A country with incredible history and natural beauty to match, Turkey is an enthralling collision of cultures and imperial grandeur. Home to ancient empires from the Greeks and Byzantines to the Seljuk Turks and the Ottomans, traveling in Turkey is a journey through time. With iconic monuments like the lofty Byzantine dome of Aya Sofya in İstanbul, the ancient Greek ruins of Ephesus, and an abundance of Ottoman palaces and mosques, there is no shortage of world-renowned architecture. A crux of civilization and innovation for millennia, Turkey’s modern urban pulse effortlessly blends with its vibrant heritage. Travel south from İstanbul along the winding Aegean coastline of peninsulas, rugged cliffs, glorious pebble and sand beaches, and soak up the brilliant sun and laid-back atmosphere. Delve into the rich culinary traditions blending Mediterranean flavors of local produce and olives with fresh seafood and decadent kebabs. Turkey is a vast country of unique landscapes of soaring snow-capped peaks and alpine grasslands, arid plains, azure seas, coastal mountains, and incredible lakes. Whether you kayak or dive near Kaş, hike the Lycian Way from Ölüdeniz, or ride a hot-air balloon over Cappadocia, Turkey has unforgettable adventures in store.
A city where ancient history and modernity collide, and the the cuisine is as complex and storied as the skyline of minarets and cathedrals, Turkey’s cultural heart is an enthralling riot of activity. Straddling the Bosphorus Strait which divides Europe and Asia, İstanbul was a strategic stop on the historic Silk Road, and was one of the world’s most important cities for over a thousand years under the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. The concentrated old part of the city is bursting with spectacular architecture and fascinating history—the impressive mosaic-filled Aya Sofia was built in the 6th century as a cathedral, converted to a mosque by the Ottomans, and is now a magnificent museum. The Ottomans carried on the tradition of architectural grandeur they inherited from the Byzantines and built ornate structures like the royal Topkapı Palace and the Blue Mosque, which is decorated with thousands of hand-painted tiles. But don’t just explore the past; İstanbul is an innovative and cosmopolitan city with a vivid arts scene, fantastic nightlife, and impossibly delicious meze dishes, fresh seafood, juicy kebabs, and local wine.
An ancient city founded by the Greek Attalid dynasty around 200 BCE, Antalya was a coastal stronghold of the Romans and Byzantines before being conquered by the Seljuk Turks in the 13th century. Modern Antalya has grown to more than a million people, but the Kaleiçi district—the historic walled old city of restored Ottoman houses and winding stone streets—folds around the ancient port. Stroll through Hadrian’s Gate, constructed in honor of the Roman Emperor’s visit in 130 CE, visit the Antalya Museum for its impressive collection of historic relics, or enjoy views from hilltop tea gardens and bars over azure water all the way to the Beydağları mountains in the southwest. Though it also serves as a gateway to travel along the Turkish Riviera, Antalya’s beaches, bar and restaurant scene, and delightful architecture make this city a joy to explore.
Sitting on the historical foundations of an ancient Greek city called Halicarnassus, Bodrum is now an idyllic seaside getaway on the Bodrum peninsula which juts out into the shimmering water of the Aegean on the west coast of Turkey. Whitewashed houses with blue trim wind their way along narrow streets up the arid coastal hills and look down on the prominent Bodrum Castle built by 15th-century crusader knights. The castle was partially constructed with stones from the Mausoleum of Mausolus, one of the wonders of the ancient world, built in 353 BCE. Once a quiet fishing village, insulated by the relatively barren surrounding landscape, Bodrum has grown into a tastefully preserved haven for visitors in search of history, hidden coves, fantastic beachside resorts, and top-notch restaurants.
Striated pastel hills, naturally formed stone minarets, twisting gullies, and massive boulders spill across this Anatolian landscape in central Turkey that seems drawn from a Dr. Seuss book. Historically the fertile volcanic soil and the stark, forbidding reaches of the plains combined to make Cappadocia a vibrant part of various empires as well as an isolated monastic center of Christianity in the region. Humans have hewn caves and ingenious chambers into the soft stone sides of canyons in a warren of artfully decorated houses and chapels that stretch back centuries. Explore the frescoes and churches of Göreme, the underground caverns of Derinkuyu, spend the night in a modern cave hotel, and sip tea on luxurious Turkish carpets while looking out over the valley. In the morning, take flight in a hot-air balloon to catch the first rays of dawn on the fairy chimneys of this phantasmagorical landscape, which bursts into a sea of red poppies in the springtime.
The ancient ruins of Ephesus, a city founded by the Greeks in the 10th century BCE on the footprints of an even older civilization, is one of the most remarkable and well-preserved archaeological sites in the world. Ephesus was once home to an estimated 170,000 people and is a truly awe-inspiring sight—with a massive amphitheater, intricate sculpture, and arched gates—and it has only been partially excavated and restored. The Temple of Artemis, whose ruins sit on the edge of the modern town of Selcuk, was the largest in the world at the time it was built. Thousands of years of history are in the stones of the streets beneath your feet, and a host of other ancient sites lay just beyond the walls of Ephesus. Selçuk has its own gems to explore; visit the Isa Bey Mosque, the Fortress of Ayasoluk, and the ruins of the Byzantine Basilica of St. John.
A port city wrapped along the coastline of the azure waters of the Bay of İzmir, Turkey’s third-largest metropolis boasts thousands of years of history. Named Smyrna in ancient times, the city was destroyed multiple times over the ages by war and natural disasters, and now has a mostly modern facade. But İzmir still flashes with historic charm to complement its progressive culture. The waterfront promenade Kordon winds along the gulf for two miles and every foot of the way is packed with cafés and restaurants, where local cuisine is a multicultural blend of flavors. The bustling center of İzmir’s cultural scene radiates from the Konak district along the water, where shops and bars wind up narrow lanes into the hills. Wander away from the waterfront and the magnificent and colorful Kemeraltı outdoor market spills into the streets, and the Kadifekale Fortress presides over the city from its hilltop perch. A city that is often used as a jumping off point to nearby beaches, the ruins of Ephesus and the wine producing village of Sirince, İzmir has great museums and many hidden gems for the adventurous traveler.
A delightful Mediterranean town of whitewashed houses and balconies bedecked with bougainvillea, Kaş is a waterfront playground and the perfect coastal getaway. Located on the Turquoise Coast of southwestern Turkey, and sitting on the remains of the ancient Lycian city of Antiphellos, Kaş has a bounty of high quality hotels and restaurants but has been spared from excessive development. Along the harbor at the head of the four-mile long Çukurbağ Peninsula, you can visit the well-preserved ancient theater of Antiphellos, one of the few remaining legacies of the original city. With crystalline water and a perfect climate, this is an ideal place for kayaking, boat tours, scuba-diving, and snorkeling. You can take a day trip out to the Greek island Kastellorizo which somewhat strangely sits only a few miles from the mouth of Kaş’ harbor.
Konya is a sophisticated city with a conservative atmosphere blending a burgeoning economy with historically religious traditions, which makes it a unique and fascinating place. Best known for its strong Seljuk heritage and association with the orders of whirling dervishes, the city draws religious pilgrims and travelers alike with its air of traditional culture. One of the most important sites in Konya is the Mevlâna complex, a historic museum of the Mevlevi Order and the resting place of the Sufi philosopher and mystic Celaleddin Rumi. The 12th-century Alaaddin Mosque is an intricate architectural wonder at the heart of the city, and the surrounding Alaaddin Tepesi park and garden is a favorite spot among locals. Within easy reach of Konya, Beysehir Lake National Park offers an incredibly biodiverse landscape of islands and beaches with opportunities for great hiking.
A bustling resort town that also hosts a steady stream of cruise ships in its harbor, Kuşadası is no longer the quiet fishing village from decades gone by, but there is still plenty of charm beneath the glamour. The waterfront promenade is filled with modern hotels and restaurants, but just a short walk offshore along a causeway to Güvercin Adası—Pigeon Island—stands a beautifully renovated Byzantine fortress that is a welcome connection to the past. Kuşadası is often the jumping off point to visit the ruins of Ephesus or to quieter rural landscapes—if you are traveling along the coast in search of tranquil beaches, the Dilek Peninsula National Park to the south of the city is an untrammeled jewel of nature. Canyons and valleys meander to the clear waters of the Aegean where pebbled and sand beaches perch between coastal cliffs.