With thousands of years of history to explore and a thriving metropolitan center, knowing where to spend your time in Istanbul and along the Turkish Coast can be a challenge. Whether you’re looking for short tour of ancient civilizations between spa trips and sun bathing or prefer to immerse yourself completely in archeological digs and city ruins, here are the most popular and engaging sights broken down by region, along with a few lesser-known treasures.

The opulent interior of the Ayasofya/Hagia Sofia.

The magnificent Ayasofya (Hagia Sofia) was commissioned by Emperor Justinian I as a means to establish his claim to the imperial throne of Byzantium. Photo © Viacheslav Lopatin/123rf.


Istanbul offers an intimate view of civilizations past and quickens the heart with its fast-paced metropolitan beat. Old Istanbul’s Sultanahmet sights include Topkapı Palace, the 1,500-year-old Byzantine basilica Ayasofya, the scintillating Blue Mosque, and the original enclosed mall, the Grand Bazaar. Cross the Golden Horn for Taksim’s belle epoque architecture, cruise the Bosphorus into Asia, or sail to the Princes’ Islands.

Thrace and the Sea of Marmara

This little-known slice of Turkey is gaining popularity due to its scenery and proximity to Istanbul for day trips. The Dardanelles Strait, gateway to inland Anatolia, bears the scars of lengthy battles at Gallipoli National Park. Other highlights of the region are the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, Ottoman landmarks in Bursa, and Iznik, where Christianity’s First Ecumenical Council met in AD 325.

The Northern Aegean Coast

At the tip of Anatolia, this region unfurls like an archaeological dig in progress, heightened by history’s major capitals Pergamum and King Croesus’s Sardis. Catapult back 5,000 years by visiting Troy. Sample Turkey’s best vintages in the rustic B&Bs on the island of Bozcaada. Visit İzmir’s metropolitan and Levantine haunts and explore Alaçatı’s windsurfing and spa-hopping potential in Çeşme.

Mineral springs create terraced pools at Hierapolis in Turkey.

Take a dip in the lily-white travertine pools of this surreal mineral-laden spot in the Roman ruins in Pamukkale. Photo © Steven Heap/123rf.

The Southern Aegean Coast

Hugged by gorgeous beaches and the ruins of 17 historic cities, this coast lures sun worshippers and history buffs. Ephesus, once home to the Temple of Artemis, is Turkey’s largest ancient city. Another crowd-pleaser, Meryemana is said to be the final resting place of the Virgin Mary. Kuşadası entices with modern hotels, sandy beaches, and water sports, while Selçuk offers fine antiquities scattered around a laid-back rural town. Turkey’s interior beckons with dizzying petrified waterfalls, terraced basins at Pamukkale, and Greco-Roman ruins at the 2,300-year-old spa Hierapolis.

The Turqoise Coast

The idyllic Blue Cruise putters along 1,000 kilometers of coastline, set against vertiginous cliffs, luxuriant forests, ancient cities, and the azure Mediterranean Sea. The region features hedonist resort Bodrum; Fethiye’s ghost town, Kayaköy; the natural Blue Lagoon near Ölüdeniz; and Dalyan’s river-hugging mountains. Coastal resorts Kaş and Kalkan give way to Kaleköy, with its Crusader fortress and sunken city. En route to historical and modern Antalya is Demre’s Byzantine church of Santa Claus.

Dome and turquoise tiles of Mevlânâ Shrine in Konya, Turkey.

Mevlânâ Shrine in Konya, Turkey. Photo © Steve Estvanik/123rf.

Cappadocia and Central Anatolia

The Turkish capital, Ankara, was settled over 3,000 years ago. Its Citadel district boasts the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. To the west, Konya awaits with spectacular Selçuk mosques, the Mevlânâ Shrine, and its whirling dervish order. East of Ankara lies Hattuşaş, whose 4,000-year-old Lion’s Gate is impressive. Inland, fairy chimneys, underground cities, rock-hewn chapels, and five-star cave hotels and restaurants make up Cappadocia’s global appeal.

Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Istanbul & the Turkish Coast.