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.

Things to See and Do

Turkish Baths

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.

Sumela Monastery

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.

Ankara

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

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.

Hagia Sophia

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.

Travel considerations

  • Since the spring of 2013, demonstrations have been held sporadically in cities across Turkey—including Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir—and a few of them have become violent. You should avoid all demonstrations and leave the area immediately if one develops where you are.
  • Smartraveller advises against travelling anywhere within 10km of the Syrian border. Syrian forces continue to target areas close to the Turkish border, and there remains a heightened risk of terrorism in the region. Use common sense and keep an eye on the news to stay out of harm’s way while travelling in Turkey.
  • Smartraveller suggests a travel insurance policy is essential for any travel plans. As they say, “If you can afford to travel, you can afford to buy travel insurance.” Consider Cover-More for your insurance needs.
  • You are required to have a passport, a return ticket purchased and a visa to enter Turkey. Keep in mind that your passport must be valid for at least 60 days beyond the expiry date of your traveller’s visa.

Image courtesy of Flickr user David Spender