Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Turkey
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With its colorful fishing boats and dazzling fleet of luxury yachts, Marmaris Marina is the lively focal point of the city’s waterfront, set against a dramatic backdrop of Marmaris Castle. Known as one of the most important ports along the Eastern Mediterranean coast, Marmaris makes a popular stop for sunseekers cruising the Turkish Riviera. Despite boasting space for up to 830 yachts, the marina can fill quickly during the summer months.
Even if you’re not arriving by sea, the picturesque marina makes a pleasant addition to a walking tour. The waterfront promenade is lined with restaurants, bars and cafes, as well as an enormous shopping center and an open-air swimming pool.
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.
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.
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 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.
More Things to Do in Turkey
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dotted with a dozen islands interspersed with secluded bays and inlets, and set against a backdrop of forested hills that slope dramatically up from the shore, the Gulf of Fethiye (Fethiye Körfezi) offers one of Turkey’s prettiest stretches of coastline and is deservedly popular as a boating destination.
One of the most enjoyable ways to see the area is on a daylong “12-island cruise” that takes passengers around the gulf. Most cruises make stops at about five or six of the islands (all of one of which are uninhabited), allowing time for swimming, snorkeling and other activities.
Highlights might include exploring the remains of a Byzantine church and Roman shipyard on Tersane; swimming off the long, sandy beaches of the Yassıca Adalar (“Flat Islands”); or taking a dip amidst the half-submerged Roman ruins known as “Cleopatra’s Baths.”
For travelers with more time, three- or four-day cruises, in which you sleep onboard the boat between daily excursions, allow you to experience the delights of the Gulf of Fethiye at a more leisurely pace.
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.
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.
Perched on a rocky promontory overlooking the harbor, the striking Castle of St. Peter (also known as Bodrum Castle or Bodrumm Kalesi) is an instantly recognizable Bodrum landmark and one of the city’s top tourist attractions. Built by the Knights Hospitaller of Rhodes in the 15th century, the castle was designed by German architect Heinrich Schlegelholt and partially crafted from the stones of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Despite losing its since-reconstructed minaret in WWI bombings, the castle remains a remarkably preserved example of medieval architecture, encircled by its imposing sea walls and including a moat, a mosque added by Süleyman the Magnificent in 1522 and five towers - the English, Italian, German, French and Snake towers. Today St. Peter's Castle is open to visitors and hosts the impressive Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology. It also provides a dramatic backdrop for cultural events and festivals throughout the year.
Famous for the castle-like rock formation looming 90 meters high above the town, Ortahisar, or Middle Castle, is, well, right in the middle of the Cappadocian towns of Goreme, Urgup, Uchisar, and Neveshir.
Though it is becoming more popular with visitors, Ortahisar is still a quiet farming town that’s sleepier than many of the other Cappadocian hotspots that are today bursting with boutique hotels. Life in Ortahisar is based around the cobbled streets which extend from the central square, and wandering the streets lined with stone houses is a great way to get a taste of life in a traditional Cappadocian town.
The town is also known for the Culture Museum Restaurant, where a series of dioramas in the upstairs room displays traditional life in Cappadocia, while downstairs the restaurant isn’t a sideline next to the gift shop, it’s in the actual museum. Just a few kilometers is a museum of another kind, Goreme Open Air Museum. You can walk there from Ortahisar if you have good hiking legs! Also, 1km northeast of the town center, you can visit Hallacdere Monastery where intriguing animal heads are sculpted on the walls.
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.
- 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