When it comes to sightseeing, over 500 cities to visit in Turkey provide you with a lot of choice. Working your way through all these metropolises will take a lifetime but some are better than others at delivering an all-rounder travel experience. We have listed our top nine best cities and based on what they offer people passing through.
This might be exciting tourist attractions and museums, a varied and delicious foodie scene, art galleries, unique events or the best shopping and nightlife scenes. Most people will already have heard of main cities, but to go off the beaten track, other urban landscapes present a different side of Turkey. So, let us start with the central city that tops Turkey’s top visited list, and this is Istanbul. If you have already been through, do not write it off because many more alternative experiences await.
The Best Cities to Visit in Turkey
1: Istanbul: Standing Tall and Proud
Istanbul is not just Turkey’s central leading city but ranks alongside Milan, Rome, London, and New York in terms of importance. Everything happens here from tourism to business to education. Its status as king is not newfound because for centuries ruling empires like the Ottomans and Byzantines commanded over the kingdom from the Sultanahmet old district. See delights like The Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, ancient hippodrome, and the Grand Bazaar just a short distance away.
Do not neglect Istanbul’s new side though. Taksim square and Istiklal Avenue, offer many tourist attractions like Flower Passage and the Galata Whirling Dervish Museum, and is Turkey’s best shopping and nightlife scene. Should you have time left, or are a repeat visitor to Istanbul, get off the beaten track to explore small Bosphorus villages like Arnavutkoy, catch a ferry to the Princes' Islands, or explore places on the Asian side like Uskudar, a favourite hang out for the locals.
2: Visit Mediterranean Antalya
Antalya city, sitting on the southern coastline, commands respect as Turkey’s second most visited destination. A primary reason for its popularity is the gorgeous beaches like Konyaalti and Lara, that Trip Advisor ranks as two of Turkey’s top ten beaches, but it offers a lot more. The historical Hadrian’s gate marks the entrance to the highlight, Kaleici old town with its ancient mosques, scenic harbourside and quaint Ottoman houses lining cobbled streets.Families will enjoy Antalya Museum, one of Turkey’s best and the Aquarium always delights children of all ages with many themes and interactive events.
From a boat, watch the lower Duden waterfalls tumbling over the hillside into the Mediterranean, because this viewpoint excels the dramatic effect. Then whether you want to shop till you drop or party until the early hours, Antalya city delivers both with style and finesse. We recommend extending your stay in the Antalya region to visit other attractions nearby like Mount Tahtali cable car, the ruins of Phaselis, and the ancient city of Aspendos holding one of the world’s best-preserved Roman theatres.
Related Reading: Antalya Information Guide: About the City and Surrounding Holiday Resorts
3: Izmir: An Aegean Pearl
Welcome to Izmir’s, Turkey’s third-largest city that is so cosmopolitan, it is insanely unbelievable. Often known as the country’s most westernised city, locals do not follow trends but set them. The foodie scene is big business in Izmir, and an excellent place to start is where locals hang out. The waterfront seafood restaurants of Kordon are the go-to place for fresh fish, seafood, and delicious Turkish mezes. To be like a local, accompany them with the traditional glass of raki.
Otherwise, if sightseeing is your passion, start at Izmir castle. Known as Kadifekale, the panoramic views provide the perfect Instagram picture. The ancient agora reflects the bygone Roman – Greek era, while have your photo taken by the Izmir clock tower to follow local traditions. This sits a short distance from Kemeralti, a fabulous shopping place to buy Turkish souvenirs and indulge in bartering traditions. Also explore neighbouring coastal resorts like Cesme and Alacati, famed for their blue and white stone cottages.
4: Fethiye: Star of Turkey’s Riviera
If you want to explore the Turkish riviera, an excellent place to start is Fethiye. Many round the world backpackers often head to Fethiye to jump on board a bargain gulet cruise sailing along the coastline to the Antalya region. Once a small town, Fethiye has grown to become a fully fledged city, yet is devoid of typical, fast packed ambiences that descends on many urban landscapes.
Within the city centre, sights include the small amphitheatre, museum, and tombs at the back, overlooking the coastline. However, take a bus to the nearby Kayakoy Ghost Village, an eery place and the region’s top visited attraction. Also see Oludeniz, and the Blue Lagoon, that often features in international travel magazines. Oludeniz is also the para-gliding hub of Mediterranean Turkey.
Find Out More: Fethiye Area Information – Guide and Resort
5: Bursa: Turkey’s Rising Star
Twenty years ago, when the rest of Turkey embraced the internet and independent travel, Bursa stayed off the scene. Relatively unheard of, these days, it is Turkey’s rising star, not only for tourism but foreigners entering the Turkish housing ladder. With a history steeped in Ottoman nostalgia, the region is a year-round tourist hotspot because just a short drive from the main city centre bursting with culture is the Uludag National park, one of Turkey’s top visited skiing destinations.
This makes Bursa a great place to visit in winter. The city centre holds the honour of belonging to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. While there, visit the old bazaar, Orhan Gazi Kulliye, and Tophane Park. Also, take a short trip to Cumalikizik to see old Ottoman village architecture.
6: North West Trabzon
Trabzon, another popular area with people looking to own property and live in Turkey atttracts Middle eastern tourists with a conservative outlook. Two landmarks buildings to visit are the Hagia Sophia and Ataturk pavilion, a house where Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk once stayed. However, we love using Trabzon as a base to visit surrounding attractions.
The 4th-century Sumela Monastery in the Macka national park is just a short drive away. Sitting on a cliff edge, it is one of the Black sea’s most important historical buildings. Also take an overnight trip to Uzungol, a beautiful Kackar Mountain lake where hotels made from wood are the core attraction. After Trabzon, consider visiting Ayder plateau and Camli Hemsin region to see an alternative face of Turkish culture.
7: Amasya for Ottoman History
Despite being a city, we found Amasya to be cosy and welcoming. Our reasons for visiting were the Pontus king's tombs sitting high on a hill overlooking the Yesirlimak rover. Amasya is also famed for old Ottoman houses that appear in most travel magazines promoting the area. Some restored houses now have a purpose as shops or restaurants and one, a museum gives cultural insights into how locals used to live.
The 15th century Sultan Beyazit mosque displays spectacular ancient architecture and if you visit outside of prayer time, look inside. The one thing to know about Amasya is that despite being a city, it promotes a slow pace of life. Sit in local cafes, try the regional cuisine, and watch the world go by, to see how much of a happy place, Amasya is. Tourism is growing in Amasya every year, and the city is keen to put itself on the map so you will be welcome.
8: Bodrum for Immense Pleasure
Bodrum city centre belonging to the peninsula with the same name does one thing well, and that is the pursuit of leisure. For decades, artisans, wealthy celebrities and influential business people have flocked to Bodrum to unwind, relax, and destress. Do not think it is all about luxury though because even though Bodrum city has excellent five-star hotels, it excels in budget travel.
Sailing is big business, but if you prefer to stay aground, visit the castle and underwater museum. During summer, the town centre has the best nightlife scene as featured on bar street running through the old town. When we visit Bodrum, we hire a car for a few days and get out into the peninsula for a mini road trip to visit surrounding coastal resorts like Gumusluk and Yalikavak.
More About Bodrum: Complete Area Guide to the City and Coastal Resorts
9: On Your Way to Cappadocia? Choose Konya or Kayseri
If you plan to visit Cappadocia, considering stopping off at either Konya or Kayseri, two conservative cities with historical attractions. While the nightlife scene is low key for bars or large nightclubs, both are a delight during the day and a great insight into cities away from mainstream tourism.
Mevlana Museum is the place to see in Konya. Highlighting the Sufi sect of Islam through its whirling dervish lodge, it is the resting place of Rumi, that was and still is, one of the world’s greatest poets. Meanwhile, Kayseri includes a castle, the great mosque and an ethnographic museum depicting the life of Kayseri locals through the ages. Konya is ideal if travelling to Cappadocia via bus, while Kayseri is better if coming in through the airport.
Also of Interest
Beautiful Places in Turkey: While this list of cities to visit in Turkey will provide memorable travel experiences; we recommend twinning it with beautiful, natural landscapes, found nowhere else. Think about visiting the white calcium pools of Pamukkale, otherwise known as the cotton castle, the reed-lined river of Dalyan Delta, or Cappadocia’s fairy rock chimneys formed by thousands of years of wind erosion.
Did You Know? Many people think of modern, urban, landscapes for Turkish cities, but the most famous host millions of visitors every year and is thousands of years old. Ephesus ancient city that ranks in the top two of Turkey’s most visited attractions once ranked alongside Rome as an important destination. Also featuring in the Bible’s new testament and as one of the Seven Churches of Revelation, find out what to see in Ephesus here.
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