My home country Turkiye is full of awesome places all around. It is a very diverse country with very different range of attractions for all kind of travel preference and expectations. Natural beauties, vibrant city life, charming towns, rich history, religious places, ancient ruins, turquoise sea with great beaches are only some of the most beautiful places to visit in Turkey. You will definitely be awed by the abundance of choices and the diversity of the places to visit in Turkey.
Which part of Turkey is most beautiful?
Turkey is a huge country. For an idea of how big Turkey is, I would say driving from the most western to the most eastern cities it takes around 20 hours and from the most northern to the most southern ones it takes around 13 hours. There are amazing places worth visiting all around Turkey. But speaking of the best places to visit in Turkey, especially for an introduction to this beautiful country, the destinations in the western and the southern Turkey are among the most visited places by both locals and foreigners.
As a travel enthusiast and a Turkish travel blogger myself, I visited all the places I listed below. Also, all the photos are taken by me or my family. Most of those places are in western and southern Turkey, with a few ones in central or northern regions.
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Famous places in Turkey
Istanbul, Cappadocia, Antalya, Ephesus and Pamukkale are the main destinations that are added to Turkey itineraries, especially by the first timers. Istanbul, a beautiful, complex, cosmopolitan city where you would experience both the urban and historical side of Turkey, is the place where your plane would land.
Cappadocia is a natural beauty with unique stone formations and a dreamy atmosphere. For me, it is absolutely a must place to visit in Turkey! History enthusiasts, don’t skip Ephesus which is an ancient Greek site with well preserved ruins and also it is an important place as a Christian pilgrimage site.
Antalya is the ultimate destination for the sea, sun, beach and resort hotels seekers. Many people with limited time fly directly to Antalya to have a wonderful vacation there. However, I would kindly suggest not to miss the gazillion of the attractions Turkey has to offer. And last but not least, Pamukkale is a famous white rock formation, used as a natural spa for hundreds of years.
A metropolitan city in northwestern Turkey
Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey (not the capital city though). It is a vibrant city embedded with a lot of history and so much to explore. Since it was the capital city of three great empires in the history (The Roman Empire (330-395), Byzantine Empire (395-1453) and The Ottoman Empire (1453-1923)), there are abundance of historical palaces, mosques, churches, old bazaars, cobbled streets, underground cisterns and many more.
In addition, Istanbul is a city located in the connecting point of Europe and Asia. By boarding on a delightful boat tour in the Bosphorus, you can easily cross from Europe to Asia, which is positively very cool.
Moreover, you can explore deeply the delicious Turkish cuisine when you are in Istanbul. Yummy pastries, baklavas, Turkish delights, koftas, kebabs and a lot more would definitely feast your taste buds.
For more, click to my blog post “20 Reasons Why You Should Visit Turkey“
A region of natural beauties, cultural and religious sites in central Turkey
Cappadocia is so unique, it is so unworldly! Over the course of thousands of years, fantastic rock formations, called fairy chimneys, have been shaped throughout the region. Fairy chimneys are not just a few, there are hundreds, thousands of them spread at the area for miles. What’s more, people have been living in those chimneys for centuries. They even formed underground cities by carving tunnels through these soft rocks.
Cappadocia is such a magical region that you can stay in a cave hotel, you can visit underground cities and a cherry on top to all of these you can ride a hot air balloon over the fairy chimneys. We rode at a hot air balloon as a family in Cappadocia and I can say it’s unbelievable! There are hundreds of fairy chimneys under your feet. Sometimes you get closer that you can touch the top of the rocks. Other times you go so high that you can take in the view.
A city on the Mediterranean coast in southern Turkey
Antalya is kind of the resort capital in Turkey. It is located in southern Turkey on the Mediterranean coast. Having hot summers and mild temperatures even in winter time makes Antalya a great destination for family vacations in Turkey.
There are hundreds of hotels and resorts along Antalya coastline. Trying to choose among the abundance of choices of all inclusive resort hotels in Antalya is not an easy task. If you need some inspiration and recommendations, you can read my blog post “The best family resort hotels in Turkey, by a local mom”
An ancient site in central Aegean region in western Turkey
Ephesus is an ancient city port and a Unesco World Heritage Site because of its well preserved and restored ruins. It covers a huge area where you can walk on the Roman roads, see many restored ancient buildings and take in the life of old times.
Although today, it is miles away from the sea, it was a port city at ancient times. In fact, Ephesus was once considered the most important Greek city and the most important trading port in the Mediterranean region. In addition, Ephesus used to be home to one of the seven wonders of the world: the Artemis Temple. Unfortunately, barely anything is left of the temple to modern times.
The famous city of Ephesus fell into so many different rules throughout the history. However, its most thriving years were at the times it was ruled by Caesar Augustus of the Roman Empire. Most of the ruins seen today, such as the enormous amphitheater, the Library of Celsus, the agora (public market place) were built or rebuilt during Augustus reign. Some sources also state that, during Roman times, Ephesus was second only to Rome as a cosmopolitan center of culture and commerce.
Early Christianity in Ephesus
Ephesus played an important role in the spread of Christianity. Saint Paul and Saint John visited Ephesus and won many Christian converts there. Also, it is thought that Virgin Mary spent her last years in Ephesus and today her house can be still visited there. Hence, Ephesus is a Christian pilgrimage destination visited by many people every year.
Natural beauty and ancient site in central-western Turkey
Pamukkale literally means “cotton castle” in Turkish. As the name suggests, it is a white cliff formed by the residue carbonate from the hot springs flowing on it. The view of Pamukkale is spectacular with its white terraces (travertines) covered with little pools filled with mineral water. The view gets even prettier at sunset when hot spring pools on the travertines reflect the sky and turn into blue hue on the white rocks.
Hierapolis Antique Pools
Just next to Pamukkale there is Hierapolis, an ancient Roman city found around 190 B.C. The amphitheater of Hierapolis is very well preserved and there are some ruins of other structures on the site but Hierapolis is particularly renowned for its Antique Pools. This antique city was a health center and a spa, way back at ancient times. People used to travel to Hierapolis to find a relief for their illnesses with help of the hot springs.
Maybe not necessarily for a cure, but mostly as a touristic activity, you can experience the hot springs as well. Indeed, it’s quite once in a lifetime experience! You can swim in the Antique Pool aka Cleopatra’s Pool around submerged marble Roman columns. As a result of an earthquake the columns fell off and were submerged under hot springs. Swimming in a 23 centuries old antique pool is quite cool! Also, pool water is filled with hot springs, meaning it’s pleasantly 36°C both summer and winter.
Both Pamukkale and Hierapolis are Unesco World Heritage sites. They are very popular and can be over crowded at high seasons. If possible try to avoid peak times when the tour buses visit the area. Early in the morning and close to sunset (this is recommended for the best pictures as well) there is a chance it would be less crowded.
Best places to visit in Turkey for holiday
There are many destinations to spend a fantastic holiday in Turkey. Some are well known and very popular for summer holidays like Antalya and Bodrum. Others, like Fethiye and Marmaris are beloved both for their amazing sea but also because of the green forests and natural beauties surrounding them. On the other hand the little charming town of Kas is the one that once visited, people are so attracted that they end up going there year after year.
A city on the Mediterranean coast in southern Turkey
As I mentioned above, Antalya is a destination that so many travelers choose to visit for holiday. Actually, when talking about a vacation in Antalya, it is meant the whole region, not only the main city area. The central city of Antalya has a lovely old town and some great restaurants. Yet, for most people visiting Antalya, the main attractions are the beach resorts scattered along the coasts on the east and the west of Antalya.
Visit my blog post “The best family resort hotels in Turkey, by a local mom” for more about the resorts.
Resort towns in East Antalya
The resort towns in East Antalya are the ones where you can find the most luxurious all inclusive resort hotels in Antalya. There are miles of beaches with beautiful Mediterranean Sea throughout the coast. Beaches are mostly fine pebbled and sandy. Resort towns of Lara, Belek, Side, Manavgat, Alanya are located on the east of Antalya.
Resort towns in West Antalya
On the west coasts of Antalya there are some of the best beaches with clearest waters. The beaches are mostly pebbled or sandy on the beach but coarse pebbled in sea which also helps seawater look so crystal clear. Kemer and Tekirova resort towns are at this region.
A city and a peninsula on the Aegean coast in south western Turkey
Bodrum is the destination where lots of locals prefer to go for summer beach vacation. It is a peninsula in the Aegean Sea with great beach towns and some amazing coves with awesome beaches. In fact, Bodrum is a perfect place where you can experience more Turkish vacation vibe culture.
The famous city of Bodrum is famed mostly with its nightlife but it is a great family friendly city as well. You can visit the beautiful Bodrum Castle and the Museum of Underground Archeology in the castle. Strolling through the vibrant Main Street is another great thing to do to take in the vibe of Bodrum. Perhaps, you can opt in for a delightful gulet boat (a kind of boat typical for this region) trip and explore the turquoise coves of Bodrum peninsula.
Bodrum peninsula beach towns
Bodrum is a great vacation town but it would be a great mistake if you just limit your vacation to central Bodrum. Actually, you are on a peninsula with awesome places and beaches all around. We especially like Bodrum beaches in Ortakent Yahsi, Akyarlar, Karaincir, Turkbuku, Yaliciftlik and Bitez beach towns. In addition, there is Yalikavak where you can find cute Aegean town vibes and a beach together. As a reminder, the sea water of Bodrum is quite cool during summer, which is very refreshing with the burning sun.
A town on the Mediterranean coast in southern Turkey
Kaş (pronounced as Kush) is a charming Mediterranean seaside town that all the travelers fall in love! It is kind of place definitely would be the highlight of your trip to the Turquoise Coast. Both tourists and domestic vacationists love this little village so much that they end up coming back year after year.
Well, what makes Kas so special? I would say, the lively vibe of the village, its beautiful maze of small walking streets, its crystal clear pristine sea and the wonderful beaches.
Best attractions in Kas
- Visit the wonderful beaches: Kaputas Beach (the prettiest and most instagrammable one), Seyrek Çakil (literally means less pebbled) beach, Patara beach (a long and wide sandy beach), Akcagerme beach (a popular family friendly beach), Kucuk and Buyuk Chakil (literally means little and big pebble) beaches and many more
- A full day Kekova and Sunken City boat tour: It is a must do! A unique and unforgettable experience. Sail along the Turkish coastline, see the Lycian ruins of the Sunken City under the sea, and visit Simena, a quaint village only can be traveled from sea.
A city and a region on the Mediterranean coast in southern Turkey
A picture of Blue Lagoon (Oludeniz), the green forests surrounding it and the turquoise sea behind is the most used scenery to advertise the Turkish Riviera. Oludeniz Blue Lagoon and a lot of more coves with the most turquoise sea are located in Fethiye. This beautiful region is so blessed that you can find green forests and blue sea side by side or visit some spectacular beaches, only reachable by boat, surrounded with rugged cliffs, and even hike in deep canyons. Obviously, these natural beauties plus warm weather attract many tourists. As a result, Fethiye is a kind of an area where you would find foreign tourists more than local ones.
Ölüdeniz Blue Lagoon, paragliding over Ölüdeniz, a boat trip to Butterfly Valley (Kelebekler Vadisi), Kabak Cove, Faralya, Saklikent Canyon, beach clubs like Sea Me Beach and Help Beach are some of the popular attractions in Fethiye. Moreover, you can sail to a multi day blue cruise boat trip from Gocek, enjoy the most turquoise seas and explore some wonderful beaches only reachable by sea.
A city and a peninsula on the Mediterranean coast in south western Turkey
Marmaris is a peninsula where Aegean Sea ends and Mediterranean starts. It is such a beautiful place that the navy blue sea is accompanied by pine forests and mountains. In addition, delightful, little seaside villages are scattered all around the peninsula. Unfortunately, the wild fires in recent years destroyed so much of its pristine forests but nevertheless Marmaris peninsula is still a very pretty place for a vacation in Turkey.
Marmaris seaside towns and villages
There are so many locations to stay in Marmaris for different preferences. The main city Marmaris is situated in the starting point of the peninsula. It is a bustling city, with energetic night life options, however wouldn’t be my first suggestion for a family vacation.
Icmeler and Turunc are seaside towns not very far from Marmaris. Between the two of them Icmeler is a more crowded version but easier to travel. On the other hand Turunc (pronounced as too-roo-nch) is a little more further but for me a better option for a little seaside town with great beach and sea vibes.
On the west shores of the peninsula there are Hisaronu, Selimiye, Bozburun and Sogut villages. All of them are great for low key, relaxing vacations. Especially Selimiye is a rising star seaside village in last decades with high class boutique hotels with great views.
Hidden gems in Turkey
Whenever I travel to the hidden gems I listed below and meet some foreign tourists, I really want to congratulate them. They truly impress me, since they had gone off the beaten path, made their investigations and found those awesome places! Amazing!
Actually, the following places aren’t hidden at all. They are beloved places and visited a lot by the local tourists. Some of them like Dalyan has long before been discovered by foreign tourists and is even visited more than the locals nowadays. Cirali, Alacati, Datca, Dalyan, Bozcaada, Kazdaglari, Black Sea Region, Sirince, Cunda, Gaziantep, Safranbolu are some of the most beautiful destinations that you should really visit if you want to explore Turkey deeply.
A village on the Mediterranean coast in southern Turkey
Çıralı (pronounced as Chah-ruh-lah) is one of our favorite beach towns for relaxed vacations in Turkey. It is such an unspoiled place on the Mediterranean coast with an amazing sea, a great beach (a mixture of pebbles and sand) and surrounded with amazing nature of orange orchards and pine forests all around.
Since Cirali is a small seaside village in the middle of the protected Olympos national park and natural reserve, constructions are not allowed in this beautiful cove. The only accommodation options are bungalows in the middle of orange orchards. Thus, this little piece of paradise, unspoiled by the effects of mass tourism, have been around for decades to come.
Cirali shares the same beach with Olympos village, that is a more hippie bohemian place, renown for its treehouse vacations. I can say that Olympos is more college youth place, whereas Cirali is the more family friendly village option.
Cirali is a kind of a place to take it easy and relax in the nature. You can walk or ride your bike to the beach. After some leisurely hours in the clear sea and on the beach, you can walk back to your bungalow through amazing smelling orange orchards. Following a laid back afternoon at your veranda, accompanied by a symphony of crickets, it is time for a stroll to the center of the village, where you can find many restaurants to dine in. If those sound good and relaxing to you, go directly to places to stay in Cirali and book a place, you won’t be disappointed!
For the ones who fancy a little more exploration around, there is Chimaera, a mountain top rock with flames coming out from its holes on it because of natural gas. Olympos ancient ruins are a short walk away through the end of the beach. A boat trip to Suluada, renown as Maldives in Turkey, would be a great place for snorkeling. And many more…
For more about Cirali, click at my post: “8 reasons why I chose Cirali Turkey for vacation“
A town on the Aegean coast in western Turkey
Alaçatı (pronounced uh-luh-chuh-tah) is a picture-perfect town in the middle of the Aegean coast, not very far from city of Izmir. Although it is one of the best and most charming places to visit in Turkey, it is mostly left off the Turkey itineraries. Don’t do the same mistake; don’t skip this adorable place!
Alacati is cool, Alacati is hip and classy… It is a well preserved and renovated town full of Greek style stone buildings and architecture. Cobblestone streets framed with flowers, cute cafes, best restaurants, boutique hotels: Alacati is full of charm. Despite the town has a delightful Greek island vibe, to me it resembles more the chic artistic villages in southern France like Eze or Saint Paul de Vence. Wandering around the streets, taking in the atmosphere is a joy in Alacati.
Alacati town is not by the sea but just a few miles away you can find some wonderful beaches, some of them among the best beaches in Turkey. However, seawater can be on the cool side, especially in early summer. Deliklikoy, Kleopatra beach, Alacati public beach and Ilica beach are just a few of the beaches close to Alacati. Chark Beach is popular with its surf schools and windsurfing. There are also so many beach clubs in the area.
A town and a peninsula on both Mediterranean and Aegean coast in south western Turkey
Datça (pronounced as dut-chuh) is a peninsula located among Bodrum and Marmaris peninsulas. It is a place exactly where Aegean Sea meets Mediterranean Sea.
Datca is a kind of place far from the eyes though having an amazing nature and sea. The reason why this beauty is not as popular as its neighboring vacation destinations Bodrum and Marmaris is that it is very far away from the big cities like Istanbul and Ankara. Also, there isn’t a very close airport to fly there. In other words, it is a challenging place that can be enjoyed by only the ones who give the effort to reach there. Without a doubt, the award for the long journey and the winding roads is the breathtaking Datca…
Why to choose Datca for a vacation?
Datca is famous for its peaceful, tranquil atmosphere, refreshing breezy dry weather, almond trees and for sure, for its amazing blue coves with beautiful beaches. There aren’t any resort hotels in Datca which add up to its tranquility. Accommodations on this peninsula are mostly small and boutique hotels. On the other hand, I must say that, although Datca is not as crowded as its neighboring cities like Bodrum and Marmaris, it is far from being secluded. It is a beloved destination especially by the domestic tourists who prefer a peaceful vacation by the sea to the resort hotels..
Datca coves and beaches
Hayitbuku, Ovabuku, Kizilbuk and Palamutbuku are some cute coves on the southern coasts of Datca peninsula. Those are little villages by the sea with crystal clear waters and very peaceful atmosphere.
Hayitbuku and Kizilbuk are little coves in the same bay. Hayitbuku is little more livelier with some cafes and restaurants by the beach. Next village is Ovabuku with slightly more longer beach. Palmutbuku is most popular among all with a few more options for accommodation. We’ve stayed in a hotel in Kizilbuk once and it was one of the most tranquil vacations we’ve ever had.
A town on the Mediterranean coast in south western Turkey
Dalyan is a seaside town on the Mediterranean coast renown for its canals in the lagoon, dramatic Lycian tombs overlooking the town, nearby mud baths and the beautiful Iztuzu beach which is also nesting ground of loggerhead (Caretta Caretta) turtles. For a start, I would suggest you to google “Dalyan delta” and have a peek at the birds view images of the unbelievable beautiful maze of canals in this amazing delta. Dalyan is such a unique natural beauty that there are only a few places like this in the world.
Iztuzu beach, located at the end of Dalyan delta, has been selected as one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in Europe. In fact, this sandy beach can be choppy and windy most of the time but for sure is a unique place with salty sea water and fresh water lagoon side by side. Moreover, you can visit a Caretta Caretta hospital at the edge of the beach and learn a bit more about this magnificent sea creatures.
An island in North Aegean Sea in northwest Turkey
Bozcaada is a little, charming island in the northern Aegean Sea with cute Greek island atmosphere. Other than its delightful cobbled streets with traditional houses, Bozcaada offers vast vineyards and good wine, and naturally crystal clear sea with sandy beaches (sea water can be quite cool though).
We’ve visited Bozcaada in early 2000s for the first time, and with every visit since then we observed how popular the island became year after year. However, I must say, this popularity added a lot to the island’s charm. Lots of good restaurants, cafes with street arts, boutique hotels in well restored Greek houses, grape harvest festivals, even more wine producers were added to the attractions of the island.
Since Bozcaada is not a very big island, you can explore the city center on foot. Its bakery, patisserie, tea garden cafe, castle, many fish and mezze restaurants by the sea are all in walking distance. However, Bozcaada beaches, Polente sunset point and obviously the vineyards are a few miles out of the city center. You can opt in to stay in the center of Bozcaada, or in a vineyard farm house out of the center. Nevertheless, either of them would be a joy and add a lot to your Turkiye experience.
Side Note: Ruins of Troy (Yes, same one we know from the legends and the Hollywood movie with Brad Pitt) is on the way to Bozcaada when driving from Istanbul. Don’t skip a stop at this legendary place!
Kazdaglari – Mount Ida
A region on the northern Aegean coast in northwest Turkey
Mount Ida is the one, renowned from Ancient Greek mythology and from the work of poet Homer’s Illiad. However, in modern Turkey Ida mountains, named Kazdaglari in Turkish, are famous for its incredible nature both from forests and olive trees, peaceful idyllic villages and refreshing rural atmosphere.
The picturesque villages in Ida mountains are delight for the eyes with their traditional stone houses, cobbled streets and easy going lifestyle. A stroll in the village or in a orchard around hundreds of olive trees, a glass of herb tea in a tea garden under a centennial oak, a hike to the hills with the scent of mountain thyme in your nose, the view at the Altar of Zeus or a visit to Kazdagi (Ida) National Park are some of the relaxing activities in Kazdaglari that you would think the time has stopped.
Yesilyurt and Adatepe are two picturesque villages in Ida mountains. In recent decades, those villages became tranquil escape destinations for the people living in big cities. Many deteriorating stone houses have been restored and came back to life. Also, beautiful boutique hotels have been opened where you can experience a glimpse of the rural life, taste the local cuisine consisted mainly of herbs, greens and natural stuff and even have a cooking class. In addition, these villages are just a few miles away from the Aegean coast. For places to stay in Kazdaglari region please click here.
Ayvalik and Cunda
Towns on the northern Aegean coast in northwest Turkey
When you pass through Ida mountains and keep driving through the same bay, you reach the town of Ayvalik at the end. Ayvalik is an authentic place where you can deeply experience the traditional, joyful street life in Turkey. Although it is quite a touristic destination, there are neighborhoods in Ayvalik consisted of only old traditional houses, some neglected others beautifully restored ,but all of them still beautiful.
Check out Macaron neighborhood in Ayvalik to experience the authenticity at its best! People are sitting on their chairs in front of the houses, chatting or preparing the veggies for the meal they’ll cook. Kids playing cheerfully on the narrow cobbled streets. There are delightful cafes here and there on the street under vibrant wisterias or grape vines. Everything is so lively and lovely!
Cunda (Alibey) island
Cunda (pronounced joonduh), is a charming, little island connected to the mainland by a small bridge just next to Ayvalik. It is a compact, picturesque and more touristic version of Ayvalik. Restored Greek houses, cobbled streets, delightful sea promenade with lots of fish restaurants and cafes, many boutique hotels, Tash Kahve cafe by the sea, the windmill cafe and library on the hill; Cunda has lots to offer for a peaceful vacation.
A quick note, Ayvalik and Cunda are beloved summer destinations by the locals and they can be packed in summer. Ayvalik has beautiful sandy beaches where a lot of locals spend their all summers. Yet, we like visiting Ayvalik and Cunda in spring when streets are decorated with blossoms, dishes are prepared with finest greens of spring and it is more peaceful with less crowds.
Ayvalik and Cunda cuisine
We especially love visiting Ayvalik and Cunda for its cuisine. People living in Ayvalik have immigrated from Greek islands Crete, Lesvos (Midilli); Thessaloniki in Greece or from Bosnia a few generations ago, thus, this contributed directly into the cuisine in Ayvalik. Delicious local dishes are cooked using olive oil and different plants, herbs even flowers. On the other hand, fish and seafood is the freshest which is delightfully prepared using authentic recipes. “Raki and fish” and lots of mezzes by the sea is a culture and a tradition in Ayvalik and Cunda. For places to stay in Ayvalik and Cunda, please click here.
A village close to Ephesus in west Turkey
Black Sea Region
A region on the Black Sea coast all through the northern Turkey
A town in central-northern Turkey
A gastronomic city in southeast Turkey
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Have you been to Turkey before? Do you have other recommendations? If you have any questions please ask at the comment section below.
Have a great holiday in my home country!