What are the 17 Unmissable Things to Do in Turkey?
With a bountiful array of things to do in Turkey, everyone enjoys this diverse nation. As an unforgettable destination with summer sun to explore underground cities, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and natural beauty, a fantastic trip is guaranteed. Turkey has everything from Mediterranean coast delights and panoramic views to bustling towns and historical monuments.
Discover this majestic country's beauty and hidden gems with our guide to Turkey's top attractions and activities. From historical sites with religious significance to outdoor adventures and guided tours, learn about popular attractions and exciting activities that will make your trip to Turkey unforgettable.
Exciting Things to Do in Turkey
1: Ephesus Ancient City and World Heritage Site
The ruins of Ephesus City in western Turkey, once a significant centre of trade, culture, and religion, are now an important tourist attraction that perfectly reflects ancient history. The 10th-century BC city was home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Ephesus was an important centre of Christianity during ancient times and sits near the Virgin Mary's house, where Catholics and Muslims believe she ascended. Also, visit Ephesus Museum, which houses artefacts including statues, jewellery, and pottery. Ephesus belongs to the UNESCO world heritage sites of Turkey.
2: Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride Over Fairy Chimneys
Take an incredible journey over the breathtaking terrains of Cappadocia on a hot air balloon ride and see stunning views of Turkey. Whether you want thrills, romance, or unique travel experiences, a hot air balloon ride over this ancient landscape is unforgettable. The downside is waking up early, but the reward is a buffet breakfast followed by a dramatic sunrise. Then, soar over fairy chimneys, valleys, and villages of Cappadocia, taking in panoramic views from unique perspectives. The hour-long ride is expensive but for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, worth every penny.
3: Visit Goreme National Park in Cappadocia
After you enjoy the hot air balloon ride, visit Goreme national park in Cappadocia, which features geological formations, including rock cones, pinnacles, and fairy chimneys formed by thousands of years of volcanic activity and erosion. The 14th-century churches are decorated with elaborate Byzantine mosaics depicting Biblical and early Christianity scenes. Unique landscapes and historical sites make Goreme National Park a special place in Turkey.
4: Go Hiking in Cappadocia
- Red Valley: This valley has distinctive red rock formations for unique hiking experiences. The 5-kilometre Red Valley trail takes 1-3 hours to walk.
- Rose Valley: Rose Valley, another popular hiking destination in Cappadocia, is famous for pink and red rock formations that are particularly beautiful at sunrise and sunset. The 4-kilometre trail takes between 1-2 hours to complete.
- Pigeon Valley: The 4-kilometre Pigeon Valley is named after hundreds of pigeon houses carved into rock faces, used for fertilizer and food in ancient times.
- Love Valley: The 3-kilometre Love Valley, named for phallic-shaped rock formations, takes 1-2 hours to hike. And, of course, always respect natural beauty by taking trash home and not damaging rock formations.
5: Other Places to Visit in Cappadocia
- Derinkuyu Underground City: Cappadocia boasts of underground cities dating from the Hittite period. Explore these fascinating cities, which were used as hiding places and shelters during times of war.
- Visit Uchisar Castle: Uchisar Castle, carved into a rock, gives off panoramic views of surrounding landscapes.
- Visit pottery workshops: Cappadocia is famous for pottery, and several studios display pottery-making processes and unique and beautiful pieces. Most small group guided tours in Cappadocia include visits to them.
- Try Local Cuisine: Cappadocian cuisine features unique flavours and ingredients, including dishes like mantı (Turkish dumplings), pottery kebab, and testi kebab (meat cooked in a clay pot). Try these dishes and more at local restaurants and cafes.
6: Marvel at The Blue Mosque of Istanbul
The Blue Mosque, also called Sultan Ahmed Mosque, perfectly displays intricate Ottoman architecture and is Turkey's most famous mosque. The 17th-century mosque was built by Sultan Ahmed I, with six minarets, a rare feature in the Muslim world. The mosque, named the "Blue Mosque" because of the blue interior tiles that adorn its interior, is open daily except during prayer times, and visitors join guided tours or visit on their own. Enter through the main entrance and explore the vast prayer hall, which accommodates 10,000 worshipers. Although non-Muslim visitors are welcome, dress modestly and remove shoes before entering.
7: The Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul
The Hagia Sophia sits directly across from the Blue Mosque, so visit both in half a day. Originally built as a 6th-century Christian church, the Hagia Sophia became a mosque during the Ottoman Empire and was eventually converted into a museum in 1935. In July 2020, Turkey converted the building back into a mosque.
Explore the vast interior and marvel at the impressive dome supported by four large pillars. In addition, the building has several smaller domes, galleries, and chambers that are worth exploring. Since the Hagia Sophia is now a mosque, visitors should follow specific rules and customs. Despite the change in status from museum to mosque, the Hagia Sophia remains an important cultural and historical landmark in Turkey, attracting visitors from around the world.
8: Be Intrigued by the Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern, also called Yerebatan Cistern, is an ancient underground water reservoir. The 6th-century Basilica Cistern, built during the reign of Emperor Justinian I, stored water for Constantinople's palace.
Featuring 336 columns sitting within 100,000 tons of water, the cistern's atmospheric ambience features dim lighting and sounds of dripping water. Highlights include two carved marble heads of mythological Medusa that were reused as column bases. The Basilica Cistern opens every day except for the first day of religious holidays.
9: Shop in the Grand Bazaar
In Istanbul's historic old city, the Grand Bazaar is Turkey's oldest and largest market. The bazaar covers 30,000 square meters and contains 3,000 shops and stalls selling everything from spices and textiles to jewellery and souvenirs. The 15th-century Grand Bazaar's history dates from when it was first established as an Ottoman Empire hub for trade.
But these days, vendors hawking their wares in narrow streets and alleys make the bazaar a top-visited place in Istanbul. Shop for souvenirs from Turkish carpets, handcrafted ceramics and textiles to antiques and luxury items, and spend hours wandering, soaking up sights and sounds, and experiencing rich history and culture.
10: Learn About the Ottomans at Topkapi palace
Topkapi Palace, a sprawling museum complex in Istanbul's historic old city and within walking distance of the Hagia Sophia, was once the residence of Ottoman sultans. Today the vast Topkapi Palace features numerous courtyards, gardens, and buildings to explore.
Key attractions include the Harem, where the sultan's family and concubines once lived; the Imperial Treasury, which houses Ottoman jewels and artefacts; and the Council Chamber, where sultans conducted important meetings with advisors.
11: Other Tourist Attractions in Istanbul
Istanbul spreads over the European and Asian sides with many other things to do. If you don't want to be independent, many places are visited on small group tours.
- Take a Bosphorus Cruise: A Bosphorus Cruise offers stunning views of Istanbul's skyline and the Bosphorus Strait. Take a leisurely boat tour, stopping at various points of interest.
- Explore the Spice Bazaar: The Spice Bazaar, also called the Egyptian Bazaar, is where vendors sell spices, teas, sweets, and other treats. Try local delicacies and purchase spices to take home.
- Walk along Istiklal Avenue: Istiklal Avenue, a lively pedestrian street lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes, is also home to historical buildings and the famous red tram of Istanbul.
12: Legends Theme Park for Kids
Legends Theme Park in Kemer, near Antalya in Turkey, is Turkey's equivalent of Disney Land. Land of Legends is a mini city with various experiences: a hotel, water park and shopping avenue. Anyone visiting, whether for the day or holiday, will be hard-pressed to complain of boredom.
Naturally, being a theme park, much of the emphasis is on the family-friendly experience. Highlights, however, include the shark, tiger, and Humboldt penguin exhibits. Otherwise, the water park features rides like the Wave Pool, Voyager, and Rafting Rapids. In addition, the shopping avenue includes brand names for adults wanting to break away from water-splashing fun. (More about Land of Legends.)
13: Indulge in a Traditional Turkish Bath
A Turkish bath, known as a hammam, is a traditional public bathing facility that has been part of Turkish culture for centuries. People go to cleanse themselves and relax with friends and family. The Turkish bath experience typically begins with a sauna-like room called the "warm room," where visitors relax and sweat. This is followed by the hot room, a steam-filled room where the bath attendant scrubs and massages the body using a special glove called a "kese."
Some Turkish baths offer additional services, such as oil massages and facial treatments. Visitors wear a towel or special wrap-around cloth called a "pestemal" during the bath. Separate men's and women's sections are available in most facilities. The Turkish bath experience relaxes and is a unique way to experience Turkish culture and unwind after sightseeing in Turkey. Many Turkish baths can be found in major cities and tourist places. (What to expect from a Turkish bath.)
14: Romantic Places on a Blue Voyage Boat Trip
A boat trip in Turkey is fantastic for exploring the country's stunning coastline, visiting secluded coves and beaches, and soaking up the sun and scenery. Turkey's most popular destination for boat trips is the Turquoise Coast, southwestern Turkey, with crystal-clear waters fronting the backing Taurus mountain range. Join gulet cruises, a traditional wooden sailing vessel, and sail along the coast, stopping at picturesque bays and beaches.
Opportunities for water sports on a boat trip in Turkey include snorkelling, scuba diving, and jet skiing. There are various types of boat trips available in Turkey, ranging from short excursions to day-long and even multi-day cruises. With many options available, experience Turkey's beautiful coastline and enjoy memorable adventures.
15: Pamukkale Thermal Pools Near Denizli in Turkey
Pamukkale, a natural wonder in southwestern Turkey near Denizli, boasts spectacular white travertine terraces, hot springs, and ancient ruins. The name "Pamukkale" means "cotton castle" in Turkish, an apt reflection of the appearance. Travertine terraces, formed by mineral-rich waters that flow down the hillside from hot springs, are covered with calcium carbonate, gradually building up to create distinctive white formations.
The result is cascading pools and white limestone terraces. Also, explore nearby ancient ruins. For example, Hierapolis city thrived in Roman times, as evident in the remains of ancient baths, temples, and other structures. Pamukkale is a highly treasured UNESCO World Heritage Site and place in Turkey.
16: Hidden Gems of the Kackar Mountains in the Black Sea Region
The Kaçkar Mountains between Trabzon and Rize in Northeast Turkey are famous for hiking and trekking. Hike through pine forests, cross rushing streams and rivers, go river rafting, and climb high peaks. Admire spectacular views and spot various flora and fauna, including wildflowers, butterflies, and birds of prey. Also, stop by small villages and towns to experience unique Black Sea traditions. In addition, the Kackar Mountains are home to several beautiful lakes and waterfalls, including Şimşirli Waterfall, Uzungol Lake and Ayder Plateau, that come alive in late spring.
17: Antalya City Centre in Mediterranean Turkey
Antalya city on Turkey's Mediterranean coast of Turkey boasts beautiful beaches, hidden gems, ancient ruins, and vibrant culture. Here are some places to visit on an Antalya city tour.
- Antalya's old town, Kaleiçi, features narrow cobblestone streets and historic Ottoman-era buildings. Wander through the streets, admire the architecture, and shop for souvenirs in shops and markets.
- Antalya Museum, Turkey's largest and most comprehensive museum, displays exhibits covering art and culture.
- Antalya's harbour features restaurants, cafes, bars, and beautiful Mediterranean Sea views. Stroll along the waterfront, enjoy drinks and watch boats and yachts come and go.
- Antalya's beautiful beaches include Lara Beach and Konyaalti Beach, perfect for sunbathing and swimming in Mediterranean crystal-clear waters.
- Antalya Aquarium, one of Europe's largest, with various marine life worldwide, is the place to watch sharks being fed and swim with fish in the aquarium's giant tank.
- Tahtali Cable Car takes visitors to Mount Tahtali, where they enjoy panoramic views of Antalya and the Mediterranean Sea.
- Duden Waterfalls, just outside Antalya city centre, is a top attraction. Walk along the waterfall's edge, take a boat ride, and admire the stunning scenery.
- More about what to do in Antalya.
Round Up of Top Attractions
So, as you can see, there are many things to do in Turkey and much more that we haven't mentioned in this article. All the above are top-visited attractions hosting millions of visitors every year. However, they are all spread out, and Turkey is a big country. This is why many people sign up for guided around Turkey tours. They visit all the above attractions, and you learn so much more because you have a guide.
If you want recommendations of other places to visit in Turkey and learn about food, culture and why Turkey is a top holiday home and ex-pat destination, browse our blog. Written by experts with vast knowledge of places and attractions, it gives many more ideas of interesting places to visit in Turkey.