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Best things to do in Turkey

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Where in the world: Europe  /  Turkey

Top 15 things to do in Turkey

1. Hagia Sophia Mosque, Istanbul

Marvel at one of the most significant artistic and architectural achievements in Turkey--and the world--at Hagia Sophia Mosque. Commissioned by the Byzantine emperor in 537, the church was converted into a mosque in the 15th century by Mehmet the Conqueror. Finally, Ataturk declared the site a museum in the 20th century. The transformation of this structure is symbolic of the transformation of the region and its people through centuries of changing empires and governments. This stunning architectural feat is most often noted for its well-preserved mosaics, featuring 30 million gold tiles, and its 6th-century dome.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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2. Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Home to sultans for centuries, Topkapi Palace is a World Heritage Site with a rich history and superb Ottoman architecture. Built by Sultan Mehmed II in the 15th century, the enormous palace's courtyards and buildings were, at one time, home to almost 4,000 people. Though much of the site is off limits to tourists, one of the highlights you can access is its highly ornate harem, with an intriguing history and notable interiors. Though royalty later moved to European-style residences along the Bosphorus, this palace is important for being truly Ottoman in spirit and design.
Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
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3. Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul

Nicknamed for the blue tiles that adorn its interior, Sultan Ahmed Mosque represents an imposing figure in the city's history and skyline. Located in the historic Sultanahmet district and built in the early 17th century, this impressive religious structure has a total of six minarets, one main dome, and eight secondary domes. Originally commissioned to reassert Ottoman power in Istanbul and across the region, this mosque still functions as a site of worship today. However, the site welcomes visitors of all faiths to view its spectacular design, which mixes traditional Islamic architecture with Byzantine elements. Keep in mind you'll need to remove your shoes and women should cover their head and shoulders.
Suggested duration: 1 hour
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4. Basilica Cistern, Istanbul

Explore the largest of hundreds of ancient cisterns located below the city at Basilica Cistern. This fascinating chamber of the underground water systems, commissioned in 532 by Byzantine Emperor Justinian, is remarkable for its practical and artistic value. After a complete renovation in the 1980s, the cistern became one of the most popular tourist sites in Istanbul's Sultanahmet district. Walk along the wooden platforms beneath the dark, vaulted ceilings of this cathedral-sized cistern and see its famous Medusa-head pillar and Hen's Eye column.
Suggested duration: 1 hour
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5. Chora Museum, Istanbul

See one of the best examples of Byzantine design in the region with a trip to Chora Museum, whose interior is entirely covered in fine mosaics and frescoes. Originally built by Constantine the Great, this church has been reconstructed five times. Most significantly, Ottoman rulers converted the structure into a mosque in the 16th century. A bit off the beaten path, you have to travel to Istanbul's Western Erdinekapı neighborhood to find this building, which opened as a secular museum in 1948. However, the masterful and aesthetically stunning interior makes this trip worthwhile.
Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
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6. Balloon Rides, Goreme

See Cappadocia's unearthly landscape while floating nearly 300 m (1,000 ft) above ground during a hot air balloon ride from Goreme. Start your journey with a complimentary buffet breakfast, then step into the basket with your fellow passengers and take to the skies as the sun rises over the area's unusual rock formations and valleys. Shorter tours allow you to snap impressive aerial photos of weird chimney-like structures and rock-cut churches, while longer full-day tours include time on the ground for exploring some of the area's highlights, such as the historic tunnels at Goreme Open-Air Museum, Pigeon Valley, and Kaymakli Underground City. These tours can last between 1 hour and 1 day.
Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
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7. Kapali Carsi, Istanbul

Wander the multitude of shops, feast your eyes on the colorful array of offerings, and haggle for traditional Turkish goods at Kapali Carsi, one of the world's oldest and largest covered markets. This bazaar, home to over 4,000 artisan shops, is essentially a maze of sheltered streets featuring Turkish carpets, ceramics, lamps, scarves, jewelry, and more. Located in the "Walled City," the site dates back to the 15th century. Today crowds from cruise ships swarm the bazaar in the summertime and visitors to the city spend hours bargaining with merchants. Enjoy the enthusiastic vendors, who will typically offer you Turkish coffee or tea while you peruse their goods.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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8. Suleymaniye Cami , Istanbul

Witness the work of famed Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan at , a majestic religious structure that dominates the Golden Horn and shares similarities with Hagia Sophia. This mosque was commissioned by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in 1550 and completed seven years later. Though it may be less ornate than other elaborate religious structures in the city, the mosque's Byzantine influence has gained it recognition for its blend of architectural styles. Having experienced damage from natural disasters and wars over the centuries, the building is fully restored and now one of the most popular attractions in Istanbul.
Suggested duration: 1 hour
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9. Dolmabahce Palace, Istanbul

This palace is the largest in Turkey with 285 rooms, 46 halls, 6 baths, and 68 toilets. It was also the administrative center for the Ottoman Empire for over 50 years and is quite highly regarded among the Turks. As you walk through the palace, notice the influence of Arabic and Persian culture, which predated the Ottoman Empire. Keep in mind that you cannot see the whole palace; some areas are off limits.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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10. Galata Tower, Istanbul

Take in dramatic panoramic views of the city and traditional Turkish fare atop Galata Tower. A recognizable symbol of the city's skyline, the tower stands 66.9 m (219.5 ft) high. Often referred to as the "Tower of Christ," it was the tallest and most important building during the time it was being built. Have a meal or enjoy a drink at the restaurant and cafe located at the top. After hours the upper portion turns into a lively nightclub.
Suggested duration: 1 hour
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11. Goreme National Park, Goreme

Get a bird's eye view of the natural rock formations at Goreme National Park. As a World Heritage Site, the park's ancient structures have been protected from development. Many have been left untouched, though some were carved out and used as churches during the Roman period. More recently, some have been transformed into housing and restaurants. The park covers 40 sq km (15.4 sq mi), and while it may seem untraditional, the best way to see it is from above. Consider taking a hot air balloon ride over the entire park and, along with the landscape, you'll likely see dozens of other balloons in the distance. Ask your hotel for a suggestion on who to book with, as there are many companies throughout Cappadocia that organize these rides.
Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
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12. Hierapolis, Pamukkale

Explore ancient thermal spas and take a dip yourself at Hierapolis, a World Heritage Site. Originally a thermal spa in 2nd century BCE, the Greek ruins of baths, temples, and monuments are still visible today at Hierapolis. Visit the on-site Hierapolis Archaeology Museum to see tombs, monuments, and ruined theatre artifacts. Nearby Pamukkale is a diverse arrangement of hot springs--some for swimming and some for scenic appreciation. One notable area, sometimes referred to as Cleopatra's swimming pool, features a set of tiered travertines on top of which bright aquamarine water gathers.
Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
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13. Pamukkale Thermal Pools, Pamukkale

Take a dip in the mineral-rich waters of Pamukkale Thermal Pools, a World Heritage Site with terraces and hot springs that have retained their beauty over millenia. People have been bathing in these pools and embracing their purported health benefits for thousands of years. Visit the site to see for yourself why its name literally means "cotton castle." Explore the white terraces formed from sedimentary rock deposits of hot springs and bathe in their waters.
Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
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14. Turkish Baths, Istanbul

Leave the vibrant streets of the sprawling metropolis behind and experience a centuries-old relaxation technique at one of Istanbul's many hammams. You'll literally feel time slowing down as you enter a classic Turkish bathhouse, where experienced staff awaits to give you an energizing body scrub and a rejuvenating massage. Shorter visits will leave plenty of time to admire the hammam's Ottoman architecture, but you can also choose a longer half-day tour that combines a visit to a Turkish bath with some retail therapy at the famous Grand Bazaar.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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15. Food Tours, Istanbul

Experience the unique melange of cultural influences that shaped Istanbul into the symbolic and literal bridge between Europe and Asia on a guided food tour. Follow your foodie guide off the beaten path and into the city's backstreets in search of barbecue restaurants, traditional "meyhane" taverns, and famous markets, as you learn about the origins of local delicacies like roast kebab, flaky "borek" pastry, and sweet "baklava." Some guided experiences will even allow you to step into a local family's home and enjoy authentic Turkish hospitality in a cozy private setting. Most tours are limited to small groups and can last from 3 to 8 hours.
Suggested duration: 4 hours
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