When most people first think of Turkey, they picture the mosques and bazaars of Istanbul, but that's just scratching the surface of this fascinating country. One of the best places to go in Turkey is its Aegean region. It has a lot to offer: ancient ruins, beautiful beaches, a rich history, seaside villages adorned with bougainvillea, and a laid-back atmosphere.
Here are some of our favorite places in the Aegean region, including the coast and interior destinations. If you plan to visit any of this historic region’s ancient-city archeological sites or museums, consider buying a Museum Pass – Aegean. See maps for an overview of the locations.
Below you’ll find the best places to visit, grouped by regions.
Including Selçuk, Şirince, & Kuşadası
This ancient city is a UNESCO heritage site and a must-see in the Aegean region. Visit the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and one of the best-preserved classical cities. The neighboring town of Selçuk makes a good base for exploring lots of other ancient cities. Şirince is located a short distance away. Surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, it is a quaint town known for its wine. While you’re in the area, visit Kuşadası, a bustling seaside resort and cruise ship port. (map)
The Library of Celsus
The Theatre of Ephesus
Including Denizli, Aphrodisias
Hot calcium-laden mineral waters ripple over a cliff to form cascades of gleaming white stone at this spa inland near Denizli. You can even swim in the water! Stop at Roman Aphrodisias, the City of Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, on the way to Pamukkale from Ephesus. Denizli has all the transport connections (air, bus, rail) for visiting Pamukkale. Though it is mostly an industrial city, it has a cable car and is a short drive from the ruins of Laodicea.
The Pamukkale Travertines
Hierapolis ancient city in Pamukkale
Including Çanakkale, Gallipoli
Once thought to exist only in legend, the walls of Troy have been excavated and restored—and made into a movie. Canakkale is located on the Dardanelles, your base for visits to Troy and the Gallipoli battlefields. Across the Dardanelles Strait, visit Gallipoli (Gelibolu), site of momentous battles during World War I, and poignant monument-strewn battlefields today.
The Trojan Horse in Canakkale
Anzac Cove on Gallipoli Peninsula
Turkey’s third-largest city is mostly modern, with good hotels, great seaside restaurants, an interesting bazaar, a few museums, and archeological remains. Around an hour away, in the seaside towns of Alacati and Çeşme, famous among windsurfers, you’ll find windmills overlooking alleyways full of restaurants and boutiques, a blue flag (top-quality) beach, stone houses, and a ferry terminal to the Greek island of Chios.
Alleyway in Alacati
Izmir Clock Tower
Southern Aegean Region
Located at the corner of a peninsula between the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, this resort town has a long promenade of seaside eateries and nightlife spots. For those looking for a quieter getaway, head further down the peninsula to towns such as Selimiye, Icmeler, and Datça. Datça is a quiet town mostly popular among local tourists. It has a number of beaches with crystal clear water.
West Aegean Region
The Pergamum Acropolis sits atop a hill, delivering sweeping panoramic views of the agricultural town. While there, visit the Red Basilica, an archeological museum, and more.
Known as Ancient Phocaea, this village has picturesque stone houses with a boat-lined harbor. It is a nice resort town divided into Eski Foça (Old Foça) and Yeni Foça (New Foça) with swimming, windsurfing, restauranting, and other pleasures.
A visit to this island near the southern mouth of the Dardanelles strait is like a step back in time: relaxed days of hiking and swimming, unhurried al fresco dinners with friends, sipping the island’s own wines.
Just next to Bozcaada, this North Aegean seacoast resort town is popular with Turkish vacationers.
A charming seaside hamlet facing Lesvos in the shadow of a hilltop Temple to Athena—perfect for a getaway.
The center of Turkey’s legal opium trade, a dramatic hilltop fortress stands at the center of Afyon. At its feet are some historic buildings and lots of pastry shops serving the region’s renowned clotted cream.
North of Afyon among the low hills at Aslankaya and Midas Şehri are remains of King Midas‘s ancient kingdom, 2700 years old.
Uşak, ancient Temenouthyrae serves as a base to visit several interesting sites to the south, all of which are worth a look in a picturesque rural setting that became Christianized by the third century.
Known for its beautiful colored glazed tiles and pottery, this city also has several fine old buildings and, on its outskirts, a well-preserved Roman temple at Aizanoi.
Ancient Tralleis, chief city of the Meander River valley It has little to see today, but you may have to change buses here.
For guidance in Greece, see Greece Travel Secrets, by renowned travel guide authors Mike Garrard and Donna Dailey.