Loacted in both Asia and Europe, Turkey is an entrancing mix of cultures, with bustling cities, Ottoman palaces, ancient Greek ruins and chic resort towns. Its biggest draw is Istanbul, the historic gateway between East and West, and now a colourful blur of bazaars, ornate mosques, and trendy modern hangouts (there’s even a branch of Soho House). Further south lie famous coastal resorts, including Kuşadası – handy for excursions to the Greek ruins of Ephesus – and beachy Bodrum, the heart of the Turkish Riviera. Just a stone’s throw from the Dodecanese islands on the Aegean coast, this fashionable port town boasts a huge Crusader castle, a famous Underwater Archaeology Museum, and Greek-style whitewashed houses overlooking a glittering marina.
Why cruise Turkey
After a period of no, or very few sailings, the number of cruise lines returning to Turkey has risen, thanks to a lower terrorism threat and the boom of resorts like Bodrum. Many cruise lines sail to Turkey, including mega cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Marella Cruises and NCL, but also small-ship lines like Celestyal Cruises, Azamara, Windstar Cruises and Fred Olsen Cruise Lines. Those after an ultra-luxurious sailing can book with Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
Best places to visit in Turkey
Straddling the Bosphorus Strait, Istanbul is Turkey’s most charismatic city, a melting-pot metropolis where Europe and Asia collide – and the result is a sweet, spice-filled mix of colourful bazaars, stunning mosques and palaces, subterranean cocktail bars and smart restaurants. Travellers to Istanbul get the opportunity to lose themselves in the intoxicating famous Grand Bazaar, marvel at the beautiful Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya – a statement of wealth by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian – and see the ornate Dolmabahçe Palace. Agatha Christie fan? Don’t miss the chance to have a cocktail in the striking Pera Palais hotel, where the Queen of Crime wrote Murder on The Orient Express.
Topkapı Palace Museum
Topkapı Palace, or the Seraglio, is one of the most fascinating museums in Turkey, located east of Istanbul’s Fatih district and the former residence of the Ottoman sultans and imperial Ottoman court. Built in 1459, the complex grew over the centuries into one of the grandest residences in the world, and visitors can now wander four main courtyards and man smaller buildings, see where the sultan’s family lived in the harem, the residences of leading state officials and where the Imperial Council building where meetings were held. Along with wandering ornate rooms, visitors can also see the impressive collection of jewellery, including the Spoonmaker’s Diamond – the third-largest in the world – and numerous Ottoman court costumes, weaponry and ceramics.
The Turkish Riviera is having a renaissance, cementing itself as a go-to destination for Med lovers thanks so its thousands of miles of coastline that cling to the Aegean and Mediterranean Sea. At the helm is Bodrum, the ritzy port on the southwest Bodrum Peninsula. Just a stone's throw from the Greek islands, Bodrum’s most impressive sight is its castle, which offers unrivalled views over the coastline from its battlements and is home to the famed Museum of Underwater Archaeology. Visitors to Bodrum can also visit the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Halicarnassus, considered a wonder of the ancient world.
Mausoleum of Mausolus at Halicarnassus
Bodrum wasn’t always known as Bodrum, it was once called Halicarnassus, and its mausoleum was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. While Halicarnassus itself has now given way to modern Bodrum, it is still possible to visit the Mausoleum of Mausolus– though you may need to put your imagination cap on. The site – now a jumble of ancient marble and rubble – was one the grand final resting place of King Mausolus (376-353 BC), had a huge towering structure and was decorated with the finest Greek sculptures. Due to various earthquakes, the modern-day site is now mostly a peaceful garden setting, but is definitely worth a visit.
Another big hitter on the Turkish Riviera is Marmaris, a Mediterranean resort town known for its fantastic nightlife, long seafront promenade and a pretty harbour crowned by a 16th-century castle. The town has a long pebble beach lapped by brilliant blue Aegean waters and nearby visitors will find the aptly named Bar Street – home to open-air clubs, bars and music venues. Visitors are able to enjoy charter boat tours to more peaceful parts of the Riviera and to the nearby valley with its pine forests and clear waters – ideal for diving and other watersports. Kids will love the Atlantis Waterpark and Aqua Dream Water Park, and there’s also a colourful Grand Bazaar for some shopping.
The busiest cruise terminal in Turkey is Kuşadası, the gateway to the ancient city of Ephesus, but also a thriving resort town with its own collection of fantastic sights. The town itself is a jumble of colourful buildings tumbling down into the turquoise Aegean and is home to a seafront promenade, bustling yacht-packed marina and harbour with some great hotels and restaurants. Travellers should head to Pigeon Island, an outcrop just offshore connected to the mainland, to explore the small Byzantine fortress that is Kuşadası Castle. The former offshore island is now a public park with a small lighthouse and lovely views of the resort.
Ephesus was once the most important Greek city in Ionian Asia Minor and today is a Unesco World Heritage Site and major tourist destination in modern-day Turkey. Having fallen under the control of the Romans, the city is a maze of ruined Hellenistic and Roman monuments, temples and architecture, including the majestic Library of Celsus and the Great Theatre – capable of holding 25,000 spectators. Ephesus was once home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, though little remains today. The ancient city is accessed by the port of Kuşadası on Turkey’s Aegean coast.
Few archaeological are as famous as Troy, thanks so its spot in popular culture and the 2004 Hollywood film. The historical city was the site of the Trojan War from Homer’s Iliad, waged by the Greeks after Paris of Troy ran away with Helen, wife of the King of Sparta. The mythologised site is actually located in Turkey and the ruins here are supposedly the site of the war. Troy today is a jumble of different ruins from different eras – from the Bronze age to Byzantine eras – but the main sights from ‘Troy’ are the city’s outer walls, nearby fortifications, the ruins of the fortified town of Troy VI and the Greco-Roman Temple of Athena. The city, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is 30km outside of the port of Canakkale.
Best things to do in Turkey
Shop in a bazaar
Embrace Turkey’s colourful culture by shopping for handicrafts, spiced and other crafts in a bazaar, the best being the Grand Bazaars of Istanbul and Bodrum and the shoppers’ paradise that is the Kuşadası Bazaar. Prepare to haggle.
Enjoy its beaches
Turkey isn’t just enchanting and intoxicating cities, ancient ruins and lively ports, it has beautiful white sands beaches lapped by waters of the Med and Aegean. Beach lovers should head to the Turkish Rivera for the best the country has to offer.
Visit ancient ruins
Rich in Greek and Roman history, Turkey is peppered with archaeological sites and museums, the most impressive being Ephesus but also Troy and the Temple of Artemis – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Visit a winery
Turkey has a long winemaking history, but it’s only recently being recognised globally for the quality of its wines. There are some great vineyards to visit just outside of Kuşadası such as the Yedi Bilgeler Vineyards.
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