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Turkey: 3 sites beyond Istanbul worth visiting


Turkey is a beautiful country, but to those who haven’t been there before, I’ll tell you the secret: there’s a lot more to Turkey than Istanbul.

Outside the capital, there is an amazing amount to see and compared to busy Istanbul, it’s much calmer and relatively tourist-free.

The further east you go, the less European and the more Asian or Middle Eastern it starts to feel.

It’s a long bus ride from Istanbul to central Turkey, but the trip is well worth it!

Pamukkale’s white travertine

Pamukkale & Hierapolis
Overshadowing a small village near Denizli is the snow-like white travertine of Pamukkale.

Layered by calcified rock, hot springs form pools that you climb to reach the Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis.

The barefoot hike through the pools up the hill took me about 30 minutes. Our group of 12 was the only one on the travertine in that time. More people were up at the top as you can take a bus to view it from the top without walking up but I highly recommend/insist that you do the work and hike up.

Pamukkale’s reflective pools

At the top, you are rewarded of beautiful views and you’re free explore the ancient city of Hierapolis. There is also a hot spring within Hierapolis where you can relax and enjoy it’s healing waters.

If you go to Pamukkale, notice the top ridge at the top of the travertine. Believe it or not but there used to be a string of hotels hovering over the site. They have been dismantled and removed since they were found to be harming the travertines. Natures wins!

Cappadocia stone-chiseled houses

Cappadocia
If you go anywhere in Turkey, it’s a pretty safe bet that you will see a postcard or two of Cappadocia.

Often called ‘fairy chimneys’, or hoodoos, these rock formations are dotted with chiseled-out homes.

For those Star Wars fans out there, this is supposedly the area where they did some filming – or at least took inspiration.

You can rent a motorbike and explore the area or you can hike in the valleys.  Be warned that both biking and hiking will probably take longer than you’re told.

I rented motorbikes with some friends for two days in autumn. The first day, we explored an underground village and loved the bikes so much that we rented them the next day to go to Ihlara Valley. By the time we returned, the sun had set and we were so cold that when we stopped for petrol, the workers let us go into their cabin to warm up by the space heater. So, learn from my mistake and either plan your time well or take appropriate clothes.

Fairy chimneys of Cappadocia

The last day, we hiked through the valleys. The Tourist Information Office told us it would take only 2-3 hours to hike along the trail through several valleys to the road, but I think it took us almost 2 hours to get through the first valley alone!

We decided to explore and have fun instead of plow through the trail. We even met one man who still lived in the cave and was able to talk to us in German.  Yes, I know… a true caveman!

Library of Celsus at Efes

Efes
Efes, or Ephesus, is an ancient Greek city home to the Temple of Artemis and one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World.

Turkey is still in the process of putting their archaeological site ‘up to snuff’ with other countrys’ standards.

Efes is a prime example of an amazing site that is accessible to the public. And I mean COMPLETELY accessible.

I rarely saw fenced-off parts and everyone was free to walk just about anywhere they wished, it seemed!

You’re able to walk in ancient houses and you can even sit in the toilet-building (around the edge, just bench seating with holes to do your business and a fountain/sink in the middle to washup). It’s like an adult’s playground now, similar to Cahir Castle, but I’m sure it will change in the future. There is also an amphitheater with phenomenal acoustics.

Ancient latrines at Efes

Efes is located near the city of Selçuk and my hostel put me in contact with a company that met me in the centre, brought me to the entrance to Efes and picked me up a few hours later.

It worked out fine, but Efes is huge and I wish I’d had more time to explore it.

On the other hand, it was a very hot day and getting out of the sun sounded good, and that meant leaving Efes. There is no way to forget the name of the city while in Turkey because Efes beer is everywhere! It’s like a nice, gentle reminder to get out of Istanbul and visit Efes. Just be sure to bring plenty of water as there’s nothing available once you’re inside the gates.

When visiting Turkey, most people just visit Istanbul and think they’ve seen what they need to see. But there is so much more to the country.

Only visiting Istanbul and feeling like you’ve seen the country is like only visiting New York City, Rome or Paris and assuming the rest of the country is the same.

Countries vary widely as you cross them. Whether it’s comparing the East Coast of the US to the West, Roman culture to Milanese lifestyle or a Parisian to someone from Avignon, no one city can represent for it’s entire country (except city-states like Monaco, Singapore and Vatican City, of course).

If you want, you can go to Turkey and only visit Istanbul, but I think if you do, you’ll be missing a lot of what the country really is at it’s most real point, when it’s not putting on a show for tourists.

I only went less than half way across the country and I feel like there were things I missed. I would go back in a heartbeat.

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6 thoughts on “Turkey: 3 sites beyond Istanbul worth visiting

  1. LIES! There is no place outside of Istanbul to see! 😉 I’m glad you got to see more of the country. I can’t wait to go back and explore some of the rock climbing places I’ve heard about since I’ve been back.

    Ingrid: I second Amy on the börek. My favorite is su böreği. It was by far my most favorite food item in Turkey. Mmmmm…so buttery and delicious…

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    • 😛 I’ve heard the east part of Turkey is awesome. 🙂 If you can get across the Syrian border and into Lebanon, Israel and Jordan, it would be awesome! 🙂 Not easy, but you’d be sure to have great stories. On down to Egypt, then fly back to Istanbul…. maybe there’s a boat from Alexandria to Izmir or Istanbul???? [long shot] 🙂

      mmmmm….. feta böreği/börek…. my stomach is growling….. 🙂

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    • There is a lot of great street food in Turkey. I really like böreği (burek) which is a phyllo dough-wrapped savory pastry. It’s sometimes filled with lamb, spinach or cheese. It’s really good with ayran, a salty yogurt drink. 🙂 Enjoy! 🙂

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