Take the Ultimate Tour of Turkey’s Hidden Gems and Must-Do SightsBy Sevil Delin
Turkey is full of both simple pleasures and cultural highlights — and for visitors seeking both, it is also is rich in choice. Whether you are interested in history, gastronomy, music, culture, religion, architecture or the arts, Turkey offers options in spades, from the simplest street kebab to the most elegant fine dining by the Bosphorus.
The easiest way to travel around Turkey is by plane, then once at your destination, hire a driver who can also serve as a guide and translator. This way, you can plan a rough itinerary but still have the option to make spontaneous stops as you explore.
As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.
If Istanbul is the heart and soul of Turkey, then the Bosphorus waterway is like the blood flow that keeps the heart beating — famously straddling continents, cultures and cuisines.
As you traverse the historic peninsula, must-see stops include the Blue Mosque, Topkapı Palace and the Haghia Sophia, which was recently converted back into a mosque.
Depending on your mood, stop for lunch to try simple but delicious “köfte” meatballs at the casual Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi Selim Usta or fine dining in a former hammam at Lokanta 1741. You should also book a boat trip up and down the Bosphorus, renting your own yacht and enjoying an onboard chef and a swim.
Make sure to explore the streets of Karaköy, enjoying the blend of simple hardware stores and high-end galleries, including the handful of top local galleries in the Juma Karaköy building. For drinks and dinner overlooking the city, head to Spago at The St. Regis Istanbul.
End your stay in Istanbul with a bit of pampering — either a cleansing ritual bath at the Kılıç Ali Hamam in Karaköy or traditional Ayurvedic and hammam treatments the spa at JW Marriott Istanbul Bosphorus.
From Istanbul, head to Ankara, Turkey’s political capital, which retains a warm, Anatolian energy. Once there, visit Ankara Citadel, which dates back to the Roman, Seljuk and Ottoman Empires. Exploring the interior of this fortress feels much like wandering through an Anatolian village, with its narrow winding streets and traditional wood-beamed houses.
Ankara boasts many exquisite museums, and the top two are the Ethnography Museum and the Museum of Anatolia Civilizations. But perhaps the most atmospheric site is Anıtkabır, the mausoleum and memorial to the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, which never fails to impress visitors.
Surprisingly, perhaps, Ankara is renowned for its fish restaurants, despite (or perhaps because of) being landlocked, and Trilye Balık is a perennial favorite.
After Ankara, head to the shores of the Aegean Sea for some R & R after pounding the pavements in Istanbul and Ankara. Once in Bodrum you are greeted by the imposing and recently restored Castle of St. Peter, now an evocative museum of underwater archeology.
Once you’ve had a culture and history fix at the castle, make your way to Yalikavak Marina, where you can wander through high-end boutiques and gaze upon jaw-dropping yachts tucked into the marina’s slips.
To experience epic waterfront views combined with the flavors of South Aegean and Mediterranean cuisine at its finest, head to Morena restaurant at The Bodrum EDITION or Glass Restaurant at Caresse, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa.
Once you’ve experienced Bodrum, make your way to Çeşme. While based here, plan a visit to the ancient Greek city of Ephesus (a 90-minute drive away), famed for the extravagant ruins of the ancient Celsus Library, built in A.D. 117.
As you traverse the region, you’ll soon discover the Greeks left their indelible mark on this region in the form of vineyards that dot the area, which make for a fine day of tastings — particularly at the famed Urla Winery.
Çeşme is also a center of water sports, with the charming village of Alaçatı boasting a shallow bay that is ideal for both beginner and advanced windsurfers.