To help inspire or plan your trip to Turkey, some of its major attractions
for travellers are shown below, including some of the best natural, historical, cultural and adventure sites in the country.
These include all of UNESCO World Heritage Sites for Turkey which represent the best
of the world's cultural and natural heritage.
Click on the icons below to focus on specific types of features (click again to return to all).
Turkey's most important city spans Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus and has been capital of three empires - Eastern Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman throughout its history (including its previous incarnations as Byzantium and Constantinople). This has left it with an incredibly rich historical heritage that makes it one of the great cities of the world. The Blue Mosque is perhaps the city's most famous sight, built by the Sultan Ahmet I in the 17th century, with a stunningly impressive scale and elegant design. Aya Sophia was built as a Byzantine Christian church in the 6th century, converted to a mosque after the Islamic takeover in the 15th century and now a museum. Its huge dome and walls include some superb mosaics. The 4th century Hippodrome of Constantine was the site of political demonstrations, chariot races and polo matches. Topaki Palace, built in Islamic style, was the home of the Ottoman sultans for four centuries. Other buildings of note include Suleymaniye Mosque, the Kariye Camii church and the ancient ramparts and aqueduct. One of Istanbul's most famous attractions is the vast Grand Bazaar, a labyrinth of some 4000 covered shops, cafés and restaurants, where you can haggle for jewellery, clothes, sweets and spices.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Historic Areas of Istanbul
Gallipoli is the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War between the Turks and the Allied forces, largely comprising Australian and New Zealand troops. Among the sites you can visit are the beach, the cemeteries of Anzac Cove, the Australian Memorial at Lone Pine and the New Zealand Memorial at Chunuk Bair, the highest ground secured by the Allies. The Ataturk Memorial commemorates the fact that Mustafa Kemal, 'Father of the Turks', fought on the Turkish side during the campaign.
|Archaeological Site of Troy
The mythical ancient city of Troy was once thought to be merely a legend until archaeological work by Heinrich Schliemann in the 19th century identified its site near Çanakkale, uncovering extensive remains of nine cities built on top of one another. The history of Troy covers some 4,000 years, extending back to 3000 BC. Troy VI is assumed to be the walled city of King Priam (1800-1275 BC), immortalised by Homer in The Iliad when Odysseus used the wooden horse to help the Spartans and Achaeans break the siege of Troy and rescue Helen. The remains of the ancient city walls can still be seen which enclosed a citadel with palaces and administrative buildings. Further ruins exist from the Greek and Roman periods.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Archaeological Site of Troy
Ephesus was one of the great cities of the ancient world and the ruins here are some of the best preserved of any Roman site in the Mediterranean. Ephesus was founded by Ionian Greeks in the 11th century BC and flourished as a major city and sea port. The Temple of Artemis built by the Greeks was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The city came under Roman control in the 2nd century BC, reached its zenith in the 2nd century AD with a population of 300,000 and later became an important centre for Christianity. The Library of Celsus is the most impressive single ruin at Ephesus, a two-storey front facade of the original building with pillars, statues and windows. The Street of Curetes climbs upwards from the library, lined by columns and facades of shops, temples, houses, public baths and a brothel. The vast amphitheatre seats 25,000 people and still holds concerts today. The Ephesus Museum in nearby Selcuk has an excellent collection of artefacts and statues from the ancient city.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Ephesus
|Pamukkale and Ruins at Hierapolis
Pamukkale, meaning 'cotton castle' in Turkish, is a bizarre and spectacular natural phenomenon where mineral-laden hot spring waters have created a landscape of petrified waterfalls, mineral forests and a cascade of terraced pools. The waters have supposed therapeutic qualities that have been used since Roman times. The ruins of the thermal spa of Hierapolis are close to Pamukkale. Founded in the 2nd century BC by the King of Pergamon, it soon came under Roman control and prospered as a cosmopolitan city. Among the ruins are a theatre, temple, monumental fountain, bath, basilica and necropolis.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Hierapolis-Pamukkale
The Greco-Roman ruins at Aphrodisias are some of the most impressive in the region. The city contained the most important temple to Aphroditis, the goddess of love and was an artistic centre with one of the ancient world's most famous Schools of Sculpture. Many of these sculptures can be seen in the small museum on the site. Aphrodisias also contains one of the largest and best preserved athletics stadiums in the ancient world.
Xanthos was the capital of Lycia, whose people invaded the Hittite Empire around 1200BC. The site contains some fascinating sarcophagi with epigraphic inscriptions that have been crucial in the understanding of the history and language of the Lycian people.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Xanthos-Letoon
|Gulet Cruise Along Lycian Coast
Gulet ships have been used for centuries to explore the coast around the Lycian peninsula in south-western Turkey and today have been converted to luxury cruising vessels. A gulet is a wooden yacht, handmade from hardwood using traditional Turkish carpentry techniques and nowadays powered by motors, though sails can still be used. The coastline, bays and islands of the region provide an interesting and picturesque landscape to explore in addition to swimming and snorkelling in the turquoise waters. On shore, there are numerous traditional villages and ancient ruins to explore, such as the ancient cities of Xanthus, Patara, Arycanda and the submerged city of Kekova.
|Turquoise Coast Activities
The Turquoise Coast in Lycia in southern Turkey is a great area for adrenaline activities. Based around the charming port town of Kas, there are numerous options over land, sea and air to keep every adrenaline junkie satisfied. To the northwest of Kas, the Dalaman River offers white-water rafting with rapids classed as Grade 3-4. To the east of Kas lies Kekova Island with an ancient sunken city off its northern shore. Kayaking along these waters allows you to see the ruined walls, stairs of houses and the outline of its jetty submerged in a few metres of translucent, turquoise water. Kas is also an excellent spot for diving or snorkelling with numerous dive sites, clear waters and a good variety of sea life. Downhill mountain biking in the hills above Kas, along asphalt roads and rough tracks, is an exhilarating experience as well as offering some stunning views of the coast and mountains. Paragliding from a jump point of 1,000 metres takes you over Kas, the coast and nearby islands. Finally the mountains behind Kas have some spectacular gorges that are excellent spots for canyoning.
|Ancient sites near Antalya
There are several interesting historical sites around the southern city of Antalya. East of Antalya, the Roman theatre at Aspendos has been superbly restored and is one of the finest examples of an ancient theatre in the world. The mountain citadel of Termessos is located west of Antalya. It was thought to be home to some fearsome warriors who held out against Alexander the Great. The scattered ruins include a theatre with excellent views over the plains below. The Lycian port city of Phaselis was founded in the 7th century BC and flourished as a commercial city until the 12th century. The ruins are located in a beautiful setting around three small bays and surrounded by fragrant pine forests.
Konya is Turkey's holiest city and home to the mystic Sufi sect known as the Whirling Dervishes, founded by Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi. Known as Iconium in Roman times, Konya was capital of the Seljuk Turks in the 12th and 13th centuries. The Mevlana Museum contains the tomb of Mevlana and other important leaders of the sect, as well as some of Mevlana's handwritten manuscripts and other artefacts such as ancient carpets and musical instruments.
One of Turkey's most iconic sights is the lunar like landscape of Cappadocia. Formed by wind and water erosion of tuft (soft compacted volcanic ash), the landscape comprises bizarre rock formations shaped like pillars, cones, towers, domes and pyramids, some up to 40 metres high. For centuries man has carved dwellings, churches, troglodyte villages and even entire subterranean cities into these rocks, particularly Byzantine monks and hermits from the 4th century onwards. Many of the rock churches in the Göreme Valley contain richly decorated religious frescoes from the post-iconoclastic period (10th-12th centuries). The underground cities of Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, built by Christians seeking refuge from Arab oppression, are fascinating places to explore with several levels of tunnels extending for many kilometres.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia
|Trekking in the Taurus Mountains
The Taurus Mountains near Cappadocia in central Turkey offer a spectacular landscape that's ideal for trekking. The region is characterised by rugged peaks and high passes, mountain pastures and isolated valleys, dramatic canyons and deserted mountain lakes.
Hattusha was capital of the Hittite Empire which was a prominent civilisation in Anatolia and northern Syria in the 13th century BC. The city was surrounded by 8km of fortified walls with sculptured friezes, which surrounded the lower town with its great temple and the upper town with the royal residence of Buyukkale.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Hattusha: the Hittite Capital
Safranbolu, near Turkey's Black Sea coast, is an example of a typical Ottoman city, renowned for its beautifully restored traditional buildings. Safranbolu was an important caravan station on the main East–West trade route from the 13th century to the early 20th century. Its most prominent historical buildings include the Old Mosque, Old Bath and Süleyman Pasha Medrese from the 14th century, the Cinci Inn and Koprulu Mosque from the 17th century and the 18th century Let Pasha Mosque.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: City of Safranbolu
The Taurus Express travels along an ancient route from Istanbul to Gaziantrep on the eastern Mediterranean. Originally the railway travelled on to Damascus in Syria and Baghdad in Iraq, though there is still a once-weekly sleeper car service on to Aleppo. Upon leaving Istanbul, the train soon reaches the vast Anatolian Plateau, passing through Afyon, with its ruined Black Fortress of Opium, and Konya, home to the mausoleum of the Sufi poet Mevlana Rumi, founder of the Whirling Dervish sect. The train then climbs through the Taurus Mountains with stunning views of gorges and deep mountain valleys. Descending to Adana, the railway follows the coastal plain to Gaziantrep, home to the 9,000 year old Kale citadel. The whole journey of 1,140km takes some 27 hours - reservations are required and you need to bring your own food and water as there is no restaurant on board.
|Selimiye Mosque, Edirne
The Selimiye Mosque was built in the 16th century in the former Ottoman capital of Edirne. Designed by the famous Ottoman architect Sinan, it comprises a single great dome and four slender minarets, as well as madrasas (Islamic schools), a covered market, clock house, outer courtyard and library. It is considered the finest example of an Ottoman külliye, a group of buildings constructed around a mosque and managed as a single institution.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Selimiye Mosque and its Social Complex
|Neolithic Site of Çatalhöyük
The neolithic site of Çatalhöyük is located on the southern Anatolian plateau and comprises two mounds. The taller eastern mound contains eighteen levels of Neolithic occupation between 7400 BC and 6200 BC, including wall paintings, reliefs, sculptures and other symbolic and artistic features, while the western mound shows the evolution of cultural practices in the Chalcolithic period, from 6200 bc to 5200 BC. They testify to the evolution of social organization and cultural practices as humans adapted to a sedentary life and the transition from settled villages to urban agglomeration.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Neolithic Site of Çatalhöyük
The town of Urfa (or Sanliurfa) is known as the 'City of the Prophets' and was supposedly the birthplace of Abraham before he moved to Canaan. Urfa was an important staging post on the ancient trade routes and silk products are still sold in its 16th century bazaar. The ruined Crusader castle at Urfa sits high above the city, affording amazing views. The nearby village of Harran is supposedly one of the oldest settlements in the world and was once a wealthy merchant city which traded with the Phoenician city of Tyre. Today it is famous for its traditional mud-brick beehive houses.
Nemrut Dag (or Mount Nemrut at 2,150 metres) contains the remains of the great temple mausoleum of Antiochos I of Commagene (69-34BC). Commagene existed as a semi-independent state from 162 BC to AD 72 following the breakup of Alexander the Great's empire and ruled in the region north of Syria and the Euphrates. The site consists of a manmade burial mound containing the King's tomb and five huge 10 metre stone heads of the gods Apollo, Zeus, Hercules, Tyke and Fortuna. The site is best viewed at sunset when the heads are bathed in golden light.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Nemrut Dag
|Armenian ruined town of Ani
Located on a dramatic ravine close to the Armenian border, Ani was a once prosperous town that was abandoned when it was destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th century. The ruins include the citadel and eight churches, some of which retain their decoration and wall paintings and whose design inspired many western European churches over the following centuries. Mount Ararat, the legendary resting place of Noah's Ark, can be seen from the town.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Archaeological Site of Ani
|Isak Pasha Palace
The 18th century Isak Pasha Palace is an unusual and exotic building built on a high valley overlooking the caravan route. Built on the riches gained from the passing trade, an opulent and elaborately decorated palace was constructed which provided luxurious facilities for the caravans.
Located in eastern Turkey, Lake Van is Turkey's largest lake and the largest saline lake in the world. Framed by mountains over 4,000 metres high, this is a dramatic and beautiful setting. The town of Van, located on the lake's shore, was once capital of the ancient Urartian Empire. The beautiful 10th century Armenian Church of the Holy Cross is located on Akdamar Island on the lake. Close to Lake Van lie the historic Urartian site of Cavustepe built in the 8th century BC and the 17th century Kurdish castle at Hosap.
The beautiful ancient town of Mardin is renowned for its carved stone architecture, authentic bazaars and picturesque mosques and minarets, all overlooked by the remains of the citadel which offers superb views of the town. The nearby Deyrulzafaran Monastery (or Saffron Monastery) is a Syrian Orthodox monastery that dates back to the 5th century and still holds services in the biblical language of Aramaic.
|Great Mosque and Hospital of Divrigi
The 13th century Great Mosque of Divrigi was founded by Emir Ahmet Shah, along with a marestan or hospital for the insane endowed by his wife and designed by the same architect. Divrigi is an outstanding example of Selcuk mosques in Anatolia.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Great Mosque and Hospital of Divrigi