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Turkey straddles two continents -- Europe and Asia -- but even the smaller European section, on the western side of the Bosporus, has a strong Middle Eastern feel. The star attraction of the European side is Istanbul, with its iconic Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The Asian side features classical ruins at Ephesus, cave dwellings at Cappadocia, and beach resorts along the coasts. It's a don't-miss destination, whichever continent you're exploring.
Istanbul alone is worth the trip to this fascinating country that spans two continents, Europe and Asia. In fact, greater Istanbul itself spans two continents, with ferry boats making continual trips across the Bosphorus between the western and eastern sides of the city.
Istanbul is rich in architectural and historic treasures. The city’s two iconic landmarks, the enormous Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia -- a onetime Greek Orthodox basilica turned mosque and museum -- stand near each other within easy viewing distance of the Bosphorus. With their minarets and domes, especially when illuminated at night, the two help create as distinctive a skyline as any city in the world.
You could easily spend days examining the wealth of jewelry, china, costumes and carvings at the Topkapi Palace museum, most of them dating from the era of the old Ottoman Empire, which at one point dominated much of Europe and the Middle East. A jeweled dagger featured in the 1964 Peter Ustinov heist film Topkapi remains the top draw.
Much of southwestern Turkey is lined with Aegean and Mediterranean Sea beach resorts, often packed with Europeans on holiday. The largest is Antalya, whose old section of winding cobbled streets sits on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean and is the site of numerous boutique hotels and chic shops. Antalya is said to be the third most visited city in the world after Paris and London, largely based on cruise ship stops and packaged flights from northern Europe.
Kusadasi on the Aegean coast is another popular resort, but many foreign visitors go there to see the nearby ruins of Ephesus, a 3,000-year-old Greek commercial center that was the site of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (a single column remains). Ephesus later played important roles in the Roman empire and early Christianity, and the ruins of the House of the Virgin Mary are said to be the last home of Jesus’ mother. The most striking ruin is probably the Library at Celsus, whose dramatic facade is still standing, though vast streets lined with ruins of temples and ancient house foundations can hold your interest for hours.
Cappadocia, a World Heritage site in central Turkey’s Goreme Valley, has become a must-stop on many Turkish tour itineraries. Not only does it contain strange volcanic rock formations produced by age-old forces of wind and rain, but dwellings and even churches have been chiseled out of the soft rocks. You can also find entire troglodyte cities connected by underground tunnels -- some dating from as early as the 5th century AD. Ancient monks decorated many of the chapels with striking Byzantine art.
Hot air balloon rides have become a popular way to view the unusual valley landscape, and are options offered by many tours.
Turks can sometimes seem aggressive, especially when trying to sell you something, but if your tour encompasses elements of cultural exchange, you’ll find the typical citizenry to be gracious hosts.
One highlight is the fine Turkish cuisine, epitomized by the mezes -- hummus, stuffed grape leaves, baba ghanoush (pureed eggplant), olives, and pita bread that constitute the start of just about any Turkish meal. These could be followed by lamb or vegetable stews or grilled kebabs, all aromatic of exotic spices.
If your mouth is watering for some of these dishes -- or just for a taste of Turkey in general -- let Stride help you plan your ideal multi-day tour to Istanbul and beyond.