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It’s difficult to understand why Turkey isn’t at the top of more travelers’ bucket lists, because the more I learn about this incredible country, the more Turkish places get added to mine!

While it’s essential to visit Turkey’s main tourist-centric cities like Istanbul, Cappadocia, and Ankara, the country is teeming with lesser-known regions filled with pristine beaches, upscale resort towns, lush green valleys, towering mountains, and glacial lakes.

If you’re the kind of traveler who likes to get off the beaten path and delve into the parts of a given country that make it truly unique, check out the following four places in Turkey that you’ve probably never heard of but need to visit.

Sea-side view of Mugla in Turkey.
Aerial view of Mugla / Kochneva Tetyana / Shutterstock

Mugla

Both the name of a city and a province in southwestern Turkey, Mugla is situated along the Aegean Sea and is part of the Turkish Riviera, popularly known as the Turquoise Coast. Mugla boasts several upscale resort towns, including Marmaris, Bodrum, and Fethiye.

Mugla is a perfect combination of sea, sand, and sun, an idyllic destination for divers, sunbathers, and snowbirds. Visitors can swim in crystal clear, warm seas, relishing Mugla’s reefs, caves, and rock formations, or tour ruins of ancient civilizations. Mugla is the perfect balance between old and new. It’s a lesser-known destination in Turkey that truly can’t be missed.

Things To Do In Mugla

Arguably the most popular attraction in the province of Mugla is Bodrum Castle, a historical fortification overlooking Bodrum’s harbor and international marina. The castle, also referred to as the Castle of St. Petrus, or Petronium, was constructed in the 15th century and is a relic of the crusades of the Middle Ages.

Oludeniz, known as Turkey’s very own Blue Lagoon, is revered for its luminescent turquoise water. Situated on Turkey’s Mediterranean Coast, Oludeniz is also a Mugla resort town -- one of the best in Turkey -- and is considered by locals and tourists alike as one of the most beautiful places across the nation.

Overlooking the harbour of Bodrum Castle in Mugla.
Bodrum Castle and harbour in Mugla / Resul Muslu / Shutterstock

The Best Time To Visit Mugla

Since Mugla is made up of several resort towns, it’s no surprise that summer is the province’s peak travel season, though this isn’t necessarily the best time to visit Mugla.

Visiting Mugla during its peak season will entail large crowds and overpriced hotels. If you want to visit Mugla during a time when it’s less crowded and accommodations will be cheaper, visit during the month of September. Temperatures are still hot during this time, making it prime for lounging on the shores, but you’ll avoid the masses that flock to Mugla during summer months.

Aerial view of the coast of Rize, Turkey.
Aerial view of Rize / daphnusia / Shutterstock

Rize

If you’re seeking a truly authentic Turkish experience, plus an opportunity to immerse yourself in the great outdoors, look no further than Rize.

Rize is the capital city of Rize province, located within Turkey’s Black Sea Region. Built up around a small bay on the Black Sea, Rize is known for its steep rolling hillsides and the mass production of Rize tea. While tourism has taken its hold in Turkey’s larger and more popular cities, Rize continues to offer its visitors a candid Turkish experience difficult to find elsewhere.

The city is quiet, with little nightlife or entertainment. It’s a typical Turkish provincial capital that gives visitors a taste of what it’s really like to live in Turkey. Rize is an ideal destination for those who enjoy hiking, tranquility, greenery, scenic views, and off-the-beaten-path destinations.

Things To Do In Rize

Rize is characterized by its castles and historic houses, glacial lakes, plateaus, bridges, national parks, flora and fauna, and thermal waters.

Rize Castle is a partially-demolished medieval site that still offers stunning panoramic views of the city. Built by the Byzantines, the castle may date as far back as the sixth century A.D. When you arrive at the castle, feast your eyes on the lush green forests and coastline that surround it, and enjoy nibbles and coffee at the cafe housed within its inner walls.

Rize is also an ideal starting point for accessing a number of Turkish national parks, including Kackar Mountain National Park, Isirlik Nature Park, and Akyamac Falls Nature Park.

Overlooking the mountains and tea gardens of Rize, Turkey.
Overlooking the tea gardens in Rize / klenger / Shutterstock

The Best Time To Visit Rize

Since it is situated both along the sea and amongst the mountains, Rize has three different climates: humid subtropical near the sea, continental on the hillsides, and subarctic on the mountain slopes and highland plateaus.

Given its varying climates, Rize has high levels of precipitation along the Black Sea coast, with an annual average of around 75 inches. There can also be heavy snowfalls in the mountainous regions of Rize.

The greatest amount of precipitation occurs in October, so you may want to avoid visiting Rize during this month. Opt for May instead. It’s Rize’s driest month, making it an ideal time to visit.

Thermal water pools in Pamukkale, Turkey.
Thermal pools in Pamukkale / THANAN / Shutterstock

Pamukkale

Meaning cotton palace or cotton castle in Turkish, Pamukkale is a town situated in the western Turkish province of Denizli and known for its mineral-rich thermal waters that flow beautifully down white travertine terraces on a nearby hillside.

Pamukkale borders the popular Roman spa city of Hierapolis, founded at the end of the second century B.C. This natural region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that features a stunning landscape made up of “mineral forests,” waterfalls, and terraced basins.

Things To Do In Pamukkale

The geological phenomenon known as the Travertines of Pamukkale is undeniably the town’s main attraction, welcoming more than two million visitors a year. It's considered one of the world's natural healing places, and paired with the well-preserved ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis, Pamukkale is a must-see when visiting Turkey.

Located within Pamukkale and Hierapolis are endless temples, bathhouses, a necropolis, the Hierapolis Archaeology Museum, Pamukkale Natural Park Pool, and the Hierapolis ancient Roman theater.

Cleopatra's Bath in Pamukkale, Turkey.
Cleopatra's Bath in Pamukkale / Nejdet Duzen / Shutterstock

The Best Time To Visit Pamukkale

Pamukkale is known for its extreme temperatures in both the summer and winter months, so try and avoid visiting from May to mid-August and from November to January.

The weather in Pamukkale is favorable in fall, with mild temperatures and fewer crowds, as this is low season for tourists. During these months, visitors can enjoy temperatures between 68 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pamukkale weather will still be cold in February and most of March, but will begin warming up in April, making Spring a pleasant time to visit Pamukkale. This may be the best time to visit, since it’s not too hot during the day or terribly cold at night.

Mountains, lake, and city of Trabzon, Turkey.
View of mountains and lake in Trabzon / wajedram / Shutterstock

Trabzon

Historically known as Trebizond, Trabzon is yet another city located on the Black Sea coast in northeastern Turkey and is the capital of Trabzon province.

Trabzon is a hub for natural and cultural riches and is situated on the historic Silk Road. The city is a melting pot of religious practice, language, and culture. It has become immortalized by its famed visitors who have written about and documented their journeys to Trabzon, including Marco Polo, Xenophon, Evliya Celebi, Fallmerayer, and Frunze.

Things To Do In Trabzon

Trabzon is best characterized by its 13th-century Byzantine church, the Hagia Sophia. The church formerly served as a hospital and museum, but today is a mosque with restored ceiling frescoes.

Tracing the city’s history through its archaeological and ethnographic exhibitions, the Trabzon Museum, also known as Kostaki Mansion, is set in an early 20th-century estate and decorated with rococo and art-nouveau elements.

The Walls of Trabzon are a series of defensive walls surrounding the city and are often referred to as the Trabzon Castle. The city’s walls stretch from the hill on the backside of the old town to the shores of the Black Sea and make an excellent backdrop for unique travel photos.

The Hagia Sophia in Trabzon, Turkey.
The Hagia Sophia in Trabzon / Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock

The Best Time To Visit Trabzon

Winter and fall months in Trabzon are generally damp and relatively cool. July, August, and September are arguably the best times to visit Trabzon, with lower average rainfalls and warmer temperatures.

Keep in mind that summer months are peak tourist season for Trabzon, so expect larger crowds and less availability at accommodations.

Another must-see for your Turkish to-do list? Derinkuyu: Turkey's secret underground city.

Photo Credit: Balloons over Pamukkale / Burak HUY / Shutterstock

Photo Credit: Panorama of Rize, Turkey / yusuftatliturk / Shutterstock

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