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.
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.
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.
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.
Built in the third century, the Hippodrome was the home of now-named Istanbul’s sporting entertainment during the Byzantine era, with a wide track for chariot racing. Today, the route of the old track is covered by Sultanahmet Square (Sultanahmet Meydani), a wide open space in the center of the old city, punctuated by ancient obelisks.
The Rose Valley (Güllüdere Vadisi) in Cappadocia is filled with enormous, cone-shaped rocks and offers some of the region’s best hiking. Home to the Cross Church (Haçli Kilise), the Columned Church (Kolonlu Kilise), and other sighes, the valley is particularly striking late in the day when the sinking sun brings out the stones’ rosy glow.
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.
The Bosphorus Bridge (Bogazici Koprusu) in Istanbul is one of three continent-spanning bridges over the Bosphorus Strait, connecting Europe and Asia. When it opened in 1973, the 5,118-foot (1,560-meter) bridge was the fourth-longest suspension bridge in the world. And though it has since slid down the rankings, it is still an impressive sight to behold.
More Things to Do in Turkey
Uchisar Castle (Uçhisar Kalesi) is Cappadocia’s tallest fairy chimney, Mother Nature’s castle in the form of a volcanic rock outcrop visible from miles in any direction. While not a castle by the standard definition the outcrop was used during the late Byzantine and early Ottoman periods as a natural fortress for protection against armies on the surrounding plains. Erosion has revealed a honeycomb-like structure of cavities within the rock, many of which were used as natural dwellings until the makeshift village was evacuated during the 1960s.
A climb up 120 steps leads to the summit of Uchisar Castle — a perfect vantage point for watching a sunset over the stunning Cappadocian landscape.
Built in the 17th century, the covered Spice Bazaar is Istanbul’s fragrant hub for all things flavorful. Piles of pepper, saffron, teas, and dried apricots nestle alongside shops selling colorful Turkish delight, silk scarves, and glass mosaic lamps. Take time to chat with vendors, sip tea, and haggle for the perfect price.
Rising high above its namesake neighborhood, Istanbul’s Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi) dates back to the Genoese presence in Constantinople in the 14th century. An elevator takes you up to a viewing platform located under the roof, which offers panoramic views of the Old City peninsula and Beyoglu neighborhood.
Built over just four months, the 15th-century Rumeli Fortress played a key role in the fall of Byzantine Constantinople. Together with the Anatolian Fortress (Anadolu Hisarı) on the Bosphorus, Rumeli Fortress was used by the Ottomans to cut off aid and supplies to Constantinople. Today, it serves as both an open-air theater and site of historical interest.
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.
Located in the shadow of Istanbul’s first bridge, Beylerbeyi Palace (Beylerbeyi Sarayi) was historically a summer residence for Ottoman sultans. The 24 rooms of the palace contain a mix of Ottoman and Western decoration, with 19th-century furniture from Europe and garden pavilions, and its ornate exterior is visible from the Bosphorus Strait.
Cappadocia is already well known for its unusual rock formations, but at Devrent Valley—nicknamed Imagination Valley—these large stones are the densest cluster found anywhere else in the region and they seem to take on a life of their own.
Just northeast of Antalya lies the region’s most significant Roman ruins. Dating to the Bronze Age, the city of Perge was originally settled by the Hittites, but under Roman occupation grew to become one of the most beautiful and scholarly cities of the ancient world, attracting important thinkers such as physician Asklepiades, philosopher Varius, and Apollonius, a pupil of Archimedes.
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.
Located on an islet in the Bosphorus Strait, just offshore from Istanbul’s Uskudar neighborhood, Maiden’s Tower (Kiz Kulesi) is a historical site that has inspired myths and legends. The Ottomans expanded and rebuilt the structure, and today it contains a restaurant and bar with views of the city.
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.
Surprisingly for a city split between two continents, Istanbul existed without connecting bridges for most of its existence. After the construction of the Bosphorus Bridge in the 1970s, the second unifying bridge, Fatih Sultan Mehmet, came in 1988. It is part of Istanbul’s O-2 highway and connects the European and Asian sides of the city.
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.
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar (Kapali Çarsi) is the ultimate covered market. Its 5,000+ vendors hawk carpets, beaded bracelets, gold and silver jewelry, multicolored lanterns, leather goods, ceramics, belly-dancing outfits, and more. With goods available at all price points, you’re sure to find the perfect souvenir in the bazaar’s labyrinthine alleys.
- Things to do in Istanbul
- Things to do in Kusadasi
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- Things to do in Antalya
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- Things to do in Alanya
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- Things to do in Cappadocia
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- Things to do in Western Anatolia