Here’s when I stop pretending that everything about Turkey is perfect.
If you go through my other Turkey reviews, you’ll read about this awesome, completely unique country with historical cityscapes, inspiring ruins, exotic natural wonders and hyper-magical Turkish bath. However, like any other top destinations on Earth, Turkey has its own share of tourist traps and less-known sites.
Should you visit the following places in Turkey? Here’s my thoughts:
1. Camlica Hill
Located at the Uskudar area, Camlica Hill is the highest point of Istanbul. Naturally, it becomes a popular picnic area offering a panoramic view of the city’s European side. Wikipedia went as far to remark that “due to its beauty, the hill has inspired many writers to compose songs and poems about it.”
Verdict: Tourist Trap—While the view is pretty, it doesn’t bring out any new perspective to the city that we haven’t known. In fact, it underplays the rich cultural mash-up that makes Istanbul so unique in the first place, with iconic landmarks such as Hagia Sophia and Galata Tower becoming indistinguishable from generic high-rise buildings.
2. Grand Bazaar
Constructed in 1455, Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest markets in the world. Today, it is a busy shopping haven with 250,000-400,000 visitors daily. The bazaar offers artisan works, jewelries, fabrics, furniture items and more.
Verdict: Tourist Trap—It’s like a much bigger version of Spice Bazaar, but also more chaotic and less interesting. While they have exotic items to sell, the realization hits that I don’t need most of these things. Still worthy of a visit if you’re a shopaholic, though.
3. House of the Virgin Mary
Located at Mount Koressos within the vicinity of Ephesus, this shrine is where the Virgin Mary spent her final days on Earth. Christian and Muslim pilgrims around the world visit this site to pay respect, drink from the miraculous healing springs and leave paper scraps containing their prayers on the wishing wall.
Verdict: Worthy of a Visit—Unlike most famous chapels, House of the Virgin Mary is humble and small. It doesn’t jump at your attention, but it’s a peaceful and moving experience (regardless of your religious belief) to observe that so many devout followers have passed through and prayed on this tiny, quiet place.
Facing the Aegean Sea, Kusadasi is a famous holiday resort among Northern and Western Europeans. All beaches are ideal for swimming, with good hotels and restaurants surrounding the site. It is a popular gateway to Ephesus and the Greek island of Samos.
Verdict: Tourist Trap—Sorry, but crowded and over-commercialized beaches ain’t my thing. While I had a decent time drinking raki at a rooftop restaurant watching cruise ships come and go, I can’t shake off the feeling that these are second-grade beaches without any “real” attractions. Perhaps the side visits to Samos, Pigeon Island and Dilek Peninsula National Park are great, but as far as Kusadasi itself goes, it’s a giant Phuket-like tourist trap.
5. Goreme Open Air Museum
This monastic complex is home to over 10 rock-cut cave churches with brightly-colored wall paintings. Early Christians and monks in the fourth century established their basic communities here, which made it a religiously important site.
Verdict: Worthy of a Visit—Not because of the churches, which are good but nothing spectacular. My thumb up is due the gorgeous scenery of the site and its surrounding area.
Avanos is an ancient town in Nevsehir. The town is historically famous for its earthenware pottery, which is blossoming due to the abundance of red clay from Kizilirmak River (Turkey’s longest river) flowing through the village.
Verdict: Tourist Trap, but a Worthy One—Obviously, going to Avanos means that you’ll be brought to a pottery-making workshop where they’d hope to earn some fortunes. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting chance to observe the mastering of pottery art. The finished products do look impressive and there was little pressure by the host to part with my hard-earned cash.
An old Greek village carved into a hillside in Cappadocia, Cavusin has long been abandoned due to heavy rock falls in the past. As you climb up into the ghost town, you can see the beautiful plains and hills surrounding the site.
Verdict: Worthy of a Visit—Other than rock falls, the village is also said to be deserted partly due to the 1923 population exchange. Cavusin is an eerie reminder of how over 2 million citizens in both Greece and Turkey were forcibly expelled based on their religious identities. It’s worth of a thorough exploration and reflection.
What other lesser-known gems do you like about Turkey? Any tourist traps where you’ve had unpleasant experiences with before?