For History & Culture
Straddling East and West, Istanbul is as varied and chaotic as cities come. But once you’ve acclimatised to the fast-paced way of life and hectic streets, you’ll find something interesting on every corner. Istanbul is the most populous European city, with beautiful architecture that blends old and new – historic towers sit next to tiny teahouses and wooden shacks. It also has a rich history and a wealth of diversity, from the people to the food. You could easily spend a couple of days exploring the historic peninsula where you’ll find some of the country’s most famous sites, including the Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque, Topkapi palace and Hagia Sophia. Take time to visit some of the city’s varied neighbourhoods, like Fener and Balat (Istanbul’s former Greek Orthodox and Jewish districts), Galata with its cobblestone streets and rooftop bars, and Besiktas, one of the oldest areas with numerous traditional coffee shops. Along the way, look out for borek (buttery filled pastry), pizza-like flatbreads called pide, and of course, baklava.
Where To Stay: The Bank Hotel in the historic Karakoy quarter is a boutique hotel with great views over the Bosphorus bridge. Following a recent renovation, it now has chic interiors, a spa and spacious rooms with marble en-suites and freestanding baths. Just a short walk away is newcomer The Peninsula Istanbul, a luxury hotel with an impressive outdoor pool. If you don’t stay overnight, visit the rooftop restaurant for Turkish-Asian cuisine.
For Luxury Beach Resorts
Bodrum is where the fashion set and Turkish A-listers head during summer weekends. Thanks to a string of luxury openings in recent years, there are plenty of hotels to choose from, as well as beach clubs, fine dining restaurants and the beautiful Bodrum windmills which date back to the 18th century. It might be one of the most exclusive parts of the Turkish riviera, but Bodrum also has charming traditional villages to explore, as well as cultural institutions like the Zeki Muren Arts Museum. Spend an afternoon at Yahsi, a popular coastal town known for its seafood restaurants, or visit Bitez beach, with its turquoise waters and striped umbrellas. If you have kids in tow, there’s Bodrum castle and Camel beach for camel rides across the sand.
Where To Stay: It doesn’t get better than The Bodrum Edition, which has stunning views of the Aegean Sea, a huge infinity pool with chic sun loungers and rooms with private pools, balconies and gardens. As with all Edition hotels, rooms are minimalist and chic with all the luxury touches you’d expect. Caresse is another top choice for its own beach club and spacious rooms with perfect sea views.
For A Bucket List Trip
Cappadocia has one of Turkey’s most interesting landscapes. Here, you’ll find towering boulders and vast hills with fairy chimneys – unique rock formations created by ancient volcanic eruptions. It’s also one of the most famous spots in the world for hot air balloon rides. Visitors wake up early to see other balloons in the distance while the sun rises. Book an experience with Get Your Guide which includes a champagne toast and hotel pick-up and drop-off. Other Cappadocia highlights include Kaymakli Underground City, a maze of tunnels and rooms carved eight levels deep into the earth, the Devrent Valley with some of the most interesting rock formations, and Goreme Open-Air Museum, a Unesco World Heritage site home to churches and chapels carved into the rocks.
Where To Stay: Cappadocia isn’t close to a major city, so it’s worth spending a few days in the region for a worthwhile trip. Argos in Cappadocia is set in a former monastery built into the rocks. The best rooms have beds at the top of stone staircases and pools built into caves, while the restaurant serves traditional Turkish dishes. Phocas Cave Suites, a little further out, offers excellent value for money – from just £50 per night, rooms are simple and cosy, and there’s a spacious terrace to watch the balloons at dawn.
For Sun, Sea & Sand
Fethiye is in the middle of Turkey’s Turquoise Coast and is one of the country’s most unspoiled areas, with rustic houses and traditional eateries along the beaches. There’s a good mix of accommodation, ranging from luxury resorts only accessible by boat to homestays run by friendly locals. Fethiye’s most famous landmark is Blue Lagoon, a protected nature reserve. Butterfly Valley (only accessible by boat) has an incredible beach, while the old town is home to historic sites and food markets with cheap street food. Outdoorsy types can walk through the towering Saklikent Gorge or hike some of the Lycian Way, while Iztuzu beach is the place to watch turtles hatch. For a fun day trip, hire a boat or skipper to hop around the smaller neighbouring islands.
Where To Stay: If you’re planning a special holiday, put Yazz Collective at the top of your list. Tucked away in a remote cove, the resort is only accessible by boat. With some of the most beautiful vistas on this list, it has 16 chic guesthouses with private gardens or beach views. If you’re not staying, book a reservation at the restaurant and bar, or hire a day bed on the beach to relax. Expect sunset parties and DJ sets while friendly staff bring Turkish plates and zingy cocktails to your table.
For All-Inclusive Holidays
If you like the idea of an all-inclusive holiday in beautiful surroundings, Antalya is a top choice. Its south-west corner has over 600km of beaches and secluded coves, with olive groves and the Taurus Mountains in the backdrop (a great spot for mountaineering). You’ll also find glitzy beach clubs and super yachts bobbing in the harbours. Antalya has natural beauty to explore, too, like The Duden falls which drop straight into the Med, and the protected Suluada island with its white-sand beach and turquoise waters. Adventurous travellers and families can try white water rafting in Koprulu canyon, a vast limestone gorge, while those after a culture fix should head to Antalya city and the ancient Aspendos amphitheatre.
Where To Stay: For a special trip, Kempinski The Dome is a design-led all-inclusive hotel built in traditional Turkish Seljuk style. There are 11 restaurants, cafés and bars, as well as a luxury spa and the only PGA-certified golf course in the country. Choose from elegant doubles to spacious family rooms. For something more affordable Deniz Feneri Lighthouse near Kas offers great value for money – some rooms have their own infinity pools while others have balconies with beautiful sea views. There’s also a restaurant for local cuisine and a small spa.
For A Lively City Break
Izmir is Turkey’s third most populous city – and it’s also the most liberal with a younger population comprising students and young professionals. Most of the city’s original buildings were destroyed during Turkey’s war of independence a century ago, but there are several charming towns and villages to explore with interesting architecture, like Cesme, Foca, Teos, Urla and Gumuldur. Visit the Bazaar district to haggle with stall traders and local suppliers before walking along the docks to see the Aegean Sea. Locals stop here for mussels cooked on the street by local fishermen. Another must-see is Agora, an open-air museum home to the remains of the ancient city of Smyrna, as are the Clock Tower and beautiful blue mosque. The city has plenty of cycling lanes, so rent a bike to go exploring.
Where To Stay: One of Izmir’s best hotels is Gaia by the Sea, a chic beachside property with its own private wharf. Rooms are serene and relaxing, with white-washed walls, minimalist décor and private thermal pools. There’s an excellent seafood restaurant overlooking the sea, as well as a bar. Guests can also borrow paddleboards for free.
Utku Ozen/ Unsplash
When To Visit
Avoid peak summer months when cities can reach up to 45°C and plan a trip in September or October when temperatures are pleasantly warm (20-30°C). This is also the best time to explore the ancient sites when there are less crowds.
How To Get There
Direct flights from London to Istanbul take around 4 hours. You can also fly to Bodrum, Antalya, Fethiye and Izmir, though flights are more expensive, particularly during peak times.
For more information visit GoTurkiye.com