Historically known as Constantinople and Byzantium, modern day Istanbul is the most populous city in Turkey and is also the country’s economic, cultural, and historic center.
Located in between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, it is home to some of the most stunning, pristine beaches in Turkey. But there is definitely more history to enjoy and activities to do when visiting Istanbul. Just venture out of the city for a day-trip to see the wonders of Istanbul, away from the popular tourist attractions and into the locals’ view of the country!
Here are our five suggestions if you are looking to explore more of Istanbul:
Troy is a city from what some know as the Classical period, Aisa Minor. Located in modern day Turkey, it was also the setting for the famous Trojan War described in Homer’s poem, Iliad.
Uncover ancient Greek mythology and the interesting history of the Trojan War. View architectural feats like the magnificent Trojan Horse, which was rumoured to have hidden men sneaking into the city.
Troy, with its 4,000 years of history, can be considered one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. Its vantage point on the mound of Hisarlik, which overlooks the plain along the Turkish Aegean Coast, gives visitors the best views of the entire excavation site.
A total of 24 excavation efforts, spread over a vast 140 years, have shown insight to the many features of occupation in the township, and it is now listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site. The once magnificent walls made to defend the city lie among the ruins that litter the land.
Several monuments, including the temple of Athena, can be seen around here and are part of the Greek and Roman city of Ilion. We recommend taking a guided tour around the ruins and hearing the tales of the Trojan War.
Experience what the soldiers felt when they sneaked into the city by standing next to the giant Trojan Horse, and, if the official tour permits, climb into one of the legs of the magnificent wooden structure.
A day trip to Troy from Istanbul is comfortable and enjoyable for those who want to check out the history surrounding the great battles that took place on the land.
Also, if you have time, check out the coastal town of Eceabat where the seafood is famous and enjoy the fare like the locals with their freshly-caught fish.
Day Tour - Troy Tour from Istanbul
Duration: 12 hours
Get wet and wild in Turkey’s very own “Cotton Castle”! You know those photos you see online of these wonderfully pristine places that just make your eyes glow? Pamukkale is exactly one of those places!
True to its name, Pamukkale Hot Springs is a natural site in Denizli Province in southwestern Turkey with natural hot springs and carbonate minerals. Here, tourism is a major industry and people have bathed and relaxed in the pools for thousands of years. With its temperate climate, the constant steamy look of the entire area has proven to be a wonderful spot for relaxation and photo-taking!
The site includes a step-like stack of travertines, or calcium carbonate shelves, that are covered with warm, milky-blue water. Extending out along its seemingly mountainous area, there are plenty of hot springs to accommodate the many visitors.
In this area, there are about 17 hot water springs that range from 35 to 100 degrees Celsius (95 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit). Similar to the hot springs in Rotorua, New Zealand, the waters are extremely therapeutic and good for those who require some serious relaxing or healing!
In fact, the ancient Greco-Roman and Byzantine city of Hierapolis was built on top of these white “castle” structures. Only in the mid 20th century did the locals began their entrepreneurship adventures by building hotels over the ruins of Hierapolis, which not only boosted the tourism industry but also caused considerable damage to the environment and overall scenic looks of the place.
When the area was declared a World Heritage Site, the hotels were demolished and the area underwent some serious reconstruction to rehabilitate the natural hot springs.
Price: from 330 USD
Duration: around 17 hours required
The Göreme Open Air Museum in Cappadocia is well-known for being the land of strange rocks. With religious paintings well over 1,000 years old, the amazing churches have been carved in stone.
These rock-cut churches look as though they belong in the movie Transformers!
The entire site contains 75 different churches, each containing a tiny piece of historical value because of the stories behind these miniature hideouts. Christians who lived in the cliffs were hiding from the Romans and the Ottomans, who hunted them because of their religion.
In order to remain hidden, small inconspicuous churches were less vulnerable than a large monumental church. The historical events produced architectural gems that remain even till this day and age. All the churches in this area were cut out of actual rock and tastefully decorated with beautiful frescos relevant to the time, the colors still retaining their fresh vibrancy.
One of the UNESCO World Heritage sites located in Turkey, many describe Cappadocia as a beautiful and amazing piece of history. Although the years of tourism have taken a toll on the structures, it still remains a wonderful place to go sightseeing and experience some out-of-the-world landscapes not available anywhere else.
The best-preserved frescos are located in the Karanlik Kilise, due to the professional restoration. If you are an art-lover, paying the extra fee to visit the architecture within and the frescos is highly recommended!
A note on travelling during the summer season: in the summer, it is best to visit the sites early in the morning because the heat is intense anytime after midday and the area is crowded with tourists during the busy periods.
Private Day Tour of Cappadocia with Guide
Duration: 7 hours
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Uncover a stunning ancient city with a different vibe. With Classical architecture and being a former Christian pilgrimage site of Ephesus from Istanbul, it is the perfect day away from the main city.
Ephesus was an ancient Greek city located on the coast of Ionia, about 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) from present-day Selcuk, Turkey. Built in the 10th century BC, the famous library of Celsus in Ephesus is one site that is not to be missed.
Due to its strategic location, the city flourished after it came under the control of the Roman Empire in 129 BC. It was also home to one of the largest populations during the Roman period.
Famed for the Temple of Artemis, this is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Unfortunately, it was destroyed and badly damaged during a raid by the Goths. Following the difficult times, it was rebuilt and repaired along with the rest of the damaged city by Emperor Constantine.
Explore the ruined temples from the golden years of the Hellenistic Age, and walk through a stunning landscape of aged marble and incredible sites of reconstructions. Take in the architectural facade of the Library of Celsus, built to hold 12,000 scrolls and to serve as a mausoleum for Celsus, buried in a crypt beneath the library.
While the interior of the library and all the scrolls held inside were destroyed by a fire, the facade remains a tall structure in the middle of ruins. The library stood as a testament to the importance of Roman-influenced education and how a library could influence people. Ephesus, in particular the Library of Celsus, demonstrated the need for public libraries, not only in Rome, but outside the capital as well.
Price: from 391 USD
Duration: around 17 hours required
Access: Pickup from hotel in Istanbul and transfer to airport for flight to Izmir airport
Depending on how you want to plan your day trips, Edirne can either be the first or last of the day trips on your list, since its conveniently located on the junction of borders.
The imperial past is what makes Edirne interesting, from massive Ottoman imperial architectural complexes to the neo-classical architecture of the small shops that litter the small streets. Also, because of its strategic location on the junction, the area around the city is home to no less than 10 major battle sites and place of sieges since Ancient Greece, making it one of those must-see places to fully gain the traveler’s experience!
Don’t forget to get some souvenirs while you’re walking along the cobbled streets! Famous for its fruit-shaped soaps, Edirne locals use them for decoration and gift-giving rather than to clean. The naturally light scent also gives the room its left in a wonderful fragrance that is not overly stifling.
Since the main sightseeing spots are situated fairly close to each other, we recommend seeing them in this order:
First, head downtown to Selimiye Mosque, a stunning masterpiece that dominates the skyline of the city with its dome-shaped interior and towering minarets. Listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2011, the interior of the domes are decorated with artistically drawn calligraphy and geometrical designs, mostly in hues of pink and blue.
Edirne’s crowning glory, built for Selim II by Sinan, Selimiye Mosque features an interesting symmetrical design of four minarets and the soaring rise of the central dome, a feat and testament to the building skills of those in the Ottoman Empire.
Move on to the famous Meric Bridge, where the still waters lie just underneath your feet. It is a great place just to take in the natural sights and enjoy the atmosphere of calming Edirne!
Lastly, don’t forget to drop by Beyazit Kulliyesi. This complex had a mosque and hospital famous for the skills of its surgeons. In the octagonal dome, the mentally unsound were treated with musical therapy, one of the more interesting and humane methods used during that period.
Edirne Day Trip from Istanbul
Duration: 10 hours
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There you have it, five places to take your Turkey experience further than Istanbul! From the famous Troy to the relaxing hot springs of Pamukkale, there is something for everyone! Many of these sites have been named UNESCO World Heritage spots and hold plenty of heritage for interested tourists looking to travel like a local.
So prepare those walking shoes and plan your day-trips out from Istanbul, for there is more of wonderful Turkey to discover!
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