Ancient Roman ruins and mosaic-encrusted churches; bygone rural villages and fairy-tale landscapes. Here are our top places to visit in Turkey.

By: Mark | Last Updated: 23 Dec 2023 | Jump to Comments & Questions

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Turkey is a country steeped in history.

The centre of both a Christian and Islamic Empire, it has been at the crossroads of East and West for millennia. Ancient Roman and Greek ruins littering its landscapes tell of its Christian past. Towering Mosques and buzzing marketplaces show an Islamic present.

But it’s not all about the past.

There’s the remarkable fairy-tale landscapes of Cappadocia. Slow rural villages and friendly people. Great hikes through a beguiling land made for rich travel experiences.

Our list of amazing things to do in Turkey could go over for a very long time. Instead, we’ve picked out our favorite places that showcase what this amazing country has to offer.

To help put it all together, read our 2-week Turkey itinerary.

places to visit in turkey

IN THIS GUIDE

PLACES TO VISIT IN TURKEY


1 – PAMUKKALE & HIERAPOLIS

People have been soaking in the thermal bliss of Pamukkale for centuries. The hot water springs that dot the area range from 35°C to 100°C (95°F to 212°F). They are said to carry healing powers, but remedial bathing is not the only reason people come.

Mineral-rich waters have slowly dripped down the mountainside creating a solid calcium carbonate. As it cools and mixes with carbon dioxide, it creates a surreal landscape of glistening white mineral forests. Petrified waterfalls and terraced basins provide an atmospheric place to soak.

The ancient site of Hierapolis is nearby the terraces. This sprawling impressive complex of ancient buildings set in high is one of the most impressive ancient ruins in Turkey.

Don’t miss the magical sunsets Pamukkale. It was one of our top travel experiences in Turkey.

DETAILS | PAMUKKALE


Hierapolis hours – 8 am to 9 pm | Hierapolis Cost – 700TL | Pamukkale hours – 6 am to Midnight (April to October) / 6 am to 6:30 pm (November to May) | Pamukkale Cost – TL700.

DAY TRIP FROM ANTALYA

2 – AYA SOFYA, ISTANBUL

Aya Sofya has long told the story of Istanbul. Built by the Byzantine Roman Emperor Justinian in the middle of the 6th century CE, it became the most important Christian Church of the empire.

It was converted to a mosque when the Ottomans invaded and captured the city a millennium later. The mosque became the centre of an Islamic Empire and Caliphate.

Inside, ancient Christian mosaics recall the biblical stories of a protracted Christian Empire. Muslim calligraphy proclaims the names of Mohammed and the early caliphs. Etchings by Viking mercenaries are high in the upper galleries. The tomb of Dandolo the Venetian Doge tell of wars and crusades.

Wandering the aisles, the history of Istanbul comes alive. Past rulers and their beliefs are immortalised on the walls, on the art and in the architecture. Their collective presence is a reflection of Istanbul and its story. It’s one of the most important places to visit in Turkey.

Visiting Aya Sofya – Aya Sofya is now a mosque again, but it’s still possible to visit as a tourist. Find all the details in our guide to Istanbul’s top things to do.

3 – EPHESUS

Caesar Augustus made Ephesus the capital of Roman Asia Minor and money and power flooded into the city. The result is one of the greatest collection of Roman ruins in the world and a fantastic place to visit in Turkey.

The highlight is the bas-reliefs and statues covering the façade of the Library of Celsus. This is the iconic image of Ephesus.

The site also contains a series of excavated Roman terrace houses. Glass walkways run over these ancient dwellings, so you can inspect them in detail.

Red and white frescoes, restored and still glowing with abundant colour decorate the walls. Vibrant paintings of emperors, giants and gods reveal the wealth of past owners.

More about Ephesus — For more information, read our guide to the best ancient sites in Turkey.

DETAILS | EPHESUS


hours – 8 am to 6:30 pm (Apr-Oct) / 8 am – 4:30 pm (Nov-Mar) | tour – Day-trip from Izmir | entry only price – ₺40 + ₺10 parking at south gate +₺20 extra for Terraced Houses (which close at 18:00)

4 – CAPPADOCIA

Cappadocia is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Turkey.

As the rays of the sun push back the night, the towering rock faces of Cappadocia glow with an incandescent splendor.

Cut by years of wind and water, half-domed white rocks cling to valley tops. Rippling red and rose canyons scar the earth. Phallic rock formations reach for the sky.

Taking a hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia is an unmissable experience in Turkey. But there’s also superb hiking, interesting local culture, and interesting day trips.

Read more in our Cappadocia Guides –

5 – THE GRAND BAZAAR

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. The Ottomans constructed the bazaar shortly after they conquered the city in 1453.

There are 61 covered streets and over 4,000 shops, bursting with vibrant atmosphere.

Find a kaleidoscope of colourful lanterns, soaps and spices, trinkets and carpets. But the most important, commodity at the Grand Bazaar is the endless hubbub and energy.

Navigate towards Çarşı Kebap where an old Turkish man with his head in the flames will be flipping kebabs. Grab a table to join the other stallholders for a wonderful thing to do in Turkey.

Grand Bazaar Guided Tour – This very well-rated small group tour of Istanbul includes the Topkapi Palace, the Underground Cistern, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and the Grand Bazaar.

DETAILS | GRAND BAZAAR


hours – 9 am to 7 pm (Monday to Saturday) | cost – free

6 – PERGAMUM

A short drive to the north of Ephesus, Bergama (Pergamum) was once the Roman capital of Asia Minor.

Perched on a hill, Pergamum reflects the might of Rome and the defensive fortresses of the ancient Greeks.

Stare up at the towering columns of the Temple of Trajan. Sit in the seats of the dramatic theatre embedded in the hillside. Scramble through the weeds and overgrown grasses surrounding the Temple of Dionysus.

The rocky ruins of the Pergamum Altar surrounded by ancient column is one of the most fascinating ancient Turkish ruins.

Pergamum is an under-visited destination in Turkey, and its desolate appearance makes it even more alluring.

DETAILS | PERGAMUM


hours – 8 am to 6:45 pm (Apr-Oct) / 8 am – 4:45 pm (Nov-Mar) | cost – ₺20 + ₺20 cable-car | location – The cableway station is located at Kurtuluş Mahallesi, 5. Sk. No:13

7 – CHORA MUSEUM, ISTANBUL

The Chora Museum was originally built as a Byzantine church in the 4th century AD and was later converted to a mosque during the Ottoman period.

Chora Church was and rebuilt many times. The current crusader version dates from the 11th to 14th centuries.

The museum is known for spectacular Byzantine frescoes and mosaics from the 13th century. Golden mosaics of kings and saints glitter the walls and the ceilings. Painted frescoes detail biblical stories. Some are complete, others made more evocative from the bits that are missing.

Chora Museum is part of the Historic Areas of Istanbul of UNESCO World Heritage.

Read More — We have more information about Chora and other incredible attractions in our Istanbul itinerary.

DETAILS | CHORA MUSEUM


summer hours (April to October) – 9 am to 7 pm (everyday except Wednesday) | winter hours (Nov-Mar) – 9 am to 5 pm (everyday except Wednesday) | cost – 15TL

8 – KAPIKIRI

The village of Kapıkırı is not a popular attraction in Turkey, but it was one of our favourite places to visit.

Kapıkırı is subsistence farming village. Chickens, goats and cows amble the streets. Friendly locals lean against crumbling walls in the shade, and rual path lead through the countryside.

The village is beautifully set. Hidden in the hollows of the hillside, lush green slopes are interrupted by large erratic boulders.

A path drops down to Lake Bafu where the ancient ruins of Herakleia still standing on a small island in the middle.

The lake is a great place to relax and have a swim. After cooling off, we sat down on a couple of chairs and a family offered us some beers from the little fridge they had set up on the shore.

There is limited public transport to Kapıkırı but fortunately, driving in Turkey is very easy.

How to Visit – All the details are in our 2-week Turkey itinerary.

9 – TEMPLE OF APOLLO

Only three columns of the Temple of Apollo are still standing with a pediment across the top of two of them. It is not particularly ornate, nor does it have a dramatic location. But but the colossal size of the columns put the whole structure into perspective.

The temple walls, metres thick and almost 30 metres high, are simply massive. Wide columns stretch like mighty redwoods into the sky. One fallen column, lying on its side, still stands 2.5 metres high.

The original platform of the temple was over 5,500 meters square and held 122 massive columns.

Nevertheless, this was only the fourth largest temple in ancient Turkey. Standing here in awe of a monument of such power and might is a wonderful thing to do in Turkey.

DETAILS | TEMPLE OF APOLLO


hours – 8:30 am – 6:30 pm (Apr-Oct) / 8:30 am – 4:30 pm (Nov-Mar) | Price: ₺10 | LocationYenihisar Mh Didim

10 – BASILICA OF SAINT JOHN

Perched on a hill outside Ephesus, the Basilica of St John is a Byzantine Church and the alleged resting place of St John.

In his final days, he resided in Ephesus, where many believe he penned his gospel on this hill before he passed away at the age of 100.

As Christianity propagated, followers built a monumental tomb over his grave. Later, in 350 CE, they constructed a basilica, complete with a wooden dome, at the site.

Then in 6th century CE, Justinian and Theodora knocked down the basilica and built a 6-domed church that survived for almost 800 years.

It was finally destroyed by large earthquake. The outcome are the impressive ruins you see today.

It’s easy to get an idea of the scope and size of the church which would be the 7th largest in the world if it existed today.

DETAILS | BASILICA OF ST JOHN


hours – 8 am – 6:30 pm (Apr-Oct) / 8 am – 4:30 pm (Nov-Mar) | cost – 10TL | location – Atatürk Mh., St. Jean Cd., Selçuk

11 – ANTALYA

Antalya is a city located on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. With glorious stretches of beach, it’s known as the capital of tourism in Turkey.

The combination of sunny coastline, ancient ruins, high-end hotels and golf resorts has made Antalya one of the best places to visit in Turkey.

Stroll the charming old town with Roman artefacts. Take a boat ride from the Old Harbour. Enjoy Antalyan night life and shop in designer department stores.

To get away from it all, soak on an idyllic beach or explore some of the ancient ruins in the area.

More details about Antalya – Read more in our guide to the best things to do in Antalya, Turkey.

12 – ASPENDOS

Aspendos is an ancient Greco-Roman city located just 20 minutes out of Antalya. It is one of the best-preserved ancient theatres in the world.

The city of Aspendos was founded in the 5th century BC by Greeks from Argos. Construction on the theatre commenced in the 6th Century BC under Alexander the Great.

During the Roman times it led the world trade in salt, oil and wool, bringing great power and wealth to the city.

Built into a hill, the stage is 96 metres long. It is estimated that the theatre seated 15,000 – 20,000 people. The columns that supported the stage are still in place with only the wooden ceiling now missing.

DETAILS | ASPENDOS


hours – 8 am to 7 pm (April to October); 8:30 am to 5:30 pm (October to April) | cost – 50 TL | audioguide – there are few signs at Aspendos so the audioguide is a good idea.

MAP / BEST THINGS TO DO IN TURKEY

To help with your Turkey planning, download our map with all top attractions listed in this guide. Our favourite things to do we’re spread over a large area of the country. To help narrow things down, read our 2-week Turkey itinerary.

How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.  


TURKEY ITINERARY

To visit all these incredible places in Turkey, read our 2-week itinerary. We cover where to stay, what to do each day, plus tips for getting the best experiences.

Day 1 – Byzantine Ruins aronnd Selçuk

Day 2 – Remote untouched villages

Day 3 – Wilderness Sites and Pamukkale.

Full Itinerary – Read the full list on our 2-week Turkey itinerary.

termessos ancient ruin turkey 3

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A curated guide to the top 10 things to do in Turkey including the best places to visit, main attractions, local experiences, travel tips, plus a map.

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