The ultimate guide to visiting Turkey

Turkey is a country rich in history and culture, as well as a popular destination for sun, sea and fun. Here we explore the Turkish delights from ancient mosques and vibrant markets to golden beaches and tantalizing cuisine . . .

It’s a lot of Istanbul

The blue mosque and the grand bazaar might be what everyone thinks of when they hear the name Istanbul, but there’s so much to this city where Europe and Asia meet. We’ve delved a little deeper to find some slightly more unusual items for your itinerary.

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Often overlooked on the guided tours but definitely worth a visit is stunning Dolmabahce Palace. The last home of the Ottomans, it’s a 285-room architectural masterpiece that takes opulent to a whole new level. Afterwards, head across the Bosphorous to Camlica Hill – it’s a popular tea garden spot for Turks because of its panoramic view of the strait and city.

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The Beyoglu and Taksim districts are the heart of Istanbul’s tourist nightlife, but you should also head to French Street. Expect authentic restaurants filled with locals with boisterous live music as a soundtrack. In terms of local delicacies, Balik ekmek is a must – this popular ‘mackerel bread’ is available on the fishing boats moored at the end of Galata Bridge.

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Take a taxi to Zeyrek for a full-on street market experience, but without the tourist traps. Expect clamoring vendors, men carting carcasses on their shoulders and lots of loud haggling.

Stay

You have a choice of well-located IHG hotels when in Istanbul – check out the InterContinental Istanbul.

Take a break in Bursa

When people tire of the crowds in Istanbul, they take a two-hour drive south – or a ferry ride across the Sea of Marmara – to Bursa, an ancient capital of the Ottoman Empire. Clinging to the flanks of Uludag mountain, it’s a beautiful city of mosques, green parks and life-changing kebabs.

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If you only have time to see one of the city’s great mosques, make it the unique Muradiye-Hudavendigar in Cekirge. The city’s famous mineral baths are here too and worth a visit for both the architecture and the experience. It’s a taxi ride from the centre, but worth it. Slightly more off the beaten track is the Hisar district with its quaint Ottoman houses – just west of the city centre, it makes for a great afternoon stroll. For a fresh perspective on the city, take the teleferik cable car to the near the summit of Uludag (there’s also skiing if you’re here in winter).

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Try an Iskender Kebab and you’ll never look back – slices of roast lamb dressed with brown butter and tomato sauce. For a sweetener, chestnut candy is one of the Bursa specialities – look out for the Kafkas Bursa signs throughout the city; it’s the original maker.

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Bursa was one of the last staging posts on the silk route, so silk should definitely feature on your shopping list. Head to the Koza or Ipek bazaars for a spot of haggling. You’ll also want to make time for the Covered Bazaar for the classic sensory-overload market experience.

Stay

Put yourself at the heart of the action – stay at the Crowne Plaza Bursa or the Holiday Inn Bursa – City Centre.

Making Merry in Manisa

Tucked away in a peaceful, green valley in Anatolia, Manisa is renowned not only for its ancient mosques and modern architecture, but its dance and “fruits of the vine” festivals.

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The first thing to do is get your bearings – a trip up to Mount Spil and a stroll around its beautiful national park will give you a great view of the town and its wide, wooded valley.

Manisa is known for its festivals and two highlights include Mesir Paste and Folk Dance Festival in March, and the Vintage Festival in September which celebrates the fruits of local vineyards.

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Seek out a restaurant called Can Kofte during your stay. It’s the place for an authentic Turkish eating experience – the meatballs come highly recommended.

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While you’re in town pick up a jar of Mesir Paste, a locally-made Turkish sweet believed to have therapeutic effects. A concoction of 41 herbs and spices, it’s taken for everything from aches and pains to colds and indigestion.

Forum Bornova on the road to Izmir is very much on the tourist trail, but if you like brand shopping at bargain prices, stop off here for an hour or two.

Stay

The perfect base for your stay is Holiday Inn Express Manisa -West.

Resort to Antalya

With its stunning beaches and marina, Antalya is the gateway to Turkey’s world-famous Turquoise Coast. But before you head for your sun-lounger, we’ve come up with some locally-inspired suggestions that will help you discover a few other highlights of this bustling resort city.

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A little known fact about Antalya is that it’s home to one of Turkey’s best museums – Antalya Archaeological Museum. Its 5,000 works should keep you busy for a few hours, and taking the old-fashioned tram is a suitably historic way to arrive. Love archaeology but hate crowds? The Selge Ruins are scattered across a 900m-high hill, with the highlight being a 10,000-seat hill-top amphitheatre. The drive to get there is pretty special too – hire a car or a driver.

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Antalya’s full of great restaurants. For a bit of a neighbourhood experience, try Can Can Pide. Tables spill out on the street and you’ll find locals tucking into its stews late into the evening. Some of the other classics on offer include Adana durum (beef kebab rolled in pitta) and manti (Turkish ravioli). If you want to stay local but splash out, 7 Mehmet is one of the city’s oldest fine dining restaurants.

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Any trip to Antalya should involve a visit to the old town district of Kaleici with its Ottoman-style houses and cobbled roads. A word of warning, though, if you’re shopping for carpets and antiques, double check an item’s age, because anything over 100 years can’t be exported.

For designer shopping with a stunning backdrop, go to Antalya Turban Marina. As well as international fashion names, there are some great little cafes and restaurants clustered at the water’s edge with great views of the yachts.

Stay

You have two great IHG bases to choose from – Crowne Plaza Antalya or Holiday Inn Antalya  – Lara.

Aim for Ankara

Ankara is a place that really rewards a sense of adventure. So once you’ve ticked the best-known attractions off your list – and there are plenty of them – strike out and start exploring the alleyways less travelled.

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Make some time for the Hamamonu district while you’re in town – it’s a traditional, conservative neighborhood, so make sure you cover up when you go. As well as mosques and beautifully restored houses, there are bustling shops, restaurants and cafes – and things really liven up from sunset.

Turkey’s not all about ancient architecture; for a change of era, try the Cer Modern complex. You’ll find contemporary art displays, a cinema and cafes, all in a revamped industrial area.

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Tunali Caddesi is a buzzing destination that’s a local favourite packed with restaurants, cafes and late-night bars. Wander about exploring the tiny passageways and you’ll stumble onto little boutiques selling all kinds of wares.

Kirit Café is in a tourist-friendly part of town near the castle, but it’s popular with locals. The Tarhana soup comes highly recommended and the meatballs too – and the prices are incredibly reasonable.

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Ankara is known for its beautiful bazaars, and whatever neighborhood you’re in you’ll find one nearby. The Ulus district is the place to start. Here there are three inter-connected areas. Cikrikcikar Yokusu has everything from textiles to clothes and gifts. Samanpazari, right outside Ankara Castle, is great for handmade jewellery, ceramics, carpets and antiques. Plus there’s Ulus Hali, Ankara’s oldest food market and a feast for the senses.

Stay

You’re guaranteed a warm welcome and great central locations like Crowne Plaza Ankara or Holiday Inn Kavaklidere.

Gaziantep: Gourmet heaven

Gazientep in the country’s south east is a haven for foodies, history lovers and culture vultures. Only recently discovered by the tourist guides, it’s a city on the up, with plenty of opportunities to experience a truly authentic side of the country.

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The city has bazaars, mosques and citadels aplenty, but fittingly for a culinary destination, it also has its very own Kitchen Museum. Learn all about the region’s food and ingredients, with the humble pistachio playing a starring role.

If you fancy a bit of fresh air, grab a box of Baklava and head to Dulukbaba Tabiat Parki (video) for a picnic on the lawns – the perfect place to while away a lazy hour or two.

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Gaziantep is recognised as being the capital of Baklava, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to judge for yourself just how mouth-watering this sweet pastry can get – pistachio flavour is the local classic.

After a visit to the Zeugma Mosaic Museum, the top tip from tourists and locals alike is a visit to Kebab-specialist Halil Usta. It doesn’t look much from the outside, but the food and the welcome are legendary (it’s only open during the day, so make sure you plan your sightseeing around it).

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The Coppersmiths’ Bazaar is the best known in town – and a great insight into the coppersmith’s art – but you should also make it to Zincirli Bazaar where everything from fruit and vegetables to pots and pans are sold at wholesale prices.

Stay

Base yourself at the Holiday Inn Gaziantep – Sehitkamil and you’re in the perfect spot to explore this fascinating city.