This is the biggest city in Turkey (though not the capital). The cracks and crevices in the crumbling Roman monuments alongside fantasy-like minarets and domed mosques represent the country’s exotic past. Old-world opulence is also captured in the city’s famous marble baths, while the booming business district and vibrant art scene continues to propel Istanbul up the fashion ranks.
Some of the most extravagant and ornate ancient structures in the world are found here – from the 6th-Century Basilica Cistern, that once brought drinking water into Istanbul via an upside down head of Medusa, to the famous Hagia Sophia, which was once a temple, but is now a breathtaking museum.
Must-dos include a hammam; in 2011, the most ornate of the Ottoman Baths, Sultan Hamam, opened to the public and the endless marble and indoor waterfalls is not something to miss. Also save some room in your backpack for the treasures you are bound to pick up from the bustling indoor Grand Bazaar.
Sunset should be spent on a boat crossing the Bosphorus, taking snaps of the beautiful Blue Mosque silhouetted against the blazing sky. For a chilled night, finish off with a shisha pipe under the bridge, and a glass or two of raki. Otherwise, trendy bars to start the night can be found in the suburb of Beyoglu. Students and more arty-types flock to Barlar Sokak (known as ‘bar street’) on the city’s Asian side. And when the clock strikes 12, bigger clubs such as Reina and Blackk start their repertoire of house and electro on the water’s edge.
Open: 9am-6.30pm seven days a week mid-April to September, 9am-5.30pm November to mid-April
Open: 9am-7pm seven days a week mid-April to September, 9am-5pm October to mid-April
Sultan Hamam (Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı)
Tickets: Bath Treatments €85-€170, Massages €40-€75
Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)
Open: everyday, avoid 45mins before prayer each day
Closed: until 2.30pm Fridays
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You’ll be forgiven for thinking you may have landed on the moon when you visit the dramatic landscape of this region. This geological wonderland boasts miles of undulating rock valleys and mysterious natural pillars and domes that rise out of the ground. Urgup, Goreme and Ilhara Valley are some of the bigger towns in the area, and are great bases from which to explore.
This is the place to go for adventure activities with a balloon ride over the surreal moonscape topping the list. Epic treks to cliff-carved ruins, climbing trips and ATV rides through the rocky valleys can be booked at tour companies on site.
Although there are no longer cave dwellers here, tourists can dine and sleep in underground structures and rooms carved into rocks that once made up entire subterranean villages. A truly unique experience.
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Bodrum is alive with bars, restaurants and bustling market stalls. Here you can get lost in time bargaining for virtually anything from exotic spices to silk carpets. It is tourist tacky in a few too many places, but you can get off the beaten track and explore sheltered anchorages cleft deep into the mountainous coastline, small fishing villages and farming settlements.
Bodrum is also home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, The Mausoleum at Harlicarnassus. The tomb for Mausolus, a governor of the Persian Empire, and his wife – who was also his sister – was so impressive that above-ground tombs are now generically known as mausoleums. Unfortunately all you can see now are the ruins, as it was destroyed by earthquakes.
Elsewhere, enjoy the harbour village of Gumusluck, with its charming flower-bedecked houses and excellent seafood restaurants; take a stroll around the ancient ruins of Pedasa, once capital of the Lelegians, the people who originally settled in the Bodrum peninsula but about whom very little is known; saunter around Yalikavak, the St Tropez of Bodrum, to gasp at the millionaires’ yachts, or simply stretch out on one of Bodrum’s many beaches.
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Of course Australians and New Zealanders know Gallipolli well; if not first-hand, you will have heard all about it in your history lessons when learning about Anzac Day. Every April 25, thousands of Australians and New Zealanders descend upon Anzac Cove in Gallipolli to pay their respects to the 8709 Australian and 2721 New Zealand soldiers who lost their lives there in 1915 during WWI.
Outside of the moving ceremonies, there is much else to explore around this lovely sea-view spot studded with pine trees and olive groves. If you’re a real battle beaver you can visit all the other WWI sites dotted around the peninsula. Or, right at the tip of the peninsula you’ll find Kilitbahir Castle, a sturdy 15th-century fortress with amazing views over the Dardanelles to Canakkale, built for Sultan MehmetII – look out for the bronze, muscled statue of Seyit, a local timber cutter renowned for his amazing strength.
Hop on a ferry to Canakkale across the water and take the hour’s bus ride to Ancient Troy where you can see the reconstructed ruins of the legendary city – complete with that trouble-making wooden horse. When you head back to Canakkale, walk along the waterfront and have your photo taken next to a model of the Trojan horse that starred in the film alongside Brad Pitt (although his acting was a little wooden – boom boom tish).
Open: 8am-5pm Wednesday to Sunday
Closed: Mondays & Tuesdays
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Sail the Turquoise Coast
You can explore the beautiful south-west coastline of Turkey by car, but who would choose to sit inside a stuffy motor when you can feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your face on a majestic Turkish gulet? Wind your way around the curved coast from Fethiye, stopping off at party port Smuggler’s Cove, and ending up in Olympos. You can do an east to west (or west to east) cruise in four days, or a return in a week.
Top five stop offs
The majority of the gulets sail off from Fethiye harbour. Flattened by an earthquake in 1958, the low-rise buildings that have since risen mean this tourist resort feels blissfully suburban and relaxed. Explore the tombs and ruins of Telmessos before heading off on your gulet cruise.
Chill out in the beautiful bay of Oludeniz where you can bob about in the water carefree due to the lack of waves or current as it’s secluded by green-sprinkled cliffs. You can even paraglide in if you wish, which we do. Nearby is Butterfly Valley, named due to its sporadic visit from groups of colourful butterflies, which also has great snorkelling and offers the chance to hike up a waterfall.
This harbour-side town is along the postcard lines of pretty shutter-windowed houses stacked up on the hillsides sloping down to a bay of bobbing boats. The restaurants here are a step above, with fresh, perfectly seasoned seafood – you will pay a premium for the privilege though.
Kas is great for an adventure on sea or land. Kayak through caves, dive through wrecks or hike up craggy hillsides. At night, the tombs in the mountain wall light up, supplying a pretty if slightly eerie glow as you moor up for the night.
Kekova is known for its ‘sunken city’. You can’t snorkel or dive here, but you can jump in a kayak to explore the remains of the second-century city, which was partly submerged by an earthquake. The mainland part of Simena is still on dry land, with a castle watching over and warning the waters away, while the island part of the village has been partly submerged, with crumbling remains of houses and staircases descending into the sea.