Times have changed over the decades, though – economic prosperity has transformed Turkey from a seasonal beach and antiquities destination into a place one can visit any time of the year. The question now is this: When is the best time to visit Turkey?
Springtime is perfect for visiting historical sites.
Turkey is an ancient country, considered to be among the oldest permanent human settlements in the entire world. It has many locations that figured in Greek mythology and Homeric literature. It was an important center of early Christianity, where the missionary work of St. John the Apostle and St. Paul, himself an Anatolia native, led to the growth of early Christian churches and communities in the region. Its geographic location as the gateway to Asia and the Black Sea resulted in Turkey becoming the beating heart of both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.
If you count history and religion among your interests, then a trip to Turkey in the months of March, April or May is definitely a must. The best time for you to make your trek across Turkey to see important historical and religious sites is during the springtime, when the crowds are few, the prices are more affordable, the weather is mild, and the hot Turkish sun won’t beat on you as you hop from one ruin to another. Speaking of the ruins, you simply should not miss:
A once-famous oracle of Apollo, Didyma in Didim was second only to Delphi in terms of prestige. To reach this sanctuary in the olden days, one had to follow a 17 kilometer pathway called The Sacred Way to Didyma.
The ruins of Ephesus in Selcuk show the city to be magnificent in its prime as the second most important city in the Byzantine Empire next to Istanbul. Among these ruins you will find the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; the reconstructed Library of Celsus; the Basilica of St. John, as well as the supposed resting place of the apostle himself; and the largest outdoor theater in the ancient world, with a seating capacity of around 24,000. Close to the ruins is the Cave of the Seven Sleepers, where seven martyrs fleeing persecution were said to have slept for centuries.
Built over the hot springs of Phrygia near Pamukkale was the spa town of Hierapolis, where people from all over the Roman and Byzantine empires came to retire, die and be buried in the necropolis below. Hierapolis was also an important center of Christianity; it was where St. Philip the Apostle was martyred.
Pergamon used to be a Greek colony. According to legend, it was founded by Telephus, the son of Heracles or Hercules. Many of the architectural elements that spoke of the city’s grandeur have been carted off to various museums across Europe, but many parts of the acropolis remain. These ruins are located north and west of the modern city of Bergama.
Troy was the central setting of the Homeric epic The Iliad, where the Greeks fought the Trojans to recover Helen of Troy. Apparently, Troy was built over the ruins of older cities; Homer’s Troy is the city’s seventh incarnation. Now known as Troia, this UNESCO World Heritage site is near the village of Tevfikiye in Canakkale Province.
Not all the interesting historical and religious sites in Turkey are in ruins, though. The ancient cities of Bursa and Edirne on both sides of the Sea of Marmara are alive and well on pace with the times. On the coast of the Black Sea is Trabzon, once a stop on the old Silk Road and home to the breathtaking Sumela Monastery sitting on the side of a steep cliff. In Antakya, you will find the Antioch Heritage Center, home to relics of the ancient city of Antioch. If you’re from the Australia, New Zealand or the UK, you must visit Canakkale and Gallipoli for ANZAC Days in April, when Turkey commemorates the sacrifice of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps during World War I. And then, there’s Ankara, the capital city of Turkey. It’s also a city that’s thousands of years old; you’ll find there around 50 historical, cultural and artistic museums, as well as numerous parks, Roman ruins, temples, monuments and mosques.
You may be tempted to include Istanbul in your spring tour of Turkey’s antiquities. Istanbul, after all, is the largest and most historically, culturally and economically significant city in Turkey. However, springtime is also peak travel season in Istanbul and prices typically skyrocket, so you’re better off scheduling your visit there another time.
Summer is for Outdoor Adventures
Late spring to early summer, that is May, June and until early July, is a good time for going on outdoor adventures in Turkey. The spring rains are subsiding, but the summer sun is not yet unbearable. And for outdoor adventures, the best place to go in Turkey is the erosion basin of Cappadocia.
Stepping into the region of Cappadocia in Central Anatolia is like stepping into another planet. The stark plains of Anatolia are broken by the towering, colorful and otherworldly geological formations created by the eruptions of the Erciyes, Melendiz Daglan, and Hasan volcanoes millions of years ago.
The best way to experience Cappadocia is by hiking through the basin. You can spend the days admiring the fairy-world landscapes and visiting monastic communities whose churches are carved out in caves. You can also sleep in cave houses all over the region. If you’re brave enough, you can go whitewater rafting through the red canyons of Ihlara valley. Or if you don’t want to spend days trekking through Cappadocia, you can always view it from the top by riding a hot air balloon.
Autumn is for Getting Sunkissed & Hitting the Beach
Most people hit the beach during the summer months of July and August. In Turkey, this won’t be a good idea, as the beaches would be packed, the hotels full, and the prices exorbitant. Moreover, summer can be very hot and unpleasant in Turkey. If you want to avoid the crowds, to save on costs and stay cooler, wait until late summer or early autumn to hit the beach. The crowds would be thinner and the merchants more open to bargaining by then.
Now, where are the best beaches in Turkey? Of course, no beach experience in Turkey is complete without hitting Oludeniz on the Turquoise Coast. Oludeniz is one of the most photographed beaches on the Mediterranean, famous for its deep blue and aquamarine colors. Scuba diving and Paragliding from the heights of Mt. Babadag down to the waters of Oludeniz are some of the most popular activities there.
Iztuzu Beach in Dalyan is another incredible beach destination in Turkey. This beach is a nature reserve, protected as a breeding ground of endangered loggerhead turtles. During the turtle breeding season, you can’t stick sun umbrellas in the sand and you can’t linger at the beach after 8PM. If you get tired of swimming, you can explore the Lycian tombs and ruins nearby.
There are many other excellent beaches in Turkey. If you can’t make up your mind which beach to stay at, you can always explore them all via the Blue Voyage. When you go on a Blue Voyage, you hire a local schooner for a weeklong cruise along the length of the Turquoise Coast and stopping at well-known resort towns other than Dalyan and Oludeniz such as Antalya, Kas, Alanya, Marmaris, Cesme and Bodrum. Going on a leisurely Blue Voyage is the best way to experience the Turquoise Coast, also known as the Turkish Riviera.
Winter is for sightseeing in Istanbul
Istanbul, as mentioned earlier, is the historical, cultural, and economic heart of Turkey, as well as its largest and most populous city. While you can visit Istanbul any time of the year, winter is when the prices are the cheapest, the merchants and service providers most accommodating, there are huge discount sales in shopping centers all over the city, and there are no crowds to be seen around the popular tourist spots. The downside is it can be windy and chilly with the occasional downpour, but even the coldest winter in Istanbul is milder than winter in, say, New York City.
Sights you must not miss in Istanbul naturally include:
The Hagia Sophia
A former Greek Orthodox church built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian, later converted into a mosque by the Ottoman Turks, and now functioning as a non-secular museum. It is thought to be the most beautiful example of Byzantine architecture.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque
More popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles decorating its interior. Facing the Hagia Sophia, it is famous for its massive size and architectural splendor.
A sprawling and sumptuous palace complex that was once the home of the Ottoman emperors and their families, as well as their ranking officers and attendants. It is located on the Seraglio Point overlooking the Sea of Marmara.
The Grand Bazaar
The oldest and largest indoor market in the whole world. The Bazaar has more than 3,000 stores covering 61 covered streets and offering a huge variety of goods from clothes to jewelry to food to home décor and furnishing.
Of course, you won’t see the real Istanbul unless you get out of the Old City, where the popular landmarks are and explore the neighborhoods outside the Sultanahment. Worth exploring are the neighborhoods of Galata, with its Genoese Tower and colorful local food and bar scene, as well as Cihangir, with its interesting street food offerings.
There’s something for everyone in Turkey any time of the year. Gone are the days when people only go there to visit antiquity sites and hit the beach. So take out your calendar and start planning your Turkish adventure today. Winter in Turkey can be experience at the start of November. whole of December and January. During February, the ice or snow starts to melt.
Planning a trip to Turkey soon? You should know when is the best time to visit Turkey, then!