From exotic palaces and iconic domed mosques to underground cave cities and Mediterranean beaches lined with castles and ruins, the best places to visit in Turkey offer a captivating allure for all types of travelers.
History, sightseeing, outdoor recreation, and urban exploration are all on the table in Turkey (officially called Türkiye). We’ll show you our favorite places to visit in Turkey below to make your upcoming trip truly memorable.
15 of the Best Places to Visit in Turkey
Straddling Southwestern Asia and Southeastern Europe with cities and landmarks old and new, Turkey is a study in contrasts and the bringing together of different cultures, landscapes, and experiences.
Sitting on the Mediterranean, there are megalithic sites that date back to the New Stone Age juxtaposed with nearby modern cities like Istanbul that still display prominent historic landmarks, mosques, and palaces. It’s an incredible place to visit, especially when you’ve got a list of the country’s “greatest hits” to plan your itinerary.
See what makes Turkey so unique and satisfying by taking a look at the 15 best places to visit in the country below! We’ll show you the sites you won’t want to miss and what makes each place so special in the land of the Turks.
When a city is home to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites, you know it’s chock full of amazing landmarks, architecture, and cool history. Istanbul is precisely that, with historic sites that date back 3,500+ years, amazing restaurants and street food stalls, spice markets, and stunning mosques to check out.
In the Historical Peninsula of Istanbul, Sultanahmet Archaeological Park is where you’ll find the Hippodrome of Constantine, the Christian basilica-turned-mosque of Hagia Sophia, and the famed Topkapi Palace (now a museum you can tour).
Nearby is the Ottoman-era Blue Mosque, and you’ll love wandering the Grand Bazaar covered market and the 1600s Spice Bazaar. Head to the Basilica Cistern deep underground (amazing experience) and get a bird’s eye view at the Galata Tower and museum overlooking the city.
While you’re here, take a taksi (taxi) to Kadikoy and eat a filling traditional meze spread (similar to Spanish tapas) or grab kebabs from a food cart and sip twice-distilled grape rakı to catch an Istanbul buzz.
Pamukkale is an ancient city that sits in western Turkey with its picturesque terraced white-and-blue pools that appear to be dripping with icicles. Once the ancient spa city of Hierapolis, today, it’s a protected area that people visit to explore the unique landscape and ruins unspoiled by development.
Calcium-rich springs flowing over the cliffside terraces created the amazing “frozen waterfall” formations and crystal-clear, light blue pools over centuries. You can walk on the actual terraced calcium pools and deposits, but you’ll have to do it barefoot (shoes can damage them).
While you’re here, scout around to explore the ancient Hierapolis ruins, including vast Greek baths, monuments, Roman columns, an amphitheater, and temples that date back to second century B.C. You can even swim in the warm Antique Pool (Cleopatra Pools) that stays near 100°F year-round!
Book a hotel at the base of the hill and stay the night before — it ensures you’ll arrive early enough to enjoy the site without huge crowds.
Oludeniz, meaning “dead sea,” is a bustling beach village known as the Blue Lagoon in Southwestern Turkey. Featuring wide, sandy shores in dazzling white and blue shades, this village overlooks Belcekız Beach and features great waterfront recreation and dining options.
It’s the ultimate sunny getaway in Turkey, offering amazing views of the green-blanketed Babadağ mountain with plenty of spaces to lounge on the sand, try water sports like paddle boating and parasailing, and paraglide from heights over 6,500 feet from the mountain overlooking the lagoon.
Take the Lycian Way footpath to wind along the coast for amazing views (and to check out the range of dining and shopping options along the way), or head further south down to Butterfly Valley to reach a hidden bay where crowds are rare.
Cave diving, snorkeling, and hitting the many waterfront restaurants, bars, and cocktail lounges make this village an incredible place to experience the laid-back side of Turkey surrounded by gorgeous mountain and lagoon views.
The Cappadocia region of Turkey is desert-like and holds an intriguing secret: There’s an entire underground city here. Filled with rock formations known as fairy chimneys, small openings to the subterranean city, and ample chances to explore the area in unconventional ways, it’s a must-see place in Turkey.
Cappadocia draws tourists because of its lunar landscapes with towering hoodoos, or fairy chimneys, jutting out from the ground, many with tiny entrances and “windows,” signaling that there’s something special about this place just below the surface.
The area was on the Silk Road trading route and Hittites first came here around 1800 B.C. They began carving and excavating the soft rock to form rooms and eventually, complete underground cities like Derinkuyu (Elengbu) with multiple levels of tunnels including churches, schools, kitchens, and gathering places.
You can tour some of the levels within these underground cities, which are now illuminated and posted with signs for easy exploration as you wander the wide passageways. For a different perspective, you can paraglide or take a hot air balloon ride over the region to see the tops of the fairy chimneys below you appearing like an alien planet.
Turkey’s coasts are stunning, and Marmaris, a pebbled beach resort village on the Turkish Riviera, is one of the best to visit on the Southwestern coast. Famous for its nightlife and beautiful views of lush, green mountains next to the Mediterranean Sea, it’s a great place to relax and explore.
People come to Marmaris for all kinds of waterfront fun — sailing, diving, lounging on the sand, parasailing, jet skiing, and fishing among them. There are tons of bars, clubs, and restaurants sitting right on the water to give you all the luxe beach vacation vibes you’re dreaming of.
Bar Street is the hub of all the nightlife and action in the town. If you’re looking for the party, this is where you’ll find it. For a little more seclusion, you can head over to Kumlubuk or Amos for serene shores with smaller crowds and more relaxing experiences. The Marmaris Castle and Museum (built in 490 B.C.) makes a great stop while you’re here!
The smaller town of Turunc is where you can slow down to wander into tiny cafes and gift shops during the day. Try to end back up in Marmaris and its Icmeler district to find the best dining options for nice dinners out and a touch of sophistication.
Ephesus is an ancient city and archaeological site filled with Greek and Roman ruins in the Aegean region of Turkey, just outside of Selçuk. Once an essential city in Mediterranean trade, it features history from Christian and Islamic roots to modern-day markets and fascinating museums.
Ephesus is one of Turkey’s most popular sightseeing areas with its ancient relics, architecture, and important role in religious history. The stone-paved streets here will take you past crumbling ruins of temples, basilicas, mosques, and public squares where sellers at modern markets hawk souvenirs just outside the city gate.
It’s home to Temple of Artemis, one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, where you can still see the foundation walls and columns standing proudly. The Temple of Hadrian (circa 138 A.D.) on Curetes Street is one of the best-preserved Roman ruins here, standing across from the Scholastica Baths.
Head to the museums, like the newer Ephesus Experience Museum inside of an old home, where you can watch video exhibits projected on the walls and ceiling covering the city’s history, or the classic Ephesus Archaeology Museum filled with artifacts and ancient excavation finds.
If you’re interested in religious history, visit the grave of Saint John the apostle (about 10 minutes’ walk from the Ephesus Museum) among Byzantine church ruins, the House of the Virgin Mary, and the Isa Bey Mosque nearby, built in the mid-1300s.
Take a break from the hard-hitting history of Turkey by planning a stop at Antalya, one of the country’s premier beach destinations featuring an immersive Old Town district and a more modern, tourist-friendly side on the blue waterfront with resorts, shops, and restaurants.
Antalya is equal parts luxury beachfront and ancient history, with its prime location on the Turkish Riviera along the southern Mediterranean coast. It was once a Roman port, and relics and architecture from that era can be explored in Kaleici, its Old Town city center, and at the Antalya Archaeology Museum.
Kaleici has been renovated and preserved to be especially thrilling for a visit, with its maze-like narrow streets and alleys intersecting at ancient mosques (like the Yivli Minaret Mosque), the Mevlevi Lodge (the building of the “whirling dervishes”), the 9th-century Antalya Clock Tower, and boutique hotels and shops.
When you’re ready to hit the beach, Mermerli Beach sits between the harbor and Old Town on a nice stretch of sand ringed by rocky and green cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Rent a beach chair or go snorkeling here. You access the beach through the restaurant by the same name in Kaleici!
On Turkey’s Bodrum Peninsula, the city of Bodrum stretches along the Southwestern Coast on the Aegean Sea with an ancient castle, amazing museums with archaeological artifacts, and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World to explore along with its bustling beaches and offshore islands.
Start your visit with some sightseeing at the Bodrum Castle, a medieval fortress built for St. Peter by the Knights of Saint John. You can look over the city’s two bays and look for the hilltop, white-washed Bodrum Windmills below.
You’ll learn a lot and see shipwrecks at the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology, while the Bodrum Mausoleum Museum at Halicarnassus gives you the opportunity to explore a Greek-built tomb (circa 350 B.C.) for Mausolus, a Turkish provincial governor in the Achaemenid Empire.
The Bodrum Ancient Theatre is cool to see as a 4th-century waterfront amphitheater just steps from the city center that is still used today for concerts and performances. The crescent-shaped Bitez Beach and cove is alluring with its gorgeous views and access to the Aegean for water sports, like diving and snorkeling, and plenty of waterfront restaurants and bars to check out along the shore.
Head just out of Bodrum to the Pedasa Antique City (a 1.5 hour hike if you want to walk) to see ruins up-close, or explore the city center in town for cool shops, restaurants along the back streets, and to try the famous Bitez Dondurma ice cream and manti, or crispy fried Turkish ravioli.
9. Patara Beach
Southern Turkey’s longest and largest beach, Patara Beach, is calling to you and ranks as one of the best places to visit in Turkey overall with its serene, white sandy shores stretching along a lovely section of the Turkish Riviera near the ancient city of Patara.
This is a naturally protected area, home to sea turtle spawning grounds, with views of the nearby Lycian mountains and the Kum Tepesi sand dunes. The beach is a major attraction for tourists here, from lazing on the sand to exciting water sports like kitesurfing, diving, and paddle boarding enjoyed in the surf.
Many don’t realize that Patara is where St. Nicolas — yes, that St. Nicolas — was born in 275 A.D. and the place where the Apostle Paul started a Christian community (you can see ruins of his old harbor church in the water) and embarked on his 3rd missionary journey to Tyre.
The Patara Ruins are another reason to visit this area, with an ancient amphitheater, 1st-century Roman Triumphal Arch, numerous temples, a lighthouse, a necropolis, a lighthouse, ancient parliament building, city gate, the Nero and Vespasian Baths, sarcophagi, and more to explore.
10. Mount Ararat
Turkey’s famous Mount Ararat is often talked about as the possible location of Noah’s ark from Biblical times, as the peaks rose high enough for the ark to settle on as the flood waters receded. Many people come to see the potential site of the ark, but it’s just as popular for mountaineering.
You can climb Turkey’s highest, largest, and furthest-east volcano, Mount Ararat (also called Agri Dagi), by attempting to summit either of its two peaks: Greater Ararat or Little Ararat. Both are volcanic cones and ice-capped peaks with glaciers at the top.
Climbing Mount Ararat is a doable 3-5 day venture for even beginner climbers, as long as you give yourself enough time to acclimatize at the higher elevation. The adventure starts in Cevirme Village in Doğubeyazıt, a town in the foothills with some neat historic landmarks and sites you can visit before or after your trek.
Check out the Ottoman-era Ishak Pasha Palace ruins and Durupınar, a giant boat-shaped formation that some believe shows the outline and petrified remains of Noah’s ark, just beyond the village.
If you’re coming to climb, you’ll need a licensed guide (independent climbing isn’t allowed). The best time is between June and September, when you’ll have good weather and views of 5 surrounding countries, but skiing is ideal from March to April.
Formerly known as Angora, Ankara is Turkey’s capital city and located in the central Anatolia region. It’s the second-biggest city in the country and a hub for dining, performing arts, shopping, and historic sites and landmarks. This is a great place to spend a few days exploring!
You’ll see the Ankara Kalesi (castle/fortress) and the impressive Anitkabir mausoleum looming over the city from the hill, standing as a monument and resting place for Turkey’s first president. It’s amazing to see the sea of red roofs all over the city’s village district!
The Ali Serafettin Mosque is 700+ years old and truly stunning to see in person with other, less-aged mosques just steps away. See a performance at the Ankara Opera and Ballet or the Presidential Symphony Orchestra. Check out Cermodern art gallery before heading off for a late dinner at a nearby restaurant or kebab stand operating on the street.
Spend a few hours exploring the city’s Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, check out a traditional Turkish hamam (bath) to relax near the green space of Gençlik Park (there’s a theater and Ferris wheel!), and visit Tunalı Hilmi Avenue downtown for great shopping, restaurants, and bars along the street.
It might sound like a unique name for a city, but Side (meaning “pomegranate” in the ancient Luwian language) is a fascinating place to visit in Turkey. It’s home to a historic port, Greco-Roman ruins, stunning temples and museums, and great beaches that will demand most of your time while you’re here.
The streets and alleys of Side are interesting to wander in a labyrinth design past the beaches and ancient ruins of the city center along with luxury gardens that tell of the city’s important historic past. At the center is the Antique Theater, built in the second century and large enough to hold 15,000 people.
See artwork and ancient relics pulled from the ground in archaeological sites around Side at the Side Museum, which is a great place to start your sightseeing adventure, and head out to see wonders like the Roman Apollon Temple (circa 150 A.D.), the Temple of Athena, and the remains and ruins of the 7th-century city of Side.
With over 6 miles of sandy beaches stretching along the Southern Mediterranean coast, this historic port city is also a popular spot for sunbathers and swimmers seeking a little R&R in one of Turkey’s most beautiful areas.
There are calm beaches, like Colakli Beach, where the surf is gentle and the sea gently slopes off to make an ideal spot for families with kids or unsure swimmers. This beach is lined with waterfront restaurants and cafes where you can enjoy great views while you eat and drink Turkish cuisine or international fare.
Known as one of Turkey’s most religious and conservative cities, visiting Konya is a different experience entirely. Sufis, people following an esoteric mystical Islamic movement, make the annual pilgrimage here to the tomb of a mystic leader of the whirling dervishes.
It’s interesting to visit the Alaeddin Mosque (12th-century) in the center of town, located on the scenic Alaeddin Hill where the Seljuk Palace and citadel sat for centuries. Today, there are only traces and a sultan cemetery, but the area has been excavated to produce historic relics you can see and learn about at the Konya Archaeological Museum.
The Konya Martyrs Monument is free and worth checking out on your way to the Mevlana Museum, which stands out as the most recognizable structure with its bright turquoise-tiled dome rising above the rest of the city.
The museum was once the Mevlevi dervish (“whirling dervish”) lodge and features the Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi mausoleum. If you’re interested in the dervish rites and rituals, you can see whirling dervish ceremonies at the Mevlana Cultural Center close to the museum.
There are late-night bars and clubs (like Inferno) around the Grand Hotel if you’re seeking nightlife in the city. And when you’re hungry, there are top-rated Turkish restaurants to choose from serving up lamb, kebabs, and vegetarian dishes all around Alaeddin Hill.
Once the capital of the Ottoman Empire, Bursa, or “Green Bursa” (thanks to all its parks and natural areas) is now a bustling city that pays homage to the past as it sits in the shadow of Mount Uludag. It’s a colorful and vibrant city to explore while getting a taste of the true Turkey and its culture.
This city is dotted with examples of Ottoman-era architecture and historic sites, like the 14th-century Great Mosque of Bursa with 20 shining domes and the Green Tomb, enshrining the remains of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed I. These sites, along with 6 others, make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site collectively known as Bursa and Cumalıkızık: the Birth of the Ottoman Empire.
Just behind the city, Mount Uludag is home to the Uludag National Park, where people go to ski, snowboard, hike, and camp with amazing views over the city. It’s the country’s most famous ski resort area with some challenging slopes!
Explore the Çekirge neighborhood for hotels with their own hamams, or Turkish baths, and be sure to grab a bite at the Iskender restaurant for traditional Iskender kebabs featuring minced kebab meat, tomato sauce, and sheep’s milk yogurt served on a warm, buttered pita.
Located on the Aegean coast with rich Greco-Roman heritage and Ottoman Empire roots, Izmir is an awesome place to visit in Turkey with a number of important archaeological sites, museums, and gorgeous views over the Aegean Sea. It was once a thriving city known as Smyrna with its own expansive library, medical school, and sophisticated culture.
With history that ranges from early Greek settlements to being conquered by the Crusaders before transforming into an Ottoman Empire port city, this is a place that has weathered the test of time and has the architecture, ruins, and history to show for it.
See the open-air Roman Agora of Smyrna museum, look for the Alexander the Great-era Velvet Castle, Kadifekale, sitting up on a hill overlooking the city, and head to the Izmir Historical Elevator Building to learn about the different eras of rule and roles this city has played over time.
You can tour the Ataturk Museum on the waterfront, “guarded” by twin palm trees in front of its white facade, which celebrates and honors the country’s modern founder (Mustafa Kemal Atatürk). Konak Square is always bustling in the heart of the Konak district, and you’ll find an abundance of restaurants, stores, and the famous Clock Tower of Izmir here.
See one of the oldest structures in the city, Kızlarağası Inn, built in 1744, where there are now guest rooms and shops you can browse. Walk through the Kemeralti Market and out to Kordonboyu’s pier to gain a full appreciation of how this port city is still thriving today.
Frequently Asked Questions
Planning to hit the best places to visit in Turkey leaves you with a rather full to-do list, but you’ll find things much more manageable when you know the answers to all the most commonly asked questions from travelers!
What is the best part of Turkey to go to?
Most people find Istanbul the best part of Turkey to go to with its rich history and abundant ancient landmarks, range of restaurants, bars, and shops, and bustling atmosphere with busy markets and displays of true Turkish culture.
For a more relaxing trip, the best part of Turkey to go to are its coastal cities and villages on the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. Patara Beach and its nearby ancient ruins, Marmaris and its nightlife, or Bodrum and its sightseeing near luxurious beaches are well worth visiting.
Where is the most beautiful in Turkey?
Many people consider Pamukkale, the ancient city of Hierapolis, to be the most beautiful part of Turkey with its spring-fed waterfalls and natural, terraced pools decorated with calcium "icicles" and textured edges along the light blue water.
Cappadocia, a semi-desert region filled with fairy chimney structures and complete underground cities from ancient times, is another beautiful part of Turkey to visit. People take hot air balloon rides over the area at sunrise or sunset to see the unique formations.
Where should I go for the first time in Turkey?
Everyone's first time in Turkey should start in Istanbul, once known as Constantinople and capital of the Roman Empire. The city boasts amazing historic sites, ruins, architecture dating back millennia, great museums detailing the history, and ample dining, drinks, and shopping options.
Ankara, formerly known as Angora, is another great place to visit during your first trip to Turkey. It's the second-largest city and the capital of the country with lots of sightseeing and museums to explore.
What is the most visited tourist destination in Turkey?
Istanbul is the most visited tourist destination in Turkey, seeing upwards of 16 million visitors each year (according to Statista) and leaving other Turkish destinations far behind in terms of annual tourism numbers.
Istanbul may not be the capital of Turkey, but it's certainly the tourism capital of the country and the one that most people come to see when visiting Turkey.
Is it safe to go to Turkey right now?
Turkey is generally safe to visit, but certain areas may be unsafe at this time due to terrorism, kidnapping, or the potential for imprisonment on bogus charges.
The U.S. Department of State has issued a Level 2 Travel Advisory encouraging travelers to exercise increased caution in the Hakkari and Sirnak provinces, as well as around the Syrian border.
So, What’s the Best Place to Visit in Turkey?
From the shining mosque domes of Istanbul to the far-reaching history of Smyrna-turned-Izmir, Turkey has a lot more to offer than you might initially assume. Underground cities, luxurious resort towns on the beach, and rugged natural areas with mountains to climb and ski slopes to conquer make it an amazing destination.
Narrowing down your Turkey itinerary to the places you really want to visit can be a challenge, but with ancient history, delicious food, bustling nightlife, and ample recreation options, you can’t go wrong when you’re journeying somewhere within its borders.
Sticking to a few destinations on this list of the best places to visit in Turkey ensures you won’t miss out on the country’s most intriguing spots, no matter what your travel goals and sightseeing dreams entail!