A complete and up-to-date travel guide to visiting the Pamukkale Thermal Pools (Cotton Castle), a series of amazing terraced hot springs in Turkey. Includes details on how to get to Pamukkale and the ancient city of Hierapolis, what to expect, and photos to inspire your visit.
Looking for the latest information about Pamukkale, the famous Turkey hot springs in the inner Aegean region? I’ve got you covered.
In this guide, I’ll detail everything you need to know about visiting the Pamukkale Thermal Pools, or Cotton Castle, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a natural wonder since the ancient times of the Romans.
- About the Pamukkale Thermal Pools in Turkey
- Where are the Turkey Hot Springs (Cotton Castle)?
- What to Expect at the Pamukkale Thermal Pools
- Visiting The Hierapolis Ancient City at Pamukkale
- Hot Air Ballooning at Pamukkale
- Where to Stay Near the Pamukkale Cotton Castle
- Quick Tips for Visiting the Turkey Hot Springs at Pamukkale
- Where to go After The Turkey Hot Springs (Pamukkale)
By Olly Gaspar, traveler, travel blogger & photographer for 5+ years with 600+ published travel guides. I visit every place I write about & share real tips from what I learn.
About the Pamukkale Thermal Pools in Turkey
Pamukkale is a Turkish natural attraction located in the Denizli Province in southwestern Turkey. Pamukkale translates to Cotton Castle, and is named so due to its pristine, white carbonate mineral travertines, or stepped snow-white thermal water pools.
These incredible travertine terraces and warm, flowing water have attracted people to Pamukkale for thousands of years, with the ancient city of Hierapolis originally founded at the site as a thermal pool as early as 2nd Century BC.
Today, visitors can bathe like the Romans in the many warm, calcium-rich pools, explore the Roman ruins of Hierapolis, or even ride in hot air balloons over this amazing site.
Did you know? Turkey lays the claim to nineteen different World Heritage Sites, including two mixed sites and seventeen cultural sites. The Pamukkale hot springs are one of the mixed sites, along with Göreme National Park in Cappadocia.
Where are the Turkey Hot Springs (Cotton Castle)?
The Turkish hot springs (thermal pools) of Pamukkale are located in the Denizli Province of southwestern Turkey. This is situated within the River Menderes Valley, in Turkey's Inner Aegean Region, approximately 575 kilometers from Istanbul, or 200 kilometers from the nearby coastal vacation city of Fethiye by car.
The Town of Pamukkale lies directly beneath the mineral-rich thermal travertines, with several hotels and thermal resorts popping up in the vicinity.
Below is the exact location pinned for the Pamukkale Pools. However, read on to find out the several best ways to get here.
How to Get to Pamukkale
There are three main ways to get to Pamukkale, either as an inclusion on an organized tour of Turkey, on a day trip from nearby tourist hubs like Antalya, Kuşadası, or Fethiye, or by organizing your own transport via bus, flight, or rental car (tips below).
Let's break down each option.
1. Pamukkale on a Multi-Day Tour Through Turkey
It's no secret that Turkey is a big country. So, if you're looking to squeeze in as much sightseeing as possible in a short timeframe, this country is a place I'd highly recommend anyone to simply book an organized tour.
When comparing tours, I recommend reading reviews closely and outlining all of the attractions you'd like to visit. The Turkish hot springs at Pamukkale are often a highlight attraction but many tour companies skip them due to the long distance from Istanbul.
The tour I went on was the Turkey by Gulet tour with Travel Talk. This tour included a 12-day program by land (comfortable airconditioned coaches), and 3 out of those days sailing on a Turkish Gulet.
This was my second time on tour with Travel Talk and I would recommend their tours to anybody interested in a perfect balance of adventure, sightseeing, and socializing with new friends.
2. Pamukkale on a Day Tour
Visiting one of the nearby tourist hot spots in Turkey independently? An easy, no-frills way to get to the Pamukkale thermal pools is to simply book a day trip online.
These tours will vary in both duration and price, depending on where you are coming from. However, most will visit in small groups either by minivan or coach, with the exception of the Istanbul to Pamukkale day tour, which is organized via a flight to the nearby Denizli Cardak airport.
To save you time, below I've linked the best-rated Pamukkale day tours you can find and book online.
- From Istanbul: Day Tour via Flight
- From Antalya: Day Tour via Coach or Mini-Van
- From Selcuk/Kasudasi/Izmir: Full-day Tour via Coach
- From Fethiye: Full-day tour via Mini-Van
Visit Pamukkale Indepndently
Independent travelers have two options to get to Pamukkale, either by flying or by renting a car and driving themselves.
By plane: the fastest and most cost-effective way to get directly to Pamukkale from Istanbul and other major cities & tourist hubs in Turkey is to fly to the Denizli Airport (Denizli Cardak Aiport). Domestic flights within Turkey are quite affordable, with options often available for as cheap as $30 when comparing on sites like SkyScanner or CheapOAir.
By car: while Istanbul roads can get a little chaotic, driving in the rest of Turkey is very manageable and convenient. If you're looking to explore Pamukkale and other amazing destinations in Turkey on your own terms, the best option is to rent a car cheaply, and conveniently. I recommend comparing prices on DiscoverCars in Turkey.
The drive from Istanbul to Pamukkale takes approximately 7 hours and covers a total distance of 575 kilometers (357 miles).
What to Expect at the Pamukkale Thermal Pools
Now that you know exactly how to get to the Pamukkale thermal pools in Turkey, let's dive into what to expect once you arrive!
Entrance & Fees & Opening times at Pamukkale
Pamukkale has three different entrances:
- Pamukkale town entrance - walking up from the small Pamukkale town (20 minutes to the plateau)
- North entrance - near the Necropolis and furthest entrance from the pools
- South entrance: closest gate to the pools where most tour groups stop as there is a large parking space.
Due to crippling inflation in Turkey, entrance fees are constantly changing. The most current fee for the Pamukkale entrance tickets as of August 2022 is 200 Turkish Lira.
Pamukkale is open every day starting at 6:30 am from the south gate and 8:00 am from the others. Below are the closing times reflective of the seasons.
- 1 March - 31 May: closes 8:00 pm
- 1 June - 30t September: closes 8:30 pm
- 1 October - 31 October: closes 8:00 pm
- 1 November - 28 February: closes 6:00 pm
Travel tip: There is a security metal detector screening at the Pamukkale entrances. These guards will also check your bags, so ensure you are not bringing a drone as you may be refused entry.
Exploring the Pamukkale Terraces (Cotton Castle Travertines)
As you make your way from the southern entrance, you can follow the sealed path across the plateau toward the famous pools.
Along the way, you'll see some pretty amazing viewpoints of the Pamukkale travertines, also known as the Cotton Castle. These viewpoints look over areas where tourists are not permitted to step.
The main pool access is directly opposite a small cafe/souvenir shop and is clearly marked with signs.
The accessible thermal pool area follows a gently declining slope, with several white travertines and mineral pools ranging from pure snow-white to a bright blue water color.
If you're visiting during peak season in the middle of the day, expect Pamukkale to be very crowded. As a result, you'll want to continue down to the lower pools, where you'll often find fewer people.
Swimming in the Turkey Hot Springs
Yes, of course, you can swim at the Pamukkale pools! The mineral-rich calcium carbonate deposits contain many beneficial minerals that are great for your skin and will even clean your silver jewelry!
In total, there are 17 thermal springs feeding the pools. The temperatures range from 35 degrees Celcius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) to almost 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit). However, due to a slow decline in natural water flow, the government has installed pumps that manually replenish the pools and create a stream of flowing water in the channels near the edge of the travertines. This ensures that the pools accessible to tourists are always safe for swimming.
The pools at Cotton Castle aren't very deep, at roughly knee height in most pools.
Turkey Hot Springs: Pamukkale is Turkey's most famous thermal spring. The geothermal waters in this region are a natural wonder recognized by the Romans thousands of years ago. Today, many believe that the tradition of Turkish baths stems from this ancient civilization.
The Antique Pool (Cleopatra's Pool)
Another exciting attraction worth visiting at the Pamukkale thermal pools is Cleopatra's Pool, also commonly known as Cleopatra's Antique Pool.
This ancient pool is rumored to be a gift made from Marc Antony to Cleopatra, with several columns and structures once standing tall from the warm, flowing waters. Unfortunately, a massive earthquake during the 7th century brought these once marvelous structures, as well as many of the ancient ruins of Hierapolis down to the ground.
However, the pool has been rebuilt and it's now possible to swim in this ancient pool.
There's an extra cost to visit this pool of approximately 30 Turkish Lira (changes constantly). You'll find it just nearby the travertines as you pass the Pamukalle museums.
Visiting The Hierapolis Ancient City at Pamukkale
The warm flowing water and picturesque white terraces aren't the only attraction at Pamukkale. For fans of ancient, particularly Roman, history, you absolutely have to explore the many historical attractions on offer at the ancient spa city of Hierapolis.
The Hierapolis Museum
Immediately opposite the travertine springs is the small Hierapolis Archaeology museum housed in the ancient Roman baths. Entrance is included in the overall entrance fee, with several rooms to wander through.
Some of the most interesting are the detailed Roman sarcophagi and the surviving pillars and statues.
Exploring The Holy City's Ruins
Historians suggest that Hierapolis was at its peak, a thriving metropolis housing over 100,000 people. As you might expect, exploring the ruins of the city can take quite a while.
However, if you're short on time, I suggest checking out the following historical sites.
- Theatre - a must (more info below)
- Main street - 1,500 meter long street with a colossal gate at the end (Frontinus Gate)
- Hierapolis Necropolis - is among the best-preserved necropolis in Turkey with 1,200 limestone and marble tombs
- Temple of Apollo - small Hellenistic temple from the 3rd century AD dedicated to the principal deity of the city
- Nymphaeum - located near the Apollo Temple, a 2nd-century fountain
The Main Attraction: The Hierapolis Theater
Due to tectonic movements in this region of modern-day Turkey, Hieropalis suffered a lot of seismic damage over the ages. While many of the historical sites and ancient columns have collapsed, the Hieropalis theatre has been maintained and rebuilt over the ages.
This theatre is one of the most impressive in the country and features forty-five rows of seats separated by two diazomata. Historians believe that it could accommodate approximately 15,000 people!
It's difficult to miss the Hierapolis theatre when exploring the ancient ruins. You'll see it standing on the top of the hill a distance behind the city and Pamukkale thermal baths.
Hot Air Ballooning at Pamukkale
Chasing the best views possible at the Pamukkale thermal pools and ancient Hierapolis city? Why not book a sunrise hot air ballooning experience?
This is almost half the price of hot air ballooning in Cappadocia and offers travelers an amazing view of the Cotton Castle and ancient Holy City.
Where to Stay Near the Pamukkale Cotton Castle
Since the Pamukkale thermal pools are among the most popular tourist attractions in Turkey, you can expect there to be plenty of great accommodation options nearby. What you might not know is that due to the thermal waters flowing beneath the ground in this area, there are many world-class spa hotels and resorts using natural, mineral-rich waters as well.
Below are the best hotels and accommodation options near the Pamukkale hot springs.
- Hierapark - Thermal pool resort
When I visited Pamukkale, I stayed at the Hierapark Thermal Spa Hotel, a 4-star resort located built on natural thermal groundwater just four kilometers from the Cotton Castle. If you want to experience an authentic Turkish Bath, this is one of the best places in the country to book one!
- Venus Suite Hotel - Great hotel in Pamukkale town
One of the closest hotels to Pamukkale, the Venus Suite Hotel offers beautifully designed rooms with large beds and an outdoor pool surrounded by green grounds. The property offers a free transfer to the travertines every 30 minutes.
- Doğa Thermal Health & Spa - 5-star luxury thermal resort
This is one of Turkey's best thermal health spas. There is a physiotherapy clinic on site, with a spa, sauna, hot springs, Turkish baths, and fitness center.
Quick Tips for Visiting the Turkey Hot Springs at Pamukkale
I hope you've found this travel guide useful. Before you head out to Pamukkale, here are a few more important tips you might want to consider.
- Bare feet - you must walk without shoes at the thermal pools. You can leave your shoes near the access point to the travertines.
- The ground is not slippery - the white, calcium carbonate material is quite rough, almost like sandpaper. Therefore you don't have to be too careful about slipping as the ground is quite grippy. Just be careful with the brown and green patches of algae.
- Visit early - Pamukkale gets very crowded, make sure to visit early in the morning for the best photos. Midday to early afternoon is the busiest time.
Where to go After The Turkey Hot Springs (Pamukkale)
And, that's a wrap for this comprehensive travel guide to visiting the Turkey hot springs, also known as the Pamukkale thermal pools! Before you leave, make sure to check out some of my other useful Turkey travel guides for more inspiration and travel ideas.