Top 10 things to do in Turkey

A Turkish solider stands guard at Anitkabir; each of the 10 towers at Anitkabir advances Ataturk's personal and professional narrative.
A Turkish solider stands guard at Anitkabir; each of the 10 towers at Anitkabir advances Ataturk's personal and professional narrative.
Cats and coffee are two common sights on the streets of Ankara, especially in the old section of Ulus.
Cats and coffee are two common sights on the streets of Ankara, especially in the old section of Ulus.
Turkish soldiers carry a memorial wreath to Ataturk’s tomb at Anitkabir. The red and white flowers represent the colors of Turkey.
Turkish soldiers carry a memorial wreath to Ataturk’s tomb at Anitkabir. The red and white flowers represent the colors of Turkey.
Ahmet Geyikoglu owns a rug and kilim store in the crafts shopping district near the citadel, a colossal structure of towers and walls shaped by the hands of many civilizations.
Ahmet Geyikoglu owns a rug and kilim store in the crafts shopping district near the citadel, a colossal structure of towers and walls shaped by the hands of many civilizations.
Ahmet Geyikoglu owns a rug and kilim store in the crafts shopping district near the citadel, a colossal structure of towers and walls shaped by the hands of many civilizations.
Ahmet Geyikoglu owns a rug and kilim store in the crafts shopping district near the citadel, a colossal structure of towers and walls shaped by the hands of many civilizations.
Anitkabir, a grand memorial in Ankara devoted to the father of modern Turkey, features the Ceremonial Plaza and the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the country’s first president.
Anitkabir, a grand memorial in Ankara devoted to the father of modern Turkey, features the Ceremonial Plaza and the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the country’s first president.

If you're heading to Turkey, this list of must do's will help you get the most out of your holiday.

1. Gallipoli

Get a guide. While you can easily travel around the Gallipoli Peninsula and visit all the important sights, war cemeteries, and memorials yourself, to get a real feel for how the battles unfolded at Anzac Cove a century ago, a local guide adds all the necessary background.

The sun rises behind the Blue Mosque in the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul.
The sun rises behind the Blue Mosque in the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul.
A competitors jumps into the water to swim from Asia to Europe during the annual Bosphorus Cross-Continental swimming competition in Istanbul.
A competitors jumps into the water to swim from Asia to Europe during the annual Bosphorus Cross-Continental swimming competition in Istanbul.
A general view of Istanbul from the Galalta Tower.
A general view of Istanbul from the Galalta Tower.
A foreign tourist pauses as she visits the Byzantine monument of Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya, now a museum, in Istanbul.
A foreign tourist pauses as she visits the Byzantine monument of Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya, now a museum, in Istanbul.
Istanbul, Turkey: Known for its spectacular mosques, ancient monuments, and opulent palaces.
Istanbul, Turkey: Known for its spectacular mosques, ancient monuments, and opulent palaces.
ISTANBUL: Choose to celebrate in Taksim Square, the hub of the entertainment district, or head for the Bosphorus Bridge which has the best vantage point for the fireworks.
ISTANBUL: Choose to celebrate in Taksim Square, the hub of the entertainment district, or head for the Bosphorus Bridge which has the best vantage point for the fireworks.
The Yeni Camii, The New Mosque in the Eminonu district in Istanbul, Turkey.
The Yeni Camii, The New Mosque in the Eminonu district in Istanbul, Turkey.
Vendors sell food beside Galata Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey.
Vendors sell food beside Galata Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey.
A general view of Istanbul.
A general view of Istanbul.
1. Istanbul, Turkey.
1. Istanbul, Turkey.
A foreign tourist, with the Ottoman-era Sultanahmet mosque, known as the Blue mosque in the background, takes souvenir photos as she strolls in snow-covered Sultanahmet square in Istanbul.
A foreign tourist, with the Ottoman-era Sultanahmet mosque, known as the Blue mosque in the background, takes souvenir photos as she strolls in snow-covered Sultanahmet square in Istanbul.

Most guided tours go for about four hours and every second is needed to really appreciate the remote beaches, the ridges, valleys, and trenches and tunnels hidden in the undulating wild scrub of the area where so many lost their lives. You can do a very long full-day tour from Istanbul or go to Canakkale and stay a night or two to enjoy the area.   

2. Canakkale, the Dardenelles, Troy

While you are in Gallipoli, spend some time enjoying the seaside resort of Canakkale, where hourly ferries dart across the Dardenelles joining the European Gallipoli peninsula with the Turkish mainland in Asia Minor.

A short half hour trip south from Canakkale are the remains of the city of Troy. The giant wooden horse from the Hollywood movie starring Brad Pitt and Eric Bana is on the promenade at Canakkale, while there's another at the ruins themselves which are now starting to become a worthy tourist attraction.

There is a lot more to Troy then the story from Homer's Iliad and the trip is worth the effort.  

3. Istanbul

Your likely arrival destination in Turkey, you need at least four full days to truly appreciate all that is on offer in this ancient city that straddles Europe and Asia.

Once Byzantium, then Constantinople, the city has a history to rival Athens and Rome. The big sights include the Aya Sofya, once a Christian cathedral then a mosque and now a museum; the Blue Mosque younger by some 1000 years; Topkapi Palace; the Roman Hippodrome; and the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market.

Across the Golden Horn over the famous Galata Bridge is Karakoy and the hip shopping strip of Istiklal Caddesi topped by Taksim Square. And there are regular cruises up the Bosphorus from the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea, that showcase the great palaces and grand houses along the waterway.

4. Sultanahmet

The most famous tourist area of Istanbul, many who visit the city don't leave its environs. Apart from the Aya Sofya, Blue Mosque, and Hippodrome, it is walking distance to the giant covered Grand Bazaar and equalling alluring Spice Market.

The other major attractions in the area include the underground cistern, made famous in James Bond movies and Dan Brown novels, the massive Topkapi Palace where the Sultans ruled for 800 years, and the nearby Istanbul Archaeological museum which holds some of the region's amazing hidden history.

This is the area to stay while visiting Istanbul because so much is so close. There are dozens of small hotels, hostels and pensions but the place to stay if you can afford it is the Four Seasons, a transformed prison now the ultimate in luxury with commanding views of the historic sights and the Bosphorus.  

5. Ephesus/Kusadasi

One of Turkey's must-see places, Ephesus drew the Apostle Paul in the years after the death of Christ and pilgrims are still heading there in droves. But now they come to see some of the best and biggest Roman ruins outside Italy. For fans of archaeology or "Raiders of the Lost Ark" it's a fascinating look at how the Romans lived.

Nearby are the remains of the Greek Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; and the supposed house where Christ's mother Mary lived out her final days. There's nowhere to stay in Ephesus itself but the beautiful beachside port of Kusadasi is a short drive away.

Stay in a boutique hotel like the La Vista on the hills on the south side of town to get the best views of the harbour and islands including the Greek isle of Samos.  

6. Aegean/Mediterranean beaches

South of Kusadasi are the beach resort towns of Bodrum, Marmaris, Fethiye and Kas which have turquoise water and amazing western sunsets.

Australia and New Zealand has some of the best beaches in the world but the village life and food at the Turkish beaches make them unique.        

7. Capadoccia

This central Turkish region features lunar-like landscape, ancient underground cities some 800m deep, towns carved into the sandstone mountains complete with churches and and painted walls, and giant volcanic rock shapes carved over centuries by the wind and rain.

Urgup and Goreme are the starting points for the tours on foot, bicycle, horse or bus. Some of the valleys and ravines look a bit like the Grand Canyon in the US and are a hikers' paradise.

The other great way to see this area is by hot-air balloon. Weather conditions are conducive year round and while views of the landscape from on high are incredible, the experience of floating away as the sun rises is worth the cost alone.

8. Hamam (Turkish bath)

It's a sauna, body scrub and massage all in one. The men and women are separate and you can decide how many extras you want. Some of the baths are centuries old, especially in Istanbul, which adds to the experience, although the cost is usually lower in the regional areas. For about $A70 you can get the full service.            

9. Turkish delight and baklava, with Turkish tea or coffee

Some of the cafes around Istanbul have been serving Turkish delight and baklava for hundreds of years. They go down a treat with sweet Turkish black tea served in small liqueur-style glasses.

Turkish coffee is also served black and sweet in small cups. Both provide a great pick-me-up, with just one Turkish coffee enough for evened hardened caffeine addicts.        

10. Turkish food

The quality and style vary from region to region but the kebab is a standard throughout Turkey. In Capadoccia they have a pottery kebab where the meat is cooked inside a pottery jar, a bit like a Moroccan tajine, but it's cracked open at the table and poured on the plate.

Pide or Turkish pizza is another staple. Fish is good in the coastal areas, especially the sea bream, and the Turks do a great line on eggplant or aubergine dishes as well as red and green peppers or capsicums. The locals wash it all down with Raki, an anise-flavoured alcoholic drink, but the local beers and wines may be more to Anzac tastes.            

IF YOU GO:

GETTING THERE: You can fly to Istanbul from almost anywhere in the world but it's easiest via Dubai with Qantas/Emirates. From Istanbul you can get either get buses and domestic flights to most of the places mentioned. A hire a car is another good option providing more freedom of movement, and the roads in Turkey are pretty good.

STAYING THERE: Turkey offers a wide range accommodation from backpacker hostels to top end. In the off season you can get good deals on the better hotels but in peak season be prepared to pay for quality. Wherever possible avoid the backpacker joints unless that's all you budget extends to. They can be pretty basic.

PLAYING THERE: Visit at least one Mosque and one Turkish bath just for the experience. Wherever you go, drink the Turkish tea and coffee and eat the baklava and Turkish delight. They are all good al lover the country.

You can see whirling dervish dances if you enjoy the cultural side of things but mostly sit back and watch the unfolding chaos that seems to permeate Turkey from the markets to the carpet sellers, they all seem to enjoy the craziness of life.

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