Turkey (Türkiye) is a transcontinental country that has a wonderful mix of natural beauty, diverse culture and fascinating cities. The people of Turkey are welcoming and kind and the cuisine is delicious, all of which makes for a top travellers destination.
Many great kingdoms have battled and ruled over this strategically placed country, leaving in their wake a vast array of architectural influences. This intriguing history, culture and architecture is often best displayed in Turkey’s great cities.
Turkey is a vast country with over 500 hundred cities to visit. From picturesque coastal cities along the Mediterranean to ancient Silk Road cities, from important port cities on the Black Sea Coast to cave cities found in other-worldly landscapes, this is the ultimate guide to the best cities to visit in Turkey.
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The 18 Best Cities To Visit In Turkey
In this guide I’ve teamed up with some fellow travel bloggers to bring you the most beautiful cities in Turkey to add to your travel bucket list. There are many fabulous cities in this beautiful country but I’ve narrowed it down to the top 18.
Let’s get straight into it!
Istanbul is the most well-known Turkish city, and rightly so. One of the largest urban places on the globe, it’s full of amazing, complex history from ancient times (if you’re into Hittite history, get ready). All the major Empires of the world clamoured to conquer this city, from the Greek colonization in the 7th century, through the Roman Empire (when Constantine renamed the city to Constantinople), up until the Ottoman Empire and through the War of Independence to the modern-day city we know as Istanbul.
Because of its amazing history, Istanbul has many UNESCO World Heritage sites and was named the European Capital of Culture in 2010 by the EU. Istanbul is also the only city in the world to span two continents – Europe and Asia, going across the Bosphorus Strait.
From the most famous mosques in the world, to cisterns and giant spice markets, Istanbul is actually really easy to navigate and explore both on foot and with public transportation – plus, it’s perfect for budget travellers who want to experience a bit of luxury without the harsh price tag.
Major sites in Istanbul not to miss include the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Rumeli Fortress, Galata Tower, a performance by the Whirling Dervishes, and the archaeology museums. Go on a Bosphorus Boat ride to get a view from the water and to go to both continents, while stopping at some of the major sites as well.
There are many other Istanbul sites to check out, but make sure to try the local wine, enjoy the food and Turkish Delight, and check out the ice cream vendors!
Contributed by Sarah Simon of Mukikapup’s Travels.
Close to the border with Syria sits the ancient Silk Road city of Mardin. Picturesquely perched on a hillside above the plains of Mesopotamia, this small city offers visitors a fascinating glimpse into the trading days of old.
The city is made up of cobblestone alleyways that criss-cross their way around the hill whilst the cityscape is dotted with minarets soaring above the numerous mosques and madrasas. Wander these old streets and get lost in the bazar where you can find everything from spices and breads to coppersmiths and handmade soaps.
Mardin is a multicultural city where communities from all religions and backgrounds live side by side. This can be witnessed through visiting one of Mardin’s churches such as the enchanting Forty Martyrs Church. There are also several informative museums to explore where you can learn about Mardin’s long and complex history.
Finally, after your sightseeing is complete, you can relax at the Emir Hamam, which is a bathhouse dating back to Roman times. Beyond the city there are more churches and monasteries to visit and the fabulous Roman ruins of Dara to explore.
If you really want to get a feel for the country then you should add the religious pilgrimage site of Konya to your Turkey bucket list. Konya is a city in Turkey’s Central Anatolia region and is home to the Whirling Dervishes, a branch of Sufi Muslims.
A visit to this culturally rich city should include a trip to the Mevlana Cultural Centre where you can watch Turkish Dervishes spin in a trance-like state to the mystical sound of Islamic Hymns. The most important place in this religious city is the Mevlana Museum which holds the tomb of Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi, who founded the whirling dervish sect of Sufism.
Konya is also home to several beautiful mosques such as the Baroque style Aziziya Mosque and the oldest Seljuk-era mosque in Turkey, Alaeddin Mosque. If you’re a nature lover you’ll want to stroll through Alaeddin Hill Park, wander Kultur Park and visit the Tropical Butterfly Garden, whilst shoppers should head to the old bazaar.
With more time you can leave the city to learn about early human history at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Çatalhöyük.
Izmir is a beautiful city located on the Aegean Coast and often overlooked by tourists visiting Turkey. As Turkey’s third-largest city, there are lots of things to do and see here. Head to Konak Square to see its beautiful Clock Tower which is illuminated at night. Izmir is known for its delicious food so why not go on a local food tour while you are in town. The Turkish cuisine is unique and versatile with many delicious treats to try.
Ignite your senses in the bazaar district and stroll around the craft and antique shops in Kızlarağası Hanı. Visit the Agora open-air museum to view the ancient city of Smyrna and explore the many mosques in Izmir city centre.
A great day trip from Izmir is to the famous Pamukkale Thermal Pools which are great for swimming and taking photos. Join a group tour which will also take you to other hotspots around such as the beautiful Hierapolis. Alternatively, you can rent a car and drive to Pamukkale yourself.
The Cappadocia region is famous for its history, food, cave hotels, and hot air balloon rides. This popular tourist area of Turkey includes the small towns of Goreme, Uchisar, and Urgup, but most travellers base themselves in Goreme since it has the best hotel and restaurant choices.
It’s easy to reach the town of Goreme since there are daily domestic flights from Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport (SAW) to Kayseri, after which you can take a van transfer from there to the Goreme town centre. Once you arrive in Goreme, you can enjoy a huge variety of restaurants, tour shops, and cave hotels for all budgets, from backpacker to luxury hotels.
Best of all, there are lots of scenic and historical sights in Cappadocia that are within driving (or even walking) distance from Goreme!
Contributed by David & Intan of The World Travel Guy
The first capital city of the Ottoman Empire before Edirne and Istanbul, you should add Bursa to the list of cities to visit in Turkey if you’re into history. It is not only one of the most historical spots in the country, but also in the Muslim world.
The founder of the Ottoman dynasty, Osman I or known as Osmangazi to the locals, was buried in Bursa along with his son, Orhangazi. Situated on a hill in Tophane park, you can visit the tomb and pay respect while enjoying the view of Bursa city from the top.
Many prominent members of the early Ottoman Empire were buried in Bursa. You can also visit the mausoleum of Sultan Mehmet I in the Green Mosque area. On top of that, even if you’re not into Ottoman Empire history, there are still so many things to do in Bursa.
If you like shopping, Bursa Grand Bazaar offers a less intense atmosphere despite its authenticity compared to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. You can stroll around without worrying about shopkeepers demanding you to buy from them in Bursa.
For nature lovers, take a teleferik (cable car) to the top of Uludag mountain. A good place to visit all year round, you can enjoy the greenery from the top in the summer, and it’s a popular place for skiing during winter. The thrill seekers can even enjoy a paragliding flight from the top!
Contributed by Marya of the Beautraveler.
Ankara is the nation’s capital and a popular city in Turkey to visit. Ankara has been the capital city of Turkey since 1923 but is often overlooked by tourists in favour of Istanbul. However, Ankara has its fair share of historical sites to visit and a whole lot of culture to soak up.
History buffs should head straight to the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations to learn all about the region from Palaeolithic times right through to the present day. And a visit to Ankara isn’t complete without paying your respects at Anitabkir, the mausoleum that holds the tomb of Ataturk, the founder of modern day Turkey.
Wander downtown to see the 2000 year old Roman baths ruins and be sure to make the journey up to Ankara Castle, a heavily fortified citadel which has origins in the Byzantine era. Enjoy amazing views over the city from up in the citadel and stock up on souvenirs from the numerous shops that line the streets.
For those wanting a little culture, visit one of Ankara’s art galleries or enjoy a concert at the Ankara State Opera House. To escape the hustle and bustle of city life take a stroll around Gençlık Park and admire the beauty of Kocatepe Mosque, where it’s easy to see the design influence of the Blue Mosque of Istanbul and the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne.
For something a little different, check out Rahmi M. Koc Museum Ankara for a fascinating display of the evolution of technology or head to the Upside Down House to get some pics that are sure to baffle your friends!
Ancient Gaziantep, located in southeastern Turkey, is an exciting city to visit. Yet it seldom makes the list of most visitors – that should change.
Located on both the ancient Silk Route and the Spice Route, Gaziantep’s history goes back to the beginning of time. The first records of Gaziantep date to the fourth millennium BC, while it was later the site of biblical Antiochia.
The historic centre of Gaziantep has many exciting markets and bazaars to explore without the hassle of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. You will meet many Syrians working in the markets, as the city is close to the border, with an estimated 400 000 Syrian refugees now living in Gaziantep.
The one place you must not miss is the incredible Zeugma Mosaic Museum. The largest mosaic museum in the world is home to a fantastic collection of mosaics from the ancient city of Zeugma in the Euphrates region. The most famous mosaic, The Gypsy Girl, has an intense stare and is sometimes called the Turkish Mona Lisa.
Ancient art, bazaars and friendly locals aside, the highlight of a visit to Gaziantep will be the food. It is the food capital of Turkey, and Gaziantep food will blow your socks off. So come hungry and wear stretchy pants!
Dishes you must not miss are baklava (Gaziantep is the birthplace of baklava), Alinazik kebap and beyran soup.
Contributed by De Wet & Jin of Museum of Wander.
When it comes to the best cities to visit in Turkey, there is no better place than Antalya. This Turkish city is situated on the Mediterranean coast, perfect for those seeking a tropical holiday. There are plenty of things to do in Antalya, but perhaps the best is just enjoying some of the beautiful beaches near Antalya. This coast is also known as the Turquoise Coast, thanks to the high number blue-flag beaches.
Besides amazing beaches, visitors will find historical ruins and vibrant nightlife. There’s something for everyone in Antalya, from adventurers who want to explore the ancient ruins to sunbathers looking for a relaxing beach vacation. The city is also home to some of the best restaurants in Turkey, serving up delicious traditional cuisine. It is no surprise why Antalya is so popular among locals and international tourists!
Contributed by Sean of The Turkey Traveler
Whilst Kars is known for being the base from which to explore the ancient city of Ani, the city of Kars itself is well worth exploring. The city architecture tells of the recent Russian occupation here but there is also a mix of Kurdish, Turkmen, Azeri and Turkish influences throughout the city.
The stand out symbol of the city is the Kars Citadel which was built by the Ottomans. Other historical buildings include the Kumbet mosque which was originally an Armenian church, the Taşköprü (bridge) and an Ottoman bath house.
The Kars Museum provides a good explanation of the city’s history and food lovers should know that Kars is also famed for its cheese. Be sure to sample this local delicacy from one of the many cheese shops during your visit.
The ancient city of Ani was once one of the largest cities in the world and a bustling commercial centre along the ancient Silk Road. This ruined ghost city was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016 and is a must day-trip on your visit to Kars.
If you are looking for a small coastal city in Turkey that’s not yet overrun by western tourists, Akyaka is the place the go! The city is located at the golf of Gökova in southwestern Turkey, only half an hour away from the major tourist hub Marmaris and about two hours from Bodrum.
Even though not many Westerners have discovered this pearl, the Turks have. This is why all hotels, bars, restaurants, and shops are catered to Turkish visitors and that is exactly what makes it such a great place to visit. You will not struggle to find authentic Turkish souvenirs or food here.
Akyaka is famous for its beautiful location within the mountains as well as for its architectural center. The houses here are built to match the traditional Ula style, but with a modern twist.
Besides eating your heart out on Turkish food, there are plenty of other things to do. Akyaka is one of the most popular places in Turkey for kite surfers. Other things to do include hiking in the mountains, kayaking on the Azmak River, boat tours to Cleopatra Island, or simply relaxing at one of the many beautiful beaches around Akyaka.
Contributed by Lara of The Best Travel Gifts.
Located in south-eastern Turkey, Urfa (formally called Şanlıurfa) is completely off most tourists’ radar. Despite that, Urfa is well worth visiting and it makes a fascinating addition to any Turkey itinerary. The city is around 12,000 years old and has beautiful architecture, ancient sites, and several excellent museums. Known as the City of the Prophets, Urfa is the legendary birthplace of Abraham (or Ibrahim in Islam tradition).
There are many sites dedicated to Abraham in the city, including the cave where he was born and the Pond of the Sacred Fish – both pilgrimage destinations for Christians and Muslims. Aside from its history, Urfa has great food (try the Urfa kebab) and there are many good day trip destinations within an hour or two of the city.
Contributed by Roxanne from Faraway Worlds.
Fethiye is one of the best cities in Turkey to visit. It is located in the Turkish Riviera along the shoreline of the warm Mediterranean Sea. The warm climate, plentiful beaches running along the coastline with a backdrop of mountains, and even an abundance of archeological sites, make the “Turquoise Coast” a popular vacation destination when traveling through Turkey.
One of the most popular beaches to visit in Fethiye is Oludeniz Beach and the Blue Lagoon. Here, the crystal clear blue water, sheltered by a strip of land, lies still and silent in its beauty for all to enjoy. There is no doubt why this is the most photographed beach in Turkey!
Paragliding from the Babadag Mountains which rise high above Oludeniz Beach is the best place to paraglide in Turkey. This is one of the most popular activities to do in Fethiye. Taking part in this adventurous activity is a great way to get an amazing view of the Blue Lagoon. Dozens of paragliders soar through the sky near Oludeniz Beach every day to make a very colourful and photographic display.
Saklikent National Park with one of the largest canyons in Europe is a great addition to the sightseeing itinerary in Fethiye. The National Park features a gorge that is filled with icy water from the run-off from the nearby mountains. It is a great location for hiking, viewing nature, and admiring beautiful waterfalls.
Contribution by Michelle Moyer from Moyer Memoirs
Whilst the foodies out there will know Adana for being home to the Adana Kebab, this large city in Southern Turkey has a lot more to offer visitors. Situated along the Seyhan river is the old central district where you can explore most of the historic buildings and monuments of the city.
Visit the Roman Stone Bridge (Taşköprü) which is the oldest operational bridge in the world, wonder at the massive Sabancı Central Mosque whose six minarets soar to a whopping 99 meters high and relax in nearby Merkez Park. In the old town you can see Buyuk Saat which is the tallest clock tower in Turkey, the 16th century Great Mosque and Ramazanoglu Hall which is a 15th century Ramadanids mansion.
Venture out of the city to discover some Turkish Hidden hems. Scramble up Snake Castle (Yılankale), walk the colonnaded street of Kastabala or peer over the Varda Viaduct, which is famed for its appearance in the James Bond film Skyfall.
Van city sits on the eastern shore of Lake Van (Van Gölü), a saltwater lake that is Turkey’s largest body of water. Van has a long history that dates back to the first millennium BC. Historically an Armenian city, today this gem in Eastern Turkey is mostly populated by the ever-friendly Kurds.
Dominating the modern city is the formidable fortress of Van Castle, which dates back to the 7th-9th centuries BC and the kingdom of Urartu. Whilst the castle is very much in ruin, a short hike to the top of this ancient fortress provides fabulous views over lake Van and the city below. Situated at the foot of the fortress hill you can find the very modern Van Museum which explains the complicated history of this area.
The Island of Akhatamar is home to the Holy Cross Armenian Cathedral and a boat trip to this island is a must on a visit to Van. The external walls of the Cathedral are remarkably adorned by carvings from the Bible and if you visit in springtime, the island is covered in the delicious pink tones of cherry/almond blossom trees. (During my visit I was just a few weeks too early!)
On the Balkan Peninsula, close to the borders of Bulgaria and Greece is one of Turkey’s loveliest cities. Edirne was the capital of the Ottoman Empire for over eighty years before the Ottomans conquered Constantinople. That makes for an excellent destination for history and architecture lovers.
The highlight of Edirne is a visit to the Selimiye Mosque, built by the revered architect Mimar Sinan in the 16th century. It’s considered his crowning achievement and an iconic mosque. This is reflected in its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Due to Edirne’s location at the crossroads of different languages and cultures, the city feels different from the ones in Anatolia and Turkey’s southeast. Check the calendar to see if your visit coincides with one of the many events, from Romani celebrations to oil wrestling competitions and a coffee and chocolate festival.
As for the sights that aren’t mosques, you’ll find a Bulgarian church, Sephardi synagogue, Roman tower, madrasas, caravanserais, bazaars, and many ancient bridges. Another amazing place is the Complex of Sultan Bayezid II—an ancient hospital that healed people for nearly 400 years.
After a long day of exploring, sit down for a cold local beer at Trokya Craft Beer Taproom to hang out with the university crowd.
Contributed by Iris Veldwijk from Mind of a Hitchhiker
It’s perhaps not the obvious choice, but the first place I visited in Turkey was Trabzon. It was here that I first discovered the kindness and generosity of Turkish people and for this reason, this Black Sea city holds a special place in my heart.
My fondness aside, Trabzon has been an important port city throughout history and as a result, there are many churches, monasteries and fortresses to explore. In the city you can visit Trabzon Castle whose foundations date back to Byzantine era and the Ayasofya Museum which is a former church that again dates back to the Byzantine era.
The Ataturk Kosku Museum (Pavillion) is an Italian designed mansion which now serves as a museum of archaeology and ethnography, whilst the main Trabzon Museum is an Ottoman designed mansion. Visit the city market to get your shopping fix and keep an eye out for the old city walls near Atapark.
Outside of the city be sure to visit Sumela Monastery, a Greek Orthodox monastery that is impressively sculpted into the side of a steep cliff and one of the prettiest places to visit in Turkey. Alternatively, join the locals enjoying nature at Uzungol, which is a village set in a lush-green valley.
At 1950m above sea level, Erzurum has a history that extends back as far as 4000 BC. Like many large cities in this eastern part of Turkey, Erzurum has been ruled by many different civilisations including the Persians, Romans, Mongols and Seljuks. Important historical rulers such as Alexander the Great and Tamerlane reigned this city before Ataturk created modern day Turkey here in 1923.
Today Erzurum feels like a modern, bustling city thanks in part to the large university population. However, there is no shortage of architecture to demonstrate the city’s long history, most of which is centrally located. The Grand Mosque and Cifte Minareli Madrasa are two impressive historical sites located in the centre of town, just opposite the citadel with its unlikely Bell Tower turned minaret.
Other important sites of interest include the Yakutikye Medrese with its richly tiled minaret, the Three Tombs, the Aziziye monument which commemorates the Turkish – Russian War and the Rustem Pasa Caravanserai. The modern Erzurum museum will help you get your head around the complex history of the city.
If you’re a winter sports fan like me, then I highly recommend a visit to Erzurum during winter so you can spend a day enjoying the slopes of nearby Palandöken ski resort, which is my favourite ski resort in Turkey.
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A Summary Of The Top Cities In Turkey To Visit
Turkey is a huge country with over 500 cities. But with so many cities on offer, it’s hard to choose which should make it to the top of your list. In this guide, I teamed up with some fellow travel bloggers to bring you the best cities to visit in Turkey. These include the largest city in Turkey, pretty coastal cities along the Mediterranean and Black Sea, historic Silk Road cities and the nation’s capital city.
Which ones will you add to your bucket list?
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