For centuries, Turkey has been a jewel of Asia Minor and the Middle East. Three empires, spanning over a thousand years, have made Istanbul their capital. History and culture suffuse every step travelers take along ancient roads, everything from the glorious architecture of the Hagia Sophia to a humble street vendor selling the finest examples of Turkish cuisine. Come to a place where East meets West, and discover what so many people treasure about Turkey.
Turkey, and especially Istanbul, is replete with beautiful buildings. The Hagia Sophia, with its mix of architectural styles and religious art, symbolizes the various cultures which have washed over Turkey. Nearby Topkapı Palace was the home of Ottoman sultans for centuries - and their harems! Other palaces, churches, mosques, and monuments dot the country, many of which open their arms to visitors.
Sufi mystics, called dervishes, once used their spinning style of dance to whirl themselves into ecstatic trances. Though this has fallen out of favor as a religious practice, dancers today work to preserve this unique form of expression. In their distinct hats and flared robes, they're truly a sight to behold! Though most perform in Istanbul, you can find exhibitions in cities across Turkey.
To promote public health, the Ottomans developed the Hamam style bath-house. Many of these are still in use today, from the ultra-luxe Haseki Hürrem Sultan Hamamı, commissioned by a sultan's wife, to smaller day spas sprinkled across Turkey. These places feature bathing pools, saunas, and areas to receive spa treatments. Visitors are treated to massages, body masks, aromatherapy, and the sultan's favorite drink, sweet sharbat. Indulge like the imperial family of old!
Cats? Yes, cats! Whatever you do, don't call them strays. While these cats may not have any specific owner, the whole city pitches in to help care for these wandering felines. You might encounter cats sleeping on a subway staircase, begging for handouts in the market, or making friends with you at a coffee shop. The cats are generally amiable, and enjoy meeting new people. Take a few selfies with your new friend, and enjoy this unique element of life in Istanbul.
The Street of Cold Water - so named for a fountain at the end of the drive - is a small area in the Sultanahmet neighborhood of Istanbul, where several homes have been restored to how they appeared during the height of Ottoman power. Some now operate as hostels, welcoming guests with furniture reminiscent of what would have been in common use a century ago. Cars are prohibited, but visitors are welcome to walk down the cobbled street and take pictures of the incredibly Instagrammable architecture and gardens.
High up in Anatolia, people carved entire mountains into cities connected by stone. Once home to persecuted Christians, then a thriving monastic community, the rock houses of Cappadocia are still in use today! The Gamirasu Cave Hotel has upgraded some of these ancient rooms for modern comfort. The most luxurious of rooms even have their own private sauna and minibar. The historic Ayvalı village is just a short walk away, where hot air balloons wait to float you across the landscape.
Istanbul has been a center of trade for millennia, and nothing demonstrates this so well as the Grand Bazaar. Over sixty streets wind past four thousand shops. You can find anything and everything here: wearable art, clothing, books, spices, tea, carpets, and more. And don't forget about the antiques! The Grand Bazaar has a collection of antiques extensive enough to rival any museum. If you get tired, relax at one of the Bazaar's many cafes, or get some water from one of four ornate marble fountains. When visiting, remember that haggling isn't just accepted, it's expected.
Legend has it that Turkey's wrestling tradition began when two soldiers fought to win a pair of leather pants from the sultan. So determined was each man to win that neither surrendered, ready to die rather than admit defeat. To honor their commitment to victory at any cost, Turkey has held annual wrestling championships for over six hundred years. Competitors wrestle in black leather pants, coated in olive oil to repel bugs. If you can't make the annual grand tournament, wrestlers, called "pehlivans, stage matches across Turkey all year round.
Nestled on the eastern slope of Nightingale Mountain is an ancient chapel and home. Once in ruins, this place has since been restored and is now a place of peace and tranquility. Pilgrims who make the journey believe Saint Mary lived here at the end of her life. Certainly, some parts of the structure date to the first century. Photography isn't allowed within the chapel, but visitors can light a prayer candle or attach a wish to the wishing wall. Three springs rumored to have healing properties are on the grounds, and visitors are encouraged to drink.
Probably not the real Mount Olympus, this park did inspire legends of the dread chimera. Natural vents along the beach routinely belch methane gas, which sometimes catches fire and provide a stunning show. Roman ruins dot the landscape, but with no trails or signs, you're on your own to find them. Intrepid explorers are rewarded with the sight of ancient stone walls covered in fresh greenery. The beaches stretch on for miles and are perfect for those who enjoy coastal runs.
The nargile water-pipe, or hookah, is a popular way to relax in Turkey. Nargile shops provide customers with a variety of delicately flavored tobacco, and several people can share one pipe. The furniture tends to the soft and welcoming, encouraging visitors to stay for several hours. Many shisha establishments also serve traditional Turkish coffee, tea, and small meze, or snacks.
This open-air music festival is fast becoming a city favorite. Spread across five stages throughout the city, the event attracts rock stars from across the globe. If you miss One Love, don't worry - the festival marks the opening of the summer music season. The city hosts jazz, classical, rock, and traditional music festivals up through the autumn.
Not for the easily frightened! Tombs have been carved directly into the cliffside, and lovingly decorated with colorful frescoes. When you're done exploring the necropolis, visit other ruins such as a breathtaking open-air theater or temple to Cybele. If you're in the mood for something slightly more modern, pay your respects at the Church of Saint Nicholas.
Go off the beaten path and wander into Turkey's various small towns. While Istanbul is awash with history, it's also full of people. Get the same experience while visiting Ankara, complete with its ruined castles and sarcophagi, the ruins of fabled Troy, or İznik, which once hosted the Council of Nicaea.