Turkey Tours and Travel Guide
Turkey Attractions & Landmarks Guide
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.
Why Visit Turkey on a Tour?
Turkey is a treasure trove of east and west culture, history, archaeology, adventure and cuisine - a delightful way to experience both Europe and the Middle East. Among the top reasons to consider Turkey for a small-group guided tour: the incredible hospitality of the Turkish people, the legendary cuisine, the ancient sites (including many UNESCO World Heritage Sites), varied and awe-inspiring landscapes, historic landmarks and a gorgeous Mediterranean shoreline.
Your guided tour of Turkey brings with it some of the most unique travel experiences you’ll ever have. The country sits on the border of Europe and Asia and, as a 99 percent Muslim nation, is home to a huge number of religious sites (it continues to be a top place of pilgrimmage for both devout Muslims and Christian pilgrims).
Among travelers’ favorite experiences in Turkey are cruising the Black Sea, learning to cook baklava, watching the sunset over the Blue Mosque, swimming in blue lagoons and soaking in thermal hot springs, taking a hot-air balloon ride over Cappadocia, exploring underground cave systems and much more.
Turkey is a must-visit destination for history buffs, foodies, lovers of culture and tradition, and adventure travelers. Soak it all up on a thoughtfully planned, immersive Turkey itinerary from a reputable tour operator - and consider adding on other Eastern European countries, such as Slovenia and Croatia, to make it a grand tour!
So why travel to Turkey on a guided tour instead of planning an itinerary yourself? Quite simply, Turkey is so unique, fascinating and different from any other European country that it’s more than worth the time to research a tour operator who can help you navigate your way through and ensure that you get the most bang for your buck.
Today’s most reputable Turkey tour operators won’t herd you around with 50 other travelers - instead, you can choose from small-group tour companies that focus on senior travel, millennial travel, adventure travel, cuisine, culture, history, photography and more. You’ll travel with like-minded people from around the world, guided by local residents and experts eager to share the best of Turkey with you.
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Plus, with smaller groups and the cache the tour company can provide, you’ll get behind-the-scenes sightseeing privileges, as well as access to more intimate dining establishments and characterful accommodations.
Whether you’re seeking a two-week, all-inclusive luxury tour package that highlights the best of Turkey, or need help for a weekend excursion to Istanbul, joining a small-group tour will not only likely save you money over making the arrangements yourself, but takes away the headache of said arrangements and any ensuing problems that may arise.
Turkey’s Top Cultural Attractions
With its countless historical and religious sites, world-class museums and ancient cities, Turkey appeals to the culture-seeking traveler. To get the most out of your visit to this fascinating country, consider a package tour focused on Turkish culture.
The best escorted tours to Turkey will introduce you to the wealth of history, art, cuisine and varying landscapes that make up the country’s melting pot of cultures.
Top Museums in Turkey
Discover the many great private and state museums run by the Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
The best state museums in Turkey include:
Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul
Hagia Sophia Museum, Istanbul
Mevlana Museum, Konya
Istanbul Archaeological Museum, Istanbul
Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara
The best private museums in Turkey include:
Sakip Sabanci Museum, Istanbul
Rahmi Koc Museum, Istanbul
Istanbul Museum of Modern Art
Pera Museum, Istanbul
Rezan Has Museum, Istanbul
Discover Turkey’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Small-group tour operators specializing in Turkey will typically include several of the country’s numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites in their itineraries.
Among the top UNESCO cultural sites in Turkey, you’ll see:
Turkey’s UNESCO cultural/natural sites include:
- Goreme National Park and Rock Sites of Cappadocia
And the newest UNESCO treasures in Turkey include:
- Ephesus, Izmir
- Diyarbakir Fortress
- Archaeological site of Ani, Kars
- Aphrodisias, Aydin
- Gobeklitepe, Sanliurfa
Turkey’s Top Religious Sites
One of the top draws for travel to Turkey is the chance to visit a variety of significant religious sites and faith centers. Visit Muslim mosques and other protected sacred sites, making sure to show proper respect when doing so. Among the most popular Islamic religious sites in Istanbul are Topkapi Palace, Eyup Sultan Mosque and Tomb, Suleymaniye Mosque and Blue Mosque.
For those who would like to explore the Jewish traditions in Turkey, Izmir is a must-see. This is the only city in the world with a number of synagogues in medieval Spanish architectural style - they’re clustered together, creating a unique architectural complex.
Guided tours of Istanbul focusing on Jewish history may also visit the Ancient Ephesus Synagogue, the Beth Israel Synagogue and the Rosh Ha-Har Synagogue, among others.
Istanbul itself is home to several Jewish sacred sites as well - if you are interested in Jewish culture and heritage in Turkey, look for tours that include visits to some of the many holy synagogues and the Jewish Museum of Turkey
Christians consider Turkey the second holy land - while a minority religion in the country, Christianity is noted in its stunning sacred sites, including almost 240 churches.
Among the most well-known sacred Christian sites in TUrkey are St. Nicholas’ birthplace and church in Antalya, Ancient Nicaea in Bursa, the early Christian settlement in Cappadocia and the Seven Churches of the Revelation (Ephesus, Pergamum, Smyrna, Laodicea, Sardis, Philadelphia and Thyatira).
What to Know About Turkey’s Whirling Dervishes
One of the top bucket-list items for a Turkey vacation is seeing a whirling dervish performance. This iconic dance stems from Sufism and the Mevlevi Order, first formed in Konya, Turkey, in 1312.
What’s a Sufi? Sufis are defined as those who follow the 13th-century Sufi Muslim mystic and poet Jalaluddin Rumi, who first created the whirling dervish ceremony as a form of meditation.
If you simply can’t leave Turkey without experiencing the whirling dervishes, a few to look for include:
- Galata Mevlevihanesi, Istanbul: This is Istanbul’s first Sufi lodge, where you’ll find informative exhibits, art, photographs, Sufi instruments and more, as well as weekly whirling dervish performances (Sundays).
- Sirkeci Train Station, Istanbul: The Oriental Railway built this striking station on the European side of Istanbul in 1890. Whirling dervishes perform several days a week in the evening.
- Hodjapasha, Sirkeci: A former hammam with a visually interesting whirling dervish show, complete with exhibits, satures and a performance.
Turkey’s Top Ancient Cities and Archaeological Sites
One of the biggest draws for tourism in Turkey is its wealth of ancient ruins and impressive archaeological treasures. Anatolia, the land that is Turkey today, has a history of more than 10,000 years and is the origin of countless civilizations and empires. Your in-depth guided tour of Turkish history will unveil the marks these cultures have left on the region over time.
Turkey’s most-visited ancient cities near the Aegean Sea include Ephesus, Kaunos, Knidos, Letoon, Pergamum and Teos.
Near the Mediterraean, must-see ancient cities include Aspendos, Olympos, Perge, Phaselis, Termessos and Xanthos.
In central Anatolia, visit the Cappadocia Underground Cities and in eastern and southeastern Anatolia, look for tours of the Ani ruins, the Dara Mesopotamia ruins and the Gobeklitepe Temple.
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.
For the most comprehensive experience, look for Turkey tours that go beyond Istanbul. While no doubt Istanbul is a must-see Turkish city, there is so much more to experience throughout the country, roughly the size of Texas. While Turkey is modernizing by the minute, there is culture and tradition enough to ensure an authentic experience wherever you travel.
Look for small-group tours of Turkey that include:
- Cappadocia: Famous for its fantastical land formations, cave dwellings and opportunity glide above it all by hot-air balloon. This is such a popular activity in Cappadocia that up to 80 balloons take flight on any given morning.
- Aphrodisias: an ancient city in homage of Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and beauty
- Troy ruins: sight of Homer’s Iliad
- Pergamum: home to Hellenistic ruins that overlook the town of Bergama in the Aegean region - don’t miss the Pergamum Acropolis, Asclepion (spa) area and Red Basilica
- Hierapolis: containing a necropolis - city of the dead - with numerous tombs and a thermal pool
- Ephesus: a well-preserved Roman port city famousfor the Temple of Artemis (in Selçuk), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the Library of Celsus (take time to explore Selçuk, perfect for Turkey history buffs - the Basilica of St. John, where the youngest apostle is buried, is here as well)
- Turkish Riviera: azure waters of Turkey’s southwest coast, where wooden boats day cruise from Bodrum and swimming and lazing about is the most effort you might put into your day.
- Pamukkale: a UNESCO World Heritage town famous for its natural mineral hot springs
- Konya: birthplace of Sufism and perhaps the most traditional place to see the whirling dervish - look for Turkey tours that allow for time to visit the Mevlana Museum to learn more about Rumi, Sufism and the former dervish school that used to be on the premises
- Kaş: one of the most charming villages in Turkey, located on the Mediterranean coast. Visit Kas with a local guide to get the most out of your visit - they’ll be able to point out their favorite shops and restaurants, as well as set up boat tours to Kalekoy Castle and the Sunken City of Kekova.
The Turkish Coast
Much of southwestern Turkey is lined with the 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.
Outdoor Adventure Travel in Turkey
If your idea of an excellent Turkey vacation includes more days on a trail, on a bike or in the water than in a fancy hotel room, an active travel tour is for you.
Fortunately, Turkey has many outdoor, active opportunities for the traveler who wants to move, from multi-day treks along long-distance trails to horseback riding in Cappadocia.
Here are a few of our favorite ways to experience Turkey on an active travel small-group tour:
Hike the Lycian Way. This renowned hiking trail is beloved for its amazing views of the Mediterranean, the limestone peaks of ancient Lycia, the ghost village of Kaya Köyü, the remote Seven Capes peninsula, the ruins of Sidyma and so much more. Your hiking tour through this picturesque region of Turkey wanders from Ottoman routes to forested paths to ancient roads, all while offering a glimpse of traditional Turkish life.
Horseback ride in Cappadocia. Saddle up and take a horseback tour of the Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia, one of the world’s most dramatic and interesting landscapes. If you’ve experienced the Big Sky of Montana, you’ll love the similar vastness of this Asia region. Most horseback riding tours in Cappadocia will take a circular route through the area into seldom-visited spots away from heavy tourist traffic.
Walk the Carian Trail. This southwest coastal Turkey hiking trail is bucket-list favorite of trekkers worldwide. Its 800 kilometers wind through the Mugla and Aydin provinces, following in the footsteps of the ancient Carian civilization. This is one of the best hiking tours in Turkey to see traditional boat building, visit historical ruins, gaze out at the Aegean Sea, learn about the region’s agriculture, swim in turquoise waters and experience a gorgeous Mediterranean climate.
Cycle along Turkey’s southwest coast. Cover miles of Turkish coastline and hinterland per day on a guided bike tour between Dalyan and Kas, perhaps combining your cycle trip with a walking tour of the Lycian Way. Read about the best bike vacations (and other active travel) in Turkey here.
Try kitesurfing. What to try something new on your Turkey trip? The best place to try your hand at kitesurfing in Turkey is Alaçati. Your outdoor adventure tour operator can bring you up to speed and help you sign up for a first-timer’s course. You’ll be soaring over the Aegean before you know it.
Go diving in Kas. Considered one of the best dive sites in the Mediterranean, Kas is a must for those who take their adventure travel under the waves. Even if it’s your first time, your tour operator can arrange for certification. Explore rainbow-hued fish, caves and rock formations under the glistening surface of the Mediterranean.
Kayak along the Lycian Coast. Active travelers who want to get on the water in Turkey don’t have to dive under its surface. Consider a sea kayaking tour of the Lycian coast, one of the prettiest stretches of Mediterranean shoreline. Guided kayak tours of the Lycian region in Turkey will take you around the remote Seven Capes peninsula, to white-sand Patara Beach, past caves and blowholes and through the islands of Fethiye Bay - with plenty of opportunity to jump into the heavenly Mediterranean waters for a refreshing swim.
Visit a Turkish nature park. There are countless protected nature parks throughout Turkey perfect for outdoor activity. Depending on your interest, look for active travel companies in Turkey that utilize these picturesque spots for everything from angling and rafting to wildlife observation and mountain biking.
And more … The opportunities for active adventure travel in Turkey are limitless. Take a yoga class facing the Aegean, take to one of the 22 long-distance hiking, biking and horseback-riding trails throughout the country, go mountain biking or rock climbing.
Upscale outdoor adventure tour companies specializing in Turkey have all the insider tips you’ll need to discover the country’s natural landscape on your own terms and in the way you feel most comfortable.
Nature and Wildlife Attractions in Turkey
Beyond its whirling dervishes and Turkish Delight, beyond Istanbul and Cappadocia, Turkey is brimming with natural attractions and wildlife unlike anywhere else in the world. Discover the country’s 43 national parks and 300 wetland areas on a Turkey vacation focused on active travel, nature and wildlife.
Among Turkey’s favorite national parks - and its most beautiful - are:
1. Goreme: Explore the mysterious and captivating landscapes of Turkey’s Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia.
2. Kackar Mountains: The Kackar Range is one of the best places in Turkey for ecotourism and a favorite of nature-loving travelers.
3. Dilek Peninsula: Not only is the Diley Peninsula National Park breathtaking, but it is one of Turksy’ most important natural heritage sites, located in the Aydin province in the Aegean region.
Turkey is also home to more than 300 wetlands, making it the European and Middle Eastern country with the most wetlands. The country is located on the migration path between Europe, Asia and Africa, so birdwatchers in Turkey flock to the wetlands to view the birds while they’re resting from their long flights. Ask your Turkey tour guideoperator to point out some of the 460 bird species found in the wetlands, many of whom are hosted and protected by the country’s “Bird Sanctuary Project.”
Turkey’s natural landscapes are as popular with visitors as its cultural and religious landmarks. If venturing out into volcano country, thermal hot springs, beaches and unique land formations is high on your must-see list, look for a Turkey vacation package that includes some of the following:
1. Mount Erciyes in Cappadocia: This now-extinct volcano is in central Anatolia. Your small group’s local Turkish guide can help you navigate the mysterious lunar-like landscape of Cappadocia, famous for its fairy chimneys.
2. Thermal Springs: Thanks to an ancient volcanic landscape, Turkey is rich in thermal springs. Tours focused on active adventure travel in Turkey will have the inside scoop on where to see and soak in these healing waters.
3. Pamukkale: With its gleaming white tiers over which blue hot springs cascade gently, Pamukkale, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of Turkey’s most popular natural wonders. The ancient Romans who lived in nearby Hierapolis visited the pools for their mineral-rich, healing properties.
4. Mount Ararat: Adventure travelers on vacation in Turkey will love rugged, snow-capped Mount Ararat, country’s highest mountain and source of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.
5. Aegean Sea: The Aegean region is one of the most photographed spots in Turkey, thanks to the flower-bedecked Butterfly Valley - look for the rare jersey tiger butterfly.
6. Nemrut Lake: Turkey tours that visit Eastern Anatolia will highlight Nemrut Lake, the world’s second-largest crater lake, and Turkey’s largest. There are steam chimneys, ice caves, hot and cold water to plunge into and soak in, a unique caldera landscape and great birdwatching.
Turkey’s numerous natural attractions are - naturally - home to several animal species, many of whom originated here. Wildlife lovers on tour in Eastern Europe will want to ask about the opportunity to view wild Yilki horses, red deer, Mediterranean monk seals, Caretta Caretta turtles, Northern bald ibis birds, Anatolia leopards and Anatolian wild sheep.
What to Eat in Turkey
You’ve made it to Turkey … what to eat? Traditional Turkish cuisine is tops among the many highlights of the country your expert tour guide will enthusiastically share. There’s no cookie-cutter description of Turkish food - instead, you’ll find a melting pot of flavors stemming from Central Asia, the Middle East and the Balkan region.
Here are a few of the most well-known staples of Turkish food:
- Kebaps - Grilled meat on a skewer, most likely lamb or beef, but chicken also widely available these days
- Döner - Meat mixed with local herbs and spices, then skewered and grilled vertically
- Köfte meatballs - Typically ground lamb or mutton with breadcrumbs, onions and spices - Izgara Köfte is a favorite, served with green peppers, dried red peppers and rice or bread
- Mantı dumplings - Doughy dumplings filled with ground lamb or beef, onion and spices
- Sade pilav - A popular side dish, essentially rice and tiny pasta (şehriye) cooked with various vegetables, meats or chickpeas, with a variety of spices
- Cacık - A refreshing blend of cucumber, yogurt, garlic and mint
- Leblebi - roasted chickpeas, with salt, spices, cloves or candy coated
- Meze platter - Small dishes or appetizers like dips, purees, salads, meatballs, pastries, cheeses, olives and more.
- Imam Bayildi - Entire eggplant stuffed with onion, garlic and tomato
When touring Istanbul, be sure to sample the abundant street food. There are vendors everywhere you look. Try as many of the following favorite Turkish street foods as you can:
- Börek pastries - ranging from plain to spinach-filled to meat-filled
- Pide - slightly leavened bread similar to pizza, with a variety of meat and cheese toppings
- Mısır - boiled or grilled corn on the cob
- Balık ekmek - fish bread - truly, it’s grilled or fried fish stuffed inside a large hunk of bread
- Simit - a savory sesame-covered roll (think: Turkish bagel)
- Midye dolma - stuffed mussels
- Kokoreç - grilled sheep intestines, with a heavy dose of spices, roasted on a skewer
Souvenirs to Buy in Turkey
What’s a long-anticipated tour of turkey if you don’t bring home a piece of nostalgia to remind you of your fantastic and enriching days spending visiting this fascinating Eastern European country?
Look for these fun, quirky and traditional items to buy when you’re in Turkey:
1. Turkish Delight: Don’t head home from your Turkey vacation without these traditional sweet treat. Choose from several flavors, including rose, cinnamon and lemon, of this gummy treat. If you’re in Istanbul, stop by Hacir Bekir Efendi’s family shop - the original inventor of the Turkish delight.
2. The Evil Eye (Nazar Boncugu): Ward off bad luck with this ancient Turkish talisman. If your Turkey tour visits Nazarkoy in western Izmir, you can visit the workshops where many of these evil eyes are manufactured.
3. Turkish carpets: Bring a long-lasting Turkish carpet home for an everyday reminder of your travels to Turkey. Ask your tour guide for tips before shopping because there are many copycat carpets flooding the market. Your expert local guide can point you in the right direction and help you navigate the traditional carpet choices - given the high price tags, it’s worth it to take the time to do your research.
4. Cappadocia clay pottery: Many Turkey vacation packages visit the intriguing Cappadocia region. Shop for red clay pottery, in particular in the town of Avanos on the Red River. Want to give pottery a try yourself? Look for Cappadocia tours that include a trip to a workshop where you can sit down with the artists and give the potter’s wheel a spin yourself.
5. Apple tea: The Rize area is Turkey’s tea capital, and although apple tea is a favorite Turkish souvenir, the locals actually take their tea black. Turkish coffee is another go-to souvenir caffeine-lovers - grab one of the small copper cups the locals drink it in as well.
6. Spices: You’ll be trying a whole range of Turkish cuisine during your small-group tour and, no doubt, looking forward to replicating the flavors when you return home. Shop at the Spice Market and Grand Bazaar of Istanbul for red chili flakes and sumac. Just don’t fall for saffron because most of what you’ll find actually stems from Iran, not Turkey.
7. Gourd lamps: Less likely to break in your luggage than mosaic glass lamps, gourd lamps are readily available for purchase along the Turkey coastline and are made from dried squash, then decorated with sparkling jewels.
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