Turkey is a gorgeous travel destination filled with beautiful beaches, archaeological wonders, historical sites, and friendly people. It is one of the main destinations for travelers looking to immerse themselves in a different culture, and it doesn’t hurt that the food is so flavorful. One of the great things about visiting Turkey is that visitors can book a tour that will take them through all the hotspots, or they can safely wander about off the beaten path – either way, the trip will be a memorable one! Some sites that shouldn’t be missed include the legendary city of Troy, Suluklugol, the Kevoka Island Sunken Ruins, and one of the largest covered markets in the world, the Grand Bazaar.
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Ankara Castle, or Ankara Kalesi, is a fortification that remains from the early medieval era of Turkey. Though it is unknown when exactly the castle was built, it is estimated to have been established in 7th century AD and was at one point used by the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, Seljuq Turks, the Crusaders, and the Ottoman Empire. Visitors can explore the castle and everything within its 43,000 square kilometers; there are many old Ankara houses within the castle grounds that display the architectural styles of different periods. The mosques on the castle grounds are also worth exploring as they’re filled with stunning architectural aspects and decor.
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The historical region of Cappadocia can be found in Central Anatolia, Turkey. The hills and rock sites are officially a part of Gerome National Park, which is a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site. The unique cultural and historical heritage of the region, along with its exceptional natural wonders, have made it a popular tourist attraction. Visitors head there to see the unique geological features in the four cities of Cappadocia, which include Aksaray, Nevsehir, Kayseri, and Nigde. One extremely popular activity that visitors should experience when there is hot-air ballooning, which gives a beautiful bird’s eye view of the wonders below.
3.Aqua Vega Aquarium
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Located in Ankara, Aqua Vega Aquarium is one of the largest underwater worlds in Europe. Aqua Vega houses the third largest tunnel aquarium and is a fun place for the entire family. There is a total capacity of 4.5 million liters of water in the salt and freshwater aquariums to create the homes of hundreds of fascinating sea creatures from all over the world. Exhibits such as Adrenaline World, the Sea Shell Museum, and Jungle Corner allow visitors to explore this amazing underwater world and get up close and personal with sharks, koi fish, napoleon fish, clown fish, and much more.
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Ataturk Mausoleum, or Anitkabir, is a mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who was the founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey. Having opened in 1953, the mausoleum is also the resting place of the second President of Turkey, Ismet Inonu. Visitors can explore the cut-stone clad monument and its beautiful Turkish architecture; the marble and stone used were brought in from various parts of Turkey, and the surface reliefs reflect that period. The park that surrounds the monument, Peace Park, is a great place to spend the day as there are over 50,000 decorative plants, flowers, trees, and shrubs from over 25 countries.
5.Basilica Cisterns Istanbul
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The Basilica Cistern in Istanbul is the largest of hundreds of ancient cisterns that can be found beneath the city of Istanbul. It was built during the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian. The artificial underground freshwater lakes are longer than the length of two football fields and hold up vaulted brick ceilings with pillars that were scavenged from Roman ruins. Visitors can rent rowboats and float through the masterpiece to explore the majestic architecture of the past and the cisterns unique attributes. Visitors can hear stories from the locals about whether the placement of Roman ruins such as a statue of Medusa’s head were specifically placed to show power or whether they were just randomly put together for the sake of construction.
6.Çengel Han Rahmi M Koc Museum
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Cengel Han Rahmi M. Koc is a private museum dedicated to the history of communications, industry, and transport in Turkey. The museum is named after the philanthropist and business mogul that established it, Rahmi Mustafa Koc. He opened the museum in 1994 after he was inspired by a visit to the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan. Many of the items exhibited are from Rahmi Koc’s private collection; visitors will be able to see old racing cars and convertibles, a Sultan’s carriage from 1867, various aircraft models, a ferry boat steam engine from 1911, Thomas Edison’s telegraph patent model, and much more. There’s also a rotation of temporary exhibitions that have included original artworks by Leonardo da Vinci for visitors to enjoy.
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The CerModern Arts Center in Ankara is one of the best places in Turkey for visitors to get acquainted with a variety of modern art. The art housed at the center consists of pieces from all mediums, and they are exhibited for visitors to see and appreciate. The establishment is renowned for working with schools and colleges to inspire new artists and collaborating with them in many of the museum’s programs. Other than seeing some stunning pieces of work, visitors can also participate in one of CerModern’s many workshops dedicated to understanding art and embracing traditional and contemporary literature.
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Dolmabahce Palace, which can be found in the heart of Istanbul, was the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1856 to 1887 and then again from 1909 to 1922. With baroque, ottoman, and neoclassical architecture, the palace building is one of the most magnificent structures of its kind. Visitors can explore the largest palace in Turkey and its 285 rooms and 46 halls; the exterior is a wondrous display of varying styles while the interior decor is breathtaking. Some of the pieces include exquisite Iznik tiles, gold-gilded ceilings, and the world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier, which is said to have been gifted by Queen Victoria.
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Established in 2009 and a fairly new addition to Turkey’s many art museums, the Yuksel Erimtan Culture and Arts Foundation has quite an old beginning. In the 1960s, Yuksel Erimtan was a civil engineer who found himself with a growing collection of artifacts he discovered at the construction sites he worked on. Many of his initial pieces were ancient jewelry, but he also started collecting seal stones, coins, and glass and ceramic objects. The Erimtan Museum now displays the diverse collection of artifacts unearthed in Anatolia, including the original pieces of Yuksel himself. In addition to viewing the eclectic exhibitions, visitors can also attend the concerts held at the museum every Tuesday.
10.Esztergom Castle Turkish Cultural Center
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The Esztergom Castle and Turkish Cultural Center was established in 2005 for people to experience and better understand Turkish history and culture. Found on the banks of the Danube River and within the historical Estergon Castle, the cultural center is filled with traditional Turkish art for visitors to experience. The castle and the palace were built during the Ottoman reign in Romanesque style, and visitors can explore the archaeological aspects as well as the 12th century frescoes in the palace chapel. Other surroundings in the area other than the royal castle include the cathedral, the synagogue, water town, and downtown.
11.Ethnography Museum of Ankara
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Dedicated to the cultures of Turkic civilizations, the Ethnography Museum of Ankara was built between 1925 and 1928 by architect Arif Hikmet Koyunoglu. The first state museum to be planned and built in the republic period, the artifacts in the museum reflect the character, history, and culture of the Turkish people. Many of the artifacts include clothing, hand-embroidered and hand-woven cloths, weapons, Turkish coffee, and wood, metal, stone, glass, and tile pieces. Some of the most beautiful examples of art can be seen in the woodworking section of the museum and include doors, thrones, and even a carved sarcophagus. Places to Visit in Turkey
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Gobleki Tepe, which translates to “Potbelly Hill,” is an archaeological site in the Anatolia Region of Turkey. The tell, which is an artificial mound accumulated from the refuse of people who have lived on the site for thousands of years, is nearly 50 feet high and approximately 980 feet in diameter. It is believed that the tell had either a social or ritual nature and that the first phase dates to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period. The site has a lot of history, and visitors can learn about the sanctuary from the many local tour guides.
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The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. Since 1455, the market has constantly grown and now covers over 61 of Istanbul’s streets and has over 4,000 shops. It was listed as one of the world’s most visited tourist attractions with over 91,215,000 annual visitors, and rightly so, as the Grand Bazaar is one of the most unique places in Turkey. It can take days for visitors to fully explore the thriving complex and its architectural beauty, but it’s well worth it as they’ll be able to walk away with a collection of goodies. Some of the things that can be found at the market include dried fruits, nuts, tea, coffee, and more traditional decor, lanterns, and various other items.
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The Hagia Sophia is a museum in Istanbul that was once an imperial mosque as well as a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal basilica. Displaying beautiful Byzantine architecture in its exterior, Hagia Sophia is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Historic Areas of Istanbul. It was built in 537 AD, and the building is famed for its massive dome, which is considered to have changed architecture from that point forward. Notable aspects of Hagia Sophia that shouldn’t be missed include the Deesis mosaic, another depicting Saint John Chrysostom, the 19th century market of the tomb of Enrico Dandolo, and many drawings by the Fossati brothers.
15.Hippodrome of Constantinople
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Previously, the Hippodrome of Constantinople was the main sporting and social center of the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Today, visitors can explore the renamed Sultan Ahmet Square and see many of the surviving original structures. Aspects of the Hippodrome include the Serpent Column, which is over 2,500 years old, and the Obelisk of Thutmose III, which was originally erected by Pharaoh Thutmose III during the 18th dynasty. The base of the obelisk has a wonderful depiction of Emperor Theodosius offering a laurel wreath to a victor at the Hippodrome. Other attractions visitors can see are the German Fountain and the nearby Blue Mosque.
16.Kekova Island Sunken Ruins
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Around 2000 BCE the Lycians built a peaceful democratic federation that surrounded the sea-trading city of Simena. It was hit by violent earthquakes in 2nd century CE and sadly sank beneath the waves. Today, visitors can book a tour boat, schedule a private charter gulet, or kayak across the Kevoka Island Sunken Ruins, which lies just a few meters below the clear waters of the Mediterranean. They’ll be able to see a shipyard, the foundations of houses and public building, and many more structures above the current shoreline. The protected area is a stunning attraction, and visitors in Turkey shouldn’t miss it.
17.Lycian Rock Tombs
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The Lycian Rock Tombs of Dalyan can be found on the southern coast of Turkey and dates to the Late Bronze Age. Many relics of the Lycians remain visible today, including the distinctive tombs cut out on the side of the cliffs. The tombs were placed high on the cliffside because the Lycians believed that the dead were carried to the afterlife by winged creatures and that the bodies needed to be in geographically high places for the creatures to easily carry them off. The intricately carved reliefs and Romanesque columns are a remarkable sight even after centuries of weathering have taken a toll.
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Olympos, also known as Lycia, is an ancient city, the ruins of which can be seen in the town of Cirali. It is a part of Olympos Beydaglari National Park, which also includes the ancient cities of Idyros and Phaselis. Visitors can go on guided tours to get the full experience of the historic site that dates to the 4th century BC. Certain sites include the ruins of a bathhouse and the sarcophagus of Captain Eudemos. The ruins are surrounded by a picturesque beach and the site of Yanartas, which comprises various vents spread over an acre that spew fire due to the methane gas in the area. Back then when the volcanic phenomena was inexplicable, many stories were created about Chimera, a massive lion-snake-goat monster that breathed fire.
19.Pamukkale Water Terraces
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Pamukkale, which translates to “cotton castle,” is a natural attraction in Turkey filled with enormous white terraces of travertine and various hot springs. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is built on the white carbonate mineral left behind on the surrounding lands by the flowing water. For decades, people have gone to the thermal springs in pamukkale to bathe in the calcium and mineral rich waters. Visitors will also be able to visit many well-preserved Roman ruins and museums in the surrounding area and see historical artifacts and beautiful examples of Bronze Age craft.
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The Spice Bazaar is one of the largest and most famous of its kind in all of Istanbul. The covered shopping complex dates back to 1660 and currently has over 85 shops and stalls under its roof. Visitors can visit the bazaar from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm throughout the week except Sundays, when it closes at 6:00 pm. Visitors will be able to find tons of goodies to bring back with them in addition to the aromatic spices sold there. Stalls also sell souvenirs, jewelry, dried fruits and nuts, Turkish coffee, and many other delicious Turkish sweets.
21.Sultan Ahmed Mosque
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Built in 1616 in the Late Classical Ottoman style, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque is one of Turkey’s most marvelous architectural structures. The historic mosque is located in Istanbul and is a popular tourist site along with being a functioning mosque. Popularly known as the Blue Mosque, the site houses the tomb of Sultan Ahmed, an Islamic educational institution as well as a hospice. Visitors will be able to see beautiful aspects of the mosque such as lush red carpets, the hand-painted blue tiles on the interior walls, and the mosques six minarets, five domes, and eight secondary domes. Another unique aspect of the mosque is its beautiful call to prayer, which can be heard five times a day.
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Suluklugol is a beautiful lake that is over an hour away from the city of Istanbul. The site is a popular attraction for tourists as well as locals, all of whom head over to ride boats, go fishing, or hike in the surrounding areas. There are many companies that offer day and overnight package tours of the lake so that you do not have to navigate through the beauty alone; they’ll even organize any activities that you would like to partake in. The unique forest ecosystem surrounding the lake is filled with flora and fauna; visitors are sure to run into sparrows, rabbits, foxes, and even bears and wild boar.
23.Temple of Artemis
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The Temple of Artemis, also known as the Temple of Diana, is a Greek temple dedicated to the goddess of the hunt, forests and hills, the moon, and archery, Artemis. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the structure was rebuilt various times before its final destruction in 401 AD. Prior versions were destroyed in floods and acts of arson among other events. Visitors can see the foundation and fragments of the temple remains, as well as the model of the temple, which can be found in Miniaturk Park in Istanbul. The model attempts to recreate what was the appearance of the first temple.
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Topkapi Palace is a large museum that visitors can find in the heart of Istanbul. The building itself was once the residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultans, and then it was the accommodation for ranked officers. Since 1924, the palace buildings and grounds have housed a museum dedicated to preserving the culture of Turkey. Visitors will be able to explore many of the rooms and chambers on the palace grounds and see various artifacts on display such as religious relics, Ottoman clothing, armor and weapons, as well as manuscripts. The outer gardens of the UNESCO World Heritage Site have pavilions filled with Islamic ceramics.
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The famed setting of the legendary Trojan war, the city of Troy couldn’t be found till the early 2000s. Everyone knows the story of the city that was tricked by a wooden horse, and it took archaeologists decades to find the actual location. Visitors will be able to see the walls of the acropolis that belonged to Troy VII circa 1200 BC. The UNESCO World Heritage Site has had many excavations done throughout the years; the discoveries are endless and revealed many distinct ages of construction. Various museums in Turkey exhibit the artifacts that have been found over the years such as jewelry and coins.
25 Best Things to Do in Turkey
- Ankara Castle, Photo: Courtesy of Orhan Çam - Fotolia.com
- Cappadocia, Photo: Courtesy of standret - Fotolia.com
- Aqua Vega Aquarium, Photo: Courtesy of Olesia Bilkei - Fotolia.com
- Ataturk's Mausoleum, Photo: Courtesy of nicothein - Fotolia.com
- Basilica Cisterns Istanbul, Photo: Courtesy of lifeinistanbul - Fotolia.com
- Çengel Han Rahmi M Koc Museum, Photo: Courtesy of mazzamazza - Fotolia.com
- CerModern, Photo: Courtesy of photofang - Fotolia.com
- Dolmabahce Palace, Photo: Courtesy of dalajlama - Fotolia.com
- Erimtan Museum, Photo: Courtesy of anontae - Fotolia.com
- Esztergom Castle Turkish Cultural Center, Photo: Courtesy of gallas - Fotolia.com
- Ethnography Museum of Ankara, Photo: Courtesy of EvrenKalinbacak - Fotolia.com
- Gobekli Tepe, Photo: Courtesy of cornfield - Fotolia.com
- Grand Bazaar, Photo: Courtesy of dawnadams - Fotolia.com
- Hagia Sophia, Photo: Courtesy of salparadis - Fotolia.com
- Hippodrome of Constantinople, Photo: Courtesy of Andrey Shevchenko - Fotolia.com
- Kekova Island Sunken Ruins, Photo: Courtesy of rweisswald - Fotolia.com
- Lycian Rock Tombs, Photo: Courtesy of Gelia - Fotolia.com
- Olympos, Photo: Courtesy of Clayton - Fotolia.com
- Pamukkale Water Terraces, Photo: Courtesy of muratart - Fotolia.com
- Spice Bazaar, Photo: Courtesy of vermontalm - Fotolia.com
- Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Photo: Courtesy of EvrenKalinbacak - Fotolia.com
- Suluklugol, Photo: Courtesy of Kuzeytac - Fotolia.com
- Temple of Artemis, Photo: Courtesy of okanakdeniz - Fotolia.com
- Topkapi Palace, Photo: Courtesy of lifeinistanbul - Fotolia.com
- Troy, Photo: Courtesy of iza_miszczak - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of hakkozan - Fotolia.com