7 Essential Places to Visit While Traveling in Türkiye

Discover centuries of history, cave hotels, and some seriously good meze across the country.

Tourists visiting Kasımiye Medrese in Mardin

The Kasımiye Medrese in Mardin dates back to the 15th century. Its courtyard features a large pool.

Photo by Michelle Heimerman

Editor’s note: On February 6, 2023, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck southeastern Türkiye and northwestern Syria, killing more than 50,000 people at time of writing. Many organizations are on the ground helping out in the aftermath and are accepting donations. Here’s some information on traveling to the country and how you can help. Per our sources in Türkiye, most of the rest of the country was not affected by the earthquake, and tourism remains an important industry for the entire nation’s economy. AFAR has resumed publishing stories that celebrate Türkiye as a whole.

Türkiye is an extraordinary destination with layers of history, culture, and adventure that span centuries. From the postcard-worthy landscapes along the Aegean coast to ancient ruins near the Black Sea: This multifaceted nation offers a little of everything. Türkiye has seen various civilizations and global powers come and go—including Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Lycians—each leaving an indelible mark on the country. In Bodrum, travelers can explore the ruins and resorts lacing the Turquoise coast, while in Trabzon, perched in the mountains by Türkiye’s Black Sea, they can travel back in time to an ancient monastery. Or they could explore the legends of Troy, including Achilles and Helen of Troy, not far from Çanakkale in the North Aegean. Just off the coast, meanwhile, lies Bozcaada, a seaside retreat with exquisite wineries and pristine beaches. When it comes to mesmerizing destinations, it’s hard to beat Türkiye.

Cappadocia in central Anatolia, Türkiye

Cappadocia is famous for its “fairy chimneys” and otherworldly landscape.

Photo by Andrea Gheorghe/Unsplash


From the cobblestone streets of the village of Göreme to its quirky “fairy chimneys,” Cappadocia offers a variety of fascinating cultural and geological wonders. It’s a place to be explored inside and out, with castle-like cliffs, soaring rock features, and an underground labyrinth of caves hiding ancient monasteries. It dates back to the 8th century B.C.E., and you’ll find complete cities under the surface—such as Kaymakli, which sheltered local Christians from Arab groups during the Arab-Byzantine Wars nearly 2,000 years ago. Meanwhile the view from above ground provides a whole new perspective, with hot air balloons floating across the sky at sunrise. No visit would be complete without tasting the region’s unique cuisine, from aside, a local dessert made from grape molasses and flour, to pottery kebab, meat simmered in ceramic for many hours then broken open at your table.

Where to stay

Book now: Argos in Cappadocia

Base yourself at Argos in Cappadocia, a thousand-year-old-monastery that has been impressively restored, blending into the rugged landscape around Uçhisar Castle, a hilltop fortress that thrived during the Roman Empire and has the highest views in the region. Relax by the fire in its new restaurant, Nahita, which uses fresh produce from within a 35-mile radius and serves fine wine from its very own vineyard of the same name.

For a luxurious stay, either the private plunge pool cave suites or the gorgeous hot tub suite with large windows facing across the otherworldly landscape will have you savoring one of the oldest settlements in human history.


This seaside town on the Turquoise coast was founded by the Indigenous Lycian civilization that inhabited the coastline thousands of years ago. Its scenic beaches and dramatic mountains have made it one of the most sought-after coastal getaways in Türkiye. The old town is filled with Ottoman-era wooden houses and whitewashed stone buildings covered in bougainvillea. Historic relics still dot the center, including Lions Tomb, a 4th-century B.C.E. Lycian sarcophagus near the harbor. You’ll find most people relaxing at restaurants like Oburus Momus, a fresh vegan restaurant, and L’Apero, a French Turkish fusion restaurant serving local mussels with herbs and tarts with fruit from its garden on a colorful terrace.

A must-do in Kaş is a day spent sailing to the ancient sunken city of Kekova with Sail in Kaş. There are myriad rugged coves and submerged historical sites, which you can only explore by boat. Kaş is often considered the diving capital of Türkiye.


Located on Türkiye’s Black Sea coast, Trabzon is known for its deep-rooted history and cultural heritage. From Greek and Armenian churches to Byzantine monasteries and Ottoman villas, you can explore sights from almost every century since approximately the 8th century B.C.E. It’s also noticeably more lush than the southern plains, located along a wide bay of the Black Sea, backed by dense forest. One highlight: the Byzantine Sümela Monastery, perched high atop the Medetsiz Mountains. This ancient monastery was built around the 4th century C.E. and has a commanding location overlooking the Altindere Valley. Another highlight is Calkoy Cave, accessible by boat or by hiking alongside the river. To meet some of the local makers and growers, head to Avrupali Pazari, a covered market where you can buy fresh produce from local farmers or crafts from talented artisans who show up daily with their goods.

Seaside with boats in Bodrum

Bodrum has changed hands many times.

Photo by Mert Kahveci/Unsplash


This flashy seaside resort town has been called the St. Tropez of Türkiye. And for good reason—it’s bursting with opulent five-star hotels frequented by celebrities. But dig beneath the surface and you’ll find that it’s built on a foundation of hospitable charm and fascinating history as an important port city. Thriving under Persian rule in 5th century B.C.E., the city changed hands many times and yet remained a dominant coastal outpost. Bodrum Castle still stands at the head of the rocky peninsula. Originally built in the 15th century by Christian knights, it now houses the Museum of Underwater Archaeology.

While you can immerse yourself in history, it’s equally a city where you can relax and soak up the sunshine. Head to Camel Beach, for sparkling blue-green water and golden sand to spend the day with a good book. Or linger over a long meal at one of the Bodrum meyhanes, or taverns, where you can sample traditional flavors with a large selection of hot and cold mezes.

Where to stay

Book Now: Susona Bodrum

If you’re in the mood to splurge on a stay, try Susona Bodrum, which sits on its own stretch of coastline north of the city, and strikes the right balance of boutique and luxe. Nearby, in Bodrum’s boho-chic district, Gümüşlük, atmospheric restaurants like Mimoza Gümüşlük draw onlookers for sunset over the Aegean.

A stone tower (left) and Gabi, the owner of Izla Art Café

Izla Art Café in Mardin is part wine bar and part café, with an eclectic collection of art and antiques.

Photos by Michelle Heimerman


The historic city of Mardin is a culturally rich destination in the far southeastern region of the country. Founded by the Assyrians over 4,000 years ago, it transitioned through Persian, Roman, and Byzantine power before becoming an important trade center during the Ottoman Empire. It’s home to wonderful examples of Ottoman architecture apparent throughout its skyline, with citadels, mosques, and madrasas (Islamic schools) on steep mountain slopes above the Mesopotamia plains. Especially impressive is the Deyrulzafaran Monastery, known locally as the “Saffron Monastery,” due to its distinctive golden brickwork visible for miles. And while wandering the narrow cobblestone streets of Mardin, you’ll find plenty of tucked-away secrets, including Mar Hirmiz Keldani Kilisesi, an old chapel among the towering minarets.

Mardin is also known for exceptionally good food. Try it at Cercis Murat Konağı, headed by award-winning chef Ebru Baybara Demir. She was the first Turk to make it in the top 10 for the Basque Culinary Prize, which she did for two consecutive years in 2017 and 2018. Select from meze plates like alluciye (sour plum stew) and leg of lamb with almond, garlic, and allspice, paired with a memorable Assyrian wine like Öküzgözü, while you enjoy a golden sunset view across the rooftops.

Where to stay

Book Now: Mirsoum Hotels

Retire for the evening to Mirsoum Hotels, housed in a traditional stone building centered around a courtyard. The dimly lit rooms have freestanding bathtubs where you can soak up the memories from the day.

Doğu Express from Ankara to Kars

For an overland journey rivaling other better-known train trips, the Doğu Express or Eastern Express, runs more than 800 miles from one side of the country to the other. At the far eastern end of the line is Kars, with its complex history dating back centuries.

The scenic train ride from Ankara to Kars offers two-berth sleeping compartments and takes around 30 hours, so plan to break it up with one or two noteworthy stops, like İliç to visit Karanlık or “Dark” Canyon, a steep-sided gorge, and Erzurum, a bustling city considered the heart of the far eastern region of Türkiye.

Enjoy the views out your window, which include alpine meadows, wide valleys, and ancient ruins. From Kars, there are plenty of worthy day trips. Try the nearby ruins of Ani. Once the capital of Armenian civilization a thousand years ago, it was one of the largest cities in the world. Or head further afield to Doğubayazıt at the foot of Mount Ararat, home to the 17th-century fortress Ishak Pasha Palace.

The North Aegean coast (Foça, Troy, Bozcaada)

The North Aegean coast lies north of the glitzy cities of the Turquoise coast, waiting to be explored. Home to several vibrant beach towns, it’s an ideal spot for those looking to strike a balance between tranquility and adventure. Relax by the beach, partake of outdoor activities like hiking, mountain or road biking, and sailing, and explore historical sites in the smaller islands such as Bozcaada and seaside villages like Foça.

Bozcaada is a haven for those seeking an escape from city life; visitors can explore monasteries and sample the wonderful fruits of its wineries. Every year, in early fall, the sleepy island comes to life with the international Bozcaada Jazz Festival, running over three days and attracting thousands of people.

South of Çanakkale, the ancient city of Troy has mesmerized explorers for centuries. Dating back to the Bronze Age, the ruined city is made all the more fascinating by the many stories it has inspired over time, including Homer’s Iliad. It was once a powerful kingdom due to its strategic position surrounded by mountains.

Further south is Foça, a charming fishing village north of Izmir that’s surrounded by water on three sides. With the blissful sound of waves crashing against the rocky coastline at sunset, it’s a relaxing place—but don’t miss its historical sites like the Temples of Athena and Foça Castle and its fresh seafood.

Jenna Scatena is an award-winning writer based in Istanbul and San Francisco.
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