The Aegean part of Turkey covers the western coastline and includes some inland areas. With an entirely different geographical landscape to its Mediterranean counterpart, it also differs in regional cuisine, traditions, weather climate and of course, the variety of places to visit. Attractions of Aegean Turkey are plentiful and not taking into account, the usual activities such as beaches and nightclubs, many people have completed a two-week road trip of the region making their way down from Istanbul to the Datca peninsula that joins the coastline up with the Southside of Turkey.
Although many of our suggestions listed below are open all year round, the ideal months to visit are between March and November when the rainy season and winter has died away. The sun starts to shine although be aware that in the height of summer i.e. July and August, temperatures can reach as high as 45 degrees Celsius and exploring should ideally be done either early morning or late evening. Most of the places are also part of the Muze Kart system. Buying one of these cards will save you money on entrance fees if you plan to go to more than one attraction and if you are a family, the discount soon adds up.
Explore the Ancient City Ruins of Ephesus
By far, the number one reason why people travel to Aegean Turkey is to see the ancient city ruins of Ephesus. In 2013, more than 2,500,000 curious visitors passed through its gates to see famous landmarks such as the Roman terrace houses, two-storey Celsus library, and the grand theatre that was the scene of the Artemis riots as mentioned in the New Testament of the Bible.
After falling under Roman rule in 129 BC, its run of good luck and fortune ended slowly because the sea started ebbing away reducing its efficiency as a seaside trading port. However, had it stayed the same, Ephesus would have continued to become just as powerful as Rome, hence why many say it is one of the most important Greco-roman cities to have ever been built.
The Historical Sites of Seljuk and Sirince Wine Village
While you are there, consider extending your trip to an overnight trip and take in other historical sites of the Seljuk region. In the hills above Ephesus, many Catholics and Muslims believe the house of the Virgin Mary is the place of her assumption. In the town centre, Saint John’s Basilica is also supposed to be where his tomb lays. Artemis Temple, one of the majestic seven wonders of the ancient world is nearby and the Ephesus Museum, tells the story of the ancient city through its many excavated artefacts.
High in the hills, the wine making village of Sirince was once a well-kept secret, however, these days, many tourists are eager to see the old architecture of the village houses, enjoy local food, and buy handmade products. Nevertheless, the highlight of the day is sampling the unique fruit based wine, which gives Sirince its fame. It is not to everyone’s liking because of the sweetness but the mountain village started by freed slaves from Ephesus is a picturesque destination worth visiting.
The Calcium Pools of Pamukkale and the Ancient City Ruins of Hierapolis
The second most popular place to visit in Aegean Turkey is a day trip to the calcium pools of Pamukkale. Its name translates into “cotton castle” giving a slight hit of its unusual appearance. Hot spring waters tumbling down the hillside over thousands of years have transformed into calcium pools. Open to the public every day; the surreal but natural scenery should be on any decent bucket list of places to see in the world. Pamukkale sits within the same grounds as the ruined city of Hierapolis, and both are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
For an extra fee, you can tour the museum sarcophagi excavated from various ancient cities in the Aegean or even better still, swim in the warm waters of Cleopatra’s pool. Road trippers who want to make an overnight trip should take a slight detour to the ancient ruined cities of Laodicea and Aphrodisias. The latter has an impressive museum holding hundreds of statues uncovered from the city that was the learning centre for sculpture artists in the Roman Empire.
Tour the Seven Churches of Revelation
The Seven Churches of Revelation as mentioned in the New Testament of the Bible all sit in Aegean Turkey. Visit Ephesus, and Laodicea, (mentioned above) while visiting the two most popular landmarks and the others are Smyrna, Sardis, Pergamon, Thyatira, and Philadelphia. Tour agencies offer a three or four-day tour of all of them, or you can hire a car and book accommodation as you travel. The old gymnasium of Sardis is its highlighted place, while Smyrna refers to the current day city of Izmir. It is ideal for a short city break, especially if you visit the Wildlife Park and Zoo.
Explore Bodrum and Go Sailing
The Bodrum peninsula has an esteemed reputation on the sailing and yachting scene of the world for its contribution towards the Turkish Riviera. As expert craftsmen of traditional Turkish gulet boats and professional sailors, regular Blue Voyage cruises depart every week from Bodrum for 4, 5 and seven-night trips. Yalikavak, in particular, is a sailing mecca because of the construction of the Palmarina that is in the only one in Turkey able to hold mega yachts.
If sailing is not one of your bucket list items, still visit Bodrum for its bohemian vibes. As a favourite destination of artists and international celebrities, its hedonistic lifestyle entices everyone to relax and chill out. The castle of Saint Peter is the most notable landmark, and the underwater museum of archaeology nearby holds the Uluburun shipwreck, dating from the Bronze Age.
Breakfast at Bafa Lake and the Village of Heraclea
One of our favourite places to visit in Aegean Turkey, is Bafa Lake for a traditional Turkish village breakfast. Sold as a daily excursion from the coastal holiday resorts of Altinkum, Kusadasi, and Bodrum, Turks also regularly visit at the weekend, and the abundance of flora and fauna has attracted avid hikers and trekkers. To make a day out of it, after breakfast, head further into the hills to explore the village and surrounding ruins of Heraclea.
Beaches and Swimming in Dilek National Park
Another favourite excursion and weekend activity for local Turks is to spend the day in the nationally protected Dilek Park. Stop at the entrance for a cool, refreshing swim in Zeus cave, then head further into the park to explore the walking routes and spend time on the beaches. Ideally, because of the large spread out distance of Dilek Park, you need a car to spend the day here but many travel agencies in the surrounding holiday resorts sell jeep safaris for an afternoon pleasure in the heart of Mother Nature.
The Trio: Apollo Temple, Miletus, and Priene
Miletus and Priene are two ancient cities, and Apollo is an old sanctuary and place of pilgrim worship. Thanks to the close distance, history lovers can see all of them in one day. Ideally, start with Miletus that has an impressive intact theatre. Many uncovered artefacts are in the nearby Miletus Museum. Twenty minutes’ drive away, Priene is notably famous for its ancient temple columns and houses where Alexander the Great once stayed.
In the afternoon,, head to the holiday resort of Altinkum to see the temple of Apollo. If construction had continued and it had not suffered significant damage over the years, it would have rivalled the Delphi in Greece. End the day perfectly by sitting in one of the rooftop restaurants watching the sunset behind the temple.
Family Friendly Places to Visit in Aegean Turkey
Lastly, we know that for the parents to enjoy their holiday, the kids must be happy. Most major holiday resorts of the Aegean coast, like Kusadasi, Altinkum, and Bodrum all sell family friendly excursions such as daily boat trips and jeep safaris. If your kids like splashing fun though, they will particularly like the waterparks of Kusadasi with rides such as the Black hole and wave pool. Visiting either Adaland or Aqua Fantasy opens a host of attractions for young kids and teenagers. Also, read more about Aegean Turkey in our area guide that explains why it is a popular tourist and expat destination of the country.