The top 15 best cities to visit in Turkey

Blue mosque in glorius sunset, Istanbul, Sultanahmet park. The biggest mosque in Istanbul of Sultan Ahmed (Ottoman Empire).

Turkey travel guide

Turkey is a country straddling Eastern Europe and Western Asia, with cultural influences from the Balkans, Mediterranean, Caucasus and Middle East. This bridge between continents has so much to offer travelers. From the eclectic bazaars and mosques of Istanbul to the turquoise coastline of Antalya, Turkey packs a big punch for history buffs, foodies, beach bums and adventurers.

Deciding where to visit in this vast and varied country can be overwhelming. That’s why I’ve put together this list of the 15 best cities to visit in Turkey for your next trip. Read on for my top recommendations on must-see destinations, along with travel tips and highlights for each place.

1. Istanbul

Istanbul is Turkey’s crown jewel. As the country’s largest and most famous city, it tops nearly every traveler’s list. Istanbul straddles Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus strait, giving it a unique Euro-Asian vibe. Its skyline is dotted with historic minarets and modern skyscrapers.

Top Highlights

  • Admire breathtaking Byzantine and Ottoman architecture at the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque
  • Wander through the sprawling Grand Bazaar with over 3,000 shops
  • Take a Bosphorus ferry ride for stunning views of the Istanbul skyline
  • See top sights like Topkapi Palace and Basilica Cistern
  • Walk across the Galata Bridge and sample street foods in the cafes and restaurants

Istanbul mixes old and new in a vibrant fashion. Spend at least 3 days here to see the top sights. Spring and Fall offer the best weather.

2. Cappadocia

Cappadocia’s otherworldly landscapes look like something from a fairy tale. This region in Central Anatolia is characterized by rock formations and cave dwellings carved out by ancient civilizations.

Top Highlights

  • Hot air balloon over the fairy chimneys at sunrise for magical views
  • Explore underground cities like Derinkuyu and Kaymakli
  • Visit cave hotels and dine in cave restaurants
  • Hike through the Ihlara Valley and see ancient monasteries
  • Tour Göreme Open Air Museum to see painted cave churches

You’ll feel like you’re stepping back in time in Cappadocia. 3 days is sufficient, and it’s best visited in the cooler Spring and Fall months.

3. Antalya

Antalya sits on the Turquoise Coast, known for its beautiful blue waters. With a sunny Mediterranean climate, Antalya is a popular beach resort. But it also has a fascinating old town with Ottoman and Roman ruins.

Top Highlights

  • Relax on Konyaalti Beach with views of the Beydağları Mountains
  • Explore the Roman-era harbor at Antalya Old Town
  • See ancient artifacts at the Antalya Museum
  • Take a day trip to Termessos – an ancient ruined city in the mountains
  • Walk beneath waterfalls at Düden Falls park

Antalya is a great city for soaking up sun, sea and history. Plan to spend 3-5 days here. Spring, Summer and Fall are ideal times to visit.

4. Bodrum

Bodrum is a stylish seaside town on the Aegean coast. It has a lively waterfront promenade, excellent seafood restaurants, and proximity to beautiful beaches. Nearby, you’ll find ancient ruins and a 15th century castle.

Top Highlights

  • Boat tour to Karaada for swimming and relaxing in tranquil bays
  • Visit the Mausoleum of Mausolus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
  • Tour Bodrum Castle built by the Knights of St. John
  • Indulge in seafood meze at the Old Marina
  • Hit the clubs and bars of Barlar Sokagi

Bodrum is the favorite Aegean destination for the rich, famous and stylish. Plan to spend at least 3 days enjoying the beaches, nightlife and sights. It’s popular in Summer.

5. Pamukkale

Pamukkale’s iconic white terraces are made from mineral hot springs. The cascading pools look like snow or giant cotton terraces. It’s one of Turkey’s most visually stunning sites.

Top Highlights

  • Bathe in the ancient Roman Baths of Hierapolis
  • Walk barefoot on the white calcium pools of Pamukkale
  • See ancient ruins like the amphitheater at Hierapolis
  • Visit the Travertines and limestone pools
  • Take a tour to explore underground caves

Pamukkale is a wonder of nature. 1-2 days is enough to see the white terraces and soak in the thermal waters. Spring and Fall are the best seasons.

6. Ephesus

Ephesus was once the Roman capital of Asia Minor. Today it’s famous for its magnificent ancient ruins, including a massive amphitheater and the iconic Library of Celsus.

Top Highlights

  • Explore the ruins of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders
  • Walk down the marble-paved Curetes Street with ancient monuments
  • See amazing artifacts at the Ephesus Museum
  • Visit the House of the Virgin Mary outside town
  • Climb up to the Terrace Houses for mosaics and frescoes

You can see Ephesus’ top sites in 1 day, but stay longer to soak in the atmosphere. Avoid Summer crowds if possible.

7. Fethiye

Fethiye is a relaxed resort town nestled against the sparkling Turquoise Coast. It offers a lively harbor lined with bars, restaurants and yachts, as well as easy access to beaches, coves and ancient ruins.

Top Highlights

  • Island hop and swim at Butterfly Valley, Blue Lagoon and more
  • Soak up views on the Fethiye-Ölüdeniz-Kabak scenic drive
  • Hike and explore the ancient city of Tlos
  • Visit the scenic ruins of the Kayaköy ghost town
  • Barter at the colorful Fethiye Market for fresh produce and souvenirs

Fethiye is an ideal base for exploring the region’s beaches and historic sites. You’ll want 3-5 days to relax and do day trips. Visit in shoulder season for smaller crowds.

8. Konya

Konya is best known as the home of the 13th-century poet Rumi and his Whirling Dervishes. Today, it’s a conservative city with some beautiful historic architecture.

Top Highlights

  • Visit the Mevlâna Museum, once Rumi’s lodge, with his tomb
  • Watch a mesmerizing Sema ceremony of the Whirling Dervishes
  • See Seljuk-era stone carvings at Ince Minaret Medrese
  • Gaze at the Byzantine mosaics inside the Alaaddin Mosque
  • Wander the labyrinth bazaar of Bedestan

You can see Konya’s top sites in a day or two. Try to visit for a Sema ceremony in December when Rumi’s death is honored.

9. Side

Side was once a major port city in ancient Pamphylia. Today, the seaside resort town boasts Roman and Hellenistic ruins alongside inviting beaches.

Top Highlights

  • Explore the vast Roman amphitheater that could hold 20,000
  • See the Temples of Apollo and Athena on the old harbour
  • Walk the marble-paved main street of the Agora
  • Relax on the white sand Side Beach with nearby bars
  • Visit the Side Museum’s ancient statues and sarcophagi

You can see Side’s top ruins and enjoy the beaches in 1-2 days. It gets busy in Summer but is quieter in Spring and Fall.

10. Safranbolu

Safranbolu is known for its preservation of Ottoman houses and architecture. It’s like an open-air museum showcasing Turkish history. The old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Top Highlights

  • Stay overnight in a historic Ottoman mansion house
  • Shop for Lokum (Turkish delight) and handicrafts in the Arasta Bazaar
  • Tour the 19th-century Izzet Mehmet Pasha Mosque
  • Visit the wax museum inside the Kaymakamlar House Museum
  • Drink Turkish coffee on the old cafes of Kıranköy square

Two days gives you time to wander Safranbolu’s charming old town. May and September are ideal with fewer crowds.

11. Gaziantep

Gaziantep is a modern economic hub with an old quarter famous for its cuisine. You’ll find the best regional Turkish food here. It’s also near sites like Roman mosaics and a Stone Age settlement.

Top Highlights

  • Try local dishes like kebabs, baklava, and Antep pistachios
  • Tour the food stalls and shops at Bakırcılar Çarşısı bazaar
  • See Roman mosaics at the Zeugma Mosaic Museum
  • Visit the ancient site of Belkıs-Zeugma on the Euphrates
  • View Hittite artifacts at the Gaziantep Museum

Gaziantep’s foodie delights and historic sites deserve 2-3 days. Visit in Spring or Fall when the weather is pleasant.

12. Marmaris

Marmaris is a bustling resort town situated on a beautiful horseshoe bay. It offers a scenic seaside promenade lined with restaurants, bars and palm trees. Nearby you’ll find secluded coves and beaches.

Top Highlights

  • Charter a Blue Cruise yacht to sail to small bays and islands
  • Party at Bar Street’s open-air nightclubs and bars
  • Hike in the Bozburun Peninsula mountains and forests
  • Take a jeep safari to off-the-beaten-path villages
  • Relax on lively İçmeler Beach with water sports

Marmaris offers non-stop seaside fun and nightlife. Stay for 3-5 days for cruising, hiking and beach time. It gets crowded in high summer.

13. Kaş

Kaş is a laidback beach town on the Lycian Coast, near excellent diving spots. It’s popular with travelers looking to enjoy the sea, small town vibes and access to ancient sites.

Top Highlights

  • Dive and snorkel at sunken ruins and reefs
  • Hike the Lycian Way trail along stunning coast views
  • Sea kayak to explore coves and islands
  • Visit the mountain-top acropolis of Xanthos
  • Relax on Küçük Çakıl Beach which allows free camping

Kaş offers activities for adventure travelers who like intimate towns. Stay for 3-5 days of outdoor fun and sights. Shoulder season means smaller crowds.

14. Trabzon

Trabzon is an underrated Black Sea city with an old town full of Ottoman sites. It’s also the gateway to hiking in the green Sumela Valley with its iconic monastery.

Top Highlights

  • Admire Byzantine frescoes at Sumela Monastery
  • Hike through the Altındere National Park’s forests and rivers
  • Learn about Ottoman history at the Atatürk Museum House
  • Shop at the Kunduracılar Market for shoes, clothes and jewelry
  • Enjoy Black Sea cuisine like Akçaabat meatballs and hamsi fish

Trabzon’s outdoor beauty and distinctive culture deserve 2-3 days. Visit in Spring before the rainy season starts.

15. Çanakkale

Çanakkale overlooks the Dardanelles strait and is steeped in World War I history. This city near Troy makes a great base to explore Gallipoli battlefields and islands like Bozcaada.

Top Highlights

  • Take a somber walk at Anzac Cove and other Gallipoli battle sites
  • Tour Troy and see a replica Trojan horse
  • Hike Mount Ida for gorgeous views of the region
  • Swim and taste wine on Bozcaada, the third biggest Aegean island
  • Try delicious fish like sardines and sea bass

Çanakkale’s powerful history and lively vibe deserves 2-3 days. Early Spring and late Fall mean less crowds.

Travel Tips for Visiting Turkey’s Best Cities

Getting Around

  • Air Travel: It’s easy to fly within Turkey on domestic carriers like Turkish Airlines, Pegasus or SunExpress.
  • Train: Affordable and comfortable but limited routes. Best for Istanbul-Edirne, Ankara-Konya.
  • Bus: Extensive network reaches every region. Good discount companies like FlixBus.
  • Car Rental: Convenient for exploring regions like Cappadocia or the Aegean. Drive on the right.
  • Ferries & Boats: Link coastal towns and islands. Great for the Aegean or Mediterranean.

Where to Stay

  • Hotels: Range from budget to luxury. Book well in advance for peak season.
  • Pensions: Family-run with charm and local hospitality. Great budget option.
  • Homestays: Live like a local. Platforms like Couchsurfing or Airbnb.
  • Hostels: Best for solo travelers on a budget. Limited private rooms.
  • Caves: In Cappadocia, you can even stay in carved out cave hotels!

When to Visit

  • March to May: Spring temperatures, fewer crowds, wildflowers bloom
  • June to August: Peak season with perfect beach weather but crowded
  • September to November: Cooler Fall weather, ideal for city & cultural trips
  • December to February: Colder months with some rain/snow. Low season

What to Eat

  • Kebabs: From meatballs to kofta, kebabs are everywhere. Try döner and şiş.
  • Meze: Small plates like stuffed grape leaves, cacık, baklava, lokum
  • Breakfast: Simit (breads), menemen (scrambled eggs), cheese, olives
  • Street foods: Snacks like roasted chestnuts, simit with cheese, or fish sandwiches
  • Turkish coffee: Thick, strong coffee. Order it şekersiz for without sugar.
  • Rakı: Distilled anise drink, usually with meze or fish. Add water to dilute.
  • Ayran: Refreshing cold yoghurt drink enjoyed with meals.
  • Turkish tea: Black tea served in tulip-shaped glasses, often with dessert.


  • Accommodation: Hostel dorm from $15, budget hotel from $50, luxury hotel from $200
  • Food: Street snacks for a few lira, restaurant meals from $5-15
  • Attractions: Free to $30 for sites like Hagia Sophia, Ephesus, Troy
  • Transportation: Buses from $5, domestic flights from $50
  • Daily total: $50-100 per day

Discover Authentic and Vibrant Turkey

From majestic minarets and blue lagoons to ancient ruins and whirling dervishes, Turkey offers travelers endless diversity. Wander the bazaars of Istanbul, relax on Mediterranean beaches, explore Cappadocia’s fairy chimneys or visit sites like Ephesus and Troy. Whether you’re trekking, discovering history and culture, or just soaking up the sun and cuisine, Turkey will leave you saying “çok güzel!” (very beautiful).

More Beautiful Destinations in Turkey

Beyond the top 15 cities, Turkey has even more incredible destinations waiting to be explored. Here are some bonus cities and regions worth adding to your Turkey itinerary:

16. Şanlıurfa

Şanlıurfa, also known simply as Urfa, is an underrated city in Southeastern Anatolia. It’s known as the birthplace of the prophet Abraham and has a fascinating blend of Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic and Armenian influences.

Top highlights include:

  • Exploring the historic Old City with the stone Balıklıgöl complex
  • Visiting Abraham’s Cave and the sacred pilgrimage sites
  • Seeing remains at the Neolithic settlement of Göbekli Tepe
  • Trying the local cuisine with isot pepper and驴anlıurfa kebabs
  • Cooling off at the Karakoyun and Atatürk Dams and their lakes

Şanlıurfa may be off the main tourist trail, but 2-3 days here will show you genuine Turkish culture beyond Istanbul. Come in Spring or Fall.

17. Mardin

Mardin is a city in Southeastern Anatolia with a wealth of architecture and history. The charming city center has many ornately carved stone houses, mosques, churches and bazaars.

Top things to do include:

  • Taking in panoramic views from the hilltop old town
  • Exploring the 12th century Mardin Citadel and grand Zinciriye Medresesi
  • Learning about ancient Mesopotamia at the Mardin Museum
  • Seeing Syriac monasteries like Deyrülzafaran and Mor Hananyo
  • Sipping traditional Turkish coffee on Cumhuriyet Caddesi

Mardin offers a glimpse into Turkey’s diversity. Spend 2-3 days enjoying its mix of Arab, Kurdish and Turkish cultures. Spring and Fall have ideal weather.

18. Bursa

Bursa was the first capital of the Ottoman Empire, and retains its imperial mosques and markets. Nestled at the base of Uludağ Mountain, it’s a green city with hot springs.

Top attractions include:

  • Exploring mosques like the Grand Mosque and Green Mosque
  • Taking the cable car up Mount Uludağ for winter sports
  • Browsing silk scarves and towels in the sprawling Grand Bazaar
  • Relaxing in the thermal baths at Çekirge Hot Springs
  • Sampling İskender kebab, a local specialty, and creamy pide cheese bread

Bursa deserves 2-3 days to take in the Ottoman history, skiing and local specialties. Visit in Spring to beat the heat.

19. Izmir

As Turkey’s third largest city, Izmir has an urban yet laidback coastal vibe. Known for its diversity, it has Greek, Armenian and Jewish influences.

Top things to do include:

  • Strolling the lively Konak Pier shopping area
  • Seeing ancient relics at the Izmir Archeology Museum
  • Taking a ferry to Çeşme Peninsula towns and beaches
  • Exploring the ruins of the ancient Agora of Smyrna
  • Eating seafood like grilled calamari and midye dolma stuffed mussels

Izmir has big city amenities with seaside appeal. Give yourself 2-3 days to take it all in. Spring and Fall have pleasant weather.

20. Edirne

Edirne sits on the Greek and Bulgarian borders, surrounded by rivers. It was the Ottoman Empire’s capital before Istanbul, and retains graceful mosques and markets.

Top highlights include:

  • Marveling at the architectural beauty of Selimiye Mosque
  • Shopping for spices, fruits and nuts at the Ali Paşa Bazaar
  • Exploring the 15th century Edirne Palace
  • Seeing Ottoman weaponry at the Edirne City Museum
  • Tasting fried liver and famous meatballs at Ciğerim Ciğerim Restaurant

You can see Edirne’s top mosques, palaces and cuisine in 1-2 days. Avoid the summer peak season crowds if possible.

Hidden Gems Off the Beaten Path

Beyond Turkey’s famous cities and main tourist sites, there are many hidden gems waiting to be uncovered if you venture off the beaten path. Here are some of the best underrated spots in Turkey:


On the Aegean coast, Ayvalık has a charming old town with Greek Orthodox churches and a laidback vibe. It’s surrounded by olive groves and has great beaches nearby like Sarimsakli.


Akçakoca is a small Black Sea town with pristine beaches and rural countryside. Watch fishermen haul in the catch of mackerel and bonito fish.


Amasra is a quaint Black Sea fishing village with whitewashed Ottoman houses, two bays for swimming, hillside hikes and local seafood eateries.

Patara Beach

Patara Beach in Lycia has over 12 miles of sandy coastline dotted with ancient Lycian ruins. It’s nestled between mountains and only disrupted by nesting sea turtles.


In the Bolkar Mountains, Yedigöller or “Seven Lakes” offers an incredible hike among seven highland lakes with crystal blue waters.

Salt Lake (Tuz Gölü)

In central Anatolia, this stunning salt lake has a lunar-like landscape of white salt formations, best seen at sunset.


The ancient city of Afrodisias has incredible marble statues and carvings still being uncovered today, without the crowds of Ephesus.

Sultan Marshes

Adventure to this vast wetland ecosystem in Central Anatolia to see colorful birdlife, water buffalo, and a traditional rural way of life.


In Cappadocia, Güzelyurt has cave houses and underground cities without the main tourist crowds. Nearby is Ihlara Valley.


Uzungöl in northeastern Turkey looks like it belongs in the Swiss Alps with its lakeside village surrounded by lush green mountains.

Experiencing Turkish Culture

Beyond the sites and scenery, don’t miss the chance to experience authentic Turkish culture. Here are some top activities:

Baths & Spas

After sightseeing, relax sore muscles in a traditional hamam (Turkish bath) like the beautiful 16th century Çemberlitaş Hamamı in Istanbul.

Regional Festivals

Each spring, Şanlıurfa puts on the mesmerizing communal Sıra Gecesı ritual with music, prayer and whirling.

###Cooking Class

Learn to make Turkish classics like kebabs, baklava, dolma, or how to brew Turkish coffee during a cooking class. Istanbul and Cappadocia offer many options.

Whirling Dervishes

Seeing the mystical Mevlevi Sema ceremony of the whirling dervishes in Konya is a memorable experience.

Turkish Tea

Stop at a local tea garden to sip black tea from tulip-shaped glasses, served strong with sugar cubes.

Turkish Coffee

Sample traditional dark roasted coffee boiled in a cezve. Let the grounds settle before enjoying.

Water pipe (Nargile)

Try puffing on fruity shisha waterpipe tobacco. Cafes across Turkey offer nargile, especially in Istanbul and Antalya.

Turkish Bath Products

Shop for soaps, oils and towels made from locally grown olive oil, laurel, honey and other natural ingredients.

Street Snacks

Try snacks like simit (sesame rings), roasted chestnuts or corn, kokoreç (grilled lamb intestines) or midye dolma (stuffed mussels).

Call to Prayer

Loud, haunting calls ring out five times daily from mosques announcing prayer times. Time sightseeing around avoiding them if sensitive to noise.

Planning Your Perfect Turkey Trip

With endless destinations to choose from, planning the perfect Turkey trip can be daunting. Here are some sample itineraries to inspire you:

First Timers (10-14 Days)

Istanbul (3-4 days) → Cappadocia (2-3 days) → Ephesus (1 day) → Pamukkale (1 day) → Antalya or Bodrum (2-3 days)

This route hits Turkey’s highlights for first-time visitors: Istanbul’s history, Cappadocia’s landscapes, Ephesus’ ruins, Pamukkale’s cotton terraces, and the Turquoise Coast’s beaches.

###Culture Vultures (10-14 Days)

Istanbul (3-4 days) → Şanlıurfa & Mardin (3 days) → Cappadocia (3 days) → Konya (1 day) → Safranbolu (2 days)

For those focused on culture, history and architecture, this itinerary includes time in the diverse southeast, Cappadocia’s cave towns, Rumi’s Konya, and preserved Ottoman Safranbolu.

###Outdoor Adventurers (10-14 Days)

Istanbul (2 days) → Fethiye (3 days) → Kalkan (2 days) → Kaş (2 days) → Konya (1 day) → Cappadocia (3 days)

Active travelers will love time on the Turquoise Coast’s beaches and coves in Fethiye and Kaş, combined with trails in Cappadocia and historical sites.

###Foodies (10-14 Days)

Istanbul (3 days) → Gaziantep (2 days) → Şanlıurfa (2 days) → Antalya (2 days) → Alpine villages (3 days) → Bursa (2 days)

Turkish cuisine shines in this trip to foodie havens Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa, coastal Antalya, rural villages, and Ottoman Bursa.

###Relaxing Beach Getaway (7-10 Days)

Dalaman → Fethiye (2 days) → Ölüdeniz (2 days) → Kalkan (2 days) → Patara (1 day)

With long stretches of beautiful coastline, spend a week or more soaking up the sun and swimming along the Turquoise Coast, especially laidback spots like Fethiye, Ölüdeniz and Kalkan.

Traveling in Turkey on Any Budget

One of the best parts of Turkey is that you can have an amazing trip no matter your budget.

If backpacking on a budget, you can find dorm beds for as low as $5-10 a night, travel between cities by overnight bus, stick to street food like simit and döner for just a few lira, and haggle at bazaars.

For mid-range travelers, boutique hotels run $50-100 per night, you can take faster trains or domestic flights between regions, sit down for kebab and meze restaurant meals, and join some group tours.

On a high-end trip, stay at luxury five-star beach resorts starting at $200+ per night, get around via rental car and private transfers, eat at upscale restaurants, and enjoy activities like hot air ballooning in Cappadocia.

Turkey offers great value across the spectrum. Save money by avoiding the peak summer season, having flexible dates, and booking things directly rather than through a package.

No matter your budget, you can find ways to immerse yourself in incredible history, nature and hospitality.

Start Planning Your Turkish Adventure

Whether you’re looking for ancient sites or modern cities, beach relaxation or outdoor adventures, Turkey has something for every type of traveler.

I hope this guide has helped showcase the diversity of experiences across Turkey’s magical landscapes. From acclaimed cities like Istanbul to hidden spots like Mardin, there are so many places to uncover.

Use this as a starting point to craft your own Turkish itinerary. You can then deep dive into each destination with guidebooks and blogs.

The turquoise coast and cappucino valleys await! As the locals say, haydi or “let’s go” – it’s time to start your Turkish adventure. But first, one more cup of çay.

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