The eclectic city of Istanbul, the fantastical rock forms of Cappadocia, the ancient ruins of Ephesus, and the glimmering Mediterranean and Aegean coastlines are Türkiye’s biggest draws, but each region of the country has something distinct to offer.

The diversity of landscapes, heritage and culinary culture will surprise those who have never ventured beyond holiday resorts and the beach. Even though it’s easy to get around Türkiye, the country has too much to see and do to tackle it all on one trip. Because most domestic flights route through Istanbul, spend at least a few days in this dynamic global metropolis before heading out to one of our other top places to visit in Türkiye.

An interior shot of a grand mosque building, with a huge central golden dome and massive chandeliers hanging down from the ceiling
Istanbul's sights reflect its powerful history © sinerji / Shutterstock

1. Istanbul

Best for ancient sites and modern neighborhoods

One of the world’s greatest cities, Istanbul should be on every traveler’s must-visit list. Highlight sights like the grand Byzantine basilica Aya Sofya, often called Hagia Sophia in English, and the Ottoman sultans’ lavish Topkapı Palace attest to the city’s centuries-long history as the capital of powerful empires.

But set aside some time to experience Istanbul as it is today, too. Go cafe- or bar-hopping in the hip Kadıköy neighborhood, wander the backstreets of more conservative Fatih or peruse contemporary art in Beyoğlu. Don’t forget the simple pleasure of drinking çay (tea) on the ferry while taking in spectacular views of the city.

Planning tip: You could easily spend your entire vacation in Istanbul, but if you have the time, it's worth venturing further afield in search of other Turkish delights.

Aerial shot of brightly colored hot-air balloons over a landscape with a lot of hills, exposed rock, and other geological features
Marvel at Cappadocia's fascinating landscape © Fatma Barlas Özkavalc_o_lu / 500px

2. Cappadocia

Best for its unique landscape

Cappadocia is a geological wonderland in the center of Türkiye. The history of early Christians in Anatolia comes alive at the Göreme Open-Air Museum and the other cave churches and underground cities scattered around the valley. Romance blossoms in the area’s cozy cave hotels and restaurants, not to mention sunrise balloon rides complete with a champagne toast. Adventure awaits amid the green valleys and undulating rocks for hikers, mountain bikers and trail runners.

A curved stretch of empty beach as the sun sets
Patara is home to one of Türkiye's best beaches © Andrew Mayovskyy / Shutterstock

3. Turquoise Coast

Best for history lovers and beaches

Yes, Türkiye's Mediterranean coastline between Fethiye and Antalya is full of beautiful places for sun, sea and sand vacations, but it’s also dappled with evidence of the ancient civilizations that once populated the area. The seaside ruins of Patara (which boasts one of Türkiye's best beaches too) and Phaselis are particularly picturesque, and the rock tombs of Myra are especially impressive. The Antalya Museum offers good insights into the region’s history. Explore by sea on a gület cruise, on foot along the Lycian Way hiking path or by driving the scenic (but winding!) coastal roads.

A monastery building constructed into the side of a huge cliff high up above a valley
Trabzon is an air travel hub in the Eastern Black Sea region © Heracles Kritikos / Shutterstock

4. Eastern Black Sea and Kaçkar Mountains

Best for rural traditions

The rough, cold waters of the Black Sea aren’t particularly inviting, but turn your gaze inland, where lush green valleys spill down to the coast from high peaks, to see the region’s appeal. The lower elevations are home to most of Türkiye's tea and hazelnut production, while the high plateaus (yaylalar) like Pokut, that were once used as summer pastures for livestock, are becoming popular with tourists seeking out scenic views and a taste of traditional Black Sea culture and cuisine. Further above, the Kaçkar Mountains offer spectacular trekking in summer for experienced hikers.

Planning tip: Trabzon, home to the cliff-side Sumela Monastery, is the area’s main hub for air travel.

A sandstone-colored monastery building viewed through an archway
Mardin is a good base for visiting the wider southeastern Anatolia region © Luis Dafos / Getty Images

5. Southeastern Anatolia

Best for culture and food

The often-overlooked southeastern Anatolia region is one of Türkiye's cultural – and culinary – stars. The cities of Gaziantep and Antakya (Hatay) are famed for their food, and both also boast museums with incredible collections of Roman mosaics. Mardin’s picturesque, well-preserved old town also makes a great base for exploring the monasteries and Roman ruins in the surrounding area. The world’s oldest religious site, Göbeklitepe, lies just outside of Şanlıurfa, which has its own fine archaeology museum and bazaar.

6. Datça and Bozburun peninsulas

Best for relaxation

Chilling out and getting back to nature is the order of the day on the remote Datça and Bozburun peninsulas in the south Aegean. In place of the boisterous nightlife of nearby Bodrum and Marmaris, you’ll find miles of dramatic rocky coastline, scenic rural villages, and small, quiet beach resorts and seaside towns.

Planning tip: The Carian Trail long-distance hiking path encircles both peninsulas. Check before setting out as some sections of the route were inaccessible following wildfire damage in the summer of 2021.

A red-stone palace with a central domed tower. A snow-capped mountain rises in the distance
Spend time in the wonderful landscapes of Türkiye's far east © muratart / Shutterstock

7. Türkiye's far east

Best for rugged beauty

The vast landscapes of Türkiye's far east have a remote ruggedness unmatched elsewhere in the country. Perhaps best known to travelers as the terminus of the Doğu Ekpresi (Eastern Express), a popular and scenic overnight train trip from Ankara, the border city of Kars retains striking architecture from its years as a Russian outpost in the 1800s. Nearby are the extensive and evocative UNESCO-listed ruins of Ani, an ancient Armenian capital.

A three-hour drive south will take you to the remote İshak Paşa Palace, passing by the fabled Mt Ararat (Ağrı Dağı) en route. Continue on to Van, where you can fuel up on one of the city’s famously elaborate breakfast spreads before visiting the fine museum in town and taking a day excursion to Akdamar Kilisesi, a masterfully decorated Armenian church and monastery complex on a small island in Lake Van.

A semi-ruined amphitheater facing a crumbling stone wall
Explore the ruins of the ancient city of Troy © Standret / Shutterstock

8. Gallipoli and the North Aegean

Best for WWI history and ancient Troy

Cemeteries devoted to the tens of thousands of soldiers who died in bloody battles on the Gallipoli Peninsula during WWI are scattered around bucolic rolling hills, all the more poignant amidst such serenely beautiful landscapes.

The area is also the gateway to Türkiye's North Aegean coast, a more relaxed alternative to the Mediterranean where you can take a leisurely tour of pleasant seaside towns like Ayvalık and Foça, the island wineries of Bozcaada, the ancient city of Troy (with its standout museum) and the spectacularly sited hilltop acropolis of Bergama.

A series of timbered houses built into a hillside
Visitors are attracted to Safranbolu's Ottoman vibe © Birol Bali / Shutterstock

9. Safranbolu

Best for Ottoman atmosphere

Named for the saffron that was grown and traded here for centuries, Safranbolu is today popular with visitors who come to soak in its old Ottoman atmosphere. Many of the town’s historic wood-framed mansions have been restored and converted into picture-perfect boutique hotels, cafes and restaurants.

Planning tip: If it all starts to seem a little too cutesy, the canyons, waterfalls and woods of the nearby Yenice Forest are a natural tonic.

A series of white tiered flat rocks in the setting sun
The travertines of Pamukkale are among the most photographed sites in Türkiye © THANAN / Shutterstock

10. Pamukkale

Best for its ancient spa

The bright-white terraces of Pamukkale are surely one of the most photographed sites in Türkiye, incongruously gleaming above the rural town like freshly fallen snow. The warm mineral water that flows through them was the basis for the ancient spa city of Hierapolis, whose extensive remains sprawl out along the hilltop next to the famous travertines.

Planning tip: Pamukkale also makes a good base for visiting other nearby ancient sites like Laodicea, Tripolis and – most notably – the gorgeous ruins of Afrodisias with its impressive collection of Roman marble sculptures.

This article was first published September 2021 and updated December 2023

Explore related stories

A young woman exploring a valley with rock formations and fairy chimneys near Uchisar castle in Cappadocia Turkey

Tips & Advice

8 of the best places to visit in Cappadocia

Mar 14, 2024 • 6 min read