perhaps none is as famous as the Temple of Artemis. Though there isn’t much left of the temple, it is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Make sure you don’t miss the Library of Celsus, one of the most well-preserved ruins in Ephesus. It was the third largest library in the Roman Empire and once contained 12,000 scrolls.
There is no doubt as to why Ephesus is one of the most important UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Turkey.
Ephesus is in Turkey’s Central Aegean region, near present-day Selçuk İzmir Province. Ephesus is 45 minutes drive from the airport of Izmir, 25 minutes drive from the resort town of Kusadasi, or a 6-7 hours drive from Istanbul.
Pamukkale is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Denizli Province in southwestern Turkey. The site is known for its natural hot springs and travertine terraces, which have been used as natural spas for thousands of years.
No one knows exactly when Pamukkale was found, some suggest the Greeks first used the area as a therapeutic spa in the 2nd century AD.
The travertine terraces are formed by calcium carbonate deposits from the hot springs, where the name Pamukkale (Cotton Castle in Turkish) comes from. The water that flows over the white terraces covered in travertine ranges from 95-212 degrees Fahrenheit (35-100 degrees Celsius), which makes it perfect for a soak in summer or winter.
When visiting Pamukkale, don’t miss out on Hierapolis, the ancient city that was built on top of the terraces. There are several ruins, including a Roman amphitheater, baths, temples, and a necropolis.
Together with Pamukkale, they make up the Pamukkale-Hierapolis UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Cardak Airport is the nearest airport to Pamukkale. There are numerous daily flights between Istanbul and Denizli on both Turkish Airlines and Pegasus. The bus from Istanbul will take between 10 and 12 hours during the day or around 10 hours on the overnight bus.
6. Kaputaş Beach
Kaputaş Beach is often described as one of the best beaches in Turkey, it is one of the most beautiful and secluded. It is known for its incredibly clear turquoise waters that make it the perfect place to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of the Mediterranean Sea.
Located 20 km from Kaş and 7km from Kalkan, the small, pristine beach is tucked beneath steep cliffs below the road. The views from the top are breathtaking.
Being the most beautiful beach in Turkey, it can get very crowded, so it is also a good idea to arrive early in the day to get a good spot on the beach and a parking space. Sun lounges are available for rent from the restaurant on the beach. Alternatively, you can rent it out for free if you eat and drink there.
It is also possible to book boat tours from Kaputaş Beach.
You can reach Kaputaş Beach on one of the shuttles that run between Kaş and Kalkan or by car on the D400 highway. Parking is on the side of the road above the beach, so be early to snag a park.
7. Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Istanbul and the best place to visit in Turkey for shopping and a historical experience in one. One of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world, with 61 streets and over 4,000 stalls, the Grand Bazaar is sometimes considered the birthplace of modern shopping malls.
You can find almost anything at the Grand Bazaar, from souvenirs to traditional Turkish clothing, Turkish rugs, and traditional lamps. There are also plenty of small restaurants where shoppers can rest and enjoy Turkish Tea and snacks. The Grand Bazaar is truly a place where you can shop till you drop.
Even if you’re not into shopping, experiencing the organized chaos of the Grand Bazaar is truly spectacular. If you are in the market for something, make sure you haggle, or else you’ll be paying much more than you should be.
8. Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace is one of the most stunning tourist attractions in Istanbul. Located in Sultanahmet, it was built in the fifteenth century and served as the home of the Ottoman sultans for nearly four hundred years. The palace is now a museum, and visitors can tour its many rooms, exhibits, gardens, and courtyards.
Perhaps the most famous feature of the Topkapi Palace is the Harem, a section where the female family members of the sultan lived. The harem was considered a place of luxury and privilege, and the women who lived there had access to many amenities and privileges.
Visiting the Harem in Topkapi is an additional fee, but seeing the incredibly beautiful interior is worth the money. The stunning mosaic-tiled chambers and opulent furnishings showcase the wealth of the once mighty Ottoman Empire.
9. Galata Tower
One of the most famous landmarks in Istanbul is the Galata Tower. Originally built by the Genoese in the late 13th century as a part lighthouse and fortification of Constantinople, the Galata Tower was once the tallest landmark in the city.
After the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, Galata Tower was used as a prison and then a fire watchtower. There is a story of dubious origins that in 1638, a man named Hezarfen Ahmed Çelebi strapped on wings and made the first intercontinental flight from the roof of the Galata Tower, landing on the Asian side of the city.
Today, the 63-meter-tall Galata Tower is mostly known for its outdoor observation deck. This 360-degree deck offers some of the most breathtaking views of Istanbul. On a good day, you can see all of the Golden Horn, Bosphorus Strait, the historic center, and even the Asian side of Istanbul.
10. Mount Nemrut
Mount Nemrut (Nemrut Dağı in Turkish) is a 2,134-meter-high mountain in southeastern Turkey and the location of the tomb of King Antiochus I of Commagene. The mountaintop complex was built by the king in the first century BC and consists of multiple 8 to 9-meter high statues of various gods and kings from the period.
The most famous feature of Mount Nemrut is the heads of the statues. It is unsure when and how these heads were removed from the statues, but they are scattered across the mountain peak.
Despite its remote location, Mount Nemrut is a popular tourist destination. Visitors can hike to the top from the town of Karadut below. It is a 12-km hike, but the views from the top are spectacular and worth every ounce of sweat. It is especially beautiful in the winter when the peak is typically covered with snow.
Mount Nemrut Tour Recommendations:
These are just some of the best places to visit in Turkey. With so many incredibly historic, beautiful, and fascinating attractions in Turkey, hopefully, your curiosity has been sparked, and your desire to explore more of Turkey increased.
About The Author
Sean is the co-founder of The Turkey Traveler, the number one travel blog on all things Turkey. Offering insider tips, recommendations, and guides, The Turkey Traveler is your ultimate resource to help you plan the perfect trip to Turkey.