Straddling Europe and Asia, Turkey is a hot holiday destination that offers a potpourri of sights, smells and cultures. From its sensational Mediterranean and Aegean coastline to its rich Middle Eastern culture in the South East and from the sensational city of Istanbul to the mountains of Cappadocia and Kars, Turkey has this and much more.
If you are interested in this country or if you are planning a vacation to Turkey, you will be interested in reading about the top 10 experiences of this sensational country where the East meets the West. These are based on my personal experiences and come highly recommended.
1) Feel the energy of Istiklal St
This has to Turkey’s busiest street. With over one million visitors every day, Istiklal St in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district is a hotspot for music, dining, partying, shopping, nightlife and much more. It is an iconic part of Istanbul. Home to the city’s oldest train service, the beautiful Galata tower, Taksim square and many buildings from the era gone by, this place certainly has an architectural charm. It even has a better charm when it comes to food as be it desserts, restaurants, coffee shops or shisha joints, this place has the works. The street musicians are just an icing on the cake. This is place to hang out in Istanbul every night. That is what the locals do.
2) Indulge in a Raki Sofrasi
Raki, an anise flavored alcoholic beverage is Turkey’s national drink. While the drink might take a bit to get used to, I absolutely love the way it brings together people in a celebration called the Raki sofrasi. People shouting ‘Serefe’, chomping on delicious mezes, making laughter and communal eating is what this Raki Sofrasi is all about. The locals swear by it. If you have local friends, you will get to enjoy it in all probability. If not, make an attempt to at least be a part of one.
3) Trek the Scenic Lycian Way
With sensational beaches, great architectural ruins, rich Greek history, stunning views, the Lycian way is 550 kms of pure trekking bliss. Starting in Fethiye and going till Antalya, it tests your physical endurance all right, but it gives you an unparalleled high too. You see small villages, you connect more with locals, you see historic sights like the Olympus torch, you see some of the best beaches on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast and most of all, you have the pride of walking on an extremely historic trail.
4) Absorb the Sanliurfa Market Atmosphere
Sanliurfa for me is the middle eastern heart of Turkey. While most of Western, Aegean, Central and Mediterranean Turkey is very westernized, the south Eastern region still feels like the true Middle East. It is close to Syria, but it is perfectly safe, but the world thinks it is not and that is why you will hardly see any tourists here. Its atmospheric markets, its religious and friendly people and its great food together with a sense of being stalled in time make this place a traveler’s delight.
5) Chomp on Delicious Baklava
The Baklava is one dessert that will almost always give you a food orgasm. A trip to Turkey is not complete without tasting its iconic dessert. But, be aware that it will give you a serious sugar and energy rush. If you are crazy like me, you might want to go to Gaziantep, the true home of the Baklava and have the pistachio Baklavas there. If you are a foodie, you will definitely like Turkish food on the whole. This is my vegetarian story in Turkey and my special gastronomic experience in Istanbul to entice the foodie in you a bit more.
6) Be Amazed at the Greek Ruins of Aphrodisias
Turkey has a rich Greek past. It’s tryst with Roman history is so dated that sometimes I wonder if it is the true Greece. Aphrodisias is one of Turkey’s historical gems and the beauty is that a lot of people give it a miss and head to Ephesus, which is nice, but in ruins. In Aphrodisias, you can see 2000 years of history still very much intact. It is perfect for a history, art or culture lover. But, even if you are not like me, you will simply be amazed at the engineering, scientific, religious and other marvels that were common place 2000 years ago.
7) Set your sights on the World’s First Temple
Did you know that mankind built his first temple in the 10th century BC? Mind boggling right? Well, that is what the archaeologists say when they dug up a mountain sanctuary at Gobekli Tepe in South Eastern Anatolia. It is believed oldest religious site discovered anywhere in the world. It is also belived that may be, the modern wheat was first domesticated here. Located close to Sanliurfa, this place along with Mount Neemrut is one of the top historical delights of Turkey.
8) Lose yourself in Cappadocia
When people think of Cappadocia, they think of the hot air balloon rides. Well, the views are definitely surreal and must do at least once in your lifetime, but for me, the true thrill of Cappadocia lies in its various trails. You could either walk through them, ride them on a mountain bike or even on an All terrain bike, but one thing will remain common among all these modes of commute. And that is you will come real close with the true essence of the rock outcrops of Cappadocia, its ancient cave houses, its cave churches, its underground cities and much more. And only you would know how these rocks change in color during the day.
9) Give yourself a Health Treat at Pammukale
I think the hot springs and travertine of Pamukkale are a true natural wonder. I have never seen anything like them. It is special because it makes you stare in awe at mother nature’s creation and the fact that just above it is Hierapolis, one of the successful Greek cities of the past. So, not only can you enjoy a soak in the hot water springs of Pammukale, you can also enjoy the ruins of Hierapolis and all this while you walk through the white travertine, hot water and waterfalls.
10) Go back in history as you walk the narrow lanes of Mardin
Mardin is insanely popular with the locals of Turkey. For some reason, foreign tourists give it a miss. May be, that’s how well the locals have safe guarded one of their best destinations. A desert city in the land called Mesopotamia, Mardin used to be an integral part of the famous Spice Route. The one thing that you will immediately fall in love with are its narrow lanes and stone architecture, but you will also appreciate the Syriac Orthodoxy in this homeland of the Syriacs. With a secular population that consists of Assyrians, Turks, Kurds and Arabs, Mardin has an equal mix of churches and mosques to discover and did I say that this place is a eating and shopping paradise too.