A guide to Bodrum- the white city of Turkey: what to do and see

A guide to Bodrum- the white city of Turkey: what to do and see

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Sunny seacoast, turquoise waters, olive and pine forests, palms, ancient ruins… this is the Mediterranean Sea. Many cities, towns, villages, and resorts are established at its coast, keeping a lot of the local cultures. And some of them are incredibly beautiful and unique. One of them is Bodrum, in Turkey. At first
sight, what makes it different than other cities nearby is its color- it is white! And it is full of beautiful panoramic sights and ancient history. So, read this guide to Bodrum, and let’s go explore it!

Bodrum panorama
Bodrum panorama

Basic facts about Bodrum

Let’s open the map of Turkey and focus on its southwestern part. Here you can see the Aegean Sea full of islands, and the complex coastline of Minor Asia. This coastline, its peninsulas, promontories, and bays turn eastward, and the Aegean Sea opens into the larger eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea.

Here, in this area, you can see two peninsulas, separated by a deep bay. Let’s zoom into the northern one, called Bodrum Peninsula. And here you can see it- a city, established at the slopes of the hills of this peninsula that consists of white buildings.

This is Bodrum. Today, it is a famous Turkish resort with beaches and stunning panoramic views, full of life, local culture, and entertainment. But it also keeps secrets from ancient times, including one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world- the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. And all of this combines into a unique mixture of impressions, attracting a lot of tourists, travelers, backpackers, and explorers.

But let’s first start with its history- how the city of Bodrum was born and how did it become as it is today.

History of Bodrum

Bodrum has a long and complex history, so we will try to simplify it by dividing it into periods.

Pre-history and Bronze Age (until 1200 BC)

Little is known about the earliest traces of human activity in Bodrum Peninsula, but according to the discovered artifacts, this place has been under the influence of the Mycenaean civilization. This period ended with the wars of the so-called Bronze Age Collapse.

Early Iron Age (1200 BC to 512 BC)

The local Dorian Greeks established the city of Halicarnassus. The exact date of establishment is unknown but probably happened after the so-called “Dark Age” (12th to 9th century BC). The city became a part of the Dorian Hexapolis- a league of cities in the area.

Persian Age and the Hekatomnids (512 to 333 BC)

Around 512 BC, the Persians conquered the area around Bodrum, including the land called Caria (the southwestern angle of Minor Asia). However, they allowed Halicarnassus to enjoy autonomy. Thus, the rulers of the city that belonged to the dynasty of Hekatomnids established the autonomous kingdom of Caria.

One of them was called Mausolus and ruled Caria from 377 to 353 BC. When he died, his sister and widow Artemisia II of Caria employed the best architects and sculptors in Greece to build a special tomb for Mausolus. This became known as the “Mausoleum”- an ancient version of the famous Taj Mahal in India, and one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Today, this is one of the main places of interest in Bodrum.

Another view of Bodrum
Another view of Bodrum

Hellenistic Age (333 to 129 BC)

Alexander the Great of Macedon conquered Caria, and the last Hekatomnid queen Ada declared Alexander as the new king of Caria. Later, this area was ruled by the Diadochi of Macedon, the Seleucids, and the Ptolemy kings of Egypt. Finally, Halicarnassus gained its independence, but not for long.

Classical Roman Age (129 BC to 395 AD)

After 129 BC, most parts of Minor Asia became a part of the Roman Republic. It included Halicarnassus. However, due to earthquakes and pirate attacks in the next centuries, the city started declining.

Early Byzantine Age (395 to 1060)

In 395 AD, the Roman Empire was divided into Western and Eastern parts. The Eastern is known as the Byzantine Empire, and Halicarnassus was a part of it. Christianity entered the area too, and the city became a bishopric. Nevertheless, its decline proceeded until it turned into one-two fishing villages amidst ancient ruins.

Middle Medieval Age (1060 to 1522)

This is the age of the Crusades and the coming of the Turks. The early Turkish dynasties of Seljuk origin ruled various parts of Minor Asia after 1060, and one of them, called Menteşe ruled Caria and what was left of Halicarnassus.

In 1402, the Crusader Knights came and started building a fortress called the Castle of Saint Peter, today known as Bodrum Castle- one of Bodrum’s landmarks. The fortress and the villages around it became known as Petronium, a name later changed by the Turks into “Bodrum”. The Crusaders possessed the fortress until 1522, when the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent conquered the whole of Caria, including the Bodrum Castle.

Ottoman Age (1522 to 1923)

It was a relatively peaceful age. The villages around Bodrum Castle, distant descendants of the ancient Halicarnassus turned into one quiet town. Its inhabitants were far from politics and just lived here as fishermen and sponge divers. The presence of Cretan Turks contributed to the forming of the local architectural style- the white houses. And everything remained as such until the 20th century.

Modern Age (1923 until today)

The town of Bodrum remained quiet even during the events of World War 1 and the establishment of the Turkish Republic. However, in the second half of the 20th century, the town started to grow. And its white architecture was preserved. It soon became attractive for tourists and tourism quickly developed. As a result, Bodrum became a large city resort, preserving the past and developing a typical resort atmosphere. It became one of the best resorts in Turkey.

Market street in Bodrum
Market street in Bodrum in summer, covered from the sun

Our trip to Bodrum

All of the above was the reason why we included Bodrum in our Western Turkey itinerary. We traveled by car from Kusadasi, explored the ancient cities of Ephesus and Miletus, and finally arrived in Bodrum, where we stayed for one night. And on the next day, we visited the most important points of interest in the city.

How to explore Bodrum- places to see and things to do

One day is the minimum time if you want to explore Bodrum, and that was what we did. So, here are the places we visited (and they were the most essential places), and the places that we didn’t visit but would if we had more time.

The central part of Bodrum and the Marina

This is the most beautiful part of Bodrum, and if you want to explore the city, this area is a must to visit. It is located around the Marina Bay of Bodrum and the Bodrum Castle, and it is the city’s old core.

There is a coastal street and a nice pedestrian alley along the coast of Marina Bay. Just walking on it and enjoying the yachts from one side, and the white houses from the other side- this is worth the experience. And it is a nice place for photos too.

If you walk on the coastal alley to Bodrum Castle, you will reach the pedestrian market area. Here is the main place for shopping for souvenirs and things for daily use, and most importantly- to enjoy the atmosphere of the city. At the same time, there are a lot of restaurants and cafes, which perfectly fit the local old city environment.

A local street in Bodrum
A local street in Bodrum

In addition, there is a nice local museum- Bodrum Maritime Museum, presenting a lot of artifacts from the maritime history of the city and models of typical vessels used here in the last centuries. Entrance fee: 25 TL.

But if you leave the coast and penetrate deeper into the streets of Bodrum, you can feel something different. These streets are narrow and everything is calmer. The locals live their daily life and time goes slowly. So, don’t miss it, it is another great place for old town photos and impressions! And while you make your route around the old streets of Bodrum, you can visit the next must-see place- the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.

Mausoleum of Halicarnassus

This is one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world- the ancient “Taj Mahal”. But unlike its famous Indian version, this one is built by a queen for her husband in the 4th century BC. It has risen over the ancient buildings of Halicarnassus for centuries, but times changed, new empires emerged, and new people came to live here. The earthquakes also had their role, and as a result, this magnificent building gradually turns into ruins.

Today, only the foundation of the glorious Tomb of Mausolus and some scattered stones from it have remained. They are turned into an open-air museum with a small hall where you can see the history of Caria, Mausolus, and the building of the Mausoleum. Then, you can walk around the ruins- the place is quite small, and along with the presentation in the hall, you can explore the place just for 30-40 min. Entrance fee: 25 TL.

The ruins of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus
The ruins of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus

The Ancient Theater of Halicarnassus

Most of the ancient cities from the Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman times had ancient theaters. And Halicarnassus is not an exception. Usually, they were built on hills or mountain slopes, and there is such terrain in Bodrum.

The Ancient Theater of Halicarnassus is located not far from the Mausoleum- just about a 10-15 min walk. You only have to cross the main road (called Bodrum-Turgutreis Yolu.- better find a proper crossroad, this road has intensive traffic!) and you are there.

The theater itself is not so special- just another ancient theater, not too big, and not too small. But what makes it worth visiting, besides the ancient history, is the breathtaking panoramic views from there to the whole city of Bodrum and its spectacular coastline! This is another great place for photos.

Today, the Ancient Theater is often used for cultural events, concerts, or plays. Entrance fee: free.

The Ancient Theater of Halicarnassus
The Ancient Theater of Halicarnassus

Myndos Gate

This is another historical site, located today in a small park west of the Mausoleum and the Theater, where Turgut Reis Cd. Joins Bodrum-Turgutreis Yolu. It was an important element of the fortification of the ancient Halicarnassus, one of the two main gates of the city (the other one hasn’t survived today).

Myndos Gate is known as one of the few places where Alexander the Great, the notorious Macedonian king failed in a battle, although just temporarily. Eventually, he still conquered the city, but not through Myndos Gate. Today, it is one of the notable places to visit in Bodrum. Entrance fee: free.

Myndos Gate
Myndos Gate

Bodrum Castle of St. Peter

This is the most spectacular historical landmark in Bodrum. As already mentioned above, it was built by Crusader knights, starting in 1402 and completing it by the end of the 15th century. However, they didn’t use it for long. Soon later it was conquered and possessed by the Ottoman Turks.

The knights that built the castle were from the Knights Hospitaller on Rhodes Island. They were from four nations- French, English, Italian, and German. Subsequently, the castle has four towers, each of them presenting one of these nations.

After the conquest by the Ottomans, the chapel inside it was turned into a mosque. They used the castle for the next several centuries and finally abandoned it. But after 1960, the Turkish government restored the castle and turned it into one of the most spectacular museums in Turkey.

Bodrum Castle is quite large. When you enter inside, you can follow a route that guides you to various halls, located in the towers and beside them. These halls are a part of the museum exhibition of the site. Each hall exposes different artifacts and stories related to the Castle, and the ancient history of the area, including the naval and underwater history.

In Bodrum Castle
In Bodrum Castle

The Museum of Underwater Archaeology

The most famous hall in Bodrum Castle is the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, as a part of the whole site. It exhibits reconstructed shipwrecks from the 14th century BC (Uluburun shipwreck) to the Fatimi ship (sunk in 1077), as well as a lot of amphoras, and other artifacts found on the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea nearby.

The whole site has one entrance, so you can explore it at once. And if you want to do it best, better plan for at least 2 hours- not only for the museum exhibitions, but also for some relaxation, and the spectacular views of the city and the sea from the walls of the castle.

Entrance fee: 150 TL
Working hours: Summer: from 8:30 to 18:30; Winter: from 8:30 to 16:30

Bodrum Windmills

The city of Bodrum is divided into two parts- Central Bodrum on the east (with the old part of Bodrum, Bodrum Marina, Bodrum Castle, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, and more, and Gümbet, the western, newer part of the city. These parts are joined into one urban area, but the coastline is divided into two bays by a narrow peninsula. And here, on this peninsula, you can find them- another landmark of Bodrum – the Windmills.

These windmills were built in the 18th century and were used until 1970. After that, they were abandoned and started gradually turning into ruins. But at the same time, they began to attract visitors of the growing tourism in Bodrum.

In fact, the most attractive thing here is the location of the Windmills. They are built in a place with breathtaking panoramic views in every direction- a great place for photos! And the Windmills, combined with the panorama around create fantastic scenery.

Currently, the Windmills are not turned into a tourist attraction. No entrance, and no fee- you just go there and enjoy. The panoramic views are spectacular during the day, and at the night, with different vibes at different hours, including the sunrise. Thus, the Windmills have turned into one of the symbols of Bodrum.

The Windmills of Bodrum
The Windmills of Bodrum

Bodrum beaches

Bodrum is not only a city with long history and landmarks, but it is also a resort. And being a resort, it should have some beaches to enjoy, right? So yes, there are beaches in Bodrum. All of them are small, scattered here and there, and several of them are located directly in the urban area, easily accessible from the city.

The beaches of Bodrum are quiet, and the water is turquoise and transparent, especially out of the city. So, like most of the beaches in Turkey, they are more proper for swimming, diving, and just relaxing on the sand.

The beaches that are located in the city- Gümbet (Alora) Beach, Bitez Beach, Bodrum Town Beach, and Ortakent Beach are full of cafes and restaurants, that directly installed their tables on the sand. Here you can join even some beach parties, especially in the high season.

But if you prefer something quieter, go west of the city. The best beaches in this area are Yalıkavak and Aspat beaches, where you can enjoy not only the calm sea and sand but also some stunning panoramic views of the coastline and the sea around.

Gumbet Beach
Gümbet (Alora) Beach

Boat trip

Finally, to explore Bodrum in full, go on a trip to its surrounding waters! The sea around Bodrum is really spectacular- full of bays, promontories, islands, and panoramic views in every direction. And the water is clean and turquoise in the shallow places.

There are a lot of boats that depart from two locations- Bodrum Marina (Halicarnassus Port), and Gümbet Port. Most of them go on daily trips to the nearby coasts, beaches, and islands (but only in the Turkish territory), and one of the most popular islands is Black Island, located not far from the city. The boat trip offers also vary from all-inclusive with a party to lunch only, or something else. And the price is between $20 and $40 USD per person.

You can also rent a private boat, for $150 to $400 USD, but of course, it is for the whole boat and is more proper for a larger group of friends or families. For more information, check here.

Boat trip around Bodrum
Boat trip around Bodrum

Useful tips

All of the above has made Bodrum a popular tourist destination. So, it is easy to travel, and everything is well-arranged for tourists. Anyway, let’s see some important tips when you go to visit this city.

Transportation

Bodrum is well-connected to the other main destinations in Turkey, and even with some nearby islands in Greece. It also has a small airport (Bodrum-Milas Airport) with flights from Istanbul and Dublin (Ireland) but also used for charter flights from other destinations. Once you arrive there, you can take an airport shuttle bus (35 km, between 25 and 40 TL, depending on the season) to the city.

Another option is to reach Bodrum by bus. There are regular buses from Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara, Antalya, Denizli, and other cities, as well as short-distance local minibuses, called dolmus, used between the nearby towns and villages.

Check for transport options to Bodrum on 12Go!

Check for transport options to Bodrum on Bookaway!

An attractive way to reach Bodrum is by boat. You can arrive by ferry from the Greek islands of Kos and Rhodes. They travel once daily, and the trip from Rhodes is 1 hour, and from Kos- about 25-30 min.

Check for ferries from Rhodes to Bodrum on 12Go!

But have in mind that it is quite expensive- $60 USD from Rhodes and $56 USD from Kos per person.
A cheaper way is to reach Bodrum by ferry from Datça if you come from Marmaris. In this case, you just cross the Bay of Bodrum from Datça to Bodrum Peninsula. The price is 200 TL per person (about $10 USD) for one way, and the trip is about 1 hour and 50 min. There are 4 boats per day during the high season.

The ferry to Datca
The ferry to Datça

By car to Bodrum

The most convenient way to travel to Bodrum is by car. You have the freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you want. The roads to the city, and within the city are excellent (just be careful in the narrow streets of the old part of Bodrum- many of them are one-directional), and there are a lot of paid parking lots (usually between 20 and 50 TL for the whole day). You can arrive also by car from Datça by the same ferry- the price is 650 TL for the vehicle (but you still have to pay the price for a person).

Find the best rental cars in Turkey!

Anyway, if you still arrive in Bodrum by bus or by ferry, you can use taxis or dolmus to travel around the city. But if you just explore the old part of Bodrum (around Bodrum Marina), you don’t need transport. You can just walk, and enjoy the city at the same time.

Accommodation

Being such a touristy city, Bodrum offers a lot of places to sleep. They vary from splurge luxurious hotels to budget hotels, pensions, guesthouses, hostels, and more. Have in mind that all of them are a bit expensive. Even the cheapest ones are about 500 TL ($26 USD) per room per night. And the more luxurious hotels are more proper for long-term vacations in Bodrum (of course, if you have enough money to spend on this).

Check for accommodations in Bodrum on Booking!

Check for accommodations in Bodrum on Agoda!

But for a budget explorer, a much better option is Airbnb. It is cheaper than hotels and at the same time with better conditions. It is also an opportunity to get closer to the local people (but have in mind that most of them don’t speak English, so you just have to use Google Translate). To avoid scams, just check the Airbnb property for good reviews and contact the host in advance, especially for the cheapest options.

Check for accommodations in Bodrum on Airbnb!

Finally, you can go camping. You can bring your own tent, or rent a local tent or RV. There are two campsites in the city- Zetaş (in Gümbet), and Bodrum Askeri Kamp (in the old part of Bodrum). They are a bit more expensive than the average campsites- between 400 and 500 TL for a local tent or RV, and 150 TL per person for your own tent (while the average is 100 TL per person for your own tent in other campsites).

In Zetas Campsite
In Zetaş Campsite

And you are more adventurous, you can just go out of the city and sleep in the wild for free. It is allowed in Turkey, but just try to avoid camping near ancient ruins- it is considered sensitive (the authorities are suspicious about whether you would steal some artifacts).

Find a tour around Bodrum:

Seasons

In general, most of the year is good for visiting Bodrum. All the time from March to November is high season. During the spring and autumn weather is pleasant, not very hot, and perfect for exploring the city. You can even go to the beach, although in spring the water would be a bit cold.

July, August, and September are the driest and hottest months of the year in Bodrum. But again, this time is perfect for going to the beach and water sports. And it is still full of tourists. Just avoid the early afternoon hours for walking under the sun.

The rest of the year- from December to February is the winter season. The weather is cold, but not enough for snow. Yes, snowfalls are possible, but still quite rare. However, the rains are regular, especially in January. And they are cold rains, caused by normal for this season Mediterranean cyclones. But when the weather is sunny, winter is still good for exploring, just too cold for the beach. At least prices in this season are lower, and there are fewer tourists.

Bodrum
Bodrum

We wanted to take the ferry to Datça by our car to reach our next destination on our route- Marmaris. But the departure time was not convenient- there were ferries from 9:00, 10:00, 12:00, and 18:00. We wanted first to explore the city, and 12:00 was too early. On the other side, 18:00 was too late- we wanted to enjoy some beach in or around Marmaris. So, we just traveled on smaller roads along the northern coast of Bodrum Bay.

So, we left Bodrum. And it left a deep impression on us as one of the most beautiful destinations on our route. It remained in our travel life as the White City of Turkey.

Check some travel books about Bodrum and around:

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This is a guide to Bodrum, in Western Turkey, known as the "white city". Here are some basic facts, places to visit and more tips. This is a guide to Bodrum, in Western Turkey, known as the "white city". Here are some basic facts, places to visit and more tips.

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