Turkey is an outstanding country, rich with history, gorgeous sights, delicious food, and more! Read below to see which attractions made it to my top picks. NOTE: This guide includes attractions from only Western and central Turkey. *Please note current travel restrictions.
Turkey is a fascinating country that is often overlooked as a top travel destination. However, of all the places I have been to, Turkey is probably in my top 3 destinations as it is full of history, is relatively affordable, very welcoming, and overall just a country that should be experienced in person. There are a plethora of places to visit in this large country, and unfortunately I did not have sufficient time to travel the entirety of Turkey, so this list includes attractions from only Western and central Turkey. The list also does not include Istanbul as I have already published a separate post HERE. I have included some generic information in the Istanbul post, and will include it below as well.
Tips and information:
- Applying for a visa: Visitors from the U.S. must apply for a visa to visit Turkey. The visa is good for up to 90 days at once and is valid for up to 180 days. This can be done online and costs ~$25.
- Weather: Istanbul can be quite hot in Summer (~85 F) and cold and rainy (~32-40 F) in Winter. I went in Winter and was able to avoid larger crowds, but was greeted with some gloomy days. Summer is the most popular season and is VERY crowded. I recommend going during Spring or Winter if you do not mind the cold.
- English: English proficiency is pretty high here. For the most part, vendors and locals can speak English and they would be able to answer any questions you have.
- Dress Code: It is proper etiquette to dress in long pants, close toed shoes, and tops that aren’t too revealing as the country is more conservative. You will also be visiting locations of worship, and you are required to wear pants. Have a headscarf handy as women will be required to cover their hair when entering locations of worship.
- Transportation: Because Turkey is quite large, transportation can be tricky. The most convenient way is to rent a car with an international drivers license, but this is not an option for everyone. I recommend a bus for certain locations and a train for certain locations. Some destinations are quite remote, but popular, so you should be able to book buses and trains to the destinations. You may also consider booking day tours at hotels, airports, or online.
- Internet Connection: Do not rely on wifi zones or locals to help you get around because few places offer free Wifi. You may purchase a SIM card at any airport. In the airport at the “Mobile Desk” station, you can purchase an unlimited data plan card for a select number of days. Expect to pay around $15 for a week of data. If you are travelling with other people, only 1 SIM card may be necessary because you can open up the hotspot for others to use. Do keep in mind that you must unlock your phone to use an international SIM card. Save time and do this before you leave for your trip! Learn about unlocking your phone HERE.
- Food: Food is everywhere, delicious, and affordable! You can get authentic food or Turkish fast food. Food can also be purchased at grocery stores and enjoyed there as well.
- Housing: Hotels in Istanbul can be affordable. You can get high quality housing without breaking the bank. You may also opt for AirBnb’s or hostels.
*The attractions are listed in a clockwise order, starting from Istanbul for convenience.
Safranbolu is a quaint town near the Black Sea named after the expensive and desired spice, saffron. The town was known as an important trading and growing area for saffron, although saffron production here has decreased to this day. Buildings from the Ottoman era have been preserved well and the town includes Turkish baths, mosques, tombs, and more. This was one of my favorite destinations! I love how low-key Safranbolu is and it embodies rural Turkey well.
What to do:
- Visit the mosques such as Koprulu Mehmet Pasa Mosque.
- Shop for linens, saffron, crafts, home decor, Turkish sweets, and visit bakeries.
- Bathe in historical Turkish baths such as Cinci Hamam.
- Enjoy Turkish tea and live music at night at a cafe.
- Harvest saffron in October and November.
How to get there: Take a MetroTurizm bus from major cities like Ankara, Istanbul, etc. to Karabuk and take a taxi or local bus to arrive to Safranbolu. Karabuk is 14 mi. away from Safranbolu. MetroTurizm bus tickets range from 60 TL- 120 TL ($8.50- $16.50)
Amasra is a Black Sea port town with historical buildings, castles, and beautiful beaches. The population is around 6,000 so it is a popular destination for people from larger cities.
What to do:
- Enjoy freshly caught seafood like fish, shrimp, and squid. I was able to see fishermen deliver the morning’s catch to certain restaurants!
- Visit Amasra Castle, a Byzantian castle built in the 15th century. You can climb to the top and get a nice overlook of the sea. The castle is partially destroyed, but is still worth a visit.
- Visit the beach and soak in some sun. Sand and water are clean and the sunrise and sunsets are worth seeing.
How to get there: Take a coach bus from major cities like Ankara, Istanbul, etc. to Amasra.
3. Ataturk Mausoleum and Ankara:
Ataturk founded the Republic of Turkey and is considered the most important figure in modern day Turkey. The mausoleum, called Anitkabir, is certainly large and displays Ataturk’s accomplishments and life story well. There is no admission fee.
What to do:
- Watch the changing of the guards every hour. Turkish military guards stand outside and in glass cases.
- Walk through the mausoleum and learn about Ataturk. I recommend staying for 3-4 hours as there is so much to see.
- Visit the underground museum and garden.
- Visit Ankara, Turkey’s capital and additionally visit mosques, castles, and museums.
How to get there: Take a coach bus from large or small cities. There should be many tickets available as Ankara is a central hub.
Cappadocia is one of the world’s most unique places, known for its mushroom and cone-shaped rocks and other unique rock formations. Cappadocia is a must-visit, ideally during summertime for hot air balloon rides!
What to do:
- Ride a hot air balloon: Hot air balloon rides are offered during sunrise so that you can see the unique rock formations and sunrise from above. Hot air balloon rides are expensive ($250/1 hr. per person) but it is an experience worth saving up for. The balloon takes off at around 5 AM and accommodates about 20 people per balloon. Rides are popular, so you must book in advance. The view of the sunrise, unique rocks, and colorful balloons is priceless. It is best to go during Summer or Spring. In the wintertime, the weather is bleak, making the view less spectacular, and rides are frequently cancelled.
- Visit Goreme National park: Goreme is established within Cappadocia. You can see the unique fairy chimney rock formations and artwork within some of the rocks. Admission is 45 TL ($8.50).
- Stay at a cave hotel: There are many hotels that have utilized the unique rock formations. Enjoy drinks and food in the morning while watching the sunrise and hot air balloons.
How to get there: Travelling to Cappadocia can be tricky because of distance and location. The most convenient way is to fly from Nevsehir or Kayseri and take a rental car, cab, or bus to Cappadocia. You may also take a Metroturizm bus from major cities like Istanbul or Ankara. The trip from Istanbul is about 10 hrs, so you may consider taking the overnight bus.
5. Kaymakli Underground City:
Kaymakli is part of Cappadocia, but deserves its own spot because of how breathtaking it is! Kaymakli is a complex underground city made from soft volcanic rock. It is unknown when the city was built, but some archaeologists propose 7th century BC. It is extremely impressive and advanced and includes all components of a typical house such as restroom, bedroom, kitchen, etc. Note: The city is extensive and you will likely get lost without a guide so make sure to hire a guide who can also offer explanations as well. Some ceilings may be low and some spaces are narrow so it is not suitable for anyone with claustrophobia. The best time to visit is Winter as it can be crowded during peak season. Temperature is comfortable inside, regardless of season. Admission fee is is 35 TL ($6.50).
How to get there: Most visitors are travelling from Goreme so there are plenty of buses heading to Kaymakli. The two attractions are only 29 miles apart.
6. Tuz Golu:
Tuz Golu is a large hypersaline lake, similar to Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. With specific weather conditions and time of day, the salt lake will act like a large mirror and reflect anything. I don’t recommend making a special trip to Tuz Golu, but would stop by if you were nearby. The best time to visit is Summer or Spring during sunrise or sunset. There is no admission fee.
How to get there: Take a bus from Cappadocia to Aksaray and take a taxi to Tuz Golu.
7. Mevlana Museum:
Mevlana Museum is located in Konya and is the mausoleum for the scholar, Mevlana, who was known for his poetry. There is no admission fee.
What to do:
- Walk around the museum and learn about Mevlana and his works.
- Admire the beautiful architecture.
- Watch the whirling darvish performance.
How to get there: There are direct buses from cities such as Goreme, Ankara, etc.
Pamukkale is a TOP destination! The area has thermal springs which has enabled calcium pools to be built. The water is light baby blue and warm. A Greco-Roman city called Hierapolis is situated on top of the calcium pools. Admission is 50 TL ($9)
What to do:
- Walk on the calcium pools. You must remove your shoes.
- Bathe in the calcium pools or thermal pools in Hierapolis.
- Visit Hierapolis and its significant structures. Many of the buildings are ruins now, but it is still impressive. I recommend several hours for both Hierapolis and Pamukkale. Structures to see include the theatre, Frontinus gate, Roman bath, Sanctuary of Apollo, and more.
Ephesus was an ancient Greek city and although much of it is in ruins, many buildings are still partially standing and have been restored. Admission is 100 TL ($15). Additional attractions may have additional fees.
What to do:
- Visit the Library of Celsus, the Theatre, Gate of Augustus, and additional locations.
- While looking at the ruins, also snap pictures of the several cats roaming around.
How to get there: There are direct buses from cities such as Konya, Istanbul, etc.
Hopefully, this guide has provided some inspiration and use in planning your next trip to Turkey. If you have any additional questions, you may leave a comment or contact me in the “Contact Me” tab. Due to COVID-19, please travel safely or delay travel plans.