Whilst Istanbul in itself is teeming with cultural, historic and interesting attractions, the rest of Turkey has much to offer international visitors.
From easy day tours to overnight or weekend stays, there is an option for all tastes close by. This is a great way to utilise ones time, whilst adding depth to a prolonged holiday in Istanbul.
People like Bonnie Meyer, a university student from the Gold Coast, Australia had no idea just how diverse the country is.
“I didn’t know much about Turkey before going, I absolutely loved it when I arrived though,” she said.
She spent more than a week in Turkey with Istanbul as her base. “If you had the time I would recommend staying a little longer and doing more day trips or even spending time in another city or town,” Meyer said.
Princes’ Islands (Adelar)
Just an hour by ferry from the city centre, a trip to this chain of nine archipelagos islands in the Sea of Marmara is a great way to get out of the hustle and bustle of city life.
Once used as a place of exile for royalty during the Byzantine era, they are now a place of peace and quiet as motorized vehicles are banned, meaning horse and carts are how you get around. With much history and charm, this place will make you feel like you have gone back in time a few hundred years.
Meyer commends the Gallipoli peninsula for being her most cherished memory of Turkey. “We did a day tour from Istanbul and our guide was extremely funny, knowledgeable and very passionate,” she said.
Gallipoli has a special significance to Australians and New Zealanders, as it is where many of our ANZAC soldiers fought and were killed in World War I. Some day tours also include a stop at the ancient city of Troy nearby.
“It was amazing to actually see where our soldiers fought, putting a bit of perspective into the harsh terrain and the actual size of where they fought.”
The well-kept memorial sites are very touching, respectful and impressive.
“The whole place just had this beautiful and peaceful vibe that was really unexpected.”
Take a boat ride over the Sea of Marmara and you can find yourself in the first ever capital of the Ottoman Empire, Bursa.
Make sure to check out the Ulu Camii (The Great Mosque), with its architecture that could be described as the love child of the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. Don’t miss the Kepali Carsi bazaar behind it, the Green Mosque and Tomb and the Bursa Teleferik cable car for amazing views.
Take a day to sail up the unique Bosphorus Strait to the Black Sea with Europe on your left and Asia on your right.
Meyer said this was one thing she didn’t get to do. “I would love to go back soon and explore Istanbul a bit more,” she said.
Warning: stay clear of small private sellers offering ‘good deals’ as they are usually very overpriced and on small, unsafe boats.
Discover one of the most well preserved excavation sites in the world, Ephesus. The double story façade of the Library of Celsus is a major highlight.
A day trip from Istanbul is only possible by flying. As this is a very popular destination, many companies offer flights and all-inclusive tours for a very reasonable price.
Pamukkale means “cotton castle” in Turkish, and is a natural site of hot springs. Terraces of carbonate minerals are left by the flowing water and create beautiful white baths.
Even further than Ephesus, Pamukkale is also only possible for a day tour by flying but there are many companies that offer this.
Whilst these day trips would be great for any short stay in Istanbul, more adventures can be found further beyond.
Lara Ryde, a 23-year-old from Sussex, England recently spent a summer in Fethiye, a region in the south-west corner of the country. With beautiful beaches, sunny weather and historic ruins, the Mediterranean coast seems worlds away from Istanbul.
From June to October 2014, Ryde worked as a travel representative for the TUI group. She fell head over heels for the location and found some spots nearby that were “absolute gold”.
“There was a place called Butterfly Valley and it’s just outside of Oludeniz which is crazy touristy,” she said.
The valley can only be accessed by taxi boat from the town and once you arrive in the canyon, a beautiful beach welcomes you. Here you can find many walking tracks, waterfalls and – as the name suggests – butterflies.
“Then you have Kabak, which is a right hidden treasure,” Ryde says while describing her favourite place there; The Olive Garden. This yoga retreat and restaurant/bar nestled high up in the mountains has incredible views of the bay down below. “There are loads of cute wooden cabins and you can walk down to private beaches and go on hikes,” she says.
“It’s hard to choose my favourite sight, but Saklikent Gorge was super fun once you get past the main tourist part,” she said recommending another location close to Fethiye. “You can even stay in tree houses there.”
“Apart from the sights, the people were my favourite part of Turkey, super friendly and always so willing to help,” she said.
Bodrum, Marmaris and Antalya are other Mediterranean beach side towns fit for a romantic getaway out of the city.
Being an 8-hour drive from Istanbul means Cappadocia is a little too far to go for a day trip.
“I spent two nights and two full days is Cappadocia and that was plenty of time to see a lot.”
Turkey is an absolutely beautiful country worth exploring.
Where’s your favourite place in Turkey?