For ages, Turkey has acted as the gateway between Europe and Asia. It is a place rich in history and offers a unique landscape characterized by stunning beaches and soaring mountains. The fact that it has served as a place of trade and exchanging cultures for so long has made Turkey genuinely diverse. The list of beautiful places to visit in Turkey is endless. However, vacations are limited time, and people always want to make the most of them. To help you narrow down your plans, we have compiled this list of the essential things to see in Turkey when visiting for the first time. You can choose one or go for a backpacking adventure and visit each place. Whatever trip you plan, you can be sure you are not making a mistake when visiting these places.

#1 Mardin

Perched on a strategic in southeastern Turkey, Mardin is very popular due to its unique placement. For strategic purposes, this ancient settlement was built on a hilltop and overlooks the plains of Mesopotamia. Aside from its interesting position, Mardin is best known for its cultural diversity and Old City of sandstone buildings.

The most popular tourist spots here are:

  1. Deyrü’z-Zafaran Monastery – one of the oldest monasteries in the world,
  2. Sultan Isa Medresesi – a medieval monument that once served as an astronomical observatory,
  3. Zinciriye Medresesi – a 14th-century Islamic school,
  4. The Great Mosque
  5. The citadel – provides great photo opportunities but is closed to the public.

#2 Ankara

Ankara is the capital city of Turkey. As such, over the past couple of decades, it has become a sprawling, modern city. Home to government buildings, commercial businesses, universities, and foreign embassies, it is the center of prosperity in Turkey. This is one of the biggest reasons why people who are moving to Turkey choose Ankara. One of the most common reasons to move abroad is that people feel the need to have a new beginning because they want a change of pace from their regular routine. With plenty of job opportunities and schooling options for children, Ankara offers people a fresh start while still ensuring they’ll have something to do.


It is located right in the center of the country, in the Anatolia region. Due to this crucial location, it also represents an important transportation hub. It links nationals and tourists alike to other major destinations in Turkey.

However, Ankara is popular for more than just business. The city also offers several historical sites and some arts and culture. The most popular tourist stops are:

  1. Temple of Augustus,
  1. The Citadel,
  2. The Roman Theatre,
  3. Numerous historic mosques,
  4. The Anitkabir mausoleum – popular for housing the tomb of Turkey’s first President, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk,
  5. Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.

#3 Istanbul

The city that used to serve as the capital of the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires (then called Constantinople) – Istanbul is today the largest city in Turkey. It stretches across both sides of the Bosphorus – a narrow strait that connects Asia and Europe. This makes it the only city in the world that spans two continents. From incredibly impressive architecture to historical sites and delicious dining, shopping, and exciting nightlife opportunities, Istanbul truly earns its title as one of the world’s top tourist destinations.

The most popular tourist destinations here are:

  1. The Hagia Sophia – this is one of the top historical landmarks in Istanbul for people who are visiting Turkey for the first time,
  1. The Blue Mosque,
  2. Topkapi Palace,
  3. Beyoglu and Galata – popular nightlife and entertainment zones,
  4. The Grand Bazaar – one of the world’s oldest and largest covered markets,

Aside from paying a visit to the many historical and modern attractions in Istanbul, another great way to experience the local culture is to visit a Turkish bath. The numerous restaurants, pubs, and nightclubs offer a vibrant nightlife to people on any budget or preference.

#4 Konya

Konya is one of the oldest cities in the world. It is best known for its remarkable Seljuk architecture and Whirling Dervishes. Found in Turkey’s Central Anatolia Region, Konya prospered as a capital city under the rule of the Seljuk Dynasty. Today, it is a gorgeous historic site with many attractive buildings, artefacts, and traditions from that era.

The most popular sites in Konya are:

  1. Alaeddin Mosque – houses the tombs of several sultans,
  1. Ince Minare Medrese – a museum displaying artefacts from the Seljuk and Ottoman eras,
  2. The Seljuk Palace – while it is in ruins, guided tours regarding its history are definitely worth the visit,
  3. The Seljuk Tower – one of the tallest skyscrapers in Turkey,
  4. The Mausoleum of Rumi – the tomb of the Persian theologian and Sufi mystic Rumi.

The biggest reason why this place is one of the most important things to see in Turkey when visiting for the first time is that it is home to the Mevlevi Order, also known as the Whirling Dervishes. They are famous for their religious ceremonies in which they spin around on their left foot while wearing white, billowing gowns. You can observe these ceremonies, also known as Sama, every week at the Mevlana Cultural Centre.

#5 Side

Side is one of the best things to see in Turkey when visiting for the first time if you’re a history buff. It used to be a major port in ancient Pamphylia before it was occupied by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. Today it is a picturesque town filled with classic ruins and modern-day resorts which overlook sandy white beaches. It is located on Turkey’s Mediterranean Coast in the Antalya Province on a small peninsula. In addition to the historical richness, Side offers fantastic nightlife and outdoor adventure opportunities.

This town’s main attraction is the excavated site of ancient Hellenistic and Roman ruins. Among other things, the ruins include the remnants of a colossal amphitheatre, an agora, a Byzantine basilica, public baths, marble columns, and various temples. The Roman baths were restored and now house a museum. The museum was made to display various Roman statues and artefacts. Overlooking the gorgeous beach is the Temple of Apollo. This place is a truly spectacular sight.

As for outdoor activities, you can either choose to spend a day on the beautiful beach or venture just outside of town to the Manavgat River. Here you’ll find a few boat tours, white water rafting, and impressive waterfalls.

Final thoughts

Seeing as it is on the lower end of the spectrum when it comes to vacation costs and offers numerous options when it comes to tourist attractions, it is understandable why Turkey is such a popular destination for vacationers. The most popular demographics are families with kids and students. If you’re travelling with kids, you can go for one of the many educational, historical sites and then end the day with a trip to the beach in case the little ones get bored with all the history. As a student, you can enjoy the vibrant nightlife while still finding time to study while on your travels.

We urge you to do your research and respect cultural boundaries, especially in some of the more conservative areas such as Konya. And remember that the list of great things to see in Turkey when visiting for the first time doesn’t end here. A country that big with a history that rich will always have something new to offer you, no matter where you go within it.