Spending just over 3 months in Turkey (even overstaying our Visa by one day), you might think we have seen everything there is to see in Turkey. But that is far from true. Yes we did spend over a month Volunteering in Çeşme and we spend 3 weeks climbing. But during our remaining time we discovered that Turkey has far more to offer than cheap all-inclusive resorts and party locations. These are our top 5 sights in Turkey.
Cappadocia with its curiously shaped rock formations looks like the setting for a fairy tale. The famous balloon flights over this wonder of nature provide an even more surreal scene. Everyday at sunrise a few 100 balloons fly over the different valleys, making for a colorful spectacle. We decided to join one of the flights, which is certainly recommended. But watching the balloons from the ground is already a unique experience. We camped on a viewing point adjoining the famous Rose valley one morning. We woke up early and relit last nights campfire while watching the balloons float over the valleys.
Cappadocia is also the perfect place for many day hikes. We hiked the Rose Valley, and due to the many misdirection by locals we decided to write a small guide (coming soon). Don’t let anyone make you believe you can not walk this hike without a guide! Once you have found the start it is a really easy path! Another way to explore the valleys is renting a Quadbike (ATV). Unfortunately we cannot recommend our company (Hitchhiker tours, 150 TL/4 hours, bargain to get the fuel included) because of really bad service (simply rude and charging 80 TL to extend for one hour, what we obviously didn’t do), but there should be plenty others that let you rent one without booking a tour.
The town of Göreme is at the center of the most famous valleys and is your perfect base camp. If budget is not a problem you can stay in one of the boutique cave hotels, but even the budget friendly hostels are build around caves. Göreme is also where we had the best food during our stay in Turkey and our first Haman experience. Not exactly luxury, but more traditional than the hotel owned hamans.
We stayed at Cappa Cave Hostel (80 TL for a double room): a budget option with a very friendly host that makes you feel right at home.
They also arranged our balloon flight at a good price: € 85 for a 12 person basket. A standard flight takes about an hour. A good deal compared to other companies that charge more for overcrowded baskets.
Our favorite places to eat are Keyif Cafe & Restaurant and Pumpkin Goreme Restaurant and Art Gallery. If you want a coffee that isn’t a soluble Nescafe or a powdery Turkish coffee go to Cafe Safak.
2. The Lycian Way
Turkeys most famous walking route stretches between Fethiye and Antalya and is 500 km in total. Only a brave few walk the whole length, but individually all parts of this road are worthwhile. Stunning views are mixed with historical places. If you are in for an adventure, start in the East from Antalya (Geyikbayiri) like we did. This is the roughest part of the Lycian way, not only in terms of hight difference but also in terms of finding your way! The path is badly marked and a recent forest fire made it even harder. We stumbled upon spooky graves in the mountain mist, could hear the wild pigs around our tent at night and we saw wild deer. What we didn’t see was other hikers, which can be a relief if you fly in from the crowded Antalya.
Be warned that on this part of the Lycian way lodging options are not always available and there are no shops in the small villages you pass. Surprised by this we ran out of food on the second day. Luckily a friendly Iman refuled us with bread and vegetables, free of charge. Water sources are scarce and you should have at least day worth of drinking water with you. You can soon read our full report linked here.
Off course there are other parts of the Lycian way that offer you a more relaxed time. The Western part sticks closer to the shoreline and has more lodging options so you don’t need a tent.
You can read everything about the Lycian way in the book by Kate Clow.
Maps can be bought in the only outdoor shop in Antalya: Tibet Outdoor.
Be warned that the mountainous parts of the Lycian Way are not recommended in winter. Without GPS it would be impossible to find your way in the parts covered with snow. There is an application but the GPS functionality is not accurate enough to use as sole means of navigation.
Ephesus is a focal point of ancient civilization. Founded in the 10th Century BC it has seen many rulers (Greek, Roman, Persian,..) in it’s existence an grew out to be the most important city in the Byzantine empire. Being at such a central point, Turkey is actually scattered with remains of ancient cities. But if you would visit just one, Efes (as the Turkish call Ephesus) should be it. It is remarkably well preserved and the sheer size of the city will have you wandering around for hours on end.
We were lucky enough to be guided by our Turkish friend Mazhar, who insists the latrines are the most important sight. Although his explanation was hilarious and they did have pretty advanced plumbing, we tend to disagree. Nothing remains of the Temple of Artemis (one of the 7 ancient wonders), but other locations such as the library, Hadrian temple and the theater display the true grandness of Ephesus. The theater could host up to 25000 people making it the largest in the ancient world.
If you want to be informed about the complex history of the city visit the Ephesus Archaeological museum in Selçuk first. Next to a high concentration of many important artifacts such as the statue of Artemis , they also have a nice video with a 3D reconstruction that gives you an idea of the scale of the city.
Ephesus is often combined with a visit to the nearby house of Virgin Mary. But honestly we wouldn’t bother. Unless you are on a pilgrimage it is just not worth the time/money.
in summer it can be hot (and crowded), bring a hat and some water. Water is available on site, but off course more expensive.
Ephesus site: 40 TL or about € 10.
Museum: 40 TL or about € 10.
Consider buying a Museum Pass : A Museum Pass the Aegean is 75 TL (valid for 7 days) and covers both the museum and the archaeological site. A Museum Pass for Turkey is 185 TL (valid for 15 days).
Şirince: this charming ancient Greek village is famous for its fruit wines and charming little streets.
4. Lake Bafa
Lake Bafa, perhaps our favorite place in Turkey. And we are not just saying that because of its climbing potential. Although it is home to yet another ancient city (Herakles), it is the beautiful surroundings that stole our harts. Imagine a lake flanked by mountains, with curious looking boulders scattered on the slopes as far as the eye can see. Exploring from the rural city of Kapriki you quickly stumble upon ancient Roman structures, such as temples and guard towers. Venture a little bit further and you are rewarded by prehistoric cave paintings and a Byzantine Monastery with fresco-decorated boulders.
When tired you can sit on the the shores of the lake or rent a boat from a fisherman doubling as your captain. Explore the tiny islands perked with Castles and monasteries while gaping at the marvelous Pelicans and Flamingo’s. Can you see why we are so excited about this place?
We recommend staying at Karia Pension. You can book a room or pitch your tent (10 TL or € 2,5 per day per tent) between the farm animals. And they serve great traditional Turkish breakfast (25 TL or about € 6,5)
You can read more about this place and our experience in our full blog on Lake Bafa.
5. Pamukkale and Hierapolis
Upon seeing pictures of the white terraces of Pamukkale one might wonder what he is looking at. It looks like snow, but off course it isn’t. Pamukkale translates to “cotton castle”, but you might have guessed it isn’t cotton either. The white stuff is actually travertine: a carbonate mineral left by the flowing water from the local hot springs.
No matter what it is, it still remains a wonder to the eye and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a reason. This white castle is so big it can be seen from the town of Denizli 20 km away.
Due to it’s impressive appearance and the thermal pools Pamukkale has been a major tourism site for thousands of years. But mostly over the last century it has been badly damaged by mass tourism. It is better protected since it became a World Heritage Site. The pools you can bath in are now artificial and one is required to remove his shoes before walking on the surface.
Still, we quickly got annoyed by the slopes and pools full of tourists. We were both delighted and surprised to find the adjoining city of Hierapolis at the top deserted. Overshadowed by the natural wonder, these well-preserved Roman ruins have been underestimated for decades.
Hierapolis was founded as a thermal spa in the 2nd century BC. Many patrons retired and eventually died here. The Necropolis is a collection of remarkable sarcophagi and tombs extending over 2 km. Other significant structures are the Gates, the Temple of Apollo and the Theater with its splendid stage fully restored. Since it gets little interest from tourists, you are free to roam around as you wish (except on the lower part of the theater).
To end your day you can take a swim in the Antique Pool. The bottom of the pool is covered with Roman columns because of the 7th century earthquake. We decided to skip it (there is an extra entrance fee) and enjoyed our stroll back down the travertines that where now far less crowded and reflected the light of an amazing sunset.
Consider sleeping in town so you can visit outside of rush hours. Not exactly star material, but we found Hotel Göreme to be good value. Their pool is operational unlike many other budget hotels in Turkey. We were invited for chai (tea) and a chat with the owners and their family.
35 TL for entrance to the travertines and Hierapolis, Museum and Ancient Pools (these are the ones with the columns, not the white travertine baths) are extra.
Again consider buying a Museum Pass if you are combining with other visits. A Museum Pass for the Aegean is 75 TL (valid for 7 days).
Turkey has an excellent network of VIP-busses (TV-screen, free snacks and comfortable seats). Many of them are scheduled overnight. Pamukkale Turism is a good company (website in Turkish, ask for assistance in your accommodation). Antalya to Göreme for example is 75 TL (about € 19). Warning: when travelling to Göreme be sure to check with your company if they travel all the way to Göreme and not just to the nearby town of Nevşehir.
Domestic flights can be handy for bigger distances or when you are short on time. Antalya-Izmir for example was 140 TL in September (we had to fly back to get a package stuck in Izmir customs)
We opted to hitchhike, since Turkey is one of the easiest places to hitch a ride. Just stand in the right place and almost everyone going the right direction will take you. Only a few times we had to wait more than 15 minutes. Only once in 3 months (maybe about 100 rides) were we ask to pay for our ride. More memorably, plenty of times we were invited along to a restaurant for free. Find more info on the Hitchwiki page for Turkey.
To conclude a little quiz: Can you guess why this valley is called the love valley?