There’s one thing most people don’t really understand about Turkey: It’s a huge country. I didn’t comprehend its size until I started traveling around it and learning more about the culture. Unsurprisingly, thanks to its size, there are some amazing things to do in Turkey; you just need to know the best spots to head to. Planning ahead can make your trip far more enjoyable, and much less stressful.
If you want to do the very best sightseeing in Turkey, you need to be organized. I lived in Turkey for a few years with my husband, and I still visit very regularly now; I know just how important it is to have a plan in this country if you don’t want to miss the good stuff. You should also be aware of the fact that barely anything runs on time…
The great news is that getting around Turkey is pretty easy, mainly thanks to fantastic buses and domestic flights. No matter where you visit in Turkey, each part is distinct and has its own unique feel; the southwest coast is Westernized and modern, and the central and eastern parts of the country are a lot more traditional. But that’s just what makes it so special, right?
Best Things To Do in Turkey
Turkey is about far more than just beaches; it’s packed with culture, architecture, history, food, and nature, and the list just keeps going. I’ve traveled around this country a lot, and while the obvious Turkey attractions should definitely be on your visit list, there are some lesser-known gems that you should make time for too. Let me share my wisdom and hopefully, help you explore as much of this amazing country as possible.
1. Explore Istanbul
Exploring Istanbul‘s top sights is one of the best things to do in Turkey, and I recommend carving out at least three days to do this. I love Istanbul; it’s one of my favorite cities in the world – I don’t imagine ever growing tired of it, even after visiting more times than I can count on two hands. But you need to be organized if you don’t want to miss the best tourist attractions in Turkey.
I’m talking about the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, Basilica Cistern, Grand Bazaar, and Dolmabahçe Palace. When visiting Istanbul, you have to make peace with the fact that you’re not going to see the entire city in one visit, but you can immerse yourself in its vibrant feel and, of course, its amazing nightlife and delicious food.
To get the most done in the shortest amount of time, I recommend a sightseeing walking tour. The traffic in Istanbul is just the world’s biggest nightmare; I’ve genuinely been sitting in it for more than six hours at a time, and it’s not something you want ruining your time; taking a walking tour is a great way to avoid this and see some top sights at the same time. Click here for more information and to book.
2. Spend Time on a Mediterranean Beach
Turkey’s beaches are the stuff of legend. For me, there’s nothing better than spending a hot summer’s day chilling on a beach, splashing in the sea to cool down, and topping up my tan. The entire south coast is full of fantastic beach spots, but I think Antalya has some of the best, with Fethiye taking the runner-up spot; Ölüdeniz’s Blue Lagoon is one of my favorite beaches in the world.
There are many things to do in Turkey for families but beach time is a top option. Most large beaches have water sports, parasols, and sun loungers, often with beach bars close by, making it easy to grab refreshments throughout the day.
If you want to see one of the most stunning beaches you’ll ever set your eyes on, head to Kaputaş Beach between Kaş and Kalkan. Alternatively, Cleopatra Island near Marmaris is another spot that will take your breath away. Click here for tour details.
3. Hike the Lycian Way
The Lycian Way is a long-distance hiking trail that stretches from Fethiye to Antalya. It features some of the best things to see in Turkey along the way and some truly stunning views, taking you along the coastline of ancient Lycia. While the full 520km (320 miles) might be a bit difficult to follow during a visit, you can walk a portion of it and still get the same feel as you pass old ruins with serious character.
It can be hard to follow the trail alone, so I took a walking tour with other people. I highly recommend doing this; not only do you learn a lot more about what you’re seeing, but you get to make new friends along the way. Click here for tour details.
If you choose to spend a few days on this trail, there are several villages on the way with accommodation and small cafes and restaurants. This is definitely one of the best hikes I’ve ever done, and it’s easygoing most of the way, so is perfectly fine for beginners. Despite that, I wouldn’t recommend it during the peak summer months; stick to April-May or October-November for easier conditions.
4. Step Back in Time at Ephesus
Hands down, one of the best attractions in Turkey, and one of my epic favorites is Ephesus. This place blew my mind in all the best ways possible. It was literally like being right back in the heart of this ancient city, somewhere around the 10th century BC.
Once upon a time, Ephesus was an important city in Ancient Greece, however, it’s now located around an hour from Izmir, in Selçuk, modern-day Turkey. The ruins here are extremely well-preserved, and the site is huge. When booking to go here, don’t miss out on the House of the Virgin Mary, which is slightly away from the main site, but a must-visit nonetheless.
A couple of things I realized from visiting Ephesus: a) it’s huge, so you need comfortable shoes, and b) there is zero shade so wear sunscreen, a hat, and drink plenty of water. If you can, I recommend going as early in the day as possible and avoiding the peak summer months because not only is it boiling hot, but it also gets extremely crowded. Click here for tour information.
5. Paraglide Over the Blue Lagoon
Ölüdeniz’s Blue Lagoon is one of the world’s best and most famous spots to paraglide, and people flock here to enjoy this rather terrifying but completely exhilarating activity. I should point out that I am terrified of heights and I visited about four times before I decided to go for it—I’m so glad I did. Yes, it’s very high, but the view as you float over the Blue Lagoon in the capable hands of an experienced instructor is second to none.
Paragliding here is one of the top things to do in Turkey, and it’s surprisingly lower in cost than you might think. Your jump-off point is Mount Babadağ and if you decide not to paraglide, I still highly recommend you head up the cable car and check out the view from the top. The restaurant there is also fantastic, although it can get busy so reserving a table is a good idea. Click here for details and to book.
6. Eat Delicious Turkish Food
Turkish food is famous the world over, and for very good reason. No matter where you are in the country, make sure you forego the usual international fare and opt for traditional dishes. Not only will you get to taste something new and more than likely seriously enjoy it, but you’ll save money too, (tourist restaurants are a lot more expensive than local spots).
The great thing about Turkish cuisine is that it’s ideal for meat eaters, vegetarians, and vegans alike. It’s based heavily on local produce that’s in season at any time, and it’s also quite healthy, comprising mostly of grilled meats and plenty of vegetables.
You’ll no doubt have heard about all the different meat kebabs, but make sure you opt for some other traditional dishes, such as guveç, kavurma, and Turkish moussaka. Of course, it would be a crime to visit Turkey and not have a full breakfast at least once, known as kahvalti; it’s one of the best things to do in Turkey—just make sure you’re hungry first.
7. Learn to Haggle in the Bazaar
Whether you want to call it haggling or bargaining, trying to get the best price possible while you’re shopping in a bazaar is one of the most fun things to do in Turkey. It also means you’ll get some great souvenirs for yourself and friends and family back home without spending a fortune.
The first time I tried haggling, I failed miserably; it was embarrassing. But I persevered, and now I can comfortably say that I’ve got the hang of it. The most important thing to remember is that it’s expected, so don’t feel cheeky for trying to knock a little off the price. Just avoid haggling in regular shops as it won’t work.
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is a great place to give haggling a try, and it’s so big you’re sure to walk away with a bag full of great items to take home with you.
8. Stand in Awe at Cappadocia
Some places in the world are so unique, that they’re like nowhere else you’ve ever seen or are ever likely to. That’s Cappadocia. The only way I can describe it is that it’s so weird yet so stunningly beautiful all at the same time – it’s otherworldly.
A hot air balloon ride over Göreme National Park is one of the top things to do in Turkey, and I highly recommend you book this well ahead of your visit to avoid disappointment. But, if you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, there’s plenty to see and do still, including exploring underground cities, staying in a cave hotel, hiking around the fairy chimney landscapes, and checking out the stunning sunset.
Because Cappadocia is far away from the main sights, based in Nevşehir, the best way to go is via a guided Cappadocia tour. You can fly and get a bus yourself, which is totally doable, but it’s best to take the hassle out of it with a tour. Click here for more details.
SEE ALSO: Where to Stay in Cappadocia
9. Go on an Adventure on the Eastern Express
If you want a real adventure, the Eastern Express is definitely the way to go. This isn’t on the usual list of tourist attractions you’ll find in Turkey, but it’s seriously impressive, and it will show you some stunning landscapes. The train takes you from Ankara to Kars, close to the border with Armenia, and many believe this to be one of the most beautiful train journeys around.
This is one of the best things to do in Turkey for couples because it’s super romantic, and the journey lasts for 24 hours in very comfortable surroundings. The service on the train is also high quality, giving it a particularly sophisticated vibe.
For sure, this isn’t the cheapest activity to do in Turkey, but if you want to do something different, and you’re up for an adventure, I highly recommend it.
10. Scrub Away Your Cares in a hammam
The cleanest I’ve ever felt was after a hammam in Marmaris; I swear I lost a million dead skin cells that day and I was left feeling as if I was floating. So, if you’re looking for stuff to do in Turkey that’s authentic and great for your health and well-being, it has to be a hammam.
Some hammams are mixed-sex, but some are single-sex, so make sure you ask before you go if you want to go with a partner. Once you’re in, you’ll spend some time in the sauna, sweating out all your impurities, before going into the hammam itself for a good scrub. It’s a really great experience to have, even if you only do it once.
Many hammams offer massages after the scrub, which are sure to leave you feeling wonderfully relaxed. I went on an organized tour in Istanbul, and I highly recommend doing the same if you’d prefer a private hammam rather than a public one. Click here for more information.
11. Enjoy the Natural Wonders of Pamukkale
Pamukkale is one of those places that you have to see to believe. I would however give you one tip: make sure you wear sea shoes when you go as the ledges are quite slippery and I have seen people slip countless times. Other than that, Pamukkale is definitely on the list of what to see in Turkey.
You’ll find Pamukkale in Denizli, and it’s part of a huge complex of ruins, showcasing the ancient city of Hierapolis. However, the main part is a large travertine that shines blinding white and blue, thanks to the combination of carbon minerals and natural spring water. The pictures you’ll get here are incredibly beautiful, and the water is super refreshing in the summer months.
There’s something really special about Pamukkale, and it is so unique; it’s packed with visitors all year round. I recommend you go as early in the day as you can if you want to avoid large crowds, and the shoulder seasons are a good time to go in general. A guided tour will help you get the most out of your time: click here for more details.
12. Have Your Mind Blown at Uzungöl
One thing you’ll no doubt try when you visit Turkey is çay, or Turkish tea; it’s everywhere, and it’s delicious. The north of Turkey, particularly around the Black Sea coast, is where most of the country’s tea is produced, and Uzungöl is located there.
Uzungöl is a huge lake surrounded by imposing mountains situated next to tea plantations. Not only are there plenty of things to do around the area, such as walking, cycling, and water sports, but you can head up one of the mountains and take a photograph looking down while enjoying a Turkish breakfast. It’s one of the best things to do around Turkey, and it’s a photograph I cherish.
Located in the Trabzon region, Uzungöl is a little off the beaten track in terms of regular attractions, but it’s worth heading there to experience authentic Turkish life, try the delicious food (Trabzon pide is amazing), and check out the stunning views. You can take a tour which will show you the area in detail, and take you to visit a tea factory. Click here for more information.
13. Climb Mount Nemrut
There are some places in the world that don’t really make much sense; we can’t figure out why they’re there or what they’re about, and in some ways that’s what you’ll encounter when you climb Mount Nemrut. But don’t get me wrong; this isn’t something trivial; it’s just mind-blowing that at the top of this mountain, you’ll find stone statues that nobody is sure how they got there, or what they even mean.
Yes, there are theories, but it’s so mystical. We do know they date back to the Commagene Kingdom, around the 1st century BC, but so much is left unsaid. Put simply, if you’re looking for things to do in Turkey that are off the chart mind-blowing, you have to climb (or walk, to be more precise) Mount Nemrut.
If you’re thinking that you can’t possibly climb a mountain, don’t worry; I did it, and I am not that fit. It’s not difficult to do and only takes around an hour at most. The view from the top is breathtaking, the sunsets are divine, and the statues will knock you sideways for all the right reasons. If you want to see more of the area (totally worth it), then you can take a tour which also encompasses nearby Şanlıurfa. Click here for details.
14. Explore the Underwater World in Bodrum
If you’re a lover of all things that dwell under the water, you’ll love Bodrum. Not only can you visit the fantastic Museum of Underwater Archaeology, but there are some great dive sites around the town. The warm waters of the Aegean Sea are teeming with different types of marine life, including sea bream, octopus, tuna, and sea sponges.
For me, one of the best things to do in Turkey is visit the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, where you’ll find artifacts recovered from the sea dating back to around the 16th century – the whole vibe is interactive and great fun. The museum sits inside Bodrum Castle, which is a must-visit in itself, with stunning views over the town.
If you want to dive, you’ll find plenty of dive schools to help you out, and Bodrum is home to two major dive locations: the Big Reef and the Small Reef. As the names suggest, one is bigger than the other, but they’re located just off Bodrum Marina, so they’re very easy to reach and are suitable for beginners and intermediates. A scuba diving tour makes life easier and takes you to some other dive sites further off the coast. Click here for details.
15. See the Whirling Dervishes in Konya
One of the most unique things to do in Turkey at night is to see the famous whirling dervishes. While you can catch performances in most large towns, Konya is where this magical tradition began. The Mevlevis follow the Sufi order and they’re known as the ‘whirling dervishes’ because of the whirling dance they do during worship.
Konya itself is a beautiful and very cultural city which will show you a more traditional side of Turkey compared to the beach towns on the south coast. It’s a good idea to take a guided tour so you can learn more about the city; I did a tour, and it really helped me to understand what I was witnessing and its importance. Click here for tour details and to book.
The whirling dervishes are something very special and unique to this part of the country. If you manage to see a performance, it will be something you won’t forget in a hurry, that’s for sure. It’s mesmerizing to see, and almost hypnotic in some ways. If you can’t get to Konya, you can also see performances in Istanbul, at the Galata Mevlevihanesi Museum, which is located close to the Galata Tower.
Getting Around Turkey
I’ve already mentioned a few times that Turkey is massive, so you’ll need to know how to get around and from place to place. You have three main options: self-drive (renting a car), long-distance buses, or domestic flights. There are train services in Turkey, but they aren’t that extensive and only cover certain parts of the country; they also take many hours.
The sheer number of things to see in Turkey means all public transport has become very easy for tourists to use. I’ve used the long-distance bus service Pamukkale several times, and I think it’s far better than the bus services in the UK. There’s also Metro and Kamil Koc to add to the list of providers, and you’ll get refreshments, snacks, and entertainment during your journey. To book a ticket, head online to the provider’s website or drop into a bus station.
Turkey is a pretty easy country to drive around, thanks to great roads, but many tolls can add cost to your journey. The last option is to take a domestic flight; most flights connect in Istanbul, either at Istanbul Airport or Sabina Gokcen. However, this is a great way to reach major cities, and if the attraction you want to visit isn’t so close, you can then use the bus for the rest of your journey.
Things To Do in Turkey: FAQs
Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about the best things to do in Turkey:
Turkey is known for its beaches, food, history, culture, and traditions. There are many free things to do in Turkey, which makes it easier to explore, and more history in just one city (Istanbul) than in most other countries. This really is a ‘something for everyone’ kind of destination.
You can visit Turkey at any time of year, but if you want to enjoy the beaches on the south coast, you should visit between May and October. The rest of the country, including Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir, is visible no matter what the month. Istanbul in particular is very popular during the winter months.
Turkey is definitely worth visiting! There’s so much to see and do, and no matter what your interests are, you’ll find something to match them. You’ll probably find some new ones too. Turkey is huge, so you do need to do some pre-planning before you go, but it’s 100% a must-visit for everyone.
How many days you spend in Turkey really depends on where you’re going and what you want from your vacation. If you’re going to the beach resorts on the south coast, you’ll need a week at least. If you’re visiting Istanbul, a minimum of four days is needed, but you still won’t get to see everything: even two weeks won’t allow you to do that.
Generally speaking, Turkey is a safe country but like anywhere in the world, certain parts of the country have a higher risk of issues than others. As long as you use your common sense you should have a very safe and enjoyable time. Simply keep an eye on the news before and during your visit to be aware of any issues.
There are so many things to do in Turkey that it’s very difficult to pinpoint the most popular one. However, spending time on the beach is probably one of the top-rated things to do. After that, exploring the history of Istanbul is definitely high on the list, as well as shopping in the many colorful bazaars.
Turkish food is famous for a very good reason — it’s delicious! There are many different types of kebabs you can try, and Adana kebab is one of the most famous. Try the famous Turkish breakfast, or kahvalti, gözleme, baklava, and börek, to get you started.
Each region of Turkey has something special for visitors, so it purely depends on your preferences. However, Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, and the south coast resorts of Bodrum, Marmaris, and Antalya are extremely popular places to visit, with the beach resorts extremely busy during the summer months.
Do not miss Istanbul. The size and busy nature of the city can put some people off, but that’s a huge mistake. Even if you’re visiting the south coast beach resorts, try and schedule a few days in Istanbul if you can. This is a city that literally has it all, and I guarantee you’ll want to return.
All of Turkey is beautiful in its own right. However, if you’re looking for pristine beaches and an impossibly blue sea, the south coast beaches, particularly around Antalya, are picture-perfect. Yet, if you love history and city life, it has to be Istanbul and the view over the historic Golden Horn.
The top things to do in Turkey are scattered around the country, but don’t let that stop you from going on a grand tour and seeing as many as you can. The size of the country shouldn’t put you off traveling, and having done it many times myself, I can hand on heart say that Turkey is a very easy country to navigate. Whether you choose to use the bus, fly, or drive yourself, you’ll see amazing things no matter where you go.
While this list of the best things to see in Turkey is long, it’s definitely not exhaustive; the list is borderline endless. But you can choose the top sights and start from there. I’m certain that once you get a delicious taste of everything this beautiful country has to offer, you’ll want to return time and time again.