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Things to do in Cruise Ship Ports
Knowing that cruise ship passengers have such limited time ashore, we’ve created this section to help you maximize your time while in port, with the confidence that after even one day in Turkey will lure you to return to explore the country with more time.
There’s no time to waste in this city of superlatives, so grab your day pack and hurry, as there’s so much to see, experience and eat. Begin with the fascinating basilica of Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia), the stunning mosaics of St. Savior in Chora and the Greek-inspired Hippodrome, and grand cisterns left behind by ancient Rome and Byzantium. Next see the grand monuments representing the early Ottoman Empire: the exotic Topkapi Palace and its Museum, the magnificent Blue Mosque and the shopping extravaganza that is the Kapali Çarsi (Grand Bazaar).
The latter half of the Ottoman Empire saw a society looking westward, and this European influence is abundant in the beautiful Beaux Arts hall of the Çiçek Pasaji , the passages of the Balik Pazari, and the fabulously grand 19th century buildings lining Istiklâl Caddesi.
Increasingly, visitors to Istanbul are recognizing that the city’s main attractions are not all in its past. As the cultural and intellectual capital of Turkey, Istanbul is a showcase of contemporary art and cutting edge fashion. You can sample this excitement at countless galleries throughout the city, beginning at the Istanbul Modern and working your way up along the newly trendy streets of Galata and hip alleyways of Beyoglu.
Take a break from the ship’s cuisine to try a dizzying variety of appetizers called Mezze, savory kebabs or gourmet cuisine in a rooftop restaurant overlooking the Bosphorus Sea.
Stay ashore past your bedtime to partake in Istanbul’s vibrant nightlife. From intimate cafes to boisterous meyhanes, from folk music to concerts in the Church of Hagia Irene, the city offers a taste of every musical genre.
Centuries ago, trade ships and maritime commerce called to port directly into the harbor of Ephesus. But the sands of time have moved the coastline miles to the west, and now the bustling cruise ship port and beach resort town of Kusadasi is the gateway to one of the most important ancient cities in all of the Mediterranean.
In one day on shore, it is possible to see one of the most famous and largest archeological sites in the world – Ephesus. Also be sure to visit the Great Theater where St. Paul preached, the Roman basilica where St. John is buried, the House of the Virgin Mary, said to be the place where Jesus’ mother lived out her final days and the solitary soaring column remaining from the Temple of Artemis, one of the Wonders of the Ancient World.
Be sure to leave time to enjoy the scenery outside of the archaeological site, because your cruise ship has deposited you on the beach along one of the most splendid sections of the Aegean, a region with a relaxed approach to life and leisure. A sampling of the good life can be had up in the mountain valley of Sirinçe, a charming terraced village whose residents follow in the footsteps of the original Greek inhabitants in their tradition of wine making.
Like most of Turkey’s coastal towns and villages, Kusadasi,’s roots were as a fishing village. With its colorful fish market adjacent to the cruise port, the town still has its share of local fishermen, supplying a wealth of fresh seafood to restaurants along the shoreline.
If by chance you happen to find yourself with two days in port, consider an excursion to the cities of Miletus, Priene and Didyma, part of the historic land of Ionia, birthplace of Homer, of Thales and of western thought.
Besides a peek through the marvel that is Ephesus or the pages of Ionia, the truth is that Kusadasi is first and foremost a beach town surrounded by the crystal clear waters of the Aegean Sea. Stake your claim to a little spot of sand behind the town’s causeway-connected, castle-topped Pigeon Island, on an expanse of City Beach, on the powdery sands of infamous Ladies Beach or on the serene and pine-scented shores of Dilek National Park.
One of the initial attractions for cruise ship passengers arriving into the chic resort town of Bodrum is St. Peter’s Castle, its commanding presence dominating the entire magnificent bay. Once the fortress used by the Knights of St. John then conquered by the Ottoman’s Sultan Süleyman the Great, St. Peter’s Castle is now home to the pioneering Museum of Underwater Archaeology, exhibiting a wealth of rescued artifacts such as the world’s oldest shipwreck.
Beyond the port and atop this little harbor town of whitewashed stone houses is the Antique Theater, a remnant from the heyday of Halicarnassus. Hidden amidst the warren of narrow cobbled alleys is the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, another of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World located on Turkey’s shores.
Leave time to explore the bustling markets, to sample Bodrum’s delectable showcase of local produce, to purchase a pair of famous hand-crafted leather sandals or to swim, snorkel and scuba the area’s clear waters from the deck of a traditional, wooden gulet.
Yet if Bodrum is famous for its history as the birthplace of Herodotus, it is even more renowned today as the epicenter of Turkey’s nightlife scene. Artists and performers of all nationalities and specialties love to play to Bodrum’s evocative settings, curating concerts presented in castles, amphitheaters and in restored Byzantine basilicas.
Trabzon, Black Sea
Trabzon served as an important port as far back as 7,000 B.C. and today, the city’s historic churches and mosques and the surrounding countryside’s forests and monasteries continue to welcome the curious and the intrepid. Most certainly, the extraordinarily sited Sumela Monastery, hewn into Mt. Karadag (Mela) high above the surrounding forests, is a must see for all who venture to this special corner of the Black Sea.
After days acquiring your sea legs, you may want to ground yourself with an excursion to the idyllic lakefront villages and pastorally sloping mountain terrain at Uzungöl. The landscape is rife with trails and dotted with characteristic village inns serving tasty regional specialties with traditional hospitality in some of the lushest and most striking scenery in all of Turkey.
In the city of Trabzon itself, the cylindrical drum-topped Church of the Hagia Sophia harkens back to the golden days of Byzantium, its magnificent interior frescos as remarkable as those that adorn its namesake in Istanbul.
The Blue Voyage
Take one dazzling broad-beamed skiff, place it atop the timeless waters of Turkey’s southwestern coastline, add ancient harbors dressed in fallen pediments and decorative friezes, and sprinkle on a generous portion of secluded coves embraced by sheer, pine clad cliffs. That is the Blue Voyage.
This timeless trip through history and nature offers the promise of an unforgettable experience, where at once you may sail along the pristine waters navigated by Homer, explore ancient cities conquered by Caesar, and swim along the shores seduced by Cleopatra.
Extended cruises lasting up to a week or more usually center around the wakes left by Lycian ships plying their way along the shores of Marmaris, Fethiye, and Antalya, or along the lesser traveled islets and coves stretching from Çesme to Bodrum and into the heart of the Gökova Gulf. The experience is one that can be enjoyed on your very own private chartered gulet or yacht, or shared with soon-to-be lifelong friends on boats rented out by the cabin.
For those lacking the luxury of time, countless expertly captained day boats depart from these and other ports and harbors up and down Turkey’s coastline, offering shorter term guests a sampling of picturesque bays and remote coves dressed in ancient ruins that can turn a day out on the water into the experience of a lifetime.