15 things you must see and do in Turkey

Turkey is one country that has so many hidden gems, it hardly gets spoken about enough! Ask for it and you will find it in Turkey - from history to gorgeous beaches, hills, unique terrain and natural wonders, it is the only country that is a part of two continents at the same time - Europe and Asia. A cultural mix which is evident in its preserved historic relics, it is one of the few countries in the Middle East that so comfortably blends the Islamic and Christian civilisations, culminating in a very modernised outlook of the society.

Although there are many Turkey tour packages to choose from which will make your trip planning and booking more convenient, if you've decided to do it by yourself (and I'm always a fan of DIY trips), here are 15 things you must experience while in Turkey.

# 1: Cruise on the Bosphorus Strait

This is a must-do in Istanbul, not only because you can view the numerous historical monuments lined up on the coast while you cruise but also because you have the opportunity to cross over from one continent to another while on board. I would recommend taking the 2.5-hour short circle cruise (cruises can last as much as 5 hours for the full circle).

# 2: Visit Hagia Sophia

This is a very interesting place that once used to be a Greek Orthodox Christian basilica, then converted into a Muslim imperial mosque and is now a museum open to visitors. The most interesting thing about this monument, apart from being an architectural beauty, is the interiors and how they blend the Islamic scriptures with the Christian influence.

Suggested budget, city-centre hotel stay in Istanbul: Karakoy Port Hotel

# 3: Istanbul's Istiklal Street

A very lively street in Istanbul, this is the place to be, to enjoy the energy and vibe of the city. Lined with numerous cafes, shops, boutiques, restaurants, bars and clubs, be prepared for large crowds here, any time of day.

# 4: Blue Mosque at night

The mosque is lovely even during the day. However, when it lights up beautifully at night, it certainly becomes more charming and photo-friendly. You can sit at any one of the cafes across to street and enjoy amazing views during and after sunset.

# 5: Turkish Food & Sweets

I absolutely love Turkish food and desserts as well. Meat lovers will enjoy numerous kebab options, the bread is absolutely amazing and sweets such as kunefe and baklava will leave you licking your lips. Gulp it down with a cup of Turkish coffee.

# 6: Dolmabahçe Palace Tour

Built in the 19th century by the Ottomans, the palace is very grand. This lavish building can be seen from the Bosphorus cruise as it stands out in its size and opulence. The interiors are equally impressive.

# 7: Istanbul's Grand Bazaar

The crowded yet colourful bazaar is absolutely lovely with its little handicrafts, souvenirs and most importantly, the attractive Turkish lamps hanging from the ceiling. Explore the tiny narrow lanes for the hidden treasures and do not be shy in bargaining!

# 8: Stay at a cave hotel in Cappadocia

This entire city is pretty whacko according to me. The weird rock formations and caves are fascinating and you will find many hotels situated in these natural caves. We stayed in Travellers Cave Hotel and it was absolutely amazing! Overlooking the valley and with outdoor seating that is quite romantic, the rooms were also spacious and comfortable. Since its a cave, be prepared for temperatures to be low and damp.

# 9: Visit the Love Valley

I suggest renting a scooter or an ATV to explore this captivating little town. One of the places you must visit, mostly because it is quite quirky, is the Love Valley. The phallic rocks are natural formations and will leave you wondering how they ever came about to look like that!

# 10: Sunrise over the Goreme National Park

Whether you experience it from a hot air balloon itself or from the roof of your hotel, this is quite a spectacle! Thousands of hot air balloons adorn the sky early in the morning. If you are in a balloon yourself, you will see the deep canyons, valleys and fairy chimneys from the air. However, you may choose to just enjoy the beautiful and colourful sky from the outside. Be sure to wake up early in the morning as these balloons take off during sunrise.

# 11: Visit an underground city in Cappadocia

There are about 36 underground cities in Cappadocia! Some of them go as deep as 8 floors below the ground and date as far back as 1600 BC. The most popular underground cities are - Kaymakli (the widest of them all) and Derinkuyu (the deepest of them all). We visited Ozkonak city which goes all the way down to 10 floors, although only 4 floors are open to visitors. A word of caution: for those suffering from claustrophobia, please do NOT attempt it.

# 12: Ruins of Ephesus

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Ephesus is located in Izmir, a 30-minute drive from Kusadasi. The archaeological remains have grand monuments from the Roman imperial period. The city dates as far back as 10th century BC.

# 13: Experience a Turkish Bath (hammam)

This is one authentic Turkish experience you cannot miss. An ancient custom that has been passed on since ages, the hammams today are much more luxurious and modernised. Although you will find ample hammams throughout Turkey, the ones in Cappadocia stand apart as they are located inside caves, adding to the luxury of it all. You will lie on a warm stone and an attendant will bathe and scrub you as you relax and let yourself be taken care of. This will be followed by a relaxing massage and some amazing Turkish coffee to end the beautiful experience. Recommended: the hammam at Kelebek Hotel in Cappadocia.

# 14: Hot water springs of Pamukkale

Whether driving from Antalya or Kusadasi, Pamukkale is about 3 hours away. This little natural wonder is awe-inspiring and definitely, deserves a visit if you're in Turkey. The name translates as 'Cotton Palace' and you will understand why it is called that once you see it. It is another UNESCO World Heritage site and due to depletion of some of these travertines, some of the hot spring pools are closed and visitors are only allowed to swim in a few of them.

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Some people also choose to do paragliding here, which is a great idea because of the beautiful white terraces and blue pools below. Or simply lay back in one of the pools and enjoy some sunbathing.

# 15: Gorgeous beaches of Antalya / Kusadasi

Turkey boasts of some of the most beautiful coastlines. Both Antalya and Kusadasi have gorgeous blue waters, luxurious yet affordable resorts right on the beach and a superb nightlife. A place where you can kick your shoes off, sip on a cocktail as you watch the cruises go by or take a dip in warm blue seas, Kusadasi & Antalya are lively cities with breathtaking views.

Suggested medium budget beach side hotel to stay in Kusadasi: Aria Claros Beach & Spa Resort (All-inclusive) Ozdere

Are there any other places in Turkey where you have been, which you think should be included in this list? Leave your comments below.

45 thoughts on “15 things you must see and do in Turkey”

  1. Is october a good month to visit Turkey? What cities do you recommend. I have a phobia of caves and won’t be traveling to Cappadocia. But would love to explore beaches.

    1. October is a good month, however, it is slightly cold at the time so make sure to carry warm clothes. Istanbul must be visited but that’ll probably be the starting point of your journey anyway. If you’re into beached, I’d recommend visiting either Antalya or Kusadasi. However, the water is kind of cold in October for you to swim. Also, Pamukkale is really pretty! It’s not too far from Izmir or Antalya (kind of midway between the two). Also, Fethiye is gorgeous, more laid back than Kusadasi & Antalya, and paragliding in Oludeniz near Fethiye is a bucket list item! I would suggest to include Capadoccia anyway, even if you don’t visit the underground cave cities or stay in a cave hotel. It is quite a unique city to explore. October, however, is really cold there.

  2. Wow I was planning 5 nights in Istanbul and this is going to help me a lot. My itinerary looks like Day 1 – leisure and Grand Bazaar, Day 2 – Istanbul heritage and ottoman splendors, Day 3 – Pamukkale day trip by flights, Day 4 – Bosphorus cruise with Asian side, and Day 5 – Vialand (as kids are a part of the tour). Sadly, missing Cappadocia.

  3. I’ve still not been to Turkey so this is a great read for me! Pammukale is probably my favourite place to see; it looks mesmerising. I really hope I can get there this year, I also love Turkish food!

    1. One of my favorite places was Cappadocia, if you plan a trip to Turkey, do pay a visit!

  4. Turkey has so much to offer to its travellers, it is one of my favourite countries to visit to. The Love Valley is something I haven’t heard about before, thanks for sharing details about the enchanting valley. I really want to experience staying at a cave hotel, it sounds so amazing!

  5. I’ve actually been looking into visiting Turkey, not only for the beaches but for the hot air balloon ride over and to stay in cave hotel in Cappadocia. Such a unique stay in a cave hotel – I can imagine it being so cool inside. I’ve not heard of the Love Valley, but is a must see for those natural formations! And I love Turkish food … Mmmmmm! Capturing the sunset at the Blue Mosque would make the perfect photo!

  6. Wow, this really makes me want to visit Turkey! It looks like there are so many interesting and beautiful things to do there.

  7. What a great post ! I’ve visited Turkey many times but only with family when I was younger, and mostly stayed at Alanya.
    I didn’t even know/ remember that Turkey is and has such beautiful historic places.
    I’ve been put off, travelling there, by the unsettleness. Hoping that things will calm soon and more people can come and appreciate the country’s beauty.

  8. Oh man Turkey has always been on my bucket list. This cave hotel… really want to try it haha; you convinced me! Turkey has the merfect combination of things to do: nice food and nice hammams!

  9. I love your guide! Capodecia looks like an absolute must for me, and I have never heard of the Love City until reading this post. You pictures looks amazing and have motivated me even more to visit Turkey asap!

  10. I really like the look of the Goreme National Park (even if I probably wouldn’t be able to afford a hot air balloon ride!). I only ever really think of Istanbul when I think of Turkey, so it was interesting to see some other places in the country that look worth visiting. The food would be a huge draw for me too.

  11. I think I may have said this before but I really need to visit Turkey, for some reason it’s one of those countries I really want to go to but keep putting it off for one reason or another (normally because I end up going further away haha) Some of the things you’ve mentioned I already know about but the underground city has really got my attention haha. Would love to stay in the Whaky city 😀 and stay in the cave hotel 😀 – P.S Not sure if you’ve already had it before but I will be nominating you for the blogger recognition award soon 😀 (Need to get round to doing the post haha, I was nominated a couple of weeks ago)

    1. Ha ha Cappadocia is totally whacky but in a natural way, it is so lovely. I did get nominated by somebody for Liebster award, haven’t gotten around to doing the post either. Good that you reminded me 🙂 And thanks for considering to nominate me for the blogger recognition award, I appreciate it 🙂

  12. Turkey just 4 hours flight away we haven’t done it yet but following ur article I am all pumped up to plan a trip . Thanks for detailed advice

  13. I’ve been to Turkey a few times Medha, though only Antalya and Istanbul – I have done the Blue Mosque at both day and night, and it’s absolutely beautiful! Think I’m gonna add “stay at a cave hotel in Cappadocia” to my bucket list though, that looks like quite the experience x

    1. Cappadocia is absolutely amazing, so unique! Staying in a cave hotel and watching those balloons take over the sky during sun rise is quite an experience.

  14. I’ve heard a lot about the Hagia Sophia but I’ve never seen inside. You’re so right, the Christian and Muslim blend is so evident! I’d also love to take a dip in the hot spring pools – Turkey has been on my travel wishlist for so long and with the safety concerns, it had been pushed further down the list BUT your post has given me extreme wanderlust once again!

  15. Istiklal street, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar all look amazing! But I would definitely want to experience the hot air balloon in Turkey and also the explore the underground city! Turkey has always been on my list but has still yet to be crossed off.

    1. The underground city is so eerie and the hot air balloon is absolutely magical! I also loved Pamukkale Hot Springs 🙂

  16. I haven’t made it to Turkey yet and to be honest I had put further done my list after the trouble there. There looks to be so many amazing things to see and do though from your list. Think I need to put it back up to the top of the list for when I am next exploring Europe 🙂

    1. It’s terrible when tourism gets affected by the political situations.Egypt is one such country I’ve been thinking of visiting but haven’t 🙂

  17. Great post! Turkey is still on my to see list! I love the photos and descriptions, thanks for sharing!

  18. Lovely photos… been planning to go… If I may ask how often do you travel in a year?

    1. Hi, I try to as much as possible, but I also work so cannot travel as much as I would like to 🙂 Usually target 2-3 trips in a year.

  19. Such a wonderful country. One of my favorite destinations. First time explored Istanbul and second time Princess Island. Nothing can be more romantic than cruising on the Bosphorous. Hopefully normalcy returns soon so I can visit again

    1. I agree. I would love to visit Ölüdeniz on my next trip, it has one of the most gorgeous beaches. One trip is not enough to Turkey, feel like going again.

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