Turkey is one country that has so many hidden gems, it hardly gets spoken about enough! Ask for it and you will find it in Turkey - from history to gorgeous beaches, hills, unique terrain and natural wonders, it is the only country that is a part of two continents at the same time - Europe and Asia. A cultural mix which is evident in its preserved historic relics, it is one of the few countries in the Middle East that so comfortably blends the Islamic and Christian civilisations, culminating in a very modernised outlook of the society.
Although there are many Turkey tour packages to choose from which will make your trip planning and booking more convenient, if you've decided to do it by yourself (and I'm always a fan of DIY trips), here are 15 things you must experience while in Turkey.
# 1: Cruise on the Bosphorus Strait
This is a must-do in Istanbul, not only because you can view the numerous historical monuments lined up on the coast while you cruise but also because you have the opportunity to cross over from one continent to another while on board. I would recommend taking the 2.5-hour short circle cruise (cruises can last as much as 5 hours for the full circle).
# 2: Visit Hagia Sophia
This is a very interesting place that once used to be a Greek Orthodox Christian basilica, then converted into a Muslim imperial mosque and is now a museum open to visitors. The most interesting thing about this monument, apart from being an architectural beauty, is the interiors and how they blend the Islamic scriptures with the Christian influence.
Suggested budget, city-centre hotel stay in Istanbul: Karakoy Port Hotel
# 3: Istanbul's Istiklal Street
A very lively street in Istanbul, this is the place to be, to enjoy the energy and vibe of the city. Lined with numerous cafes, shops, boutiques, restaurants, bars and clubs, be prepared for large crowds here, any time of day.
# 4: Blue Mosque at night
The mosque is lovely even during the day. However, when it lights up beautifully at night, it certainly becomes more charming and photo-friendly. You can sit at any one of the cafes across to street and enjoy amazing views during and after sunset.
# 5: Turkish Food & Sweets
I absolutely love Turkish food and desserts as well. Meat lovers will enjoy numerous kebab options, the bread is absolutely amazing and sweets such as kunefe and baklava will leave you licking your lips. Gulp it down with a cup of Turkish coffee.
# 6: Dolmabahçe Palace Tour
Built in the 19th century by the Ottomans, the palace is very grand. This lavish building can be seen from the Bosphorus cruise as it stands out in its size and opulence. The interiors are equally impressive.
# 7: Istanbul's Grand Bazaar
The crowded yet colourful bazaar is absolutely lovely with its little handicrafts, souvenirs and most importantly, the attractive Turkish lamps hanging from the ceiling. Explore the tiny narrow lanes for the hidden treasures and do not be shy in bargaining!
# 8: Stay at a cave hotel in Cappadocia
This entire city is pretty whacko according to me. The weird rock formations and caves are fascinating and you will find many hotels situated in these natural caves. We stayed in Travellers Cave Hotel and it was absolutely amazing! Overlooking the valley and with outdoor seating that is quite romantic, the rooms were also spacious and comfortable. Since its a cave, be prepared for temperatures to be low and damp.
# 9: Visit the Love Valley
I suggest renting a scooter or an ATV to explore this captivating little town. One of the places you must visit, mostly because it is quite quirky, is the Love Valley. The phallic rocks are natural formations and will leave you wondering how they ever came about to look like that!
# 10: Sunrise over the Goreme National Park
Whether you experience it from a hot air balloon itself or from the roof of your hotel, this is quite a spectacle! Thousands of hot air balloons adorn the sky early in the morning. If you are in a balloon yourself, you will see the deep canyons, valleys and fairy chimneys from the air. However, you may choose to just enjoy the beautiful and colourful sky from the outside. Be sure to wake up early in the morning as these balloons take off during sunrise.
# 11: Visit an underground city in Cappadocia
There are about 36 underground cities in Cappadocia! Some of them go as deep as 8 floors below the ground and date as far back as 1600 BC. The most popular underground cities are - Kaymakli (the widest of them all) and Derinkuyu (the deepest of them all). We visited Ozkonak city which goes all the way down to 10 floors, although only 4 floors are open to visitors. A word of caution: for those suffering from claustrophobia, please do NOT attempt it.
# 12: Ruins of Ephesus
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Ephesus is located in Izmir, a 30-minute drive from Kusadasi. The archaeological remains have grand monuments from the Roman imperial period. The city dates as far back as 10th century BC.
# 13: Experience a Turkish Bath (hammam)
This is one authentic Turkish experience you cannot miss. An ancient custom that has been passed on since ages, the hammams today are much more luxurious and modernised. Although you will find ample hammams throughout Turkey, the ones in Cappadocia stand apart as they are located inside caves, adding to the luxury of it all. You will lie on a warm stone and an attendant will bathe and scrub you as you relax and let yourself be taken care of. This will be followed by a relaxing massage and some amazing Turkish coffee to end the beautiful experience. Recommended: the hammam at Kelebek Hotel in Cappadocia.
# 14: Hot water springs of Pamukkale
Whether driving from Antalya or Kusadasi, Pamukkale is about 3 hours away. This little natural wonder is awe-inspiring and definitely, deserves a visit if you're in Turkey. The name translates as 'Cotton Palace' and you will understand why it is called that once you see it. It is another UNESCO World Heritage site and due to depletion of some of these travertines, some of the hot spring pools are closed and visitors are only allowed to swim in a few of them.
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Some people also choose to do paragliding here, which is a great idea because of the beautiful white terraces and blue pools below. Or simply lay back in one of the pools and enjoy some sunbathing.
# 15: Gorgeous beaches of Antalya / Kusadasi
Turkey boasts of some of the most beautiful coastlines. Both Antalya and Kusadasi have gorgeous blue waters, luxurious yet affordable resorts right on the beach and a superb nightlife. A place where you can kick your shoes off, sip on a cocktail as you watch the cruises go by or take a dip in warm blue seas, Kusadasi & Antalya are lively cities with breathtaking views.
Suggested medium budget beach side hotel to stay in Kusadasi: Aria Claros Beach & Spa Resort (All-inclusive) Ozdere
Are there any other places in Turkey where you have been, which you think should be included in this list? Leave your comments below.