Given Turkey’s vast scale, it makes sense to focus your travels on one or two regions. This need not confine you to one part of the country – domestic flights are an affordable way to cross the Anatolian steppe in a few hours. A visit to mighty İstanbul can easily be paired with a bus or train to western Turkey’s many highlights, or a flight east for off-the-beaten track adventures. While there are many constants throughout Turkey and the food is certainly excellent everywhere, this is an incredibly diverse country offering varied experiences. Each region has its own charms, so choose wisely and you could find yourself hiking across snowy mountains in wild northeastern Anatolia, sauntering through cosmopolitan İstanbul or sunbathing on a Mediterranean beach.

İstanbul

History

Nightlife

Shopping

Imperial Grandeur

The megacity formerly known as Constantinople and Byzantium was the capital of a series of empires. The Aya Sofya, a church-turned-mosque-turned-museum, is the grandest remnant of the Byzantine Empire; Ottoman landmarks include the Blue Mosque and Topkapı Palace.

Beyoğlu Bars

Beyoğlu is an exhilarating melting pot between the dusk and dawn calls to prayer, when up-for-it crowds swirl through its hole-in-the-wall cocktail bars, rooftop watering holes, pedestrian precincts and bohemian nightclubs.

Markets & Bazaars

The city's famous bazaars include the sprawling Grand Bazaar, the fragrant Spice Bazaar, and the Arasta Bazaar with its carpet and ceramics stores. There are markets and malls galore, including Kadıköy's food market on the Asian side, while neighbourhoods worth visiting range from Çukurcuma, with its antiques and collectables, to Galata for avant-garde fashion.

Thrace & Marmara

Military History

Architecture

Aegean Culture

WWI Battlefields

Over 100,000 soldiers died on the now-tranquil Gallipoli Peninsula, a pilgrimage site for Australians, New Zealanders and Turks. Touring the memorials, battlefields and trenches that dot the beaches and hills is simply heart-wrenching.

Ottoman Finery

Edirne's Ottoman gems include Selimiye Camii, one of the finest works of the great architect Mimar Sinan, while Çanakkale's Ottoman old town has mosques, hamams and a 19th-century clock tower.

Greek Connections

Turkey's northwest corner is famous for the ruined classical city of Troy, which traded with the Greeks until the Trojan War. A museum is opening here in 2017, while the wooden horse used in the Brad Pitt movie Troy stands on Çanakkale seafront. A ferry ride from Gallipoli or Çanakkale reaches Gökçeada, with its slow-paced Aegean lifestyle and Greek heritage including hilltop villages.

İzmir & the North Aegean

History

Slow Travel

Food

Multicultural Footsteps

Many peoples have left their mark here. Ayvalık and Bozcaada town's old Greek quarters resonate with memories of the population exchange with Greece, while İzmir has Sephardic synagogues and Levantine architecture. Going further back, the hilltop ruins of Pergamum are some of Turkey's finest, and numerous, less-visited sites are found on the Biga Peninsula.

Village Life

Outside the summer tourist season, life has an alluringly slow rural pace in laid-back spots such as Bozcaada island, the Biga Peninsula, Behramkale, Ayvalık and Bergama. Changing seasons and weekly markets are still the main events.

Meze and Seafood

This is the place to try a classic Turkish feast of meze, balık (fish) and rakı (anise spirit) on a seafront terrace. If the fish prices seem steep, stick to the olive oil–soaked mezes.

Ephesus, Bodrum & the South Aegean

History

Nightlife

Sun & Surf

Classical Sites

Romans once bustled along the Curetes Way at Ephesus, Turkey's most visited ruins. Less-frequented sites include eerie Priene, a hilltop Ionian city; Miletus, an ancient port; Didyma's Temple of Apollo, once the world's second-largest temple; and Knidos, a Dorian port on the Datça Peninsula.

Sundowners in Style

Bodrum's tourist machine has created a mean nightlife, with waterfront bar-clubs on its twin bays. Another sexy Bodrum Peninsula sundowner spot is Göltürkbükü, the summer playground of İstanbul's jet set.

Hidden Beaches

The Datça and Bozburun peninsulas hide secluded coves and azure waters, while gület (traditional wooden yacht) cruises discover unspoilt parts of the coastline between Marmaris and Fethiye. The Bodrum Peninsula's busier beaches are also excellent for sunning, swimming and water sports.

Western Anatolia

History

Ruins

Activities

Ancient Empires

Bursa was the Ottoman capital before Constantinople, İznik's weathered stone gates and Aya Sofya recall its Byzantine greatness, and the Phrygian Valley's rock-hewn monuments survive from the distant Phrygian era. Meanwhile, Eskişehir mixes its pastel-painted Ottoman quarter with today's lively cultural scene and nightlife.

Mountaintop Relics

Hierapolis, a ruined spa city, famously stands atop Pamukkale's glistening white travertines. Quieter sites include Sagalassos, a Pisidian-Hellenistic-Roman city in the Taurus Mountains, and Afrodisias, a grand provincial Roman capital.

Hiking

Two long-distance hiking paths, the Phrygian Way and St Paul Trail, respectively wind through the Phrygian Valley, and over the Taurus Mountains from the Mediterranean to Western Anatolia's serene Lake District. Above Bursa, Uludağ ('Great Mountain'; 2543m), home to one of Turkey's best ski resorts, is ideal for summer walks.

Antalya & the Turquoise Coast

Beaches

Hiking

Ruins

Sand and Sights

Patara, Turkey's longest beach, and the Dalyan area both offer a diverse menu of sand, ancient ruins and nesting sea turtles. Likewise, as well as its beach, Olympos is famed for its Lycian ruins and the naturally occurring flames of the Chimaera. In Ölüdeniz, see the stunning beach and lagoon from above on a tandem paragliding flight.

Historic Footsteps

The Western Mediterranean region's two long-distance waymarked footpaths, the Lycian Way and St Paul Trail, name-check historical folk who passed through. The former trail crosses the Teke Peninsula, littered with sepulchres and sarcophagi left millennia ago by the Lycians.

Lyrical Lycian Relics

The trademark funerary monuments of the Lycian civilisation nestle in the secluded coves and wrinkly cliff faces of spectacular spots such as Xanthos, Pınara and Kaleköy.

Eastern Mediterranean

History

Cuisine

Biblical Legacies

Surreal Sights

History has a fairytale quality here: Kızkalesi Castle (Maiden's Castle) seemingly floats offshore, Zeus is said to have imprisoned hydra-headed Typhon in the Gorge of Hell, and Anemurium's sprawling and eerily quiet Roman-Byzantine ruins stretch 500m down to a pebble beach with mammoth city walls scaling the mountainside above.

Arab Influences

Antakya is a Turkish and Arab culinary melting pot. The city's influences from nearby Syria include lemon wedges and mint, which accompany kebaps and local specialities.

Paul's Footsteps

The early Christian and Old Testament sites in Tarsus include St Paul's ruined house, where pilgrims drink from the well. Paul and Peter both preached in Antakya (the biblical Antioch), and Silifke's Church of St Thekla recalls Paul's early follower.

Ankara & Central Anatolia

History

Architecture

Ruins

Momentous Events

This is where Alexander the Great cut the Gordion knot, King Midas turned everything to gold, Atatürk began his revolution, the whirling dervishes first whirled, and Julius Caesar uttered his famous line: 'Veni, vidi, vici' ('I came, I saw, I conquered').

Ottoman

Safranbolu and Amasya are Ottoman heritage towns, with boutique hotels occupying their half-timbered, black-and-white houses.

Iconic Sights

Gordion's Phrygian tomb (circa 700 BC) might be the world's oldest wooden structure, Sultanhanı is Anatolia's largest remaining Seljuk han (caravanserai), and Hattuşa was the Hittite capital over 3000 years ago. Locals say the doorways of Divriği's 780-year-old mosque complex, with their exploding stone stars, are so intricately carved that their craftmanship proves the existence of God.

Cappadocia

History

Activities

Landscapes

Byzantine Christians

Cappadocia was a refuge for Byzantine Christians, who carved monastic settlements into the rock, left frescoes on the cave walls and hid from Islamic armies in underground cities.

Hiking

This is one of Turkey's best regions for going walkabout, with options ranging from gentle saunters through the dreamy valleys to serious missions. South of leafy Ihlara Valley, Mt Hasan (3268m) and the Ala Dağlar National Park are both challenging.

Rock Formations

Cappadocia's lava-formed tuff cliff faces and surreal 'fairy chimneys' are riddled with caves. Some are occupied by centuries-old churches, others by full-time cave-dwellers. Many are now hotels, offering an experience of the troglodyte lifestyle in comfort and style. A memorable way to appreciate the surreal rocky canyons is from above, on a dawn hot-air balloon flight.

Black Sea Coast

History

Slow Travel

Scenery

Byzantine and Greek

Anatolia's north coast was once the Kingdom of Pontus, and Ottoman Greeks tried to create a post-WWI Pontic state here. Impressive ruins include Sumela, the Byzantine monastery clinging to a cliff face, and Trabzon's 13th-century church-turned-mosque Aya Sofya.

Local Life

The Karadeniz (Black Sea) offers experiences unknown to non-Turkish holidaymakers, such as sipping çay in tea-producing Rize; wandering Amasra and Sinop's ancient fortifications; staying in Ordu and Ünye's old Greek and Armenian quarters; and discovering the rugged yaylalar (mountain pastures) above Ordu and Giresun.

Dramatic Coastline

The winding road from Amasra to Sinop is Turkey's answer to California's Hwy 1, and there are more coastal vistas around Yason Burnu (Cape Jason), with its chapel marking the spot where Jason and the Argonauts passed by in search of the golden fleece.

Northeastern Anatolia

Ruins

Activities

Landscapes

Remote Outposts

Medieval Armenian and Georgian churches dot the steppe and valleys; isolated Ani was an Armenian capital and Silk Road trading centre. Near the Iranian border, mountainside İshak Paşa Palace is worthy of One Thousand and One Nights.

Outdoor Adventure

Yusufeli is a trekking and white-water rafting centre; hikers can head to the Northern Kaçkar Mountains for further day hikes and multiday trails; snow bunnies can zip to Palandöken and Sarıkamış.

Upland Scenery

To enjoy mountainous countryside worthy of a Turkish Heidi, head up to the yaylalar in the Kaçkar Mountains or northeast of Artvin near Georgia. Nestled in the landscape are villages, ruins, traditional wooden houses and the beginnings of the Caucasus region, which stretches east to the Caspian Sea and north to Russia.

Southeastern Anatolia

History

Cuisine

Cities

Ancient Remnants

The many remains of past civilisations include Lake Van's island church, built by an Armenian king; the statues atop Nemrut Dağı (Mt Nemrut), installed by a megalomaniacal 1st-century-BC monarch; Şanlıurfa's neolithic Göbekli Tepe, perhaps history's oldest place of worship; Gaziantep Zeugma Mosaic Museum, showcasing Roman mosaics rescued from a dam site; and the saffron-hued Deyrul Zafaran monastery, over 1000 years old and once the seat of the Syrian Orthodox patriarchate.

Baklava Central

With Kurdish and Arab influences, the regional cuisine is a knockout. Top places to try local dishes are Gaziantep, with the planet's tastiest pistachio baklava, and Şanlıurfa, home of Urfa kebaps.

Church Relics

History has left stunning cities throughout the region – including mystery-shrouded Şanlıurfa, Mardin's gold-coloured labyrinth of lanes, and basalt-walled Diyarbakır.