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Bursting with history and sophistication, Turkey has much to recommend it as a destination. We’re talking miles of stunning beaches limning in turquoise seas, balmy, mild weather almost year-round, cosmopolitan cities, and plenty of headliner attractions to keep you exploring. The food is great (don’t miss the coffee and sweets!), the location can’t be beat, and the people are wonderful. Truly, Turkey is a bridge between the East and the West, a crossroad of cultures both relatable and exotic in equal parts.

You’ve heard of some of Turkey’s most prominent cities, even if you don’t realize it. The names you learned in history class - Constantinople, Smyrna—are here, albeit updated for the 21st century. A captivating slice of human drama has played out across Turkey’s stage over the last two thousand years, and tracing the paths and actions of its major players is an immense part of the Turkish experience.

Turkey’s culture is one of its most fascinating and enjoyable aspects. Appropriate to its geographic location, the traditions here cross the Balkan and Mediterranean with those of the Middle East. You’ll encounter Greek ruins, buildings crowned with minarets, gypsy markets, and spectacular mosques.

Turkey Top Attractions

Istanbul

Istanbul—once Constantinople—is both the commercial and cultural heart of Turkey. Not only is it the most populous city in the country by far, but one of the most populous in Europe! Come here and prepare to be dazzled. See the famous tulips in bloom, wander the pedestrian-only Prince’s Islands with their wooden manors and pine forests, and be dazzled by the Art Nouveau architecture of the southern quarter. Nestled in the estuary of the Bosphorus is the Golden Horn, home of the old city of Galata and the Eyup Mosque Complex. Walking tours of the city’s highlights (the Hagia Sophia, for instance) are common, or you can take a boat tour and take in the sites by sea! Don’t miss the ancient Theodosian Walls, the heights of which you can walk. The Topkapi Museum is a headliner, but Istanbul is full of smaller delights everywhere: the hammans, or Turkish baths; the convivial relaxation of sharing nargile (hookah) with friends, or taking in a football game.

Cappadocia

Unusual, charming, and unforgettable, Cappadocia is a highlight of anyone’s Turkish vacation. Lava plains from three surrounding mountains plus the gradual erosion of thousands of years equal a fascinating, otherworldly landscape dotted by ancient cave dwellings carved out of the rock and the so-called “fairy chimneys.” You’ll relax amid the lunar surroundings at the sauna of Nevsehir, have the chance to stay in a cave hotel, and marvel at the cave churches and monasteries constructed by early Christians who hid here to escape persecution. From even earlier in history, you’ll see ancient cave paintings! The open-air museum is one of the biggest tourist draws here, but you can easily see the sights yourself as well.

Izmir

Welcome to gorgeous Izmir, one of the hottest cruise ship ports of call on the Aegean Sea, as well as the home of some of the world’s best-preserved and extensive Roman ruins (the Agora). LIke so many Turkish cities, it currently exists under a new name: once upon a time, this was the grand ancient city of Smyrna. Orient yourself to your surroundings by locating Konak Square and its iconic 1901 clock tower! Wander olive groves, walk along the waterfront promenade, or explore the small Aegean villages just outside town for a quaint trip back in time. In Izmir itself, check out the beaches or stroll the narrow streets while popping in on tiny shops, bars, and eateries.

Bodrum

The gleaming coast known as “Turkey’s St. Tropez” is warm and welcoming in personality as well as weather! Its proximity to the Greek island of Kos means that the Aegean flavor is especially strong here. Check out the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology, which is dedicated to the treasure found on shipwrecks found under the sparkling blue waters. They say Bodrum was once the site of the Mausoleum of Halikarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. A sense of the past is vibrant and inescapable on Bodrum, especially within the old walls of the eponymous castle and the Bodrum Ampitheatre. Slightly newer landmarks are the 18th-century town windmills, which were used as recently as forty or so years ago to grind grain.

Ankara

Located in the heart of Central Anatolia, Ankara is both the Turkish capital and the country’s second-largest city. The current name is a deviation on the word “angora,” which you might recognize as the name of some adorable and very soft goats! At Anitkabir, visit the mausoleum in honor of Kemal Ataturk, the country’s namesake. Another fabulous landmark is Atakule Tower, the highest point in town, which features shopping attractions underneath. For age and sheer significance, however, it’s hard to top the thousand-year-old citadel of Ankara Castle. A real treat to explore on foot, the castle’s highlights include the preserved public baths and the temple of Augustus. Excellent shopping and dining round out the long list of things to see and do in the Turkish capital.

Ephesus

A prominent archaeological site in terms of the world, let alone Turkey, the site of Ephesus is among the country’s foremost visitor attractions. Here, you’ll find all that remains of the Temple of Artemis—once considered a wonder of the ancient world. The ruins here are some of the most-visited and accessible in the world, and walking tours of the old Greek landmarks will take your breath away. From the gymnasium to the Basilica and the old baths, the immense Great Theatre to the terrace houses and the jaw-dropping Celsus LIbrary, Ephesus promises to bring you closer to a long-forgotten epoch of the past than you ever thought possible.

Quick Facts

Capital: Ankara
Primary Airports: Ataturk International Airport (IST), Antalya Airport (AYT), Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW)
Government: Parliamentary Republic
Currency: Turkish Lira
Population: 74,000,000 (2012 est.)
Language: Turkish
Electricity: 220V/50Hz (European plug)
Time Zone: UTC +2
Turkey

Turkey Travel Reviews


Touring Turkey

Victor Vaughn

While spending a summer in the UK I decided to take a relatively short jaunt over to Turkey in order to experience Middle Eastern culture. My girlfriend and I flew into Dalaman Airport, and from there it was an hour bus journey through the rolling hills to the seaside town of Fethiye. We arrived very late at night, but there were still plenty of tourists out and about in the streets enjoying the nightlife. The next day we changed our money and took a twenty minute walk to the beach. From afar the sea was a dazzling azure and up close the water was clear as glass. We spent all day walking along the beach and stopping into the local restaurants and bars that lined the shore.

The next day we booked a day trip to tour the region. Southern Turkey is part of the cradle of civilization, and the number of historically significant ancient sites in the region is staggering. The first one we visited was the Lycian Rock Tombs. The tombs were carved directly into the cliff face nearly 2,500 years ago. After that we took a short walk over to an ancient Greco-Roman amphitheater which was used for plays at least 2,000 years ago. The last stop on our tour took us to Turtle Beach. Our captain dragged a line baited with crab behind the boat and we were able to watch a Loggerhead sea turtle feed up close. Turkey was a truly magical place.

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Destinations Visited: Turkey

My Trip to Oludeniz

James Leonard

I recently took a trip to the resort of Oludeniz in Turkey. Turkey is a wonderful country, it has all the mystical charm of the middle east even though it’s not QUITE the middle east. Oludeniz is a small village in the district of Fethiye and it has some of the best spots for scuba diving In the world. I unfortunately didn’t go scuba diving and went snorkeling instead but I wish I had done both activities now and I highly recommend anyone who’s visiting to do both activities as the clear blue waters of the agean sea are not to be missed. I ate for most of my trip at the Buzz Grill, they do the best Turkish Donor’ Kebab I have ever eaten and that place is highly recommended as it’s perfect for lone travelers. Towards the end of my stay, I took a bus trip courtesy of Fethiye tours out to the Ephesus Ruins and Pamukkale. The tour lasts two days and one night’s stay in a hotel, which was a godsend due to it being so hot and having no air conditioning on the bus itself. The ruins of Ephesus and the pools of Pamukkale are spectacular but if you are going in the summer months I recommend plenty of suntan lotion and water as you will be doing a lot of walking in high temperatures. This trip to Turkey was fantastic and I can’t wait to return someday with my wife and show her the beauty of this part of the world.

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Destinations Visited: Turkey

Exploring Turkey’s Treasures

Amy Hume

When my friend and I first landed in Istanbul, we were in awe of the mixture of historical and modern architecture. The old city is still mostly intact, while the stylish areas of high rises and shopping malls give insight into present-day Turkey.

We explored the area of Sultanahmet, which hosts the classic sightseeing locations of the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, and Grand Bazaar. Our favorite place to eat was the Blue House Hotel that served local and international cuisine. The view from the terrace overlooks the Bosporus and Blue Mosque. The hamam, or Turkish bath, at Çemberlitaş was a refreshing break from all the walking.

The one-hour ferry trip from Eminonu to Büyük Ada was relaxing. Büyük Ada or “Big Island,” is the most popular stop on the Princes’ Islands. My friend and I ate fresh fish and drank Raki, the famous Turkish liquor. We rented bicycles and toured through the Ottoman mansions.

A hidden gem, frequented by mostly locals, is Pierre Loti café in Eyup. Not far from Sultanahmet, this historical area provides spectacular views across the Golden Horn. Many restaurants offer traditional Turkish food.

We then spent a few days in Cappadocia, which is famous for the natural rock formations known as fairy chimneys. Our hotel was built within the rocks, so we slept in an actual cave! Heaters are provided, so the rooms were more comfortable than we expected. A hot air balloon ride, beginning at sunrise, was a breathtaking experience like no other. I highly suggest taking a short horse-riding excursion through the landscape, followed by a dinner of kebab and local wine. We also explored the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Open Air Museum, in Göreme. There you can see Roman and Byzantine churches, complete with visible frescos painted on the walls and ceilings.

The underground city of Derinkuyu was amazing! The deepest cave dwelling city in the area, we were amazed at the intricate construction supposedly created in the Bronze Age.

Our final few days were spent in the seaside village of Alacaati. The white homes, painted with blue trim and covered in colorful flowers, made me feel like I was in paradise. The people were very kind and helpful. Fresh seafood and local wine were the perfect ending to a beautiful holiday.

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Destinations Visited: Turkey

A Six Week Journey through Turkey

A Six Week Journey through Turkey

This past December, I had the pleasure of traveling to Turkey with my girlfriend. Our trip began in the Adana Province, where we feasted on a variety of local cuisines such as Sirdan (pronounced 'Sherdon'), a homemade street food consisting of intestine stuffed with rice and topped with cumin; Salgam (pronounced 'Shalgam'), a beverage made from fermented red carrots; and Adana Kebap, or skewered meat. While in the region, we also visited the Sabancı Merkez Camii, the largest Mosque in Turkey; and Kızkalesi, or the Castle in the Sea; just off the Mediterranean coast in Mersin. Heading inland, we spent some time in Cappadocia, a region of such fantastical geographic features that it feels as though you have step into the imagination of Dr. Seuss. The spiral (and sometimes phallic) pillars of rock rising from the ground are a site to behold, especially from above in one of the hot-air balloons that swarm the sky daily. Moving north we arrived at Trabzon, a city on the Black Sea. While there we visited the Sumela Monastery; a monastery originally constructed in 386 AD on a cliff face 1200 meters high. It is a truly beautiful, and impressive, sight to behold. Our trip ended in Istanbul, a wonderful city in which worlds (quite literally) collide. While there, we visited the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, and enjoyed local cuisines such Maya Kumpir. If given the opportunity, I would strongly recommend Turkey as a vacation destination for those seeking to explore new cultures.

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Destinations Visited: Turkey

Turkey is Unexpected Highlight of Study Abroad Semester!

Anonymous

In college, I signed up to spend a semester traveling in Europe studying world civilizations. We were slated to visit many countries and everyone was excited to see places in England, France, Germany - places we'd been reading about and seeing in movies all our lives. When I found out that our itinerary also included 2 weeks in Turkey I was indifferent, thinking only, well...I guess we'll see that too. But let me tell you, it was FANTASTIC!

Our trip included stays in Istanbul and Antalya and numerous excursions to places like Cappadocia, Laodicea, and Ephesus.

I especially want to recommend visiting this country if you have any interest in studying the history of Christianity. As part of our Religious Studies class on the first century historical context of the New Testament world we visited numerous sites that date from the Roman period.

We hiked among ruins in Termessos, toured the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, visited the Grand Bazaar, swam in the Mediterranean, took a Bosphorus Cruise, rode an overnight train from Istanbul to Ankara to see the Ataturk Museum, stopped at the hot springs in Pamukale, and enjoyed traditional fare at the Yasar Baba restaurant, which also included a cultural music/dance presentation including Whirling Dervishes. So many great experiences - there were tons of highlights on this portion of our trip.

Regarding accommodations, we especially liked the Ataman Hotel, which is built right into some of the crazy stone towers in Cappadocia (as you can see from the pictures, that area is full of distinctive rock formations and underground cities).

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Destinations Visited: Turkey

Turkey Beyond Istanbul

Curious Rover

While Istanbul is a popular destination for anyone visiting Turkey, there is a whole lot more to see in this wonderful country. Capadoccia region is full of surprising rock formations, cave residences and hotels. Take a trip to this region and explore the weird and wonderful soft rock formations. Stay in a cave hotel and enjoy the local foods.

This trip would be something that you will not forget for a long time!

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Destinations Visited: Turkey
Tour Operator: Medhill Travels

Fabulous historic places

CRE

Loved the Blue Mosque, Roman ruins and the hotels on the water; one was outstanding Key Hotel. Food very good and tasty. One disappointment was a small village that was really a tourist trap but drive to it was pleasant.

Went last April and spent 4 days in Istanbul.

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Destinations Visited: Turkey
Tour Operator: Kensington Tours

Eastern Mediterranean cruise

Crucon

Ephesus. Fantastic history. Went to see excavation ancient homes. Saw library and first toilets ! Had beer at cafe just steps from the ship. Great shopping. Bought beautiful leather blouse. Friends bought carpet shipped to Canada

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Destinations Visited: Turkey

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