Updated 13 February 2020
Istanbul is Turkey's most famous city, but did you know that hot air balloon rides, natural hot springs, and so much more await you outside of Istanbul? ? Indeed, Istanbul is one of the top destinations in the world for its rich history, ancient buildings, and beautiful sights - but other parts of Turkey also have their own different, unique, and breath-taking stories to tell that are not always explored by tourists.
If you're planning a trip to Turkey soon, make sure to check out these amazing cities and sights outside of Istanbul that will take your breath away and leave you with memories to last a lifetime! ?
Apart from Istanbul, Cappadocia is a region in Turkey that is already popular among tourist as it offers a totally different view of the country. Cappadocia is known for its beautiful view of different rock formations that can be seen while you’re high up in the sky, in one of their hot air balloons. The view that you’ll get is not a view of skyscrapers, but rather, an enchanting view of caves - the place where people stayed until the 1950s!
You're right if you imagine life to be slower in pace and more traditional in this part of Turkey. In some parts of Cappadocia, you’ll find people making carpets by hand in their own homes! I remember my father always made it a point to bring some carpets back home whenever he visited the Balkans and the Middle East, especially those hand-made ones because each carpet always tells a unique story. Carpets are not just made to be used as rugs or as decorations but also serves as a symbol of the country's rich history and culture.
When you’re in Cappadocia, don’t forget to visit Kaymakli, a beautiful underground city that provided refuge for Christians during the Arab-Byzantine wars. Tourists get to see what it’s like living in the underground city. The people only had basic necessities such as kitchens and small living spaces. It was clearly cramped but it was enough for them to continue living. They also had ventilation and natural pantries from the holes they dug to cook their food. Back then, there were eight floors of storage and living spaces. However, only four of them are open to the public. Cappadocia should definitely be on your bucket list when you plan to visit Turkey. Plus, it is only an hour flight from Istanbul! Since the journey is not too long, be sure to plan your trip there!
Contrary to popular belief, Ankara is the capital of modern Turkey, not Istanbul (I’m talking mainly about myself as I used to be very ignorant before I started studying the history of Middle East). Ankara is the contemporary version of Turkey (although Istanbul is indeed very modern, parts of it have become more geared towards tourists as visitors to Turkey have increased). In Ankara, you’ll be able to see how the modern Turks go about their daily lives.
When you talk about the modernization of Turkey, the first person who was responsible for the modernization was Kemal Ataturk. He was the one who built the Republic of Turkey and started the separation of mosque and state. In Ankara, one should visit the Ataturk Mausoleum so you can understand his philosophies and what drove him to end the sultanate system and create a republic instead.
Pay a visit to Kocatepe Mosque while you're in the city - it's the largest in Ankara and can fit over 20,000 worshippers! Its neo-classical design is gorgeous and intricate both inside and out - we can only imagine that doing your prayers here would create a beautiful memory for your trip!
Also known as “Cotton Castle” in Turkish, Pamukkale is one of the most visited places in Turkey and here’s why—not only are the white snowy-looking terraces mesmerizing and naturally beautiful, it will also make you feel as though you’re the Snow Queen Elsa from Frozen! The blue waters and the cotton white stones might give you an impression that this place is icy cold but actually, they are natural hot springs travertine terraces that are formed from years of limestone deposited by generations of rock formations of historic buildings from the Greek-Roman era.
These pools are listed as one of the many UNESCO heritage sites. People have been swimming in them for years! Don’t be shy to take a dip in the shallow pool, if you’ve travelled this far so you should definitely enjoy this beautiful healing spa!
Do note that not every pool is open for tourists. Many years ago, there were many hotels built along the terraces and tourists were free to bathe in any pool they wished. But as you could imagine, the developments resulted in some damage to the terraces; which drove the Turkish Government to shut down and demolish the hotels in the area and place restrictions on which pools can be visited.
Be sure to bring plastic or cloth bags to put your swimwear. Also, you’ll need to bring your own towels or buy one from the shop nearby. Visitors are not allowed to climb up the terraces with their shoes, so make sure you either keep them in your bag or leave them behind. You should also bring your sunscreen!
If you’re a history nerd like me, you don’t have to go all the way to Greece or Italy to explore ancient ruins. Ephesus has many ancient Greek-Roman remains that have been excavated and restored. It was also once the capital of the Roman Asia Minor, with 250,000 people living in it. Initially, it functioned as a port but sadly, it was destroyed by the Barbarians.
There are many sights in Ephesus that you’ll be able to enjoy such as the Curetes Way, Library of Celsus, terraced houses, Temple of Hadrian, Great Theatre, Church of St Mary, Prytaneum and Latrines.
Konya is one of the most conservative places in Turkey and it’s also one of the oldest! It was once the capital of the Muslim Selcuk Empire. It’s also known as the home of Mevlana Rumi, the great Sufi scholar and is known to be the home of whirling dervishes. Don’t forget to visit Rumi’s tomb and museum as you’ll find displays of his works as well as some Quran scripts.
Apart from it’s historic and Islamic significance, Konya has also grown to be an economic and educational hub. If you ever have plans to take Turkish studies or to study in Turkey, Konya is one of the best places to explore the possibility of an intellectual and spiritual journey. Visit the Karatay Madrasah, a school built in the 13th century which is now a museum, to get a glimpse of how much Konya's rich heritage has changed over the years.
You can also visit the nearby town of Mut, which is still quiet as its province of Mersin hasn't quite been hit with the tourist crowds yet. Mut (and Mersin!) is home to several breathtaking natural features including waterfalls, streams, and fields of greenery that will leave you in awe of the beauty of the natural world.
Antalya is a beautiful city on the Gulf of Antalya. It’s a growing metropolis and thriving tourist attraction, as visitors love to experience a nice relaxing holiday enjoying the breath-taking Roman harbour. Depending on the time of your travel, Antalya can be a very quaint and quiet town. Most people like to take the traditional Turkish boats across the sea and sometimes even a swim when the weather permits.
Apart from the seas and the beaches, Antalya also has several historic sightseeing places for tourists such as the Antalya Museum, Kaleici, Yivli Minare and Tekeli Mehmet Pasa Camii.
If you think by now most of the Turkish provinces look alike because they share the same history and culture, well, think again. Mardin does not look like Istanbul, Ankara or Cappadocia because currently, this province is under the radar, which is also another reason you should visit as it is currently not as commercialized. When you visit this traditional and historic province, the first thing that will come to your mind is whether you’re still even in Turkey itself. It feels as though you’re far in an old town in the Middle East. Actually, Mardin is bordering Syria, which explains the geographical and architectural resemblance!
Mardin also has some beautiful religious buildings you can visit, including the Great Mosque (with its towering minaret!) and Deyruz-Zafaran Monastery.
Whether you’re interested in historic visits or natural sightseeing, Turkey has something to offer for everyone. Every province has its own special characteristic that will make you want to come back a second and maybe third visit. These places are just so interesting and mysterious, I wish I could book a flight to Turkey ASAP!