There are tons of amazing places to visit in Turkey. On the whole, this gorgeous, culturally-rich country is relatively untapped. As such, it should come as no surprise that there are a plethora of incredible off-the-beaten-path travel destinations waiting for you in Turkey.
Turkey is well-deserved of your attention. The vast country straddles both Europe and Asia.
It boasts a unique “Eurasian” culture that is essentially a mishmash of the two geographical zones. Turkey is essentially a perfect, harmonious blend of East meets West, and tradition meets modern, contemporary living.
Istanbul, with its shimmering domes, world-famous historical sites, and charming neighbourhood is at the forefront of most people’s Turkey travel bucketlists. The ethereal scenery of Cappadocia, and the ruins of Ephesus.
While it’s impossible to dispute the appeal of any of these places, Turkey just has oh so much more to offer. What about trekking through remote mountains where eerie stone heads are scattered among the hilltops?
How about beautiful islands that can only be explored on foot or by horse-drawn carriage? This article will review the best of the off-the-beaten-path places to visit in Turkey.
Off the Beaten Path Travel in Turkey
Turkey is generally a safe place to travel to. The fact that Turkey borders Syria makes some people nervous, but Turkey is not Syria.
While you should not go trekking alone alongside the Syrian border in Eastern Turkey, you should not let fear deter you from venturing to the rest of these off-the-beaten-path places to visit in Turkey. Besides, terrorists are not exactly going to be loitering around ancient ruins and archaeological sites waiting to pounce on the one or two people that visit each year, are they?
After safety concerns a few years ago, the Turks have really upped their national security. They don’t want to live in fear or lose out on tourism, after all.
The 2016 military coup and the 2017 terrorist attacks were distressing and unfortunate. However, in the age of terror that we are living in, instances like this are not exclusive to Turkey. Since this period, there have been no further instances or security concerns in Turkey.
Marvellous Off the Beaten Path Places to Visit in Turkey
Tourism in Turkey largely revolves around the well-known cities and sites like Pamukkale and Cappadocia. However, the other, less-known areas are every bit as impressive.
If you want to have more authentic experiences when you travel, have better interactions with locals, and see majestic sites that are not crammed with hundreds of other adventurers, venture off the beaten path. A selection of places worthy of your time and consideration is detailed here.
Mount Nemrut is arguably one of the most mysterious places in the country. It is sometimes referred to as being the “Easter Island of Turkey”.
The mountain is situated in the eastern part of the country where it towers above the clouds with its peak reaching 2,150 meters high. The highlight of visiting is not the mountain itself, but the eerie giant stone heads that are scattered around the area.
The heads depict various ancient Greek and Persian gods. They have unfortunately toppled off the bodies, weathered by time and the elements.
The UNESCO protected site was built as a tomb and shrine to King Antiochus I Theos from the Kingdom of Commagene. Travelling in Eastern Turkey is an altogether different experience to western (“European”) Turkey or the central region of Anatolia.
You can stay in the nearby villages of Karadut and Kahta on your route towards Nemrut Dag. The villages see less than a handful of tourists.
Given that they are tucked away in a rural mountain valley, they offer rustic, unique accommodation. Venturing into eastern Turkey and experiencing the cultural difference is all part of the appeal of visiting Nemrut Dag.
The Kaçkar Mountains
The Kaçkar Mountains are a dramatic region situated in the northeast of Turkey. For avid hikers and those in the know, this mountain range is considered one of the most naturally beautiful trekking circuits in the world.
However, as far as most travellers to Turkey go, nobody has even heard of the Kaçkar Mountains. The mountains are an extension of the Caucasus and they separate Anatolia province from the Black Sea.
There are several trails that weave through the landscapes of this region. Most range between 3 to 6 days in duration. Some enable you to make use of local accommodation, whereas others necessitate wild camping.
There are also 7 marked day walks in the Hevek valley if you don’t prefer to embark on such a strenuous hike. The culture in this region is as much of a highlight as the natural scenery.
Each of the hiking trails in the Kaçkar Mountains and the Hevek valley leads you through dense pine forests, rolling green hills, farmlands, and quaint villages.
Büyükada and the Prince’s Islands
The Prince’s islands are among the best off the beaten path places to visit in Turkey. They are easily accessible via a day trip from Istanbul.
Within just a matter of hours, you can find yourself away from the chaos of Turkey’s largest city and in the midst of the peaceful serenity of nature. The floating archipelago are easily reachable via a short ferry ride from Istanbul’s kabatas port.
Here, cars are prohibited and people get around on foot or by horse-drawn carriage! Büyükada is the largest of the islands and boasts numerous hiking trails, beautiful Greek Orthodox churches, and quaint coffee shops.
In the summer months, the islands can get a little crowded with locals fleeing the cities for a bit of a retreat. However, the Prince’s Islands are still relatively unknown on an international tourism scale.
Konya, City of Whirling Dervishes
Konya is a cultural highlight of any Turkey itinerary. The city is located in the centre of Turkey’s Anatolian plains and it can seem conservative and intimidating at first glance.
Konya is likely one of the most religious places that you are likely to stop off at during your adventures through Turkey. It is famed internationally for being the final resting place of the Poet and Philosopher Rumi (known locally as “Mevlana”).
The Mevlana museum and the ornate mosque that adjoins it is certainly one of the most famous landmarks in Turkey. Equally fascinating are the narrow, labyrinth-like passageways that house traditional souks.
Here vendors sell everything from delicious cups of hot salep, to rich tapestries, Turkish carpets, and fabrics. Sample some of the local delicacies while in town such as the Konya kebab, catch a whirling dervishes show, and hitch a ride out to the small village of Catal Huyuk – one of the oldest human civilisations in the world.
The tradition of the whirling dervishes performances originated in Konya. Free performances take place throughout the city every week.
Explore Cappadocia Off the Tourist Trail
Cappadocia may well top many people’s Turkey bucket lists. However, there is so much more to this region than just balloon rides and photography.
People focus their Cappadocia itinerary around the balloons which is a shame because they are simply the icing on the Cappadocia cake. The region is comprised of several towns, villages and cities.
One of the most fascinating aspects of travelling here is the old silk road architecture and history that can be found off the beaten path. Cappadocia and Turkey were once on the old camel caravan trading route.
Old caravanseries that once provided shelter for traders and their camels, beautiful ancient orthodox churches, and villages where people continue to live in caves all await travellers away from the main tourist trail. This is also one of the best places in Turkey for hiking, and numerous trekking routes weave throughout the region’s dramatic scenery.
See Hasankeyf Before it Sinks
Many believe that Hasankeyf’s days are limited. It could be considered the Turkish version of the Italian city of Venice.
The ancient village is close to the city of Batman (yes you read that correctly) and is believed to be one of the oldest human settlements in the world. It dates back over 12,000 years. In that time, it has passed through the hands over 20 different rulers.
Hasankeyf is famed for its man-made caves that were carved into the nearby limestone and used as homes. A huge construction project is underway here to build a dam.
Sadly, no consideration for protecting the history at Hasankeyf has been made. Once the dam is completed, it will only be a matter of time until Hasankeyf is completely underwater.
Go Ghost Hunting in Abandoned Kayakoy
Kayakoy is an abandoned ghost town situated approximately 30 minutes away from Fethiye. Up until the 1920s, this was a bustling town known as Levissi.
Here, Orthodox Greek Christians and local Anatolian Muslims lived and worked in harmony with each other in spite of their cultural and religious differences. The children from the two cultures played together in the streets, and the adults traded and socialised.
All was well in Levissi until 1923 when the Greeks were expelled back to Greece. A 7.1 magnitude earthquake then tore through the area in 1957, at which point the final inhabitants fled.
Now, Levissi is known as “Kayakoy” or “rock village”. Peering at the hundreds of restaurants, houses, and Orthodox chapels from a distance, you may not immediately realise that Kayakoy is abandoned.
It’s possible to spend a whole day wandering the streets and entering the old restaurants and churches, trying to envisage what the spooky place was like during a happier period. In some places, faded Greek carved letters can still be seen on some of the buildings.
Explore the Kurdish City of Van
Situated on the banks of Lake Van, the city of Van is a fascinating place, and very worthy of a day or two’s exploration. Lake Van is the largest lake in the country.
It is so huge even that many of the locals refer to it as a sea and not a lake. In its centre is Akdamar island. This leafy expanse is home to one of the last remaining Armenian churches in Turkey and is a place of breathtaking beauty.
Head to Ani, the Old Armenian Kingdom
The abandoned ghost city of Ani awaits on the closed border between Turkey and Armenia. In its heyday, it was known as being the “city of 1001 churches”.
The city was once home to over 100,000 people and filled with countless beautifully ornate Armenian churches decorated with vivid, elaborate frescoes. Sadly, it has been abandoned for centuries.
Now, Ani has fallen into disrepair and many of the churches here are now crumbling shells of their former glory. Restrictions were previously in place on
Marvel at the Grand Ishak Pasha Palace of Dogubayazit
The scenery that surrounds the sprawling Ishak Pasha Palace of Dogubayazit is dramatic
The palace is located in the Eastern part of the country and can be tied in with a visit out to Nemrut Dag. The sprawling complex was created using a mix of Persian and Armenian designs.
It is filled with ornate, well-preserved courtyards, harems, and mosques. There is a very Middle Eastern feel to the place which is quite unlike anything other places to visit in Turkey.
If you follow the road up from the palace, past its car park, and up towards the mountain peaks, you can enjoy incredible panoramic views over Dogubayazit palace and its namesake city beyond. On a clear day, you can even see Mount Ararat.
Row Out to the Floating Fortress of Kizkalesi
The fortress of Kizkalesi or “Maiden’s castle” as it is also known lies close to Mersin. Legend has it that a Sultan built the grand fortress to protect his daughter.
The island that surrounds Kizkalesi is tiny. It is big enough to only hold the fortress and nothing more! As such, the fortress seemingly floats in the middle of the sea.
The fortress passed hands many times over the years and was used as a base for Armenian kings. Sadly, today it has fallen into disrepair.
However, you can rent obscure dolphin-shaped boats from the mainland and row out to explore the site. As night falls and the castle is illuminated by twinkling lights, it creates an altogether rather eerie atmosphere.
This is just a snapshot of some of the most unusual and often forgotten places to visit in Turkey. Do you have any others to add to the list?