Spanning more than 302,000 square miles – and two continents – the country of Turkey is even larger than the state of Texas. That’s a lot of ground to cover for a traveler. From the busy streets of Istanbul to the Fairy Chimney rock formations of Cappadocia, people from all over the world gather where East meets West to experience warm Turkish hospitality. Now it’s your turn!
THE ABSOLUTELY-CAN’T-MISS TURKEY DESTINATIONS
Because there is so much to experience in this beautiful country, you’ll want to spend enough time there to visit more than one city. If you have time on your side you can play things more loosely, but if you are spending just a week or so in the country you will want to stick to a schedule to squeeze in as much as you can. These locations offer a great sampling of what Turkey is all about:
- Istanbul: Take the time to explore both the Old City and the New City. You’ll be able to knock off all of the must-see sites like the Blue Mosque, Aya Sophia, Topkapi Palace and Basilica Cistern in the old city, plus you’ll see the more modern half across the Galata Bridge.
The Grand Bazaar is definitely an experience worth having, but it is essentially the same four shops repeated more than 700 times. Have fun with the merchants who will do their best to make a sale. A good sense of humor definitely goes a long way. A more condensed version is the Egyptian Spice Bazaar near the Galata Bridge.
The city is very walkable and getting around by foot will allow you to stop in small shops, cafes or restaurants as you see them. Public transportation is very accessible and affordable if you are looking for a faster way to get around.
- Cappadocia: Located in Central Anatolia, this region is a geological masterpiece. Everywhere you turn there are different types of formations that simply look otherworldly. The naturally formed “fairy chimneys” have been carved out to make homes and communities, and many have even been restored as hotels. The unique topography is mesmerizing, but taking in the view from a different vantage point makes hot air ballooning a popular – albeit pricey – way to see the sights.
- Ephesus: This ancient city has been partially uncovered to reveal amazingly preserved artifacts, buildings and ruins of Greek and Roman life. The Library of Celsus, Temple of Hadrian and the Great Theater stand tall for all to admire. If you aren’t a history buff the Temple of Artemis may seem unremarkable, but it is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
If you have time for a day trip, the three-hour drive out to Pamukkale is well worth your time. The breathtaking travertine terraces are covered in calcium and are fed through a hot spring that you can soak in, no matter the air temperature. The adjoining ancient site of Hierapolis pales in comparison to Ephesus, but if stunning landscapes pique your interest then Pamukkale is a must.
WHY YOU SHOULD HIRE A GUIDE
Many cities in the world are easy to navigate without the help of a local guide, but unless you have a history degree a guide is very handy. Not only will they be able to give you local tips, translate when needed and assist with planning your daily itinerary, they can offer the background of sites that you may not receive otherwise.
As a first-time visitor, you may not know all of the fascinating stories that are behind every ruin, mosque, church or cave. It’s quite possible that you would even completely walk past the underground sites like the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul or the Kaymakli Underground City in Cappadocia – which are some of the most remarkable destinations.
As the birthplace of modern civilization, there is an overwhelming amount of knowledge to be shared about each site in Turkey. Having a guide to assist you will give you the time and tools you need to absorb as much of the experience as possible.WHY THE TIME OF YEAR YOU VISIT MATTERS
Yes, Turkey does get cold in the winter, but you may want to brave a little bit of a chill in order to avoid some of the crowds. Unless you plan to spend the majority of your days lounging on a beach along the Aegean instead of sightseeing, the thinner crowd will work to your benefit.
Spring and autumn are the peak seasons for Istanbul and Cappadocia, while summer is the most popular along the coast. Prices in shops, hotels and tourist attractions are lower from November to March all across the country, so you will snag a much better deal in the winter. This is especially beneficial as you try to haggle your way through the Grand Bazaar. With fewer tourists making their way through, salesmen tend to be more flexible with prices.
You will also find that capturing a postcard-worthy shot of ruins like the Library of Celsus in Ephesus would be nearly impossible in the summer. But if you’re patient enough, the winter crowds disperse, leaving behind a beautiful scene that isn’t scattered with crowds of tourists. As one of the top travel destinations in the world, don’t underestimate the size of the crowds. You will be able to have a more authentic experience and talk person-to-person if you strategically plan your travel dates.
Take advantage of warm hospitality of the Turkish people. While places like the Grand Bazaar can produce a little sensory overload, take the time to make a connection with the locals. The people are warm, welcoming and always willing to share a little knowledge over a cup of Turkish tea.
Ready to start planning your Turkey adventure? You’ll love Cappadocia: Turkey’s Diamond in the Rough.
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