Of the many gems littered along Turkey’s Turquoise Coast, none shines brighter than Bodrum. Formerly home to Halicarnassus- the thriving capital of ancient Caria- the peninsula has seen its fair share of civilizations and architectural brilliance. This can be seen in the ruins of ancient cities and settlements, mausoleums, theaters, and forts.
The past century saw Bodrum receive a much-needed boost from the growing tourism sector. Since then, Bodrum city has become the most popular resort town on this side of the Aegean. This is largely due to its strategic location on the peninsula amidst many historical and modern tourist attractions.
So, if you plan on visiting Bodrum, you will be spoilt for choice. To help you, we have created a list that takes a brief look at some of the area’s best attractions. There is so much to see and do that tourists often have to make multiple trips before exhausting everything.
1. Bodrum Castle (Castle of St Peter)
Bodrum’s most iconic sight stands on a promontory east of the city’s harbor. Over the past 3,000 years, this location has played host to several magnificent structures, including the famed 4th century BCE palace of Mausolus. Unfortunately, the building has been lost to history, but in its place stands the iconic Bodrum Castle (Castle of St. Peter).
The Knights Hospitaller built the castle at the beginning of the 15th century and, for the next 120 years, used it as a haven for the Christians of Asia Minor. It was also used as a fort to guard against invasions from the Ottoman Empire, which it did quite well until it fell to Suleiman the Magnificent in the mid 16th century.
Apart from its turbulent history, the most intriguing aspects of the castle lie in its architecture. There is evidence that some of the building materials were reused and recycled from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. Today, the fort is home to the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archeology.
2. Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology
Where the castle once held bunks and beds belonging to medieval knights, it now holds fascinating artifacts salvaged from the Turkish Aegean. This collection is known as the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archeology -a must-see attraction for anyone visiting the port city.
Opened in the 60s, the museum features hundreds of interesting artifacts from all over the ancient world. These include copper ingots and vases from ancient Mycena and seals and jewelry from ancient Egypt. Among these is a rather intriguing piece that may have belonged to the Egyptian queen Nefertiti.
There are also Roman amphorae and Ottoman-era glassware, to name a few. But of all items on display is the reconstructed shipwrecks seated in two of the museum’s halls. Even more interesting is that one of these is currently the oldest recovered shipwreck in the world.
3. Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
Long before people flocked Bodrum for the summers on white sandy beaches, they flocked here to see the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. This was over two thousand years ago, and although little of the original structure remains, it’s still enough to attract tens of thousands of curious tourists annually.
The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus is a 4th century BCE tomb built in honor of the Carian native and Persian satrap Mausolus. It was designed and completed by the best architects and artists of its time. These included Satyros and Pythius, who did such a good job that the mausoleum was one of the most magnificent structures in the ancient world at the time of its completion. And just like that, the tomb was included in the list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Unfortunately, the Knights Hospitalier demolished what remained of the mausoleum in the 15th and 16th centuries for building materials. Instead, they crushed the marble into dust to make lime or re-used entire blocks to fortify the walls of the Castle of St. Peter.
4. Halicarnassus Theater
The mausoleum wasn’t the only magnificent structure Mausolus left behind for the world to savor. A couple of streets away from the tomb lies the Theater of Halicarnassus. This incredible structure was constructed in the 4th century BCE during the reign of the famous satrap for the entertainment of the people.
Six centuries later, the Romans restored and enlarged the theatre, creating an astonishing blend of Greek and Roman architecture that is still evident to date. It could hold an audience of up to 13,000 people during this period. But this isn’t even the best feature of the Halicarnassus theater. That title goes to its cavea design and setting on an excavated hill, allowing spectacular Aegean views.
5. Myndos Gate
During his reign, Mausolus also commissioned the construction of seven kilometers worth of city walls to help with the city’s defenses. The walls featured two monumental gates, one of which is known as the Myndos Gate. This ancient entranceway can be found in a clearing west of Bodrum.
The Myndos Gate features two towers that have been considerably reconstructed, albeit with a modern interpretation of the ancient stonework. In addition, there is a 50-meter-long surrounding ditch that was dug up in 334 BCE to slow down the advance of Alexander the Great’s forces.
Archeological excavations around the gate have uncovered vaulted Hellenistic and Roman tombs. Further information about the site is given by plaques detailing its historical significance.
6. Zeki Muren Arts Museum
Artists and their arts add color to life. In Turkey, one such artist captured the hearts of many with his incredible singing and superb acting. Zeki Muren (1931-1996) recorded more than thirty albums throughout his 65-year life while simultaneously starring in dozens of films. By the time of his death, Zeki Muren had become an icon of Turkish pop culture.
He spent much of his life living in Bodrum, including his last few years. Thus, his house has been converted into an art museum, displaying dozens of photographs, paintings, and stage costumes. There is also jewelry and hi-fi equipment from his singing career.
7. Maritime Museum
Bodrum’s location means that the area has had a close connection with the sea throughout history. Since antiquity, residents have been engaging in shipbuilding, with the industry peaking in the late Ottoman period when Bodrum was used as a base to launch warships. Afterward, the shipbuilding industry moved towards making schooners for fishing, trade, and sponging.
Today, all this history is exhibited in Bodrum Deniz Muzesi (Maritime Museum), housed in the old bazaar building. Items on display include numerous models imitating the different types of wooden boats built in the city. There are also 600 shells collected by Cevat Sakir Kabaagac from all around the world.
8. Lazy Day at the Beach
When not exploring the historical treasures of Bodrum, visitors flock to the waterfront to spend a lazy morning, afternoon, or even an entire day on one of the peninsula’s beaches. This is especially the case in the height of summer (June to August) when Bodrum’s beaches become one of the most visited places in Turkey.
There are different beaches to choose from spread out through different towns. Some of the most popular spots are Bitez, Turgutreis, Ortakent, and Gumbet towns. Bodrum city also has two beaches not far from the town center.
9. Enjoy the Bar Hopping (nightlife)
Where do all Bodrum’s visitors go after a lazy day on the beach? Certainly not back to their hotel rooms. When the sun sets, the peninsula has another trick up its sleeve to keep visitors and residents engaged. At this time, bars and clubs open their doors to everybody looking to have a good time, signaling the start of one of Bodrum’s most iconic features- the nightlife.
Most towns of the peninsula have dozens of clubs that offer diverse entertainment options to both locals and tourists. Whether you want to party to pop music or jazz, there is a club for you. There are also options for those who want to smoke shisha, sip cocktails, and enjoy traditional brews. The good thing is that bars don’t close till morning, so you can hop from one bar to another and enjoy a taste of everything.
10. Explore the Old Town
Bodrum may have undergone a renaissance to become a modern resort town with world-class facilities; its heart retains some of the old charms from its previous existence. The old town features vine-clad and bougainvillea-draped whitewashed houses separated by clean, narrow, cobblestone alleyways.
Compared to the beach and harbor, this section of town is the most peaceful. It’s also quite photogenic as you can still capture the essence of the small fishing village that has been swallowed by modernity. Around here, you will find small cafes and charming restaurants that are well worth a minute or two of your exploration time. In addition, several events and art exhibitions are regularly held in the old town.
11. Day Trips from Bodrum
Most tourists also use Bodrum as a base to explore the surrounding region. The peninsula sits within a driving distance of some pretty incredible and magnificent attractions, including Priene, Miletus, Didyma, Ephesus, Pamukkale, etc. These may not have the beaches and modern amenities of Bodrum town, but they are arguably the most important ancient sites in Turkey.
12. Retail Therapy
Injecting some extra fun into your Bodrum vacation through some good shopping. The resort town has everything and caters to budgets of all sizes. But, if you want to shop designers, then Yakimaz’s marina has you covered. The complex features a dozen or so shops selling designer clothing and items from the world’s popular brands.
The town’s Bazaar also provides a relatively modern shopping experience with proper shops rather than stalls. Here, you can buy textiles, beachwear, and hand-crafted items like pottery and wood figurines. However, if you are looking for a more traditional Turkish shopping experience with haggling and bargaining, the stalls of the Old Town will give you a bit of that.
13. Bodrum Marina
Bodrum’s marina is a sight in itself. It may be loosely described as ‘where yachts come to moor,’ but some of the yachts here are simply incredible to look at. It’s also become the center of marine tourism in the area. Tourists on various cruise tours of the Aegean often dock here at the start or during their travels along the coast.
So, there is a strong chance you’ll use one of these vessels if you decide to go on a half-day, day, or multiple-day voyage of the Aegean.
If you don’t mind a little hiking expedition, you’ll love your trip up the peninsula’s spine to the ruins of Pedasa. These are the remains of ancient Carian settlements that date back to between the 11th and 6th centuries BCE. Recent excavations of the ruins have also uncovered what is thought to be a temple dedicated to Athena.
Hiking to Pedasa is recommended if you want a break from the busy streets and harbor of Bodrum. The pine forests, cedars, larches, and marquis shrubs growing around the trail can be a welcome escape from resort life.
Bodrum is littered with windmills from the 17th century, long before the peninsula became a tourist magnet. These structures have been carefully restored and reconstructed, creating a spectacle that’s an intriguing reminder of a bygone fishing and subsistence farming era.
The most popular is a group of 8 windmills arranged in a row between Bodrum and Gumbet towns. Standing here presents you with fine examples of 17th-century contraception, but it also allows you panoramic views of the bay, Bodrum town, and the surrounding hills.
16. Orak Island (great for private gulet trip)
Orak Island is an uninhabited stretch of land in the middle of the sea east of the peninsula. You can always hire a boat to sail you here, but the island is best experienced on a week-long private gulet trip from Bodrum or as part of a longer cruise exploring this side of the coast.
The trip starts early in the morning from Bodrum harbor, taking you through the red bay before dropping anchor at the turquoise waters of Oak Island Bay. Here, spend the day swimming and snorkeling in the clear, blue waters or lazy sunbathing on the white sandy beach.
17. Take a Day Trip to Kos
Bodrum also serves as the base for exploring the Greek island of Kos, which is the third-largest island of the Dodecanese group of islands. It sits between Kalymnos and Nisyros and, for centuries, has been the confluence of different civilizations and cultures, all of whom have left a lasting legacy on the island.
Kos is most popular today for its amazing scenery, sandy beaches, and turquoise waters. It’s one of the most photogenic places in the region, featuring Greek-style whitewashed houses, palm trees, and even peacocks. Water sports centers and luxurious hotels also contribute to the island’s incredible nightlife.