Istanbul's old town and Hagia Sophia

Travel Guide: Turkey is the Ultimate Encapsulation of Cultural Beauty

Situated on the borderline between Asia and Europe, Turkey is the ultimate encapsulation of cultural beauty, historical richness, stunning natural scenes, and adrenaline-rushing adventures. Each year, millions of travellers visit Turkey for the once in lifetime experience. There is absolutely no right or wrong way of sit-seeing in Turkey, but here is a comprehensive study guide for anyone who is looking at Turkey as their next travel destination. 

Aya Sofya

The Aya Sofya in Turkey is a stunning architecture that expresses centuries of historical events and religious strife. Aya Sofya is also called the Holy Wisdom or Church of the Divine Wisdom, but it is more commonly recognized as Hagia Sophia (Hagia Sophia). Tracing back its history, Aya Sofya was built by Emperor Justinian I as a Christian Church. However, throughout centuries of religious conquests and cultural shifts, it has been turned into a mosque, museum, and back to a mosque (Hagia Sophia). Currently, under the presidency of Erdogan, Hagia Sofya is considered to be a mosque where daily prayers taking place inside the building. Architecturally, Aya Sofya combines a longitudinal basilica and the shape of a dome (Hagia Sophia). 

This is the famous Aya Sofya located in Istanbul
Credit: The Guardian

History of Aya Sofya

After the building was constructed under the reign of emperor Justinian I, the building was looted in 1204 by the Venetians and the Crusaders (Hagia Sophia). After the Turkish conquest of Constantinople, Mehmed transformed Aya Sofya into a mosque. During the reign of Murad III, Aya Sofya was also fused with Islamic art and aesthetics (Hagia Sophia Mosque). Due to cultural and political secularization, Turkish President Kemal Ataturk repurposed the building into becoming a museum filled with mosaic art, delineating the traditions and histories of religious individuals (Hagia Sofya). It is also during this time that UNESCO recognized Aya Sofya as a World Heritage site (Hagia Sofya).

The architectural design of Aya Sofya 

There is countless mosaic art within the Aya Sofya. The marble walls combined with the artistic beauty make it a breath-taking sight. As soon as you enter the grand floor, there will be a mosaic of Christ as Pantocrator (Aya Sofya). At the focal point of the grand floor is the apse, a mosaic of the Virgin and Christ Child (Aya Sofya). As you go upstairs to the galleries, the south gallery will showcase the remnants of a magnificent Deeis; this mosaic portrays Christ with the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist (Aya Sofya). The architecture of the Aya Sofya is not without its own “flaws”. Due to earthquakes, Aya Sofya was been destructed many times in the past. In addressing this problem, four campus minarets were erected in its corner in order to stabilize the building. The south minaret was built by Mehmed II, the second stone minaret was constructed by Mimar Sinan, and the last two were added by Murad II (Hagia Sofya Mosque). 

A visitor’s guide to Aya Sofya: 

Having established that Aya Sofya is a mosque currently, there are a couple of rules that visitors should follow in order to ensure the best experience possible. First, visitors should avoid prayer times due to respect for religious traditions. Women would be required to wear a head covering when entering as a part of the visitor rules established by Aya Sofya. When you are there, remember to remove shoes before stepping on the carpets and keep the noise at a minimum. There are also official tour guides available to visitors. Aside from Aya Sofya’s gorgeous art and architecture, it is also a resting place for kings and prices. The Mausoleums of Ottom Sultans, just outside of the building contain the tombs of Sultan Selim II, Sultan Murad III, Sultan Mustafa I, Sultan Ibrahim (Hagia Sofya Mosque). 

The last activity to do at Aya Sofya is to visit the northern side aisle of the Imperial Door. This is a wall that is filled with holes which are blessed by St. Gregory the Miracle Worker. It is a tradition to put fingers in these holes as it is said to be able to cure illnesses (Hagia Sofya Mosque). 


If going on a hot air balloon has been on your bucket list of activities to pursue, Cappadocia in Turkey is the right place for you. At the Anatolian plains in Cappadocia, more than half a million people each year enjoy hot-air ballooning. The adventure lasts for a duration of one hour that could depend on the specific hot-air ballooning company (24 Awesome Things To Do In Cappadocia, Turkey). The best time for hot-air ballooning is in March to June or September to November even though the activity itself is year-round (Flo 2019). 

This is the hot-air ballooning site in Cappadocia Turkey.
Credit: Travel and Destination

Traveler’s guide to hot-air ballooning

It is important to remember that the activity is extremely popular; therefore, you must book your balloon as early as possible. The activity costs between 130 to 180 Euros depending on the specific size of the hot-air balloon and the duration of the trip. 

Many people also wonder about the safety levels of hot-air ballooning. It might come as a relief that pilots of these hot-air balloons undergo extensive training and examination. The process of becoming a hot-air balloon pilot is similar to that of normal airplanes. However, it is important to understand that nothing is entirely risk-free. According to the National Library of Medicine, “There were 12 accidents which occurred during the flight hours examined (a rate of 14.8 accidents per 100,000 h). There were 33 individuals seriously injured, 3 fatally in all passengers (3.7 fatalities per 100,000 h in these flights)” (Aslaner 1). Additionally, hot-air ballooning might be occasionally cancelled due to clement weather. 

Sites around Cappadocia

The scenery in Cappadocia goes beyond hot-air ballooning. In terms of historical sites, the Goreme National Part, Goreme National Museum, and Saruhan Kervansary. Particularly, Saruhan Kervansary is the only place in which the Whirling Dervishes Ceremony is shown. It is believed by the local Sufi sect that spinning can help a person reach a state of nirvana (The Whirling Dervishes of Istanbul). Around the Goreme National Park, tourists have the option to rent an ATV on a two-hour guided trip. Wondering where to go during sunset? The sunset horse-riding trip is another way to enjoy the natural sceneries in Turkey while enjoying an adrenaline-rushing experience. 


Have you ever had a dream of bathing in cotton? Pamukkale, also known as Cotton Palace, is a literal paradise on earth both in terms of its scenery and its unique experience. Pamukkale is a perfect combination of mineral forests, petrified waterfalls, and terraced basins. Historically, in the 2nd century BC, the dynasty of the Attalids, the kings of the Pergamon established this thermal spa of Hierapolis (UNESCO). According to UNESCO, the cotton candy form and the thermal energy is created when a “high content of calcium bicarbonate cascaded over the edge of the mountain cliff, cooled and hardened, leaving white-coloured calcium deposits and aquamarine-rich water” (UNESCO). Tourists usually visit Pammukale for a warm bath as the water contains a high level of mineral which is beneficial for one’s circulation and digestion. 

The Pamukkale is a public thermal spring with calcium carbonated water.
Credit: Hurriyet Daily News

A tourist’s guide to Pammukale 

As a tourist vising Pammukale, it is important to bring your own swimming gear as it will not be provided in the local area. It is also advised to pack lightly and follow all the directions in order to ensure the preservation of this site. 

Topkapi Palace

Turkish history and its relationships with the Ottoman Empire continue to fascinate historians and scholars. For anyone interested in Turkey’s century-long history, Topkapi Palace is the perfect place to visit. The Topkapi Palace exhibits collections of the Ottoman Empire including an extensive collection of books and manuscripts in its library since it since served as the administrative centre of the Ottoman (Topkapi Palace Museum). 

The layout of the Topkapi Palace

The Topkapi Palace is organized into four courtyards but only the Outer Courtyard is only to the public. The courtyard once served as the place for ceremonial events and a marketplace for artists (Topkapi Palace Museum). The second courtyard, also called the Divan Square, was the main place of governance where official visitors and members of the government discuss political affairs (Topkapi Palace Museum). Additionally, the courtyard’s palace kitchen and confectionaries are also in the second courtyard (Topkapi Palace Museum). The third courtyard is the private residential areas of the sultans. This place is only open to sultan’s families and servants (Topkapi Palace Museum). The last courtyard is the gardens and pavilions of the Palace (Topkapi Palace Museum). It is currently filled with tulips (Topkapi Palace Museum). 


Ephesus is an archaeological paradise for those interested in classics and ancient Roman history. It is one of the largest accessible archaeological sites in this world (10 Best Place to Visit in Turkey). The most famous tourist site in Ephesus is undoubtedly the Temple of Artemis, one of the Ancient Seven Wonders. The other popular attraction site within Ephesus is the Terraced Houses which belong to the richest residents of Ephesus in the first century  (10 Best Place to Visit in Turkey). Ephesus also contains one of the largest libraries in the ancient world behind Alexandra and Pergamum (10 Best Place to Visit in Turkey) called the Library of Celsus. 

Ephesus contains one of the biggest archeological sites in the world.

Temple of Artemis

The Temple of Artemis was built by Croesus, King of Lydia and rebuilt after a madman burned it down. The Temple of Artemis was originally built to worship the Goddess of Artemis who is a young hunter often shown with her bow and arrows. Artemis is important as she is the daughter of Zeus and Leto. People believe that she is a protector of nature (Temple of Artemis at Ephesus).

Alexander the Great after the Temple was burned down offered to rebuild the temple; however, the request was respectfully declined by the local Ephesians. The Temple of Artemis was later rebuilt by the locals. Unfortunately, the Temple was plundered by Emperor Nero and completely destroyed by the Goths  (Temple of Artemis at Ephesus).

House Terraces

The Terrace Houses are luxurious residential houses for the rich. Its architecture resembles that of the Hippodamian plan where roads transect each other at right angles (Iza 2019). The Terraced Houses contain drawings and graffiti which give us a glimpse of the daily lives of inhabitants living in these dwellings. The drawings showcase gladiators, caricatures and animals (Iza, 2019). The interiors of the rooms are decorated with mosaic art, tracing its history to Italy. (Iza 2019). 

Library of Celsus

Aside from its function as a library, Celsius Library was originally designed to be the grave of Celsus which is beneath the ground floor (Celsus Library). A library was built on top of the grave because Celsus was the God of wisdom (Celsus Library). It is known that there are double walls behind the bookcases to protect them from extreme temperatures. The library has two stories with Corinthian-style columns on the ground floor  (Celsus Library). There are four statues inside the columns which symbolize wisdom, knowledge, intelligence, and valour (Celsus Library).


The trip to Turkey is not complete without a thorough visit to its capital city: Istanbul. Even though the Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia have been described before, there are additional activities worth pursuing here in Istanbul. The Istanbul Archaeological Museum is a museum combining three smaller ones, Archaeological Museum, Ancient Orient Museum and the Tiled Kiosk Museum (10 Top Tourist Attractions in Istanbul). This museum contains more than 1 million objects from global civilizations including precious artifacts, most notable the sarcophagus of Alexander the Great (10 Top Tourist Attractions in Istanbul). 

Shopping is a necessary stop when it comes to the Grand Bazaar in Turkey. This large marketplace contains over 5,000 shops (10 Top Tourist Attractions in Istanbul). Grand Bazaar sells everything from jewelry, carpets, spices to antiques (10 Top Tourist Attractions in Istanbul). 

There are dozens of mosques to visit in Istanbul; one of the most famous mosques in the Blue Mosque. It is actively used for prayers and worship by Muslims in the community. The Blue mosque is made up of 20,000 ceramic tiles, tulips, and glass windows (10 Top Tourist Attractions in Istanbul). It is important to remember that tourists who visit must remove their shoes and women must wear head-covering similar to Hagia Sophia (10 Top Tourist Attractions in Istanbul). 

Just a few steps away from the Blue Mosque is the Basilica Cistern which proves Istanbul residents with water since the sixth century (10 Top Tourist Attractions in Istanbul). The interesting aspect of Basilica Cistern is its technological sophistication that often leaves tourists surprised by the wisdom of our ancient days.

Below is an image of the blue mosque located in Istanbul. It is one of the most visited mosque in Turkey.

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