When travelers head to Turkey, they often flock to the stunning coastal beach resorts and the wonderful and historical city of Istanbul. With thousands of years of history and a rich ever changing culture, Turkey offers everything a traveler could possibly want. From vast natural landscapes to ancient cities built grandly giant palaces and mosques with breathtaking views, and small rural villages left untouched, Turkey is filled with adventure and charm.
Leaving from one of the main hubs of Istanbul or Ankara, many lesser known sites in Turkey can be easily accessed. Once they are reached, they are often surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes or ancient Roman and Greek ruins. Here are 12 breathtaking lesser known places to visit in the beautiful and ever changing country of Turkey.
1. Marvel at the Sumela Monastery
Hidden within the mountains near the village of Macka in the northeastern province of Trabzon, the Sumela Monastery is truly a sight to behold. Built in 386 AD, the Sumela Monastery is nestled on the edge of the cliff 1,200 meters above sea level. This incredible ancient monastery was built during the height of the reign of the Roman Empire, and was often left in ruin, each time being resorted and slightly altered by the following ruling empire.
Today, the Sumela Monastery is a stunning place to visit, not only for this incredible piece of architecture, but also for the beautiful natural landscapes surrounding the village of Macka. With streams, forests, and rivers, the Sumela Monastery is surrounded by nature. Many tourists do not make it out to the Sumela Monastery due to its far northeasterly location. However, it is well worth the adventure once you arrive. Travel from the nearest hub of Trabzon or take a long bus ride from Istanbul or Ankara.
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2. Take in the Views at Butterfly Valley
Known as Kelebek Vadisi in Turkish, which translates to Butterfly Valley, this stunning valley is located in the south of Turkey near the west coast. The valley itself is only reachable by boat from the main city and coastal town of Olu-Deniz. Upon reaching the valley by boat, tiny small huts and cabins beckon you to explore the forests and waterfalls hidden within the tiny valley.
A local hostel serves up delicious local foods and provides the ultimate views of the white sandy beach. Wander through the jungle away from the beach and a small stream guides you up to the crevice of the valley where a massive waterfall floods out. This waterfall is truly a sight to behold and a fantastic place to spend an afternoon exploring. It is possible to spend a few nights at the local hostel and camp out in the valley. Another spectacular way to view Butterfly Valley is to see it from the top.
Take a local taxi known as a Dolmus along the coast and get out a few minutes drive along. The valley from the top is absolutely unbelievable and provides incredible views. Seeing it from the top will spark a desire to explore it by boat the next day!
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3. Hike up Mount Nemrut
Located in the southeast of Turkey near to the big city of Adiyaman, Mount Nemrut is a lesser known gem found in Turkey. Due to its far location from many of the more modern and easily explorable cities of Turkey, Mount Nemrut is located a short drive away from the city of Adiyaman. It is possible to drive near to the top of the mountain depending on the season, however it is an incredibly rewarding experience to climb up the mountain from near the bottom. Many visitors to Mount Nemrut choose to hike up the mountain before sunrise.
Watching the sunrise from the top of the mountain is an incredible sacred experience and allows you to reflect on time. At the top of the mountain on both sides facing the east and the west, there are massive stone statues representing the remainder of the ancient tomb of King Antiochus.
Dating back to 62 BC, these ancient stone statues are unbelievable representations of the history of the world. These 8-9 metre tall statues have a variety of different heads including eagles, lions, King Antiochus himself, and other Greek, Armenian, and Iranian gods. A visit to Mount Nemrut is well worth the journey and the final destination. Although it is located very far southeast, the statues on top of Mount Nemrut are breathtaking.
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4. Get Lost in Cappadocia
Cappadocia is not so much a lesser known gem in Turkey, since it is quickly becoming one of the most popular tourists sites in the country. However, there are many places within Cappadocia that are off the beaten track and provide visitors with truly breathtaking views and experiences. Cappadocia is a region in the centre of the country that is known for its natural fairy chimney rock formations.
These fairy chimney formations have served as ancient homes and shops for thousands of locals throughout history. With the surrounding towns of Goreme and Uchisar, there are many cave homes, shops, and cafes to explore in the region. Visit the Goreme Open Air museum and delve underground to see the rock chapels and murals or climb up the surrounding hills and be rewarded with spectacular views of the cave dwellings in every direction.
Walk along the tiny winding streets and watch the hot air balloons rise over the region. Cappadocia is a magical place to explore and is easily reachable by many of the main cities in the country. Ask around and find out about the best restaurants, hotels, and trails to explore. The locals are incredibly helpful and friendly.
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5. Relax in the Pools of Pamukkale
Pamukkale is located in the west of Turkey near many towns that contain hundreds of ancient Roman and Greek ruins. Pamukkale is known for its relaxing and healthy nature with its mineral rich thermal waters flowing over the many terraced travertine pools. It is known in Turkish as “Cotton Candy” due to its many white pools, and from the top gives off a fluffy look.
Pamukkale is an incredible place to spend a day relaxing in the thermal mineral pools. Pamukkale is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its naturally created pools and beautiful views. Adventuring to this location is well worth it due to its close proximity to an ancient Roman town called Hierapolis. The ruins of Hierapolis date back to 190 BC and a theater, necropolis, and sarcophagus can be viewed, incredibly well preserved, within the vicinity of the city.
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6. Walk the Lycian Way at Olympos
Olympos is a tiny village located in a valley on the south west coast of Turkey. With a bohemian feel, the village of Olympos is quiet and dreamy and provides visitors with a glimpse into the history and culture of the region. With treehouse accommodations, cabins, and tents, there are many tiny restaurants serving up local delicacies to the visitors.
This tiny village has a beautiful beach situated along the coastline and plenty of ruins hidden among the hills and forests of the region. It is also possible to link on to part of the infamous Lycian Way, an iconic long distance footpath that spans over 500 kilometers along the ancient Lycian coast of the country.
Thousands of ancient ruins, magnificent views, and rivers lie along the footpath, and entering it from Olympos allows you to see many of these sights. Olympos is a gateway to many other adventures including boat trips along the coastline, snorkel adventures, and visits to the local towns. Reaching Olympos after dark rewards you with some of the most magnificent views of the night sky from the top of the valley.
7. Marvel at the Flames of Yanartas
A short drive from the ancient ruin-filled town of Olympos, is a small region called Yanartas. Yanartas means “Flaming Stone” in Turkish, and accurately describes the stunning and naturally occurring geographical features of the area. Yanartas hosts a dozen small natural fires that constantly burn all year long. These small fires appear like flames coming out of small naturally created vents in the rocks of the cliff side.
Upon arrival to Yanartas, it is necessary to arrive when the sun is setting in order to reach the area at sundown. A small path leads through the forested area and a large stone and rock path leads up the cliff side to the site of the small fires. The flames at Yanartas are incredible to see since they have been burning constantly for over 2,500 years.
Today, the flames are often used by locals and visitors to brew tea, known as Cay, however in the past, they were used by sailors and explorers as guiding lights and navigation posts.
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8. Drink Some Tea in Rize
Located along the northern coast of Turkey near the eastern border of Georgia, Rize is a stunning city located on the Black Sea Coastline. Rize has many quaint streets, beautiful homes and buildings, and a great coastline along the Black Sea. Rize is famous countrywide due to its large scale production of black tea.
Rize Tea has been grown and processed in the region for many decades and visiting some of the production sights around the city gives travelers a great insight into the Turkish history and culture of the city. Rize is also a popular fishing city and is host to many delicious fish restaurants. Tiny boned fish are often eaten in sandwiches and served up with delicious raw and cooked vegetables.
Exploring this city, which is located near the Georgian border is off the beaten track and does not play host to many tourists and foreigners. Head to this region now to discover one of the most important past times in the Turkish culture, which is drinking black tea and socializing with friends and family!
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9. Look Out from Ishak Pasha Palace
Located in Dogubeyazit in the far east of Turkey, Ishak Pasha Palace dominates the empty skyline of this region. The palace is frequently visited by locals and few tourists, who make it out to this isolated region of the country. Built at the height of the Ottoman Empire, Ishak Pasha Palace is a fine example of Islamic architecture.
In other cities of Turkey, Islamic architecture can often only be seen in Mosques and other religious structures, however Ishak Pasha Palace gives insight into how powerful the Ottoman Empire once was. With an onsite mosque, a harem, dungeons, kitchens, and a mausoleum, the Palace has plenty of rooms and courtyards to explore.
Perhaps one of the most memorable moments visiting the Ishak Pasha Palace is admiring the views from the Palace. The Palace looks out onto the adjacent Ishak Pasha mountain. Often snow capped, the palace provides incredible views of this beautiful, and often unexpected, region of Turkey.
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10. Walk Through History in Mardin
Mardin is a mid-sized city located in the southeast of Turkey. Exploring Mardin can only be described as taking a walk back in time through history. With beautiful architecture, friendly locals, and delicious local foods, the city holds many adventures within its tiny, winding streets.
The architecture within the city is known as Artuqid, which was demonstrated in ancient Anatolian times over 1000 years ago. This empire that once called Mardin home, as well as many other southeastern regions of Turkey and parts of Syria and Iran, had a unique and creative form of architecture and art.
Exploring the streets of this city, which was strategically built on the cliff side overlooking the Tigris River, will lead you back in time through churches, mosques, and markets. Although Mardin is located in the far southeast, it is generally easy to reach from bigger cities including Istanbul and Ankara.
Filled with a rich culture, hundreds of years of ancient history, and a vast ever changing landscape, Turkey has many breathtaking natural landscape and man-made wonders. With a varying landscape of sandy white beaches, snow-capped mountains, and thick forests, Turkey has endless adventures. Walk back in time through ancient Greek and Roman ruins or discover the influence of Islam through architecture and art and see these breathtaking lesser known sights of Turkey.
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