When you hear the name Pamukkale, almost everyone thinks of the glowing white UNESCO World Heritage protected hot springs and the travertine terraced pools.
But at the bottom of the mountain (more of a large hill, really) is a small town that’s easy to overlook.
When we first researched Pamukkale, almost every comment we read dismissed the town as simply a dusty tourist trap that should be avoided if possible.
And it may be true that Pamukkale isn’t overwhelmingly pretty, or very charming or even packed with a ton of things to do.
But that doesn’t mean that you should disregard the town completely.
So, what is there to do in Pamukkale once you’ve exhausted the cotton castle hot spring terraces and are done visiting the ancient Roman Hierapolis?
Well, food is a good place to start.
We love Turkish food in general and Pamukkale town itself has some amazing food. Don’t let the loud, half-hearted restaurant touts turn you off – a lot of the food here is really fresh and delicious.
One of our very favorites was homemade borek at the Yildiz Restaurant. The dough is made by hand, and the borek is cooked on a wood-heated skillet in front of the restaurant. In truth, it reminded us of a Mexican quesadilla.
For the sweet lovers, there are a few competing dondurma (Turkish ice cream) vendors at the foot of the path leading up to the hot springs. Like everywhere we sampled in turkey, the dondurma was cold and delicious, but most of the fun was in the entertainment provided by the dondurma vendor.
Watch below as our friendly dondurma vendor plays a few tricks on Cole. Just a quick note, by the time we had taken this video we had already eaten more than a few cones in Turkey so we pretty much knew what to expect. This was also the second time we had a cone at this particular vendor.
We also found a couple of great places to just hang out. If you disregard the tacky indoor outdoor carpeting, we loved the beanbag chairs and relaxed vibe at Konak Sade Restaurant. Like pretty much anywhere in Turkey, we were never rushed to finish our dinner and leave. The Turkish pizza (pide) was especially tasty here. And yes, that’s a little swimming pool in the middle of the restaurant.
We also tried the perennial backpacker favorite, Kayas Restaurant and Bar the first night we got to town. We really liked it as well. It was everything the Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor claimed: cheap, good amounts of food and relaxed. That said, for authentic Turkish food in town I think you can do better but they did have a good selection of international style food.
For those looking to take a break from the heat and the travertines, there’s a nice set of swimming pools in town next to the lagoon right under the hot pools. We didn’t have time to check them out personally however they did look inviting from the hillside and would be a great way to while away a hot afternoon.
And then on to the biggest attraction in Pamukkale town itself (other than the travertines and the Hierapolis of course), the Pamukkale Natural Park.
The park itself isn’t very big, with a man made lake full of ducks and geese that the kids loved watching.
There are also pedal boats you can take out for a small fee.
A word to the wise though, the swan doesn’t steer very well in the wind. We spent almost half our allotted time trying to get this guy turned around in the far corner of the lake.
There’s a small restaurant on site at the Natural Park, with surprisingly affordable prices. They make a pretty decent plate of fries, and are a great place to sit in the shade out of the heat.
But the best part of the park is watching people snake their way up the hill along the hot water pools. See that line above the flower of what looks like trees about 3/4 of the way up the hill on the right? Those are people walking along the white travertines.
All in all, we had a great time in Pamukkale town. Sure, the hotels are a little rundown, the roads are a little dusty, the touts are a little loud and besides for the travertine calcium pools and the ancient Hierapolis at the top there aren’t that many things to do but it does make a great stop for a few nights.
It also lets you enjoy the hot pools before and after the upper day tripping crowds have left and seeing the white glow of the travertines from your balcony in the early morning light or late at night is a sight to remember.
Based on what we read, Pamukkale surprised us in a good way. Has a tourist town ever surprised you?