Turkey is one of the most captivating countries in the world, and everyone should visit it at least once. Straddling both Europe and Asia, the characterful country boasts a huge variety of stunning landscapes, bustling cities, peaceful villages, and countless things to see and do.
From the bizarre moon-like surroundings of Cappadocia and the picture-perfect beaches of Antalya to the larger-than-life mosques of Istanbul and the cute family-run seafood restaurants in Kaş, Turkey really does have something for everyone.
With so many incredible things to do, it can feel impossible to get started on planning your itinerary. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of the absolute best things to do in Turkey. Add these amazing attractions and activities to your Turkey bucket list and get ready to have a fantastic time discovering this country of contrasts.
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The 25 Best Things to Do In Turkey
1. Soar over Cappadocia in a hot air balloon
Cappadocia is the best place in the world to go on a hot air balloon ride! The unique landscape of the enchanted region looks incredible from high up in the sky.
The rugged sandy cliffs, green grassy patches, and rolling mountains far off in the distance are remarkable. Hot air balloons can travel as high as 6,000 feet, meaning you’ll see for miles and miles.
Most tours stick to the same plan. The hot air balloon company will pick you up from your hotel first thing in the morning when it’s still dark, and you’ll get to watch them prepare the basket and the balloon.
After your amazing trip, you’ll return to the ground and enjoy a decadent breakfast while they pack away all the equipment. It’s an incredible way to start your day.
Unpredictable weather means that the balloons don’t always fly every day. So play it safe and book your ride for the first day you’re in Cappadocia. If your trip gets canceled, you’ll be able to reschedule it for the next day and increase your chances of experiencing one of the most magical flights in the world!
2. Cool off at Duden Waterfalls
One of the top things to do in Turkey on a hot summer’s day is to visit the Duden Waterfalls. Although you can’t actually swim in the pools, the whole area is cool, shaded, and refreshing – perfect for when the sunshine gets to be too much for you.
The Upper Falls are surrounded by towering trees and thick plants. You can take a stroll along the bridge that leads over the falls, take a walk through the gorge, and check out a hidden cave behind the waterfall.
There are many beautiful parts to explore here and quiet shady areas where you can enjoy a picnic. If you visit on a weekend, you’ll also have the chance to pick up some unique gifts and souvenirs from the artisan stores that pop up.
The Lower Falls are on the coast, and you can admire them from land on the clifftop or from the sea as part of a boat tour. Although they’re not surrounded by lush greenery like the Upper Falls, they’re still remarkable to see.
3. Marvel at the Hagia Sophia
If you’re planning on spending some time in Istanbul, you’ve got to visit the Hagia Sophia. This colossal religious structure has been used by many different groups over the centuries. Because of this, its design, decorations, and artifacts are a hodge-podge from different ages, cultures, styles, and religions.
The 1,500-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site is instantly recognizable from its four pointed towers and domed roofs. For a truly stunning picture, visit in the evening when the sun is just starting to set, and the Hagia Sophia is lit with gentle, golden lights.
Step inside the building, and you’ll be blown away by its size. The ceiling is so tall that you can’t even admire the intricate details that adorn it. Many people pray inside the Hagia Sophia at all hours of the day, giving the place a really spiritual and meaningful atmosphere.
After exploring the ground floor, make sure you walk up the stairs and admire the second level. Here you can see artwork from medieval times that’s still mostly intact. It will also give you a better opportunity to see the detailed ceiling.
4. Ride the Eastern Express
For some of the best sights in Turkey, buy a ticket for the Eastern Express. Also known as Doğu Ekspresi, the Eastern Express is an enchanting train ride that takes you from Ankara to Kars.
The journey is around 814 miles long and passes by some of the most captivating landscapes Turkey has to offer. It takes more than 30 hours to get from point A to B, but as the journey is considered to be the fourth-best train route in the world, the time is definitely worth it!
Unlike a regular train journey, the Eastern Express makes long stopovers at several stations, so you’ve got the chance to explore. There are three-hour stops in Erzurum, Erzincan, Sivas, Divriği, and İliç.
For a truly magical experience, plan your trip for winter. There’s nothing like riding in a luxury train and gazing out the window at a gorgeous snowy scene with the sun slowly rising above the horizon.
5. Indulge in an authentic Turkish bath
There’s a huge amount to see and do in Turkey. When all the exploring wears you out, treat yourself to a relaxing Turkish bath. Unlike the steam room-like Turkish bath that you may have experienced in a sauna, an authentic Turkish bath is a complete treatment that will leave you feeling like a whole new person.
While there are a few mixed Turkish baths, most are separated, with one side for men and one side for women. You’ll start your indulgent journey in a hot marble-covered room. Here you can chill out while your skin softens and your pores open up.
Next up is the scrubbing stage. The bath attendant will scrub you with a special sponge to remove excess dead skin and dirt. Depending on the type of treatment you ordered, you might get a massage at this stage, too.
After, you’ll be doused in soapy suds and given a short, unwinding massage. For the final stage, your attendant will wash you down with cold water to close your pores and leave you to relax for as long as you want.
6. Start the day with a Turkish breakfast
Treating your taste buds to a lavish Turkish breakfast is one of the must-do things in Turkey. The local equivalent of a spectacular weekend brunch, a Turkish breakfast includes every type of breakfast food you could ever imagine – and more!
From the typical breads, pastries, and eggs to meats, cheeses, and yogurts, a Turkish breakfast is one meal that even the pickiest eaters will enjoy. Unlike most standard brunches, Turkish breakfast also includes fresh salad with plump tomatoes, juicy cucumber, and savory olives.
Turkish breakfasts are usually served as one giant, overflowing tray per person. It’s practically impossible to eat everything, so don’t feel bad if you can’t finish it. You can always ask for a doggy bag and dig into the leftovers for lunch.
The Mesopotamian Terrace Restaurant in Istanbul is one of the best places in Turkey for a decadent breakfast. Here you can enjoy amazing views of the Hagia Sophia and the sea. The food is even more incredible than the view and is guaranteed to fill you up for a jam-packed day of sightseeing.
7. Bathe in the thermal pools of Pamukkale
Pamukkale is one of those places you need to see to believe. The name translates as “Cotton Castle,” and that’s pretty much what it looks like – layers of castle terraces made of white, fluffy cotton candy.
Instead of cotton candy, the ancient UNESCO World Heritage Site is actually made up of the carbonate mineral left behind by the thermal spring water, which flows from the top to the bottom.
The baby blue pools are wonderfully warm year-round. So no matter which month you visit, you can always take a dip and enjoy the healing benefits of the minerals.
The pools at the top are the busiest because they’re the easiest ones to access. If there are a lot of crowds, work your way down to one of the lower pools. You might be able to find one all to yourself and snap some incredible pictures!
When you’re soaking in the pools, take the time to enjoy the view. Pamukkale towers above the region below, giving you an excellent view that spans for miles. If you’re staying in the area, you might even be able to spot your hotel from here.
8. Be surrounded by beauty at the Istanbul Tulip Festival
If you’re planning on visiting in spring, one of the best Turkey attractions to check out is the Istanbul Tulip Festival. Held every year across March, April, and May, the colorful festival sees the cosmopolitan city come to life with more than 30 million vibrant tulips.
Everywhere you go, you’ll see the flowers brightening up the place. From roundabouts in the middle of roads and planters alongside avenues to huge flowerbeds in parks and in baskets along the Bosphorus, no matter where you look, you’ll see tulips!
One of the top places in the city to admire the flowers is in the Sultanahmet’s Hippodrome outside the Blue Mosque. Here a huge flower carpet made up of more than half a million tulips is displayed every year.
It’s not just tulips that bloom during the Istanbul Tulip Festival. Thousands of other flowers are planted throughout the city, too, making spring one of the most stunning times of year to visit.
9. Get messy in a mud cave
Not too keen on the idea of a Turkish bath? Then try a mud spa instead! The Cappadocia Mud Cave (known locally as Katpatuka Camur) is the best place to unwind while having fun at the same time.
Your experience begins with a natural foot treatment in a warm, dark room with mood lighting. You place your legs into clear glass tanks, and tiny fish nibble away at all your dead skin. It’s a bizarre sensation to begin with, but it really does leave your feet feeling super soft.
Next, it’s into the relaxing pool. This shallow pool isn’t designed for swimming. Instead, the carefully chosen temperature and soft red lights help you relax while your pores open up.
Stage three is the most fun part – the mud bath! After your pores have opened, you immerse yourself in a thick, warm mud bath that’s loaded with healing minerals.
The Cappadocia Mud Cave is located about an hour’s walk away from Goreme National Park. If you don’t mind the walk, it’s a great way to loosen up after exploring the fairy chimney rock formations.
10. Crunch on deep-fried manti
Turkey boasts all kinds of delicious food, and manti is one dish you’ve simply got to try. Classic manti is made of bite-sized soft dumplings stuffed with seasoned lamb or beef. They’re covered with a cool and creamy yogurt sauce and usually served as an appetizer.
While regular manti is good, deep-fried manti is great! This type of manti has a crispy, golden exterior that’s incredibly moreish. Deep-fried manti isn’t doused in a yogurt sauce. Instead, it’s usually served alongside hot and spicy dipping sauces.
Manti is so popular you’ll find it available in practically every single restaurant in the country, from Michelin-star fine-dining venues to cheap and cheerful taverns.
Located in Istanbul, Sinopia Manti Evi is one of the best places in Turkey for manti. It’s slightly roasted, giving it a fantastic texture, and is topped with crushed walnuts. Nişantaşı Mantıcısı is another great place to try the dish. They serve up a different selection of manti each week.
11. Gaze in awe at Dolmabahçe Palace
Exploring the Dolmabahçe Palace is one of the coolest things to do in Turkey. Nestled in the heart of Istanbul, the grandiose palace was once the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire. Today, the largest palace in Turkey is a spectacular tourist attraction that will take your breath away.
The imposing exterior is truly astounding. Follow the pebbled path past the manicured gardens, and you’ll find yourself face-to-face with a staggeringly detailed façade. Decorated with countless engravings and carvings, it’s almost impossible to take it all in.
Step inside the Dolmabahçe Palace, and you’ll discover 285 elegant rooms and 46 glamorous halls. You can see a unique combination of Neoclassical, Ottoman, and Baroque styles throughout the palace.
From eye-catching Iznik tiles and extravagant golden ceilings to opulent marble columns and the largest Bohemian crystal chandelier in the world, the palace is full of beauty just waiting to be discovered.
12. Get your adrenaline pumping at the Land of Legends
If you’re a fan of high-speed roller coasters, incredible shows, and amazing water slides, you’ve got to spend the day at the Land of Legends. One of the most incredible theme parks in Europe and Asia combined, it really does have something for everyone.
There are three main parts to the Land of Legends. The theme park is bursting with roller coasters that would challenge even the bravest riders, as well as plenty of special areas for the little ones to enjoy and family-friendly rides in between.
There’s also a waterpark brimming with incredible water slides. If you want something a bit tamer, there’s a lazy river, plus several swimming pools and secluded beaches for chilling out.
Just outside the parks, you’ll find a sophisticated shopping mall with an excellent selection of top-end fashion stores and restaurants. The river which runs through the mall is where spectacular shows are performed in the evening.
The theme park and waterpark connect, and both are included in the ticket price. To make sure you don’t miss any of the fun, bring your swimsuit and a towel with you.
13. Hike to the top of Mount Nemrut
Climbing to the summit of Mount Nemrut is one of the most unique things to do in Turkey. Your trek to the top of the UNESCO World Heritage Site will be rewarded with an incredible royal tomb that dates all the way back to the 1st century BCE.
As well as the tomb, the peak is also decorated with giant statues in honor of King Antiochus I Theos of Commagene. There are also statues of several Medes, Armenian, and Greek gods, plus a few mythical beasts. The statues were built to honor the king and showcase his immense power.
Over the centuries, countless earthquakes have done their best to destroy the statues. And while many have tumbled, you can still see various heads which have been separated from the bodies.
For a totally surreal sight, visit Mount Nemrut at sunset. At this time of day, the heads are bathed in dazzling red sunlight.
14. Go on a Gulet boat trip
One of the best ways to relax in Turkey is to sign up for a tranquil gulet boat trip. A gulet is a traditional wooden boat built in the southwest of Turkey. They can be up to 100 feet long and usually have 4-8 cabins for guests.
A trip on board a gulet is all about relaxing. You can spend your days sunbathing on the deck, snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters, and exploring the secret coastline where the yacht docks. Then when night comes, you can dig into freshly-caught fish, sip tropical cocktails, and play music as loud as you like since you have no neighbors!
There’s an endless selection of gulet trips to choose from. If you’ve only got a short time to spare, this three-day tour between Kaş and Olympus is just long enough for you to unwind while soaking up the glorious Turkish scenery.
For something a bit longer, take a look at this eight-day tour which starts at gorgeous Bodrum and sails over to Gokova before heading back.
15. Treat yourself to a balik ekmek
If you’re a seafood lover, one of the quintessential Turkish activities you’ve got to do is to dig into a balik ekmek. This classic street food snack can be found all over Turkey, especially from food stalls close to the sea.
It’s made up of a generous-sized fish filet which has been gently grilled and tucked inside Turkish bread along with a fresh, crispy salad made of mixed vegetables. Oily fish, such as mackerel, is most commonly used in balik ekmek as it’s found in abundance in the waters around Turkey.
The best place to pick up an outstanding balik ekmek is from one of the stalls along the Galata Bridge in Istanbul. Simply take a walk along the street and let your nose guide you. The smell of fresh mackerel cooking is incredible! Look for the stall with the longest line and get ready for one of the best snacks you’ll get in the city.
16. Soak up the sun on Turkey’s beaches
Turkey is bursting with magnificent architecture and natural wonders to explore. When you need a day off, head for the coast and enjoy a day of sun, sea, and sand.
Kabak Beach in Fethiye is one of the most spectacular beaches in all of Turkey. Just a short drive from Ölüdeniz, this small bay is the perfect place to visit when you’re in need of some rest and relaxation. The only way to reach it is by a 30-minute walk along a steep trail, so it’s rarely ever crowded.
The half-moon bay is backed by fragrant pine forests and towering mountains making it one of the most scenic in the country. Although there are no real facilities, the super-soft sand and glistening azure waters more than make up for it.
If you’re looking for something with a bit more life, check out Mermerli Beach in Antalya. There’s a small fee to enter, but when you get inside, you’ll find plenty of plush sun loungers you can chill out on. The beach is backed by a restaurant, and the staff will bring snacks, ice cream, and drinks directly to your bed!
17. Check out the Cappadocia Hot Air Balloon Festival
The Hot Air Balloon Festival is easily one of the best things to see in Turkey. Held in July, August, or September (the dates change every year), the festival gives you the chance to see more than 160 stunning hot air balloons glide through the air like works of art.
From regular hot air balloons in beautiful colors to quirky balloons in the shapes of cows and frogs, there are loads of cool balloons to check out here. The festival continues for four days, giving you plenty of chances to catch a glimpse of the spectacle, no matter how packed your itinerary is.
We definitely recommend you make an extra effort to see the night show. This one-of-a-kind event is when the hot air balloons sail through the air after dark. The powerful flames that keep them afloat mean you can still see them after the sun sets. As they sail away, they look like tiny Chinese lanterns!
The glow-in-the-dark hot air balloon show is complemented with dance performances, live music, and a great selection of food and drink stalls.
18. Wander through Goreme National Park
Goreme National Park is unlike anything else in the world. Located in Cappadocia, the UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts a dramatic rock landscape that’s been crafted entirely by wind and water erosion.
The series of unusual pinnacles, valleys, and mountain ridges are often referred to as “fairy chimneys,” and they really are that magical. There are thousands of spiraling towers with roof-like peaks built one on top of the other, with countless secret caves hidden among them.
Hundreds of years ago, people used to live in these caves. Entire communities, with chapels and living quarters, were built into them. Today, most of the caves are empty, but some locals still use them as houses.
As Goreme National Park takes up such a huge space, you can spend hours here exploring. Wander off the beaten track and see what secluded spaces you can find. You’ll need a good pair of shoes, as a lot of the ground is loose underfoot. And make sure your phone is fully charged because you’ll be snapping pictures non-stop!
19. Explore the ruins of Ephesus
If you love diving into the past, one of the best things to do in Turkey is to take a walk around Ephesus. Just a short distance from Selçuk, this ancient site is full of magnificent ruins that help you imagine what the lively city was like way back in its heyday.
The Great Theater is one of the most impressive parts of Ephesus. Towering 100 feet above the city, this theater once hosted up to 25,000 people who would flock to the location to watch plays, concerts, and philosophical discussions.
At the end of the main street lies the Library of Celsus, which is also worth a look. One of the largest libraries in the world, this building once housed 12,000 scrolls and was incredibly important to local philosophers and creatives.
Don’t miss the chance to check out the Roman houses. They once belonged to wealthy citizens and are where you’ll find stunning wall and floor mosaics depicting how they used to live.
20. Snack on gozleme
When hunger strikes, look for the nearest street vendor and order yourself a gozleme. A classic Turkish dish enjoyed for breakfast or as a snack, a gozleme is a thin and crispy flatbread stuffed with all types of incredible fillings before it’s toasted to golden perfection on a griddle.
Feta cheese and spinach, spiced beef, and spiced lamb are three of the most common fillings for the snack – and they’re all delicious! Although most fillings include cheese, there are many meat-free ones, making it a great choice if you’re a vegetarian.
Located in Istanbul, the unassuming Türkmen Cafe is an amazing place for an authentic gozleme. They’re all made to order, and you can watch the staff create them right in front of you.
If you want to try something a little different in Istanbul, check out Yiğit Sofram Gözleme ve Kahvaltı. In addition to the classic gozleme offerings, this small restaurant also serves creative variations with Turkish sausages, tahini, and walnuts, and even a chocolate one for dessert.
21. Fly through the sky in Ölüdeniz
One of the most fun things to do in Turkey is to go paragliding, and Ölüdeniz is by far the best place in the country to do it. The coastal town is gorgeous from the ground. But get up into the sky, and the view becomes even more astounding.
The stunning turquoise water, glittering golden beaches, and tree-clad mountains will leave you speechless. At 6,500 feet above water, the starting spot is one of the highest in the world, and you’ll be able to take in a 360° panorama that seems to go on forever.
If you’re confident in the air, the expert you’re flying with will incorporate stunts and tricks into your ride. You’ll do complete turns, speedy turns, and seek out thermal flows, so your paragliding adventure lasts even longer.
After 25-30 minutes, your pilot will gently guide you down onto the beach below for the perfect touchdown.
22. Walk through the icy waters of Saklikent Milli Parki
There are loads of things to do inside Saklikent Milli Parki, from rafting and rappelling to canyoning and tubing. But one of the experiences you absolutely can’t miss out on is hiking through the river to reach a magnificent waterfall.
The water rushes pretty rapidly, and the walk is very uneven. But if you’re confident and pay attention, it’s a great challenge. We saw plenty of families walking together during our visit, so it’s something everyone can join in with.
It takes 20-30 minutes to walk to the waterfall. You can sense its incredible power as you stand by it and feel the cooling mist rest on your face.
The water is cold year-round, even in the middle of summer, so be prepared. And the rocks are super slippery, so it’s best to take your own water shoes you’re comfortable walking in. If you don’t have any or you forget yours, they are available to buy for a very low price at the beginning of the walk.
23. Admire the Mevlana Whirling Dervishes Festival
For one of the best Turkey sightseeing opportunities, visit during the Mevlana Whirling Dervishes Festival. Held in Konya in November or December each year, this festival gives you the opportunity to learn a lot about Turkish culture and see the famous whirling dervishes performance.
The festival goes on for about 11 days when many spiritualistic ceremonies to honor the life and teachings of Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic Rumi (also known as Mevlana), take place. There are also plenty of opportunities to savor delicious local eats.
The most popular and spectacular event is always the whirling dervishes performance. A religious practice, the dance is believed to lead to higher consciousness and help the dancers discover divine love. The graceful, flowing outfits combined with the perfectly synchronized choreography make for an enchanting and mesmerizing performance.
Each dance is accompanied by soothing music that creates a positive, spellbinding aura every time. As their rocking and twirling motions are so controlled, it really does look like their bodies move entirely independently of their head and feet!
24. Discover Butterfly Valley
Get back to nature in Turkey by making the trek to Butterfly Valley. This blissful place is the closest thing to heaven on Earth you’ll ever get to see!
The area got its name from the lush green landscape that was once full of colorful butterflies. Today there aren’t quite as many, but if you follow the path through the valley, there’s a good chance you’ll spot some. Even if you don’t see any butterflies, you’ll still get to walk past bright wildflowers, aromatic fruit trees, and often wild goats.
Butterfly Valley is also home to a magnificent waterfall that splashes over giant boulders. It’s framed by thick trees and makes a gorgeous backdrop for a photo.
Getting to Butterfly Valley is a bit tricky because you can’t walk or drive there. You’ve got to rock climb down a cliff face from the village above or catch a boat from Ölüdeniz. But the hassle is more than worth it for the chance to explore one of the most magical and untouched places in Turkey.
25. Go window shopping at the Grand Bazaar
While you’re visiting Istanbul, one of the best things to do in Turkey is to wander around the maze that is the Grand Bazaar. One of the oldest and biggest covered markets in the world, the Grand Bazaar is made up of more than 60 individual streets lined with thousands of stores and stalls.
Although it’s a huge tourist attraction, the Grand Bazaar is also a popular place for locals to pick up everyday items, such as teas, herbs, spices, and snacks. Everything about the place is intoxicating, from the smell of freshly ground spices and the colors of handmade candies to the sound of lively chats between store owners and the sweet taste of free baklava samples.
If you’re looking for a quality souvenir or gift, this is the place to come. Here you can buy intricate hand-woven carpets, mosaic-like glass lamps, fine gold jewelry, and stunning hand-painted pottery.