turkey, istanbul, evening

Best cities to visit in Turkey: the guide to the 6 best cities

Turkey is the perfect location for a city break from anywhere in the world. Far enough to be an adventure, close enough for convenience. No expensive long haul flights and no days spent waiting for airport transfers.

The best cities to visit in Turkey are those with a mix of east and west. Pick the right place and a several hour plane journey can take you from your home to an exotic world of culture and discovery. Here we will examine our top recommendations of the best cities to visit in Turkey for a city break. Perfect for this summer, autumn, winter or spring!

1. Istanbul

The ultimate city break and most famous destination in Turkey is at the top of the list. Istanbul needs no introduction. History and modernity, east and west, Europe and Asia are in constant clash in every neighbourhood. It has been the explorer’s dream for centuries and continues to be so.

There is something astounding on every corner. A never ending list of places to visit and things to do, it would probably require weeks of exploring to feel you understand the city. Food, spirituality, arts, sights and seaside – there is no city as versatile as Istanbul. It is no doubt one of the best cities to visit in Turkey any time of the year.

seagull, marine, cami
The beautiful Bosphorus

2. Antalya

Antalya has all the best things that the Mediterranean has to offer. It is a big city on the southern coast of Turkey rich in history, natural beauty and fantastic resorts. The province of Antalya comprises a 650km coastline, adorned with a series of beautiful seaside towns that makes up the Turkish riviera.

The seaside resorts of Antalya province are the famed summer destinations for millions of tourists yearly. It enjoys great weather year round, with beautiful Mediterranean views from everywhere in the densely populated city centre. There is immense history all across the province that contrasts with modern civic infrastructure and well preserved natural beauty. It is one of the best cities to visit in Turkey to experience the ancient world, with ancient cities of Lycia and Pamphylia living on in the modern province of Antalya.

alanya, night, kızılkule

3. Konya

Konya is the cultural and religious hub of the country. This is the historical capital of the Seljuk empire that controlled much of Anatolia and Persia a millennium ago. As a result, there is a real sense of deep-rooted tradition within the city. It is also the religious centre of the country renowned for its religious influence. The mausoleum complex of the Islamic poet Rumi (also known as Mevlana), draws visitors year-round with its spiritual mystique. 

The city is a cultural experience from start to finish. It is also compact, with an effective transport infrastructure making it easy and inexpensive to get around. This historical gem in the heart of Anatolia is perfect for a short and intellectual city break for those looking to beat the crowds.

The famous Sema ritual performed in Konya

4. Kars

Kars is the fashionable, edgy destination that tops the list for travelers who seek a real avantgarde experience. This border town experienced a boom in visitors since nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk’s book Snow. The city has a bleak, cold romantic appeal with picturesque Russian and Armenian architecture.

There is a great deal of history to be explored. The town is a paradise for photographers variable weather and rustic buildings. Perhaps the most appealing part of a trip to Kars is the mode of transportation getting there – the famous Eastern Express. This is an overnight train that begins in Ankara and meanders through the rustic Anatolian heartlands on its way to Kars. The train itself is a vintage and extremely popular with millennial tourists such that tickets have to be bought in advance. Travel in the winter to experience the true harsh and dark beauty of this town. This is one of the best cities to visit in Turkey with a group of friends.

Majestic views

5. Trabzon

Trabzon is a historic city that sits on the Turkish highlands bordering the black sea. Famed for its incredible slopes and lush foliage, it is one of the most Instagrammable and underrated locations in the country. A strong fishing tradition dominates the culture of this town which is not known for its tourism. This makes it a perfect city break to go off the grid and disappear amongst the locals.

There is a rich history in the city, like most places in this list, with remnants from the Byzantium and Ottoman empires. The people are warm and hotels are inexpensive with good transport links. It is one of the best cities to visit in Turkey for summer as the highland climate means it is not too hot.

Trabzon — the Turkish highlands

6. Gaziantep

Gaziantep, or just ‘Antep’ to savvy travel experts who prefer the colloquial version, is a major city in the south east of Turkey. It captures all of the culture that the famed south east of Anatolia has to offer. As a result of deep mix of cultures and ethnic heritage in this city that is almost like viewing a highlight reel of Middle Eastern culture.

Perhaps the most famous thing about Gaziantep is its food. It goes without saying that UNESCO has recognised it as a city of gastronomy. Kebabs that have originated in the city and from its neighbouring regions are regarded as the truest to the original forms. Moreover, it happens to be the world capital of baklava!

Spend the days visiting museums of ancient civilizations, buy traditional wares and explore castles and bazaars. Gaziantep is best for those wishing for a real Middle Eastern experience, without compromising on accessibility. Public transport and accommodation are very modern giving the best of both worlds.

Our list of best cities to visit in Turkey!

This was our recommendations for best cities to visit in Turkey for any time of the year. A city break can be whatever you make of it. A family holiday, a romantic getaway or an excuse to get together with old friends. This is not exhaustive of course, but we feel you cannot be disappointed with any of these places.

For a true adventure – try linking multiple cities in one visit, allocating 3 days for each place.

Also: see our pages on best locations to visit in Phuket and Bali!

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