Everyone knows about Istanbul, but what about the other great cities and towns in Turkey? This enormous country belonging to both Europe and Asia is home to so many incredible gems that any travel lover will instantly fall in love with.
This guide will introduce you to some of the places in Turkey you may never have heard of, but should definitely consider visiting. Keep reading to learn about the best local attractions to see and tours to go on throughout this unique country.
This Ultimate Guide to the Best Places to visit in Turkey will show you all the most beautiful places in Turkey and what to expect when visiting, which will help you in planning a trip to Turkey.
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The name Pamukkale (pronounced pah-mook-kuh-lay) directly translates to cotton castle. Already interested? This dreamlike town is one of the most amazing places to visit in Turkey, and you won’t want to skip it!
Attractions in Pamukkale
This breathtaking area in Denizli in southwestern Turkey is best known for its travertine terraced thermal pools. The limestone rock creates a snowy-white appearance that’s referred to as solidified cotton. Shaped over thousands of years by calcium springs, mineral waters flow down the mountainside, catching in terraces and creating small pools. Words cannot do this incredible natural wonder justice, so you’ll have to visit and see for yourself!
The ancient city of Hierapolis, meaning Holy City, is located on top of hot springs in modern Pamukkale. It was founded in the early second century BC and abandoned during the 14th century AD. Significant structures in the city include a 91-metre long theatre, the Frontinus and North Byzantine Gates, Pluto’s Gate, the Nymphaeum and the Necropolis. The UNESCO World Heritage Site now holds an archaeological museum with a range of artefacts, tombs and statues.
The Queen of Egypt is rumoured to have received this man-made pool as a gift from Marc Anthony. An earthquake in the seventh century destroyed the nearby Roman Temple to Apollo, and fallen columns remain at the bottom of the water for visitors to see and swim around. The minerals in the thermal waters release “champagne” bubbles that dance along your skin, making this relaxing experience all the more fun.
Tours to do in Pamukkale
Day tours to Pamukkale run from Izmir, Kuşadası, Selçuk, Kemer, Alanya, Antalya, Marmaris and Bodrum. Basically, if you’re in any nearby city, you can go on a full-day guided tour that will take you to the hot springs as well as Hierapolis. If you want to sit back, relax, and enjoy your day without having to worry about a thing, it’s definitely worth booking a tour and letting the professionals take care of the organising!
Additionally, an educated guide can inform you about the history of Hierapolis if that’s something you’d like to know more about.
- Pamukkale Day Tour from Kusadasi
- Private Tour: Pamukkale and Hierapolis
- Pamukkale Hot Air Balloon Flight
The region of Cappadocia looks as though it belongs in a fairy tale. It’s a photographer’s dream come to life and showcases more of Turkey’s immense geographical diversity. The historic area in Central Anatolia dates all the way back to the sixth century BC and was once a Hellenistic-era kingdom. Today, it’s known for its magnificent rock formations, many of which are affectionately known as fairy chimneys.
Attractions in Cappadocia
Göreme Open-Air Museum
The number one attraction in Cappadocia, and typically the first visited, is the Open-Air Museum in the town of Göreme. Some of the earliest churches in history were carved out of the rocky mountains and still show the original Byzantine frescoes. Erosion has shaped the landscape over millions of years, creating an array of other interesting shapes and sculptures.
Red and Rose Valleys
Cappadocia’s beautiful pink and white Red and Rose Valleys are where you’ll want to be during sunset. Depending on the time of day, the hues of the unique rock formations change in intensity. You can hike through the valleys during the day, or sit and enjoy a cup of Turkish tea at the Sunset Point lookout.
Named after the pigeon houses carved into the rocks, this valley is wonderful for a half day hike. It’s a great spot to see more fairy chimneys and, of course, pigeons. You’ll also come across the Evil Eye Tree adorned with countless blue nazar amulets.
35 kilometres south of Cappadocia is Derinkuyu, the largest underground city in Turkey. While there are many similar cities and dwellings in the area, Derinkuyu is the most impressive. With a depth of 60 metres and multiple levels, it’s estimated that 20,000 people could survive here. While the city dates back to at least the 12th century BC, the astonishing discovery was only made by local workers in 1963.
Tours to do in Cappadocia
The ultimate tour to go on while you’re here is a hot air balloon ride. This romantic and magical adventure during sunrise will be one to remember. There’s even an optional champagne breakfast if your stomach can handle the height!
If you want to visit Derinkuyu, you’ll want to schedule a guided tour. With over 600 doors in the underground city, you will need someone to show you around.
- Cappadocia Balloon Ride with Breakfast and Champagne
- Tour of Highlights of Cappadocia with Lunch
- Turkish Night at Cave Restaurant with Dinner and Drinks
- All in One Private Cappadocia Tour
- Small-Group Cappadocia Tour: Devrent Valley, Monks Valley and Open Air Museum in Goreme
- ATV Tour in Cappadocia’s Valleys
The quaint and charming town of Safranbolu in the Black Sea region is ideal for the traveller that wants to slow down and get a taste of daily life in Turkey. In fact, Safranbolu is so small that the number of tourists visiting is 10 times more than the local population. The entire town is UNESCO World Heritage-listed to protect and preserve the Ottoman era houses.
Attractions in Safranbolu
Safranbolu’s Old Town is made up of narrow cobblestone streets that’ll transport you back to the 17th century. You can enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee or tea with some lokum (Turkish delight), shop for handcrafted souvenirs, and enjoy a traditional Turkish bath at the famous Cinci Hamam.
If you’re not afraid of the dark, visit Bulak Cave (also called Mencilis Cave) in the Gürleyik Hills, a short drive north of Safranbolu. This incredibly eerie cave is at least 65 million years old, and the first 400 metres are open for visitors to explore.
Tours to do in Safranbolu
While you could always explore on your own, a 90-minute tour by Batuta Turizm can give you an overview of Safranbolu from a local’s perspective.
Both a city and a province along the Black Sea, Trabzon is full of both natural and historic treasures. You’ll find some incredible gems here that’ll make it worth the trip to the very northeast of Turkey.
Attractions in Trabzon
That’s right, Istanbul isn’t the only city with a Hagia Sophia! In fact, Trabzon’s version is one of four in Turkey. This museum and former Greek Orthodox church is much smaller and discrete, yet still incredibly impressive. Built in the 13th century, it’s a classic example of Byzantine architecture. You’ll find the unassuming structure right by the sea among palm trees, further adding to the relaxed atmosphere.
Take a look around the residence once donated to the country’s beloved founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The four-storey building was influenced by Renaissance architecture, and the manicured gardens are full of blooming flowers. Overall, it’s a peaceful spot to learn a little about the history and politics of modern Turkey.
50 kilometres south of the main city is a Greek Orthodox monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It sits perched on the side of Mela Mountain in the Pontic Mountains range, a location which adds to its mysterious appeal. Although the monastery has been under reconstruction for many years now, it remains a wonderful sight to see from below.
Tours to do in Trabzon
A full day guided tour can take you to more beautiful attractions in the area, including Boztepe Hill and the picturesque Sera Lake. Find a local tour guide on Viator that can give you a flexible, informative and convenient tour around Trabzon.
The small region of Fethiye (pronounced fet-hee-yeh) along the Turquoise Coast is best known for its deep blue waters and tranquil beaches, which remain surprisingly uncrowded. The Mediterranean climate makes Fethiye an ideal place to visit year-round.
Attractions in Fethiye
Kelebekler Vadisi is a stunning valley at the foot of the Babadağ Mountain meeting the Turkish Riviera. Its natural beauty makes it a popular ecotourism attraction and a great spot for camping, scuba diving, hiking and canoeing. As you might expect from the name, it’s also home to a diverse range of butterfly species. The valley can only be reached by water taxi from nearby Ölüdeniz, making it all the more intriguing.
Tomb of Amyntas
The Lycian rock tombs are a must-visit while in Fethiye. The Tomb of Amyntas, built in 350 BC, is the largest in this group carved into the base of the mountain. While the tombs on their own are worth the visit, the wonderful views over the town make the site extra special.
The tiny Gemiler Island off the coast of Fethiye is full of history and charm. You’ll find the remains of many fourth and sixth century AD churches and buildings here. It’s believed that the original tomb of Saint Nicholas was located on the island. From atop the ruins, you can admire the views of the surrounding areas.
Tours to do in Fethiye
A full-day boat trip around the bays and islands of Ölüdeniz in Fethiye won’t disappoint. Your guide will take you to the glistening crystal waters of Cold Spring Bay and the Blue Cave, as well as the Butterfly Valley and Gemiler Island.
- Private Tour: Saklikent Gorge and Tlos
- Dalyan Turtle Beach – King Tombs – Mud Bath From Icmeler
- 4 Day Gulet Cruise Turkey: From Fethiye to Olympos
- Ephesus Small Group Day Tour from Kusadasi
- Adventure in Saklikent Gorge and Ancient City Tlos
- Fethiye Boat Cruise Including Lunch
Built on a steep slope, this astonishing ancient city is made up of rows upon rows of golden stone houses from the Artuqid dynasty. Although Mardin is in the very southeast of Turkey, it is safe to visit and is currently seeing a drastic increase in tourism. The city has preserved its cultural identity well and offers a rich experience to all travellers.
Attractions in Mardin
The Sultan Isa Madrasa, or the Zinciriye Medresesi in Turkish, is an impressive building at the top of Old Mardin. Built in 1385, it contains two courtyards, a mosque, a tomb, and two large domes. It offers a marvellous view of the surrounding areas below. Hearing the call to prayer during sundown is a memorable experience, so time your visit accordingly.
This Syriac Orthodox monastery is also known as the Mor Hananyo Monastery or the Saffron Monastery, due to the warm colour of its stone exterior. It was built in 493 AD for Assyrian Christians and contains 365 rooms, one for every day of the year.
Mardin Grand Mosque
The Grand Mosque in Mardin sits 1,000 metres above sea level, making it another incredible spot to gaze out into the plains and savour a peaceful moment. With a sliced dome, a tall minaret, and intricately carved stonework, this important structure reflects the Artuqid architecture of the 12th-century.
Tours to do in Mardin
While you won’t find any major tour companies in Mardin, there are many licensed guides that will show you and your travel companions around. Depending on what you want to see during your trip, you can customise a private tour with your guide of choice.
Less than 200 kilometres west of Mardin is Şanlıurfa (pronounced shahn-luh-urfa). Also known simply as Urfa (and by numerous other names throughout history), this multiethnic city dates back to the ninth century BC and holds a significant role in the advancement of civilisation.
Attractions in Şanlıurfa
According to Muslim legend, this holy fish lake is the place where Abraham threw Nimrod into the fire. You’ll find this legendary pool in the main courtyard of the Halil-ur-Rahman Mosque. The entire complex is very picturesque and enjoyable to explore, particularly in the evenings.
While considered by some historians and excavators to be the world’s oldest temple, this archaeological site was only granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2018. The discovery of the ruins changed existing beliefs about the development of human society. Just 12 kilometres northeast of Urfa and 760 metres above sea level, Göbekli Tepe is well worth the visit.
Those with a keen interest in ancient history won’t want to miss this early Neolithic settlement. Nevalı Çori holds some of the oldest temples and sculptures in the world, dating back to the eighth century BC. Head to the foothills of the Taurus Mountains to see some extraordinary artefacts from Mesopotamia.
Tours to do in Şanlıurfa
As with Mardin, there are no big tour companies in Urfa. Fortunately, you can find a private, local guide who can assist you around the area.
One of the most magnificent regions along the southern stretch of the Turquoise Coast is Antalya. Once a major Roman port, it is now the biggest seaside resort in Turkey.
Attractions in Antalya
The elegant group of waterfalls known as the Düden Falls are formed by recycled water. The Upper Düden Waterfalls include a few small cascades, as well as a spiral staircase leading to a hidden cave. Meanwhile, the Lower Düden Waterfall flows from the Düden River off the rocky cliffside and into the Mediterranean Sea.
The triumphal arch known as Hadrian’s Gate is a fascinating monument on Atatürk Boulevard. Built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 130 AD, it is the only remaining entrance gate in Antalya. The gate is the main entrance to Kaleiçi, the city’s historic quarter.
Serene, diverse and unforgettable are a few ways to describe Köprülü Canyon. Located in a national park, the canyon spans 14 kilometres and merges with the Köprüçay River. The park itself is full of interesting flora and fauna, and you’ll even find a few fish restaurants. The Bugrum and Oluklu Bridges that cross the canyon add to the beauty of the area. Take part in an array of activities here, from rafting and hiking to working on your photography skills.
Tours to do in Antalya
There’s a diverse range of tours to go on in Antalya. Go parasailing, ride the Olympos Cable Car to Tahtali Mountain, or be guided around the famous Antalya Aquarium. You also might like to go on a full-day trip to the Green Canyon, not too far east of the main city. Explore the scenic aquamarine waters by boat and enjoy a Turkish lunch at a lakefront restaurant.
- Perge, Aspendos and Manavgat Waterfalls Day Tour from Antalya
- Antalya Electric Bike Tour
- Antalya Excursion to Perge, Aspendos, Side, Manavgat Waterfall
- 4 Day Turkey Gulet Cruise: Olympos to Fethiye
- 8-hour Jeep Safari and Ucansu Waterfalls Day Tour from Antalya w/Lunch
- Diving in the Mediterranean sea
- Sunken City Kekova, Demre, and Myra Day Tour from Antalya
Of course, in a post about the best spots in Turkey, we have to mention Istanbul. As the most populous city (although not the capital), it is home to so many attractions not to be missed when visiting this vast country. Since you’ll likely fly in and out of Turkey via Istanbul, be sure to visit these extraordinary spots.
Attractions in Istanbul
While officially called the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the Blue Mosque earns its nickname from the mesmerising interior tiles. The historic 17th-century mosque sits opposite the Hagia Sophia by Sultanahmet Square. With five main domes and six minarets, it is considered an incredible feat in Islamic and Byzantine architecture. Outside of the five daily prayer times, visitors of all faiths are welcome to enter.
No trip to Istanbul is complete without venturing into the Grand Bazaar. As one of the oldest and largest markets in the world, it receives hundreds of thousands of visitors each day. Don’t let the huge crowds put you off, however, as the bustle only adds to the lively atmosphere. Head to the Fatih district to begin your shopping adventure, and remember to use your bargaining skills!
The extravagant Topkapi Palace was once the main residence and headquarters for the Ottoman sultans. Construction began six years after the Fall of Constantinople and became a museum in 1924. You can wander the many courtyards of this 15th-century architectural masterpiece and take a look inside the infamous imperial harem.
Tours to do in Istanbul
With so much to see and do in Istanbul, it’s worth booking a few tours. Take a one, two or three day Best of Istanbul tour with a private guide to learn as much as you can about the city.
Also recommended is a Bosphorus cruise, whether it’s day or night. One of the best ways to sightsee in Istanbul is from the Bosphorus Strait, and a cruise ensures you get to experience both the European and Asian sides of the city.
- Best of Istanbul: 1, 2, or 3-Day Private Guided Tour
- Istanbul Private Arrival Port Transfer
- Turkish Coffee Tour and Coffee-Making Class
- Istanbul Small-Group Tour Including Dolmabahce Palace and Luxury Transport
- A Taste of Istanbul: Street Food Tour
- Historic Off the Beaten Path Tour of the Real Istanbul
- Best of Istanbul Tour
- 4 Day Turkey Tour: Cappadocia, Ephesus and Pamukkale