If you are looking for diversity in one country, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a country that beats Turkey. The country is blessed with a mixed assemblage of people, natural landscapes, and cultures. There are vast open spaces, massive mountain ranges, fertile valleys and rugged coastline…and that’s just the landscape. Fast-growing cities and sleepy villages share borders while bustling beach-side resorts compete against small, private and generally unfrequented beaches. The further into the country you travel and the more time you spend in Turkey, the more you realize just how varied the country has become.
Aside from the historic relics, there’s plenty to love about modern-day Turkey. First time visitors to Istanbul, where you can always feel the pulse of the nation, will be overwhelmed with choices. Start with the Roman aqueducts, then visit Byzantine churches and then spend the afternoon at Ottoman mosques. Remember, beyond historical spots there are also cafes to frequent, Grand Bazaars to get lost in, and vibrant clubs to dance the night away.
Still, Istanbul is just one part of the whole picture. If you prefer beaches to big cities, choose Bodrum, Marmaris and Izmir along Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts. If you prefer intercultural hubs and history, then Ankara is the spot for you. However deep its past, Turkey is now embracing cultural, economic and political change while fighting to keep its heritage and time-honoured traditions. As they work out the balance between new and old, travellers will be treated to the best of all worlds and a country that never ceases to amaze.
Want to do as the Turks do? Then try relaxing in a steamy Turkish bath (they're also known as hammams) and have a scrub and massage. If you're staying in Istanbul, the most popular historic baths are the Galatasaray Hammam in Beyoğlu and Cağaloğlu Hammam in Sultanahmet, though local baths are often just as good. That isn't to say you can only try this in Istanbul. Turkish baths can be found throughout the country and are well-worth the visit. Had a long day of sightseeing? Take a soak in the Turkish baths and feel your worries melt away.
A mere 54km from Trabzon is the spectacular 14th-century Greek Orthodox Sumela Monastery. This beauty is set into a sheer cliff, 300m above a valley floor and is home to some seriously magnificent frescoes. Sumela was built on rocks and can only be reached via a path through the forest. The beautiful frescoes dating from the 18th century on the walls of the monastery are biblical scenes of Christ and the Virgin Mary. Despite its enduring beauty and historical importance, the site was abandoned in 1923. Since then, Sumela has become a museum and a popular tourist attraction because of its obviously breath-taking location, unusual construction and incredible scenery.
The Turkish capital is overlooked by many visitors but is actually the country's second-most populous place. While the showy Ottoman buildings are missing from this city, there is an undeniably youthful vibe that pulls this place into modern times. Ankara has established itself as a sophisticated arena for international affairs, and this melting pot ideal can most easily be seen on the streets of the city where businessmen, hip youngsters and old-timers all mingle in local restaurants and cafes. Additionally, Ankara has some excellent museums like the superb Ethnographic Museum, where visitors can learn a lot about Turkish culture.
Cappadocia seems as if it was plucked from a fairy-tale set on the moon and then placed on the stark Anatolian plains. The fantastical topography has long been used by the people that lived in the region. The soft stone made it possible for people who were seeking shelter underground to build caves and homes throughout the area. Now, the countryside is scattered with fascinating troglodyte-style architecture. Whether you're wooed here by the hiking potential, the history or the bragging rights of unique accommodation, it's the lunarscape panoramas that you'll remember. Take our word for it: don't miss Cappadocia.
The Hagia Sophia, whose name means "holy wisdom," is a domed monument originally built as a cathedral in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) in the sixth century A.D. Hagia Sophia is one of the most visited museums and most prominent monuments in the world in terms of art and the history of architecture. It was used as a church for almost a thousand years, but following the conquest of Istanbul by Fatih Sultan Mehmed, the Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque and stayed a mosque for close to 500 years. In 1935, Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum, and it remains a museum to this day. If you'd like to visit the grand Hagia Sophia, it is open to visitors every day except Mondays.
Turkey's greatest natural and historical treasure is Pamukkale. When you look at this wonder from a distance it looks like a big pile of cotton, hence why its Turkish name translates to “cotton castle.” It is located in south-western Turkey and is a perpetual favourite of travellers. When the weather is warm, you can head to Pamukkale to swim in pools as people have for thousands of years. You may be wondering what makes these pools different from other hot springs. The huge stalactites, cascades, mineral baths, cataracts and basins are all a stark white and the waters in these pools are an ethereal bright light blue. There used to be hotels and roads that were built to ease access to Pamukkale hot springs, but when the site was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988, the hotels and roads were demolished to protect the site from any further man-made damage.
Known in Turkish as Yanartaş or 'Burning Rock', the Chimaera is a cluster of flames that blaze spontaneously from crevices on the rocky slopes of Mt Olympus. If you visit this natural wonder at night it truly will look like hell has come to earth for a visit as the 20-30 flames in the main area flicker and grow throughout the night. These flames, according to some ancient literature, gave birth to the myth of the Chimera, a fire breathing beast with the body and head of a lion, with the head of a goat arising from its back, and a tail that ended in a snake's head.
Image courtesy of Flickr user David Spender