48 Hours in Afyonkarahisar, Capital City of the Turkish Thermal Spa

Phrygian Valley
Phrygian Valley | © Feride Yalav-Heckeroth
Feride Yalav-Heckeroth

Afyonkarahisar is so much more than the Turkish capital of thermal spas. In its surrounding landscape, you can still discover rusted bullet casings from the Turkish War of Independence, ancient artifacts in its archaeology museum, and a fortress that seems to overlook the world from the town’s jutting mountain. We rounded up Afyon’s most striking things to do and see in 48 hours.

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Sucuk and Lokum

Before we can even begin with Afyon’s historical highlights, we have to talk about its sucuk and lokum. Sucuk consists of a mixture of ground beef with various spices that is fed into a sausage casing and dried for several weeks. The end result is a spicy and fatty sausage that Turks like to slice up and throw into the pan with some eggs or into a grilled cheese sandwich. In Afyon, the king of sucuk is Cumhuriyet, a company that has been making the delicacy since 1923.

Cumhuriyet Sucuk

As for the lokum (Turkish delight), Afyon makes the overtly saccharine treat a little different; more specifically, the sheets of gelatin (made from water, cornstarch, and a touch of lemon juice) feature a thick layer of kaymak (clotted cream from buffalo’s milk), and then it is rolled up and sprinkled with coconut shavings. The favorite maker of this uber-sweet concoction is O Lokum, which produces and sells the Afyon Kaymaklı Lokum at the Afyon bus station. Just be aware that you’ll have to eat this lokum fresh because of the clotted cream, which doesn’t bode well with elongated waiting times.

O Lokum

Old Town and the Castle of Afyonkarahisar

All around the famous Ulu Cami (a mosque built between 1272–1277), Afyon’s old town is full of beautiful Ottoman-era houses in a spectrum of pastel colors, a lot of them serving as boutique hotels. Wander the cobblestoned streets until you see the sign that points toward the castle. You’ll have to walk the 800 steps to get to the Afyonkarahisar Castle, but the arduous climb is very much worth it for the awesome view from the top. Also in Afyon’s old town is the second mevlevihane (building complex of the Mevlevi Order) to be opened after Konya, which stands out with its 13th-century Seljuk mosque. The Sultan Divani Mevlevihane Müzesi recreates the everyday lives of the dervishes through museum displays and an audio tour.

Afyonkarahisar Castle

Büyük Utku Anıtı

You’ll be immediately struck by this monument in the town center. Designed by famous Austrian sculptor Heinrich Krippel between 1934 and 1936, the sculpture, which depicts two male forms at battle with one defeating the other who lies at his feet, is meant to symbolize Turkish victory against the enemy. Right across the Büyük Utku Anıtı (The Grand Victory Monument), the Zafer Müzesi (Triumph Museum), which was once the headquarters of then-commander-in-chief Mustafa Kemal Pasha (Atatürk), now serves as a military and war museum.

Büyük Utku Anıtı

Phrygian Valley

You won’t come across any tourists while exploring the mysterious ancient remains of the once powerful Phrygians, who once inhabited the Frig Vadisi (Phrygian Valley) that runs along Eskişehir, Kütahya, and Afyon. The relics include monuments and churches carved right into the natural rock, and the sights outside Afyon are the most well-preserved. You’ll need a car to see these relics that will make you feel as if you discovered something no one else quite knows about yet.

Phrygian Valley

The Afyonkarahisar Archaeological Museum

Many artifacts, from the Copper and Bronze ages as well as from the Hittite, Phrygian, Ancient Greek, and Byzantine civilizations, are on display at the Afyonkarahisar Archaeological Museum. With around 44,000 objects, another highlight is the museum’s backyard full of sculptures and relics.


Thermal Spas

Last but not least, Afyon’s many thermal spa hotels make use of the region’s active geothermal activity. With five main springs with high mineral content, Afyon’s thermal waters are believed to possess healing properties against ailments. Some of the standouts include the luxurious Korel, Ikbal, NG Afyon, and Akrones thermal spa hotels.

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