Traveling to Turkey

21 most beautiful sights in Turkey

The top sights in Turkey!

I had more, but I didn’t want to list more than 21 sights in Turkey.

From Istanbul to Cappadocia to Eastern Anatolia there are so many unique buildings and natural wonders to see.

That’s why it wasn’t easy for me to choose.

The most beautiful places in Turkey

At the end of my list there are a few more attractions that didn’t make it into the top 21. But somehow, they still belong to it.

1. Blue Mosque in Istanbul (Sultan Ahmed Mosque)

The Blue Mosque is one of the highlights in Istanbul. With its unique appearance and rich decorations, it is one of the masterpieces of Ottoman architecture. Once you’ve been there, you’ll understand why. It’s has something to do with harmony of the architecture and the effect of the colours.

It is actually named after its client Sultan Ahmed. It was built between 1603 and 1617. The sultan died a year after the mosque was completed. Together with his family members who died later, he was laid out to rest in a mausoleum inside the mosque.

It bears the name Blue Mosque because of the Iznik tiles inside. These are blue tiles that are attached to walls and ceilings. They make the entire interior appear particularly splendid.

You can visit the mosque for free as long as you come outside of prayer times. Women should wear a headscarf. They can be borrowed at the entrance. Shoes must be removed and left inside.

The Blue Mosque is one of the must-see sights in Turkey. You should definitely visit it, at least once.

2. The burial sanctuary at Nemrut Dagi (Eastern Anatolia)

The heads of ancient gods carved in sand coloured stone, over 2 meters high.

Statues of the gods at Nemrut Dagi

The Nemrut Dagi is the burial shrine of King Antiochus I. I have not yet seen it myself. The building in northern Mesopotamia is at the top of my to-do list. I really enjoy old ruins and temples very much.

The sanctuary was added to the UNECO World Heritage List in 1987. This is due to the imposing dimensions of the entire facility and its unique design. It is located on the top of a 2,150-meter-high mountain in the Taurus Mountains, situated directly above the valley through which the Euphrates flows. A gravel hill about 45 meters high and 150 meters wide has been heaped up upon the mountain top. The tomb of Antiochus is said to be located underneath. From a distance, the whole thing looks like a pyramid made from stones and rubble.

Around the grave sanctuary there are 8- to 10-meter-high statues of gods. They represent the Greek gods Zeus, Apollo, Heracles and King Antiochus himself.

The easiest way to get to the Gabanlage is to fly to Adiyaman. This is the provincial capital where the tomb is located today. It is about 90 kilometres away from the capital.

3. Topkapi Palace (Istanbul)

This palace was home to the Ottoman sultans for many centuries. That is why it is, of course, one of the most important sights in Turkey and Istanbul.

There are many reasons to visit it. First, there is a lot to see, from the magnificent view of the Bosporus to the sultan’s harem and the museum that is now in the palace.

The complex is divided into many small buildings. You can see that the sultans underwent expansion and renovation work repeatedly over the centuries. There are ten mosques, libraries, schools, hospitals, bathhouses and seven treasuries on the 700,000 square meter property.

Be sure to sit down in the garden of the palace complex and drink a good Turkish tea or Turkish mocha.

4. Troy (Dardanelles)

Every child knows the story of the Trojan horse, Achilles, Paris, Odysseus and the beautiful Helena. The ruins of the city lie on the coast of the Dardanelles Strait. They have been part of the UNSECO world heritage since 1998.

A replica of the fateful wooden horse stands at the entrance to the excavation site. You can go inside and take photos yourself. In the remaining ruins, many columns, walls and remains of buildings have been uncovered.

Troy was rediscovered by the German archaeologist Schliemann. 100 years ago he dug a 17-meter-deep trench in the hill to look for Troy. The weathered remnants of his excavations can still be seen. Right next to it you can see the five-meter-thick city walls that protected Troy from intruders.

5. Dolmabahce Palace (Istanbul)

The Ottoman sultans copied something from Austria and France. More precisely: Versailles and Schönbrunn. They wanted a more modern palace than the old Topkapi Palace. It should correspond more to those of the European ruling houses. With the Dolmabahce Palace, they managed to succeed. The interior shows the incredible wealth of the sultans.

The palace was built at a time when the people of the empire were not doing so well. 14 tons of gold were used to decorate the walls in the 285 rooms, 66 halls, 68 toilets and 6 bathrooms.

Queen Victoria of England donated the largest chandelier in the world as a present for the inauguration of the palace. It weighs 14 tons and consists of 750 light sources. Bear skin rugs can be found everywhere in the palace. They were a gift from the Russian czar. The other rulers of the world of that time also made their contribution to the establishment of the new home of the Ottoman sultans.

The dolmabahce is divided into several parts. There is the harem for the women and the selamlik for the men and state receptions. That is why it has been decorated most splendidly. Ataturk’s deathbed is in a room in the palace. It’s not one of the biggest, in fact, rather a small one.

You are not allowed to walk through the palace alone. So a guided tour is a must. It is best to book it online in advance. Otherwise you stand in line at the entrance for half an eternity. The selamlik and the harem will be shown to you in two separate tours. That increases the waiting time again. Each tour costs 20 lira.

The palace is definitely one of the most magnificent Turkish structures. That’s why you should definitely visit it.

6. Pergamon (Turkish Aegean Sea)

You can book a guided tour to Pergamon from almost every tourist spot in the area. Of course, the ruins can also be easily reached by dolmus or a rental car. Today, the city of Bergama is below the hill on which Pergamon stood. It is easy to reach from the bus station in Izmir. The 100-kilometer route takes around two hours.

Once you have arrived you can either walk up to the ruins or take a small cable car for 13 Lira. Entry to the ruins costs another 25 liras.

The amphitheatre is one of the highlights in Pergamon. The pictures are actually a sufficient argument to visit the theatre. The sights

Above the hill are a little shorter. At the top, there was once a temple dedicated to Athena. Unfortunately not a single column has survived. In the centre of its former foundation walls is an olive tree. This is the sacred tree of Athena. It stands in memory of her.

7. Antalya’s old town Kaleici (Turkish Riviera)

The Turkish state founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is one of the most important people in Turkish history. That is why his quote: “I regret not having made Antalya the capital of Turkey because of its beauty” is particularly significant for the locals in Antalya.

To the guide: 70 sights & activities in Antalya.

I can only agree with him. The old town of Kaleici, together with the marina, is a wonderful place to relax. It lies above cliffs, about 30 meters high. You can see them on the right edge of the photo.

There are a few good cafes with outdoor dining areas with a wonderful view of the sea. They are most beautiful in the evening. Just sit down comfortably and watch the sun go down. The open-air discos start a little later.

The most famous sights in the city are Hadrian’s Gate (built in honour of the Roman Emperor Hadrian) the grooved minaret, the Sat Kulesi (clock tower), the Hidirlik (Roman defence tower at the port) and of course Konyaalti Beach at the western end of the old town. On the beach, there is a Beach Park with its water shows, theatres and a miniature park with replicas of all the famous sights in Turkey. So you can work through my whole list in an hour.

8. Hagia Sophia (Istanbul)

The Hagia Sophia, together with the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, is the symbol of Istanbul. It was originally commissioned as a cathedral by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 532. Mehmet the Conqueror had it converted into a mosque after overtaking Istanbul/ Constantinople.

When you go inside, the mixture of the two cultures is still clearly visible. There are  wall paintings (frescos) with Christian symbols. Many had been covered, for centuries, with Islamic symbols as a result of the conversion. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had Hagia Sophia converted into a museum in 1934. As a result, many historical details have been uncovered again.

The most clearly recognizable Islamic symbols are of course the four minarets that were  added later.

You cannot pay for entry to Hagia Sophia in euros. It currently costs 30 Turkish Lira per person. I recently wrote a post with tips on how to change from euros to Turkish lira.

After 4.30 p.m., no new visitors will be allowed into the museum. The queue is usually very long. That’s why you should plan to be there by noon at the latest in order to see everything.

Another solution to the “Euro and Queue Problem” is to buy an online ticket or the Istanbul Museum Pass. That way, can go in straight away and don’t have to pay in lira.

9. Uchisar Fortress, Göreme National Park and the Cave Churches (Cappadocia)

There are two particularly well-known places in the area: Uchisar and Göreme. Göreme is one of the backpacker hotspots in Turkey. There is only the town of Olympus on the south coast, which attracts more backpackers.

The landscape looks like it came from another planet. The buildings are not made of bricks or stones. Instead, houses, apartments, forts and entire cities have been carved into the soft sandstone.

There are even hotels where you can stay in a cosy cave room with a window. That makes the unique experience of a trip to Cappadocia even more exciting.

10. Alanya’s Castle Hill (Turkish Riviera)

Alanya, Almanya. The city with the relatively highest number of European emigrants in Turkey is of course on my list. It is called Almanya by the local Turks because of the many Germans. The name “Ballermann on the Turkish Riviera” probably has something to do with its popularity.

Apart from that, the city has a wonderful castle hill to explore. It was called Korakesion 2,500 years ago by the ancient Greeks. That means Rabenhorst. The name is just right for the unique view from the fortress Ic Kale, which stands on the top of the castle hill.

It was the winter residence of the Sultan of the Rum Seljuks. Unfortunately, not much is left of his palace. But there are other great things to see on the mountain. There is the Damlatas stalactite cave, Cleopatra Beach, a Seljuk shipyard and of course the Red Tower. It is considered the landmark of Alanya.

When I am in Turkey, I spend most of my time in Alanya. A little outside the centre, in a cosy apartment. I love this sight in Turkey.

11. Cape Anamur (Turkish Riviera)

Anamur hardly appears in the German travel catalogues. The same goes for tour operators in Turkey. The closest tourist place is Alanya. You can’t even book day trips from there.

That, in my opinion, is a good thing. This means that the area remains untouched by mass tourism. But that’s not because there aren’t any interesting sights in the area. You can see the old crusader castle Mamura Kalesi or the ruins of Anemurion. The ruins of the city show you what life was like in an ancient Roman city. It is not as big as the trading cities of Side, Aspendos or Pergamon. But there are plenty of little things to see.

The best way to get to Anamur is to rent a car. There are also a few buses that go to the area from Gazipasa or Adana Airport. With a car, however, your travel times will be far more flexible.

Be sure to go up one of the hills behind the fortress. From there, you can see all the way to the mountains in the northern part of Cyprus.

There are, of course, a few beautiful beaches in the region. In the summer, they are pretty empty. Usually only a few Turks from Ankara or Istanbul come to Anamur to escape during  their summer vacation. Of course, local families are still out and about on the beach with their children.

If the name Cape Anamur sounds familiar, it is probably due to the German aid organization Cap Anamur. It is named after a ship that was named after Cape Anamur.

12.Ephesus and the Library of Celsus (Turkish Aegean)

One of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Temple of Artemis, stood in Ephesus. Unfortunately, not much of it has survived. The foundation walls and a column are still standing in Ephesus. Everything movable ended up either in the British Museum or in the Kunsthistorisches Museum/Ephesus Museum in Vienna.

To this end, the excavation managers have set about rebuilding the facade of the Celsus Library. It is one of the most popular photo subjects in town, along with the huge Roman amphitheatre. It’s larger than most modern football stadiums.. With 250,000 inhabitants, the port city was one of the largest metropolises in the Roman Empire.

You can book an excursion with one of the local tour operators or take the bus to Ephesus. This is easiest from Izmir. In the city centre, buses go directly to the ruins in what is now Efes/Selcuk. (Yes, Efes is the Turkish beer brand. No, the brewery is not in Efes).

13. Blue cruise with a gulet (south coast)

What could be nicer than cruising comfortably from bay to bay on a Turkish sailing ship (gulet)? The beaches are deserted and you can take a few laps in the turquoise blue water. On board, you’ll find delicious food that is prepared by a local cook. The rest of the on-board catering is based on the typical all-inclusive (all you can eat) standard in Turkey. You just have to hold back a little with the alcohol. Don’t worry, it’s not forbidden. But it shouldn’t be too expensive on a medium-sized sailing ship.

In the evening, the ship either enters a new port or anchors in a bay. This gives you the opportunity to get to know a few different Turkish coastal cities.

The typical routes meander along the Aegean, Marmaris and Lycian coasts to Antalya. The possible destinations of the small sailing ship cruise are, for example, Bodrum, Marmaris, Kas, Fethiye, Antalya, Andriake and Kusadasi.

Just take a look at what is possible on this sight in Turkey. Pretty much anything can be combined.

14. Hot air balloons in Cappadocia

Dozens of hot air balloons soar into the sky over Cappadocia before sunrise every day. Including the journey, the entire excursion takes around two hours. With a good wind, you can fly your balloon over the most famous sights in Turkey.

The landscape is shaped by the Erciyes Dagi volcano, with its bizarre rock formations. It  looks like another world to me. Hot air balloon rides  in Cappadocia are , in my humble opinion, one of the most beautiful excursions in Turkey. You will definitely never forget them.

15. Myra and the Lycian Rock Tombs (Lycian Coast)

Nikolaus von Myra lived in Myra and was buried there. His life, as a historical figure serves as the template for “Saint Nicholas”, who brings presents to children at the beginning of Advent. In other countries he is known as Santa Claus or Grandfather Frost.

In Myra, you can visit his Church of the Holy Sepulcher. That is not the only highlight at this excavation site. There are still Roman-Lycian rock tombs, an amphitheatre and the port of Andriake to see.

16. Istanbul, the Golden Horn and the Bosporus

Istanbul is one of the most historic cities in the world. It was founded by the Roman Emperor Constantine as the new capital of the Roman Empire. Later it became the capital of the Byzantine Empire. For 600 years, today’s 15 million inhabitant metropolis was the centre of the Ottoman Empire

All these peoples, their customs and culture and the centuries of historical events have left their mark on Istanbul. The magnificent Hagia Sophia and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque are just two of the most impressive structures.

Istanbul has always connected the Oriental and the Occidental, the East and the West and Europe and Asia.  Today, it is also a symbol of modern and ancient Turkey. Large fashion chains line up around Taksim Square and the bars attract young Turks into the pulsating nightlife of Istanbul in the evening hours. A few blocks away, you will rediscover the old, traditional Turkey all over again. A new impression is hidden behind every street corner.

Find traces of ancient Rome, see Istanbul’s Ottoman heritage, and sip Turkish tea in a seaside tea garden.

17. Ataturk Mausoleum in Ankara (Anitkabir)

Every Turk is familiar with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He is the founding father of the Republic of Turkey. His self-chosen name is an indication of this.  Foreigners may not be aware that its translation means: Mustafa (the chosen one) Kemal (the perfect) Ataturk (father of all Turks).

His grave and a museum are housed in the Anitkabir (funeral monument). The entire facility is surrounded by a large park. The mausoleum is one of the top excursion destinations in Turkey. That’s why you should be there on time to not have to wait in the queue for too long.

Do you want to understand Turkey and the Turks? Then you have to read something about Ataturk. There are museums about the life of the state founder in every major city. There is a monument or a street named after him in every small village.

18. Bathing in the limestone terraces of Pamukkale (Turkish Aegean Sea) filled with thermal water

The ancient Greeks and Romans used to bathe here. 2,000 years later, these limestone terraces are still a tourist attraction. From a distance, the basin looks like a snow-covered slope. In the middle of summer, of course, it’s an even stranger sight in Turkey. The Turks on the south coast have hardly ever seen snow. The weather here is usually too mild for that in the winter months.  Pamukkale actually means something like cotton or cotton wool.

Of course, you can also swim a little in the water. But the water hardly ever reaches any higher than the chest area. You are only allowed to go barefoot in the facility. Of course, you should consider that in advance.

19. Underground cave cities in Cappadocia

I am fascinated by the ancient cave cities in Cappadocia. Some of them have been dug up to 14 stories (50 to 60 meters!) deep into the ground. And these were people who lived centuries or even millennia ago. It is still not certain whether they were built by the ancient Hittites over 3,000 years ago or the early Christians during the 1st millennium. What is certain is that the latter expanded them.

The most famous city is Derinkuyu. It was only discovered by chance in 1963. So far, eight floors have been exposed. On the upper floors, there are living rooms and bedrooms for a few thousand people! The most estimates range between 3,000 and 50,000 inhabitants. Below that, there are storage rooms, meeting rooms and dungeons. This is an unbelievable archaeological masterpiece of the people who lived in Turkey centuries ago. In my opinion, the cave cities in Cappadocia should be included in the list of the seven wonders of the ancient world. This would make it the eighth wonder.

20. Aspendos amphitheatre (Turkish Riviera)

Among the sights in Turkey, Aspendos is the best preserved Roman amphitheatre in the world. It belongs to the ancient city of Aspendos. It stands on the river Eurymedon (Köprü Cayi) in the Serik district, not far from Antalya.

You can book organised day trips to Aspendos in all the tourist places along the Turkish Riviera. They are mostly combined with a visit to the old town of Side and the Manavgat waterfalls.

You should bring Turkish lira with you to visit the theatre. The last time I was there, Euros were not accepted at the entrance. That may have changed in the meantime. As always, better to be safe than sorry. The tour operator’s ticket price does not include general admission.

Most travel guides will only show you the inside of the theatre. There is a lot more to see on the hill above. There are the remaining ruins of the old trading town. To the right of the entrance you can walk down a narrow stone path to the remains of the Acropolis and the necropolis. There will also be time for this during the guided tours.

There are a few dodgy vendors along the way who want to sell you “alleged” old coins. Firstly, they are counterfeit, and secondly, exporting such antiques is punishable by a heavy fine and imprisonment in Turkey. Just walk on past them. I have no idea why they’re still there.

21. Coastal cities on the Turkish Riviera and Aegean Sea

Turquoise blue sea on Cleopatra Beach in sunny weather.

The coastal cities in southern Turkey are the country’s biggest tourist magnet. The province of Antalya, along with the Turkish Riviera and the Lycian Coast, are the most popular travel destination for German summer vacationers.

This is due to beach resorts such as Alanya, Side, Belek, Kemer, Konakli, Avsallar and many other tourist resorts. You probably already know most of them. After all, they appear in every travel catalogue.

The Turkish south coast has become so popular because of the short flight distance and the low prices of  4-to-5-star all-inclusive hotels. Nowhere on the Mediterranean can you find cheaper vacation package tours than on the eastern Turkish Riviera.

The weather in summer is perfect for bathing. Between June and September, precipitation falls once a month on average. The sun shines 300 days a year. The turquoise blue sea reaches its maximum temperature of 28 ° in August.

The bathing season starts in April and lasts into October. In winter, the south coast is a popular destination for long-term vacationers. Thousands of German emigrants now live in cities like Alanya.

The same applies to the tourist resorts on the Lycian coast and the Aegean coast. The names Bodrum, Fehtiye, Marmaris, Kas and Cirali are well known to all holidaymakers in Turkey.

To make your decision a little easier regarding the sights in Turkey : My three favourites among the beach resorts in Turkey are Alanya, Kas and Cirali.

So that’s it! Now you have my list of insider tips!

There are of course a lot of sights in Turkey that didn’t make it onto my list. I would like to mention a few of them:

  • The ruins of Perge near Antalya
  • The ruins of Xanthos with the sanctuary of Letoon on the Lycian coast.
  • The Rose Valley in Cappadocia
  • The Goreme National Park in Cappadocia
  • Termessos in Antalya
  • The most beautiful beaches in Turkey
  • Basilica Cistern in Istanbul
  • The ruins of the Hetither capital Hatussa and Yazilikaya in Central Anatolia
  • The old town of Safranbolu in Central Anatolia
  • The mausoleum of Helicarnassus in Bodrum (one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world)
  • Theodosian Wall (city walls of Constantinople in Istanbul)
  • The old town of Side
  • The ruins of Olympus and the Olympus Beach
  • Ishak Pasha Palace in Eastern Anatolia
  • The extinct volcano “Mount Ararat” (Agri Dagi)
  • The Mevlana Monastery of the “Whirling Dervishes” in Konya
  • The crusader castle in Bodrum

A few final words …

This list of sights in Turkey is by no means exhaustive. This is my personal selection of sights in Turkey.

There are many more interesting places.

Be sure to check out my list of 50 cities and their 100+ most impressive sights in Turkey. There you will find a lot more inspirations for your next trip.

In your opinion, are there any sights in Turkey that definitely belong on my list?

Feel free to share your thought in the comments below.

I am always happy to hear about new sights in Turkey.