The Aegean coasts of Türkiye are where the mountains soaring directly from the sea are divided by endless bays and coves, creating a very special culture defined by a laid-back lifestyle, an abundance of fish, olives and fresh produce and an idyllic setting. Here is a quick look into the earthly pleasures of the TurkAegean that may inspire your next escape.
Troy: The City of Tales
One of the most epic wars in all of history, thought to have been fought on the TurkAegean coast around the 12th century BC, has inspired several epic literary works including Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Goethe’s Faust, as well as the occasional blockbuster movie. This legendary battle has also given us popular phrases such as “Trojan horse” and “Achilles’ heel”. The city of Troy was subsequently uncovered in the 19th century in a rural area 25 kilometers from the city of Çanakkale. At this UNESCO World Heritage Site, don’t expect to see the majestic marble columns, temples and theaters of other ancient Roman cities (as Troy was a city of the Bronze Age). Instead, a state-of-the-art museum awaits you here, where artifacts excavated on site are displayed.
Travel Tip: While you are in Çanakkale, you can also visit the World War I memorial of Gallipoli, a historical event that is frequently likened to the defense of Trojans with the help of other ancient Anatolian kingdoms, against occupying forces.
Edremit Gulf: The Homeland of Eternal Tree
About 100 kilometers south of Çanakkale lies the Edremit Gulf, overshadowed by the Kazdağı (Ida) mountain range, where the ancient gods are said to have watched the Trojan War. Thanks to its extraordinary local microclimate, the residents of this bay have been producing some of Türkiye’s best olive oil for centuries. The region is also a popular vacation spot with its mountain villages like Yeşilyurt and Adatepe offering characteristic boutique hotels in rustic stone houses, as well as summer resorts like Küçükkuyu, Altınoluk, Ören and Ayvalık, each with pristine beaches and inviting waters.
Travel Tip: The charming coastal town of Ayvalık has seen a resurgence in recent years with many of its elegant Aegean-style houses being restored into cozy hotels and restaurants. You can buy olive oil and fragrant soaps here and also visit Cunda Island for a local feast in one of its traditional waterfront restaurants serving rakı (anise flavored local liqueur) and meze.
Seven Churches of the Asia Minor
The TurkAegean is also an important destination for faith tourism, as it hosts all of the seven major churches of early Christianity mentioned in the New Testament Book of Revelation. These seven churches are known as Pergamum (Bergama), Thyatria (Akhisar), Smryna (İzmir), Sardis (Nazilli), Philadelphia (Alaşehir), Ephesus (Selçuk) and Laodicea (Denizli). According to the Bible, Jesus asked John the Apostle to send a letter to each of the communities of these churches, conveying his apocalyptic advice. The churches are relatively close to each other and clearly marked for visitors, which makes them easily discoverable during a week-long itinerary.
Travel Tip: Hosting one of these seven churches, Pergamum is one of Türkiye’s most impressive ancient cities, also under protection as a UNESCO World Heritage site. After admiring its Roman theater carved into a steep hillside, and imagining the ruined Library of Pergamum with its 200,000 volumes of books written on the rolled parchments invented here, visit the nearby ancient healing center of Asklepion. The modern-day town that flourished at the feet of Pergamum also has culinary delights to savor, including the famous local cheese variety Bergama tulumu, as well as a plate of juicy meatballs grilled and served in Bergama style.
İzmir: Where Life is a Beach
İzmir is usually regarded as the main gateway to the TurkAegean. As the third largest city in Türkiye, it is also a favorite holiday destination, with its proximity to the pristine beach towns and resorts scattered around the Çeşme Peninsula. After reserving one or two nights at the city center to explore the historic bazaar area and the vibrant street culture, head to the beach destination of your choice. While Urla has a provincial vibe with its wine route, Alaçatı would satisfy windsurfing enthusiasts and night owls alike, with its breezy coast and sidestreet bars. There are also lively beach clubs catering to all tastes, where you can chill on a private beach or dance the day away with an upbeat DJ set and a refreshing summer cocktail in hand.
Travel Tip: İzmir is also a place to taste some of the best seafood you will find in Türkiye. Head to the coastal villages of Özbek and Çiftlik to taste the local fish, clams and langoustines at picturesque seaside restaurants. Another hotspot for gourmands is the town of Tire, attracting visitors with its famous Tuesday farmer’s market and the rustic restaurants of nearby Kaplan village, 100 kilometers from İzmir.
Ephesus: Wonders of the Ancient World
As one of the most important ports of the ancient world, and the oldest excavation of an archaeological site in Türkiye, Ephesus provides the wandering eye a most complete envisioning of what an ancient Roman city was like some two thousand years ago. Among many delightful landmarks to explore here are the Library of Celsus, an intact Roman theater where gladiators once had fierce battles as well as the hillside mansions of the wealthy citizens of ancient Ephesus that are rich in frescoes and murals with vivid colors and patterns. Though by no means fully intact, a few columns of the famous Temple of Artemis can still be seen today. As one of the original Seven Wonders of the World, the temple attracted admirers from all around the ancient Mediterranean. The House of the Virgin Mary, a chapel seven kilometers from Ephesus, has been a major place of Christian pilgrimage since the 5th century as well.
Travel Tip: You might easily visit Ephesus on a day tour from İzmir, or stay overnight in Selçuk, where you can enjoy the Ephesus Museum with its magnificent marble statues, and the extensive remains of the Basilica of St. John on Ayasuluk Hill in the town center. Do not leave without tasting the local kebab variety of çöp şiş, which is grilled on smaller wooden skewers with meat leftovers. Şirince, a picturesque town with old wooden Ottoman houses and extraordinary wines made from local berries and fruits, is also worth a visit, and just a 15-minute drive from Selçuk.
Kuşadası: In the Lap of the Meander River
A mere 20 kilometers south of Selçuk lies the cruise port of Kuşadası, an old city with a well preserved Ottoman castle. Kuşadası can be your base to explore the twin ancient cities of Miletus and Priene, both of which flourished in the delta of Büyük Menderes (Meander) River, the second most recognized river of antiquity after the Nile. Priene is notable as the city that applied the first example of “grid system” in city planning. The nearby ancient city of Didyma, on the other hand, welcomed attention with its imposing Apollo Temple, an important pilgrimage site of antiquity.
Travel Tip: Dilek Peninsula National Park, one of Türkiye’s best-preserved nature reserves, allows daytime entrance for visitors who’d like to enjoy its pristine beaches, biking trails, bird watching and diving spots, as well as spacious picnic grounds. Lake Bafa, another reserve that is part of the Büyük Menderes River system, is also worth a visit, with its authentic village life, fish restaurants and mythological lands attracting hikers, rock climbers and botanists today.
Bodrum: Dolce Vita in the TurkAegean
With its sun-kissed beaches, secret coves and lush landscape – not to mention its dazzling high-end resorts and premium shopping experiences – this idyllic peninsula has cast an enchanting smile across the face of visitors since it staked its claim as Türkiye’s own slice of heaven on earth more than half a century ago. The peninsula features several small coastal towns and villages, each with its own earthly pleasures. While Yalıkavak and Göltürkbükü attract a globetrotting clientele with their luxury beach clubs, hotels and marinas, Gümüşlük emits bohemian vibes from its waterfront jazz bars and fish restaurants. Bitez and Ortakent, on the other hand, stand out with their established communities living year round, many ending their workdays on one of the pristine beaches that abound.
Travel Tip: You can visit the iconic Bodrum Castle to see the oldest shipwreck in the world, catch a live summer concert staged in the ancient Bodrum theater, and see Türkiye’s most elegant sailing yachts compete at the annual Bodrum Cup every October.
Twin Peninsulas of Bozburun & Datça
Sandwiched between the Bay of Gökova and Marmaris are these two beautiful swathes of land, jutting out to the Aegean sea. Both are an integral part of blue voyage cruise trips on board a traditional gulet (sailing yacht), as they hide some of the best crystal-clear coves of Türkiye. Many of these secluded corners are only accessible by water. The must-see spots along this coastal stretch include Akyaka with its kite-surfing beaches and community, Bördübet with its teeming greenery and streams pouring into the sea, Datça with its charming town center, azure beaches and ancient ruins of Knidos, Bozburun and Selimiye with their laid-back coastal living, Marmaris with its yachting culture and Turunç with its secluded cove and small luxury hotels & villas watching over the expansive landscape from their infinity pools.
Travel Tip: Datça is famous as the center of almonds in Türkiye, starting their bloom every February and celebrated with an annual festival. Make sure to stock local delicacies that include these almonds and other typical products of the region that are sold in chic food boutiques along the main shopping street of the town.
Dalyan: A Haven for Sea Turtles
Endangered loggerheads (Caretta caretta) and green sea turtles choose İztuzu Beach in Dalyan as one of their prime nesting spots in Türkiye. This 5-km strip of golden sand along the TurkAegean coast lies at the mouth of the Dalyan Stream, the winding runoff connecting Köyceğiz Lake to the sea. Stay in a riverside lodge in Dalyan to enjoy the tranquility of the natural setting and join a daily boat trip meandering its way to the sea among thick marshes. Also, make sure to visit the gorgeous temple-like tombs of Kaunos cut into cliff walls above the town of Dalyan.
Travel Tip: From May to August, you can observe the female turtles laying eggs, and the baby turtles hatching two months later along İztuzu Beach under the protection of stalwart NGOs.
Fethiye: Where the Aegean Meets the Mediterranean
Now we are entering the land of the ancient Lycians, who bequeathed us their dramatic ruins, including their monumental parliament buildings, as well as the characteristic rock tombs stretching from the beaches to mountains above. The modern town of Fethiye is worthy of attention, with its lively fish market where you can choose the seafood of your fancy and have it grilled right there in the marketplace. But the real prize here is the scenic sandbank and lagoon of Ölüdeniz, lying at the foot of the majestic Mount Babadağ. Due to the rugged geography of the Lycian land, this pristine bay was only recently discovered in the 60s by a group of adventuresome travelers. The cove later developed into a beachfront resort area with the arrival of the first hotels in the 90s. Ölüdeniz lagoon operates as a national park today, with paragliding from Babadağ offering a hovering front-row seat to its breathtaking panoramas. If you’re not a fan of flying, you can visit the Babadağ summit by cable car year-round to behold one of the best sunsets imaginable.
Travel Tip: Usually shortlisted among the most beautiful long-distance treks in the world, Lycian Way offers a 540-km waymarked trail (rated moderate to difficult), starting from Ölüdeniz and ending at Antalya. One can hike the entire trail in a month, or enjoy shorter, multi-day segments of the entire route. The Butterfly and Kabak Valleys are two neighboring natural wonders on the Lycian Way, where you can indulge in ecological retreats and glamping domes.