Outside Istanbul: 10 Cities and Attractions to Visit
There’s more to Turkey than just the cultural and historical city of Istanbul. Today, Istanbul is the artistic, cultural and economic capital of the country and is the most visited cities in the world! However, other cities and places in the country also deserve a mention and we’ve covered two in articles about day trips out of Istanbul: Edirne and Bursa.
There are amazing architectural sites and archaeological excavations scattered in Anatolia. We’ve compiled a list of archaeological sites that highlight the importance of this land which was inhabited in ancient times. For instance, the world’s first temple going back to 12,000 years was discovered in Göbeklitepe.
Turkey is also home to numerous nature reserves, protected zones and rivers and coupled with ancient ruins such as those in Dalyan and Kaunos. Similarly, there are many sites that offer tourists something different than just ancient ruins alongside enjoying a day out in nature.
As such, there are definitely a few unique places that curious travellers can add to their to-do list! And that’s exactly what we’ll show you in the article below! The list is exhaustive at all but it helps you with your initial research if you’ve never been to the country.
The most popular place in Turkey as seen on Instagram in recent years is Cappadocia. With its moonscape landscape, its fairy chimneys, rock-cut hotels and churches and unique culture, it certainly deserves the limelight! Cappadocia is actually the name of a historical region in Anatolia that encompasses part of Nevşehir, Göreme and Ürgüp today.
Today, it’s known for its tourism due to its unique landscape that offers something very different in Turkey. In the end, underground cities with rock-cut churches, cave hotels, hot-air ballooning and historical churches with brilliant frescoes offer something for the enthusiastic archaeologists and space lovers (moonscape landscape, remember?)!
ADDRESS: 50180 GÖREME/NEVŞEHIR MERKEZ/NEVŞEHIR/turkey
Antalya is the city on the Turkish Riviera nestled between the Western and Eastern Mediterranean regions of Turkey’s south. The city centre also called Kaleiçi is fortified with a Hadrian’s Gate and a lively harbour and a tiny waterfall.
In fact, Antalya is known for its natural beauty. There are at least two famous waterfalls, a number of beaches, beach clubs and resorts in and nearby the city. Moreover, nearby there are tons of ancient ruins such as Aspendos and Perge to keep any visitor satisfied. Furthermore, the city has even a miniature park, a beautiful aquarium and a famous beach right in the city, Konyaaltı beach. Nearby towns such as Belek, Alanya, Side and Kaş among others are all worth spending time in.
As such, the city and its neighbouring towns are one of the most important tourist destinations in Turkey!
ADDRESS: Selçuk, Muratpaşa/Antalya/turkey
An hour away by plane from Istanbul, the Aegean city of Izmir is a calmer alternative to Istanbul. The city’s palm-lined promenade and streets give off Los Angeles and Western European city vibes.
Rent a public bike or an electric scooter and check out the 7-8 km long seaside promenade, make pit stops at the Historical Elevator or local cafes in Göztepe before ending your trip at the top of Dede mountain on the city’s cable car in Balçova.
Your first stop in Izmir should be Konak Square where you’ll find an intricate Clock Tower, a symbol of the city. Next, you can go to Kemeraltı, a local bazaar similar to the Grand Bazaar. Here, do some shopping here for local herbal teas, spices and essential oils.
There are connections to buses, a tramway system, and the local urban ferries here, which can take you to other parts of the city. Furthermore, you’ll find an ancient agora: the Smryna Agora. Today, it’s an open-air museum located in the downtown district, near the local bazaar. It features a three-layered structure, basilicas, marble columns, arches, and ancient graffiti. Artefacts and excavation discoveries from this site are found in the local Archaeological Museum. Head to the Konak Pier around sunset for a meal overlooking the water and beautiful views of the Gulf of Izmir.
This is also the city from where you can go to Ephesus, an ancient religious Hellenistic city with the cult of Artemis from the 1st century A.D.
Later on, early Christian figures such as St. Paul and St. John visited the site as well. Ephesus is a must for history and archaeological enthusiasts! Nearby there’s also the House of the Virgin Mary and the quaint village of Şirince!
ADDRESS: 35360 Konak/İzmir/turkey
An important city and the capital of the modern republic, Ankara’s history is long starting in the Bronze Age with the Hatti civilization, having later being absorbed into the Hittite Empire. Archaeological excavations from Hattusa nearby, one of the oldest settlements in world history are displayed at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. The city’s archaeological sites span from the Hittites to Ottoman empire. The city has a citadel, an Augusteum, Roman baths and many mosques.
Among the modern institutions, the most popular remains the Anıtkabir, the resting place of the father of modern Turkey, Atatürk.
Ankara today is a modern city with all the amenities of modern city life, green spaces and parks such as Kuğulu Park, for instance. Next, try visiting some of the many shopping malls, museums, universities and theatres. The modern Kızılay Square is the city’s main shopping destination. If you’ve rented a car, visit the Salt Lake on the way to Konya!
ADDRESS: 06420 Çankaya/Ankara/turkey
A conservative city when compared to Istanbul or Izmir, Bursa offers visitors numerous religious and imperial sites. Seljuk architecture in addition to Ottoman can be found here in the form of mosques and a historical city centre. There’s even a citadel and it’s a great day trip out of Istanbul, just a few hours by car.
Check out two amazing mosques in the city: the Grand Mosque (Ulu Cami) and the Green Mosque (Yeşil Cami) among other mosque complexes, tombs of sultans, consorts and princes. Later, take a trip to an extensive Muradiye complex in the west of the city.
The city also boasts its own covered market similar to the Grand Bazaar. Here, you have to taste the local meat dish with yoghurt and butter sauce called Iskender kebab.
Koza Han is an old silk caravanserai known for silk production. Today, the caravanserai’s function has shifted today to a place where you can have a tea or a coffee and wind down.
The city also offers wintertime sports such as skiing. Spending time away here in the winter months is especially popular with Istanbullites. A 40-minute cable car ride up to the top of the mountain can be a highlight of the trip to Bursa. Moreover, you can also explore the city’s designated national park at the top of the mountain.
ADDRESS: 16050 Osmangazi/Bursa/turkey
Konya, like Bursa, is a conservative city and was the capital of the Seljuq Empire and the resting place of the Sufi mystic, Mevlana Rumi. The green dome of his mausoleum is one of the best-known symbols of this city along with the whirling dervishes and their Sema ceremony. You can catch a ceremony at the Konya Cultural Centre every week.
The Mevlana Museum now offers glimpses into the life of dervishes and houses the wooden sarcophagus of the Mevlana Rumi. His resting place is beautifully decorated with Koranic calligraphy and beautiful designs. It’s a must-see experience!
The museum also showcases the daily lives of dervishes. Some important artefacts from the past such as the Masnavi of Rumi are displayed here.
Being the capital of the Seljuk Empire, Konya has a number of monuments from that era, including religious educational schools or Medrese: Ince Minaret Medrese and the Karatay Medrese. However, they now operate as museums with Seljuk tiles, stone and wood artefacts and ceramics. Alaaddin Mosque is another monument situated within the citadel of Konya, a remnant of the Seljuk era.
When in Konya, try the local dish called Etli Ekmek, similar to Lahmacun or Pide except it’s baked a meter long. Furthermore, try a few local sweets such as Mevlana sweets and the carrot-based Cezerye.
ADDRESS: 42030 Karatay/Konya/turkey
Bodrum was a sleepy little seaside town at the intersection of the Aegean and the Mediterranean Sea twenty years ago. Having been discovered by exiled artists and new celebrities since then, it has gained titles such as the ‘St Tropez of Turkey’ given its place in the Turquoise Coast.
It’s one of the best getaways for all kinds of budgets and is known for its party spots. Five-star hotels such as the Mandarin Oriental (with the price of a room going for 5k Liras/night) to less chic but perfectly delightful stone houses turned into boutique hotels in the city centre are all within reach. Moreover, visit the Hospitaller castle overlooking the bay and visit the underwater Archaeological museum inside and the ruins of ancient Halicarnassus not far away, home of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.
The Bodrum peninsula was the playground of the rich and for many years, but with the economy not doing well and political problems plaguing the country, it no longer caters to the ultra-rich, although tourism, both domestic and international, is a driver of the local economy. Furthermore, small fishing villages have now been converted to hotels, shopping complexes and the seaside is littered with chic beach clubs. Before you leave, buy tickets for a day-long boat trip to the nearby coves with other swimmers or hire a gulet for a “Blue Voyage” with family and friends. Alternatively, you could do some windsurfing or wakeboarding as well.
ADDRESS: 48000 Bodrum/Muğla/turkey
Home to Ölüdeniz and the nature reserve of Butterfly Valley, Fethiye can be an amazing getaway after your trip to Istanbul.
Green one side and the blue on the other, Fethiye is an ideal destination for those in love with the outdoors. You can both hike in the mornings and take a dip in the pristine waters of the sea here. Hiking on the Lycian Trail is a popular activity for hiking enthusiasts here. On the other hand, Butterfly Valley is a nature reserve for butterflies and scuba diving, camping and hiking are allowed, but with limited structures and facilities to protect the area.
The city itself is at the site of the Lycian city of Telmessos and as such is rich in ancient cultural and archaeological artefacts and sites, such as Lycian tombs and the Telmessos theatre. You can take a look at these at the Fethiye Museum.
ADDRESS: Ölüdeniz/48340 Fethiye/Muğla/turkey
Dalyan takes its name from the Dalyan River and is located in one of the best green spaces in the country! The river delta and an upstream lake is a protected region as the stunning Iztuzu beach is nesting and breeding ground for endangered turtles.
Tourism and agriculture drive the economy here. Small boats, the only ones allowed, travel the length of the river offering river tours and riverside dining. Opposite the town lies the ruins of Kaunos, an ancient city of Caria that was once an important port city. Furthermore, the whole area is scattered with tombs, baths, city walls, an acropolis and an amphitheatre. Rock-cut tombs carved into the rocks can be seen from the riverside are one of Dalyan’s main attractions.
Along with its long history, Antakya in the far east of Mediterranean Turkey is famous for its multicultural history at the crossroads of the modern Middle East. Known as a place of history, today its distinct cuisine, its religious sites such as the rock cave church of St. Peter’s, St. Pauls orthodox church and its world-famous mosaics museum beckon visitors to this amazing city.
More recently, this ancient city received a UNESCO gastronomy prize in 2017. As such, Antakya’s place as part of the Silk Road is no surprise. The city is well known for its spice trade and its medicinal and aromatic plants industry. Moreover, it was also on the way to the Pilgrimage Route to Jerusalem.
This 2000-year-old city, that was the third-largest in the Roman Empire, is a must for any history and archaeology lover due to its strategic place on the Silk Road. Furthermore, it’s also home to a vast collection of mosaics at the Antakya or Hatay Archaeology Museum. It should be on the must-visit list if you’re ever in the area!