Turkey may be Turkey no longer, but Türkiye has become one of our favorite places to visit. With rich cultural diversity, staggering rocky landscapes, thousands of years of history, and enough dreamy Mediterranean coastline to say, “screw it, I’m moving to Turkey…I mean Türkiye,” this colorful Eurasian gem has become one of the most sought-after destinations for travelers in the know. Discover why you should visit Turkey today.
1. Spectacular Mediterranean Coasts
Greece, France, and the Amalfi may get the lion’s share of the Mediterranean love, but the Turkish coast is just as enthralling. It’s also far less discovered, meaning more secret beaches, hidden reefs, and empty seas. In total, there are 1600 kilometers of turquoise coastline twisting down from the European border with Greece to the Asian border with Syria.
While you could spend a lifetime exploring it all, one of our favorite little corners is Bodrum, nestled roughly halfway between Izmir and Antalya. The town’s pristine bay has played host to wooden ships of all sizes for 3,000 years. Sandy coves and golden ribbons of beaches stretch out east and west—Bitez and Ortakent-Yahşi are a few of the best. It’s the perfect place to enjoy the blues and greens of the Aegean Sea, which tops out at a blissful 80ºF in August and never dips below 62ºF for the rest of the year. In the distance, gently sloping teardrop-shaped islands breach the surface, and traditional wooden gulets tack back and forth, providing visitors with an authentic and relaxing Mediterranean escape.
2. Istanbul: A Merging of Cultures and Continents
Istanbul is one of the most diverse, historic, bewildering cities we’ve had the pleasure of getting lost in. Half European, half Asian, it’s a true medley of cultures, people, architecture, tastes, smells, and sounds. It’s also massive. Home to a whopping 15 million inhabitants, we couldn’t blame you for spending an entire Turkish vacation exploring this historic megacity.
Start your adventures along the cobbled streets of the Old Quarter in the city’s European half and check off all the must-sees. The 17th-century Blue Mosque combines Islamic and Byzantine architecture with its eye-catching minarets shooting up over giant domes. Nearby, the iconic Hagia Sophia, replete with thousands of mosaics, began as a church in the 500s (the world’s largest), then became a mosque, then a museum, then a mosque once more. So yeah, it’s a complicated place.
When all that history has become overwhelming, jump on the ferry and cross the Bosphorus Strait to get to the city’s Asian half. Our favorite neighborhoods are in the Kadikoy District, home to fantastic street art and countless charming bars, cafes, and restaurants. It’s quieter, less hectic, and farther removed from the tourist trail.
“Like a fairy tale” may be as overused as Times Square is overrated, but, honestly, take a look at that photo and describe Cappadocia without using the phrase. It’s as if Dr. Seuss drew up the plans and some eccentric Turkish contractors went to work chiseling them into stone. Who knows, maybe the good doctor spent some time here, and Oh the Places You’ll Go was born.
This central Turkish region is home to fantastical “fairy chimneys,” conical rock formations which rise out of the arid valleys and hillsides. Many of these and the surrounding tuff rock structures were chiseled out, creating a labyrinth of homes, businesses, and underground cities. Most mornings, hot air balloons lift off overhead, and the landscape comes alive in color. It’s truly unlike anything we’ve seen anywhere else. Spend your days hiking, soaring, exploring, or sitting back and taking in the remarkable scenery.
4. The Bazaars
We may have left the bazaars out of the Istanbul write-up, which seems odd as one of the largest in the world is smack dab in the middle of the city, yet it was for a good reason. We feel like these electric, oft discombobulating hives of activity deserve their own section. After all, they’re an integral part of Turkish life and some of our favorite spots to visit.
Let’s start with Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, the city’s 4,000-shop-strong megamarket first opened its door to the public in the mid-1400s. Since then, it’s grown into an enormous 37,000 square meter center of trade that attracts more than a mind-boggling 250,000 visitors a day. Yeah, it’s pretty big. Today, the ancient Walmart hopped up on kaleidoscopic steroids sells pretty much everything: spices, rugs, textiles, lanterns, and so on. Beyond the shopping, the building itself is a feast for the eyes. Massive vaulted brick ceilings arch overhead as varying architectural styles, the outcome of numerous fires over the years, compete for attention.
If you head to Istanbul, start in the Grand Bazaar and then mosey to some of the city’s smaller, more specialized places of commerce. Check out the Egyptian Bazaar, which was also made from wood in the 17th century and is home to various spice merchants or the Sahaflar Carsisi, also a remnant of the 17th century that sells used books.
4. Food in Turkey
The food in Turkey is on another level, and we’re saying that as a group of people who eat entirely too much in entirely too many countries. Remember how we discussed all those cultures and backgrounds that seemed to meet in modern-day Turkey? Well, that created a fusion of tastes and aromas that’s really unlike any other gastronomic scene we know.
Cuisine in the nation generally breaks down into three groups: Turkish Aegean cuisine, Anatolian cuisine, and Black Sea cuisine. Of course, all of these have mixed at various periods, resulting in an endless medley of delicious dishes.
We like to start with mezes; cold appetizers generally shared, consisting of yogurts, greens, pastes, and more. These colorful dishes are paired with bread and can range from the spicy to the savory. Then there are the dolmas, exquisitely spiced meats and vegetables wrapped in grape leaves. For a main, you could dive into a tasty, meaty, cheesy pide or Turkish flatbread pizza. Or you could go another direction and chow down on some world-famous kebabs. When it’s time to wrap things up, try baklava, the iconic flaky pastry filled with nuts and sweetened with honey. Or, of course, there’s the always delicious Turkish Delight; the sugary gelatinous candy has been a fan favorite for years.
And that’s just scratching the surface of one of the world’s most incredible culinary hotspots.
5. History and Culture of Turkey
If you’ve made it this far, you’re undoubtedly aware that Turkey is old. Really old. And that’s certainly one of this country’s charms. The history is fascinating, and the ancient ruins, thousand-year mosques, and two-thousand-year-old underground cities are impossible to overlook. The current Turkish Republic only came to be in 1923, yet the area has been populated, fought over, and, most importantly, changing for thousands of years.
The region was initially made up of the Eastern Thrace and Anatolia, both of which were consumed by the Roman Empire way back in the 2nd century BC. The Roman Empire eventually became the Byzantine Empire, which was forced to fight off Seljuk Turks through the 1200s AD. Eventually, however, Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, remember the song!) fell to the Ottomans in the 1400s. Ottoman rule lasted all the way until World War I. So, yes, it’s a long, complex history. And what makes it even more interesting is that lots of it is still being discovered today.
We talked about those incredible underground cities earlier, but what makes them even more fascinating is that archeologists are still finding more of them. Take, for instance, this one, discovered in the past few years in the province of Mardin. It’s 2,000 years old, covers more than 74 acres, and may have housed up to 70,000 people.
For the love of turkey
Türkiye is just about as exciting a place as there is to go at the moment; so exciting that we just launched a trip there.
We’ll kick things off the right way, roaming the meandering streets of Istanbul, where you’ll have a chance to explore the most famous buildings, museums, and bazaars. Of course, you’ll be eating your way through it all, so get ready for an explosion of flavor, unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. We’ll adventure from the city’s more traveled European half to the less explored Asian quarter, and you’ll encounter the fusion of cultures and backgrounds.
From Istanbul, we’ll head south to take in the brilliance of Cappadocia and all its beauty. You’ll hike between fairy chimneys, zigzag down into underground cities, and even fly overhead in a hot air balloon if you choose.
Our journey continues to handicraft villages and ancient archeological sites that mix Greek, Roman, and Byzantine cultures. From there, we’ll eventually wind down to Bodrum for a taste of that Mediterranean good life.
Yeah, it’s quite the trip.
So go ahead and check out our in-depth 9-day deep-dive into Türkiye.