Ideas when visiting Turkey for Mature & Senior Travellers
Turkey has much to offer when it comes to the nation’s history, food, and landscape. The country has a number of ancient monuments and ruins that mark the many cultures and peoples that have, through the ages, made Turkey their home. Turkey is home to a significant number of Greek ruins, some of the best restaurants in the world, and some truly spectacular natural wonders.
You can see a number of the sites on this list by taking Odyssey’s Small Group Tour of Turkey, so click the link to see the tour details! Odyssey specialises in escorted tours for mature travellers curious about culture and history, and we always ensure you are guided by a reliable and knowledgeable tour leader in collaboration with local experts.
Note: Whenever you’re travelling it’s always worth checking Australia’s smarttraveller.gov.au website for any relevant travel advice. Turkey has recently undergone some political disruption, so read up on the status of the region and the specific areas you plan to visit before you set off on your trip.
1. Hagia Sophia
This cathedral (Aya Sofya in Turkish) is one of the most spectacular and popular sites in Turkey. Located in Istanbul, the first church on the site (a Christian church) was inaugurated nearly 1700 years ago, in 360AD. Nothing remains of this church, which was burned down in the year 404, during riots. Over the centuries, churches have been built and destroyed. It was converted into a mosque in 1453, when Constantinople fell to invading Ottomans.
The cathedral that stands today was converted into a museum in 1935. The building itself is extraordinary, and contains a collection of incredible art and artefacts. The museum is one of the best ways to begin to discover Turkey’s culture and history.
There are often long queues, so if visiting, it’s worthwhile buying an Istanbul Museum Pass in advance, from a different museum. This pass gives you access to several museums at a reduced price, and means you don’t have to wait to buy tickets once you arrive at the Museum!
2. Ruins of Pergamon
These are the ruins of a once-wealthy Greek city founded in the 3rd Century BC: the capital of the kingdom of Pergamon, built by Alexander the Great. Reaching the site requires around a 2 hour drive from the city of Izmir. The ruins themselves are at the peak of a steep hill, so are accessed via cable car. Once there, you’ll find an amphitheatre (the steepest of the ancient world!), restored tilework, the ruins of various magnificent buildings, and a spectacular view of the surrounding geography.
At the base of the acropolis is the Healing Centre, which was the home of influential Greek physician Galen. The theories developed here dominated western medicine for well over a thousand years!
Unsurprisingly, Pergamon is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. The World Heritage committee describes the site as “a masterpiece of Hellenistic and Roman urban planning and design.”
3. Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is among the world’s largest covered markets. Like so much of Istanbul, the Bazaar has been around for hundreds of years. Constructed in 1461, until quite recently the market was one of Turkey’s central trading hubs. Now, it is very much a tourist attraction, with over 5,000 stores selling every Turkish souvenir a traveller could imagine. There are twenty-two ancient gateways, through which you can enter or escape, and 56 interconnecting vaulted passageways. It’s quite a maze, and everywhere you go, locals will be trying to sell you their wares. Tourists will be doing their best to bargain for them.
Just remember that it’s closed on Sundays.
If the Grand Bazaar seems too overwhelming and doesn’t sound like your thing, there are plenty of other markets scattered throughout Istanbul.
4. Mount Nemrut
The strange and haunting ruins on Nemrut Dag are truly wonderful. Here, you will find the heads of ancient statues that were excavated in 1881, including the heads of Apollo and Zeus. The damage done to the statues (which have not been restored), suggests that they were the subject of deliberate destruction, the heads removed and the noses chiselled away. Originally, the statues were part of the mausoleum of Antiochus (who lived from 69-34BC), a monument built by the king in tribute to himself. It mixes the aesthetics of a number of cultures, and showcases artistic principles from a distinctive era of history. The combination of stunning natural setting and the otherworldly feel of the sculpture makes this a must-see attraction.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is described by UNESCO as “one of the most ambitious constructions of the Hellenistic period”.
Pamukkale is a genuine natural wonder. What at first appears to be a snow-covered landscape is, in fact, given its striking look by an accretion of carbonate mineral caused by flowing water. The name, in Turkish, means ‘cotton castle’. Another of Turkey’s numerous UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, the Committee describes it as “an unreal landscape, made up of mineral forests, petrified waterfalls and a series of terraced basins.” It is also Turkey’s most popular attraction.
Aside from the natural wonder, it is also host to the very well-preserved Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis. It also includes a museum, The Hierapolis Archaeological Museum. It is housed in one of the area’s largest ancient buildings, it was once the Roman Baths. The museum displays marble and stone artifacts, along with Roman works of art, and Bronze Age crafts excavated from sites in the region.
Pamukkale also has thermal waters, so there are hot springs which you can dip your feet in, right next to the spectacular ruins of antiquity!
6. Göreme Open-Air Museum
If you visit the Goreme Open-Air Museum, you will be in for one of the most unusual museum-going experiences available. The museum is comprised of a many churches and monasteries carved from stone, most built in the 10th, 11th, and 12th centuries. However, the monastic activity may have taken place in the region as early as the 4th century. A number of the ancient structures are decorated with gorgeous painting and stonework. They are surrounded by spectacular landscape also forged by the volcanic rock from which the churches are carved.
There are a number of spectacular buildings with historical and aesthetic significance throughout the museum. Just down the road, there is also the beautiful Buckle Church. Its ceiling displays a stunning fresco, along with depictions of saints and New Testament scenes, the life of Jesus being told in separate panels.
7. Blue Mosque
Located in the centre of Istanbul sits The Blue Mosque, formally known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. While it is a popular tourist site, it continues to function as a place of worship. Completed in 1616, it can hold an impressive 10,000 people.
Less than a ten minute walk from the Hagia Sophia, it’s entirely possible to visit both in one day! In fact, both are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites under the banner of ‘Historic Areas of Istanbul.’ Many areas of Istanbul have historical and cultural significance, due to the city’s strategic geographic position.
8. The Topkapı Palace
The Topkapı Palace is a large museum in Istanbul. Also part of UNESCO’s ‘Historic Areas of Istanbul’, it was built in the 15th century by the Sultan Mehmet II. Each new Sultan that reigned added a new section to the palace, meaning it continued to grow in size for a portion of its life. For a while, it was the largest palace in the world and, during festivals, was known to reach up to 10,000 residents and covered 700,000 m2. Due to a number of factors, the Palace’s footprint is now much smaller, but it remains impressively large. In 1924, by the order of Ataturk, the palace was converted into a museum. It remains so today, and is open 9am to 5pm, except on Tuesdays.
The museum’s collection includes a wide range of local and international artifacts, from Ottoman Military gear to European porcelain, to a collection of silverware with over 2000 pieces.
Ephesus was the location of Greek and Roman settlements, and fairly well-preserved ruins of both remain. Another World Heritage site, it was once the home of one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the World’, the Temple of Artemis. It is said the temple was burned down in 356BC by Herostratus, an arsonist who simply did so for the fame. While it was rebuilt, the last years of its history are essentially unknown. However, some of the columns from the Temple of Artemis were used in the construction of Hagia Sophia, and can still be seen there today. While very little remains of the temple, other structures remain more intact, such as the Great Theatre and the Library of Celsus.
Near the site is the Ephesus Archaeological Museum. Here, you will find archaeological finds from Ephesus. It recently (in 2014) underwent an extensive renovation, so now is the perfect time to visit!
10. Sampling Local Food and Drink
Along with all the marvelous sites to see, it would be crazy to spend time in Turkey and not take advantage of its extraordinary cuisine. Turkish cuisine tends to be regional, and varies greatly from place to place. There is usually a range of street food in cities, with doner and kofte served on baguettes, roast chestnuts of fried mussels often available. Pide is also popular, and can be made to order, so you can select your filling.
Turkish coffee is a delicacy that is also not to be missed. While western-style coffee is available in tourist and upmarket areas of the country, Turkish coffee is something else entirely. Türk kahvesi, or sediment coffee, is unfiltered meaning, as the name implies, it comes with sediment in it. For this reason, let it settle once its served, before drinking, to ensure you don’t get a mouthful of sediment. When ordering, you can generally choose between no sugar, moderate sugar, or heavy sugar, depending on your dietary preferences and taste.
And of course, you haven’t had real Turkish delight or baklava unless you’ve had them in Turkey!
Travelling to Turkey with Odyssey
Odyssey’s Tour of Turkey takes in an enormous number of historically and culturally significant sites, including nearly all of those listed above, and many more! Below are some additional highlights you’ll encounter if you travel to Turkey with Odyssey Travel.
The tours opens with an exploration of the city’s architectural wonders, with a visit to the Blue Mosque and its unique 6 minarets, as well as the Roman Hippodrome Square and the Hagia St. Sophia Church, considered to be one of the world’s greatest architectural marvels. The next day, we head out to Topkapi Palace, the Grand Bazaar, and the Underground Cistern Basilica.
We enjoy a cruise along the Bosphorus, viewing both the European and Asian shores of Istanbul. The Bosphorus is a beautiful and important waterway that has a long history, beginning at least as early as the 5th century BC, when the city-state of Athens depended on it for grain imports from Scythia. It is also the reason that Roman Emperor Constantine established Constantine as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.
Another highlight is a visit what, in the late bronze age, was the capital of the Hittite empire, Hattusa. This is another world heritage site, including sites such as the Lion’s Gate, the Tunnel King’s Gate, and the Grand Temple. Much of this tour is dedicated to discovering the region’s deep history. Turkey has many institutions that work to preserve and commemorate this, including the Anatolian Civilization Museum and the Mausoleum of Kemal Ataturkm which we spend time at. Later in the tour, we visit the Mevlana Museum and the Karatay Museum, known for its Selcuk period ceramics. Beyond museums, we also visit plenty of archaeological sites, including the ancient Pamphylian, Hellenistic, and Roman cities of Perge and Aspendos.
Throughout the tour, we explore the integration between Turkey’s landscape and its ancient history. On one day, we drive first to the Asikli Hoyuk Neolithic site for a visit. After lunch we head to Ilhara Gorge and then visit the Derinkuyu underground city. Once, the city could accommodate up to 20,000 people and was often used as a site to protect people from invading or marauding forces.
Towards the end of the tour, we drive to Aphrodisias, the city of Aphrodite (or Venus), the goddess of love. Archaeologists named the city Aphrodisias because they found so many statues of her here. New York University is leading and supporting local excavations financially. We will view the Stadium which seated 35,000 people and is the best-preserved of its period in the world. We will also see the Hadrian Baths, the Theatre, the Agora, and the Archaeological Museum where many Aphrodite statues are on display.
While much of the tour focuses on history, we also take time to experience contemporary Turkish culture. The tour includes a visit to a small Turkish village of Sirince, located at the top of a mountain. We will visit some local houses to gain an understanding of life in a typical Turkish village. We will watch the local women cooking their traditional cheese pastry and stroll through the small open-air bazaar.
On the tour’s final full day, we drive to Gallipoli through the European section of Turkey. We board a ferryboat to cross the Dardanelles Straits to the Gallipoli (Gelibolu) Peninsula and visit Gallipoli and ANZAC Cove. Following the shoreline of the Sea of Marmara, we arrive back to cosmopolitan Istanbul.