Things to Do in Turkey
The Bosphorus Strait defines Istanbul. It is the divide between Europe and Asia, and the main connection between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. Dotted with parks and elaborate Ottoman mansions, including Dolmabahce Palace, and spanned by three intercontinental bridges, the Bosphorus is the veritable heart of the city.
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar (Kapali Çarsi) is the ultimate covered market. Its 5,000+ vendors hawk carpets, beaded bracelets, gold and silver jewelry, multicolored lanterns, leather goods, ceramics, belly-dancing outfits, and more. With goods available at all price points, you’re sure to find the perfect souvenir in the bazaar’s labyrinthine alleys.
Rising high above its namesake neighborhood, Istanbul’s Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi) dates back to the Genoese presence in Constantinople in the 14th century. An elevator takes you up to a viewing platform located under the roof, which offers panoramic views of the Old City peninsula and Beyoglu neighborhood.
Ephesus (Efes) is one of the greatest ancient sites in the Mediterranean. During its heyday in the first century BC, it was the second-largest city in the world, with only Rome commanding more power. Many reconstructed structures and ruins, including the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, can be seen here.
This unique town, located in the heart of Turkey, is an excellent jumping off point to some of Cappadocia’s most fantastic attractions. From the fairy chimneys in Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia to the incredible cave churches at the Göreme Open-Air Museum, this region offers a variety of stunning sights.
With a 5-star hotel, a gigantic water park, a luxurious shopping avenue, and plenty of amusement park rides, the Land of Legends is a one-stop-shop for family entertainment. Open to both day visitors and Land of Legends hotel guests, the theme park is one of the largest of its kind in Turkey.
Explore the grandeur of Ottoman architecture at the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii), located on Istanbul’s Old City peninsula. Opened in 1616 to rival the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) across the way, the six minarets punctuating the Istanbul skyline and 20,000 blue Iznik tiles decorating its interior are designed to inspire awe.
Taksim Square (Taksim Meydani), Istanbul’s main modern hub, is located at the end of the pedestrian thoroughfare Istiklal Avenue (Istiklal Caddesi). A popular meeting place, Taksim Square is anchored by the Monument of the Republic and buzzes with activity day and night. The area historically hosts public celebrations, parades, and demonstrations.
Built in an opulent European style, Dolmabahce Palace (Dolmabahce Sarayi) was the home of the Ottoman sultans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before the fall of the empire. The giant crystal chandeliers, marble staircases, and lush carpets that adorn the interior reflect the shift toward Istanbul’s more European way of thinking.
Located on an islet in the Bosphorus Strait, just offshore from Istanbul’s Uskudar neighborhood, Maiden’s Tower (Kiz Kulesi) is a historical site that has inspired myths and legends. The Ottomans expanded and rebuilt the structure, and today it contains a restaurant and bar with views of the city.
More Things to Do in Turkey
Built in 532 as the world’s largest place of worship, the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) shifts its identity with the times but never loses its grandeur. Converted from a church to a mosque during the Ottoman era and becoming a museum in 1935, the pink-hued Old City building is one of Istanbul’s don’t-miss attractions.
The city of Bursa is an excellent place to learn about Ottoman history. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed municipality was the first capital of the Ottoman Empire and contains numerous historic sites. Located in the foothills of Mount Uludag, Bursa is also known for its lush scenery and thermal hot springs.
Built in the 17th century, the covered Spice Bazaar is Istanbul’s fragrant hub for all things flavorful. Piles of pepper, saffron, teas, and dried apricots nestle alongside shops selling colorful Turkish delight, silk scarves, and glass mosaic lamps. Take time to chat with vendors, sip tea, and haggle for the perfect price.
Surprisingly for a city split between two continents, Istanbul existed without connecting bridges for most of its existence. After the construction of the Bosphorus Bridge in the 1970s, the second unifying bridge, Fatih Sultan Mehmet, came in 1988. It is part of Istanbul’s O-2 highway and connects the European and Asian sides of the city.
Behold the imperial complex of Ottoman sultans at Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi), the royal residence in Istanbul throughout the first 400 years of the Ottoman Empire. The palace contains myriad buildings and courtyards, including a treasury, harems, an armory, imperial halls, and royal chambers—all with intricate Iznik tilework and opulent architecture.
The most thoroughly excavated of Cappadocia’s many underground cities, Derinkuyu spans an impressive eight floors, reaching depths of over 280 feet (85 meters). The subterranean labyrinth of cave rooms and tunnels is fed by a remarkable ventilation system and provides fascinating insight into Cappadocia’s troglodyte history.
The Bosphorus Bridge (Bogazici Koprusu) in Istanbul is one of three continent-spanning bridges over the Bosphorus Strait, connecting Europe and Asia. When it opened in 1973, the 5,118-foot (1,560-meter) bridge was the fourth-longest suspension bridge in the world. And though it has since slid down the rankings, it is still an impressive sight to behold.
Troy is one of the world’s most famous ancient cities, renowned for being the site of the Trojan War, as described by Homer inThe Iliad. Today’s Troy—a UNESCO World Heritage-listed area of ruins and archaeological excavations—contains the remains of multiple settlements, some dating back 5,000 years.
Istanbul’s bustling waterside neighborhood of Ortaköy buzzes with the energy of bars, restaurants, cafés, and nightclubs. The main sight here is the Ortaköy Mosque (Ortaköy Cami), a 19th-century structure featuring a blend of baroque and neoclassical influences. Behind it, the Bosphorus Bridge looms, connecting the old Istanbul with the new.
Cappadocia’s underground cities—vast multistory complexes carved into the region’s famous volcanic rock—are among the most impressive underground dwellings in the world. Kaymakli Underground City is one of the most visited, with eight floors reaching depths of 262 feet (80 meters) and a history dating back to the eighth century BC.
The Duden Waterfalls sit at the end of the river of the same name, which winds its way through the Taurus Mountains before tumbling from a cliff into a valley next to the Mediterranean. The falls consist of two cascades, and the upper part is nearly 50 feet (15 meters) tall and 65 feet (20 meters) wide.
Beautiful yet eerie, Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayi) isn’t your average underground well. Dating back to the Byzantine era, the huge cistern was built in the mid-500s on the former site of a basilica. More than 300 marble columns provide a grand, serene atmosphere to what was essentially subterranean water storage.
The Temple of Artemis, or Artemision, was a Greek temple in present-day Turkey dedicated to the goddess Artemis. It was one of the original seven wonders of the ancient world. It was built not far from Ephesus just outside the present-day town of Selcuk. The temple was completely rebuilt several times throughout history after being destroyed on multiple occasions by both nature and human factors. Little remains of the temple in its original location today since archeologists brought much of the ruins to the British Museum.
The Temple of Artemis is only a couple of miles from Ephesus, making it an easy attraction to visit. Visitors can still see one tall column and a handful of marble pieces from the foundations of the structure, and the historical location is fascinating. From the site, you can also see the ruins of St. John's Basilica, located on a hill in Selcuk.
Known for its views across Istanbul's natural harbor — the Golden Horn — Pierre Loti Hill (Pierre Loti Tepesi) is named after the famous French novelist and traveler. A popular spot for snapping a selfie (or three), atop the hill there are six historic mansions that have been turned into a boutique hotel. There’s also a restaurant, and the famous Pierre Loti Coffee Shop where you can enjoy the views with a cup of Turkish tea or coffee in hand. Loti used to sit here and write his novels when the cafe was known as Rabia Kadın Café. For the best views of all, test the telescope on the observation deck at Piyerloti funicular station.
The Golden Horn was once the center of the Byzantine and Ottoman navies, and it's fun to see the boats come in while enjoying the views of the parks and promenades that line the harbor’s shores.
In the Eyüp district, to get to Pierre Loti Hill there are two options: you can either take the 3-minute Eyüp-Piyerloti cable car ride, or alternatively, see that grand mosque at the bottom of the hill? It's the most important one in the district, and you can walk up to the top of this 53-meter-high hill from there by winding your way up through the graveyard.
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