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Top 10 things everyone should see and do in Turkey

Turkey has it all - gorgeous beaches, stunning landscapes, incredible history and bustling cities. If that all seems a bit overwhelming, here's our pick of the best places to visit in Turkey to help you make the most of your vacation:

1. Hagia Sophia

It’s no exaggeration to say that the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is one of the most stunning sights of the Islamic world. It was originally built as a church in 537 but was later converted into a mosque when the city, which was then known as Constantinople, was conquered by Mehmed the Conqueror in 1453. Now it has a fascinating mix of church and mosque features, including four minarets added after it was converted. It’s no longer a functioning mosque but a brilliant museum.

Read more: Everything you need to know about visiting Istanbul

Address: Hagia Sophia Museum, Ayasofya Square, Sultanahmet, Fatih, Istanbul

Opening hours: 9am – 5pm in Winter (October 30 through April 15), last ticket sale 4pm. Open 9am – 7pm in Summer, last ticket sale 6pm

Entry: Tickets cost 40TL (Dh38) per person

Best places to visit in Turkey: Hagia Sophia

2. Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque (officially the Sultan Ahmed Mosque), gets its name from the 20,000 16th century blue-colored tiles used to decorate its interior. Like the nearby Hagia Sophia, it’s one of the most popular places to visit in Turkey, and very deserving of its title. Its large dome and six minarets look beautiful with Istanbul’s blue skies in the background, but the interior is almost even more special, and not to be missed if you’re visiting Turkey. FYI, you’ll need to remove your shoes and dress appropriately when visiting.

Address: Sultan Ahmet Mahallesi, Atmeydanı, 34122 Fatih, Istanbul

Opening hours: During daylight, except during the daily prayer times

Best places to visit in Turkey: Blue Mosque

3. Topkapı Palace

This palace has an interesting history mired in tales of power, corruption and money. It was built under the orders of Mehmed the Conqueror six years after he conquered the city. He lived there until he died in 1481. It was later occupied by a stream of other sultans – and their harems of a few hundred people – who added to and extended the original palace. It now has hundreds of chambers and rooms, but only the most important of them are open to the public. The palace was converted into a museum in 1923 at the end of the Ottoman Empire, and is still operated as the Topkapı Palace Museum. As well as seeing some of the palace courtyards and harem quarters, you’ll also see Ottoman clothing, religious relics, manuscripts and weapons on display.

Address: Sultanahmet, Fatih, Istanbul

Opening hours: 9am – 4.45pm in Winter (October 30 through April 15), last ticket sale 4pm. Open 9am – 6.45pm in Summer, last ticket sale 6pm

Entry: Museum tickets cost 40TL (Dh38), plus extra for access to the harem and Hagia Irene. Book online here

Best places to visit in Turkey: Topkapı Palace

4. Bodrum

This all-white town is one of the most popular places to visit in Turkey with travelers who like the finer things in life. The whole peninsula area is full of gorgeous beaches and luxury hotels. The town’s crowning glory is the 15th century Bodrum Castle which sits high above the marina. It hosts various festivals throughout the year which always give the town a buzz, and also houses one of Bodrum’s top attractions – the Museum of Underwater Archeology.

Best places to visit in Turkey: Bodrum

5. Pamukkale

This pretty town in the west of Turkey is known for its thermal waters that flow down the travertine rock terraces on the nearby hillsides. Its natural beauty makes it one of the most popular places to visit in Turkey every year, attracting millions of visitors. The ancient spa city of Hierapolis is nearby, so well worth ticking off your list if you’re traveling this far. You can still bathe in the spa waters here. We don’t recommend you try to squeeze Pamukkale into a day trip as it’s around 190 kilometers from the popular town of Kusadasi on the Aegean coast (where lots of visitors travel from). Instead, spend the night in nearby Denizli, rent a car, and drive the 40-minute journey north. You can fly to Denizli from Istanbul.

Find a cheap hotel in Denizli

Best places to visit in Turkey: Pamukkale

6. Cappadocia

The image of hot air balloons flying over the red colored Cappadocia rock chimneys is synonymous with Turkey, and one of the most incredible experiences you can have there. The area, in the Anatolian Region, is very popular with hikers who go there to enjoy is strikingly natural beauty, and has trails to suit all levels of hiker. Some of the most popular routes are in the Güllüdere Vadısı where you’ll find churches dating back to the 9th century cut into the rock along the trails. For an unforgettable experience, book into the the boutique Fresco Cave Suits Cappadocia in Ürgüp which has 17 stunning rooms, 11 of which are "cave rooms" built in stone. Rooms start at around *Dh255 per night. There are lots of companies offering hot air balloon rides over Cappadocia so do your research and check the weather before you book!

Best places to go in Turkey: Cappadocia

7. Bergama Acropolis (Pergamon)

This is one of the Turkey’s best archaeological sites which has been successfully preserved over the years. You can reach the expansive site either by car (parking at the upper car park) or by traveling on the Bergama Acropolis Cable Car. There’s so much to see but we recommend you don’t miss the 10,000-seat Hellenistic theater (but possibly one to skip if you don’t like heights!) and the pretty mosaic floors in the modern Building Z, which was built in 2004. The Altar of Zeus (or the Great Altar) is also worth seeing but sadly it was stripped of its stunning intricate friezes depicting the Olympian god battles by German excavators in the 19th century; they’re now held in Berlin.

Address: Akropol Caddesi 2, Bergama Pergamum, Turkey

Opening hours: Open 8am – 5pm in Winter, and 8am – 7pm in Summer

Entry: Entry costs from 25TL (Dh24) per person, the cable car and parking are extra

Best places to visit in Turkey: Bergama Acropolis

8. Grand Bazaar

This is easily one of the most popular places to visit in Turkey, and never fails to deliver. The Grand Bazaar is a warren of narrow and chaotic lanes/streets full of stores selling everything from Turkish tea and coffee, colorful glass lanterns and handcrafted trinkets. It’s very easy to get lost so if you’re traveling with someone, watch them closely! It gets quite busy and hot so take plenty of water, as well as plenty of change.

Address: Beyazıt Mh., 34126 Fatih, Istanbul, Turkey

Best places to visit in Turkey: Grand Bazaar

9. Ephesus

Once the fourth biggest city in the Roman empire, Ephesus is one of the best preserved in Turkey. It was built in the 10th century BC by Ionian and Attic Greek colonists and became an incredibly significant site and one of the Seven Churches of Revelation mentioned in the Book of Revelation. Its main attraction was the Temple of Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders of the World) but very little of it remains now after it was destroyed in 356 BC by a fire started by Herostratus who supposedly started it to earn his 15 minutes of fame. Look for the Terraced Houses, Temple of Hadrian and the Great Theater instead. The site has very little shade and can get very hot so take lots of water and avoid walking around in the middle of the day.

Address: Uğur Mumcu Sevgi Yolu, 35920 Selçuk İzmir, Turkey

Opening hours: Open 8am – 7pm, October 30 through April 15. 8am – 5pm November through March

Entry: General entry is 40TL (Dh38). Entry to Terraced Houses is extra

Best places to visit in Turkey: Ephesus

10. Antalya

This is another of the most popular seaside resorts in Turkey thanks to its beaches, ancient ruins, great food and beautiful hiking trails. If you’re on the hunt for history, visit Hadrian’s Gate (The Three Gates) in the old city, Kaleici. The nearby Roman Harbor is one of the most pleasant places in Antalya and has some of the best tea gardens, restaurants and cafes. It was built in the 2nd century BC but then decommissioned. It was restored in the 1980s and is now a popular mooring location for people who want to step off the boat and enjoy the town.

Best places to visit in Turkey: Atalya

*Published November 2017. Prices correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change and/or availability.

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