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From hiking in the rugged mountains to relaxing in the sun-kissed Mediterranean beaches to exploring thousands of years of culture and history, Turkey has no dearth of activities and attractions. But for first time visitors, it can be hard to decide on the places to see and things to do. Here we have whittled down the essential sites and activities that you should include during your trip to Turkey.

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Visiting Hagia Sophia is a popular thing to do in Turkey.
Head to Istanbul and dive into Turkish culture.

For thousands of years, the Turkish empire expanded and reshaped, absorbing cultures and traditions from all across Europe and Asia. As the former capital of the country and a gateway between the East and the West, Istanbul is a treasure trove of cultural heritage. Food, music, dance, art and handcraft all form part of the colorful Turkish culture. Watch the iconic Whirling Dervish dances or pay a visit to the Islamic Art Gallery to learn about the city’s long-spanning history.

Alternative destination:

  • Goreme: Touring Goreme offers a wealth of insight into the ancient cultures of Turkey. The town features cave dwellings, rock formations, and ancient religious sites, giving you a glimpse into the country’s past.

Best season: Spring (April and May) and autumn (September and October) are the best times to visit, as the weather is mild and there are not many tourists around.

2. Take a Hot-air Balloon Ride in Cappadocia

If you are looking for things to do in Turkey, try a hot air balloon ride.
Get amazing views of the Turkish landscape on a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia.

Surely you have seen images of colorful balloons hovering over an otherworldly landscape of Cappadocia. Taking a hot-air balloon ride in this historic region is one of the top tourist attractions in Turkey. Every morning, hundreds of balloons take to the sky, soaring over sharp sandy peaks and rock formations, offering incredible sights.

Best season: Try to avoid the peak seasons of June, July and August. Instead, plan your Cappadocia trip during spring, from April to May. Winter, which runs from November through March, is another good time to visit if you wish to see Cappadocia covered in snow.

Insider's Tip: Hot air ballooning in Cappadocia is truly magical, but if your budget doesn't stretch that far you can still enjoy stunning views of the sunrise balloons floating across the surreal landscape by heading up to Sunrise Point on Aydin Kiragi Sk, just up the hill from Artemis Cave Suites. There is a small entrance fee but it is absolutely worth it, the view is beyond insane! – by Alexx Hayward from Finding Alexx.

3. Soak in Thermal Baths in Pamukkale

Visit the thermal pools in Pamukkale.
Relax in a thermal pool in Pamukkale that is known to have healing properties.

The stunning travertines of Pamukkale in their cloudlike formations are some of the most unforgettable things to see in Turkey. The healing properties of these mineral-rich waters are well known and it is said that even Cleopatra once bathed here. Spend the afternoon wading among ancient ruins in Cleopatra’s pool and enjoy the tranquil waters. For optimal relaxation, indulge in a Turkish thermal bath. Check out our tours to Pamukkale.

Alternative destinations:

  • Ilgin: The southern town of Ilgin in the Konya region has water rich in Hydrocarbonate, Calcium, and Sodium. Its healing properties are endless and you will leave feeling rejuvenated.
  • Cesme: The thermal water from Cesme comes from the sea, making it one of the most unique thermal experiences in the world.

Best season: Spring and autumn are the best times to visit thermal springs that are outdoor. But if you are visiting in the winter, you can always try indoor hot springs.

Visit archaeological sites in Ephesus.
Discover Turkish history by visiting ancient archaeological sites in Ephesus.
Visit Antikabir in Ankara.
A holiday in Turkey is incomplete without a visit to the capital, Ankara.

Embark on archeological and historical tours to get a glimpse into the past of Turkey. The biblical city of Ephesus is one of the best-preserved sites of the ancient world. Marvel at the sheer size of the Greek amphitheater or ponder over secrets kept in the Ephesus library. Ancient civilizations have left a wealth of archeological sites and treasures scattered all across Turkey.

Alternative destination:

  • Ankara: The current capital of Turkey houses the Museum of Anatolian History, which takes you on a journey through Turkish history, while Anitkabir connects you with more recent Turkish times. Click here to see our history tours in Ankara.

Best season: April, May and October are the best months to enjoy the historical sites of Turkey, as the crowds are low and the weather largely agreeable.

Get on a cruise tour in Turkey.
Experience the tranquil sea water by hopping on a cruise tour in Turkey.

Taking a cruise is one of the most underrated things to do in Turkey. Embark on an enchanting voyage across the mysterious Black Sea. Cruise through a realm steeped in history. Witness stunning landscapes as you traverse from picturesque coastal towns such as Trabzon and Rize. You can also take a cruise from the North Sea to the Black Sea, an epic 30-day cruise journey from Istanbul to Amsterdam that covers a huge number of historic sites in Europe.

Alternative routes:

  • Turkey to the Greek Islands: The romantic Greek islands are just a stone’s throw from the idyllic Turkish Mediterranean coast. Ships from Izmir go to Santorini and Mykonos while the Bodrum cruises also include Naxos, Paros, and a few other islands.

Best season: July and August are the busiest months to take a cruise trip, while April and May offer great weather and a less crowded experience.

6. Shop ‘Til You Drop in the Grand Bazaar

Visit the Grand Bazaar for some shopping in Turkey.
Shop for souvenirs in the markets in Istanbul.

Whether you like to wander through local bazaars in search for traditional wares or splurge on boutique finds, make sure to leave extra room in your suitcase when visiting Turkey. The Grand Bazaar is a must visit location for shopping. With its massive selection of items available at an affordable price range, you will want to wear comfortable shoes to undertake this shopping extravaganza.

Alternative destination:

  • Egyptian Spice Bazaar: This is another of Istanbul’s most iconic markets with rows of colorful handmade sweets, fragrant spices, and buckets full of tea on sale. Sweet tooths will especially love the decadent baklava sitting in gleaming golden display cases, waiting to be gobbled up.

Best season: Markets are less crowded during the winter months. If you visit during the summer months, from June to August, you will find enticing seasonal discounts.

7. Venture Off Road in Marmaris

Explore the outdoors in Marmaris.
Go on off-road adventures in the coastal city of Marmaris.

Turkey’s rugged landscape provides an excellent space for off-road adventures of all kinds. The mountains around the coastal city of Marmaris provide the best place for thrill seekers. Take a jeep safari or an ATV tour through the surrounding mountains for an exhilarating experience. Here are some of our best tours in Marmaris.

Best season: While July and August are the most popular months, September and October offer better rates.

8. Relax on Kabak Beach

Visit Kabak beach is Turkey which is surrounded by lush greenery.
Relax in Kabak beach which is surrounded by greenery.
Visit the blue lagoon on Oludeniz beach.
Watch the blue lagoon on Oludeniz beach in Turkey.

The Mediterranean coast of Turkey is quickly matching the popularity of other idyllic heavyweights like Greece and Malta. Escape to paradise on Kabak Beach during your trip to Turkey. This hidden gem is nestled between lush mountains and the turquoise Mediterranean. Unwind in rustic bungalows, relishing the harmony of nature. Indulge in crystal-clear waters, golden sands and breathtaking sunsets.

Alternative destination:

  • Oludeniz Beach: If you love all things beach-related, a visit to the Blue Lagoon is a must. This natural marvel on the southwest coast is famed for its tranquil setting and beauty.

Best season: June and July are the busiest times to visit Turkish beaches, but you can enjoy amazing weather starting as early as April and well into late September.

Watch Turkish chefs prepare Doner Kebab.
Try the world-famous Doner Kebab in Turkey.

Turkish food is characterized by heaps of flavor, a sharing mentality and an abundance of options. Eat your body weight in baklava, Turkish delights, and an extensive Turkish breakfast to enjoy the best of the country’s legendary cuisine.

Recommended dishes:

  • Doner Kebab: On every street corner, you will see giant rotating meat mounds. These juicy stacks of chicken or pork are thinly sliced and cooked to perfection. They are served on pita bread or with an assortment of pickles.
  • Turkish Delight: Seek out real hand-made Turkish delight that is made with starch to give it an extra gummy texture. For an extra special treat, get your hands on the colorful rolls of Turkish delight and nougat served together with pistachio, peanuts, rose petals, or chocolate.

Best season: There is no bad time to tuck into any Turkish delicacies. Enjoy markets and local merchants all year round.

10. Discover the Underground City of Derinkuyu

Visit Derinkuyu which is an old underground city.
Explore the underground city of Derinkuyu in Turkey.

Ancient civilizations built expansive cities underground that are still intact today. Derinkuyu is nearly twice as deep as Kaymakli at 85 meters below ground. It could have once housed up to 20,000 people and their livestock, a true feat of human engineering. Explore this long-lost way of living and marvel at the ingenuity it took to develop such advanced structures.

Alternative destination:

  • Kaymakli: Crawl through the narrow tunnels and hear the history of ancient humans that once occupied these caverns. This is not for the faint of heart as narrow tunnels wind deep into the ground to lead you into an ancient underground city nearly 40 meters deep.

Best season: Summer, which runs from June to August, is the busiest and the best time to explore the cool atmosphere of the caves, a welcome relief from the blistering heat outside.

Insider's Tip: One crucial travel tip when you are visiting Turkey is to explore the country's unique cuisine. Turkish cuisine is renowned for its delicious flavors and rich culinary traditions. From kebabs and baklava to Turkish tea and Turkish delight, there are countless dishes and treats to try. Don't miss the opportunity to sample regional specialties like lahmacun (Turkish pizza), mantı (Turkish dumplings), and gözleme (stuffed flatbread). Exploring the local food markets and dining at traditional restaurants will give you a true taste of Turkey and its vibrant culinary culture. — Sankalp Singh from Chasing Whereabouts

Lycian coast is home to the Lycian rock tombs.
Hike your way through the calming and serene Lycian coast.

As one of the best long-distance multi-day hikes in Europe, the Lycian Way is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Turkey. Stretching from Fethiye to Antalya, the full tour can take anywhere from 30 to 45 days to complete. But you can do shorter sections, including the picturesque eight-day hike from Fethiye to Kayaköy which offers panoramic views of the Mediterranean.

Alternative route:

  • St Paul’s Trail: As the second-longest trail in Turkey, St Paul’s Trail covers 500 kilometers from Perge, near Antalya to Yalvac, replicating the saint’s journey through Turkey. It can take up to a month to complete, but there are plenty of guided and self-guided tours that are around eight days in length. This gorgeous trail takes you from the Mediterranean Coast all the way into the mountains before finishing at the Ancient Roman city of Antioch in Turkey’s lake district.

Best season: The best time to hike in Turkey is the fall months of September and October, when the summer temperatures have eased. But since this is also the peak hiking season, make sure to book lodges, campsites and accommodations along the Lycian Way well in advance.

12. Bosphorus Cruise in Istanbul

Many cruises sail in the Istanbul Bosphorus bridge area.
See the iconic sites of Istanbul from a Bosphorus cruise.

If you are looking for things to do in Istanbul, a Bosphorus Cruise is one of the top attractions for good reason. Spanning the gap between Europe and Asia, there are dozens of ferries and boats that cross the strait every day. There are also plenty of pleasure cruises offering sunset champagne boat excursions and sightseeing cruises, where you can see popular locations like the Galata Tower and Topkapi Palace. You could also embark on a full-day excursion, which comes with onboard lunch and dinner.

Alternative destination:

  • Suluada Island: Known as the Turkish Maldives, a day trip via sailboat to Suluada Island is one of the top activities in Turkey. Sailing from the coastal city of Antalya, you will be transported to the crystal clear waters and white sand beaches.

Best season: The best time for boat trips in Istanbul is either in the spring or fall months (April to June, or September to October). Temperatures are not so hot during these seasons and there are not many tourists around.

For Suluada Island, the peak time to visit is the summer months (June to August) when the sea breeze offers a welcome respite from the scorching temperatures. To avoid the tourist rush, plan your trip for late May or early June.

13. Watersports in Fethiye

Scuba diver close to the airplane wreck in Kas.
Discover the airplane wreck in Kas while scuba diving.

As a coastal resort paradise, Fethiye has long been a popular destination for Turkish families and international visitors alike. One of the most fun things to do in Turkey is indulge in watersports. From scuba diving to kneeboarding to waterskiing, a trip to Fethiye has it all. If you are into diving, you can expect to encounter whale sharks, turtles, octopuses, cuttlefish, and several other marine creatures.

Alternative destination:

  • Sunken City of Kekova: If you want some watersports action with some history and culture thrown in for good measure, join a kayaking tour or hire your own kayak and paddle over the top of an ancient city. Located near the resort town of Kas, you can still see the walls of the old city under the waves.

Best season: The best time for coastal watersports is anytime from April to November.

14. Trek the Kackar Mountains

Small housing structures and foggy weather at Kackar Mountains.
Interact with local communities while on a trek to the Kackar Mountains.

Hiking in Alpine-style mountains might not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Turkey, but the Kaçkar Mountains are worthy of any trekker’s bucket list. With the mighty Mount Kaçkar rising to 3,937 meters, it can be a challenging trek. You can also opt for lower altitude trails of different lengths and difficulty levels.

Alternative destination:

  • Taurus Mountains: The Taurus Mountains in the south of Turkey are famous for hiking, mountain climbing and snowsports. These mountains are home to the source of two of Europe’s most iconic rivers: the Euphrates and Tigris. As it is close to the Mediterranean coastline, you can easily go inland for a day hike if you do not want to commit to a multi-day adventure.

Best season: The best season for hiking and trekking in Turkey is the fall (September to October) when the weather is not too warm or too cold and the majority of sun-seeking tourists have left.

With tranquil waters to the west and picturesque deserts to the east, Turkey is a land of diversity, tradition, and unmatched beauty. Still wondering what to do in Turkey? Contact our travel experts for a customized trip to Turkey with all your favorite activities.

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Published by Tim Green, updated on September 15, 2023
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