20 Things To Do In Turkey

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One of the things that might surprise you about the Republic of Turkey, which celebrates its centenary in 2023, is that the man regarded as the inspiration and the driving force behind independence is Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who was born in modern-day Greece. Many places in modern-day Turkey are associated with the Ancient Greek and Roman Empires. Likewise, Christian apostles such as Peter and Paul were prominent people within its boundaries. As you can see, there are many things to do in Turkey for visitors, especially those interested in history, archaeology and religion.

Spending time in Istanbul, the largest and most well-known city, makes sense. It is the main entry point for overseas visitors, but during the main holiday season, Easter to early winter, direct flights also land at regional airports daily. The mausoleum of Ataturk is in the national capital, Ankara, which is inland and has direct international flights right around the year.

After starting with Turkey’s two main cities, you’ll find lots of things to do heading south from Istanbul along the Aegean Coast, the coastline facing south, and the region in the far southeast before heading north towards the Black Sea. Turkey’s comprehensive domestic flight schedule allows independent travellers to crisscross the country easily. So don’t procrastinate, get out and experience these fantastic things to do in Turkey now.

20 Things To Do In Turkey

Experience A Tale Of Two Cities

1- Visit The Mausoleum Of Ataturk In Ankara

best things to do in turkey in june
One of the things to do in Turkey is to visit Anitkabir, the mausoleum of Turkish leader Ataturk.

Over 90 years since Ataturk’s premature death in 1939, he is still revered throughout Turkey and seen as the “father of the republic.”

He was the military commander of the Turkish troops in the First World War and the fight for independence, an astute and enlightened politician, serving as President until his death at 59 years old.

His mausoleum in Ankara includes an inscription about the soldiers he fought against, promising that those who fell are now embraced as brothers of the Turkish troops they opposed.

If you begin your holiday in Ankara, you may then decide to head to Cappadocia and other points south and east. Most tours in Ankara will include this attraction.

2- Discover The Magic Of Istanbul

things to do in istanbul turkey
Admiring the view from Galata Tower to Golden Horn in Istanbul is one of the top things to do in Turkey to get the lay of the land.

The Ottomans took what was then Constantinople in the middle of the 15th century.

Remember, cities in those days were fairly compact, meaning you can see many of its historical and religious landmarks on a walking tour. Start with a tour of the old city and a cruise.

The district of Sultanahmet contains the highlights of this vast city: Hagia Sofia, Topkapi Palace, the Justinian Cistern and the Blue Mosque.

You may also like to join a tour of local markets. The Grand Bazaar is also within walking distance, as is the Bosphorus, which divides the European side of the city from the Asian side.

It is a major transport route with ferries crossing back and forth continually. Don’t miss a Bosphorus and Golden Horn cruise.

The Aegean Coast

3- Combine History With Legend In Canakkale

fun things to do in turkey
The statue of the Trojan horse in Canakkale, Turkey.

Everyone knows the legend of Helen of Troy.

Not only was Troy believed to be in the northwest of Turkey, this is also the location for the famous battle in 1917, Gallipoli, where Ataturk’s troops defeated the allied forces.

There were huge losses on both sides, with the Turks able to repel forces trying to get into the interior.

Both events have been the basis for books and films, with museums and cemeteries ensuring they are never forgotten.

If you have already been to Ataturk’s Mausoleum, you will have read the famous tribute he made about those who fought at Gallipoli. Find out more here.

4- Tour The Port Of Izmir

things to do in izmir turkey
Another thing to do in Turkey is to explore Izmir. Pictured here are minarets in the Turkish port city.

Izmir is an important commercial port on the Aegean, with ferries heading across the sea docking at nearby Cesme.

Its origins date back to the Greek Empire and it was highly valued by the Romans.

The result is that there are numerous historical sites to see as well as modern-day city highlights.

Its population is approaching 4.5 million, with an infrastructure in place to cater for them.

If you book a tour with a local guide able to show you its many highlights, you can return again to your favourites if you use Izmir as a base.

5- Explore The Ruins Of Ephesus

things to do in ephesus turkey beautiful sunny day at the ruins of Ephesus
Exploring the ruins of Ephesus is a classic thing to do in Turkey for history lovers.

In ancient times, few ports were as important as Ephesus, even though it was at the end of a channel a few miles inland.

The ruins of this Greek Empire city are amongst the most famous in the Empire.

Ephesus was built in the 10th century BC, with the Romans taking over in 129 BC.

Ephesus played an important role in early Christianity, and the Gospel of John was probably written in Ephesus.

Its amphitheatre had a capacity of 24,000, while the Temple of Artemis was one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Its importance declined as the channel silted up, but its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site recognises its importance in world history. Find out more here.

6- Head Inland To Pammukale

free things to do in turkey
Visiting Pammukale is one of the top things to do in Turkey for incredible views.

Pammukale (“cotton castle”) is famous for its thermal waters, and over the years, travertine deposits have created a series of eye-catching steps that attract visitors from far and wide.

It is regularly linked with Ephesus as two of Turkey’s highlights, and if time is tight, you can see both in a single day.

If you are staying on the south coast, you will find tours up to Pammukale, which is easily explored in a day, together with the ruins of a spa city, Hierapolis, that the Romans used centuries ago.

If you want to walk on the travertine, you must take any footwear off first; strictly bare feet.

Turkey’s South Coast

Things to do in turkey Kaputas beach Sunny day during summer with beach bed and umbrellas on the beach.
Kaputas beach on the Lycia coast is a Mediterranean escape in Kas, Turkey.

There are many resorts from the South West corner of Turkey heading east until the end of the Mediterranean. Marmaris in the southwest, Kalkan and Kas, between Fethiye and Antalya, and Alanya and Side beyond Antalya are examples. All are worth investigating, but the four places below are our selection.

7- See Nature At Its Best In Dalyan

The small coastal town of Dalyan sits on a river that links the sea with a large inland lake.

Iztuzu Beach is a valuable nesting site for the endangered loggerhead turtle, a five-kilometre (three miles) stretch of lovely sand.

Ancient Lycian rock tombs were carved in the later centuries BC in the hills on the western side of the river.

The Lycian city of Kaunos is still being excavated there.

Add the healthy mud baths, the delta area with its birdlife and the fresh produce from its fertile land, and Dalyan has become a town where visitors return yearly. You may like to try a full-day tour with a mud bath.

The town is two hours east of the large resort of Marmaris by sea along a stunning coastline. Check out this tour.

8- Enjoy The Variety Of Fethiye

things to do in fethiye turkey Paraglider flying above Oludeniz beach in Fethiye
Going paragliding in Fethiye is one of the top things to do in Turkey for adrenaline junkies.

Continuing east from Dalyan, Fethiye is a place that has expanded enormously over recent years.

Dalaman Airport serves the whole of this coastline as well as places even further east than Fethiye.

Cruising on these waters is an absolute pleasure with one of the most popular tours, the “12 Islands.”

All are uninhabited but are excellent places for boats to anchor for a BBQ or swim.

In addition, Fethiye is close to what was a Greek village, Kayakoy, before the foundation of the Turkish Republic.

The Greeks left almost 100 years ago, but the abandoned village is one of several historical sites that attract significant visitors annually.

9- History Beckons At Olympos

The Lycian Empire stretched along this coastline, and having past both Kalkan and Kas, there is plenty for the historian to enjoy.

Olympos was another Lycian city, and the national park created on this former site includes a flame coming out of the rocks that has never been extinguished.

It was an important site for the Romans, a Christian bishopric as late as the 3rd Century AD.

An ancient sunken city adds to the attraction of this section of the coast while it is also the region where Saint Nicholas lived, a saint who is still celebrated today, especially by the Dutch. Check out this tour:

10- Learn About Antalya’s Roman Past

things to do in turkey antalya on a sunny summer day
Visiting Hadrian’s Gate in the old city of Antalya, is one of the cool things to do in Turkey.

The Hadrian Gate is the entrance to kaleici (Antalya’s old town), which goes back to ancient times and there is a small harbour, where many of the buildings are in Ottoman style.

The city expanded west and east with huge developments to cater to the growing population and increasing popularity amongst tourists.

There are many natural attractions close by, including Duden Falls, while the amphitheatre at Aspendos is magnificent.

Antalya makes a great base for a few days with no problem finding different things to do every day.

The well-developed nightlife and quality hotels ensure that tourist numbers, many arriving at its international airport, will continue to increase. Check out these tours:

South-East Turkey

Mesopotamia, “the fertile crescent,” was a prosperous civilisation in the early centuries BC. While much of it is modern-day Iraq, it also encompassed South East Turkey between the iconic rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. Turkey has multiple borders in its east, with Syria, Iraq and Iran.

11- Go To Adana

Things to do in turkey adana
Adana in the Mediterranean region, is the sixth largest city in Turkey and is located around the Seyhan River, 30 kilometres from the Mediterranean coast.

Adana is in the extreme northeast corner of the Mediterranean, a Turkish city that is the gateway to several historical gems close to the Turkish-Syrian border.

The city of Tarsus, the birthplace of St. Paul, then Saul, is close to the city of Adana.

The Sabanci Mosque, named after a Turkish commercial magnate family, is the second-largest mosque in Turkey.

It is a copy of the one in Edirne, the capital of Ottoman lands, before the taking of Constantinople.

Its rich history includes its cuisine. The Adana kebab is very spicy and traditionally cooked with the meat “wrapped around” a sword before being placed over the fire. Check it all out on a walking tour.

12- Admire The Ancient Walls Of Diyarbakir

city walls of Diyarbakir blue sky and greenery
Exploring the city walls of Diyarbakir is another thing to do in Turkey.

Heading further east, you will reach Diyarbakir, a city on the Tigris River, and it is the largest Kurdish-majority city in the country.

Its thick walls are hugely impressive.

Diyarbakir was proposed as the capital of Kurdistan, an independent country, yet it’s a proposal that was never implemented.

Its population is nearly two million, while several landmarks exist beyond those city walls, including mosques, museums, madreses and churches.

For a while a few years ago, this region suffered conflict, but today it is perfectly safe for travellers.

13- Climb Mount Nemrut

top things to do in turkey sunrise
Seeing the statues at the summit of Mount Nemrut in at sunrise is one of the incredible things to do in Turkey.

Mount Nemrut is partly manmade.

It is not its height that makes it significant, it is the placing of statues, mostly heads, that surround the summit.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is thought to be the mausoleum of King Antiochus, who ruled this region in the 1st Century BC.

Academics suggest that the heads were formerly attached to bodies now scattered around the site.

Nemrut stands at around 7,000 feet (2130 metres), with its summit thought to have involved slaves carrying material to add to its natural height.

Don’t worry; you don’t have to climb all of it, as there are tour buses taking visitors within a half-hour gentle climb to the “heads.”

14- See Gobekli Tepe

Gobekli Tepe is a site of a former Neolithic settlement dating back to around the 9th Century BC and first discovered in the 1960s.

Several such excavations have been found and archaeologists believe there were many more such settlements to be unearthed within these hills.

By now, you will have turned south towards Mardin and, subsequently, the Syrian border if you didn’t turn west.

Here you will find circular structures supported on stone pillars with impressive decoration.

Tour buses take visitors to within a few minutes walk of the site itself, with a pathway taking visitors right around the site. You might also like this 4-day private trip around Turkey that includes Gobekli Tepe and Cappadocia.

15- Meet Abraham At Sanliurfa

things to do with kids in turkey
14 May 2022 Sanliurfa Turkey. Abraham cave at Sanliurfa Turkey.

As you head west beyond Mardin, you will reach the impressive city of Sanliurfa, now simply referred to as Urfa.

The highlight of Urfa is visiting the site of its most famous legend.

Legend has it that King Nimrod, upset by Abraham’s interest in his daughter, threw Abraham onto a huge fire.

God changed the flames to water, leaving a small lake, the Pool of Sacred Fish.

No one ever fishes for the thriving fish that fill the lake.

Urfa has huge historical and religious significance, with plenty of ruins and mosques to see.

There are also cave homes in the small hills within the city. Check out this tour.

16- Enjoy Gaziantep’s Famous Cuisine

You are now close to completing a circular route that begins and ends at Adana.

The cuisine of Gaziantep is known far beyond Turkey’s borders.

There is a distinct regional content to the food you will find here.

Many Turkish favourites have that regional twist, but perhaps the most famous element is a dessert.

You will find baklava throughout the country, but if you ask a Turk where you will find the best baklava, the answer inevitably is Gaziantep.

The Gaziantep Museum of Archaeology deserves a couple of hours of your time, by the way.

Some of the most impressive mosaics you can see anywhere are housed here.

Anatolia

17- Enjoy The Moonscapes Of Cappadocia

unique things to do in turkey man standing in front of soaring rocks
Gawking at the rock formations in Pasabag Monks Valley, Cappadocia, is one of the amazing things to do in Turkey.

Cappadocia is as close to unique as it gets. Erosion has fashioned soft rock into many different shapes.

This region is in the heart of Anatolia with Goreme, a small town, the most popular place for visitors to stay.

It is served by two airports, Kayseri and Nevsehir, while overland tours are regular from places like Fethiye and Antalya on the south coast and Ankara in the north.

An additional attraction to the shapes and caves above ground is underground.

Populations, hiding from enemies many centuries ago, would live underground for long periods.

One of the largest underground cities goes down 18 levels, although visitors are restricted to just 4 or 5. Just imagine! This full-day south Cappadocia tour includes trekking.

18- See Lake Van

things to do in turkey snow-covered mountains and lake
Lake Van is the largest lake in Turkey, located in the far east of the country.

If you are in Diyarbakir, it will take almost six hours to drive on the Van, mostly east but slightly north.

Turkey is a huge country; by road, Turkey’s largest lake is around 20 hours by road from Istanbul and two hours by air.

Several streams from the surrounding mountains feed Lake Van.

Eastern Turkey has severe winters, but the lake’s salinity usually stops any ice from forming despite its altitude of 1640 metres (5380 feet).

It has been an area of conflict over the centuries, Seljuk against Persian, Armenian and Kurdish.

While remote, Van is an interesting contrast to many other cities most visitors choose to explore in Turkey.

19- Make Kars A Base

If you head north from Van towards Kars, you will see the famous Mount Ararat, although it lies on the border with Armenia.

Hope for a clear day to get good photos as you continue to Kars, the closest city to the ancient ruins of Ani, an abandoned Armenian city.

Ani was known as the “city of 1,001 churches” although that was a definite exaggeration.

Kars itself is a city of around 75,000 and it is located on a plateau that reaches 1,770 metres (5,800 feet).

This territory’s history includes claims from the Soviet Union that it should be in Russian hands.

Those claims were only dropped after the Second World War.

Black Sea

20- Marvel At Sumela Monastery

things to do in turkey for couples
Visiting the Sumela Monastery in the northeast is one of the incredible things to do in Turkey.

The city of Trabzon is the largest Turkish city on the Black Sea, close to the border with Georgia.

Trabzon is an excellent base for day trips inland up river valleys with a distinct Alpine feel.

If you only have time for a single trip, the one should include the Sumela Monastery, which has just reopened for visitors after a renovation.

This Greek Orthodox monastery was built on a cliffside in the 4th century, a remarkable feat of construction.

It functioned right up to the First World War and the subsequent departure of Greeks from this land when the Turkish Republic was announced. Find out more here.

If you love Turkey, you may also enjoy visiting Greece. Find out more here:

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Steve Smith is a widely travelled man who has lived on the South West Coast of Turkey since 2008. He hails from North East England where he lived most of his life but has been to every continent of the world, with a particular love for Southern Africa and its wildlife. He lists Argentina, India, and Vietnam as other favourite places that he enjoyed greatly while sport is also a passion, cricket and golf as a participant, rugby union and soccer as a spectator.