epic things to do in Turkey

20 Epic Things to Do in Turkey for a Bucket List Experience!

Last updated on February 6th, 2024

When I help others build their own Turkey itinerary, the first thing people ask me is what are the best things to do in Turkey that should be on a travel bucket list.

Well, there are quite a lot of activities and attractions as Turkey is huge and rich in diverse experiences. Depending on the region, there is a large number of unique landscapes and cultural offerings that make each area special.

But if you are not going to one particular region and need a general understanding of the best locations and sightseeing spots in Turkey as a whole, it is important to have a plan on where to go and what to see in the first place. With this post, you’ll be able to do just that.

Get inspired and experience all the most amazing activities in Turkey that are the top things to choose for getting to know this country. It is not just a mere inspiration but a full getaway to Turkey with must-do adventures and some hidden gems.

I have traveled around Turkey a lot (and continue to do so until this day) and want to share my knowledge to assist you in discovering as many wonders of this incredible destination as you can!


Please note: This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a commission if you make a purchase or booking by clicking a link (at no extra cost to you).

Best Things to Do in Turkey (Unusual Things & Lesser-Known Activities)  

To make it easier to browse through my list of things to see and do in Turkey, I organized them into three groups of experiences based on their popularity, kind of bucket list status, lesser-known locations, and just beautiful things to do that make Turkey special.

As I continue exploring Turkey, I constantly add more information on the best places to visit and what to do in different parts of the country. I intend to expand upon this guide in the upcoming months, so you’ll have more suggestions for things to do in Turkey.

Meanwhile, if you have other must-do activities in Turkey to add to my list, your suggestions are welcome, share them in the comments below.

Top 10 Things to Do in Turkey (Must Dos)

1. Explore Istanbul’s Historic Sights

one day in Istanbul

Planning a trip to Turkey is impossible without including Istanbul on the list as it is one of the best Turkish cities with centuries-old history. Nowever else in the world will you find a place like it which has been the capital of Christian Byzantium and the Muslim Ottoman Empire, with its own long list of things to do.

Istanbul’s main landmarks like the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace (once home to Ottoman sultans), and others are not just beautiful and important. They are living testimonies to the diverse cultures that shaped Istanbul over the years.

Once you go, besides checking out all the famous sights, take the time to go to Istanbul’s best restaurants and cafes, explore its romantic spots together with some hidden gem locations, and if time permits, check out one of the places not far from Istanbul.

If you’ll be spending in Istanbul 4 days or less, I highly recommend you do a walking tour that lets you visit both sides (European and Asian) like this Two Continents tour or a free tour from Europe to Asia if you are on a budget. In this way, you’ll see all the highlights and decide for yourself which ones you liked more and where you want to return on the following day.

Do you need more inspiration for what to do in Istanbul? I have a ton of posts on my Istanbul travel guide page!

2. Stay in All-Inclusive Hotel

Turkey tourist attraction list

Including a stay in an all-inclusive hotel in Turkey is a must-do for several reasons. #1 reason is that Turkey offers one of the best all-inclusive experiences globally with exceptional hospitality, breathtaking coastal locations, and a wide array of inclusive amenities.

The number of gorgeous properties for different budgets is just huge and there is a chance to stay in luxurious resorts that look more like mini-cities with direct access to the sea or charming boutique hotels, all offering the convenience of all-inclusive packages.

The finest all-inclusive deals are scattered throughout Antalya region, in Bodrum and Marmaris, Cesme, Belek, Kemer, and Side. But there are also smaller all-inclusive hotels in Dalyan for people on a budget.

Check out the majority here to have an idea of what all-inclusive hotels in Turkey are like.

3. Wonder at the Surreal Landscapes of Cappadocia

Uchisar in winter
Goreme city

Going to Cappadocia is going to be one of the best experiences in Turkey as this journey will allow a dreamlike realm that is both visually stunning and culturally rich.

Situated in central Turkey, it is a place with extraordinary geological formations, unique rock-cut architecture, and a landscape that seems to belong to another world.

The primary reason to come to the area is the iconic fairy chimneys created by volcanic eruptions and erosion over millions of years. They are scattered across the region, creating an atmosphere that captivates the imagination. 

Beyond the fairy chimneys, Cappadocia boasts an intricate network of cave dwellings, underground cities, and rock-cut churches. The Göreme Open-Air Museum, for example, showcases those churches adorned with ancient frescoes, providing a glimpse into the rich Byzantine heritage of the region.

Any number of days in Cappadocia is never enough, but if you have limited time in Turkey and traveling from Istanbul, plan to come to this region for at least 2 full days with the all-inclusive package.

4. Visit the Pamukkale Terraces & Cleopatra’s Pool

visiting Pamukkale

Pamukkale is one of the main attractions of Turkey, this is why it should sit high on every itinerary.

From Turkish, Pamukkale translates as “cotton castle” because of its striking appearance, resembling a cascading castle made of cotton. You’ll find it in the southwestern part of the country which is easy to visit on a road trip from Antalya, from Izmir, or when driving from Fethiye

One of the primary reasons to explore Pamukkale is the surreal appearance of the terraces that remind a cascade of frozen, cotton-like waterfalls. These terraces are formed by the flow of calcium-rich mineral water from hot springs, creating stunning, terraced pools over time. The sight is not only visually stunning but also unique in the world, earning Pamukkale recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Swimming in these terraces is not allowed anymore but you can definitely put your feet or hands in the water and splash as much as you want.

And then for swimming, go take a dip in the healing waters of Cleopatra’s Pool which is among the best hot spring pools of Turkey. It is in the ancient city of Hierapolis, adjacent to Pamukkale.

Unusual Excursions to Pamukkale

 

5. Try a Turkish Bath (Hammam) Experience

romantic things to do in Istanbul

Trying a Turkish Bath is a cultural and rejuvenating experience that immerses you in the traditional Turkish way of relaxation and cleansing. A Hamam is a centuries-old practice, deeply ingrained in Turkish culture with a blend of physical and spiritual rinse.

It consists of a real cleansing ritual which includes relaxation in a warm and steamy room, scrubbing, and thorough soap massage, which helps release tension and stress, providing a holistic and soothing experience.

Going to a hammam is a unique thing to do in Turkey which resembles in some ways hammam experiences in Spain and Morocco.

The number of hammams is big but my favorite ones are in Istanbul, Izmir, and Bursa. In Istanbul in particular you get the opportunity to immerse yourself in history and warm water simultaneously as most hammams are very old historic baths.

6. Explore Well-Preserved Ancient Greek & Roman Ruins in Ephesus

visiting Ephesus

Ephesus is one of the best ancient cities in Turkey and one of the most extensive and best-preserved archaeological sites in the world, that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

The significance of Ephesus lies in its role as a major Greek city and later a thriving Roman metropolis, making it a melting pot of cultures, architectural styles, and historical narratives. The city flourished during the Roman period and was famous for its grand structures, such as the Library of Celsus, the Great Theatre, and the Temple of Artemis – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Additionally, Ephesus is associated with biblical history, being mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles as a site where Saint Paul preached. The Terrace Houses, showcasing well-preserved Roman villas with elaborate frescoes and intricate mosaics, offer a glimpse into the lifestyles of the affluent during that period.

So visiting Ephesus provides a tangible link to the roots of Western civilization, offering a profound educational and cultural experience.

Learn more about Ephesus and its history here and if you decide to see it, visit in the first part of the day when going on your own or skip the lines with the guide if coming from the cruise.

7. Relax on One of the Beaches of Antalya

must visit beach in Turkey

Don’t get me wrong, Turkey has many gorgeous beaches. Some of my favorites are beaches in Bodrum, Marmaris, and even a couple of beaches in Istanbul. But Antalya’s beaches are so diverse and breathtaking that not going to at least one would be a huge miss!

Exactly in Antalya, you’ll find beaches near ancient ruins, those with blue waters like in Miami, or hidden beaches with golden sand and recreational activities. Many beaches also have Blue Flag status ensuring high quality standards.

And the best part – all public beaches in Antalya are free and the number of them is so high that you can visit a beach in any town or city you go to in the province! Some are awesome for sunbathing even in winter.

If I could highlight just a few, I’d say don’t miss a swim on Kaputas Beach (between Kas and Kalkan, a hidden gem with turquoise waters and a narrow gorge leading to the sea), Çıralı Beach (known for a mix of sand and pebbles and nesting sea turtles), and Kumburnu Beach in Oludeniz which has the most beautiful color of the water.

But for all beaches, you need to see my guide about the best beaches in Antalya.

8. Dine at a Meyhane (Turkish Tavern)

eating meze in meyhane
Mediterranean Mezze Platter in Turkey

Many foodie experiences in Turkey should be on the list of must-have activities, including trying a traditional Turkish breakfast, traditional dinner, or just eating the best kebab. 

But one of the unique things to do is to dine in a Meyhane, a traditional Turkish tavern or pub that typically specializes in serving mezes (Turkish appetizers) along with alcoholic beverages, particularly Rakı (a traditional Turkish anise-flavored alcoholic drink). 

Meyhanes are made in a way that promotes social interaction and lively conversations over small plates of meal (in some way similar to tapas in Spain). Sometimes live music is present too to contribute to a convivial atmosphere.

Every city and town in Turkey will have a meyhane. But if you are in Istanbul, my top tip would be to join this tour that includes street food together with a night of meze and tradition.

9. Go on a Lycian Way Hike (At Least Some Part of It)

must-do thing in Turkey

Lycian Way is a very famous long-distance hiking trail stretching approximately 540 kilometers from Fethiye to Antalya. Established in 1999, it offers a diverse and one of its kind experience with breathtaking coastal views and ancient ruins along the challenging terrains. It is a must do thing in Turkey for hikers.

But not only professional hikers will love it since some parts of the trail are pretty accessible and easy to cover for people who don’t hike a lot, so it is possible to go even with little kids. And when there, you can do two different things – enjoy the scenery and touch upon ancient Lycian civilization.

When I lived in Istanbul, I often visited southern Turkey either to go to one of the quiet villages and coastal towns there or to hike in different locations of Lycian Way.

If I could share my favorite stretches of the trail, I’d say include a hike from Kalkan to Kas (with views of the Mediterranean, less challenging compared to other sections), Demre to Finike (a coastal section with a relatively flat and easy trail with beautiful sea views), and Olympos to Çıralı (known for its archaeological remains, including the Olympos Theater and the Lycian League Tower, and ancient city of Phaselis).

10. Go Shopping For Leather & Fur Clothing

Turkish leather clothes

Another famous thing that Turkey is known for is the production of high-quality leather and fur goods, particularly winter and demi-seasonal coats, including leather blazers, pants, trench coats, and suits. But leather shoes and accessories are of very good quality too.

So if you are going on holidays to Turkey, you may want to include a tour of the factory and adjacent store to see techniques on leather and fur production that are passed down through generations, and of course, buy something for yourself or your family members.

With a wide range of products and the opportunity for personalization, the experience extends beyond just shopping, as every visitor also gets a cultural immersion in vibrant bazaars and historical districts. Turkey’s historical connection to the leather industry adds significance to the purchase, making it a memorable and worthwhile activity for visitors.

Best places where to go to shop for leather and fur clothing are Istanbul, Izmir, Antalya, Bursa, and Bergama. But you can also go on a shopping tour in Cappadocia where you’ll have half a day to shop in a small group. 

Unique Things to Do in Turkey for Couples

11. Go on a Boat/Yacht Cruise

best thing to do in Turkey for couples

To appreciate the beauty of Turkey in its fullness, you need to see it from the sea, receiving a unique perspective of its coastline. Doing it is easy from pretty much any big city or small town on the coast of Turkey as it has a myriad of cruise options, catering to different preferences and interests.

Pirate boats, historical excursions, leisurely sailing on a yacht, or vibrant nightlife on the water, there’s a cruise for every type of traveler. The cost of these cruises varies, ensuring flexibility for different budgets.

Turkish seaside, bordered by the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, is adorned with pristine beaches, hidden coves, and small cute islands which are best to visit by boat. Opting for a cruise allows you to explore these coastal gems, each with its own charm and character. 

My favorite routes are those around Bodrum to crystal clear waters, around Marmaris (because they stop at hidden coves), around Antalya, and one to Kekova sunken city from Demre or Kas.

12. Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride Over the Fairy-Tale Landscapes of Cappadocia

adventurous thing to do in Cappadocia

You have probably seen magical photos of hot air balloons soaring into the sky with the first rays of the sun over fields with whimsical rock formation. They were taken in a beautiful land of Cappadocia known for its unique geological features (that are called fairy chimneys) and cave hotels.

Going on a hot air balloon ride is one of the must-do things in Cappadocia and best thing to do in Turkey which you will remember for the rest of your life. Imagine soaring where the sun paints the sky with hues of orange and pink, casting a warm glow over distinctive rock spires below.

As you float above the ancient cave dwellings, the silence of the morning is only broken by the occasional whisper of the wind. It’s that experience in Turkey that transcends the ordinary, leaving an indelible mark on your memories of this destination.

Flights take place every day but sometimes on winter days in Cappadocia they are canceled due to bad weather. Anyone can experience a hot air balloon ride – you just need to choose one of the numerous companies.

But if you are like me and are afraid to fly, then rent a car in Cappadocia (through my guide find out where is the best place to hire a car) or go watch air balloons fly close (like in my photo)!

13. Spend a Day in the Beach Club

best thing to do in turkey in summer
One of the beach clubs in Bodrum – must do when you are there!

Among summer activities to do in Turkey, going to a beach club is one of my absolute favorites because Turkish beach clubs provide a backdrop of crystal-clear waters, golden sands, and scenic beauty, creating an idyllic atmosphere for relaxation and enjoyment.

They are usually set by the stunning coastal landscape on the shores of the Aegean or Mediterranean Seas and have luxurious amenities like comfortable sun loungers, private cabanas, and exclusive beachfront access. Many clubs offer high-end services such as spa treatments, VIP lounges, and gourmet dining, elevating the overall beach experience.

Every big city in Turkey by the coast will have a beach club. So if you go on a sea vacation to any of them, check on the maps what beach clubs are available in the area and have a fantastic day relaxing in one of them!

Here is my first reel from the very first beach club I visited in Bodrum:

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Anya | Travel Planner (@roadiscalling)

14. Have a Tandem Paraglide Flight Over the Blue Lagoon

paragliding in Oludeniz

Doing a tandem paraglide flight over the Blue Lagoon in Oludeniz is an extraordinary and romantic experience for couples in Turkey, even though it might be considered scary and is not an adventure everyone might choose.

But if you enjoy thrilling experiences then this top tourist attraction in Turkey will be one of the most memorable things.

With it, you’ll be able to soar high above turquoise waters and Fethiye mountains, getting a full birds-eye view of the lagoon, the coastline, and the lush landscapes below.

Every time Mark and I visit Fethiye, we tell ourselves that we are going to do tandem paragliding. But every time I just chicken out and choose to sit on the beach watching paragliders fly above my head. That’s a separate attraction of its own as the entire process is quite mesmerizing and the beach in that area is totally gorgeous!

If you decide to participate in this bucket list Turkey activity, you can always make arrangements on spot in Fethiye. But for summer travel, it is better to pre-book it in advance. Check here the top ten paragliding experiences with prices.

15. Enjoy the Most Scenic Train Route Across Turkey in Doğu Express

most scenic train ride in Turkey

One of my absolute favorite and most scenic things to do in Turkey is to be a passenger of the Doğu Express picturesque train that runs between Ankara and Kars and covers a distance of 1300 kilometers within a 32-hour journey.

A trip seems to be long but in my experience, this much time is not enough to enjoy breathtaking Anatolian landscapes with Türkiye’s cultural richness. It is like a cruise where you explore the country not by ship but by train and make multiple stops in towns and villages along the route to do local exploration.

This train ride is among the top four most beautiful train routes in Turkey and if I had to compare it to other scenic train rides in the world, I’d say that it is as beautiful as train rides found in Switzerland, England, Japan, and Canada.

If you make this trip happen, be ready to ride through the unreal landscapes of Anatolia, where high slopes meet mountain rivers. Sometimes you go through tunnels, other times through gorges or valleys. But every time views resemble Switzerland and Italy which makes it challenging to look away from the window.

There are two ways to do this trip, one by a public train that runs every week throughout the year and on a tourist route that gives service only from December to March. The second option is better as you have more time in towns where train stops which allows some time for exploring the region. For more details, refer to this site.

Other Fun & Secret Turkey Activities (Great for Families, Young Adults & Everyone Else)

16. Get Amazed With the Colossal Statues & Ancient Tombs at Mount Nemrut

amazing thing to see in Turkey

Traveling far to Mount Nemrut (located in southeastern Turkey near the city of Adiyaman. ) is going to be another adventurous thing you’ll do in Turkey that will be difficult to forget.

Mount Nemrut is a special place that is both a geographical feature and an archaeological site. It is a mountain with an elevation of 2,134 meters (7,001 feet) where a unique open-air museum sits on the summit with an ancient funerary complex built by King Antiochus I Theos of Commagene around 62 BC. 

This museum is basically an area with colossal statues (that remind me of a similar site in Juta village in Georgia) and ancient tombs that represent various deities and kings and look as if they’ve been frozen in time. The hike to the statues on the top of Mount typically takes around 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on your pace and the specific trail you choose. There are a couple of different paths to the summit that vary in difficulty.

You don’t really come to Mount Nemrut directly just to hike and see the statues. It is quite remote and is located in a region where there are not many things to do. 

The best way to visit this part of Turkey is on a tour through eastern Turkey where you travel to a few locations, including this one. There is for example a 2-night tour available from Cappadocia to Mount Nemrut that also includes a quick trip to Sanliurfa, a must-visit city in Turkey

17. See the Most Beautiful Mountains of Turkey – Kaçkar Mountains

hiking in Turkish mountains

In my experience, the Kaçkar Mountains in Turkey offer the most breathtaking mountains in Turkey with alpine landscapes, pristine lakes, and challenging trekking routes. The region is like a haven for people who love hiking, getting away in the wilderness, and seeing high-altitude areas with snowfields even in summer.

So if your main goal to travel to Turkey is to plan a trip for nature and you are all after mountain ranges, then make sure to add Kaçkar Mountains to your bucket list.

Best time to visit is from June to September from Rize or Artvin, both cities in the Black Sea region. If you come to Rize (part of the Karadeniz region), then combine a trip to the mountains with exploring local tea plantations as all Turkish tea you drink around Turkey comes from here.

The mountains area is quite remote and most people there don’t speak English. So you may want to plan a big multi-day trip to Eastern Turkey that will also include a visit to the Kaçkar mountain range. Otherwise, make arrangements with local guides to conquer Kackar Summit once you arrive in Trabzon.

Click here to see all tours of mountainous Turkey with the best tourist attractions and sightseeing spots.

18. Visit the Capital of Pistachios 

Gaziantep nature

One of the unique things to do in Turkey is to go to Gaziantep in the southeast of the country which is known among Turkish people as the pistachio capital of Turkey and celebrated for its pistachio-infused dishes, such as baklava and kebabs.

Culinary culture is enough of a reason to visit this city but besides it, there is much more to experience – a museum of Roman mosaics, a zoo, fortresses, mosques, and one interesting botanical garden.

The area of Gaziantep, one of the most important places of the Anatolian lands, as well as one of the oldest that is still inhabited, has been home to various civilizations, and it has a special place in the history of the Turkish War of Independence too. It was used to be called just “Antep”, but after the war, its name was changed to “Gaziantep”, with the addition of the word “Gazi”, meaning “war veteran” in Turkish. 

19. Witness the Beauty of One of the Most Beautiful Canyons in the World

visiting canyons in Turkey

Did you know that Turkey has some of the most impressive canyons each with its own unique features, geological formations, and opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, trekking, and even canyoning?

Yes, it does. And they offer not only breathtaking natural scenery but also opportunities for exploration and adventure.

Just like the renowned canyons in the US, Turkey’s diverse canyons also offer a ‘wow’ scenery with adventure, making them a must-visit place in Turkey for nature and explorations. 

The most popular canyons such as Goynuk, Koprulu, and Saklikent are located near famous resort cities. However, there are those that many may not have heard of like beautiful canyons in Artvin or Kastamonu. 

There is also The Ihlara Valley Canyon in Cappadocia which is often considered a smaller-scale version of the Grand Canyon. While it may not match the sheer scale of the Grand Canyon, Ihlara Valley impresses with its deep gorge, towering cliffs, and winding river, creating a similar sense of awe and wonder in a more compact setting.

20. Visit an Anitkabir Mausoleum in Ankara

lesser-known place in turkey

While there are many notable mausoleums worldwide, the uniqueness of Anıtkabir lies in its specific historical context and its association with a pivotal figure in Turkish history. This is why coming here is one of the unique and less-known things to do in Turkiye. 

The Anıtkabir Mausoleum is the final resting place of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder and first President of Turkish Republic. Located in Ankara, the capital city, it is a significant historical and cultural site that serves as a tribute to Atatürk’s leadership in the establishment of modern Turkey.

The mausoleum is a monumental structure and includes various sections, such as the Road of Lions, the Ceremonial Plaza, and the Hall of Honor, where Atatürk’s tomb is situated. The site is not only a place of remembrance but also a symbol of the Turkish War of Independence and the subsequent formation of the Republic.

While Ankara is not a top city to visit in Turkey, the mausoleum provides a great opportunity to learn about Atatürk’s life and legacy and witness ceremonial events held on special occasions. It holds immense importance for Turkish people and is a symbol of national pride and identity.

If you plan travel to Ankara around the following dates, you’ll see a grandiose performance around the mausoleum – April 23, May 19, Aug 30, Oct 29, and Nov 10.

Final Word

Seeing all these things in Turkey in one trip can be somewhat challenging unless a trip is long or if you will be just hopping from place to place trying to cover it all.

Do not be in a hurry to travel everywhere. Choose your top places and activities and have fun exploring Turkey at a slower pace. 

Bucket List Things to Do in Turkey
 
 

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