Turkey is an interesting and exciting place to visit. Blogger network member Zoe, from Splodz Blogz, shares her ten top tips of things to do in Turkey, inspired by her recent trip there and a feature in Lonely Planet magazine.
This past October I went on a week-long tour exploring some of the best sights Turkey has to offer. Starting in Istanbul and ending in Fethiye courtesy of a tour bus and guide, Turkey exceeded my expectations as a great place to explore, offering some of the most intense history and culture I’ve ever experienced when travelling. With Istanbul just a four hour plane ride from the UK, it’s also very accessible, and not expensive to visit either.
Here are my top ten things to do based on my own experience. There’s lots more besides, of course, but this should get you going for starters…
Visit Europe and Asia in the same day
Istanbul is a large and rather fabulous transcontinental city; European on the west, Asian on the east. It sits on the Bosphorus strait, an incredibly important trading route between the Black Sea and Sea of Marmara. There are regular ferries across the Bosphorus and a large bridge if you’re in a car – a boat tour on the river will provide a great way to see Istanbul and it’s possible to go all the way up to the Black Sea if you have all day. Generally speaking the sights you’ve heard such as the Grand Bazaar, Spice Market and Topkapi Palace are all on the European side, but the Asian side is well worth a visit and of course the gateway to the rest of Turkey.
Go bare foot in the Blue Mosque
When Sultan Ahmed wanted to build a mosque he wanted it to be bigger and better than anyone else’s. The large dome and six towering minarets are surrounded by eight secondary domes, and it is renowned as one of the most spectacular mosques in the world. While it is still used for daily prayer, the Blue Mosque, so called thanks to the blue tiles used in construction, is open to the public. Cover up and take off your shoes before entering (they’ll provide you a scarf if needed) and take a look; it’s equally as impressive on the inside as on the outside. Despite being full of people it’s a very peaceful place, just imagine it with 10,000 people!
See Moses’ staff in Topkapi Palace
Once the residence of the emperors of the Ottoman Empire, Topkapi Palace is a huge and rather spectacular palace full of decadence and lavishness. Overlooking the Bosphorus and with fantastic views of Istanbul, it is possible to spend hours wandering around the various buildings and exhibitions within its grounds. One such exhibit is said to contain important holy relics to the Muslim, and in fact Christian, world, including Moses’ Staff and David’s Sword. There is also a room full of jewels – if you’ve never seen how green real emeralds are this is a great opportunity to see a big pile of pebble sized gems to make your eyes wide.
Learn recent history in Ankara
Turkey’s recent history is as interesting as its ancient history, and it is possible to gain a real sense of that at Anıtkabir, Ataturk’s Mausoleum, in Ankara. Ataturk was the president and founder of the Republic of Turkey, and is very highly regarded in Turkey as being the man who finally saved Turkey and turned the country into something great for all. The mausoleum is vast, and must be seen to be believed; with statues, plaques, gardens, and a museum dedicated to Ataturk himself.
Play with perspective on a salt lake
Lake Tuz (Tuz Golu in Turkish) is a vast salt lake said to be the second largest in the world after Bonneville in Utah, USA (so our guide said, anyway), and is easily accessible to you and me thanks to a large carpark and little market on its banks. It is one of those places where perspective goes out of the window – so vast and flat and white – it’s difficult to tell how far away things are or even what you are looking at. Images look like a field of snow, reflections dance about in the distance, and that salt gets everywhere!
Wake up in a hot air balloon in Cappadocia
Every morning at sunrise the people of Cappadocia put on the most incredible show. Jump in one of hundreds of hot air balloons in the early hours and be floating up in the sky as the sun rises over the incredible landscape that is Goreme National Park. Soar gently above fairy chimneys, and get your own version of the most Instagrammable photograph you’ll ever see. Not cheap – it costs around 140 EURO for a flight, but one of those bucket list items you simply cannot do anywhere else in the world. It’s quite spectacular, within a few minutes of landing back on the ground you’ll wonder if you were ever up there.
Hide where the Christians hid
In early Roman times Christians were persecuted by the pagans, leading to them finding refuge in underground cities and cave systems dug out of the soft lava rock that covers Cappadocia. There are several cave systems to visit, complete with stables, kitchens, communal living areas, toilets, and of course churches. Some have frescos on the walls depicting Bible stories, and all give clues as to what it might have been like to need to hide from the enemy. Archaeologists are still finding new cave systems today; they were very well hidden!
Trek amongst the fairy chimneys
There are some great hikes in Goreme National Park, Cappadocia, which get you up close and personal with the fairy chimneys, mushroom rocks, and up onto the mountain tops. Start in Goreme itself and you can be up high in just a few minutes, or head out to Camel Rock and meander in and out of the strange rock formations created when the area was surrounded by active volcanoes. A bit sandy underfoot so get yourself some sensible shoes on, and plenty of sun cream, and get lost for a few hours.
Wade up to your middle in a gorge
The Saklıkent Canyon is 300 meters deep and 18 km long, one of the deepest in the world, and if you’re willing to get your feet (and knees, and potentially bum if you’re short like me) wet you can walk along it. After wading across the fast flowing river with the help of a rope to stop you falling over, you can make your way up through the gorge for around four kilometres in the summer (it’s a snow fed river so only passable after the spring melt). If you want to do the whole thing that’s a good couple of days trekking, but an hour or two is just perfect to experience river walking in a rather stunning landscape. Alternatively you can get in a rubber ring and float down it. Your choice!
Skip dessert but eat sweets
While the Turks like to end their meals with a slice of watermelon or a fresh fig, this doesn’t mean they don’t know how to do sweet treats. You’ve all heard of Turkish delight, which is thankfully not the sweet chemically treat called by that name at home, but rather a beautifully sweet and sharp treat made with fruit and nuts. Make sure you also try traditional chestnut chocolates, as well as old fashioned cotton candy with pistachio, called Pişmaniye. Oh and Baklava… greasy, sweet, flaky, yummy.
I was inspired to share my travels in Turkey from Lonely Planet magazine, where a recent issue featured a mini guide “Explore Turkey” (typical that it should arrive a couple of days after I got home!). It was a great introduction to this fascinating and travel-worthy country.
If you, or someone you know, are looking for travel inspiration, a subscription to Lonely Planet magazine is a worthwhile, great value investment.