Invaded and settled from every direction since the start of recorded history, Turkey combines influences from the Middle East and the Mediterranean, the Balkans and Central Asia. Find out more history in our feature on facts about Turkey. In the meantime, enjoy these highlights of the best things to do in Turkey.
The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget, your essential guide for visiting Europe.
A lighter-than-air float gives an unrivalled perspective on the “fairy chimneys” and other features of the landscape and is one of the best things to do in Turkey for the views.
You can get airborne on a paraglider above Ölüdeniz and kaş, or more passively (and expensively) in a hot-air balloon over Cappadocia – champagne breakfast usually included.
3 different modes of transportation to explore Cappadocia - by hot air balloon, on the back of a camel as well as on an ATV quad. Why choose if you can have it all? This tailor-made tour to Sensational landscapes of Cappadocia filled with fun and adventure in the volcanic valleys around Cappadocia make an unforgettable trip.
Find more accommodation options to stay in Cappadocia
Strategically set astride the Silk Route, this architecturally eclectic seventeenth-century palace is one of eastern Turkey’s most emblematic sites.
The exotic İshak Paşa Sarayı was built in the 18th century. A delightful architectural mishmash of Georgian, Armenian and Seljuk styles, its lavishly relief-carved walls, domes and minarets make it an architecture lover's dream. Looking out from this building is spectacular, with grand views down across the plain that this Kurdish chieftain once controlled.
Dramatically built into the side of the Pontic mountains, this Byzantine monastery is adorned with beautiful frescoes.
The Monastery of Sumela, or the Virgin of the Black Rock ranks as one of the Black Sea’s biggest attractions. You'll find here an ancient monastery built into the side of a cliff on the Black Sea coastline. Climb up to an observation point, soak up epic views of the region, and wander through fascinating caves to learn about the area's geology.
The present buildings probably date from the 12th century and contain many subsequent layers of frescoes, the best being from the 14th and 15th centuries.
Discover the wonders of Sumela with a guided tour.
Members of a sect founded by the Konya-based Sufi mystic Celaleddin Rumi conduct “turning” ceremonies to effect union with God.
The Mevlâna Festival of the Whirling Dervishes is held in a specially designed stadium every December, and the piety of most of the audience makes it clear that the sema (whirling ceremony) has not lost its religious significance. Performances for tourists are given daily in summer.
See the stunning Mevlevei Sema ceremony in Istanbul. Enjoy a complex musical repertoire with whirling dervishes and go on a mystical dance journey representing man’s spiritual ascent through mind, love, and perfection.
This ancient city, addressed by Saint Paul in one of his epistles, is the best preserved of its kind in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Unmatched by any other Mediterranean archaeological site aside from Pompeii, Ephesus (Efes in Turkish) appeals to visitors ranging from serious scholars to those with a more casual interest. Most of the surviving ruins of Ephesus belong to the Roman imperial period.
This tailor-made trip to Delightful Turkey is for those who want to discover as much as of Turkey as possible in under one week. Highlights include the Old Town of Istanbul, the valleys of Cappadocia, the birth of Sufism and the historical city of Ephesus.
Find more accommodation options to stay near Ephesus ruins
Thousands of visitors make the trek to see these fabulous remains atop towering Nemrut Dağı. You'll find here an extraordinary mountain-top temple-tomb complex that’s the outlandish legacy of an obscure, ancient kingdom. Commagene, a tiny buffer state on the Upper Euphrates, flourished for the briefest instant during the Roman civil wars.
Unlike other forgotten states of late antiquity, though, Commagene sealed its place in history thanks to the incredible stone carvings created by its uniquely self-obsessed ruler —Antiochus I. A visit to Nemrut Dağı is one of the best things to do in Turkey.
Enjoy a 3-day, 2-night tour of Mt. Nemrut, Sanliurfa, and Harran and discover some of Turkey's most fascinating hightlights.
Among the essential things to do in Turkey is of course browsing the Turkish bazaars. You may not get a bargain, but you can’t beat the banter, especially at Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.
Heading west towards the city walls, Divan Yolu, once the avenue of state trodden by viziers and pashas (high officials of the Ottoman Empire), is now lined with tourist shops. Several blocks west, is the entrance to the Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı), a favourite tourist haunt. The size of a city street block, this market is where you can find everything from carpets to leather jackets, antiques, silver, icons and gold.
Discover traditional Istanbul’s life and colour with this half-day guided shopping tour. A trip to Turkey wouldn’t be complete without exploring Istanbul’s ancient and famous bazaars. Shop for the best in Turkish carpets and leathers.
Anatolia’s largest and best preserved Classical theatre hosts an opera and ballet festival in summer. Some 45km (25 miles) east of Antalya and 5km (3 miles) off the main road, imposing Aspendos is graced by one of the finest surviving Roman theatres in the world.
Built during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD161–80) and seating 15,000 people, the elaborate structure is almost intact, the exception being part of the upper cornice. It is still used for concerts today.
Find more accommodation options to stay near Aspendos
Medieval houses, historic mosques and churches, and boutique hotels mingle in this hilltop eyrie, high above the Mesopotamian plain.
Perched majestically on a bluff above the chequerboard expanse of the Mesopotamian plain, Mardin is the most beautiful and visitor-friendly town in southeast Turkey. It is just a few kilometres north of the Syrian border, with the land hereabouts the closest Turkey gets to a true desert: be prepared for summer temperatures in excess of 40°C (104°F).
It is also the launching point for visits to the ancient Roman outpost of Dara.
Find more accommodation options to stay in Mardin
The seemingly unsupported dome of Hagia Sophia is one of the architectural marvels of the world and visiting this landmark should be on everyone's list of things to do in Turkey.
At the eastern end of the Hippodrome, across Sultanahmet Park, is magnificent Aya Sofya otherwise known by its Greek name, Hagia Sophia or the Church of Holy Wisdom. It’s the principal Byzantine building still standing in Istanbul and one of the finest architectural creations in the world, not least because of its stunning and hugely innovative dome.
Explore two absolute highlights on the tailor-made trip to City & culture - Istanbul and Cappadocia. Visit Istanbul, the former capital of the Ottoman Empire with its many landmarks. After a few days in the city, fly to Cappadocia and explore the surreal surroundings, either on day tours or from above in a hot air balloon.
Find more accommodation options to stay in Istanbul
Lying just inland from the Black Sea, this glacially sculpted granite mountain range, spangled with dozens of lakes, is Turkey’s premier trekking venue.
The glaciated Kaçkar mountains are the highest (3,932m/12,190ft) and most spectacular of the various massifs in Turkey’s eastern Black Sea region. The name is derived from the Armenian khatchkar (votive relief cross). Its non-porous granite has resulted in hundreds of midnight-blue lakes and burbling streams.
Wildflower displays are second to none. Best of all is the opportunity to sample life at the various yaylas (pastoral communities), inhabited to varying degrees from late June to early September.
A fabulous collection of mosaics from ancient Zeugma, a Hellenistic/Roman frontier city now under the waters of a reservoir on the nearby Euphrates.
The jewel in Gaziantep’s crown is the remarkable Zeugma Mosaic Museum which houses a collection of mosaics as impressive as any found anywhere in the Roman world. Some are displayed wall-mounted, others as they would have been in situ, in the reconstructed peristyle courtyards of villas, surrounded by pillars and backed by frescoes.
The mosaics, frescoes and other finds, notably a superb bronze statue of Hermes, were all salvaged from the Hellenistic/Roman city of Zeugma.
Experience an exclusive romantic tour with your partner as a local guide shows you the most romantic places in Gaziantep. Hear interesting stories and get mesmerized by the ambiance of Gaziantep.
Find accommodation options to stay in Gazıantep
If you are thinking about the best things to do in Turkey, one of the first things that comes to mind is of course visiting hamam. The traditional sensual comforts of Turkey, hamams (Turkish baths) make a wonderfully relaxing (and cleansing) way to round off a day’s sightseeing. The soapy pleasures of a trip to the hamam are revitalising, and an authentic Turkish experience.
The sexes are usually segregated either in different baths or by different hours. nudity is not the norm, so wear underpants beneath the tea-towel-like peştamal (sarong) that you will be given. In the better baths you will also be given a towel and wooden clogs (takunya), although in more rural areas it’s best to bring your own towel.
Enhance your stay in Turkey with an amazing 3-hour traditional Turkish bath experience. Relax in the sauna and steam room, and be indulged with a body scrub, foam massage, and oil massage, all part of this rejuvenating Turkish tradition.
This unspoiled beach, one of the longest in the Mediterranean, is the perfect coda to a visit of the nearby, eponymous ancient city.
Patara was powerful Lycian city. Today it is better known for its 12km (7.5-mile) white-sand beach, the longest in Turkey, often with a considerable summer surf. This giant sandpit is as popular with breeding turtles as it is with lounging tourists, and the swamp behind the dunes is a vast archaeological site – thus it is all strictly protected, with most tourist facilities confined to the village of Gelemiş.
Discover more beautiful beaches with our guide to the best beaches in Turkey.
Find more accommodation options to stay near the Patara beach
The finest collection of Byzantine mosaics and frescoes in Turkey, adorning an attractive church near the city’s land walls.
Around five kilometres (3 miles) west of the heart of the Istanbul around the Aya Sofya is the Kariye Museum. Take a taxi or the tram to the Pazartekke stop, from where it is a fascinating twentyminute walk north along the line of the Land Walls. Today it is a museum, the walls restored to relate the stories of Christianity according to Greek Orthodoxy.
Enjoy a stunning look at the center of Byzantine Constantinople on an extraordinary walking tour of the greatest Byzantine sights. Visit monasteries, homes, and ruins with an expert guide to help you gain a deep and rich understanding of Turkey's history.
The list of things to do in Turkey will not be complete without tasting of local delicacies. Those with a particularly sweet tooth should seek out a traditional pastane (patisserie). In earlier days, before fast-food restaurants and cafés provided an alternative, young courting couples or families would make the pastane a Sunday ritual.
The favourite dessert of the sweet-toothed Turks, rich, buttery baklava, in which thin layers of filo pastry are stuffed with pistachio or walnuts, is best enjoyed with a strong, black Turkish coffee.
Explore more of Turkish cuisine with our guide to the best traditional Turkish food.
On this guided walking food tour you will travel around Eminonu, its intricate alleyways and hidden corners and go off the beaten paths while eating and enjoying most of delicious food tastings.
The deeply indented coastline between Bodrum and Finike is the venue for multi-day cruises on a gulet, or traditional wooden motor-schooner.
All the major southwest coast resorts have well-equipped yacht marinas, with the convoluted shoreline between Bodrum and Finike especially rewarding. Scuba diving is most worthwhile out of Bodrum, kalkan, kaş and Adrasan. Expect to see corals, rock formations and submerged wrecks rather than huge shoals of fish.
Spend your day on a boat tour visiting Bodrum's hidden bays. Swim in the turquoise waters surrounding Black Island and relax with lunch at Aquarius Bay.
Pergamon was one of the chief Roman cities of Anatolia, and extensive ruins remain; shown here is the sanctuary of the restored Trajan temple.
For the energetic, there is a path up to the fabled Acropolis from Bergama, though it’s probably best to use it downhill on your return. Most people will arrive by cable-car or private car to the car park and ticket booth at the top.
As you pass the scant remains of a monumental gate, you enter one of the greatest centres of Hellenistic civilisation, excavated between 1878 and 1886 by Carl Humann, a railway engineer employed by the Ottoman government.
Enjoy a day tour of Pergamon and the Asklepion with convenient hotel pick-up from Kusadasi or Selcuk. Customize your itinerary and take advantage of skip-the-line tickets.
This well-marked path, suited to all abilities, follows some of the most scenic portions of the Turquoise Coast. Hiking in this region is one of the best things to do in Turkey for walkers and nature lovers.
This coastal route, ideal for spring or autumn, notionally takes five weeks to complete, but the wildest, most popular sections are near Fethiye between Kabak and Gavurağili, and between Kaş and Üçağız.
Five kilometres (3 miles) before Kumluca, where Highway 400 swings northward, continue east along the coastal road for another 20km (12.5 miles) to reach a scenic stretch of the Lycian Way, from Karaöz down to the French-built lighthouse at Gelidonya Burnu, with the Beş Adalar (Five Islands) as a backdrop.
Discover Kekova's top landmarks on this guided sea kayak tour. See sights including the Sunken City of Kekova, Tersane Bay, and Theimussa, visit Simena Castle, swim, and enjoy lunch in Üçağiz.
Cappadocia's many rock-hewn churches contain superb early Christian frescoes.
One of the finest local churches for Byzantine frescoes is the monastery at Eski Gümüşler in the village of Gümüşler, 8km (5 miles) northeast of Niğde. Restored by British archaeologists in the 1960s, the monastery church has a completely preserved courtyard (the only one to survive in its entirety).
A room upstairs springs a surprise: a smoky wall covered with non-religious pictures of animals and birds. Outside, a winepress and baths have been discovered.
Home to native cultures from the Stone Age onwards, this superb museum is the capital’s one must-see attraction.
Today, travellers to the region pay homage to Atatürk, buried in state in the country’s bustling modern capital, Ankara, and visit the superb Museum of Anatolian Civilisations, covering 10,000 years of history.
You'll want to visit Konya to admire the religious monuments associated with the world-famous whirling dervishes. Visit Cappadocia to delight in its extraordinary landscape of conical fairy chimneys, underground cities, anthill-like monasteries and rock-cut churches.
Explore Ankara with a friendly and passionate local who will help you discover the city like a real Ankara resident.
Find more accommodation options to stay in Ankara
Medieval Armenian capital in a superb setting at the Turkish border, scattered with fine churches. The former capital of Bagratid Armenia, which flourished from the 10th to the 13th centuries, contains several of the finest Armenian churches in this region, amid dramatic scenery.
Allow at least half a day to make the most of Ani, plus an hour each way for the drive from/to Kars. Entry to the city is through the impressive Aslan Kapısı (Lion Gate), from where a signed path meanders its way from church to church. Most obvious is the Church of the Redeemer, striking because only half of its bulk survives, the rest having fallen victim to a lightning bolt.
Clinging to a cliff face above the Arpa Çayı is the exquisite Church of St Gregory and its lovely frescoes.
The medieval churches northeast of Erzurum is among northeastern Anatolia’s most striking monuments.
Getting around the Georgian valleys with their marvellous Georgian churches is considerably difficult without your own transport. There are few tour agents and infrequent dolmuşes to the villages by the churches.
The five most impressive churches lie south of Artvin, in the valleys of the Çoruh and Tortum rivers. İşhan is the first, with its huge, mind-blowing church. Work was begun during the 8th century and was only completed 300 years later. The dome rests on four massive columns, while delicate stone carvings adorn the outer walls.
The cobalt-blue expanse of Turkey's largest lake is at its most scenic in late spring or early summer.
Turkey’s largest inland body of water, Van Gölü (Lake Van) stands some 1,650 metres (5,500ft) above sea level. Flushed with the run-off from innumerable small streams in the surrounding mountains, it has no visible outlet save for evaporation, which accounts for the lake’s high salinity.
The most famous mosque in the old city in Istanbul is the Blue Mosque facing Aya Sofya across Sultanahmet Square, and deriving its architectural style from the earlier church. It has blue stained-glass windows, and exquisite İznik tiles decorate its interior.
It was built between 1609 and 1616 by the architect Mehmet Ağa, a student of the great architect Sinan, as a means of showing the world that he had outstripped his master – and the architects of Aya Sofya – and as a tribute to the superiority of Islam.
Join a guided tour of the two most famous monuments in Istanbul: the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Enjoy an introduction to Sultanahmet and the Hippodrome as you witness local life with a guide.
The village of Göreme, just 3km northeast of Uçhisar, is one of few remaining Cappadocian settlements whose rock-cut houses and fairy chimneys are still inhabited. These, along with the village’s celebrated open-air museum, make it a hugely popular tourist destination. The honeycomb of cave dwellings etched into the landscape not only provides visual intrigue, but is well equipped to provide for everyone from budget backpackers to luxury holiday-makers. and there are carpet shops, pansiyons, tour companies and restaurants everywhere.
In and around the Göreme valley, in a spectacular scenery entirely made by erosion, there are shrines cut into the rock, which are a unique record of Byzantine art. There are also troglodyte dwellings, villages and underground cities - the remains of a former traditional human habitation that dates back to the 4th century.
This Cappadocia Red Tour will depart from your hotel. Along with a professional tour guide and driver, you will visit historic sites in Cappadocia such as Devrent Valley, Pasabagi Valley, Avanos, Göreme Open Air Museum, Esentepe and more.
Find more accommodation options to stay in Göreme
Located to the northeast of Aya Sofya is the Topkapı Palace. The complex is considerably smaller than the original, which used to extend down to the Sea of Marmara and include the area covered today by Sirkeci railway station and Gülhane Park, but the grounds are still enormous. You need half a day to appreciate it properly.
The Topkapı was the nerve centre of the extensive Ottoman Empire after Mehmet the Conqueror’s great grandson, Süleyman the Magnificent, made the decision to make it the seat of the Ottoman Empire and his royal residence.
Skip the ticket lines and discover Topkapi Palace in Istanbul on an informative tour with an audio guide. Explore at your own pace and take a break for coffee.
If you are looking for what to do in Turkey for hiking don't miss the beautiful Pigeon Valley. It's a spectacular valley near the town of Uchisar, which is named because of the thousands of pigeon lodges carved into the soft tuff since ancient times, and provides another breathtaking view of Cappadocia together with fascinating views of the pigeon lodges.
The valley got its name from the pigeons and ranks first amongst the most popular, most well-known and striking valleys of Cappadocia.
See the best of Cappadocia with a private day trip from Goreme. Enter the Pigeon Valley and delve into Derinkuyu Underground City before traveling to Cavusin and admiring the Fairy Chimneys.
The solidified mineral-rich “waterfalls” of the pale travertine terraces are a cliché of Turkish tourism, but is one of the best things to do in Turkey nonetheless. The extensive remains of Roman Hierapolis up top are an added bonus.
Magical Pamukkale the “Cotton Castle”, lies 19km (12 miles) north of Denizli, off the main highway from Aydin. It’s actually a solidified cascade of travertine, formed by calcium bicarbonate-laden hot springs just uphill that have left stalactite-festooned terraces and scallop-shaped pools as they drain over the escarpment here and cool.
Experience Pamukkale with its dreamlike landscapes and waters, long prized for their healing properties on Pamukkale and Hierapolis Tour with Lunch. Then visit the settlement of Hierapolis and discover its ancient history.
Fethiye itself has no beaches; the nearest is at Çalış, 4km (2.5 miles), a mosquito-friendly, déclassé resort slowly being converted to holiday homes. The area’s premier beach, featuring on every second tourist-office poster of Turkey, lies across the peninsula at Ölüdeniz, the “Dead Sea”, 25km (15 miles) away.
Until the late 1980s, this was one of the Mediterranean’s most beautiful hideaways, a cobalt lagoon encircled by platinum sand, with Aleppo pines leaning over the water. But the overlanders’ obligatory halt of yore has since become a standard mass-market resort. The entire valley behind less scenic, adjacent Belceğiz beach is crammed to capacity with restaurants and hotels, most of the latter dominated by package companies.
You can get airborne on a paraglider above Ölüdeniz and kaş, or more passively (and expensively) in a hot-air balloon over Cappadocia.
Glide high above sandy beaches and turquoise waters on a paragliding flight. Take in views of majestic mountains on the horizon. Start with a briefing by your instructor and then experience a tandem paraglide, choosing the time of day that suits you best.
Turkey is one of the best places to travel with kids. Check our guide to the best places to go with kids and find some more inspirational ideas for the family holidays.
If you prefer to plan and book your trip to the Turkey without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.
Visiting Turkey is a trully unforgetable expirience. For more inspirational travel tips check our Rough Guide books. If you travel further in Turkey, read more about the best time to go and the best places to visit in Turkey. For inspiration use the itineraries and our local travel experts. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.
We may earn commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.