The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all travel to most places along the Syrian border in Southeast Turkey.
A richly historical land with some of the best cuisine you will ever taste, scenery from beaches to mountains and the great city of İstanbul.
From the ancient port city of Ephesus (Efes) to the soaring Byzantine dome of Aya Sofya, Turkey has more than its fair share of world-famous ruins and monuments. A succession of historical figures and empires – including the Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans – have all left their mark on this former stopover along the Silk Road. Experiencing their legacy takes you from the closeted quarters of the sultan and his harem in İstanbul's sprawling Topkapı Palace to the romantic and mysterious Lycian ruins on Mediterranean beaches.
Turkey's diverse landscapes, from Aegean olive groves to eastern steppe, provide a lyrical setting for its many great ruins. The country's most magical scenery is to be found in Asian Anatolia, where beautiful vistas are provided by the vertiginous Mediterranean coastline, Cappadocia's otherworldly 'fairy chimney' rock formations and wavy valleys, the alpine pastures of the Kaçkar Mountains, and golden beaches such as 18km-long Patara. Whether you settle down with a çay to enjoy the view across mountain-ringed Lake Eğirdir or explore the hilly hinterland on the southwest coast's many peninsulas, Turkey's landscape will leave a lasting impression.
Turkey offers activities to suit every temperament, from outdoors adventure to cultural enrichment. Watery fun includes diving, windsurfing, rafting and canyoning in mountain gorges, kayaking over Kekova's sunken ruins and traditional gület cruises on the Mediterranean and Aegean. Or take to the air with Ölüdeniz' thrilling paragliding flights or a hot-air balloon ride over Cappadocia. For a fresh angle on stunning Turkish scenery, trek to highland pastures or walk part of the Lycian Way trail. In town, take a culinary course, soak in the hamam or sign up for a culinary or cultural walking tour.
The best thing about sampling Turkey's delicious specialties – ranging from meze on a Mediterranean harbour to a pension breakfast featuring ingredients fresh from the kitchen garden – is that they take you to the heart of Turkish culture. For the sociable and family-orientated Turks, gathering together and eating well is a time-honoured ritual. So get stuck into olive oil–lathered Aegean vegetables, spicy Anatolian kebaps and dishes from Turkey's many other corners – and as you drink a tulip-shaped glass of çay and contemplate some baklava for dessert, remember that eating is deepening your understanding of Turkey.
Discover some of the most unique and fulfilling experiences your next destination has to offer.
Tips & Travel trends to help you pick the perfect time to visit this destination.
Put these must-see destinations on your next travel wish list.
Everything you need to know about services, requirements, and the application process when traveling internationally.
Browse the various transportation options to make your trip that much easier when you arrive.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Turkey.
The Aya Sofya (officially the Ayasofya-i Kebir Cami-i Şerifi, or the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque) is one of the Byzantine Empire’s surviving architectural marvels. Right in the heart of İstanbul’s historic center, this sacred building remains – even today – an important symbol of power. Commissioned by Emperor Justinian, consecrated as the Hagia Sophia (Church of Divine Wisdom) in 537, converted to a mosque by Sultan Mehmet II (Mehmet the Conqueror) in 1453, declared a museum by Atatürk in 1935, and reconverted into a working mosque in 2020; the Aya Sofya’s changing status mirrors the history of İstanbul, tracking it through its period as Constantinople, capital of first the Byzantine, then Ottoman empires, up to the modern era when this sprawling metropolis remains central to Turkey’s story. Come to boggle at the sheer audacity of Justinian’s vision, which raised history’s first pendentive dome atop a church so large its size would not be surpassed for nearly 1000 years. Then take in how this venerable structure’s design has merged Byzantine opulence with Ottoman grandeur down through the centuries and experience how today its religious significance has not diminished. Byzantine finery inside the narthex Known as the Beautiful Gate, the bronze entranceway to the narthex’s southwest vestibule is thought to have been filched from a temple in Tarsus and dates back to the 2nd century BCE. Make sure to spy the 10th century mosaic on the lunette of the doorway leading from the southwest vestibule to the inner narthex. It shows the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child, flanked by Emperor Justinian (on her left) offering her Hagia Sophia and Emperor Constantine (to her right) handing her Constantinople. In the inner narthex, the central 7m (23ft) high, oak and brass Imperial Door, leading into the prayer hall, was originally closed to all but the Byzantine emperor’s procession. Look up to see one of the Aya Sofya’s finest mosaics in the lunette above the doorway. The glittering gold tesserae of this 9th century mosaic depicts an enthroned Christ with Emperor Leo IV bowing at his feet. A fusion of Christian and Islamic design in the prayer hall Whether you’re here to pray or soak up the glorious architecture of this near 1500 year old building, few visitors are left less than awestruck by the sheer scale of Justinian’s nave (now prayer hall). Above, a multitude of chandeliers are strung from the soaring ceiling. Eight mammoth medallions, inscribed in gilt with the names of god, the Prophet Muhammad and the first caliphs, hover atop the cornice of the marble-paneled walls, while geometric designs creep up the yellow plastered semi-domes, domes and arches overhead. A large group of visitors admiring the interior of the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque © Getty Images As you enter you might notice people crowding around the hall’s northwestern corner. Local legend tells that the pillar here was blessed by St Gregory the Miracle Worker. Known as the Weeping Column, its copper facing has been worn away by centuries of believers rubbing against it seeking a cure for their ailments. The apse is fronted by an ornate mihrab (prayer niche indicating the direction of Mecca) while behind, the walls, studded with stained-glass windows, rise up to the semi-dome holding the 9th century mosaic of the Virgin and Christ child now hidden behind curtains. As well as the apse mosaic being curtained, the main interior change after 2020’s mosque reconversion is the vast teal-colored carpet now laid across the marble floor. The square section of inlaid-stone, known as the omphalion, in the southeast of the hall, has been left uncovered. The omphalion’s unique design of 30 circles, made from red and green porphyry, granite and verd antique, marks the spot where new emperors were crowned. An architectural marvel: the prayer hall’s dome Before the Aya Sofya, no one had figured out how to place a large dome on a square base. The prayer hall’s central dome soars 56m (184ft) high and spans 33m (108ft) in diameter, supported by four concave triangular segments known as pendentives that allow the dome’s weight to be concentrated at the corners. This architectural innovation went on to inspire the design of the grand mosques of the Ottoman era. Four seraphim (angels) grace the pendentives. Two are the original mosaics (eastern pendentives) while the two fresco seraphim date from the 1847 restoration. Local legend tells that they protect the city from disaster. The upper gallery’s mosaics The upper gallery of the Aya Sofya is closed indefinitely for restoration. This means the famous Emperor Constantine IX and Empress Zoe Mosaic and the Emperor John Komnenos II and Irene Mosaic cannot be seen. What does it cost to visit the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque (Aya Sofya)? As the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque (Aya Sofya) is now a working mosque, entrance is free. What is the dress-code for visiting? This is an active place of worship. All visitors should cover upper arms and legs and women need to don a headscarf before entering. Shoes are taken off in the narthex before entering the prayer hall. Are tours available? Official tour guides can be hired at the entrance and usually charge by the hour. What is the best time to visit the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque (Aya Sofya)? Non-Muslims shouldn’t enter mosques during prayer times. Due to the Aya Sofya’s popularity this rule is sometimes not adhered to as strictly as elsewhere. If you are not here to pray and are allowed in during prayer time be aware that you will not be able to wander freely through the prayer hall as a large section is cordoned off for worshippers. Prayer times change throughout the year; check current times on Turkey’s official prayer times website. The most popular time to visit is between 9am and 11.30am. Expect crowds and queuing any time before 5pm. What’s nearby? You are in the heart of İstanbul’s old city district of Sultanahmet. The newly restored Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı) is a 40m (131ft) hop west; the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Cami) is a 300m (984ft) stroll south across Sultanahmet Parkı; and just to the north is Gülhane Parkı, home to Topkapı Palace and İstanbul Archaeological Museum.
Topkapı is the subject of more colourful stories than most of the world's museums put together. Libidinous sultans, ambitious courtiers, beautiful concubines and scheming eunuchs lived and worked here between the 15th and 19th centuries when it was the court of the Ottoman empire. A visit to the palace's opulent pavilions, jewel-filled Treasury and sprawling Harem gives a fascinating glimpse into their lives. Mehmet the Conqueror built the first stage of the palace shortly after the Conquest in 1453, and lived here until his death in 1481. Subsequent sultans lived in this rarefied environment until the 19th century, when they moved to the ostentatious European-style palaces they built on the shores of the Bosphorus. Before you enter the palace's Imperial Gate (Bab-ı Hümayun), take a look at the ornate structure in the cobbled square just outside. This is the rococo-style Fountain of Sultan Ahmet III, built in 1728 by the sultan who so favoured tulips. The main ticket office is in the First Court, just before the gate to the Second Court. First Court Pass through the Imperial Gate into the First Court, which is known as the Court of the Janissaries or the Parade Court. On your left is the Byzantine church of Hagia Eirene, more commonly known as Aya İrini. Second Court The Middle Gate (Ortakapı or Bab-üs Selâm) led to the palace’s Second Court, used for the business of running the empire. In Ottoman times, only the sultan and the valide sultan (mother of the sultan) were allowed through the Middle Gate on horseback. Everyone else, including the grand vizier, had to dismount. The Second Court has a beautiful park-like setting. Unlike typical European palaces, which feature one large building with outlying gardens, Topkapı is a series of pavilions, kitchens, barracks, audience chambers, kiosks and sleeping quarters built around a central enclosure. The great Palace Kitchens on the right (east) as you enter incorporate a dedicated Helvahane (confectionery kitchen). They hold a small portion of Topkapı’s vast collection of Chinese celadon porcelain, valued by the sultans for its beauty but also because it was reputed to change colour if touched by poisoned food. On the left (west) side of the Second Court is the ornate Imperial Council Chamber (Dîvân-ı Hümâyûn). The council met here to discuss matters of state, and the sultan sometimes eavesdropped through the gold grille high in the wall. The room to the right showcases clocks from the palace collection. North of the Imperial Council Chamber is the Outer Treasury, where an impressive collection of Ottoman and European arms and armour is displayed. Harem The entrance to the Harem is beneath the Tower of Justice on the western side of the Second Court. If you decide to visit – and we highly recommend that you do – you'll need to buy a dedicated ticket. The visitor route through the Harem changes when rooms are closed for restoration or stabilisation, so some of the areas mentioned here may not be open during your visit. As popular belief would have it, the Harem was a place where the sultan could engage in debauchery at will. In more prosaic reality, these were the imperial family quarters, and every detail of Harem life was governed by tradition, obligation and ceremony. The word 'harem' literally means 'forbidden' or 'private'. The sultans supported as many as 300 concubines in the Harem, although numbers were usually lower than this. Upon entering the Harem, the girls would be schooled in Islam and in Turkish culture and language, as well as the arts of make-up, dress, comportment, music, reading, writing, embroidery and dancing. They then entered a meritocracy, first as ladies-in-waiting to the sultan's concubines and children, then to the valide sultan and finally – if they were particularly attractive and talented – to the sultan himself. The sultan was allowed by Islamic law to have four legitimate wives, who received the title of kadın (wife). If a wife bore him a son she was called haseki sultan; if she bore him a daughter, haseki kadın. Ruling the Harem was the valide sultan, who often owned large landed estates in her own name and controlled them through black eunuch servants. Able to give orders directly to the grand vizier, her influence on the sultan, on his wives and concubines, and on matters of state was often profound. The earliest of the 300-odd rooms in the Harem were constructed during the reign of Murat III (r 1574–95); the harems of previous sultans were at the now-demolished Eski Sarayı (Old Palace), near present-day Beyazıt Meydanı. The Harem complex has six floors, but only one of these can be visited. This is approached via the Carriage Gate. Next to the gate is the Dormitory of the Corps of the Palace Guards, a meticulously restored two-storey structure featuring swathes of magnificent 16th- and 17th-century İznik tiles. Inside the gate is the Dome with Cupboards, the Harem treasury where financial records were kept. Beyond it is the Hall with the Fountain, lined with fine Kütahya tiles from the 17th century featuring botanical motifs and inscriptions from the Koran and home to a marble horse-mounting block once used by the sultans. Adjoining this is the Mosque of the Black Eunuchs, which features depictions of Mecca on its 17th-century tiles. Beyond this room is the Courtyard of the Black Eunuchs, also decorated with Kütahya tiles. Behind the marble colonnade on the left are the Black Eunuchs' Dormitories. In the early days white eunuchs were used, but black eunuchs sent as presents by the Ottoman governor of Egypt later took control. As many as 200 lived here, guarding the doors and waiting on the women of the Harem. At the far end of the courtyard is the Main Gate into the Harem, as well as a guard room featuring two gigantic gilded mirrors. From here, the Concubines' Corridor leads left to the Courtyard of the Concubines and Sultan's Consorts. This is surrounded by baths, a laundry fountain, a laundry, dormitories and private apartments. Across the Concubines' Corridor from the courtyard is a room decorated with a tiled chimney, followed by the Apartments of the Valide Sultan, the centre of power in the Harem. From these ornate rooms the valide sultan oversaw and controlled her huge 'family'. Of particular note is the Salon of the Valide Sultan with its lovely 19th-century murals featuring bucolic views of İstanbul, and a pretty double hamam dating from 1585; the gilded bronze railings were a later addition. Past the Courtyard of the Valide Sultan is a splendid reception room with a large fireplace that leads to a vestibule covered in Kütahya and İznik tiles dating from the 17th century. This is where the princes, valide sultan and senior concubines waited before entering the handsome Imperial Hall for an audience with the sultan. Built during the reign of Murat III, the hall was redecorated in baroque style by order of Osman III (r 1754–57). Nearby is the Privy Chamber of Murat III, one of the most sumptuous rooms in the palace. Dating from 1578, virtually all of its decoration is original and is thought to be the work of Sinan. The restored three-tiered marble fountain was designed to give the sound of cascading water and to make it difficult to eavesdrop on the sultan's conversations. The gilded canopied seating areas are later 18th-century additions. Next door is the Privy Chamber of Ahmet III and adjoining dining room built in 1705. The latter is lined with wooden panels decorated with images of flowers and fruits painted in lacquer. Back through the Privy Chamber of Murat III are two of the most beautiful rooms in the Harem – the Twin Kiosk/Apartments of the Crown Prince. These two rooms date from around 1600; note the painted canvas dome in the first room and the fine İznik tile panels above the fireplace in the second. The stained glass is also noteworthy. Past these rooms is the Courtyard of the Favourites. Over the edge of the courtyard (really a terrace) you'll see a large empty pool. Overlooking the courtyard are the tiny windows of the many small dark rooms comprising the kafes (cage) where brothers or sons of the sultan were imprisoned. Adjoining it is the tiled Harem Mosque with its baroque mihrab (niche in a minaret indicating the direction of Mecca). From here, you can follow the passage known as the Golden Road and exit into the palace's Third Court. Third Court The Third Court is entered through the Gate of Felicity. The sultan’s private domain, it was staffed and guarded by white eunuchs. Inside is the Audience Chamber, constructed in the 16th century but refurbished in the 18th century. Important officials and foreign ambassadors were brought to this little kiosk to conduct the high business of state. The sultan, seated on a huge divan, inspected the ambassadors' gifts and offerings as they were passed through the doorway on the left. Right behind the Audience Chamber is the pretty Library of Ahmet III, built in 1719. On the eastern edge of the Third Court is the Dormitory of the Expeditionary Force, which was closed for restoration at the time of research. When it reopens it will house the palace's rich collection of imperial robes, kaftans and uniforms worked in silver and gold thread. On the other side of the Third Court are the Sacred Safekeeping Rooms. These rooms, sumptuously decorated with İznik tiles, house many relics of the Prophet. When the sultans lived here, the rooms were opened only once a year, for the imperial family to pay homage to the memory of the Prophet on the 15th day of the holy month of Ramazan. Next to the sacred Safekeeping Rooms is the Dormitory of the Privy Chamber, which houses an exhibit of portraits of 36 sultans. The highlight is a wonderful painting of the Enthronement Ceremony of Sultan Selim III (1789) by Konstantin Kapidagli. Imperial Treasury Located on the eastern edge of the Third Court, Topkapı's Treasury features an incredible collection of objects made from or decorated with gold, silver, rubies, emeralds, jade, pearls and diamonds. The building itself was constructed during Mehmet the Conqueror's reign in 1460 and was used originally as reception rooms. It was closed for a major restoration when we last visited. When it re-opens, look out for the jewel-encrusted Sword of Süleyman the Magnificent and the extraordinary Throne of Ahmed I (aka Arife Throne), which is inlaid with mother-of-pearl and was designed by Sedefhar Mehmet Ağa, architect of the Blue Mosque. And don't miss the Treasury's famous Topkapı Dagger, object of the criminal heist in Jules Dassin’s 1964 film Topkapı. This features three enormous emeralds on the hilt and a watch set into the pommel. Also worth seeking out is the Kasıkçı (Spoonmaker’s) Diamond, a teardrop-shaped 86-carat rock surrounded by dozens of smaller stones that was first worn by Mehmet IV at his accession to the throne in 1648. Fourth Court Pleasure pavilions occupy the palace's Fourth Court. These include the Mecidiye Kiosk, which was built by Abdül Mecit (r 1839–61) according to 19th-century European models. Beneath this is the Konyalı restaurant, which offers wonderful views from its terrace but is let down by the quality and price of its food. Up steps from the Mecidiye Kiosk is the Head Physician’s Pavilion. Interestingly, the head physician was always one of the sultan’s Jewish subjects. On this terrace you will also find the Kiosk of Mustafa Pasha, sometimes called the Sofa Köşkü. During the reign of Ahmet III, the Tulip Garden outside the kiosk was filled with the latest varieties of the flower. Up the stairs at the end of the Tulip Garden is the Marble Terrace, a platform with a decorative pool, three pavilions and the whimsical İftariye Kameriyesi, a small structure commissioned by İbrahim I ('the Crazy') in 1640 as a picturesque place to break the fast of Ramazan. Murat IV built the Revan Kiosk in 1636 after reclaiming the city of Yerevan (now in Armenia) from Persia. In 1639 he constructed the Baghdad Kiosk, one of the last examples of classical palace architecture, to commemorate his victory over that city. Notice its superb İznik tiles, painted ceiling and mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell inlay. The small Circumcision Room (Sünnet Odası) was used for the ritual that admits Muslim boys to manhood. Built by İbrahim I in 1640, the outer walls of the chamber are graced by particularly beautiful tile panels.
İstanbul has more than its fair share of Byzantine monuments, but few are as drop-dead gorgeous as this mosaic- and fresco-laden church. Nestled in the shadow of Theodosius II's monumental land walls and now a museum, it receives a fraction of the visitor numbers that the famous Aya Sofya attracts but offers equally fascinating insights into Byzantine art. The church has been closed in stages for renovation over a number of years; check the website for details of what's open. The best way to get to this part of town is to catch the Haliç (Golden Horn) ferry from Karaköy to Ayvansaray and walk up the hill along Dervişzade Sokak, turn right into Eğrikapı Mumhane Caddesi and then almost immediately left into Şişhane Caddesi. From here you can follow the remnants of Theodosius II's land walls, passing the Palace of Constantine Porphyrogenitus on your way. From Hoca Çakır Caddesi, veer left into Vaiz Sokak just before you reach the steep stairs leading up to the ramparts of the wall, then turn sharp left into Kariye Sokak and you'll come to the museum. The building was originally known as the Church of the Holy Saviour Outside the Walls (Chora literally means 'country'), reflecting the fact that when it was first built it was located outside the original city walls constructed by Constantine the Great. What you see today isn't the original church. Instead, it was reconstructed at least five times, most significantly in the 11th, 12th and 14th centuries. Virtually all of the interior decoration – the famous mosaics and the less renowned but equally striking frescoes – dates from c 1320 and was funded by Theodore Metochites, a poet and man of letters who was logothetes, the official responsible for the Byzantine treasury, under Emperor Andronikos II (r 1282–1328). One of the museum's most wonderful mosaics, found above the door to the nave in the inner narthex, depicts Theodore offering the church to Christ. Today the Chora consists of five main architectural units: the nave, the two-storied structure (annexe) added to the north, the inner and the outer narthexes and the chapel for tombs (parecclesion) to the south. In 2013 a second major restoration commenced. This ongoing process is happening in stages, and involves closure of parts of the museum; the nave, two-storey annexes on the northern side of the building and most of the inner narthex have been completed, and work on the outer narthex and parecclesion were underway at the time of research. Mosaics Most of the interior is covered with mosaics depicting the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary. Look out for the Khalke Jesus, which shows Christ and Mary with two donors: Prince Isaac Comnenos and Melane, daughter of Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos. This is under the right dome in the inner narthex. On the dome itself is a stunning depiction of Jesus and his ancestors (The Genealogy of Christ). On the narthex's left dome is a serenely beautiful mosaic of Mary and the Baby Jesus Surrounded by her Ancestors. In the nave are three mosaics: Christ; Mary and the Baby Jesus; and the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin (Assumption) – turn around to see the latter, as it's over the main door you just entered. The 'infant' being held by Jesus is actually Mary's soul. Frescoes To the right of the nave is the parecclesion, a side chapel built to hold the tombs of the church's founder and his relatives, close friends and associates. This is decorated with frescoes that deal with the themes of death and resurrection, depicting scenes taken from the Old Testament. The striking painting in the apse known as the Anastasis shows a powerful Christ raising Adam and Eve out of their sarcophagi, with saints and kings in attendance. The gates of hell are shown under Christ's feet. Less majestic but no less beautiful are the frescoes adorning the dome, which show Mary and 12 attendant angels. On the ceiling between this dome and the apse, the Last Judgement strikingly depicts this scene from the Book of Revelation in dazzling white with gilt accents, with the rolling up of heaven represented by a coiling motif surrounded by the choirs of heaven.
This ancient spa city's location atop Pamukkale's tourist-magnet travertines is quite spectacular. Founded as a curative centre around 190 BC by Eumenes II of Pergamum, it prospered under both the Romans and Byzantines, when large Jewish and Orthodox Christian communities comprised most of the population. Recurrent earthquakes brought disaster, and Hierapolis was finally abandoned after an AD 1334 tremor. When visiting, don't miss the Roman Theatre, the agora and the on-site museum. From mid-October to March, last tickets are 5pm. Byzantine Gate to the Martyrium of St Philip the Apostle Entering at the south gate, walk through the 5th-century Byzantine gate, built of travertine blocks and marble among other materials, and pass the Doric columns of the 1st-century gymnasium. An important building in health-oriented Hierapolis, it collapsed in a 7th-century earthquake. Continue straight on for the foundations of the Temple of Apollo. As at Didyma and Delphi, eunuch priests tended the temple's oracle. Its alleged power derived from an adjoining spring, the Plutonium (named after the underworld god Pluto). Apparently only the priests understood the secret of holding one's breath around the toxic fumes that billowed up from Hades, immediately killing the small animals and birds they sacrificed. The spectacular Roman Theatre, built in stages by emperors Hadrian and Septimius Severus, could seat more than 12,000 spectators. The stage mostly survives, along with some decorative panels and the front-row VIP 'box' seats. From the theatre, tracks lead uphill and to the left towards the less-visited but fascinating Martyrium of St Philip the Apostle, an intricate octagonal structure on terrain where St Philip was supposedly martyred. Hellenistic Theatre to Frontinus Street From the Martyrium, a rough path that gives fantastic views of the site and the plains beyond leads west across the hillside to the completely ruined Hellenistic Theatre, above the 2nd-century agora. One of the largest ever discovered, the agora was surrounded by marble porticoes with Ionic columns on three sides, and enclosed by a basilica on the fourth. From the theatre, follow the steep overgrown diagonal path towards the poplars to reach the agora (alternatively, backtrack to the Martyrium of St Philip the Apostle for an easier path down). Walking downhill through the agora, you will re-emerge on the ridgeline main path. Turn right on colonnaded Frontinus Street, where some original paving and columns remain. Monumental archways once bounded both ends of what was the city's main commercial thoroughfare. The ruined Arch of Domitian is at the southern end; just before this is Hierapolis' large latrine building. Necropolis Beyond the Arch of Domitian are the ruined Roman Baths, and further past these, an Appian Way–style paved road leads to the north gate passing through an extraordinary necropolis, which extends up the hills. The tombs range from circular tumulus-style to ornate double-storey sarcophagi.
One of Turkey's most impressive archaeological sites, Bergama's acropolis is dramatically sited on a hill to the northeast of the town centre. There's plenty to see in this ancient settlement, with ruins large and small scattered over the upper and lower cities. Chief among these are the Temple of Trajan, the vertigo-inducing 10,000-seat Hellenistic theatre, the Altar of Zeus (sadly denuded of its magnificent frieze, which now resides in Berlin) and the whimsical mosaic floors in Building Z. There are two ways to access the site. You can drive to the upper car park (parking ₺5) or instead follow the signposts along Akropol Caddesi to the lower station of the Bergama Acropolis Cable Car. There's a paid car park here, too (again ₺5). The cable-car ride takes five minutes. From the Upper City, a line of rather faded blue dots marks a suggested route around the main structures – you might instead consider hiring the audio guide for ₺10. These structures include the library that helped put Pergamum on the map and the colossal marble-columned Temple of Trajan (or Trajaneum), built during the reigns of the emperors Trajan and Hadrian and used to worship them as well as Zeus. It's the only Roman structure surviving on the Acropolis, and its foundations were used as cisterns during the Middle Ages. Immediately downhill from the temple, descend through the vaulted tunnel-like temple foundations to the impressive and unusual Hellenistic theatre. Its builders decided to take advantage of the spectacular view (and conserve precious space on top of the hill) by building the theatre into the hillside. In general, Hellenistic theatres are wider and rounder than this, but at Pergamum the hillside location made rounding impossible and so it was increased in height instead. At the northern end of the theatre terrace is the ruined Temple of Dionysus, while to the south is the Altar of Zeus (also known as the Great Altar), which was originally covered with magnificent friezes depicting the battle between the Olympian gods and their subterranean foes. However, 19th-century German excavators were allowed to remove most of this famous building to Berlin, leaving only the base behind. Piles of rubble on top of the acropolis are marked as five separate palaces, including that of Eumenes II, and you can also see fragments of the once-magnificent defensive walls as well as barracks and arsenal. To escape the crowds and get a good view of the theatre and Temple of Trajan, walk downhill behind the Altar of Zeus, or turn left at the bottom of the theatre steps, and follow the sign to the antik yol (ancient street) past the Upper Agora and the bath-gymnasium. Within what was once a sprawling residential area of the Middle City is modern Building Z (2004), protecting part of a peristyle court and some fantastic floor mosaics. Look for the grotesque masks with wild animals, the child Dionysus with Silenus supping from a cup and the remnants of tinted stucco on the walls. You'll then pass more baths, gymnasia and the sumptuous Palace of Attalus I before reaching the Lower Agora.
The Süleymaniye crowns one of İstanbul's seven hills and dominates the Golden Horn, providing a landmark for the entire city. Though it's not the largest of the Ottoman mosques, it is certainly one of the grandest and most beautiful. It's also unusual in that many of its original külliye (mosque complex) buildings have been retained and sympathetically adapted for reuse. Commissioned by Süleyman I, known as 'the Magnificent', the Süleymaniye was the fourth imperial mosque built in İstanbul; the mosque's four minarets with their 10 beautiful şerefes (balconies) are said to represent the fact that Süleyman was the fourth of the Osmanlı sultans to rule the city and the 10th sultan after the establishment of the empire. The mosque and its surrounding buildings were designed by Mimar Sinan, the most famous and talented of all imperial architects. Construction occurred between 1550 and 1557. Inside, the building is breathtaking in its size and pleasing in its simplicity. Sinan incorporated the four buttresses into the walls of the building – the result is wonderfully 'transparent' (ie open and airy) and highly reminiscent of Aya Sofya, especially as the dome is nearly as large as the one that crowns the Byzantine basilica. The mihrab (niche in a minaret indicating the direction of Mecca) is covered in fine İznik tiles, and other interior decoration includes window shutters inlaid with mother-of-pearl, gorgeous stained-glass windows, painted muqarnas (corbels with honeycomb detail), a spectacular persimmon-coloured floor carpet, painted pendentives and medallions featuring fine calligraphy. Süleyman specified that his mosque complex should have a külliye with imaret (soup kitchen), medrese (seminary), hamam, darüşşifa (hospital), tabhane (inn for travelling dervishes) etc. The imaret and tabhane are on the northwestern edge of the mosque and the main entrance to the mosque is accessed from Professor Sıddık Sami Onar Caddesi, formerly known as Tiryaki Çarşışı (Market of the Addicts). The buildings here once housed three medreses and a primary school; they're now home to the Süleymaniye Library and a raft of popular streetside fasulye (bean) restaurants that used to be teahouses selling opium (hence the street's former name). The darüşşifa is on the corner of Professor Sıddık Sami Onar Caddesi and Şifahane Sokak. Sinan's türbe (tomb) is just outside the mosque's walled garden, next to a disused medrese (seminary) building. The still-functioning Süleymaniye Hamamı is on the eastern side of the mosque. To the right (southeast) of the mosque's main entrance is the cemetery, home to the octagonal tombs of Süleyman and his wife Haseki Hürrem Sultan (Roxelana). The tile work surrounding the entrances to both is superb and the ivory-inlaid panels in Süleyman's tomb are lovely. The streets surrounding the mosque are home to what may well be the most extensive concentration of Ottoman timber houses on the historical peninsula, many of which are currently being restored as part of an urban regeneration project.
This subterranean structure was commissioned by Emperor Justinian and built in 532. The largest surviving Byzantine cistern in İstanbul, it was constructed using 336 columns, many of which were salvaged from ruined temples and feature fine carved capitals. Its symmetry and sheer grandeur of conception are quite breathtaking, and its cavernous depths make a great retreat on summer days. Like most sites in İstanbul, the cistern has an unusual history. It was originally known as the Basilica Cistern because it lay underneath the Stoa Basilica, one of the great squares on the first hill. Designed to service the Great Palace and surrounding buildings, it was able to store up to 80,000 cu metres of water delivered via 20km of aqueducts from a reservoir near the Black Sea, but was closed when the Byzantine emperors relocated from the Great Palace. Forgotten by the city authorities some time before the Conquest, it wasn't rediscovered until 1545, when scholar Petrus Gyllius was researching Byzantine antiquities in the city and was told by local residents that they were able to obtain water by lowering buckets into a dark space below their basement floors. Some were even catching fish this way. Intrigued, Gyllius explored the neighbourhood and finally accessed the cistern through one of the basements. Even after his discovery, the Ottomans (who referred to the cistern as Yerebatan Saray) didn't treat the so-called Underground Palace with the respect it deserved – it became a dumping ground for all sorts of junk, as well as corpses. The cistern was cleaned and renovated in 1985 by the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality and opened to the public in 1987. It's now one of the city's most popular tourist attractions. Walking along its raised wooden platforms, you'll feel water dripping from the vaulted ceiling and see schools of ghostly carp patrolling the water – it certainly has bucketloads of atmosphere. Note that the Museum Pass İstanbul isn't accepted here.
İstanbul's most photogenic building was the grand project of Sultan Ahmet I (r 1603–17), whose tomb is located on the north side of the site facing Sultanahmet Park. The mosque's wonderfully curvaceous exterior features a cascade of domes and six slender minarets. Blue İznik tiles adorn the interior and give the building its unofficial but commonly used name. With the mosque's exterior, the architect, Sedefkâr Mehmet Ağa, managed to orchestrate a visual wham-bam effect similar to that of nearby star Aya Sofya's interior. Its curves are voluptuous; it has six minarets (more than any other mosque at the time it was built); and its courtyard is the biggest of all of the Ottoman mosques. The interior has a similarly grand scale: the İznik tiles number in the tens of thousands; there are 260 windows; and the central prayer space is huge. To best grasp the mosque's design, enter the complex via the Hippodrome rather than from Sultanahmet Park. Once inside the courtyard, which is the same size as the mosque's interior, you'll appreciate the building's perfect proportions. The mosque is such a popular attraction that admission is controlled in order to preserve its sacred atmosphere. Only worshippers are admitted through the main door; visitors must use the south door (follow the signs). The mosque is closed to nonworshippers for 30 minutes or so during the five daily prayer times – two hours before dawn, dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset and right before the last light of the day – and is also closed for cleaning on Friday mornings. Note that the Friday midday prayers are longer than the usual prayer time so as to accommodate a weekly sermon. Women who don't have a headscarf or are considered to be too scantily dressed will be loaned a headscarf and/or robe.
Around 11km northeast of Urfa, 'Pot Belly Hill' was first excavated in 1994 by a team led by Professor Klaus Schmidt. Their discovery of a ritual complex dated to the pre-pottery Neolithic era (around 10,000 BC) has turned the previously accepted theory that religion followed the evolution of agriculture on its head. The small site, protected by a space-age-style dome, contains a complex of circular buildings containing megalithic T-shaped pillars now thought to be the world's first place of worship. Animal carvings can be seen on the sides of Göbeklitepe's anthropomorphic T-shaped pillars, some of which tower up to 5.5m high. A raised wooden boardwalk leads around the site allowing you to see the pillars below from all sides and study the stylised carvings of foxes and vultures. In 2018, Göbeklitepe was made Turkey's newest Unesco World Heritage site, though don't expect masses of ruins as you'd see in Turkey's much younger classical-era sites. Göbeklitepe's fame comes from its significant role in furthering our understanding of early human history and culture. The visitor centre at the entrance provides a good introduction to the site with a short – and rather dramatic – video presentation on Göbeklitepe's importance. From near the visitor centre, a regular shuttle bus zips to and from the hilltop archaeological site. Geomagnetic surveys and ground-penetrating radar systems have identified another 16 ancient megalithic rings buried nearby, and at present only 5% of the entire site has been excavated, with archaeological work here continuing. A return taxi to Göbeklitepe from Şanlıurfa, including waiting time, is around ₺120.
Epic hikes around the world
The world's most beautiful pools
Sailing along Turkey's Turquoise Coast
Turkey's surreal thermal baths
Journey through Turkey
Eat your way around Istanbul
Ottoman art in Istanbul
Just back from: the Turquoise Coast
Ask Lonely Planet: where can I find an unexpected lost city?