8 Cities to Visit in Turkey: Famous Places to Put on Your Bucket List
For avid travellers, over 500 cities to visit in Turkey present an excellent insight into the country. From the most famous and popular to interesting metropolises that will redefine everything you thought you knew about, visit in summer or winter for a short break or on a quick day trip.
Turkish cities offer a rich diversity of social opportunities from arts and culture, culinary adventures, shopping bonanzas and an exciting collection of nostalgic architecture. Some are also home to historical sites and have a beautiful story to tell of bygone eras. But which are the top recommended places to visit and why?
Best Cities to Visit in Turkey
1: Istanbul: Top Visited City in Turkey
Istanbul ranks as a top ten visited world city and in 2014, even beat London and Rome to become Trip Advisor’s most popular travel destination. It is Turkey’s largest and populated metropolis but spots like Sultanahmet square, ooze touristic vibes as thousands of people make their way around historical landmark buildings like the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace.
A modern, upbeat pace determines trends of Istiklal Avenue in the Beyoglu district. This street isn’t so much about tourism but spending loads of money and partying. In recent years, as global tourism trends promoted cultural neighbourhood exploration, more tourists are also discovering neighbourhoods like Fener and Balat.
Much of Istanbul’s tourism scene happens on the European side, but don’t neglect places like Kadikoy on the Asian side that have just as much to offer. More in our Istanbul area guide.
2: Fethiye: Gateway to the Turkish Riviera
Over the last decade, many foreigners and Turkish retirees have boosted the population of Fethiye and made it a city in its own right. However, don’t expect a typical urban lifestyle because this port-side destination is the gateway to the famous Turkish Riviera.
Ece marina, a luxury, world-class sailing establishment, hosts yachts from all over the world, but there is more to see and do because traces of bygone eras sit among modern landmarks. Amyntas tomb overlooking central Fethiye harks from the Lycian days, while Paspatur, a quaint collection cobbled streets and small shops is the old, original part of Fethiye.
Fethiye’s main lure is the Turkish Riviera vibes that distract from its urban lifestyle and many landmarks of natural beauty like the Blue Lagoon, Butterfly Valley, and Saklikent gorge are within a short bus ride away.
Calis beach, a small coastal resort on the outskirts of Fethiye centre is famed for its sunsets, while Kayakoy ghost village, a top tourist attraction is ideal for an afternoon of exploration. Learn more about this region in our Mediterranean guide to Fethiye.
3: Antalya: City of Beaches
Sitting further along the Mediterranean coastline, Antalya, another prominent Turkish Riviera hub, has something extra to boast about. Users of Trip Advisor consistently vote Lara and Konyaalti as the best beaches in Turkey.
The pace of life is faster than Fethiye, but its prominent location on the D400 highway means getting to quieter and smaller coastal resorts is easily done. Should you want to mix up your city break with a sporty holiday, Turkey’s golfing capital, Belek is just 40 minutes’ drive away. Otherwise, additional tourist attractions include the old neighbourhood of Kaleici, Archaeological Museum, Duden waterfalls, and the aquarium.
It is also easy to get to surrounding attractions from Antalya centre including Mount Tahtali cable car, the ancient ruins and Apollo temple of Side, and the ancient cities of Phaselis and Aspendos. Our Antalya area guide talks more about shopping, nightlife and seeing the main attractions.
4: Izmir: Turkey’s Carefree Capital
Despite being Turkey’s third largest city, for many decades, Izmir remained off the radar of foreign holidaymakers, but this is all changing as Izmir becomes an ideal alternative to the more rushed and busier Istanbul.
In recent years, the slower paced lifestyle has sparked a growing trend of Turks moving from Istanbul to Izmir. Ask any local, and they will tell you, Izmir has a different outlook to the rest of Turkey. A pleasure-seeking vibe leads society; hence locals don’t care about your social background, religious views, or a need to conform. If self-indulgence is your top requirement on holiday, Izmir delivers it in style.
Konak, the old part of town, holds important landmarks like the clock tower and Asansor restaurant and viewpoint. Alsancak is the hub of partying and shopping, Karsiyaka is the best place to watch the sunset and Kordon promenade is a great place to hang out, people watch and enjoy seafood and fish in popular restaurants.
Otherwise, mix up your trip by visiting Alacati, a nearby coastal resort that is Turkey’s windsurfing capital. Read our travel guide to Izmir.
5: Ankara: The Beating Heart of Turkey
Many newcomers to Turkey still think Istanbul is the capital, but Ankara is the pulsating heart and ruling centre. Often overtaken in visitor numbers by Istanbul and Antalya, visitors who want a mix of old and modern will find what they are looking for. Naturally as a large metropolis, shopping and partying lead the social scene but most domestic and foreign tourists go to visit one landmark in particular: the Anitkabir.
As the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the Turkish Republic’s founding father, it is the top visited landmark comprising an art gallery, the green peace park, ceremonial walk and hall of honours. Ankara Castle, the second top visited landmark also gives off a stunning 360-degree panoramic view.
6: Konya: The City of Rumi
As a conservative hub of Turkey, nightclub and partying fans will be disappointed with Konya, but that’s not why people flock there anyway. Sitting in central Anatolia near Cappadocia, another popular tourist destination, Konya is home to Rumi’s tomb.
He was a 13thcentury Islamic scholar and poet whose works have been published in many languages leading fans to label him the world’s greatest poet. Mevlana Museum is where his tomb is, and they also display a striking collection of art and antiques.
Rumi was a follower of the Sufi order, a branch of Islam that is more known for its whirling dervishes and at the same museum, visitors can buy tickets to see them perform their famous Sema ritual that involves spinning around in circles to become at one with God.
7: Trabzon: Favourite of Middle Eastern Nationalities
Sitting in the Black sea’s north-east region, for decades, people only mentioned Trabzon when talking about their football club or status as Turkey’s top producer of hazelnuts. The past five years changed this when it garnered fame with Middle Eastern tourists because of cultural similarities and easy access to plateau tourism hotspots like Ayder plateau and Uzungol.
Once again visitors shouldn’t expect a vibrant nightlife scene, but the centre has beautiful landmarks to visit including Ataturk’s house and Hagia Sophia (not to be confused with the bigger one in Istanbul.) A short bus ride away, visitors also get to experience beautiful green landscapes of Macka National Park and its prize gem, Sumela Monastery.
8: Bursa: Ottoman Influences and Skiing Delights
Bursa has also grown in popularity not only with Middle-Eastern holidaymakers but also with foreign property buyers. It is highly underrated, and as a former Ottoman capital, the stunning architecture of landmark buildings is a perfect portrayal of their excellence and heritage.
It is not just a place to visit in summer because, during winter, nearby Uludag mountain becomes one of Turkey’s top skiing destinations. Such is its cultural importance; in 2014, the UNESCO World Heritage Site council included Bursa and Cumalikizik village to their collection.
Also, Visit Underground Cities in Cappadocia
Forget about urban landscapes, coffee shops, large nightclubs and economic hubs, because Cappadocia’s underground cities are a marvellous manmade architectural wonder that should be on your list of cities to visit in Turkey.
Built throughout history, to protect local communities from invading forces, Derinkuyu, the most impressive and top visited reaches 85 metres under the surface and covers various levels, with rooms like a prayer chapel, animal stables, kitchens, sleeping areas and even a place where they laid the dead to rest. Read more in our Cappadocia travel tips and guide.
Note: If this is your first time visiting Turkey, our introduction guide talks about basic facts, history, recommended travel tips and more.