Are you planning a trip to Turkey? If you’re looking for destinations to add to your itinerary, here are the 18 top-rated Turkey tourist activities!
1. Hagia Sophia
Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia) is known as the eighth wonder of the world. This wondrous building was initially built in the 6th century under Byzantine emperor Justinian I, formerly a cathedral, and later became a mosque with the Ottoman conquest.
Today, Ayasofya is now a museum located in Istanbul, listed as one of the top tourist attractions without any doubt. When entering the building, you’ll see incredible mosaics and other spectacular forms of art and architecture. Also significant because it unites the world’s religions, and many visitors see Ayasofya as a symbol of peace, harmony, and tolerance.
Ephesus is an ancient city built in the 10th century BCE. Its ruins still exist, reflecting centuries of inhabitants. Tourists can spot classical Greek architecture to the invasion of the Roman Empire and the spread of Christianity.
Today, you can find Ephesus on Turkey’s western shore, 80 kilometers south of Izmir, where there are many well-preserved ruins along the route. Some of the most famous include the Temple of Hadrian and the Temple of Artemis.
Cappadocia is another historical site in central Turkey. It’s characterized by unique cliffs, shaped by million-years’ worth of wind and water altering the land.
Cappadocia is famous for its towering rock formations, nicknamed “fairy chimneys” because of its magical shape and unique history.
The rock-cut churches are some of the most well-preserved ones in the world that range in size, from small churches hidden in caves to amazing multi-cave structures.
The specific sites you should visit include the subterranean regions of Kaymakli and Derinkuyu dating back to 2000 BCE, as well as Goreme, Uchisar, and Avanos towns within the heart of Cappadocia.
You can discover this destination on foot, but most visitors also prefer to see this wondrous landscape from a hot air balloon.
4. Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace was originally a luxurious residence, built during the reign of the Ottoman Empire, which the sultans resided at this palace for 400 years.
Today, Topkapi Palace is one of the most visited museums in Turkey, and many say no trip to Istanbul is complete without visiting this site.
Renowned for its glamour —jeweled decor adorns this palace, and guests love the large courtyards and serene garden, several pavilions, and other multiple sections.
At the museum, guests can see all of the items collected from the Ottoman Empire, including manuscripts, books, and more.
Pamukkale is one of the most incredible natural wonders of the world. Located on top of the travertines, this was a spa center first settled by the Greeks and then taken over by the Romans. The ancient health center has mineral-rich thermal waters that travel down white travertine terraces. The result is a breath-taking four-seasons wonderland.
To this day, the thermal waters are renowned for their healing benefits. You can soak in the Antique Pool (also called Cleopatra’s Pool) and other hot springs listed among the top tourist attractions. Visitors can also see the Roman ruins throughout the city. Some of these ruins include a well-preserved theater and the Necropolis of Hierapolis (which also borders Denizli).
6. Sumela Monastery
Along the Black Sea Coast, visitors can view the spectacle of Sumela Monastery (Monastery of the Virgin Mary). This Greek Orthodox is said to be one of the most beautiful monasteries in the world.
The monastery was founded by two monks, dedicating the site to the Virgin Mary. They dreamt they found the lost Virgin Mary painting by Apostle Luke at the monastery’s location.
Sitting on top of a jaw-dropping hill at the banks of the Panagia river, Sumela Monastery was built with Cappadocia-influence, featuring a rock-cut design. The monastery also features a holy spring, chapel, guest house, library, and student rooms.
The monastery welcomed many different activities in its reign. It was a place for education during the time of the Eastern Roman Emperor, and the Ottoman sultans would deliver gifts to show respect to the monastery.
7. Mount Nemrut
Located in Southeastern Turkey, at one of the highest peaks in the Taurus Mountains, Mount Nemrut is a fantastic destination to see a perfect sample of a tumulus tomb.
The gods & goddesses statues around the mountain on both east and west terraces along with the remains of the Temple of Zeus and other ruins, dating back to 1st century BCE, which is believed to be the resting place of King Antiochus I of Commagene.
Mount Nemrut was once guarded by these massive statues that unfortunately crumbled down today, where visitors travel to see the awe-inspiring sunrise or the sunset at this first-degree archaeological site.
8. Ani Ruins, Kars
Ani was a walled-in Silk Road city that borders Armenia. The town was founded more than 1600 years ago but is no longer inhabited. Ani was destroyed because of earthquakes, Mongol raids, and trade route issues.
Many ruins remain in the ancient site; two of the most prominent ones include the Church of St. Gregory and Church of the Redeemer.
The ruins of Ani are mesmerizing; the architecture is elaborate, and the ruins represent a former powerful city, lost over time. You can easily spend a half-day exploring this fantastic site.
If you’re a history buff, seeing Aspendos is a must. This incredible site is home to a large Roman theater that dates back to 160. During Marcus Aurelius’ rule, the theater welcomed many cultural performances and festivals.
Today, the theater hosts the annual Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival. Guests describe the incredible acoustics and the overall experience of watching superb talent in a historic location.
While the theater is the most famous attraction, the whole city still has various ruins.
Aspendos is 50 kilometers east of Antalya and shares a border with Side, and the best way to get to Aspendos is by private vehicle.
10. Cruising the Mediterranean
The Mediterranean Sea is one of the most exquisite sights in the world. If you have anything close by the coastline, cruising the Mediterranean is a must.
On a cruise, you’ll glide on the brilliant blue waters and gaze at the white-sand beaches and forest-clad slopes.
There are not only amazing sites but several incredible activities on the coast. For example, you can stop in Fethiye or Marmaris and spend a day gazing at the historic locations and eating delicious Turkish cuisine.
Pergamon was a Greco-Roman town located in modern-day Bergama. The city was once a rich and powerful kingdom in the 3rd century BCE. Today, Pergamon is a quiet coastal town, though it still holds an immense history.
Pergamon is located 16 miles from the Aegean Sea on an isolated hill. It reached its peak in the 5th century BCE when it became the residency of the Attalid dynasty.
The most recognizable ruin is an Acropolis-like metropolis. It was once an iconic library, but only its bare ruins remain. You can also find the ruins of a gymnasium, a marketplace, and the temples of Demeter and Hera.
Oludeniz is Turkey’s most famous beach, easily accessible from Fethiye. This beach is unique because it combines a lush forest with scenic blue-green waters.
Visitors can relax on the beach, sunbathing, and swimming in the warm waters. But Oludeniz is also one of the best paragliding destinations globally, offering a stunning aerial view of the beach.
If you want to hike south, you can explore Butterfly Valley. This area is more secluded yet is a beautiful oasis. It gets its name because it is home to a myriad of butterfly species.
Antalya is one of the best holiday destinations and the fifth-most populous Turkish city for a reason. The beaches are some of the best in all of Europe.
History buffs will love Old Town, specifically the Ottoman-era structures and cobblestone roads. Hadrian’s Gate is one of the most famous sites, built to honor the Roman Emperor in 130.
For the beach-goers, Lara is one of Antalya’s most famous beaches, which is home to several luxurious resorts and plenty of entertainment.
Off-the-beaten-path travelers will love some of the adventures Antalya offers. You can go hiking or bike riding in Lycian Way and see Duden Waterfalls.
If history buffs truly want a look into Turkey’s Ottoman days, a trip to Safranbolu is necessary. Stroll the streets, eat delicious food, and pick up some souvenirs.
Currently listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, Safranbolu was once a trading route. This preserved town consists of restored wooden mansions that were previously homes to wealthy merchants. Today, these buildings are restaurants and boutique hotels that you can enjoy the beautiful architectural aspects.
While Safranbolu doesn’t boast tons of tourist activities, it’s a charming town that gives you a glimpse into the history of Turkey at every little corner.
The best way to get there is a private van while there are public buses available from Istanbul. If you fancy a train trip, then you can get a ticket to Karabuk and take public minibusses (dolmush) to Safranbolu from there.
Patara is another splendid beach in Turkey, famous for its long shoreline. It’s located on the southeast coast of Fethiye and is a favorite for tourists because of the privacy — even during the busy summer holidays, you still won’t get absorbed in the crowd.
Founded in the 8th century BCE, Patara also has plenty of ruins. Some of the ruins you can find include a restored Bouleuterion, a colonnaded street, and a 5,000-seat theater.
You can easily access Patara from Fethiye or Kas and include it in your bucket list to explore the ancient site with one of our expert guides.
You probably recognize Troy from Homer’s classic epic “The Illiad.”
Troy was said to be a real town in northwestern Turkey. Its existence is a matter of debate, but the ancient city of Hisarlik is said to have been the site of Troy.
Even though the empire Troy may have been destroyed by King Agamemnon and his army, tourists can still visit the exact site where the ancient kingdom was said to reign. You can even see a replicate Trojan Horse!
Keep in mind that Hisarlik is a long trip from Istanbul if you plan to do it daily. If you want to visit Troy, you’ll want to devote at least a day to travel to and from the capital city. If you like, we can also combine it with Gallipoli and stay one night near Canakkale.
Gallipoli is another historic site, but it offers a different history than the other places on this list.
During WWI, the Gallipoli Campaign (also known as the Battle of Gallipoli) was the Allied Powers’ attempt to control the sea route from Europe to Russia. The Turkish’s resistance was fierce, halting the invasion.
This site is not only historic but groundbreaking for Turkey. The battle was one of the turning points for Turkish independence, and it is significant to the country’s identity.
This battle was one of the most brutal, where half a million casualties lost their lives for whom the site features memorials. Combining with Troy, as noted above, you’ll learn where the battles took place as well as details about the campaign.
Nicknamed the “world’s first temple,” Gobeklitepe is located six miles from Sanliurfa (commonly called Urfa). The site is 11,000 years old and consists of massive pillars, some blank and others carved with various animals. In 2018, it was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There’s debate about what these pillars mean — the animals that were carved were beasts, such as scorpions and vultures, suggesting the carvings represented fear and dominating over that fear.
Gobeklitepe is easily accessible from Sanliurfa Airport, and you can enjoy a daily tour from Istanbul. Visiting the new Sanliurfa Museum is highly recommended as well, where more excavated ruins from Gobeklitepe and its surroundings are displayed.
Don’t Miss These Turkey Tourist Attractions
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