The 30 Top Things to do in Turkey

From your first moments in Turkey, you start to realize you’ve landed somewhere special. Cities like Istanbul’s have an atmosphere, unlike anywhere else in the world. 

The country has endless things to do that cover thing like cities built deep underground to fiery mountains, to forgotten villages. There are endless things to do in Turkey. From hillside ruins to underground cities. Turkey is a to the coast awash with history.

Turkey’s scenery is diverse and beautiful from the impressive mountains to the lush valleys, from its sandy shores and cremated coast. 

It’s a country you’ll find yourself deeply in love with, by the time you leave. So get your Turkey visa, pack your bags, and get ready to embark to discover the best things the country has to offer.

 

The Ultimate List of Things to do in Turkey

Hagia Sophia

Hailed as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, the Hagia Sophia never fails to impress. The mammoth dome, bulky red exterior, and tall minarets have towered over Istanbul for nearly 1,500 years.

The Hagia Sophia has a diverse and interesting history. Trading hands between Christians and Muslims, throughout the centuries, the Hagia Sophia has been converted to both a church and mosque a handful of times.

Because of this, it stands as the sole mosque in the world that portrays people’s faces.

And during the reign of the Byzantine Empire, the Hagia Sophia was the center of religion, art, and politics.

Today the building has been transformed into the Aya Sofya Museum and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Overall, the Hagia Sophia is the most significant ancient and cultural site in the entire country.

Cappadocia 

Visually striking, the sunken basins and otherworldly rock formations of Cappadocia will leave you breathless. Hiking, or driving through the moonesque landscape of the nearby Gerome National Park, let’s you experience the tall pinnacles, caves, and “fairy chimneys” sculptures – formed throughout Cappadocia by thousands of years of erosion.

The raw, natural beauty of this region of Turkey, located in central Anatolia, has become a trendy spot for Instagrammers, couples, and adventurers. For those looking for a bucket list adventure, Cappadocia’s one of the top places anywhere on the globe for a sunrise hot-air balloon ride.

Cappadocia isn’t just one of the most unique places in Turkey, but there’s nowhere else like it on our planet. And Cappadocia alone is worth the price of getting a visa.

Ephesus

The ancient port city of Ephesus stands as one of the most intact, surviving roman ruins in the Mediterranean. And one site that can’t be left off your “things to do in Turkey” itinerary.

Ephesus has had a substantial impact on history and was once the city’s biggest trading port in the entire Mediterranean.

The city also played a key role in the expansion of Christianity during the 1st century A.D. (The book of Ephesians in the New Testament was written to the Christians living in Ephesus.)

Today the entire city of Ephesus is a UNESCO site. But the one ruin no-one should miss in Ephesus (literally, it’s huge) is the Library of Celsus. The towering marble columns of this larger-than-life monument are the grand remnants of the Romans city that once stood here.

And while the city has shaped the world we see today, much of the ancient history of Ephesus is lost to time.

Pamukkale

The UNESCO stamped white terraced thermal pools at Pamukkale are another of Turkey’s otherworldly sites. 

These natural hot baths are perfect for taking a nice relaxing dip and washing off your travel wear and tear. In fact, for thousands of years, people have been relaxing in these hot travertine pools, believing that soaking in the warm waters had healing powers. 

Utterly spectacular, the natural phenomenon of these stacked baths is one of the most unbelievable things to do in Turkey. And while there are thermal pools all across the world, no other spot comes close to the beauty found at Pamukkale.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque)

Located across from the Hagia Sophia, sits the most stunning mosque in the world. As you approach the bluish tint of the exterior, you might say, “Hum, this must be why it’s called the ‘blue’ mosque,” but it’s not until you walk into the brightly blue-tiled interior that the nickname really clicks.

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque (better known as the Blue Mosque) dates back over 400 years and is one of the most visited sites in Istanbul. The mosque comprises of 30 domes and 26 columns. Originally built as a place of worship that would rival the mesmerizing beauty of the Hagia Sophia – and in many ways, it does. The Blue Mosque is unforgettable and a site you shouldn’t miss.

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace, hands down the best museum in Istanbul, takes you on a journey through the exciting history of the city.

The palace was the seat of power during the Ottoman Empire, which stretched throughout the middle-east, as well as, Europe. Learn the vivid tales of treacherous eunuchs, opulent Sultans, and beloved concubines.

The fun stories aren’t the only highlight; Topkapi Palace is also stunning with lavish gardens, soaring towers, ornamented doors, and extravagant rooms.

Ani

The eerie medieval city of Ani was once the capital of the forgotten Armenian Kingdom.

And while the city has long since been abandoned, the crumbling buildings still stand.

Walking through the well-worn homes, churches, and towers of this forgotten empire are jarring, strange, and remarkable experience.

Ani’s located on Turkeys arid steppe’s close to the Armenian border. It’ a lesser-known thing to do in Turkey, but an amazing stop if you’re in the area.

Dervish Dancers

No matter where you are in Turkey, chances are you aren’t far from Dervish Dances. On the outside, looking in, it might look like an entertaining dance. But originally, the Dervish Dancers were taking part in a Sufi spiritual ceremony known as sema.

The dancers whirl around in harmony as musicians place calming songs in the background. As they spin, their massive robes twirl around meant to captivate the audience and induce a meditative calm.

Looked on as a tourist trap, you might feel tempted to skip the Dervish Dancers. But that would be a mistake as it’s culturally significant and something that everyone should see once. Many of the dances include dinner as well and a great way to spend an evening in Turkey.

Turkish Baths

Does anything beat a Turkish bath? And while these baths are one of the most quintessential things to do in Turkey, you have a couple of different choices.

There’s a traditional Turkish bath; a long, shallow, heated pool, flanked by towering columns, and separated by gender.

There are also the Turkish baths that resemble spas. Entering a heated marble room, you’re reborn as someone scrubs you down, exfoliating your skin before massaging it with oils. These spas baths have become so popular that many locals do them once a week.

Whatever you choose, you can’t go wrong with a Turkish bath. And they are one of the best things to do in Turkey.

Troy

While Troy doesn’t hold a candle to the well-preserved ruins of Ephesus, it’s still worth a visit for travelers, like myself, that have a deep appreciation for Homer’s epic. Here history and legend meet, as you can explore the overgrown ruins and crumbling walls of the city that was the focal point of the fabled Trojan War.

Discovered in 1868 by Heinrich Schliemann and Frank Calvert, excavation of the site is still underway; but various museums around the country have artifacts of what they have found at Troy.

And while these might not be the best ruins in Turkey, there’s still enough to see to warrant a trip. There’s the well-worn spot of the outer walls, what remains of the acropolis, and the tower of Troy – to name a few. Some of the deteriorating remains of Troy date back to 1,200 BC.

Troy’s another of Turkeys UNESCO sites and a great stop for history and myth lovers.

The ruins are within reach of Istanbul, meaning there are numerous day trips to choose between.

Gallipoli

If you’re from North America, you might not recognize the word Gallipoli. Gallipoli’s a battle in WWI that resulted in tragic losses of allied forces, mainly from British, French, Australian, and New Zealand troops (ANZAC).

The Gallipoli campaign took place from 1915 to 1916, when the allies attacked the beaches, trying to garner a foothold and take control of the sea routes.

The allies took heavy losses; Gallipoli’s not dissimilar from D-Day for Americans. The UK, European, and ANZAC corps were eventually able to set up a couple of beachheads. Because of the tragic history, many travelers head to the beach to pay tribute to the heroes.

Lycian Rock Tombs

Obscure, eerie, and stunning are three words that perfectly sum up the Lycian Rock Tombs. These timeworn, and massive tombs that resemble temples are carved deep into the rock walls, and cliff faces. Imagining how these tombs were made boggles the mind.

Why would an ancient culture build tombs into the side of mountains, and cliffs? Well, the Lycians, who created these tombs, believed that the dead were carried to the afterlife by winged creatures. 

And so the Lycians built their burial grounds as high as possible so that the winged creatures could reach them easily. The columned tombs are covered with detailed reliefs, making the site even more impressive. 

The Lycian Rock Tombs, located in Southern Turkey, are one of the countrys most amazing architectural feats. 

Sleep in a Cave House

Let’s venture back to the Central Anatolia Region of Turkey. As come close to Cappadocia and we find one of the best things to do in Turkey, which is to stay the night in a cave house.

Locals in this region have been living in caves for thousands of years. And when visiting, you have the rare opportunity to share in this long tradition.

Now, if you’re picturing a dark and dank cave, exposed to the outside, then you’re wrong. These are entire homes that have been carved into the caves; they are comfortable and come with a lot of amenities.

(Although, if you were looking for a gloomy and abandoned cave, there are plenty around Cappadocia, so take your pick.)

And there are options that fit every budget. There are cave hotels, hostels, and homestays. Seriously, don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime chance.

Derinkuyu

You’ve never seen anything like the underground city of Derinkuyu, because there’s nothing else like it in the world. Discovered by accident during in the early 1960s’ when home renovation led to the discovery of a hidden tunnel behind a cave wall. The tunnel led to one of the biggest finds of the century.

It’s hard to comprehend the scope of Derinkuyu. This underground city goes down 18 stories (8 stories are open to the public) can fit over 20,000 people; and was supplied with air from narrow shafts and chutes carved into the mountain. The city had small roads, religious centers, stables, storehouses, and homes.

Who lived in Derinkuyu, why they choose to live underground, and how did they build it? Sadly, the history of this underground metropolis remains a mystery. But wandering around and taking in this mind-blowing accomplishment is unforgettable.

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Butterfly Valley

You’ve probably already guessed from the name; Butterfly Valley derives its name from the 100 plus species of butterfly that call it home.

But there’s much more to this oasis than that. Butterfly Valley is 86,000 square meters of pure, untouched beauty.

There are beautiful walks to embark on, pebble beaches, and small bungalows. Wander past the gushing waterfall, through chaste lavender trees (where the butterflies live), or along the serene river. Butterfly Valley’s only accessible via the water, but makes for a great off the beaten path thing to do in Turkey.

Yoga’s a popular hobby for tourists, and many yogis get their visa, and spend their entire time in the valley. 

Ankara Castle

Overlooking Turkey’s capital, Ankara Castle stands tall as a monument of the past. Built on a sheer cliff, the towering castle ramparts and well-preserved walls charm visitors and history buffs. Peppered around the site are remnants of houses from Turkey’s golden age showcasing the country’s vast history.

We don’t have an exact date when this towering castle was built, sometime in the medieval era, and the best guesses put say the 7th century. We do know that the Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans used the castle. Ankara Castle stands as an icon and one of the best castles in the country.

Mount Ararat

Adventure addicts and outdoor lovers get ready; you’ll soon be foaming at the mouth to get your visa and start the ascent to the top of Mount Ararat.

Summiting Mount Ararat takes you on a 4 to 5-day journey as you slowly ascend over 5,100 meters to the top of Turkey’s highest peak. It’s a remarkable adventure filled with ineffable views and bouldered landscape.

Mt. Ararat’s an extinct volcano, and like most volcanoes has a nice steady slope, making it an easy climb. And no technical climbing skills are required to submit the mountain. However, as it’s a multi-day trek – that requires permits – it’s recommended to hop on a tour, or hire a local guide.

Climbing Mount Ararat will stick with you long after you’ve left Turkey.

Ataturk’s Mausoleum

Turkey’s more than just ancient sites, and untouched natural landscapes. There are also some pristine examples of modern architecture throughout the country. Ataturk’s Mausoleum’s one such example. This stunning Mausoleum, in Ankara, is the final resting place for Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He was the founder and the president of the Turkish republic. 

Every inch of the expansive complex showcases the love and respect the country has for its first president. Hittite lions line the Path of Honor, follow along and you’ll find yourself in the Court of Honor. Here you’ll find the Mausoleum, and a museum dedicated to Ataturk.  

Basilica Cisterns Istanbul

The Basilica Cisterns in Istanbul were discovered in the 1500s by a man traveling in Constantinople. Strange tales of locals fishing and drawing up freshwater from holes in their cellars piqued his curiosity and led him to find this forgotten wonder.

The Basilica Cisterns have a spooky, almost mythical air about them. Imagine walking down a narrow and dark staircase until you’re underneath Istanbul. Coming out into a massive dimly lit room, you see hundreds of freshwater cisterns stretching off into the distance. And the only thing keeping the weight of the city from crashing down are the countless stone pillars lining the way.

These 1,500-year-old cisterns are amazingly preserved, despite the war-torn history of the city. They hold an eerie beauty and were built by the Emperor Justinian I.

Grand Bazaar & Spice Market

Is there any market in the world quite as hectic, crowded, and charming as the Grand Bazaar. With over 400 shops across 60 streets, one wouldn’t be wrong considering the Grand Bazaar, the world’s first shopping mall. Here you can find anything you can imagine, from knock-off clothes to golden hookahs. From elaborately designed rugs to exotic foods. Haggling is key to surviving this shopping mecca.

The Grand Bazaar has been going strong since 1461. And with almost half a million visitors daily, it’s one of the best things to do in Istanbul.

Within walking distance is the Spice Market. This market is a treat for all the senses, with brightly colored spices, smells that make the belly rumble, and the loud sounds of people haggling. And a great place to find unique spices.

Dolmabahce Palace

Dolmabahce Palace has a rich history tieing it to the country. For almost half a century, this palace was the governmental center of the Ottoman Empire. And while the building has an interesting history, it’s the architecture that continues to draw visitors here.

The combined influence of neoclassical, baroque, and ottoman buildings make Dolmabahce Palace one of the most eye-catching and mesmerizing buildings in Istanbul.

Kekova Island and Sunken Ruins

Kekova Island’s known for the ruins lying just below the shoreline; ruins which date back to over 2,000 years ago. Long before Turkey had seen the Romans, Byzantines, or Ottomans. 

These ancient ruins are all that remain of the seaport of Simena. Simena, once the part of the peaceful Lycian federation, was submerged after a string of powerful earthquakes.

Because the ruins are just below the water-line, there’s no need for scuba or snorkeling. You can see them right from the shore.

Mount Nemrut

Another unique site discovered in Turkey is Mount Nemrut. Specifically, the funeral mounds and crumbling statues found at the summit.

Colossal stony heads of disregarded and forgotten gods and Hellenistic kings sit on the side of the mountain. Eternally looking off into the horizon.

Here, atop of the mountain, you can see the oldest known work of art in the world – in a series of reliefs depicting a handshake.

Off the beaten path, Mount Nemrut’s well worth the journey, for the beauty, mysterious history, and art.

Olympos Beydaglari National Park

Olympos Beydaglari National Park is a three-way intersection where nature, history, and myth meet. The park’s lush with forest, mountains, and beaches.

This region once held the ancient city of Lycia, Idyros, and Phaselis – which you can still tour today.

Named after, but not the home of, the 12 Greek Gods means that the park’s shrouded in Greek myth. An easy trek from the beach will take you to the foot of Mount Chimera. A mount bathed in legend. Due to the natural gases that spew out of the mountain, this area birthed the legend of the Chimera — a massive lion, goat, snake hybrid.

Olympos has something for everyone. And one of the top things to do in Turkey. If you love history, and myth then grab your visa and get here!   

Doğubeyazıt

Lying in the shadow of Mt. Ararat, the town of Doğubeyazıt treats intrepid travelers to beautiful views, a glimpse into local life, and pristine palace.

The city itself has over a 2,700-year-old history, but the major highlight is the panoramic vistas of the surrounding valleys and mountains.

Inside the city, the top thing to do is Ishak Pasha Palace. A 400-year-old palace, full of tall arches, ornate patterns, and sun-filled rooms.

One of the best things about Doğubeyazıt is that the city lies off the beaten path, even for Turkish people. And it shows you a local slice of life that you won’t find anywhere else in the country.

Pluto’s Gate (Gate to Hell)

Rediscovered in 2013, Pluto’s Gate a newer thing to do in Turkey. Perhaps better known as the “gate to hell,” here lie the remains of a temple that, in ancient times, was the gateway to the Greek underworld.

There are so many toxic fumes spewing out of the mysterious cavern that ancient people believed it led to the realm of Hades.

At its height, travelers would venture here sacrifice, or test out the toxic air by buying small animals and exposing them to it. Not cool. Only the priest would breathe in some air to hallucinate. Similar to what you’ll see when visiting the temple of Delphi when backpacking Greece.

Strange and odd, this is one of the newest sites. And a site ancient history lovers will appreciate.

Ottoman Bird Palaces

While wandering down the stony streets of Istanbul, look up and keep an eye peeled for these ornate structures spread across the city.

Jutting out the side of some buildings, you’ll see these elaborate bird mansions. These tiny feather-friendly palaces are detailed and beautiful. And the moment you see them, you’ll think… these birds are living better than me.

Only a handful of these remains undamaged. And while they can be found in many cities across Turkey, most of them are in Istanbul.

Taskale (City of Manazan)

The City of Manazan’s a personal favorite thing to do in Turkey, even if it’s unpractical. This towering rock wall stretches up to five stories and dates back to the Byzantine Empire. Carved and built into the rock face are a series of homes, forming an entire village assembled into a wall. Built as protection from wars, invasions, and invaders, this rock wall has stood through Turkey’s history unharmed.

Today the village is uninhabited, but nearby locals still use these homes to store grains and cheese. And any structure used to protect cheese, is a highlight in my book.

Flames of Yanartaş (Mount Chimaera)

For more than 2,500 years, flames have been burning in the rocks of Yanartaş. Fueled by methane rising up from the mountain, sailors used these everlasting flames as an ancient “lighthouse.” And more mythical tales of the Chimera are linked to this area.

While the path isn’t clearly marked. Follow the stone stairs, and you’ll soon arrive at the flames of Yanartaş – one of the craziest things to do in Turkey.

5 Fun Things to Know Before Visiting Turkey

Getting a Visa For Turkey

There’s a good chance you’ll need a visa before visiting Turkey. But don’t worry, you can get your e-visa Turkey requires online. 

The process is quick, easy, and cheap. So don’t let the visa process scare you away from visiting this wonderful country.

Cash is King

While many places in Turkey take credit cards, I would suggest using cash (unless you have the right travel credit card). This is to avoid high international fees. 

Plus, if you are heading off the beaten path to villages and towns then there’s a good chance that they will only take cash.

Don’t Drink Tap Water

You can cook your food, wash your dishes, and brush your teeth using the tap water. But it’s not clean enough to consume in droves, and can make you sick. Stick to bottled water for drinking purposes.

Respect the Culture

Turkey’s a conservative country. And it’s always vital to adhere to the cultural norms and traditions when traveling.

Physical displays of affection are frowned upon, so be polite and while in public, keep your hands to yourself.

Also, women and men should dress conservatively.

Drugs are more than frowned upon. And the country has a zero-tolerance drug policy.

It’s important to respect the cultures of the places we travel too. Remember, this is their country; you’re the visitor.

Turkeys Backpacker Friendly

Compared to the Western World, Turkey’s cheap. You can get street food for around $1. Or eat out at a nice restaurant for under $10. Local transportation can range from 15 cents to 1 dollar. There’re hostels all around the country, and dorms start out at under $10.

Compared to nearby Greece, this is a great deal.

In fact, my first visit to Turkey was an escape from Western Europe. My bank account was in shambles after two months in Italy and Greece.

And there we go! 30 Things to do in Turkey. Plus 5 bonus tips for traveling the country. What do you think? Is the visa for turkey worth it? What is the first thing you would cross off your list?

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