Visitors have been drawn to the lush landscape of Pamukkale for as long as history remembers. The area’s abundant hot springs drew ancient worshippers, then they attracted the Romans with their healing powers and now they draw travelers from around the world to soak in the unique pools.
Most visit Pamukkale for its travertine pools. However, there are way more things to do in Pamukkale than you’d imagine. Here, you can dive into ancient history while also indulging in a visit to the natural hot spring pools.
The unique thermal hot springs of Pamukkale that trickle down the mountainside combined with the magnificent ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis means there’s enough here to keep you entertained for a couple of days.
In this post, I will outline the best things to do in Pamukkale and share some useful tips that will help you plan your trip.
If you are planning a trip to Turkey, my post The Best Places To Visit In Turkey will inspire you on where to go.
Useful Information About Pamukkale, Turkey
Located in Southwestern Turkey’s inner Aegean region in the province of Denizli, Pamukkale has been well known throughout history for its naturally flowing thermal spring waters.
Pamukkale is the Turkish name given to the travertine pools that characterize this part of the country. Roughly translating to “Cotton Castle”, it’s named after the white, cloud-like calcium carbonate that forms as a residue across the gleaming white limestone that’s been carved over millennia by the natural springs.
As the calcium-imbued water trickles onward, it leaves traces as it goes and creates an almost fluffy white landscape in its wake. The cascading pools and the nearby ancient city of Hierapolis are now both UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The town of Pamukkale is at the bottom of the hill and is overlooked by the travertine pools. As the nearest town to the pools, Pamukkale is used by visitors as a place to stay overnight. The town itself isn’t the most attractive place, and in fact there aren’t many things to do in Pamukkale town – but there are plenty in the region.
There are a number of tourist-oriented eateries as well as local places to grab a bite to eat, a collection of backpacker digs and mid-range hotels as well as the usual tour guide operators in town.
From the town, there are good views of the pools and from the Natural Park, it’s possible to watch travelers making their way up (or down) the hill to (and from) Pamukkale pools.
Now, let’s finally take a look at the best things to do in Pamukkale and how you can better plan your visit.
The Best Things To Do In Pamukkale, Turkey
Pamukkale and Hierapolis are both covered by the same UNESCO inscription. The twin sites have long been entwined with each other, the fortunes of one always resting on the other.
It was the fame of Pamukkale’s travertine pools that drew people from far and wide to visit Hierapolis in the ancient world. The spa town was located a stone’s throw from the pools and became a booming spot for religion and relaxation.
Translating to “Holy City”, Hireapols initially blossomed as a central point of Phrygian religion. All the way back in the 7th century BC, a temple to Cybele (the Phrygian mother goddess), was constructed at the site.
Many believed that it was here where an entrance to the Underworld was located, which meant that humans could come and communicate with higher beings such as gods and goddesses.
In more recent centuries scholars have discussed the idea that the toxic fumes emitted from the hot springs may have caused hallucinations to occur in ancient worshippers.
In the 2nd century BC the Greeks colonized Hierapolis and the religious site developed into a sort of spa town. Bathhouses were built and businesses sprung up to accommodate visitors from elsewhere.
With the arrival of the Roman Empire, Hierapolis’ fortunes were changed again. The Romans saw the city as a center for healing and spent hours soaking in the surrounding hot springs.
Today, visiting the old city is definitely one of the unmissable things to do in Pamukkale, as it provides a glimpse into civilizations that went before us.
The well-preserved remains of Roman streets help to guide visitors around, passing through the Byzantine Gate there’s the chance to get up close with sights such as the Temple of Apollo with its marble staircase and nymphaeum.
Enjoy the views from Hierapolis Theater
Hierapolis Theater is an impressive site that towers over the ancient city. Believed to be built under the orders of Emperor Hadrian following a devastating earthquake in 60 AD, in its prime, the theater was able to accommodate up to 15,000 spectators — a point which many say proves the popularity of Hierapolis and the thermal pools.
Later, during the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus in the 3rd century, the theater underwent a number of additional works. Elaborate carvings in limestone and marble were added. Today the interior still contains some of the region’s best-preserved Greco-Roman decoration.
Incredibly some of the original carvings remain undamaged. One depicts Septimus Severus in a parade alongside family and gods; another tells of the journeys of the Greek god Dionysus and shows him being pulled by leopards in a carriage, accompanied by other mythical creatures.
Finally, another decorative frieze depicts sacrifices being made to Artemis, and the punishment of Niobe by Artemis and Apollo.
The design of the theater was also amended in 343 AD so that it could play host to dramatic aquatic performances. Then, towards the end of the Roman Empire’s heyday, this portion of the theater was made into a cellar.
First excavated in the late 19th century, since the 1970s much work has been underway to help to restore and help to shore-up the structural stability of the theater.
Today visitors are able to see the various decorative details of the theater and catch a glimpse of the sweeping views of the ancient city and surrounding landscape.
Check out Hierapolis Museum
Taking up space inside a former Roman bathhouse next to the city of Hierapolis, the Hierapolis Museum is the perfect place to learn more about the history of the ancient city and the Pamukkale pools.
The museum’s comprehensive layout and English signage makes it easy for visitors to get a deeper understanding of the history through the various finds from the region. Another bonus is that the museum itself is often overlooked by other visitors in favor of the pools so it’s usually reasonably quiet and a good place to cool off on a hot day.
The variety of finds on display at the museum is completely captivating. From intricately made jewelry and metal stamps to friezes and statues from the theater, it contains a multitude of artifacts to wow visitors.
There are also a number of exhibits on display from other ancient settlements in the region including an eye-catching sarcophagi from Laodicea archaeological site.
Swim in Cleopatra Pools
Of all the things to do in Pamukkale, this is the one we actually enjoyed the most. It is a truly unique experience.
The thermal pools in Pamukkale have been drawing visitors for thousands of years and they still continue to do so.
Situated close to the white travertine pools, the story goes that the pools were built for Cleopatra herself as a gift from Marc Antony. It’s not known if there is any truth to the romantic tale, but it is known that a temple to Apollo decorated with marble Doric columns once stood here.
The temple was toppled by an earthquake in the 7th century and the remains now scatter the bottom of the pool. You literally step on them (or better, swim over them) as you make your way around the pool.
The pool’s warm water makes for a relaxing place to soak for a bit and the surrounding landscape has been carefully curated with neatly pruned plants scattering the gardens.
There are a number of small fountains and a few cascades to dip your head under and, of course, the old columns — make sure to bring some goggles if you want to see them in a little more detail.
If you just want to see the pools or lounge around, entrance to the complex is free. There is however a small additional fee to access the pool, and you will be able to use the changing rooms, the bathrooms and showers, as well as the lockers. Just make sure to bring your swimsuit, a towel and flip flops if you intend to go in.
The complex also contains a few eateries, and a shop to pick up souvenirs or a towel.
Walk along Pamukkale’s Travertine Pools
Another of the unmissable things to do in Pamukkale is exploring the travertine pools.
Tumbling gracefully down the side of the white hillside, the travertine pools of Pamukkale strike a picture-perfect contrast to the bright blue sky and rich green lands down below.
Dubbed the “Travertines”, some of the famous saucer-shaped spa pools are open for visitors to dip their feet in, with temperatures among the springs ranging from 35°C (95°F) all the way to 100°C (212°F)
The pools are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, so guards are on hand to oversee the proceedings in order to make sure the pools aren’t getting damaged and visitors are safe.
You will have to remove your shoes when walking around the pools. This is so that the surface of the calcium carbonate that surrounds the pools isn’t adversely affected by the footfall.
You can actually can walk down to the town below in around 30 minutes – provided you don’t stop along the way, which you totally should do! Indeed, the dramatic scenery of the pools is quite simply breathtaking.
One thing that amused us when we visited were the number of people (mostly women) that actually rented angel wings and the services of a photographer to capture the perfect social media shot.
We laughed seeing how they were made to pose as if to show they had the place to themselves. Well, let me tell you: the Travertine pools are actually crowded with tourists!
Enjoy spa treatments
Pamukkale has been famous as a spa town for many centuries. The water in the area’s thermal springs is richly imbued with a variety of naturally occurring minerals as well as calcium carbonate, which creates the terraces of the natural pools.
Today the healing properties of the springs are utilized by a number of different spas and hotels located around the area. If you want to indulge in therapeutic statements when in Pamukkale — just as the Romans did — then there’s a choice of locations to choose from.
We loved our stay (and the treatments) at Hierapark Thermal & Spa, which has the option of thermal indoor and outdoor pools and a spa center for treatments.
Then there’s the 4-star Herakles Thermal Hotel. Located around 3 miles (4.8 km) from Pamukkale travertine pools, the hotel spa features indoor and outdoor thermal spa pools.
Elsewhere, one of the most popular spas in the area is Pam Thermal Hotel & Clinic. The spa complex is beautifully designed and boasts a selection of pools at various temperatures surrounded by forests and manicured grounds.
Go on a hot air balloon ride
This is definitely one of the most exhilarating things to do in Pamukkale, Turkey.
Indeed, it’s not just the famous fairy chimneys of Cappadocia that are perfect when viewed from above in a hot air balloon ride. Hierapolis ancient city ruins, the terraced hot springs of Pamukkale, and lush mountains are ideal to experience from the sky.
Hot air balloons usually take off at sunrise and whisk you across the sky, gliding over all of the wonderful views of this spectacular part of Turkey.
There’s a long list of companies that operate hot air balloon rides. Prices usually vary depending on the season and the length of the trip, but expect the experience to cost upwards of €140 per person for a ride (which by the way is much cheaper than Cappadocia).
One well-reviewed balloon ride in Pamukkale is this Pamukkale Hot Air Balloon Flight which includes a pre-flight breakfast and rounds up with champagne. You can check them out here.
Another offers a 35-minute sunrise experience at a cheaper price point and still includes champagne at the end. You can review their services here.
Best time to visit
Pamukkale and its hot springs are a very popular site. They are at their busiest during the middle of the day.
If you want to have a more peaceful time at Cleopatra Pools pools, schedule your visit for the latter part of the day. They close at 7:00, so if you go in at 6:00 pm or so you have plenty of time to soak in the hot thermal water and relax with none of the crowds.
Likewise, the travertine pools start emptying of tourists as the day wears off. The water and white stones become beautifully illuminated as the sun starts to set and the landscape changes as the sun slips lower into the sky.
What to wear and bring
Most people visit Hierapolis, Cleopatra’s Pool and the Travertine Pools on the same day, so you need to plan your outfit carefully as you will need to change at some point.
Make sure to wear a comfortable pair of shoes for your visit. You will do a whole lot of walking in Hierapolis (there’s a whole city to take in) and you don’t want to ruin your experience with uncomfortable footwear.
Consider breathable lightweight trainers with a good grip or hiking sandals if you are visiting in the hotter months.
Note that in order to protect the environment you aren’t able to wear shoes when you visit the travertine pools. Bring a pair of flip flops with you if you want to go into Cleopatra’s Pool or walk dip your feet in the travertine pools You can easily slip them on and off and it makes getting in and out of the water a lot easier.
Make sure to also pack a swimsuit if you want to take a dip, plus a towel to dry off after — I recommend a microfibre towel as they’re easier to pack and dry quickly.
How to get to Pamukkale, Turkey
If you are coming from Istanbul, the quickest and most effective way to get to Pamuakkle is by plane. Direct low-cost flights connect the capital to Denizli Çardak Airport, which is the closest airport to Pamukkale.
From Denizli Çardak Airport it takes about an hour by taxi to Pamukkale; or you can take a bus from just outside the airport, which takes roughly the same time.
There’s also a night bus which runs between Istanbul and Pamukkale. This is usually the cheapest option, but does take around 12 hours. If you’re short on time this probably isn’t your best option, but it’s a good choice if you’re on a shoestring budget.
Once in Pamukkale, there are various ways to access the sites. Hierapolis is located close to Pamukkale and there are three entrances to choose from. If you opt to enter through the North Gate, you can walk through the ancient ruins of Heiropolis, then up to the theater before heading down through the travertine terraces and back to town.
Day trips to Pamukkale
I recommend staying in Pamukkale overnight to take in everything it has to offer. A day trip from another location in Turkey may be a bit rushed. If you don’t have the chance to spend the night, however, you will be happy to know that you can still visit Pamukkale on a day trip.
Below are various day trips options from other locations in Turkey.
This day tour from Antalya to Pamukkale lasts 12 hours and includes lunch, hotel pick up and drop off, a live guide and all admission fees except for Cleopatra’s pools.
This tour departing from Marmaris lasts 14 hours so it’s a full day away. It includes breakfast and lunch.
If you are traveling from Kusadasi or Selcuk you have the option of this well reviewed tour that can last up to 13 hours.
Finally, there’s the option of visiting Pamukkale on guided day trips from Istanbul such as this one. The tour lasts 15 hours and includes a flight from Istanbul.
Where to stay in Pamukkale, Turkey
Pamukkale is a small town but there are plenty of options in terms of budget and mid-range accommodation. It’s the best place to stay if you want to be close to the sights; otherwise, you could stay in Denizli, but you would have to catch a bus to get to Pamukkale.
Other than the higher end hotels I have mentioned above, these are some good options.
Budget-friendly Aspawa Hotel offers up clean and comfortable rooms for a low price. The family-run property is conveniently located just a few minutes walk from the ancient ruins of Hierapolis.
The friendly owners will make sure your stay runs as smoothly as possible and serve up an array of traditional Turkish meals. Onsite facilities include an outdoor swimming pool, air conditioning, and free Wi-Fi.
Melrose House Hotel
A great option for a base in Pamukkale, this mid-range property is located just a five-minute walk from the center of town. The family-run hotel boasts its own swimming pool which is ideal for cooling off after a busy day sightseeing in the area.
Rooms are clean and polished with private bathrooms; some even have their own balconies with views of the mountains. The hotel’s restaurant serves up a selection of local dishes so you never have to go far to find a bite to eat.
Doğa Thermal Health & Spa
For something a little more high-end, Doga Thermal Health and Spa is a good choice. The spa hotel has a long list of facilities for guests to indulge in including manicured gardens, an indoor pool, and an outdoor pool, plus a physiotherapy clinic on site.
The plush rooms are carefully decorated with relaxation in mind and include views of the mountains or pool area. Guests also have access to the onsite spa which includes saunas, Turkish baths, and natural hot spring baths.
These posts will be useful when planning your trip to Turkey:
- A Perfect 4 Days Istanbul Itinerary
- The Complete Guide To Visiting Ephesus
- The Best Things To Do In Cappadocia
- Why Are There So Many Cats In Turkey?
- Everything You Need To Know Before Visiting Turkey