Being a country with an extensive and complex history, Turkey is a place where Eastern and Western cultures meet and interconnect, creating a truly unique and fascinating cultural environment.
Whether you are passionate about the history and culture, looking for a peaceful beach vacation, or chasing the astonishing and breathtaking views (and, maybe, some good places for Instagram pictures), they’re ready to welcome you when traveling to Turkey.
To not miss any must-see spots, here’s our list of the best things to do in Turkey:
1. Admire Pamukkale and Take a Bath at Hierapolis
Widely known around the world for its fantastic white travertine terraces, bright blue water, and thermal springs, Pamukkale, meaning “cotton castle” in Turkish, is located in the southwest of the country. Together with Hierapolis, the ancient Greek city just steps away, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
After admiring the natural beauty of white cascades, you can explore the necropolis, temples, and bath houses of the town and even relax in one of the hot spring pools, as Hierapolis has been a spa town for over two millennia! It is claimed that Cleopatra herself bathed in one of the pools, and it now proudly bears her name.
2. Start Your Day with a Turkish Breakfast
There are plenty of great foods in Turkey, don’t even get me started on baklava, kofte, pastirma, and others. The best way to try many small things at once is to order a Turkish breakfast, or “kahvalti”, which literally means “before coffee”. You can expect at least a few kinds of cheese and meat, olives, jam, butter, honey, eggs, yogurt, and some pastries, all served mezze-styled on small plates. Though its components might vary slightly in different places, you will never leave the table disappointed. And, of course, the best way to finish the breakfast is a cup of aromatic Turkish coffee!
3. Feel the Breath of Ancient Times in Hagia Sophia
Constructed in 537 CE, Hagia Sophia, which means “Holy Wisdom”, is considered to be a jewel of Byzantine architecture and is one of the top things to see both in Istanbul and Turkey. It came a long way, first being a Greek Orthodox cathedral and later a mosque during the times of the Ottoman empire, to end up as a museum for anyone who wants to learn more about the history of this colossal marvelous place.
4. Wander Underground in the Basilica Cistern
Another cool, and this time literally cool, place to see in Turkey, which is located in Istanbul, the Basilica Cistern is an underground ancient water reservoir. Being a contemporary of the Hagia Sophia, it is also located a stone’s throw away from it. The Basilica Cistern is the largest out of the hundreds of ancient cisterns that are hidden all around the city, and undoubtedly the most famous one. There are over three hundred backlit columns that rise above the water, setting up a mystical and unforgettable atmosphere. Earlier used to provide the surrounding areas with water, right now it is one of the top places to go in Turkey.
5. Watch the Dance of the Whirling Dervishes
Sufi whirling or Sufi dance is indeed a bewitching performance with the skirts of dervishes rising as if by some magic. This old ritual is on the verge of meditation, prayer, and dance. You can witness dervishes whirling in many locations across the country, however, remember that it is considered a religious ceremony, not just a tourist attraction, so it should be treated respectfully.
6. See Legendary Troy
For many centuries it was unknown if Troy really exists, or it is just one of the legends portrayed by Homer. However, in 1870 it has been claimed that it is located in Hisarlik, the archeological site and an ancient city located near Canakkale in northwestern Turkey. Even though many scientists still question if the city is genuinely Troy, it was recognized and added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage List in 1998. Even though you will not be able to climb into the authentic Trojan Horse or get acquainted with any of the Greek gods, Troy is the place any history lover must see while traveling to Turkey.
7. Fly a Hot Air Balloon in Cappadocia
Cappadocia is another ancient region in Turkey that attracts visitors from all over the world with its breathtaking rocky landscapes, sometimes called “fairy chimneys.” Although there are hundreds of things to do in the region, the most popular attraction in Cappadocia is a hot air balloon flying. Over a hundred hot air balloons rise up in the sky every morning before and after sunrise year-round. This is the scenery you cannot miss while visiting Turkey and a truly unforgettable experience!
8. Walk Through the Ruins in Ephesus
Located on the west shore of Turkey, Ephesus is a very well-preserved ancient city, which was founded in the 10th century BCE. If you want to get the impression of how life looked for ancient Greeks and Romans, you have to see this marvelous town! Tourist hotspots among the ancient ruins in Ephesus include the Library of Celsus, one of the biggest Roman libraries, the façade of which has been restored at the end of the 20th century, and the Ephesus Great Theater. In the town you can also see the crumbling remains of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.
9. Examine Mosaics in Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace is yet another tourist attraction in Turkey that had a long and exciting history before becoming a museum for all comers. For almost four hundred years this enormous palace has been a home for the sultans of the Ottoman empire. Today visitors can marvel at the rich decor and mosaic of the Harem, one of the most astonishing parts of the palace, or even visit the Imperial Treasury to see the most valuable pieces the sultan once possessed.
10. Treat Yourself to a Turkish Bath
One of the top things to do in Turkey after exploring the town is a visit to a Turkish bath or hammam, a tradition which started way back in the Ottoman Empire. During those times, hammams were used by the community as a place to get clean before coming to the mosque and at the same time as a local hangout spot. It is a fantastic way to relax, loosen up the tension in muscles, and become a part of the long-standing tradition.
11. Visit Kaleiçi, the Historic Old Town in Antalya
Even though Antalya is mostly known as a resort city in Turkey and is usually flooded with tourists who are coming for a beach vacation, there is so much more to it! One of the most beautiful sights in Antalya is the historic city center, Kaleiçi, that can win over any visitor with its picturesque harbor and charming buildings. Many eras and peoples imposed their marks on the town, so if you are nearby and have some time to walk around, check out this place!
12. Feel the Energy of Grand Bazaar
One of the most hectic places to go while in Turkey is the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, and you cannot miss this activity! It is one of the largest and oldest markets in the world with dozens of streets and a few hundred thousand visitors daily! It might take hours to list all the trinkets that can be found in the Grand Bazaar, with the most common being jewelry, lanterns, carpets, and antiques. Don’t feel bad to say no and leave if you don’t feel like buying, stay polite but unwavering, and remember that not everything you see is worth buying. Follow those rules and you’ll have a good chance of walking out with a genuinely unique souvenir.
13. Explore Köprülü Canyon & National Park
Located in Antalya in the south of the country, this national park is a great idea for a spring or summer weekend. It offers visitors beautiful rocky landscapes full of greenery, which you can enjoy while rafting or hiking. Köprülü Canyon National Park is a place that you cannot miss while visiting Turkey, especially if you enjoy active vacations. Oh, and by the way, even here, like anywhere in Turkey, you can explore some ancient ruins!
Well, what did you think? Do you have any other places to see and things to do in Turkey that we missed? Let us know in the comments below, and thanks for reading!