Get ready because the vast range of things to do in Pamukkale is not only unique to Turkey but also the world. You will never find the equivalent anywhere else; hence why Pamukkale is on many traveller’s bucket list. To understand its popularity, in 2019, a staggering 2.58 million people visited, making it one of Turkey’s top attractions.
Not bad for a destination nowhere near the sea and devoid of those long sandy beaches, Turkey is well known for. Before we look at what to do and where to go, it is worth knowing a little background history to enhance your visit.
Pamukkale joined the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1988 because the calcium pools and the ruined city of Hierapolis provide outstanding universal value. The name translates into the cotton castle, an apt description of its appearance on a hillside in the Denizli area of Turkey.
For many years, Pamukkale has been one of Turkey’s top attractions, however around 70 years ago; the government had to step in because it was in danger of eroding from manufactured mistakes. Hotels built next to the pools disrupted the flow of water. After realising the consequences, they were pulled down, and these days, people can only visit the large enclosure on a day trip.
The other quirky fact is that the UNESCO site also includes the nearby Hierapolis city ruins. It does not receive as much publicity as it should do, yet has a strong relevance to Pamukkale.
10 Things to do in Pamukkale and Surrounding Areas
1: Paddle in the Calcium Pools
The large pools are the power of Mother Nature. Flowing water, which is full of a carbonate mineral, solidifies as it flows down the hillside. The result is calcium pools filled with unique mineral waters. The pools are why everyone visits, and while paddling, portray a marvellous landscape view over the nearby village because of their height at 160 metres high. Visitors must take shoes off and can only walk in certain areas. To savour the moment, have refreshments in the cafe backing the pools before heading to the museum next door. The time needed at the pools is 1 to 2 hours.
2: Pamukkale Museum
Most people walk straight past the museum, yet it is worth paying the extra entrance fee to see a marvellous collection of artefacts and historical statues. Uncovered during excavations at ancient cities like Hierapolis, and nearby Laodicea, the exhibition also includes samples of bronze age artefacts. It takes just 40 minutes to tour the small collection giving an excellent insight into the next attraction, Hierapolis.
3: Hierapolis Ancient Ruins
Ruins from Hierapolis spread out, so visitors need good walking shoes, a bottle of water and sun cream or a hat if visiting during summer. During Roman times, many soldiers fighting battles went to Hierapolis because the thermal waters helped heal their injuries. Divided by a 1-kilometre main street, ruins include the Byzantine south gate, Necropolis, the old bath complex, Triton fountain, the public latrines, and the old city wall. By far, though, the most impressive structure is the ancient theatre reaching 91 metres high.
4: Swim in Cleopatra’s Pool
Stop for refreshments and a cooling swimming break in Cleopatra’s Pool containing spring waters that soothe symptoms of arthritis and skin conditions. Sunken ruined columns from Hierapolis makes this Turkey’s unique pool, and despite high entrance fees, swimmers stay as long as they want. The surrounding gardens are also a great place to relax and take in the view.
5: Paragliding for a Bird's-eye View
Albeit, it is a little pricey to avoid the crowds, but the bonus is seeing Pamukkale from a different angle. The 30-minute para-gliding trip is for inexperienced paragliders because the company kits you out and gives safety briefings before taking off with a qualified tandem instructor.
6: Pamukkale Hot-Air Balloon Trip
The other alternative to see the travertines from the air is a hot-air balloon trip. Rather than an all-day option, the balloons go up at sunrise to catch the maximum wind speeds. After a safety briefing, ascend into the air in a basket and spend an hour drifting over the travertines. When landing, get ready for a champagne toast and certificate.
7: The Natural Park
If a long day sightseeing tires you out, an excellent place to end the day is in the nature park at the bottom of the travertines. The small lake, inhabited by ducks has pedalos for a relaxing trip around, but otherwise, grab a picnic table, review your photos from the day, and enjoy a fantastic view of the calcium pools from a different angle.
8: The Red Springs of Karahayit
Called Pamukkale’s cousin, the red springs sit a short drive away, and visitors also swim in them. Covering 500 square metres, the difference is red, muddy waters turn the calcium pools into a different colour, hence its name. Known for its healing qualities of symptoms of skin diseases and high blood pressure, people often book into a nearby hotel for an overnight trip so they can swim in Karahayit’s red waters.
9: Laodicea: The Lukewarm City
Car drivers should make the short trip to Laodicea, one of the Seven Churches of Revelation, as mentioned in the Bible’s New Testament. Accused by Saint John the apostle of being lukewarm, the city was a thriving trading port before citizens abandoned it many centuries ago. These days, remains of structures include the impressive Athena temple. Few people go to Laodicea despite its impressive ruins so this is a great chance to escape the crowds.
10: Aphrodisias Ruins and Museum
Just one-hours drive away, Aphrodisias completes an excellent road trip. This UNESCO World Heritage Site includes a marvellous museum full of ancient statues of impressive leaders and scholars. Other landmark ruins include the unique theatre, bouleuterion, Hadrian’s baths, and Aphrodite temple.
Nice to Know: That brings our list of things to do in Pamukkale to an end, but there are a few things to know to enhance your visit. Many tour agencies from places like Marmaris, Bodrum and Antalya sell day trips. However, if arriving independently by bus, go to Denizli bus station first and from there, catch a connecting bus to the nearby village.
When to Visit: To explore it, takes a whole day but some people book an overnight hotel in Turkey in the village and from there, take a taxi to the nearest entrance gates. Pamukkale is open all year round. It is busiest during the official tourism season from May to October. All other months are quiet but remember, January and February are rainy months, so check weather forecasts before leaving.
What to See at Ephesus: This ancient city ranks alongside Pamukkale as one of Turkey’s top visited attractions hosting millions of visitors every year. Had it continued to survive; it would have rivalled Rome for importance and trade. In this article, we list reasons to visit, and what to see while there, including the famous Celsius library, a large theatre, and Roman houses.
Beautiful Places in Turkey: Read this article to discover what the rest of Turkey offers and get ready to be surprised. We have listed 15 of the most beautiful places from the east to west, and many can be combined on a round the country tour with Pamukkale.
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