Things to Do in Turkey
The Bosphorus Strait defines Istanbul. It is the divide between Europe and Asia, and the main connection between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. Dotted with parks and elaborate Ottoman mansions, including Dolmabahce Palace, and spanned by three intercontinental bridges, the Bosphorus is the veritable heart of the city.
Ephesus (Efes) is one of the greatest ancient sites in the Mediterranean. During its heyday in the first century BC, it was the second-largest city in the world, with only Rome commanding more power. Many reconstructed structures and ruins, including the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, can be seen here.
Ancient ruins, endangered wildlife, thermal springs—a boat cruise along the Dalyan River is full of surprises. Winding its way from Lake Köyceğiz to Dalyan Village before emptying into the Mediterranean Sea, the river follows a scenic route flanked by rocky mountains, pine-clad valleys, and sandy beaches.
The Manavgat River runs down from the Taurus Mountains all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, and it’s most scenic spot is the Manavgat Waterfall (Manavgat Şelalesi). Just outside of Side, the low, wide falls make a stunning backdrop for photos and serve as a popular recreation area, with visitors coming to swim, picnic, or cruise along the river.
Butterfly Valley (Kelebekler Vadisi) makes a dramatic first impression with its narrow gorge, steep cliffs, and white sand. Reachable only by boat, the secluded cove gets its name from the many species of butterflies and moths that breed in the valley.
Reaching a height of 12,500 feet (2,365 meters), Mount Olympos (Tahtali Dagi) is the highest mountain of Beydaglari Coastal National Park. Named after the ancient Lycian city of Olympos—the ruins of which lie along the coast just to the south—the mighty peak is surrounded by a dramatic panorama of mountains, forest, and ocean.
Scaling the 12,500-foot-high (2,365-meter-high) peak of Tahtali Mountain—ancient Mount Olympus—the Olympos Cable Car (Olympos Teleferik) is the most popular attraction in Beydaglari Coastal National Park. At the summit, a panoramic observation deck affords spectacular views over the forested Taurus Mountains and the Mediterranean coast.
The town of Alanya lies on the southern coast of Turkey in the Antalya region. It is a popular beach resort town and draws tourists from many countries around the world. One of the city's best beaches is Cleopatra Beach (Kleopatra Plajı) located on the west side of the peninsula near the Damlataş Caves. The name comes from the legend that says the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra stopped in Alanya during a voyage in the Mediterranean Sea and swam in the bay.
Kleopatra Beach is a sandy one with clear water. It is a Blue Flag beach due to its high standards for water quality, safety, and environmental services. Visitors can enjoy sunbathing, swimming, snorkeling, and other water activities. When you get hungry, there are plenty of nearby cafes and restaurants serving Turkish and international dishes. Other activities in the area include exploring the dripping Damlataş Caves, wandering through the old town, and learning about the region's rich history.
Cappadocia’s wind-sculpted volcanic tufa has created an impressive series of valleys, dotted with towering “fairy chimneys” and dramatic rock formations. Taking its name from the pigeonholes carved into the tops of its fairy chimneys, Pigeon Valley (Güvercinlik Vadisi) is stunning, and visitors to Cappadocia shouldn’t miss it.
The Fire of Anatolia show is a dramatic tribute to Anatolia’s rich history. Watch as 120 dancers take to the stage, performing a mix of traditional and modern Turkish dance to live music complete with dazzling lights and costumes. See the show at the purpose-built, open-air Gloria Aspendos Arena.
More Things to Do in Turkey
Said to have been one of Cleopatra’s treasured retreats, the UNESCO-listed Hierapolis hot springs are a spectacular sight: The pools are bright white terraces filled with turquoise water that were formed by calcium that hardened over millennia and are surrounded by the ruins of the ancient city.
A massive 350-mile mountain range standing tall over the plains of southeastern Turkey, the Taurus Mountains (Toros Daglari) are full of craggy peaks and clear lakes worthy of exploration. The range once separated two major cultures of the ancient world: Anatolia and Syria.
Aladaglar National Park is home to Demirkazik, the range's tallest peak at 12,323 feet (3,756 meters). With Antalya as a base, visitors come to the Taurus Mountains for hiking, mountain climbing, and in the winter, skiing at two different resorts in the range. Old caravan routes run through the seemingly impenetrable mountains, leading to dramatic canyons, hidden pastures, isolated valleys and pristine mountain lakes.
Many of the peaks are formed of white limestone, though often heavily covered in pine and cedar forests. The mountains are named after the bull (Taurus) that once represented many of the ancient gods here. It is possible to come across one of the many small villages that have existed here for centuries.
The Duden Waterfalls sit at the end of the river of the same name, which winds its way through the Taurus Mountains before tumbling from a cliff into a valley next to the Mediterranean. The falls consist of two cascades, and the upper part is nearly 50 feet (15 meters) tall and 65 feet (20 meters) wide.
Crowning a hill above Ankara, the Atatürk Mausoleum (Anıtkabir) is a modern mausoleum and complex holding the tomb of Turkey’s founder—Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who died in 1938. Built between 1944 and 1953, the complex draws thousands of Turkish nationals and other visitors who come to honor the much-revered leader.
Built in 532 as the world’s largest place of worship, the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) shifts its identity with the times but never loses its grandeur. Converted from a church to a mosque during the Ottoman era and becoming a museum in 1935, the pink-hued Old City building is one of Istanbul’s don’t-miss attractions.
Built and extended between the 14th and 18th centuries, picturesque Kusadasi Castle sits on Pigeon Island (Guvercin Adasa), an islet connected to Kusadasi via a causeway. Originally constructed as a military base, the fortress is composed of outer walls that enclose its gardens and an inner castle with a tiny museum.
A tall gorge filled with turquoise streams and waterfalls, Sapadere Canyon (Sapadere Kanyonu or Sapadere Kanyon) is a retreat into nature in the Turkish Riviera. Formed centuries ago by erosion from water and ice, it stands 360 meters long and nearly 400 meters high. Fresh air breezes through the canyon, filled with the sounds of rushing water and wildlife such as butterflies and birds.
Once unknown outside of locals, facilities were only recently built to welcome visitors from all over Turkey and the world. A natural wooden path curves through the park, at times leading to pools for swimming (especially welcome in the summer heat.) High rocks and the Torsos mountains scenically surround you as you walk through. At the end of the path is the canyon’s most impressive waterfall, which also has a spot ideal for swim in the clear waters. The nearby Sapadere Village is also worth a stop.
Rocky coves and pine-clad cliffs make a scenic backdrop for a boat cruise, but the biggest attraction of Kekova Island (Kekova Adasi) is underwater. The uninhabited island harbors the sprawling ruins of an ancient Lycian city, submerged after an earthquake in the second century and now lying at the bottom of the Mediterranean.
Behold the imperial complex of Ottoman sultans at Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi), the royal residence in Istanbul throughout the first 400 years of the Ottoman Empire. The palace contains myriad buildings and courtyards, including a treasury, harems, an armory, imperial halls, and royal chambers—all with intricate Iznik tilework and opulent architecture.
Though Saklikent translates from Turkish as Hidden City, urban life is the last thing that comes to mind in Saklikent National Park (Saklikent Milli Parki). Encompassing a dramatic gorge that cuts through the mountains, the national park is a playground of river rapids, streams, waterfalls, and cliffs.
Standing proud on a rocky outcrop in the heart of the city, medieval Alanya Castle (Alanya Kalesi) is Alanya’s defining landmark. Encircled by 4 miles (6 kilometers) of walls, the Inner Fortress (Iç Kale) houses the remains of an 11th-century church, while the Ehmedek Castle area hosts ruins dating back to ancient Greek times.
Known in English as St Nicholas Island, Gemiler Island (Gemiler Adası) lies along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, south from Fethiye and west of the sandy beach at Ölüdeniz. Separated from the mainland by a narrow sea channel, it is a tiny speck of an islet, just 400 meters (1,312 feet) wide and 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) long but is renowned for its wealth of Byzantine ruins, which date back more than 1,500 years.
Gemiler Island was once one of Christendom’s most popular pilgrimage points with devotees heading for Jerusalem in the Middle Ages. They came to honor the tomb of St. Nicholas – the original Father Christmas, who was Bishop of Myra on the Turkish coast opposite. Even though his remains were moved to the mainland in 650 AD, the island is still occasionally known as St. Nicholas Island. Also around this time, the little Byzantine settlement on Gemiler came under threat from pirates and was abandoned as the residents moved to the mainland for protection.
Today a chaotic jumble of ruins covers much of the island, comprising the scattered remains of four churches, evidence of Byzantine houses, a port, waterways, tombs and graveyards. Stores once stood along the shoreline, where traders would sell olive oil and grain to passing ships. The fragments of St Nicholas’s tomb that still stand today reveal faint vestiges of frescoes depicting scenes from his life; these are open to the elements and are slowly deteriorating in the sun.
Gemiler has plenty of rocky bays providing safe mooring for yachts and provides excellent snorkeling along its coastline; tumbledown ruins can occasionally be spotted just below the surface of the sea.
Explore the grandeur of Ottoman architecture at the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii), located on Istanbul’s Old City peninsula. Opened in 1616 to rival the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) across the way, the six minarets punctuating the Istanbul skyline and 20,000 blue Iznik tiles decorating its interior are designed to inspire awe.
Built in an opulent European style, Dolmabahce Palace (Dolmabahce Sarayi) was the home of the Ottoman sultans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before the fall of the empire. The giant crystal chandeliers, marble staircases, and lush carpets that adorn the interior reflect the shift toward Istanbul’s more European way of thinking.
- Things to do in Istanbul
- Things to do in Kusadasi
- Things to do in Izmir
- Things to do in Marmaris
- Things to do in Antalya
- Things to do in Selçuk
- Things to do in Goreme
- Things to do in Urgup
- Things to do in Kemer
- Things to do in Trabzon
- Things to do in Cyprus
- Things to do in Lebanon
- Things to do in Cappadocia
- Things to do in Turkish Riviera
- Things to do in Western Anatolia