If you are planning a countrywide trip of the best and most fun things to do in Turkey, the good news is a huge choice leaves no-one disappointed. From exploring ruins to white water rafting to Black sea mountain trekking, Turkey satisfies every holiday maker with its vast range of activities and highlights.
Turkey, the 37th largest country, has a mass of historical and natural landmarks, as well as cultural and family-friendly activities. The choice can be overwhelming, in which case, use our travel planning and consultant service here. Otherwise, if you need ideas, look no further because we have listed our favourite activities, which also happen to be the most popular for good reasons.
1. Tour the Ancient City of Ephesus
The well-preserved streets of Ephesus are lined with evidence of what daily life was like for the ancient Greeks and Romans who inhabited the city for hundreds of years: the remains of their shops and schools, temples and public toilets
Highlights of the main site include the intricately carved facade of the Library of Celsus – once the third-largest library in the world – a huge open-air theater, a Roman bath and numerous monumental fountains and gates. Well worth the separate admission fee are the Terraced Houses. These luxurious residences belonged to the Roman elite and are full of mosaics, frescoes and marble worthy of an episode of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”
2. Pamukkale Thermal Pools: Take A Natural Sauna
The Pamukkale Thermal Pools are a very rare and splendid sight that can make you spellbound. The white calcareous landscape that is formed by the thermal springs loaded with limestones that result in a unique phenomenon of calcium deposits that takes various shapes of potholes, stalactites and cataracts. When you get to glance over the expansive white landscape with turquoise springs formed in different layers with the blue sky above, it is truly a mesmerizing sight. The pools are filled with therapeutic water that has the power to heal diseases such as skin ailments, eye problems, rheumatism and asthma among many. This is one of the most popular things to do in Turkey.
3. Scrub Up in a Hammam (Turkish Bath)
Getting soaped up and scrubbed down in a hamam (Turkish bath) is the traditional Turkish bathing experience that combines history and culture with pure pampering. These public baths were once an integral part of life in the Ottoman Era. Today, many of the more ornate surviving hammams are tourist attractions in themselves.
In a typical hammam experience, you first sweat it out amid the steam before an attendant scrubs your skin with a traditional kese mitten. Cold water is then thrown over your body before you have a tip-to-toe soapy wash that includes a (very short) massage.
Many of the most famous hammams are now like historical spas and offer extra services such as oil and aromatherapy massages, facials, and manicures that you can add on to your traditional soak and scrub.
Istanbul is home to some of Turkey's most lauded hammams, with lavish, domed marble interiors that provide one of the most luxurious and ornate bathing backdrops you're likely to ever have.
In particular, the Cağaloğlu Hamam, in business since 1741, and the Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamam, built by the famed Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan for Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, are two of the best places to visit for a scrub and soak that combines historic sightseeing with Turkey's most famous bathing experience.
4. Historical Attractions in Istanbul
Istanbul old city part, a UNESCO World Heritage site is a delightful collection of Ottoman and Byzantine landmarks. Highlights include the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, former home of Ottoman rulers; Topkapi Palace and the Basilica Cistern. The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul is one of the largest shopping markets in the world. So don’t forget to practice the age-old Turkish tradition of bargaining in many small shops selling everything from souvenirs to clothes to jewellery and household items.
5. Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride Over Cappadocia
Riding in a hot air balloon is the ultimate bucket list experience, and Cappadocia is one of the world’s top destinations for this adventure!
Rising above unique rock formations in a sea of colorful balloons will certainly be a highlight of your time in Turkey and is one of the best things to do in Cappadocia. Everyone we talked to who had done a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia was starry-eyed days later and swore the experience was worth every penny.
6. Shop in Colorful Bazaars
Despite the proliferation of shopping malls and grocery stores, traditional bazaar culture remains strong in Turkey. Most historic centers will have at least one çarşı, a shopping arcade or maze-like marketplace district with vendors selling everything from cheap souvenirs to handmade leather or metal crafts. Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar (known as the Kapalı Çarşı, or “covered marketplace” in Turkish) is the most famous example, but ones in cities like Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa are more atmospheric and authentic.
Equally colorful and important to local life is the pazar, an open-air market for fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables and other food products, as well as clothing and household goods. Depending on the town or city neighborhood, they might be set up in the street under rigged-up tarps, in an emptied parking lot or garage, or in a purpose-built structure. Held in different areas on set days of the week, they’re cheap and lively places to buy staples or just browse. Some large pazars, like the weekly market in the resort town of Fethiye, feature stalls selling gözleme (stuffed flatbreads) and other simple dishes to sate hungry shoppers.
7. Dervish: Watch The Sacred Dance
Dervish is a Sufi spiritual ceremony that involves people dancing to the music that is dedicated to the almighty. This involves spiritual practices called Sama and Dhikr that have been initiated by the Sufi saint, Rumi in the 13th century. This involves soothing songs, playing musical instruments, dance and soulful poetries that aim at spiritual upliftment. The swirling moves of the Sufi dancers in vibrant attires at the backdrop of soothing spiritual music can be one of the most soul refining experiences you can ever imagine.
8. Nargile Bars: Try Turkish Tobacco
Yet another layer to the ever so rich and opulent culture of the city is the tradition of the communal hookah pipe. You can experience the richness of Turkish tobacco in the Nargile bars. Just take a puff at the contemporary cafes where the traditional water pipe is served with coffee and other niceties. The beautifully adorned glass and wooden bottles of varied shapes and sizes with a long pipe attached make you feel like a sultan as you take a puff in élan.
9. Join a Food Tour in Istanbul
Istanbul is foodie central, and there are few better ways of discovering a city's culture than through its food.
Several local Istanbul tour companies run walking tours that focus on Istanbul's culinary heritage. They're an excellent way of supplementing your big-hitter sightseeing and getting to know the city on a more intimate level.
Depending on the itinerary you choose, the walks take you through some of the city's market districts, to local restaurants well off the normal tourist beat, street food stalls, and to specialist food purveyors - such as cheese mongers, confectioners, and coffee roasters - with plenty of sampling of local delicacies.
10. Glorious Antalya
Antalya presents Mediterranean Turkey in all its glory and beauty. Think pristine beaches, a cosmopolitan lifestyle, many family attractions and historical landmarks. As the second most popular holiday destination, every year thousands of nationalities including Brits, Germans, Middle Eastern and Americans visit the main city centre and smaller coastal resorts called Alanya, Side, Kemer, Golfing Belek, rustic Cirali and sitting on the outskirts, quaint but delightful Kas.