Travel to Turkey: 5 Favorite Western Turkey Highlights, From Ancient Ruins to the Aegean Coast

Travel to Turkey: 5 Favorite Western Turkey Highlights, From Ancient Ruins to the Aegean Coast

Its Aegean Sea dotted with 2,000 islands and eons of ancient nations, western Turkey is an old soul laden with wars, history, and legends. All three are abundant, with civilizations traced back 4,000 years and with more ancient ruins than anywhere else in Turkey. These are some of the well-known and obscure places I love, having lived in Turkey and returned eight times:

    1. Çanakkale
    2. Troy
    3. Ephesus
    4. Pamukkale and Hierapolis 
    5. Bursa and Cumalıkızık 

1. ÇanakkaleNot that well known but a place I adore, Çanakkale is a lively Aegean seaport town located at the narrowest point of the strategic Dardanelle Straits. I prefer taking the road that hugs the Straits from Cardak to Çanakkale, with its unending water views. This university town has a popular waterfront promenade, naval museums, and the gigantic wooden Trojan Horse from the movie, Troy, with Brad Pitt. It’s just a short ferryboat ride from Çanakkale across the water to climb 15th century Kilitbahir Fortress with its sweeping views, strategically guarding the entrance of the Dardanelle Straits. Historic Turkish baths (hamamı) abound, along with quaint, tiny shops selling Turkish sweets, like baklava.

  • Tip: Çanakkale books up fast for “ANZAC Day” on April 25th, when travelers descend on the nearby Gallipoli battlefields of 1915 to commemorate that bloody Allied disaster of World War I.
Beaches are abundant along the strategic Dardanelle Straits in Çanakkale, Turkey <br />  Photo credit: Helen Holter

Beaches are abundant along the strategic Dardanelle Straits in Çanakkale, Turkey
Photo credit: Helen Holter

 (click on photo to see larger version)


2. Troy/Truva (UNESCO)Near Çanakkale is the continued excavation of 4,000-year-old UNESCO-listed Troy (Truva in Turkish), site of the Trojan War which Homer immortalized in his Iliad. Excavations began in 1865, slowly uncovering city upon ancient city. In addition to its UNESCO designation, Troy also is a Turkish national park.

  • Tip: Visit Troy first before seeing Ephesus and its ruins; otherwise you might be disappointed that Troy isn’t as large or “showy.” Troy is a work in progress, raw, and ‘the real thing.’
Visitors can climb a ladder inside the Trojan Horse, looking out at legendary ruins of Troy, Turkey <br>Photo credit: Helen Holter

Visitors can climb a ladder inside the Trojan Horse, looking out at legendary ruins of Troy, Turkey
Photo credit: Helen Holter

 (click on photo to see larger version)


3. Ephesus/Efes (UNESCO)Rise with the sun to explore the world-renowned ruins of Ephesus without the crowds, walking along its marble streets, sitting in the 25,000-seat Great Theater, viewing the public baths, terraced houses, Library of Celsus, and Temple of Artemis – one of the seven wonders of the world. Ephesus (Efes in Turkish) is a Christian pilgrimage site where the Apostle Paul preached and Jesus’ mother, Mary, is believed to have lived.

  • Tip: Try the fruit wines in nearby Şirince, an Ottoman hilltop village famous for its vineyards. It’s also a great place for a sunset dinner.
Erected more than 2,000 years ago, the Library of Celsus is considered the most beautiful building in Ephesus Photo credit: Helen Holter

Erected more than 2,000 years ago, the Library of Celsus is considered the most beautiful building in Ephesus
Photo credit: Helen Holter

(click on photo to see larger version)


4. Pamukkale (“Cotton Castle”) and Hierapolis (UNESCO)Although often jammed with tourists, Pamukkale’s mineral hot springs with their cotton-white calcified travertine pools and terraces are a fun place to wade. Since Roman times visitors have soaked in the Antique Pool’s mineral-laden thermal waters, surrounded by submerged Roman marble columns. It’s believed that Cleopatra often swam in these sacred waters.

 

Moonrise over the Hierapolis necropolis, one of the best preserved in Turkey Photo credit: Helen Holter

Moonrise over the Hierapolis necropolis, one of the best preserved in Turkey
Photo credit: Helen Holter

Just up the road are the Roman and Byzantine ruins of Hierapolis; especially memorable are its well-preserved buildings and vast, mile-wide necropolis filled with ancient tombs, markers, and sarcophagi.

  • Tip: Shoot photos at sunset of the 1,200-tomb necropolis at Hierapolis; walk down the road a bit to capture it all – it’s that big.
<i>'Cotton Castle'</i> in Turkish, Pamukkale's hot springs and mineral waters are a top attraction in Turkey <br>Photo credit: Helen Holter

‘Cotton Castle’ in Turkish, Pamukkale’s hot springs and mineral waters are a top attraction in Turkey
Photo credit: Helen Holter

(click on photo to see larger version) 


 

5. Bursa and Cumalıkızık (UNESCO)It’s a two-hour ferry and bus ride from Istanbul across the Sea of Marmara to this beautiful metropolis known as “Green Bursa” (Yeşil Bursa), with its boulevards, parks, gardens, and nearby Mount Uludağ. The first capital of the Ottoman Empire, Bursa is filled with historic mosques along with its ancient covered bazaar. Nearby is UNESCO-designated Cumalıkızık, now an historic and outstanding outdoor ethnographic museum.

  • Tip: Sold in countless cafes, try Bursa’s own famous “iskender kebap” – thinly sliced grilled lamb slathered with tomato sauce, melted butter and yogurt on pita bread.
Beyond Bursa's Old Town are parks, forests and nearby Mount Uludağ  National Park  <br>Photo credit: Helen Holter

Beyond Bursa’s Old Town are parks, forests and nearby Mount Uludağ National Park
Photo credit: Helen Holter

(click on photo to see larger version) 


Travel to Western Turkey with MIROnce in Turkey it’s hard to leave: the country is so inviting that it is easy to stay for weeks at a time. MIR can create a handcrafted, private journey based on your interests, preferred destinations, and timeline. A few highlights might include:

  • Visiting an olive farmer and his family, watching them harvest black and green olives by hand from their groves, then pressing them into oil for prized Turkish olive oils.
  • Exploring an under-explored Bozcaada Island on the Aegean Coast, a place you might think is “yours alone” with its wines, uncrowded beaches, and hiking trails.
  • Soaking in thermal baths and hot springs, from Bursa to Balcova.
Across these Dardanelle Straits is the road to Gallipoli,  a popular yet sobering WWI battlefield destination <br />Photo credit: Helen Holter

Across these Dardanelle Straits is the road to Gallipoli, a popular yet sobering WWI battlefield destination
Photo credit: Helen Holter

Explore More of TurkeyBecause Turkey is so large – the size of Texas – it’s easier to comprehend and visit by focusing on its geographical regions, each one unique in its sights, history, and cuisine. What remains the same everywhere is Turkey’s legendary hospitality. Here is an overview of Turkey, along with key regions to visit:

  • Travel to Turkey: 6 Favorite Highlights in Istanbul: Istanbul is an easy introduction to Turkey. Its minaret-studded skyline glistens with mosques, palaces, and water views that demonstrate the country’s living history, diverse cultures, and international cuisine.
Imaginatively-shaped volcanic rock formations draw travelers to Turkey's Cappadocia <br /> Photo credit: Helen Holter

Imaginatively-shaped volcanic rock formations draw travelers to Turkey’s Cappadocia
Photo credit: Helen Holter

The choices for an unforgettable travel adventure in Turkey are as varied as its topography, from Taurus Mountains to Aegean Sea and from Anatolian plateau to Cappadocian moonscape. A MIR travel expert will help create your own handcrafted, private journey customized to your schedule and interests, truly a journey of “Turkish delights.” 

(Top photo: A young woman is dwarfed by the Trojan Horse used in the movie “Troy,” starring Brad Pitt; it’s now located on Çanakkale’s waterfront. Photo credit: Helen Holter)

PUBLISHED: February 18, 2015

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