Turkey is situated on a very unique area. As Anatolia (aka Asia Minor) has been a home to many different civilizations, Turkey carries the traces of those diverse cultures. For this reason, the list of historical places to visit in Turkey is quite long.
The places I have mentioned in the article are of course, only a fraction of Turkey’s tourist attractions. There are a lot of other things to see. You can find some places not mentioned here in the article Best Holiday Destinations in Turkey.
Best Historical Places to Visit in Turkey
Best historical places to visit in Turkey post consists of 12 titles. This article contains cities from every corner of Turkey, you can also find historical monuments in the UNESCO heritage category.
Istanbul has been in UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 1985. Istanbul is also one of the most popular cities to visit in Europe. As a small model of Anatolia (a melting pot of cultures), Istanbul connects the continents (Europe and Asia) and embraces both cultures.
a. Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace is very different than the palaces of Europe. It contains four large courtyards and a magnificent view of the Bosphorus. If you visit Istanbul in spring, you might feel like hiking in the nature while discovering the nice gardens of Topkapi Palace. It offers the best view of Istanbul.
b. Hagia Sophia
According the to the Byzantine Chronicles, 11.000 people worked for days and nights to build the Hagia Sophia. There were two masterminds behind the project: Anthemius and Isidore. These two architects built the biggest temple of Medieval World in 6 years.
The building stayed as the largest temple in the world for 1000 years until it was surpassed by Michelangelo’s St. Pietro’s Cathedral. Yet it’s considered as a big step in Church building.
The Ottomans fell in love with Hagia Sophia and proclaimed it as a protocol mosque. It was the model of Ottoman Architecture in the Classical Era (from 15th to 18th Century).
Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan added huge flying butresses to save the building from leaning to the east.
c. Suleymaniye Mosque
Suleymaniye Mosque is located in the heart of Istanbul Historic Peninsula. It overlooks to the city like an eagle. You can take good pictures of Istanbul from the courtyard of this unique mosque.
Contrary to popular belief, Blue Mosque is not the biggest mosque in Istanbul. Suleymaniye Mosque was built by the most famous Turkish architect, Mimar Sinan. The mosque is dedicated to the Suleiman the Great who ruled the empire when it was at its peak point.
Altough many people miss it, Suleymaniye Mosque is one of the best places to visit in Istanbul.
d. Grand Bazaar
It’s a habit ending up at Grand Bazaar and shopping at the end of the Old City tours. Grand Bazaar, built in 1461, charms people and attracts foreign visitors like a magnet.
People who get exhausted after a sightseeing tour in Istanbul can’t help but end their day at Grand Bazaar. Grand Bazaar is a historical shopping center with its 67 streets and more than 3000 shops.
e. Bosphorus Cruise
A Bosphorus Cruise Ride is definitely recommended while you are in Istanbul. The Bosphorus is at its best when the judas trees blossom during spring. You may see the purple hills in the Bosphorus mixed with green nature and striking 19th Century architecture.
Cappadocia is a unique beauty. Taking a Hot Air Balloon Ride and watching the volcanic landscapes, provides an amazing scenery.
Cappadocia used to be on the crossroads of ancient trade routes. This feature added a great value to its historical heritage. It spreads out to four cities in Turkey: Nevsehir, Aksaray, Nigde and Kayseri.
- The best examples of cave churches dating back to the early years of Christianity.
- Massive underground cities which were a shelter for people during the ancient battles.
- High hills like Uchisar and Ortahisar give great photo opportunities for Instagramers.
- Staying in cave hotels a romantic experience. Cappadocia is the best place to visit in Turkey for honeymoon.
- Crown your trip with a Hot Air Balloon Ride so that you can take the best pictures of your life.
3. Mount Nemrut
Thousands of people flock to Mount Nemrut every year to watch the sunrise from the summit. Mount Nemrut is under UNESCO’s World Heritage List thanks to the colossal statues of Greek Gods.
The king of an ancient civilization (The Kingdom of Commagene) Antiochus I built these amazing statues and placed them on the top of the mountain. He proclaimed himself a god and added his own statue among the ones like Zeus and Apollon.
Climbing up to the Mount Nemrut in the early morning is not easy. It’s freezing cold up there. However, the atmosphere is truly amazing, so it’s definitely worth the effort. While the sun rises over the horizon and shines over the statues of Ancient Gods, you forget about everything else.
Strangely enough, the existence of this awesome statues was forgotten for long years. They were rediscovered and became one of the top tourist attractions in Turkey today. It shares the same destiny with the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul which was also lost for many years.
Ephesus is the best-preserved ancient city in the Eastern Mediterranean region. The city dates back to Ancient Greece and it became the capital of Roman provinces in Asia Minor later. You might feel like travelling in time while you are walking through the Curetes Street.
The Temple of Artemis is definitely the highlight of Ephesus, as it was a spiritual hub during the ancient ages. Library of Celsus also stands out with its splendid architecture.
Ephesus became a very important city during the early times of Christianity as Apostle John and Virgin Mary came to here. The House of Virgin Mary is definitely one of the top historical places to visit in Turkey for Christians. Moreover, it’s considered as one of the pilgrimage sites.
5. Sumela Monastery
Sumela Monastery was built on the rocks, which are at the skirts of Mount Karadag. Locals call this place as “St. Mary’s Monastery”. It was an active monastery from 386 A.D. to 1923 and the Byzantine monks lived here.
Nowadays, Sumela is a popular museum which is a bit difficult to visit. You have to climb up the steep hills to get there. Yet, everybody thinks it’s well worth it when they see the ancient icons and experience the mystical atmosphere.
The monastery was built by two people, named as Barnabas ve Sophronios. According to the legend, they both saw the St. Mary in their dreams. They followed the trail of her and met each other at this spot. Two people who did not know each other before, came across in the same place after a dream. They considered it as a miracle of St. Mary and dedicated the new monastery to her.
Sumela Monastery had one of the most important icon for the Christian belief, the icon of Panagia Soumela which was iconographed by the Evangelist Luke. Because the impressive atmosphere of the place, miracles are associated with the Sumela Monastery.
Located in Bogazkale province of Corum, Hattusa is around 200 km away from the capital of Turkey, Ankara. It’s one of the best places to visit in Turkey with a history of 2300 years.
As a contemporary of ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, Hittites have an important role in the ancient history. They became a superstate in the Middle East and challenged the Pharaohs of Egypt.
The two important states of the region fought for the superiority on Mesopotamia and signed the first peace treaty in the world history. The Treaty of Kadesh (Eternal Treaty) is displayed in Istanbul Archaeological Museum today.
Pamukkale is famous for its snow white landscapes. If you come to Turkey for a holiday in Cesme, Bodrum or other popular holiday towns, it’s definitely recommended to make a day trip to Pamukkale.
Pamukkale is not only for seeing the white travertines but also enjoying the Hierapolis Ancient City. Just like Ephesus, Hierapolis is also a great Greco-Roman heritage site in Turkey. You may enjoy the walk through the ancient ruins and seeing the ancient theatre.
If you feel exhausted walking through the ruins, you can swim in the historical pool which is filled with ancient columns and remnants. It’s one of the best places to visit in Turkey in summer.
Mardin offers a great cultural experience to its visitors. Mardin was under the influence of Babylon, Assyria, Persia as well as Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. The colorful mosaic culture stems from its multicultural background.
The entire city is under the protection of the Turkish state and it will be in UNESCO World Heritage list in the near future. As the city is home to different ethnicities, religions and cultures, it’s one of the best places to visit in Turkey.
Strolling through the oldish streets of Mardin, you would feel yourself as if you were in Toledo or any other well-preserved Medieval cities. However, Mardin literally offers more than that, The brotherhood of religions in one city. Beautiful Mosques, Churches, Synagogues and Monasteries can be seen in Mardin.
Antakya is a very strategically located city. It’s in the center of Mesopotamia, Mediterranean trade routes and Anatolia (Asia Minor). This unique position of the city makes it a bridge between different cultures.
Antakya has the most diverse and delicious cuisines in Turkey. Besides one of the largest ancient mosaic museum (Hatay Mosaic Museum) is also located in this city.
Antakya (also known as Antioch) is one of the five apostolic cities of Christianity. (The others are: Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Alexandria). Moreover, Saint Peter (Apostle Simon Peter), built the Cave Church of Saint Peter (also known as St. Pierre) in this city. Therefore, it’s on the pilgrimage road for the Christians.
Besides the Church of St. Peter, you may want to see the Vespasianus Titus Tunnel (2000 years old engineering marvel) and Monastery of St. Simeon in Antakya.
Bursa was the first capital of the Ottoman Empire in Anatolia. The most important feature of Bursa in history is that it witnessed the Ottoman’s transition from a princedom to a state.
Bursa is also the city where the Ottoman Empire created architecture in their own style rather than the Seljuk Turkish architecture from whom they inherited the Central Asian origins of Turks.
Ulu Cami (Holy Mosque) and Yesil Cami (Green Mosque) are the best examples of the early Ottoman architecture. Bursa was also the textile industry of the Ottoman Empire since it has high quality silk.
Bursa also stands out with its tourism industry. It’s one of the best places to go for a daily trip from Istanbul. People go there to see Bursa’s architecture, history as well as clothing shopping. Besides, Mount Uludag is one of the best areas to go skiing in Turkey.
Iznik (Nicaea) is a province in Bursa city. This small city is famous for Iznik Tiles. Ottomans decorated the most beautiful mosques, tombs and palaces of Istanbul with this high quality tiles. Surprisingly, Iznik housed the First Council of Nicaea, which was held by Emperor Contantine the Great. This first council laid the foundations of Christianity in the Roman Empire.
Edirne, also known as “Adrianople”. The Ottomans moved the capital from Bursa to Edirne as they thought Edirne was in a more crucial location. Edirne was in an excellent position for the Ottoman Empire that wanted to manage the campaigns they planned to launch in the Balkans. Nowadays Edirne is The Gate of Turkey that opens to Europe.
Contrary to popular belief, Blue Mosque is not the biggest mosque in Turkey. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article it’s the second biggest one after the Suleymaniye Mosque. However “Selimiye Mosque” in Edirne is the biggest Ottoman Imperial Mosque.
Edirne is also known for Kakava Festival that celebrates the coming of spring. Besides, it bears the trace of Abrahamic Religions. There are synagogues and churches as well as beautiful mosques in Edirne.
Safranbolu is the best place to see the local life in Turkey. The well-preserved Ottoman wooden houses make the city a place worth visiting. It gives you a feeling that you are in open-air museum. Also it is one of the best places for photography in Turkey.
Safranbolu offers a warm local atmosphere and delicious local food. These features of Safranbolu, make it one of the best destination for a day trip from Istanbul.
Historical Places to Visit in Turkey Map
You can find most of the historical places in this article on Historical Places to Visit in Turkey Map. There are even cities that we have covered in other articles. You can trace the heritage of ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman civilizations.
Historical Places to Visit in Turkey by Serhat Engul