Last updated: 08:00 PM ET, Fri August 05 2022
Hot air balloon flying over rock landscape at Cappadocia Turkey (photo via TPopova / iStock / Getty Images Plus)


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Sunset over The Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet district, Istanbul, Turkey. (photo via MasterLu / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Sunset over The Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet district, Istanbul, Turkey. (photo via MasterLu/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Istanbul, the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, Cappadocia and an unexplored but magnificent East make Turkey one of the most compelling countries in the world for travelers who like to combine rich history, exciting city life, fine beach resorts, value shopping and great cuisine.The 20th century was the first century in 1,700 years that didn’t have Istanbul as the capital of an empire; first it was the second coming of Rome, then the capital of Byzantium and until 1923, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. In recent years, Istanbul has returned to its traditional identity as a sophisticated cafe society with the Taksim Square area a revitalized beehive of culture and commerce. Sultanahmet is still the neighborhood where the history of the city is most densely concentrated; home to Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace, with its ancient harem. The Covered Bazaar, in business since 1461, is a maze of 3,600 shops, crowding around 36 streets, which if lined up end to end would stretch 40 miles.

Some 25 different civilizations emerge on an almost daily basis in the country’s more than 4,000 archeological sites. Despite this wealth of cultural breadth, travelers today are focused almost exclusively on Greco-Roman and Ottoman attractions. In Diyarbakir and Sanliurfa, visitors will find themselves in a region rich in Arab, Kurdish, early Christian, Judaic, Urartrian, Assyrian, Armenian remains, to name a few. In Southeastern Turkey broad landscapes, isolated castles and remote cities are highlighted by the giant heads on Mount Nemrut. Some of the earliest existing Jewish and Christian sites, such as the birthplace of Abraham and the very earliest Christian communities, can all be found in the region.

Hot air balloon flying over rock landscape at Cappadocia Turkey (photo via TPopova / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Hot air balloons flying over Cappadocia, Turkey. (photo via TPopova/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

The Hellenic antiquities on the Aegean and Mediterranean shores are as fine as any in Europe. Only the ruins at Pompei can compare to the archeological majesty of Ephesus. The history of Greek civilization runs through ancient Hellenic sites on the Aegean such as Miletos, Didyma, Pergamum and Aphrodisias. Homer himself was born in Bodrum and further north on that coast you can explore the ruins of Troy. A series of ancient kingdoms have also left impressive ruins along the southern coast at sites such as Termessos.

One of the most popular ways to explore that coast is on the easygoing, casual Blue Cruise using small local yachts calling at isolated coves and charming ports. In the dry interior, Cappadocia, with its subterranean churches, preserves the memory of one of the most unusual societies in history.

Turkey is bordered by six different countries and its delicious cuisine shows influence of all of them, but at its heart is the barbecue cuisine of the nomads who journeyed west out of Central Asia to take the country by conquest from the Greeks of Byzantium. A vast country, there are times of year when you can find all four seasons happening in Turkey at the same time. Continental and Turkish Airlines both serve Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport.