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When thinking about Türkiye, the main tourism hubs are Istanbul, Cappadocia, and the Antalya region. I visited those places, too, when I lived there for one year in 2022. But what really made a lasting impression on me were all those hidden gems in Türkiye I have discovered while traveling around the whole country.
Hidden gems are places which are unknown to most people and/or are so far off the beaten track that only few people visit them. In this blog post, I will present to you 12 hidden gems in Türkiye you shouldn’t miss. Find out why leaving the beaten track and visiting those places will be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make!
1. Mardin and Midyat
Mardin is a historical city in Türkiye which attracts millions of visitors each year. But what makes this city an under-the-radar place for most foreigners is its location in the far southeast next to the border with Syria.
If you ask yourself now if it’s worth it to make a trip to that remote Kurdish region, then my answer is a clear YES! The entire city of Mardin is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with historical landmarks wherever you look.
The city was first settled in 11 BC and became a strategic vantage point due to its location on the top of a hill. This fact and the proximity to countries like Syria, Iran and Iraq helped Mardin become famous for a colorful mix of different cultures and religions.
In Mardin, you can see historical buildings, including old mosques, churches, and palaces. You can also see the unique architecture of Mardin homes and enjoy views of the city from the hilltop, or take in the local culture and cuisine.
The architecture of the buildings in the old town is truly unique and can only be found is this region of Türkiye. Stroll through Mardin’s narrow alleys and delve into the city’s history by visiting the Mardin Museum and architectural sites like Zinciriye Medresesi and Kasımiye Medresesi.
And if you are looking for a true hidden gem, then make a day trip to the nearby city Midyat which is only about 30 minutes away from Mardin. It is like a smaller and less frequented version of Mardin. When I was there in March 2022, I counted only a handful of (Turkish) tourists.
In case you have more time, combine your Mardin visit with a road trip through southeastern Türkiye. Visit other, similarly beautiful and historical places like Şanlıurfa, Gaziantep and Diyarbakır. I promise, you will not regret it!
2. Nemrut Crater
About 300 km northeast of Mardin at Türkiyes biggest lake, Lake Van, you will find the Crater Lake of Mount Nemrut. This is not the Mount Nemrut which is famous for its mystical stone figures. That one is also worth visiting and interestingly has the same name but lies 400 km west of Lake Van. The Mount Nemrut I mean is actually a dormant volcano and famous for its beautiful crater lake.
Now, Mount Nemrut and I had a bit of a history. I lived in Tatvan for about a month in April 2022. Once a week I would try to drive up to the see if the streets were free of snow. On my second last attempt, I decided to walk, but had to turn back because of a bear roaming around, looking for food.
On the very last day, I gave it another shot. I came quite close by car, much closer than the last time. Only when there were still 8 kilometers to go, I saw that the snow was still there. I couldn’t accept that I wouldn’t see the crater lake, and so I left my car on the side of the road and walked. But instead of following the road, I just hiked all the way up to the edge of the crater.
Only 40 minutes later, I enjoyed one of the best views I ever had. Standing there at the top of the edge, I had the entire crater lake to my feet, and Lake Van and Tatvan to my back. It was breathtaking and easily one of my favorite moments on my trip through Türkiye!
As thrilling as this whole adventure was, I’d recommend you visit this area in summer. And fortunately, there’s much more to do at Lake Van. Combine it with a road trip around the lake and visit other hidden gems like Van Castle, Akdamar Island, Muradiye Waterfall and the Ishak Pasha Palace.
3. Zil Kale
The Rize Province is one of the most underrated regions in Türkiye in my opinion. There you will find picturesque villages, thick forests, high plateaus, the Black Sea Coast, and about a hundred waterfalls in all sizes and shapes.
One day, I visited the famous Ayder Village, which personally I found a bit overrated. That’s why I quickly set off to explore some places off the beaten path. I followed the sign to Zil Kale, a medieval castle deep in the forests.
Just getting there took quite some time, but mainly because I felt like stopping every five minutes to take pictures of stone bridges and foggy mountains.
Then, out of nowhere, this massive, ancient castle appears. Sitting atop a cliff and surrounded by the the Pontic Mountains, Zil Kale overlooks the lush forests of the Firtina Valley, which means “Storm Valley” in Turkish. It is believed that the castle was built between the 14th and 15th century. It was one of the most important historical structures in that area at that time.
Zil Kale is about 1.5 hours away from the city of Rize, which makes it the perfect place for a day trip combined with some of the other attractions in the surroundings. Whether you are a history lover, a photographer or a nature enthusiast, Zil Kale castle is one of those hidden gems in Türkiye you shouldn’t miss!
4. Butterfly Valley
Butterfly Valley is a nature reserve located in the southwestern coast of Turkey, near the town of Ölüdeniz in the Muğla Province. This valley is named after the large number of butterflies that live in the area, particularly the Lime Butterfly.
In Butterfly Valley you can see a variety of landscapes including a pristine beach, steep cliffs, and a lush forest with several species of birds and plants. Additionally, you can go hiking, swimming, and take a boat trip to explore the surrounding areas. There are also several accommodation options available for those who want to spend more time in the valley.
When I was there in January 2022, both Ölüdeniz and the Butterfly Valley were quite deserted. Neither did I see other tourists, nor butterflies flying around. I could only admire the valley from top, but already that view was worth the trip!
I did some research though and found out that the best time to see the butterflies in Butterfly Valley is during the months of June to September. During this time, the weather is warm, and the butterflies are most active. However, it’s best to check the specific migration patterns of the Lime Butterflies, as the exact timing may vary from year to year.
To get to Butterfly Valley in Türkiye, you can take a bus or car from Fethiye to Ölüdeniz, and then take a boat trip to the valley. Another option is to take a hike from Ölüdeniz to the valley, which takes approximately two hours. There are also organized tours available from Fethiye that include transportation and a guide.
Kaş is a picturesque town located in the Antalya province of southern Türkiye. It is a hidden gem because it is a relatively unknown and under-explored destination, despite its natural beauty and rich history.
This small town is surrounded by stunning mountain landscapes and known for its beautiful coastline and charming local architecture with traditional stone houses and narrow streets.
The town’s proximity to several historic sites like Xantos, the ancient capital of Lycia, and the rock tombs of Myra make Kaş a great destination for those interested in ancient history.
But that’s not all! Kaş is also famous for clear waters, underwater caves and the Taurus Mountains. That makes this small town a popular spot for outdoor activities such as scuba diving, snorkeling, hiking, and even parasailing.
And for those who are more interested in a beach vacation, there many beautiful beaches in the vicinity of Kaş. Some of the most popular ones include Kaputas Beach and Patara Beach.
I visited Kaş three times when I lived near Antalya, and it was always worth it. If you are looking for hidden gems in Türkiye, then Kaş should be on your list!
6. The Lycian Way
The Lycian Way is a long-distance footpath in southwestern Turkey. It runs along the coast of the Lycia region and is approximately 500 km long. The trail offers breathtaking views of the Aegean Sea and the surrounding mountains and provides opportunities to explore ancient ruins and traditional villages.
I obviously didn’t do the entire hike, but there was one specific part of the Lycian Way near the town of Finike which I visited a couple of times: the Gelidonya Lighthouse. It is situated on a rocky promontory and known for its stunning panoramic views over the scenic coastline.
If you love hiking, I highly recommend doing the 20-kilometers hike of the Lycian way from the small village of Adrasan to the Gelidonya Lighthouse. On the way you will enjoy stunning views of the coastline, and an incredible sunset by the time you arrive!
And if you have more time and are more adventurous than I am, why not hiking the entire Lycian Way? After all, it is considered one of the best long-distance hikes in the world and is a unique way to experience the natural beauty and cultural heritage of the Lycia region.
7. Ihlara Valley
Despite being close to Cappadocia, Ihlara Valley is relatively unknown to many tourists and therefore retains a peaceful and authentic atmosphere.
The valley is a deep and narrow gorge, surrounded by towering cliffs and dotted with crystal-clear streams. It is home to lush vegetation, including fruit trees, and provides a peaceful and serene setting for hiking and exploring.
But it’s not just the stunning natural beauty that makes Ihlara Valley the perfect day trip when visiting Cappadocia. It is also its historical significance. Being an important center of Christianity in the past, the valley has been inhabited for thousands of years and there are many ancient rock-cut churches and monasteries to be found along its walls.
These historical sites provide a unique insight into the religious history of the region and offer a chance to admire well-preserved frescoes and other artwork.
Especially during the warmer months, Ihlara Valley becomes a popular destination for outdoor activities such as hiking, picnicking, and swimming. And the gently flowing river that runs through the valley provides opportunities for rafting, tubing, and other water-based activities.
Amasya is a mid-sized city with a population of around 200,000 people in the Black Sea region of northern Turkey. It is known for its rich history, stunning Ottoman architecture, and beautiful natural surroundings.
Some notable attractions include the historic city center, which is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ancient rock-cut tombs, and the Ottoman mansions.
Learn about the city’s history in the Amasya Museum, or walk along the Yeşil River and admire the scenic views. Along the main road, you will find plenty of shops and restaurants.
But the real gem is the small street on the other side of the river, underneath the steep cliffs behind the Ottoman houses. There you will find many small shops with locally made crafts, such as hand-woven textiles, ceramics, and leather goods.
What I liked the most about my trip to Amasya though was the view from the top of one of the several mountains surrounding the city. You can do that by walking (or driving) up to the Amasya fortress. Or enjoy panoramic views of the city and its surrounding mountains on the hilltop terraces of restaurants like Yamaç Bistro and Vadi Park Panorama Restaurant.
Or you can do it like me and simply walk up towards the mountains and look for a viewpoint yourself. I followed a path until I found this stunning viewpoint, which I had all to myself.
9. Şahinkaya Canyon
Not far from Amasya you will find Şahinkaya Canyon, which is one of my favorite hidden gems in Türkiye. Compared to other tourist destinations in the country, this canyon is completely under the radar due to its remote location.
This has helped to keep the canyon in its natural state and less crowded, allowing visitors to enjoy its beauty and tranquility without the crowds. Once there, you can take a boat trip through the canyon and enjoy stunning views of the towering cliffs that surround the canyon.
I decided against it. Instead, I set out to find a viewpoint which I saw in some pictures on the internet. For that I took a small car ferry to cross the river and drove up the mountain for around two kilometers.
Another two to three kilometers of hiking later, I found it, and it was jaw-dropping! I had one of the best views in my life, all to myself, and watched the sun go down behind the massive cliffs of Şahinkaya Canyon.
While it is possible to contact local tourism offices in Samsun and get to Şahinkaya Canyon by bus, I would suggest you rather rent a car. Especially if you plan to drive to the famous viewpoint, you will save lots of time and stress.
10. Çıralı Beach
Çıralı Beach is located in southern Türkiye in the Antalya province on the Turkish Mediterranean coast. It is known for its stunning natural beauty, with clear blue waters, a picturesque shoreline, and lush green forests surrounding it.
For those who are looking for a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of city life in Antalya, Çıralı Beach is the perfect place to go!
Now, when I was there in winter and the beginning of spring, the beach was almost always completely empty. During the high-season, this will obviously be a different story. But compared to other beaches in the region, Çıralı Beach will still be less crowded. Just try to go there in spring or fall, or in summer only during the weekdays to beat the crowds.
Besides soaking up the sun and going for a swim, you can set out to explore several historic ruins, including the ancient city of Olympos. And for the adventurous hikers among you, there are several hiking trails that offer stunning panoramic views of the beach and the surrounding landscape.
One other hidden gem you shouldn’t miss when going to Çıralı Beach is Mount Chimaera. It is known for its natural flames that burn continuously, fueled by the release of methane gas from the ground. The flames have been burning for thousands of years, and I’ve seen it with my own eyes, there are real flames coming out of that mountain!
Amasra is a small town located on the Black Sea coast of Turkey, in the Bartın Province. It was my last destination before I left Türkiye, and I’m glad I took the small detour to get there.
The town is situated on a narrow peninsula between the Black Sea and the mountains, which provides stunning views of the coastline and the surrounding natural scenery.
The well-preserved old town of Amasra features many historic Ottoman and Byzantine-era buildings and monuments, which are considered beautiful examples of traditional Turkish architecture.
Amasra has maintained its traditional character, with narrow streets, old stone houses, and local markets, which offer a glimpse into the town’s history and culture. And for those of you who love seafood, you will find plenty of restaurants to choose from!
Apart from that, Amasra is also an ideal base for exploring the beautiful surroundings. My Airbnb host showed me several waterfalls and hidden beaches on the map when I arrived.
But the only other place I managed to visit in those two days was the Güzelcehisar natural beach and its huge and unique lava columns. That beach alone was worth the trip to Amasra!
Safranbolu is a town located in the Karabük Province about an hour and a half away from Amasra. I knew that this small town is known for its well-preserved Ottoman-era architecture, but since I’ve seen such buildings in other cities, I decided against making a stop there.
It turned out that I had to drive past it anyway on my way to Amasra. And so I thought, why not just driving through and see if I made a mistake not putting it on my itinerary. It took me less then a few seconds in the old town to realize: yes, I made a mistake.
The traditional Ottoman-era architecture of Safranbolu is one of the city’s most distinctive features, with well-preserved homes, mansions, and other buildings that showcase the traditional style and building techniques of the Ottoman period.
And just to make that clear, it wasn’t just a few nice buildings here and there, it was the entire old town which looked like an original Ottoman town from the past. Something I haven’t seen in any other place I’ve been in Türkiye!
As if this wasn’t enough, Safranbolu is also surrounded by stunning natural scenery, including rolling hills, forests, and the rich green countryside of the Black Sea region. This place is definitely a hidden gem you shouldn’t miss when traveling along the Turkish Black Sea coast!
These are my favorite hidden gems in Türkiye, but to be honest, I could’ve made this list much longer. Türkiye is such an incredibly beautiful country that has so much to offer.
If you ever have a few weeks off and you don’t know where to travel, make a road rip through Türkiye and I promise you will fall in love with this country!
Especially the lesser known parts in the east were quite a surprise, and unfortunately, I couldn’t see everything I wanted to see. It turns out that the winter in the middle of the country can be quite tough and long, making some tourist attractions (like both Mount Nemruts) inaccessible.
Therefore I suggest going to Türkiye in spring or fall. This way you will be able to see everything without being disturbed by crowds of tourists.
And if you decide to go there, please consider checking the Travel Booking section on our website. Here you can book flights, hotel, tours and much more by using our affiliate links, and we donate 50% of each commission to charity. This way you will enjoy your trip and do something good at the same time!
Although I’ve been to Türkiye twice, I haven’t visited any of the places you are introducing. Since the second time I was there to brush up on my Turkish, I had to stay in Izmir which is not on your list – and very rightly so, it’s simply not that great. I got to see some amazing spots not too far from Izmir but I definitely need to go back for more. And your post will clearly help putting together an itinerary 🙂
I’m glad you said that about Izmir, I actually made a stop near Izmir for a few days on my way to Antalya, and I planned to see the city. But then I got sick and only managed to visit Ephesus, probably one of those amazing spots you were talking about! Anyway, I’m glad this post inspired you to maybe come back to Türkiye someday and hopefully see some of these hidden gems. 🙂
“Hidden gems” is right! I thought I saw a lot when I travelled around the country for a month a few years ago, but there’s so much more to see. I would love to do the Lycian Way hike. Great list!
There really is too much to see in Türkiye! The Lycian Way is also still on my list, it would be really nice to do the entire hike someday. 🙂
We have only had short cruise port stops in Türkiye but always wanted to go back. We certainly had the main tourist areas on our travel wish list. But your post shows that there are so many other amazing spots to visit. It looks like there are some awesome outdoor spots to enjoy. And lovely small towns too. I am keeping this post for future travel planning to Türkiye.
There really are some incredible outdoor spots, so many canyons and mountains which I did not expect. After all, even one year wasn’t enough to see everything Türkiye has to offer, but I’m sure I will be back someday again 😀