Exploring the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Turkey


By Elizabeth Frels

There are currently 19 UNESCO World Heritage Sites spread throughout Turkey, now officially the Republic of Türkiye. In order to capture as many as possible, consider the following route that traverses through the country's ancient historical wonders. 

Turkey Travel Guide UNESCO Sites To See Ker & Downey1 Frontinus Gate


Make a beeline for the fairy chimneys and lunar-like rock sites of Cappadocia. Be sure to explore the Göreme Open Air Museum to see the best examples of Byzantine art in Cappadocia in rock-cut churches with frescoes and paintings dating back to the 10th century.  

You'll want to travel to Kusadasi next, which puts you within easy reach of Ephesus, once the most important commercial center of western Anatolia and Asia Minor. The moment you travel through the through the Magnesia Gate you'll find yourself in the presence of the greats: the Odeon, the Celsus Library, the Temple of Hadrian, the Fountain of Trajan, and the Grand Theater. Of course, don't forget the Terrace Houses, the finest examples of Roman domestic life in the world. 

Overnight in Pamukkale to capture three UNESCO sites in one day: There's Hierapolis ("holy city"), an ancient city of pagan cults that was evangelized by Paul and Epaphras, and Pamukkale ("cotton castle"), the site of the Roman health spa of Hierapolis. The warm mineral waters here spring from the earth and cascade over a steep cliff, forming gleaming white travertine pools. Finally, sneak in a stop at Aphrodisias, a newer UNESCO site (2017) named after the goddess of beauty and love. 

From Kusadasi, you'll be able to reach Pergamum, with its acropolis and Great Theatre, considered the steepest in the ancient world. Perhaps the most impressive in this region is the Archaeological Site of Troy with its extensive 4,000-year-old remains.

Finally, drive onward to Istanbul, home to several architectural masterpieces from the Byzantine and Ottoman periods, the most notable being the Hagia Sophia and the Süleymaniye Mosque complex, among others. 

Turkey Travel Guide UNESCO Sites To See Ker & Downey6 Peninsulaistanbul


Museum Hotel Cappadocia remains the only Relais & Chateaux hotel in Türkiye and is therefore understandably coveted. Meanwhile, the former-monastery-turned-exclusive-escape Argos in Cappadocia boasts panoramic views from the lofty town of Uchisar, an ideal perch for a romantic meal. 

In Pamukkale, Colossae Thermal Hotel promises indulgent spa therapy packages reflective of its setting. And Kusadasi offers two lovely options – the tried-and-true Charisma Deluxe Hotel and the newer Unique Hotel – both of which overlook the sea. 

Look no further than Kolin Hotel in Canakkale and Grand Temizel Hotel in Ayvalik. 

In Istanbul, the Four Seasons outposts and Ciragan Palace Kempinski remain favorites, and for good reason. However, history lovers will appreciate the Jumeirah Pera Palace with its 125-year-old elevator – the oldest in Turkey. Additionally, the newly opened Peninsula Istanbul promises to make waves in the luxury hospitality space. 

Turkey Travel Guide UNESCO Sites To See Ker & Downey3 Pottery


Don't stop at just the ancient sites and natural wonders... Immerse yourself in the traditions of the Turkish people along the way. 

Witness a traditional pottery demonstration and make your own pottery in Cappadocia's Avanos, which has been a terra cotta artisanal mecca since 3,000 BC.  

Enjoy lunch with a local family in Kirazli, a traditional village outside of Kusadasi known for its close-knit community and eco-agriculture roots. 

Take part in a special Ebru paper marbling class in Istanbul. This Turkish tradition of painting on water creates patterns that are often transferred to papers and fabrics used on book covers, wall hangings, and decorative surfaces. 

Turkey Travel Guide UNESCO Sites To See Ker & Downey4 Cappadocia


It's become almost iconic: the stock imagery of hot air balloons in their multitudes rising above fairy chimneys of Cappadocia. But this is one picture-perfect photo that is well within reach. A hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia with Ker & Downey is not only romantic, but it also allows you to witness this UNESCO-protected landscape from a completely different vantage point alongside a myriad of colorful balloons. 

Most of Istanbul's wonders might be accessible by land, but the most surprising sights can only be discovered on a private cruise along the Bosphorus Strait. The shores of the waterway – which separates Europe and Asia – are filled with wooden villas, towering fortresses, small fishing villages, and grand Ottoman palaces and castles, including the Dolmabahçe Palace, the Beylerbeyi Palace, and Rumeli Hisar and Anadolu Castles.  

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