After more than 10 trips to Turkey I put together this list of the most amazing places to visit. Expect quaint mountain villages, the food capital, spectacular landscapes, beautiful mosques, ancient Greek ruins, beach destinations and the unmistakably Turkey tourist destinations: Cappadocia and Pamukkale. Read about all my tips including where to stay and what to do around.
Traveling to Turkey during COVID
In September 2020 I traveled to Turkey and yes this was during the Corona pandemic! Did I encounter a lot of issues? NO! In contrary to what you will read in the news I hardly saw any sights of the Corona Virus, yet I saw how the country suffered under the international restrictions. Where all places open? YES. Do you need to wear a mask? Yes and No.
Read about all my experiences traveling to Turkey during COVID in my latest Turkey travel blog. Find more info about: face mask rules, domestic flights, safety measures, social distancing, etc.
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Map of places to visit in Turkey
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This is a lake not the sea: Lake Salda!
Ephasus, the Greek ancient city is one of my favorite places to visit in Turkey.
1. Istanbul - One Of World’s Most Bustling Cities
No need to introduce the most popular tourist destination in Turkey to you and actually one of my favorite cities in the world. There is so much to do and the city has so many different faces. Of course unique in its kind as half the city is located in Asia and the other half in Europe.
Make sure to visit the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, the Galata Tower and Istiklal Street, the most famous places to visit in Istanbul.
On top of that I would totally recommend you to visit the colorful houses of Fener Balat and watch the sunset from the Maiden Tower on the Asian side, my two favorite things to do in Istanbul.
If you still have time go to admire the Ortaköy mosque underneath the famous bridge over the Bosporus that connects Asia and Europe and have a drink in one of the fancy rooftop bars in Bebek.
The best way to get around in Istanbul is by ferry, they are really cheap. So are taxi’s, but traffic in Istanbul can be hell! Don't forget to explore the Asian side of Istanbul as well, click here for a guide for visiting Kadikoy, things to do in Uskudar and make sure you pay a visit to Turkey's biggest mosque: Camlica.
Where to stay in Istanbul?
Besiktas is one of my favorite areas to stay and easy to move around from. If you are looking for 5 star hotels in Besiktas I have stayed in the Ritz-Carlton, Shangri La and W Hotels, all totally worth the money and pretty affordable for Western standards. Click here for my travel blog about Besiktas hotels.
2. Cappadocia - Magical Hot Air Balloon Rides
Unmistakably the most amazing Turkey tourist destination. Cappadocia is a must visit in Turkey and worth it in every aspect. When you see the Instagram photos and videos of this place, you starting to question how this could even be real!
Every morning there are about 100-150 hot air balloons gently gliding over the unique moon-like landscapes of Goreme. But hot air ballooning is not the only thing to do in Cappadocia. Hiking is another amazing Cappadocia activity. If you go for sunrise hikes in either Love Valley, Pigeon Valley or Rose Valley there is a big chance multiple hot air balloons will fly just above your head.
Be aware that hot air balloon flights are weather permitted and do not take place every morning!
Apart from hiking and hot air ballooning you should visit the Galerie Ikman Carpet shop. Even if you are not into buying a carpet like me it is worth having a look. Sit down drink a tea and marvel at the beauty of this place. See all my adventures in Cappadocia, click here to see all my Instagram highlights.
A good restaurant in Goreme that I would like to recommend is Seten Restaurant. One of the highest restaurants, amazing views over the town, good food and live music. For more Cappadocia travel tips I invite you to read this 2 & 3 days Cappadocia itinerary.
Where to stay in Cappadocia
Check out Koza Cave Hotel! It is the highest hotel in Cappadocia and its rooftop terrace is one of the best spots to watch hot air balloons in the morning.
Side note: I have been to Cappadocia now twice and both times it wasn’t the fairytale experience I had imagined. The first time in 2014 there were hardly any tourists/balloons because it was winter and heavy snowfall. Last time I was in Cappadocia in August 2020 there were no balloons due to Covid-19.
Nevertheless I can tell you it is totally recommended to travel to Cappadocia even if there are no balloons. The hot air balloons make it a magical place to visit in Turkey, but if you are unlucky it still is incredible to experience this unique landscape.
3. Pamukkale - Thermal Springs & Magical Sunsets
Always mentioned in a list of the top things to do in Turkey is Pamukkale. The site of Pamukkale is famous for its unique white ‘sun bathing pools’ that are formed by carbonated minerals from the thermal springs. Entrance fee: 50 TL.
I often get the question: is it worth visiting Pamukkale? Yes, is my answer! But…
At first I wasn’t convinced. Pamukkale is a very popular tourist attraction in Turkey and expect huge crowds. Most pools suffer a lot from overtourism and therefore the original Pamukkale pools are closed to the public. They created man made pools for people to swim in.
These pools are busy but if you go early morning you have this UNESCO World Heritage site all for yourself. My advice though is to go late! Go around 6pm and explore Pamukkale and Hierapolis before you find your favorite pool to chill in. Most people leave already before sunset and towards sunset you will have your private pool. After you entered Pamukkale you can stay as long as you want.
Watching the sunset from one of the Pamukkale pools is one of the best things to do in Turkey. So is Pamukkale worth it? YES, YES, YES! But plan your stay wisely. Click here to see the videos of my visit to Pamukkale.
Be aware that due to a shortage of water most of the original pools are dry. Just indulge yourself with the amazing picture you find on social media because people with high expectations are those that get disappointed.
Another great place to visit next to Pamukkale is the ancient Greek city of Hieraplois. It is included in the entrance fee for Pamukkale. The Hierapolis theater is one of the best preserved theaters I have seen in Turkey. It is almost 2,000 years old and could hold up to 15,000 spectators. The 91m long facade is very impressive.
Where to stay in Pamukkale
A super affordable family run place to stay in Pamukkale is Bellamaritimo just 5 minutes walk outside the town center. You can get a room here for already $30 and they have a big swimming pool. Some rooms have views of Pamukkale. Click here to check the prices for your dates.
4. Ephesus Ancient Greek City - Relive the Past
There are a couple ancient Greek cities that can be visited in Turkey, one of the most popular and famous is the ancient city of Ephesus. Ephesus dates back to the 10th century BC, more than 3,000 years ago. This Turkey tourist attraction can best be reached from Kusadasi (25 minutes). From Izmir to Ephesus is a 55-minute drive. Ephesus entrance fee: 100 TL
When enter Ephesus come in you will walk right up to the massive theater that could hold up to 25,000 spectators. To be honest there are many more better preserved and restore ancient greek theaters around Turkey than the one at Ephesus. But there is a reason this ancient Greek city is listed as one of the best places to visit in Turkey.
Ephesus is much more than just the theater, so don’t be disappointed at first. I admit I was!
Keep on walking down the more than 3,000 year old avenue and you will come up to the incredible facade of what once was the Library of Celsus. To me this was the highlight of visiting Ephesus. This ancient Greek city is pretty damn big, so reserve at least a couple hours to get lost and let your vivid imagination go crazy when walking around this UNESCO World Heritage site.
If you search well on the steps down towards the library you can find carvings that point in the direction that there may have been a brothel in Ephesus back in the days. You can find the carvings of a cross, a woman, a heart and a purse.
Three other nearby famous landmarks to add to you Turkey itinerary are:
- the House of Virgin Mary on Mount Nightingale (5 min drive from Ephesus). Entrance fee 40 TL
- Ruins of the Temple of Artemis (5 min drive from Ephesus). One of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. Visiting the Temple of Artemis is free.
5. Sirince - Historical Turkish Mountain village
Come at ease in the super tranquil and quaint mountain village of Sirince. An old historical village dating back to 300 BC. In the narrow streets of Sirince you will find streets full of local shops, souvenir shops and restaurants and cafes. Somehow you will taste the culture as you try local wines, olives or fruits.
Read my article about the best things to do in Sirince.
It is a nice escape from the heat as temperatures up here are pretty mild in the evenings. Eating out on one of the terraces is the best way to soak up the Sirince vibes, a place where Turks come to drink wine and listen to live music.
Where to stay in Sirince
This is not a standard tourist destination in Turkey but therefore even more an amazing place to visit. There is a charming boutique hotel that I would totally recommend called Gullu Konaklari. The rooms are located in a historical house, the garden has amazing views over the town and the breakfast was one of the best I had on my Turkey trip.
6. Pergamon Ancient Greek City in Bergama
Compared to Ephesus the ancient Greek city of Pergamon is a hidden gem. Located on a hilltop 335 meters (1,100 ft.) above the city of Bergama you will find the ruins of the Kingdom of Pergamon dating back more than 2,300 years. Entrance fee Pergamon: 50 TL.
For me this one of the most beautiful places to see in Turkey as it was not so crowded as Ephesus, yet still super impressive. We were the only ones in the theater and while roaming this UNESCO World Heritage site there were just a handful other tourists. Of course I recommend you to go early.
The massive theater is one of the highlights, but also the remains of the Acropolis are very impressive. You can walk around freely. Visiting Pergamon was one of the highlights of my Turkey trip.
Pergamon is located 1,5 hour north of Izmir and 2,5 hours south of Bursa. Pergamon is a perfect stop on a Turkey road trip in the Izmir province. Click here to see the videos I took while visiting Pergamon.
7. Behramkale Assos - Ancient Greek Ruins With Views Over Lesbos, Greece
A much less discovered Turkey travel destination is Assos on the Aegean Coast, right in front of the Greek Island of Lesbos. Assos is a quiet peaceful beach town in the Canakkale region. The main tourist attraction here is the beach, but on top of the hill you will find the ancient Greek city of Behramkale. Entrance fee: 25 TL.
Visiting Behramkale is perfect stop on your Turkey trip if you like to visit another UNESCO world heritage site. Walk up through the old historical village to reach this Turkey tourist attraction where Aristotle once lived. The ruins of the Temple of Athena offer amazing views over the surrounding Adramyttian Gulf.
The ancient Theater of Assos has amazing sea views with the Greek island Lesbos in the background. Assos Behramkale can best be reached from Canakkale which is a little more than 1 hour drive.
For videos of my visit to Behramkale Assos see my Instagram highlights Turkey 2.
Where to stay in Assos
For amazing views over the town head to Assos Derin Mavi, a lovely family run hotel.
If you are looking for Ibiza vibes then Bodrum is the best place to visit in Turkey. In this popular beach destination you will find endless beach clubs, fancy bars and party people. This is where the rich and famous Turks travel to go wild.
On the Bodrum Peninsula there are many cool places to visit, like the ancient Greek ruins of: Iasos, Knidos, Didyma and Miletus. If you are done with sightseeing these historical landmarks then I recommend you to visit the lovely villages around Bodrum like: Mugla, Akyaka, and Eski Doganbey.
9. Fethiye - Ölüdeniz
One of the most famous places to visit in Turkey is Fethiye and the nearby village of Ölüdeniz. The Blue Lagoon in Tukey? This is where you gotta go! Ölüdeniz is where you will find that stretch of white stone beach with the deep blue water.
An amazing beach destination in Turkey, but there is much more. First thing I have to mention are the extremely popular tandem flight above the Blue Lagoon. Paragliding in Fethiye is world famous and unmistakably one of the best things to do. Even if you don’t feel like flying, it is still worth going to the top of Mount Babadag. There is a restaurant on top called Zirve which of course has absolutely fantastic views.
Another great place to visit in Fethiye is Butterfly Valley, a beach only accessible by boat. Escape the crowds and get yourself on a boat (80 TL round trip). You can also admire the beautiful Butterfly Valley from above. Drive to the ‘Kelebekler Vadisi Uçurum’ viewpoint on Google Maps.
As you can see there are so many cool things to do in Fethiye that there is a reason this is one of the best places to visit in Turkey.
Where to stay in Fethiye
My favorite place to stay in Fethiye is Beyaz Yunus Hotel, a charming boutique hotel. A romantic getaway in Fethiye with ocean view rooms.
10. Mount Nemrut - Surprisingly Spectacular Statues
One of the most surprising Turkey travel destinations on my itinerary. I had zero expectations of these fallen apart statues on more than 2,100 meter altitude, but visiting Mount Nemrut was one of the highlights of my Turkey trip. Mount Nemrut entrance fee: 25 TL.
First off it is an off the beaten path travel destination in Turkey. No mass tourism and getting there is an adventure already! Spectacular scenic mountain roads will lead you away from the tourist trail and already because of its location I think this UNESCO World Heritage site deserves a mention in every Turkey travel guide.
At the top of Mount Nemrut you will find 2 tomb-sanctuary dating back to 62 BC, one on the East side and one on the West side. The tombs were flanked by huge statues that were up to 9 meter high, but unfortunately the heads have been broken off. Nevertheless this is one damn impressive Turkey tourist attraction that you must see.
The East side tomb is the most impressive, but the West side tomb has absolutely amazing sunsets views. One of my Turkey travel tips is to visit Mount Nemrut either during sunset or sunrise.
Where to stay around Mount Nemrut
There is pretty much nothing around Mount Nemrut, so I suggest you to stay in either Malatya (2h drive). We found the Movenpick Hotel Malatya (5-star) for only $50 per night. Click here to check the prices for your dates.
Mount Nemrut can also be visited from Gaziantep (3,5 hour drive). A great hotel recommendation for Gaziantep is the Sirehan Hotel (5-star) for just $45 per night.
11. Gaziantep - Heaven for Food lovers
We keep on adding UNESCO places to this Turkey travel blog, as the Gaziantep cuisine and gastronomy has been added to the UNESCO list. Enough reasons to add this city to our Turkey itinerary.
Walking around the city of Gaziantep I wasn’t really triggered by anything nor did I spot some cool places to visit. May be the Gaziantep Castle and the bazaar, but that is about it.
All in all just an ordinary city I would say, but I was here to try the food!
The fact that more than 50% of all business in Gaziantep are directly related to the Gastronomy industry says enough. We tried several places, there are loads of beautiful courtyards to sit down and have tea and try the renowned delicious pistachio baklava. Also don’t miss the famous Gaziantep kebabs of course.
Where to stay in Gaziantep
For less than $50 per night you already sleep in the 5-star Sirehan Hotel. Click here to find the rates for your dates.
12. Adana - The Adana Mosque
Well worth traveling all the way to Adana for is the Sabanci Merkez Mosque. Until recently it was the biggest mosque in Turkey. Adana is not on many lists of places to visit in Turkey, but it is worth taking the trip. The exterior is obviously very impressive, but so is the interior.
Flights from Istanbul to Adana are sometimes just $15, so that makes another reason to visit Adana. If you are on a roadtrip in Turkey then Adana is a perfect stop between Cappadocia and Gaziantep. Other places to see in Adana are the Taskopru Bridge, the oldest still operational bridge in the world and the Ataturk Museum.
Where to stay in Adana
The Sheraton Grand Adana has amazing views over the mosque. A room in this 5-start hotel can already be found for less than $70 per night. Click here to check the rates for your dates.
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13. Lake Salda - Maldives Of Turkey
One of the most surprising places to visit in Turkey is Lake Salda. I was stunned when I got there and I could hardly believe I was in Turkey. The green and blue colors of the water and the white sand beach made me think I was in Maldives.
Lake Salda is only about 1 hour drive from Pamukkale and a must visit in Turkey. There is not much around here apart from a couple restaurants. It would be a great place to go camping.
14. Egirdir Peninsula - Embrace This Slow Pace Island
Another cool place to add to your itinerary when you visit Turkey is the Egirdir peninsula. One of the most tranquil places to visit for sure as there isn’t much going on. Embrace the slow pace of this island away from the standard tourist trail.
This lakeside peninsula is a great day trip to unwind. A stroll around the island won’t take you longer than 20 minutes. A great place for lunch is the Melodi Restaurant as it has stunning views over the lake.
If you are looking for one of the best views of the Egirdir peninsula then head up to the Baba Keyf Cafe Restaurant on the hill behind the town.
Where to stay in Egirdir
I recommend you visiting Egirdir on a day trip from either Pamukkale or Konya, both places are 2,5 hour drive. Egirdir is an off the beaten path tourist destination in Turkey. A great stop on any road trip through the country.
15. Sumela Monastery - Hidden Gem Close To Trabzon
Built on the cliffs of an impressive rock face deep into the Pontic Mountains you can find a Greek Orthodox monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It can best be reached from Trabzon, a 1 hour drive through scenic landscapes. Entrance fee Sumela Monastery: 10 TL.
It is not exactly known when Sumela Monastery was built, but at least somewhere around 386 AD when Emperor Theodosius was ruling the Roman Empire.
To visit Sumela Monastery you have to take a bus up a steep mountain road that leaves from the parking lot. That is the only way to get there for all visitors. The bus costs 6 TL for a round trip.
When I visited Sumela monastery it was rainy and foggy. Sometimes it adds up to the experience, but not this time. The fact that the monastery is under construction didn’t help either. At first I was a little disappointed, but when I saw the Rock Church I knew straight away why Sumela Monastery is mentioned as one of the best places to visit in Turkey.
The paintings inside and outside the rock church are absolutely breathtaking. Therefore I would totally recommend you to add this Turkey tourist attraction to your itinerary.
Where to stay around Sumela Monastery
Sumela Monastery is a popular day trip from Trabzon and that is also where we stayed. For less than $100 per night you get the Radisson Blu 5-star hotel with the best views of Trabzon. Click on the link to get the prices for your dates.
16. Uzungol - Switzerland of Turkey
Often when you see pictures of Trabzon they show you a picture of the nearby beautiful landscapes of the Uzungol mountain village. Uzungol means long lake in Turkish. This picturesque village is located in a valley between high mountain peaks and famous for its stunning scenery.
It looks a little like the Switzerland of Turkey. You will find many cafes and restaurants with absolutely breathtaking views. The temperature can be chilly at night, but in summer visiting Uzungol is a great escape from the sweltering heat in Turkey. Check this Uzungol travel guide for more tips on where to go.
Not that I didn’t like Trabzon, but the best thing to do in Trabzon is to visit Uzungol, which is 100km (62 miles) east of the city. It takes about 2 hours in a car.
17. Amasra - Charming Fishing Village
Once a sleeping fisherman village on the Black Sea, now one of the most beautiful places to visit in Turkey. The narrow streets of this small village are packed with souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants. When you are looking to eat fresh fish then this is definitely the place you are looking for.
Grab a drink and find your spot for sunset they are magical in Amasra. During the day you can hang out on one of the beaches, take one of the boat trips or go hiking in the nearby hills.
Close to Amasra you will find the UNESCO World Heritage village of Safranbolu, a 50-min drive. It was nice to walk around the old historical Ottoman Empire houses and a cool addition to your Turkey road trip itinerary, but I liked Amasra more.
Where to stay in Amasra
I would combine these two amazing places to visit in Turkey and stay in either Amasra or Safranbolu. The Safranbolu Peri Konak is a charming boutique hotel located in a historical house. In Amasra the Northdoor Amasra Hotel is a great place with the best reviews in town. Both hotels can be booked for less than $50 per night.
18. Bursa - Old Ottoman Empire Capital
Don’t travel to Bursa just on day trip from Istanbul. Dive into the rich historical culture of this old Ottoman Empire capital. Now the 4th biggest city in Turkey with a couple UNESCO World heritage sites and the once was the biggest mosque in Turkey.
Get lost in the old bazaar and visit the Grand Mosque, explore the old city walls for amazing views over the city. Another great viewpoint is the Tophane Park where you will find the clocktower. Don’t forget to drink tea at Koza Han, the old caravanserai in the historical center.
Click here for a full list of the best things to do in Bursa in 2021.
In Bursa you can take one of the longest cable cars in the world. A 10-km ride will take you up to 2,500 meter to Mount Uludag. Another great place to visit in Turkey is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Cumalikizik, 20 minute drive away from Bursa. This historical village is more than 700 years old.
You can easily visit Bursa from Istanbul as it is only a 2 hour drive away, but the best way to travel to Bursa is by ferry from Istanbul Yenikapi.
Watch the videos from my trip to Bursa in my Instagram highlights: Turkey 2.
Where to stay in Bursa
The Crown Plaza Bursa is a great 5 star hotel in one of the best locations in the city. Best thing is that I only paid $60 per night. Click here to see the rates of the Crown Plaza Bursa for your dates.
19. Edirne - Edirne Mosque & Turkish Wines
Easily done on a day trip from Istanbul. Edirne was also once the capital of the Ottoman Empire and is full of history. It is located just a stone’s throw away from the Bulgarian and Greek border.
Although a stroll around the old city is nice, the best thing to do in Edirne is visiting the Selimiye Mosque. This breathtaking mosque was built almost 500 years ago and is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Make sure to visit inside and admire the impressive 31m diameter dome.
Edirne is also famous for being a prima wine region in Turkey, there are wineries all over in this region. In case you decide to add Edirne to your Turkey sightseeing itinerary then consider spending the night in one of the wineries.
Where to stay in Edirne
On my Turkey trip I stayed in the Bakucha Vineyard Hotel & Spa and looked out over the vineyards. They serve delicious food, great wines of course and even do wine tastings. They charge about $100 per night, including a fabulous dinner.
I hope all the above things to do, places to visit and other Turkey travel tips were helpful for your upcoming trip to Turkey. Please leave me a comment below if you have any more questions and I am more than happy to help you out.
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