Turkey is a HUGE country and straddling the border between Europe and Asia, it also boasts a huge diversity of landscapes and cultures.
From coast to castles, hikes to hot air balloons, ruins to relaxation, Turkey’s got it all and honestly you could spend a year or more adventuring through this country and still not see everything.
But whose got the luxury of a whole year right?
Answer: Very few of us!
So here, to allow you to short circuit and cut to the chase, are my Turkey highlights – the 13 most awesome things to do in this country you shouldn’t miss!
- Best 10 Day Turkey Itinerary
- 18 Things to Know Before you Travel Turkey
- 23 Amazing Things to Do in the Middle East
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#1 Unwind at Kabak
I’m kicking off this list with an absolute belter and that’s because I reckon Kabak is Turkey’s most guarded travel secret!
Situated on the stunning Mediterranean coast, Kabak remains a rare undeveloped pearl in this otherwise resort-ridden post-paradise!
With its low key, alternative vibe, its gorgeous natural surrounds and its sense of intrepid isolation, Kabak really is the sort of place to kick off your shoes, unwind and get lost for a week, a month or a….
With few amenities and an “end of the road” feel, don’t come here expecting resorts and lidos, but if you’re looking to get away from the crowds and development that blight much of Turkey’s Mediterranean coast (and you’re into the boho vibes), this is the spot!
Discover more in this post I wrote all about why Kabak is Turkey’s most guarded travel secret.
#2 Discover Ancient Antalya
Also along the Mediterranean coastline is the gorgeous town of Antalya.
A major hub for those flying in and out to holiday on Turkey’s beaches, this city isn’t quite as quiet as sleepy Kabak, being well and truly on the tourist trail!
That said, most people simply fly in and shuttle out of Antalya, which means taking the opportunity to spend a night or 2 in this city can present you with a whole fresh sense of the area that many other travellers don’t get.
In particular, the old town and gorgeous port area of Antalya are well worth strolling.
Don’t forget to snap the scenic coastal views or dine on the foreshore here – it makes the perfect start or end to your Turkey trip.
And one of the best ways to discover the gorgeous surrounds of Antalya is to take a tour there with a local.
You can find a list of guided tours in Antalya (including costs and reviews) here at GetYourGuide.
I love GetYourGuide because they’re easy to use and book with, and offer some of the best prices around.
#3 Ferry Across the Bosporus
There’s not many cities that can boast a border in their midst – and there’s even fewer that can boast a border between continents!
But that’s just what the city of Istanbul has, and traversing between the 2 halves of this city on a ferry is undoubtedly one of the most memorable things to do in Turkey.
Even without the geographical significance, this gorgeous ride across or along the Bosphorus River gives you incredible city views and some delightful, fresh sea air, but when you get to tick off crossing continents on a boat off your bucket list, it’s even more rewarding!
And there’s plenty of choice too, with several ferry docks in this city – the main ones can be found in Karakoy, Kabatas, Besiktas and in Eminonu on the European side and Uskudar and Kadikoy on the Asian side.
Simply rock up and buy a ticket for the next sailing – which is usually no more than 15 minutes away.
There’s actually 22 public ferry lines along the Bosphorus, which are priced according to the distance travelled, so the only thing you need to do is pick your destination.
Worth noting, Boshporous ferries only run until 11pm.
#4 Tick Hagia Sofia & Blue Mosque Off Your List
And while we’re on the subject of Istanbul, we couldn’t mention this capital and not discuss 2 of its most famous sights – visiting them is definitely one of the top things to do in Turkey!
First up, Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque was originally constructed in Roman items as a Cathedral, and is one of the world’s first examples of Byzantine architecture – let’s not forget Constantinople (as Istanbul was formerly known) was the capital of the Byzantine empire.
When Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire however, the Church was converted into a Mosque, before becoming a museum as part of a secular country from 1935 until 2020.
After this, Hagia Sofia has once again been converted into a religious building.
You can still visit the Hagia Sofia, and I recommend doing so with an audio guide, which will also help you skip the line!
Alternatively, you can take a tour of Hagia Sofia, which would include fast-track access too.
This top-rated small group tour includes a professional licensed local guide and entrance to Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern and Topkapi Palace Harem.
And once you’ve visited Hagia Sofia, you also can’t miss seeing the Blue Mosque.
Built between 1609 and 1616, and listed by UNESCO in 1985, this is the largest Mosque in Istanbul and sits next door to Hagia Sofia.
The Mosque gets its name from the stunning, hand-painted blue tiles that adorn its interior walls, as well as the coloured lights that illuminate it at night.
#5 Revel in the Grand Bazaar
Ok, so this is a pretty touristy thing to do in Istanbul and it’s likely that if you’ve been to any other huge souks in this part of the world (or the Middle Eats) you might feel slightly let down by the Grand Bazaar, but there’s no doubt you’ve still got to come and see it during your time in Istanbul.
One of the most iconic things to do in Turkey, this is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world and with over 4000 shops you’re bound to find something you want to buy!
Be it souvenirs, food or practical items, this huge shopping spot has it all – but as always just remember to watch your bags and haggle on those prices!
The Grand Bazaar is closed on Sundays and public holidays, so avoid these days, otherwise wandering it by yourself is totally safe to do… the main danger is getting lost.
If you want to avoid that, check out this great 5 hour walking tour of Istanbul, which includes a visit to the Grand Bazaar and the spice market (another fav of mine), as well as the Blue Mosque among its highlights.
#6 Kick Back in Kadikoy
The coolest spot in Istanbul in my opinion, Kadikoy is a youthful, slightly-alternative suburb on the “Asian” side of the city that boasts an array of cute streets, funky cafes, quirky shops and generally wander-friendly delights.
It also has some great water views and pulses to a decidedly quirky beat.
If you have any time in Istanbul, I highly suggest factoring some kickback, Kadikoy coffee quota into your itinerary!
#7 Take in the Ruins at Ephesus
Known to be one of the best-preserved set of Roman ruins in the world, there’s no doubt that Turkey’s Ephesus is a must-see when visiting this country.
Situated near the city of Izmir and the gorgeous town of Selçuk, a full day at this fascinating archaeological site will give you just enough time to wander what really is a whole city, complete with streets, theatres, temples, houses and more.
Wandering right through the heart of this ancient town, it’s hard to not imagine Roman people doing the very same thousands of years ago and it’s honestly quite astounding to discover this UNESCO-listed experience really is as accessible as it is.
Learn more about how to see these ruins, including how to get there and where to stay in this guide I wrote to visiting Selçuk.
#8 Drink Wine in Şirince
Only 15-minutes by bus from Selçuk and the gorgeous ruins of Ephesus, the Greek village of Şirince is all about the wine!
Tastings here are a big part of the attraction, as are the very insta-worthy views!
This definitely makes an excursion here one of the best things to do in turkey in my opinion.
Taking a day trip here is the best way to enjoy the viticulture of this area and to really get into the local spirit of it all – check out this good option, which actually runs from Istanbul and includes Ephesus too!
#9 Soak in the Sunset at Pamukkale
And another great side trip from Izmir, Selçuk or if you’re visiting Ephesus, is to the blue cascading mineral pools of Pamukkale.
Many people day trip here, but honestly I’d even advise extending it to an overnight stay if you possibly can because it is amazing!
A bizarre calcite formation, Pamukkale looks like it belongs more in Iceland than Turkey, but this really fun, natural attraction is a must, especially if you stay to enjoy sunset after the rest of the day trippers go home!
As the golden light bounces off the pools and ice-like structure, onto the surrounding rural landscape around, there’s no words for this level of natural spectacle!
#10 Hot Air Balloon in Cappadocia
Ok, so now we’re really starting to roll out the big guns!
Enter not only one of the best things to do in Turkey, but one of the best things to do in the world, ever!
Yes if you haven’t tried hot-air ballooning yet (as I hadn’t before I got to Turkey’s Cappadocia), then you’re in for a real treat as I honestly can’t think of a better place to have your first experience.
That said, it’s also going to be truly breathtaking if it’s your 2nd, 3rd or 4th hot air balloon experience, as there really is nothing like soaring over this otherworldly landscape in such a calm, peaceful way.
Learn more in this post I wrote about the wonderful things to do in Cappadocia + an itinerary for your time there, the only other thing to know is that you should go!
Although not cheap, it’s well worth the splurge!
#11 Get Lost in Love Valley
And following on from hot air ballooning, another top thing to do in the Cappadocia area of Turkey is to head out on a hike… and there’s few places better to do it than the aptly named “Love Valley”.
Honestly, there’s loads of beautiful walks to do this area, many that can be accessed right from the front door of your hostel if you stay in Goreme – but the scenery of Love Valley takes some beating and as soon as you get there you’ll know what I mean!
Allow half a day to a full day for this great hike, which can easily be accessed via one of the handy shuttle buses that are put on for travellers.
#12 Sleep in a Cave Hotel
And while you’re in the Cappadocia area, who can resist the opportunity to sleep in a cave hotel, or eat in a cave restaurant for that matter!
Yes this bizarre and totally unique place, Cappadocia was one of the earliest Christian settlements, and to avoid persecution, many people lived underground. Which is why there’s a huge amount of cave networks there that have been maintained until this day.
This means many of the area’s buildings are constructed underground (it also helps regulate temperatures), including hotels!
Sleep in a cave hotel really is the only way to experience Cappadocia in my opinion, so jump board the trend and book your stay in one too!
Here’s some top picks in Göreme, which is the main town in the area and probably the best place to base yourself if you don’t have a car..
#13 Hike the Lycian Way
And on the hiking theme, did you know that one of the world’s best long distance hiking trails runs through Turkey?
Yes the Lycian Way is strung out along the country’s Mediterranean coast – roughly between the cities of Antalya and Fethiye – and provides days of gorgeous coastal hiking through pine forest, past waterfalls and with azure blue sea views.
Day walks and multi-day walks are also possible along this trail, so don’t think you have to tackle the whole thing to get an idea of its beauty.
Instead, select a section and consider the accommodation options along the way – with tons of little towns, villages and hamlets dotted throughout, this is a great way to get off the beaten track in Turkey.
Looking for More Top Things to Do in Turkey?
If you’re looking for more great things to do in Turkey then check out these options…
- Mount Nemrut
- Gallipoli & Troy
Recommended Turkey Tours
If you’d rather not travel to Turkey independently, but still want to see the best of this amazing country, then why not check out these top Turkey tours.
Covering a huge range of destinations in the country, and varying in length from 1-3 weeks, there’s loads of choice here, meaning you’re bound to find your perfect trip!
Best Travel Insurance for Turkey
I would never think of travelling anywhere these without proper coverage and always recommend travel insurance from World Nomads which I’ve used during my time in this country and throughout the Middle East.
I love their great coverage of hiking activities – crucial for travel in a country like Turkey – as well as their excellent customer service and ability to claim online, which is very handy if you’re travelling in remote places for a long time.
Alternatively, if you’re a long-term traveller, digital nomad or frequent remote worker looking for travel insurance, then look no further than Safetywing’s great Nomad Insurance policies.
These guys will cover you at some seriously great prices!
5 Packing Essentials for Turkey
#1 Turkey Lonely Planet – Still my go-to when it comes to guidebooks, the Turkey Lonely Planet packs in a huge amount of information and will likely save you the cost of a guide in many of this country’s fabulous historical attractions and rich cultural cities.
#2 Good Camera – From the lunar landscape of Cappadocia to the azure turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, the bustling bazaars of Istanbul and ancient ruins of Ephesus, you’ll need a good travel camera for Turkey and the Sony A6000 mirrorless ticks my box every time!
#3 Headscarf – If you’re heading to see any mosques in Turkey, ladies will need to come prepared with a headscarf to enter, as well as a long skirt or pair of pants and long-sleeved top.
#5 Rain Jacket – I visited Turkey in May, technically the start of summer and the high season, but was amazed how chilly and wet it was when in some parts of the country like Istanbul and Cappadocia. Having my North Face lightweight, windproof and waterproof jacket therefore saved my life!
Best Place to Stay in Turkey on a Budget
- Istanbul – Moda Hostel in Kadikoy
- Cappadocia – Cave Hotel Saksagan in Goreme
- Izmir – ANZ Guesthouse in Selçuk
- Med Coast – Reflections Camp in Kabak
SAVE THIS TO PINTEREST!
So I guess only one question remains following my list of these 13 awesome things to do in Turkey and that is… when are you booking your trip there?!