Glad that you are traveling to Turkey! The hardest part of planning your holiday will be deciding which to do first because this richly historical land offers so many unique experiences to ensure you love the country as much as the locals do. Whether that means exploring Greco-Roman ruins or being marveled at the quirky soaring mountains, a Turkey getaway is whatever you want it to be. If culture and sightseeing are your game, here is a top 10 list of selected things to help you begin.
1. Cruise down the Bosphorus Strait
Seeing a city from the water really adds another dimension to your Istanbul visit. It is no exaggeration that every visitor wants to and should take a cruise down the legendary Bosphorus Strait to get a glimpse of Istanbul’s main points of interest: You’ll ride past the impressive Rumeli Fortress, marble palaces alongside Ottoman-era wooden villas, many decorative mosques, and gardens along the way. There are several sites you can only see from the boat tour, so the few relaxing hours on the water is definitely worthwhile. This 20-mile-long natural waterway joins the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, and most importantly, it divides Asian and European sides of Istanbul. Get your camera poised for a selfie when your set foot in the two different continents. The type of a cruise is up to your choice: as short as half an hour or a full day; just transport around or a private ride on a yacht.
A cruise down the Bosphorus Strait offers beautiful sights to behold. Photo credit: Gene Tobia.
2. Lost at the Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi)
Technically speaking, if there is anything that you want to buy, the Grand Bazaar has it all. Built in 1461 as one of the largest and oldest indoor souks in the world, the colorful and bustling market is the heart of the Old City and has been so for ages. The vaulted labyrinth is made up of over 3,000 shops, covering 61 streets and acting as more than just a sightseeing spot, it is where serious shoppers can test their bargaining skills in every street dedicated to one specialty: jewelry, lamps, leather goods, pottery, spices, carpets and lost to name. The bazaar runs from 8:30 am to 7 pm, Monday to Saturday. Get an early start to avoid crowds, wander through small squares and feel the city vibe even though you are not going to spend a dime. Accept tea and coffee offered, but never look too interested before you have the best price for an item. When it comes to a break, the Turkish Delight and a lunch at a nice café will make your day.
The dizzying Grand Bazaar has all kinds of goods you can imagine and want to shop. Photo credit: Gene Tobia.
3. Marvel at the Blue Mosque
Don’t leave Istanbul without visiting the 400-year-old Blue Mosque. It is such a beautiful architecture built in the classical Ottoman style that no one would ever get tired of just staring at it, let alone entering inside and admiring the interior, which is as wonderfully curvaceous as seen from outside. With two striking features, six slender minarets dominate the skyline and more than 20,000 original blue Iznik tiles inside, the mosque tops one of the most photogenic buildings in the city, attracting non-Muslims come by for a chance to appreciate the balanced symmetry, use of colors and its large scale. It is suggested best go early or in the mid-afternoon for tourists are not allowed during the 5 daily prayer times and the Friday sermon. You’ll want to be respectful with your dress so try to cover your body. When here, learn the meaning and stories of the building rather than just a name. Look upward thousands of lamps, probe around to hear the silence, use your eyes rather than flash to capture the peaceful state of the mind.
The fine workmanship reflected in every detail both inside and out of the Blue Mosque is truly spellbinding. Photo credit: Gene Tobia.
4. Dip toe in the unreal Pamukkale
The unusual landscape of Pamukkale is made up of mineral forests, petrified waterfalls and a series of terraced basins, creating a snow-like pool in the terraces with the smoke billowing warm water, thus given the name that literally means “cotton castle” in Turkish. Classified by UNESCO in 1988, the beautiful natural structure has been used as a bathing place and a holiday resort by the Romans centuries ago. In warm days, visitors could walk along the pool terrace, with warm water carrying healing properties flows away along their naked foot. It is said that different colors of snow can be seen in the terraces. Late afternoon is the best time of day to go when the crowds are mostly gone, and the sunset viewed from the terraces is a bonus. The other side of Pamukkale is the immediately adjacent ruin city, which has been half buried by calcium carbonate deposits for over 500 years. Overall, the experience here is great - all you want to do is swim and have ice cream.
Walking in the footsteps of people centuries ago and to experience this natural wonder will be a highlight of your Turkey trip.
5. Hot air balloon toward the sunrise in Cappadocia
Yes, you can explore the astonishing geography from the ground, which shall be unforgettable enough, but trust me - a ride of hot air balloon above the rising rock formations at dawn takes the sensational experience to another level. It might look scary, and you thought you are going to spend the trip sitting in the bottom of the balloon basket panicking - NO WAY! You will be anything but that. Going up hundreds of meters, you will be spellbound with bug eyes and your mouth wide open by the dramatic sedimentary rocks (best known as “fairy chimneys” to the world), and of the scenery below: colored valleys, houses, and churches, some of which dating back to the Roman Empire. Look around, the blue sky cloaked with dozens of hot air balloons amid the sunrise simply leaves you breathless. You’ll want to bring a camera to store the picture perfect view for good. Meanwhile, remember to have a light jacket and a hat as it gets really cold in the morning. After landing, they give you some of the best champagne and cookies to celebrate the fantastic trip.
Only when you have been here you will believe this famous view actually exists in the real world.
6. Climb up inside the Trojan Horse in Troy
If Aegean Sea area is in your itinerary, include this site on your plan. A big part of the reasons is because of the legend, history buffs almost have to "check it off" from their list; the rest is that Troy inspired Homer to write Iliad, by simply strolling here you could get a flavor of mythology.
Though being only a fascinating replica of the device that the Greeks used to enter the city of Troy, the wooden Trojan Horse is built as an incredible attraction. Use your imagination to visualize the old structures, climb up the horse and peep out of the windows for a view, or feel the spirit of Helen. When exploring the ruins of city walls, house foundations nearby and learn new things about the ancient civilization that lingered on those lands, be sure to have an experienced tour guide, because to the untrained eyes, Troy is no more than a pile of rubble and rocks under the ground, but a qualified and experienced tour guide knows how to bring them to life. The outing should conclude with a tour of Canakkale, where the Trojan Horse used in the movie, Troy, is displayed for pictures.
The actual Trojan Horse from Troy is one of the biggest attractions of Canakkale city.
7. Get closer to the gods at Mt. Nemrut
Located in southeastern Turkey, Mt. Nemrut is far away from the usual tourist path but it is well worth the visit. In 62 B.C., the Commagene King Antiochus built on top of the mountain a tomb-sanctuary flanked by gigantic statues of animals, Greek and Persian gods, which have names inscribed on each of them. However, at some stage in history, the heads of the statues were brought down by a collective effort, while when and why it was done remains unknown. Archaeologists helped them sit upright but didn’t intend to re-attach the head to the bodies. So you will see huge stone heads scattered throughout the site where they fell, incredibly photogenic in the superb sunset light, making one feel how impressive they were, and the amount of work it took to complete such a massive project. Phenomenal are not only the two terraces with these decapitated gods, but also the peaceful view of mountain ranges surround. It takes a climb of 20 minutes and private transportation is recommended as there is no public transport reaching Mt. Nemrut.
The statues, the king’s own tomb and temple are still preserved to date.
8. Explore the underground at Basilica Cistern
It is time to dig something lie beneath the city of Istanbul. Sitting very close to Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern built underground in the 6th century is a fantastic stop to witness how the Romans use the largest underground water cisterns to bring drinking water into Istanbul from Thrace. You might find it look not much from outside but when you go down - WOW! The roof is supported by 336 nine-meter-high marble columns, most of which were recycled from ruined temples and finely carved with capitals. What interest many are the two Medusa’s head used as column pediments, as well as the pillar of tears that is said to pay tribute to the workers who died during the construction, according to Ancient texts. With atmospheric lighting, you can see all its curious corners, the breathtaking symmetry and sheer grandeur of conception. Soft music is played to evoke a mood. You will also find a café serving drinks and snacks for a relaxing break. On hot summer days, the cistern makes a great retreat because of the perfect temperature in such a depth.
The Basilica Cistern generates bucketloads of atmosphere with its unexpected interior. Photo credit: Gene Tobia.
9. Appreciate the Whirling Dervishes
Unlike tourist shows in hot destinations, Whirling Dervishes, or Mevlevi that are known to the local, is never a popular entertainment. However, I would personally recommend a go to absorb the important cultural essence of the Turkish. Performing as a traditional worship service originated 800 years ago, Whirling Dervishes believes that closeness with one’s gods is achieved by elaborate whirling, so expect a lot of spinning and twirl happen. Here is how your spiritual journey starts: pleasant classical Turkish music will be played for 15 minutes before the Sema ceremony, the men taking part in the ceremony are wearing white, making fast feet movement and whirling, and it does go for quite a while, normally 45 minutes or more. The mesmerizing scene is amazing – every audience is pondering how they remain so in control of their position and don’t pass out. During the ceremony, explanations of each stage are projected on the wall, thus no problem following the meaning. Again, it is more of a religious ceremony than dancing, but you will easily find yourself almost in a trance. When watching it in a real monastery, photography and applause are not allowed.
The hypnotic Whirling Dervishes is also a must see when in Istanbul.
10. Feel the ages at the ancient city of Ephesus
Once positioning as a powerful and influential city during its Roman heyday, Ephesus is what you can still see its former splendor and get acquainted with the eastern world despite the ups and downs of all centuries. The city is so well preserved and intact, housing the largest collection of Roman ruins East of the Mediterranean, highlights of which are the Library of Celsus, the Temple of Artemis acknowledged as the world’s 7th wonder by UNESCO, a three-tiered theater and the Marble Street, to name a few. It’s fair enough to say Ephesus is like a snapshot in time, even lively with the assistance of an informative guide. Imagination is unnecessary as you can get the sense of what walking down the beautiful streets of this Roman city and having lived there was like back then. The bonus adds up when you climb up the top of the senate and the stadium to get good views of the whole area.
It is impossible to fully explore the site in just a couple of hours due to its grand scale, and what’s more staggering is that only an estimated 15% of the buildings have been excavated!
Library of Celsus. Ephesus was said to have been four times larger than the Parthenon in Athens.
I hope you like my picks! Beyond doubts, Turkey has more than 10 things to offer, and this is just 10 of the most exciting to give you some travel idea. Bitten by the travel bug? Send your tour inquiry to - My Odyssey Tours is happy to craft a Turkey holiday entirely based on your own interest and liking!