Top 6 must-see places to visit in Turkey

Turkey has everything to captivate even the most jaded of travellers. Not only does the ancient capital of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires feature in most holiday plans, but the country has many more incredible destinations to visit.

To help you organise your next trip to Turkey, here are the top six attractions and places to visit in the country. Remember to do your research into holiday packages and getaway offers for the cheapest prices – last minute deals to Turkey are often available.

1. Istanbul

Istanbul is known as the city of a thousand and one nights or the city of seven hills, although none of the names truly capture the magical essence of this unique city that is bridges Asia and Europe. The Turkish capital perfectly blends the traditions and culture of the East with the modernity of the West.

The best way to enjoy Istanbul is to get lost in the crowded neighbourhoods, and hunt for bargains in one of its markets such as the Grand Bazaar or the spice market. Don’t leave without visiting the impressive Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia where the architecture will leave you in awe.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey
Blue Mosque in Istanbul

For some of the best views in the city, climb up the Galata Tower or enjoy lunch on the terrace at the Pierre Loti Cafe – don’t forget your camera! Other highlights of a visit to Istanbul include the Church of San Salvador de Chora, the Topkapi Palace, and a cruise on the Bosphorus River. Remember to try some of the delicious Turkish cuisine too – there are plenty of traditional restaurants around.

2. Cappadocia

Cappadocia, a region located in the centre of the country and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most impressive places to see in Turkey and in the world. It’s one of the world’s top places for hot air ballooning, with dozens of balloons taking off at dawn each morning to float over the beautiful region.

Ballooning over Cappadocia, Turkey
Hot air ballooning over Cappadocia

This huge area that leaves you speechless thanks to its lunar landscape which is dotted with rare rock formations known as fairy chimneys. These otherworldly rock features have been formed over thousands of years by erosion, creating a landscape that will have you grabbing for the camera. You’ll also come across monasteries and houses carved into the rocks, as well as hidden underground cities like Derinkuyu which were used by locals to escape religious persecution.

One of the best things to see and do in Cappadocia is the Göreme Open Air Museum, where you can visit rock-hewn churches and chapels with impressive frescoes from the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries. Don’t forget to take a hike through the Valley of the Pigeons, or check out Love Valley for some rather suggestive landform viewing.

3. Pamukkale

Pamukkale, Turkish for cotton castle, is another of Turkey’s most impressive sights and most famous places to visit. You’ll probably recognise it from Instagram, and it’s easy to see why it’s such a popular place for visitors to post for that perfect photo.

Travertine pools at Pamukkale

Declared a World Heritage Site, this natural area is known for its white pools located on the side of a 160-metre-high hill, which were formed by tectonic movements that caused several mineral-rich hot springs to appear. This water has formed white layers of limestone and travertine as it flows down the mountain, creating what looks from afar like a huge frozen waterfall.

4. Mount Nemrut

The 2,150-metre-high Mount Nemrut is famous for the giant heads that remain from the burial mound that King Antiochus I had built on top of the mountain in 62 BC. These heads belonged to huge statues of different gods seated on thrones, which were later damaged by iconoclasts. This archaeological site, declared a World Heritage Site, is undoubtedly one of the most impressive and surprising places to see in Turkey.

And the best bit? Being able to have the place pretty much to yourself. It’s a bit off the beaten track and isn’t included on many tourist itineraries around the country. It’s located near Turkish Kurdistan, which is a long way away from Istanbul, so you can enjoy it practically on your own if you decide to go there.

5. Ephesus

Ephesus, yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the best-preserved ancient cities in Asia Minor, is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Turkey. This city, founded by the Greeks, reached its peak during the Roman occupation, and you can still see several of the great buildings and monuments today.

Library of Celsus at Ephesus

Most of the ruins are along the Avenue of the Curetes, which links the Gate of Hercules to the impressive Library of Celsus, its most famous landmark. Other highlights include the Great Theatre and Odeon, the Fountain of Trajan, the Temple of Domitian, the Gate of Mazaeus and Mithridates, the Agora of Commerce and the Temple of Trajan.

6. Lycian Tombs of Myra

This collection of cave tombs is spread over two necropolises, the most famous of which is the one on the vertical mountain cliffs near the Demre Cay River, known as the Rock of Dalyan.

Years ago, all the tombs were looted and plundered and many altars and reliefs were moved to the British Museum. However, you can can still see some of the porticoes and a few reliefs from particularly ornate tombs, that once belonged to prominent rulers.

In addition to the tombs in this area there is a well-preserved Amphitheatre and the beautiful Byzantine church of St Nicholas. The tombs are located near Antalya, a tourist area that is usually included in an organised tour or drive through the south of the country.

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