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Most people think they know Turkey. After all, it’s just Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya, and a few beach resorts, right? WRONG! Turkey is a huge country, and there are so many small towns and resorts to visit, many of which fly right under the radar. I’ve spent years living and traveling around Turkey. If you’re looking for a chilled-out, beautiful, and cultural spot to visit, I’ve got the perfect place for you.
Why This Lesser-Known Gem in Turkey is a Top Destination for 2024
With no shortage of stunning places to visit in Turkey, it’s easy to be spoiled for choice, but Urla should definitely be on your list of places not to miss. This chilled-out beach location has everything you could possibly want for a break in the sun, with a huge dose of culture for good measure. Forbes named Urla as one of the best places to travel in 2024, and I agree; let’s check out why.
1. Wine, Glorious Wine!
Urla sits right in the middle of one of Turkey’s biggest wine regions; in fact, there’s even a wine route called Urla Bağ Yolu, which takes you to some top-quality spots for wine production. Urlice is one of the best wineries around the area, in a beautiful setting with a fantastic restaurant on site. USCA Vineyards is a particular favorite of mine, offering free wine tasting, and MMG Winery offers some stunning views over the countryside beyond.
You might not have thought that Turkish wine was a thing, but trust me, it’s delicious. Most of it is distributed domestically, so it’s not something you’re likely to find outside of the country. But that just means you should buy a few bottles to take home.
2. A Chilled-Out Seaside Destination
Many of Turkey’s top beach resorts become extremely busy during the peak summer months, but if you prefer a more relaxing and serene beach day, Urla fits the bill. Akarca Plaji is a great spot, with impossibly clear water and soft sand; I’d recommend this beach for families in particular as as the sea is calm and shallow. Yat Limani Beach and Akkum Plaji are other top beaches to spend a few hours.
The summer weather definitely helps invite you to the beach – Urla’s hottest month is July, with an average of 31°C/89°F; making a day splashing in the sea a must-do. However, in my experience, despite the ‘average’ temperature quoted, it often feels a lot hotter due to humidity, so always remember sun protection.
3. Lots of Local Festivals
Annual festivals are a great way to learn more about the culture of an area, and Urla has plenty throughout the year. The Artichoke Festival might sound like an odd one, but it spans over three days during April and it’s a real crowd-pleaser; I’m not the biggest fan of artichokes, but I enjoyed the community vibe regardless. The Grape Harvest Festival and the Urla Jazz Festival are other noteworthy events to add to your calendar.
There are also typical, yearly celebrations that take place, such as New Year’s Eve, and religious Bayram festivals to attend. During these times, the whole town comes together to celebrate and there’s such an enjoyable vibe in the air. I’d recommend you book your hotel early to avoid disappointment, but it’s more than worth it for the experience.
4. Amazing Food
Urla is famous for its artichokes, hence the yearly festival dedicated to the vegetable. This is the best place in the whole of Turkey to try traditional artichoke dishes, such as stuffed artichokes and lamb. Of course, you can also find authentic Turkish food in Urla, and because it’s less touristic, you’ll have a better chance of enjoying genuine, local fare.
Urla is also a top spot for fresh fish and you’ll find plenty of local restaurants to try. I went to Sahil Restaurant and had an amazing meal, including some of the best shellfish I’ve ever had. Everything is freshly caught that day and the view is stunning.
5. A Great Base for Exploring Further
Urla is only half an hour away from Izmir, meaning you can have a chilled-out beach break combined with city fun. You can take a guided tour of Ephesus, which is only an hour away, and you’re just 25 minutes away from beautiful Alaçatı. I’d definitely recommend you head to Ephesus at the very least; it’s one of my favorite places in the world and it feels like you’re right there in the moment.
All of this means that Urla is a great spot to base yourself and explore the area further if you choose. Of course, you might decide to stick around and enjoy the calm vibe in Urla itself, but at least you have the option should the mood take you. But if you ask me, the mood should take you …
6. The Local Artwork
Urla’s Sanat Sokağı, or Art Street, is a great place to explore local artwork and purchase souvenirs to take back home. Visiting this street is a great way to support local artists and gain something truly authentic in return. Here, you can find local pottery, photography, paintings, handmade jewelry, and even homemade soap products and if you haggle, you’ll get them cheaper.
This isn’t a place for huge malls and massive bazaars, which means shopping in Urla generally is a more laid-back experience. But, for anyone who enjoys authentic products and especially art, it’s a destination to run toward.
7. The Road Less Traveled
Urla is an up-and-coming area, which means it’s neither crowded nor bustling; that’s what I enjoyed most about it. Most people head to Izmir itself or visit Çesme or Alaçatı, and while those are fantastic spots too, Urla offers a more authentic and relaxing experience.
It’s not off the beaten track per se, but it does give you a taste of the ‘real’ Turkey, rather than the tourist version. For that reason, Urla is a great place to visit—before everyone realizes how great it is and the secret gets out.
Turkey has many hidden gems, and I count Urla as one of them not to be missed. A fantastic area for wineries, nature, gastronomy, and beach life, Urla will show you a slower pace of life, which is a great relief from any everyday stresses and worries.
While you might not find it on a regular search of the most popular places to visit in Turkey, it’s not likely to stay that way for long. So, I recommend you plan your trip now, while you can enjoy the authentic vibe in total peace and quiet.