Turkey: Main Sights
Bridging the East and West
Turkey is home to some of the most breathtaking sights in the world, including 2 of the 7 ancient wonders of the world. Tourists who are inclined towards history and archaeology find paradise in Turkey, and even if you are not very keen, the sheer beauty of Turkey's cities are sure to take your breath away.
Our Recommendations - Must-See Cities in Turkey
Your first stop should be Turkey's hottest city - Istanbul. The only city in the world built on two continents, Istanbul stands proudly on the shores of the uniquely beautiful Bosphorus (Istanbul Bogazi) where the waters of the Black Sea combine with those of The sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn. Home to the precious remains of past civilisations, Istanbul today represents a harmonious and culture full link between the East and West, past and present, old and the new. It is one of the most beautiful, enchanting and alive cities of the world with an atmosphere, lifestyle and culture of its own.The old palaces, the great mosques with soaring minarets, ancient churches, museums, bazaars, the Istanbul Strait and others are stunning sites that should not be missed.
Antalya is a modern city built around a fully restored marina that has seen the likes of Anthony and Cleopatra. Today, Antalya is characterized by a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and fairly warm and rainy winters, one of the reasons why increasing numbers of tourists are turning to Antalya not only as a summer destination but also as a winter vacation resort. Vibrant open-air restaurants and clubs, a charming old city enclosed by ancient walls (Kaleici), two popular beaches, an interesting museum, and gorgeous waterfalls and impressive ruins nearby! We could go on and on, but you really need to experience it for yourself.
The ultimate chill-out scene, Olympos is located on a steep, ruin-filled valley that opens out onto a beautiful turquoise bay. Popular with both families and backpackers, Olympos is the perfect stop off to relax, away from crowded beaches and commercial tourist resorts. Stay in stunning built tree houses, or air conditioned bungalows and spend your days on the beach and your nights visiting the "eternal flames" that mysteriously burn on the mountain side, or at the open air Orange Bar, hidden away in it's own valley.
If you don't mind crowds, and you're looking for a buzzing nightlife, stop over at Bodrum on your tour of Turkey. A major resort and some say, the most attractive town on Turkey's Aegean Coast - There's a reason why Bodrum is so popular with holidaymakers. Whitewashed houses, crystal blue sea, fragrant jasmine flowers. Sun, sea, sand and non-stop nightlife, the Bodrum Peninsula gives Greece a run for its money! (And is much softer on your wallet!). Despite its seaside location, Bodrum is not a beach resort. A dolmus (minibus) service goes to the nearby sand-and-shingle beaches at Gumbet, 3km (2 miles), and Bitez, 7km (4.5 miles) away, which are renowned for their windsurfing conditions.
Our Recommendations - Top Rated Sites in Turkey
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
The Temple of Artemis, less popularly known as the Temple of Diana, is located in the ancient city of Ephesus, and is one of the 7 ancient Wonders of the World. Built over a period of 120 years, the Temple is a symbol of sheer beauty and architectural genius of the Greek era. After being destroyed and rebuilt a number of times, the temple was finally rediscovered in 1869 on an expedition sponsored by the British Museum, and several artifacts and sculptures from the reconstructed temple can be seen in the museum today. The first monumental building to be constructed entirely out of marble, the only substantial remain of the temple is a single reconstructed column standing in the marshes, and suggests the immensity of the Wonder of the World, four times as large as the Parthenon. The Temple of Artemis is located in Kusadasi with its entrance off the road to Kusadasi. The site is open to visitors from 8:30am to 5:30 pm daily, and no entry fee is charged.
The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmad Mosque)
The Sultan Ahmad Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, is the national mosque of Turkey and one of the most beautiful mosques in the world. The only mosque in Turkey with six minarets, its name is derived from the blue tiles decorating its interior. The mosque’s construction was completed in 1616 by Mehmet Aga, an imperial architect and one of the students of the great architect Sinan. It is built on the site of the Great Palace of Byzantium, on the Southeastern side of Hippodrome. Its grace and beautiful proportions were intended to reflect the splendor of Islam. It was the supreme Imperial Mosque of the Ottoman Empire. The famous blue and green Iznik tiles on the walls are bathed in glorious light that is filtered through 260 windows. The interior consists of open spaces and very impressive columns. The ceiling of the dome is painted with Arabic patterns. Fine Iznik tile work line the lower walls, the doors and windows and the carved stone of the mihrab and mimber. On summer evenings there are light and sound shows in the grounds. The mosque is open to visitors throughout the day, except for half an hour in the afternoons. No admission fees are charged, though donations are welcome.
Mausoleum at Bodrum
The most significant historical site in Bodrum and one of the 7 ancient Wonders of the World, the Mausoleum of King Mausolous who ruled the city state of Bodrum until his death in 353 BC is no longer in existence, being destroyed many centuries ago by battles between the Muslims and Christians. There is a museum in Bodrum dedicated to the mausoleum which opens daily between 8am and 6pm. The museum in Bodrum explains the history behind the mausoleum and includes several galleries and old documents with explanations in English and Turkish. There are also some pleasant and shady gardens at the Bodrum museum. There is a replica of the tomb in the form of the Gümüskesen which is an elaborate Roman tomb that lies near the centre of the Turkish town of Milas. It’s a miniature version of the tomb of King Mausolus at Halikarnassus with Corinthian pillars supporting a stepped pyramid roof, giving an insight into what the actual Mausoleum was like. The museum and tomb is open for viewing daily from 8:00am to 6:00pm.
St. Sophia Museum (Hagia Sophia)
St. Sophia Museum is among the most magnificent monuments in the world’s architectural history. St. Sophia served for 916 years as church and 481 years as mosque since its year of construction. Recently, it was turned into a museum in 1935. St. Sophia was originally built during the period of Emperor I. Konstantinos (324-337). St. Sophia had undergone various repairs during Turkish period starting with the conquest of Istanbul. The tombs of Sultan Selim the 2nd, Sultan Mehmed the 3rd, Sultan Murad the 3rd and heirs, the fountain of Sultan Mahmut the 1st, a primary school, a public kitchen and library and a clock room are among the Turkish period works at St. Sophia, and the tombs make up the most precious examples of Ottoman tomb tradition with regard to their interior design, caustic art and architecture. The Hagia Sophia has a classical basilica plan measuring 74.67 x 69.80 meters. The dome is not perfectly round having a diameter of 31.87 - 30.87 meters, and it is 55.60 meters high from the floor. The museum is open between 09:00am and 4:30pm, Tuesday to Sunday, with longer opening hours during the summer months. An entrance fee of YTL20 ($12.80) is charged.
Kariye Museum (Church of the Holy Savior)
The Kariye Museum was originally built in the 4th century as the ‘Church of the Holy Savior outside the Walls’. The building now in place was built in the early 11th century and had a lot of repairs and reconstructions done in the following centuries. Most of the interior decoration, from the mosaic to the mural paintings dates back to 1320. The mosaics in the museum are stunningly beautiful. The first ones are those of the dedication to Jesus and Mary. Then come the offertory ones of Theodore Metochites, builder of the church, offering it to Jesus. The two small domes of the inner narthex have portraits of all Jesus’ ancestors back to Adam. A series outlines Mary's life, and another, Jesus’ early years. Yet another series concentrates on Jesus’ ministry. In the nave are three mosaics: of Jesus, of Mary as a teacher, and of the Dormition of Mary. For four centuries after the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul it served as a mosque (Kariye Camii), and is now a museum (Kariye Müzesi) because of its priceless mosaics. The Kariye Museum is open to visitors everyday except Wednesdays from 9:30am to 4:00pm. An entrance fee of YTL10 ($6.50) is charged.
One of the most important highlights in Turkey, Pamukkale is an unusual natural and historic site, and often referred to as the 8th wonder of the World by Turkish people. The site is named in Turkish as "Pamukkale", meaning ‘cotton castle’, and parallel to the glorious and spectacular view of the site. The dazzling white calcareous castles are formed by limestone-laden thermal springs, creating the unbelievable formation of stalactites, potholes and cataracts. Waters in the terraces are the sediments of the springs with calcium bicarbonate. The waters, containing mainly calcium salts and carbon-dioxide, run off the plateau's by depositing calcium while carbon-dioxide disappearing. The marvelous landscape of Pamukkale has been created by this gradual formation, leaving a cotton-like image. Located above the theatre of Hierapolis, the mineral water is sourced from the thermal springs of the Cal Mountain. It is collected in a pool, known as the "Sacred Pool" of ancient times, where you can swim amidst the historical remains of Hierapolis. The Sacred Pool is now located inside Pamukkale Hotel. The water of Pamukkale is famous for its benefits to the eyes and skin; and its curing properties to the ills of asthma, rheumatism, as well. The remains of the ancient Hierapolis are situated on back of the thrilling white terraces, standing wondrously in the area. Just outside the Pamukkale are the Red Springs, the boiling waters of which have emerged from thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface to form ribbons of deep red, blue and yellow on the surrounding rocks. An entrance fee of YTL6 ($3.80) is charged. For entry to the sacred pool, a separate fee of YTL18 ($11.50) is charged.
Topkapi Palace Museum
Home to the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire for over 400 years, the Topkapi Palace was built in the 15th century. It has opulent rooms, fine art collections, and peaceful courtyards, and is one of the highlights of the city. When looking at a map of Topkapi, the palace complex looks immense. The palace has been a museum since 1924. Like many national museums, visitors can easily spend at least a day exploring all of the buildings and grounds. Some of the relics in the Topkapi Palace are hard to authenticate. Among them is a cabinet containing bones from the skull and hands of John the Baptist. The Pavilion of the Holy Mantle has some of the holiest relics of Islam, most of which found their way to Istanbul during the reign of Selim the Grim who conquered both Egypt and Arabia. The most sacred treasure is the mantle once worn by the Prophet Mohammed. A holy man continually chants passages from the Koran night and day over a gold chest containing the mantle. In the same room are hairs from Mohammed, two of his swords, a letter written by him and an impression of his footprint. Today Topkapi Palace functions as a museum and only a very small part of its original domain and environment can be appreciated. The ravages of time have resulted in the destruction and the demolition of many of its original structures. Despite this, the original 15th century spatial organization based on a triple courtyard order that integrates, segregates, and defines the palace's residential, ceremonial, and functional requirements has remained remarkably intact. Located in the Sultanahmet neighborhood the Topkapi Palace is open to the public from 9:00am to 5:00pm daily, except Tuesdays with an admission fee of YTL20 ($12.80).
Goreme Open Air Museum (Cappadocia)
The Goreme Open Air Museum is Cappadocia’s most famous tourist attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated in the Goreme valley and only a 15 minute walk from the Goreme town, the open air museum is a collection of cave churches and monasteries adorned with Byzantine frescoes dating back to the 10th-12th century. The valley was formed by a huge volcanic eruption, covering the valley with soft volcanic rock which later led to an erosion of strange unearthly shapes. Over the centuries the soft rock has been carved into, creating the vast open air museum of Goreme. There are 10 churches in total in the Goreme Valley, St. Basil’s Church,, Apple Church, St. Barbara Chapel,, Snake Church, Dark Church, St. Catherine Chapel, Sandal Church, Buckle Church and the Nunnery. The best-preserved frescoes are in the Karanlik Kilise or the Dark Church, which is subject to an additional admission fee YTL10. These paintings were restored at great expense and therefore an additional fee is charged. The Goreme Open-Air Museum is open throughout the week from 08:30am to 7:00pm and costs YTL15 ($9.50). It’s best to arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the tourist crowds.
Our top recommendations - Best Villages in Turkey
Bergama: The soul of this village is the marketplace. Donkeys and their owners are parked next to stalls of fresh produce. Carpets hang from the awnings of old village houses around the Red Basilica to create a bit of shade from the hot sun. And only a few hundred yards away is Pergamum, one of the finest archaeological sites of antiquity.
Alacati: A hilltop mound of windmills and 800-year-old Selçuk barrelhouses guard the entrance to the tiny Aegean village of Alaçati. So close to the sea, and yet so far.
Sirince: Originally a sanctuary for Greeks in the dying days of Ephesus, this dense hillside of preserved houses enclosed within a landscape of grape orchards is the perfect antidote to an overdose of archaeological sites. A bottle of local wine enjoyed amid the atmosphere of a former schoolhouse helps the medicine go down, too.
Gumuusluk: The chance to walk on water -- or nearly so -- thanks to the sunken city walls of ancient Myndos; what more could one want? How about an undiscovered enclosed bay, a sandy beach, and characteristic waterfront fish shacks.
Karmylassos/Kayakoy: Haunting panoramas of lives interrupted blanket the hillside of this once-thriving Greek settlement, abandoned during the 1924 population exchange between Turkey and Greece. Rather than reinhabit the houses -- now crumbling and roofless -- local Turkish residents have settled in the rolling and fertile plains of the surrounding valley.
Kalkan: An influx of expatriates has put this little merchant village on the map. Now it's a chic and quirky tourist center -- but the popularity has only resulted in improvement. The more old timber houses that are restored, the longer the roster of fabulous rooftop terraces and sea views.