Man fishing off bridge in Istanbul
Photo by Joao Marcelo (Unsplash)

Visiting Turkey

The Middle East's most underrated travel destination

Turkey is a great travel destination for a variety of reasons. The country's rich history and cultural heritage, with influences from the Hittites, Lycians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans, offer travelers a unique opportunity to explore ancient ruins, archaeological sites, and historical landmarks. Istanbul, once the capital of both the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, is a vibrant city that straddles two continents, Europe and Asia, and boasts iconic attractions such as Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace.

Turkey's diverse landscapes provide a stunning backdrop for various outdoor activities, including hot air ballooning in Cappadocia, paragliding in Ölüdeniz, and hiking along the ancient Lycian Way. The beautiful Mediterranean and Aegean coastlines offer idyllic beaches, hidden coves, and charming seaside towns like Bodrum, Fethiye, and Antalya.

Turkish cuisine is another highlight, featuring an array of flavors and dishes that reflect the country's history and geography. From mouthwatering kebabs and mezes to sweet baklava and fragrant Turkish tea, food lovers will have plenty to savor and discover.

Turkey is known for its warm hospitality, with locals often treating visitors as honored guests. Experiencing Turkish culture through music, dance, and traditional arts and crafts will create lasting memories for travelers.

Turkey offers a range of accommodations and travel options to suit various budgets and interests, making it an accessible and appealing destination for a wide variety of travelers.

Top Turkish Destinations

Istanbul: As a city that straddles two continents, Istanbul boasts a rich cultural and historical heritage. Its captivating attractions include the Hagia Sophia, an architectural marvel that served as a church, mosque, and museum; the Blue Mosque, renowned for its six minarets and striking blue Iznik tiles; Topkapi Palace, the opulent residence of Ottoman sultans; and the bustling Grand Bazaar, offering a unique shopping experience. Istanbul's fusion of ancient and modern elements make it a must-visit destination.

Cappadocia: This enchanting region features otherworldly landscapes, formed by volcanic activity and erosion, dotted with fairy chimneys and cave dwellings. Cappadocia is famous for its hot air balloon rides, offering breathtaking views of the unique terrain. The Göreme Open Air Museum showcases rock-cut churches adorned with vibrant frescoes, while underground cities like Derinkuyu and Kaymakli reveal an extensive network of subterranean chambers. Cappadocia's surreal beauty and fascinating history make it a top destination for travelers.

Ephesus: This ancient Greek city, later a significant Roman city, is one of the world's most well-preserved archaeological sites. The Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, once stood here. Visitors can explore the impressive Library of Celsus, the Great Theatre, and the ancient agora. Ephesus provides a fascinating glimpse into the lives of ancient civilizations, making it an ideal destination for history enthusiasts.

Pamukkale: Translated as "Cotton Castle," Pamukkale is famous for its cascading travertine terraces filled with mineral-rich waters. These natural thermal pools, created by calcium carbonate deposits, form a stunning white landscape. The ancient city of Hierapolis, located atop Pamukkale, houses well-preserved ruins, including a theatre, baths, and necropolis. Pamukkale's natural beauty and historical significance make it a must-see destination in Turkey.

Antalya: Nestled along the Turquoise Coast, Antalya offers a delightful blend of sun-kissed beaches, historical sites, and modern amenities. The city's old town, Kaleiçi, is filled with charming, narrow streets, Ottoman-era mansions, and the ancient Hadrian's Gate. Nearby, the Düden Waterfalls provide a refreshing escape, while the ancient cities of Perge, Aspendos, and Termessos offer a window into Turkey's past. Antalya's mix of relaxation, history, and natural beauty make it an attractive destination for all types of travelers.

Bodrum: This picturesque coastal town on the Aegean Sea is known for its vibrant nightlife, stunning beaches, and rich history. The iconic Bodrum Castle, built by the Knights Hospitaller, houses the Museum of Underwater Archaeology. The Ancient Theatre and Mausoleum at Halicarnassus are other notable historical sites. Bodrum's combination of leisure, culture, and history appeals to a wide range of travelers.

The Best Beaches in Turkey

Turkey is home to numerous beautiful beaches along its Aegean and Mediterranean coastlines. Some of the best beaches in Turkey include:

Ölüdeniz Beach (Blue Lagoon): Located near Fethiye, this beach is famous for its turquoise waters, white sand, and scenic beauty. The calm waters of the Blue Lagoon are perfect for swimming and snorkeling.

Kaputaş Beach: Situated between Kaş and Kalkan, Kaputaş Beach is a small but stunning beach with clear turquoise waters and golden sand, surrounded by impressive cliffs.

Iztuzu Beach (Turtle Beach): Near Dalyan, this 4.5 km long beach is known for its fine sand and shallow waters. It's a protected area due to the loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) that nest here.

A beach in Turkey
Photo by Serdar Dincer

Cleopatra Beach: Located in Alanya, this beach is known for its soft, golden sand, which, according to legend, was brought from Egypt for Cleopatra herself. The beach offers clear waters, various water sports, and nearby attractions like Alanya Castle.

Patara Beach: This pristine, 18 km long beach near the ancient city of Patara offers unspoiled beauty, warm shallow waters, and fine sand. It's also a protected area for loggerhead turtles.

Butterfly Valley: Accessible only by boat from Ölüdeniz or Fethiye, this secluded beach is surrounded by high cliffs and boasts a stunning waterfall. The valley gets its name from the numerous butterfly species found here.

Çirali Beach: Near the ancient ruins of Olympos and the natural phenomenon of the Chimaera, Çirali Beach is a tranquil spot with a 3.5 km long stretch of sand and pebbles, clear waters, and lush surroundings.

Kabak Beach: Located near the village of Kabak, this secluded beach is perfect for those seeking tranquility and unspoiled nature. The beach is accessible by a steep path or a boat ride from Ölüdeniz.

Visiting Mosques

Visiting mosques in Istanbul is an enriching experience that allows travelers to witness the city's diverse cultural and religious heritage. Istanbul is home to some of the most beautiful and historically significant mosques in the world. Many of these architectural masterpieces, such as the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque), and Süleymaniye Mosque, are not only places of worship but also important landmarks that have stood witness to the city's transformation over the centuries. As you explore these mosques, you'll marvel at their intricate design, magnificent domes, and elaborate calligraphy, which showcase the remarkable craftsmanship and artistry of their creators.

Mosque in Turkey at Sunset
Photo by Fatih Yurur

When visiting mosques in Istanbul, it's essential to follow some basic etiquette and dress appropriately out of respect for the sanctity of the religious sites. Men should wear long pants, and women should cover their shoulders, knees, and hair with a scarf. Shoes must be removed before entering the mosque, and it's a good idea to carry a small plastic bag to store your shoes while you visit. Be mindful of the prayer times, as most mosques close to tourists during these periods, and avoid using flash photography or speaking loudly while inside. By observing these guidelines and respecting the local customs, you'll be able to fully appreciate the beauty, history, and spirituality that these mosques have to offer.

Must-try dishes

Kebabs: A variety of grilled meat dishes, such as döner, şiş, and Adana kebabs.

Meze: A selection of small, flavorful dishes served as appetizers or as a meal, including hummus, muhammara, and ezme.

Spices at Market in Turkey
Photo by Linus Mimietz

Dolma: Grape leaves, peppers, or other vegetables stuffed with a mixture of rice, spices, and sometimes meat.

Mantı: Turkish dumplings filled with ground meat, served with yogurt, garlic, and a drizzle of melted butter.

Pide: A boat-shaped flatbread topped with ingredients like cheese, ground meat, and vegetables, often referred to as "Turkish pizza."

Baklava: A sweet pastry made of layers of thin, flaky dough filled with chopped nuts and soaked in syrup.

Traditional beverages

Turkish tea (çay): A strong black tea typically served in small tulip-shaped glasses, often accompanied by sugar cubes.

Turkish coffee: A strong, unfiltered coffee prepared in a cezve and served with sugar according to taste.

Ayran: A popular, refreshing yogurt drink made by mixing yogurt, water, and a pinch of salt.

Raki: A traditional anise-flavored alcoholic drink, often served with meze and referred to as "lion's milk."

Street food

Simit: A sesame-covered bread ring, often sold by street vendors and enjoyed with tea for breakfast or as a snack.

Lahmacun: A thin, crispy flatbread topped with minced meat, vegetables, and spices, rolled up and eaten on-the-go.

Balık ekmek: A simple yet delicious sandwich of grilled or fried fish served with onions, lettuce, and tomatoes in a crusty bread roll.

Regional specialties

Gaziantep: Known for its pistachio baklava and savory kebabs.

Izmir: Famous for its kumru sandwich, boyoz pastry, and stuffed mussels (midye dolma).

Van: Home to the unique Van breakfast, featuring a variety of local cheeses, honey, and other regional products.

Food etiquette

Meals are often communal and shared among family and friends.

It's polite to accept offers of tea, coffee, or snacks when visiting someone's home or a shop.

Using bread to scoop up food or soak up sauces is common and accepted.

Tipping is generally appreciated in restaurants, with a standard tip of around 10% of the bill.

The Turkish cuisine section will give readers an idea of the country's culinary highlights, including must-try dishes, popular beverages, street food, regional specialties, and dining etiquette.

Hot Air Ballooning in Turkey

Hot air ballooning is very popular in Turkey, especially in the Cappadocia region. This activity has become one of the most iconic and sought-after experiences for travelers visiting the area. Cappadocia's unique and otherworldly landscapes, characterized by fairy chimneys, cave dwellings, and unusual rock formations, make it an ideal location for hot air ballooning.

Hot Air Balloons in Turkey
Photo by Mar Cerdeira

Floating above the enchanting valleys and geological wonders at sunrise is a magical experience, providing stunning views and unforgettable photo opportunities. Numerous hot air balloon companies operate in the region, offering various packages to cater to different budgets and preferences.

While hot air ballooning in Cappadocia is a must-do activity for many visitors, it's essential to book your balloon ride with a reputable and licensed operator to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Keep in mind that balloon flights are weather-dependent and may be canceled or rescheduled in case of unfavorable conditions.