For thousands of years, Turkey, steeped in tradition with a landscape that includes beaches and towering mountains, has served as the bridge between Europe and Asia. Turkey has become a richly diverse nation by becoming a place of commerce and exchange of cultures. The point where East meets West has left its mark on the richness of culture and breadth of influences and is revealed in the mouthwatering culinary landscape of the world, as well as in the countless religious monuments and archaeological sites. Istanbul, once the capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, is prominently featured in most travel plans, but many more excellent destinations are available. You could enjoy your time here staying in boutique hotels inside caves and floating above the otherworldly scenery of Cappadocia in hot air balloons, roaming in Ephesus in the middle of the Greco-Roman world, or just soaking up the sun in the luxurious beach resorts along the Aegean Sea. Here is a peek at the best places in Turkey to visit:
1. Aya Sofya
The spellbinding Byzantine beauty of the Aya Sofya Museum (Hagia Sophia), renowned as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, is not only one of the top things to do in Istanbul, but also in Turkey. The delicate minarets added after the Ottoman conquest surround the staggering bulk of its exterior, while the sumptuous and cavernous frescoed interior is a great reminder of the strength and influence of old Constantinople. For any tourist visiting the country, this famed monument is a must-do.
Cappadocia is best known for its fairytale landscape of strange shapes resembling chimneys, cones, mushrooms and pinnacles, located in Turkey’s Central Anatolia. These unusual formations have all been sculpted over the centuries by natural processes such as ancient volcanic eruptions and erosion, with some of them rising as high as 130 feet (40 metres). However, by carving out homes, churches and underground towns from the soft rock, mankind added incredible touches to the landscape thousands of years ago. Inhabited as early as 1800 BC, underground tunnel complexes were chiselled out by Hittites and other inhabitants, seeking refuge from invading Persians and Greeks. Much later, in the 4th century AD, Christians, fleeing Rome from religious persecution, found shelter in the tunnels and caves of Cappadocia. The natural wonders of the area and historic sites all make it a popular destination today.
Ephesus is an ancient site situated in Aegean Turkey, the most complete classical metropolis in Europe. Ephesus was one of the largest cities in all of the Roman Empire in the 1st century BC, boasting one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Artemis Temple. Ephesus’s ruins are well preserved and contained within a large archaeological site, making it one of the most popular tourist attractions in Turkey.
4. Topkapi Palace
The Topkapi Palace, sumptuous beyond imagination, takes you into the fantastical, opulent world of the sultans. It was from here that an empire was established by the sultans of the Ottoman Empire that would expand up to Europe and down through the Middle East and into Africa. The interiors are an incredible glimpse into the power base of the Ottoman, with their decadently exuberant tiling and luxurious jewelled furniture. The surrounding public gardens were once the Royal Court’s sole property, but are now open to the public and provide a quiet, green respite from the streets of the city.
Side, a major port in ancient Pamphylia and occupied in the 4th century BC by Alexander the Great, is today a picturesque town of classic ruins and modern resorts overlooking white sandy beaches. Side, situated on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey in the province of Antalya on a small peninsula, offers great sightseeing, nightlife and outdoor adventure. The star attraction of the Side is an excavated site of ancient Hellenistic and Roman ruins containing the remains of a monumental amphitheatre, an agora, a Byzantine basilica, public baths, columns of marble and numerous temples. A museum, which exhibits a variety of Roman statues and artefacts, is now renovated to house the Roman baths. The Temple of Apollo overlooks the beach and is a spectacular sight, especially at sunset.
6. Sumela Monastery
Sumela Monastery (Monastery of the Virgin Mary) is the star attraction for tourists along the Black Sea Coast, with its breathtaking, isolated atmosphere, built into a cliff face. For anyone who makes the long journey to Turkey’s northeast area, walking around this abandoned religious complex, with its church interiors packed with dazzling and vibrant frescoes, is a must. During the Byzantine period, the monastery first opened and then closed in 1923. Today, walking through its hollow cells, the isolated lives of the monks who once lived here are easy to imagine.