Konya, Turkey

Last Updated on December 18, 2023

Located in Central Anatolia, about an hour's drive south of Ankara, right on the ancient Silk Road, Konya has lots to see and do, a number of good hotels, and a well-developed transportation system. It is an extremely old city, with roots dating back to the days of the Hittites, who called it Kuwanna. As a Roman city, it was Iconium. As a result, there are many structures in the area with great historical significance.

One thing to keep in mind before visiting Konya is that it is the most religiously conservative city in Turkey—and proud of it. So, if you are traveling to Konya or to other cities within central Anatolia after exploring the coastal towns of Turkey, you may notice a significant number of people wearing hijabs, which may come as a surprise and remind visitors of the Middle East. However, there is no need to worry, as you will be welcomed by Turkish hospitality right away.

Before visiting Konya or exploring its top sights and experiences, it's important to understand its rich history to fully immerse ourselves in this enchanting city.

History of Konya

Konya, 261 km (162 miles) south of Ankara (map), has been a central part of many civilizations for many years and has been inhabited at least since 3000 BC. The city is located on plain land that is very fertile. As a result, major civilizations built settlements in this area, including Greeks, Hittites, Romans, Persians, Phrygians, and more. Before it fell into the hands of modern-day Turkey's predecessor, the Ottoman Empire, Seljuk Turks had inhabited Konya, and the land was known as Turkey's city of Whirling Dervishes, with most of its native population and surrounding area following the Mevlevi order.

In fact, Konya was the capital of the Seljuk Turkish Sultanate of Rum (“ROOM,” that is, Rome), which flourished in Central Anatolia from 1071 to 1275. The Seljuks built numerous caravansaries along the Silk Road between Cappadocia and Konya and beyond. Since the Ottoman Empire, this has not changed, and Konya has been known as the city of Whirling Dervishes for more than 800 years, even when it was under occupation by European powers, notably Italy, during the First World War.

Top Sights

As we mentioned, Konya has been a central location for many civilizations since the beginning of time, most notably the Seljuk Sultans and Turks. Seljuk architecture is outstanding, and numerous great sights that include mosques and theological school which are Konya‘s pride and joy.

Mevlana Museum: One of the reasons to visit Konya is to see the Mevlana Museum, which shelters the tomb of Jelaleddin Rumî (1207–1273), known to his followers as Mevlana (or Rumî), a Muslim poet and a famous Sufi mystic and one of the great spiritual thinkers and teachers of all time.

Selimiye Mosque: Just outside of the Mevlana Museum, Selimiye Mosque is an elegant mosque built by the imperial architect Mimar Sinan (who also built the Mosque of Süleyman in Istanbul) in 1575.

Alaaddin Hill: Alaadin Tepesi is an artificial land that has been raised through the orders of Sultan Alaaddin Keykubat during the peak of the Seljuk Turks. It served as a palace for the Turkish Sultans of Rum, and some were buried in the mausoleum in the park. There are also the Alâeddin Mosque and walls, built to protect the hill and still preserved centuries later.

Kyoto Park: Kyoto Park is a Japanese-style park that offers picturesque scenery and greenery in one of the most conservative cities in Turkey. There are even traditional Japanese-style structures and buildings in this park, which adds even more to our surprise. Don't expect something huge, but it is definitely worth visiting if you are nearby.

Meram Baglari: Meram Baglari, also known as Meram Creek, is a popular summer spot for travelers and locals alike. Many people come here to enjoy a refreshing drink and meal alongside the turquoise river and the old Seljuk bridge.

Butterfly Garden: The Butterfly Garden (Kelebek Bahçesi) is a beautiful butterfly house, full of greenery and tropical butterflies and plants. The building itself is a must-see, especially during the evening, with its eye-catching rainbow colors and the elegant butterfly-shaped structure it has.

Çatalhöyük: About 45 km (28 miles) southeast of Konya lies Çatalhöyük, the famous Neolithic archeological site excavated by James Melaart in the 1950s and continues to be excavated today.

Beyşehir: Beyşehir, 92 km (57 miles, 1.5 hours' drive) west of Konya on the way to the Mediterranean coast, boasts Anatolia's most beautiful Seljuk Turkish wooden mosque, the Eşrefoğlu Camii (1296–1299), well worth a look in passing or even a day excursion.

Top Experiences

When you visit Konya, you will be immediately amazed by all the history and spots to visit in the city center. Moreover, after you tour these places, there is still lots to do and enjoy your time in Konya, ranging from the shows put on by whirling dervishes to the delicious cuisine and drinks of the city, such as Turkish tea and Etliekmek.

In fact, Konya is an interesting place any time of year, with its historic buildings and savory slow-roasted mutton Konya kebap, though it can be difficult to get a beer or a glass of wine with dinner (strictly observant Muslims do not consume alcoholic drinks at all). Also, during the holy month of Ramazan (Ramadan), many restaurants may be closed during daylight hours and may open only for iftar, the break-the-fast dinner just after sundown. Let's take a look at the most popular things to do in Konya.

Experience Sema: The Mevlevi sema is the Sufi worship ceremony in which the Mevlevi dervishes whirl for a quarter of an hour at a time in their quest for mystical union with the Divine. (Dervishes also whirl in Istanbul, but Konya is the main place to see.)

Try Local Cusine: While Turkish cuisine is famed around the world for its rich taste, some meals originating in Konya are even more famous. Meals such as Konya kebab and etliekmek (meat on top of bread) are among the favorite local dishes for travelers. Also, Mevlana şekeri is a very popular type of candy to try when visiting Konya.

Join Excursions: When you visit Konya, location is another advantage. Central Konya is near some of the most popular tourist destinations in Turkey. Cappadocia is one of the first destinations people visit after they visit Konya. Karaman, Akşehir, and Aksaray are among the other popular places to go.

Have Breakfast by the Meram Creek: As we mentioned earlier, Meram Creek is a popular summer destination in Konya, famed for the laid-back traditional Turkish breakfast and Turkish tea you can have by the beautiful river and bridge.

Lodging in Konya

Konya has a sufficient number of hotels, but if you plan to visit in mid-December, when Şeb-i Aruz, the annual Rumî commemoration ceremonies, pack Konya with pilgrims, you must be sure to reserve your room well in advance, or, better yet, take a guided tour that includes Konya and Cappadocia.

Transportation to/from Konya

As for Konya's transportation, daily Turkish Airlines flights connect Konya with most cities in Turkey. Moreover, there are two high-speed train lines (İstanbul-Konya YHT and Ankara-Konya YHT) in Konya that connect the city to Istanbul, Ankara, and some other destinations. There are also dozens of fast, frequent, and comfortable daily buses.

If you're coming from Cappadocia, a bus and a car are your only options. From Ankara, the fastest and most comfortable way is by high-speed train.

Visit Konya

Konya is the most religiously conservative city in Turkey; however, the city is also home to some of the most innovative structures, as well as the best-preserved Seljuk structures in Turkey and even Asia Minor.

The city's beautiful gardens and ancient atmosphere take you on a journey through time, with a mix of European, Asian, and Western influences that showcase the best of the city. If you ever find yourself in Konya, don't forget to admire the history and beauty of the city. Happy travels.

—by Tom Brosnahan, updated by Can Turan

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