Bucket List Experiences in Turkey

During our 3 weeks in Turkey, we posted lots of wanderlust-inducing pictures on our Instagram account and have been shocked by the amount of messages we’ve received from followers.

The basic gist is this:

Reader: “Where are you?! It looks so beautiful!”

Us: “Still in Turkey!”

Reader: “Really? I had no idea there was so much do in Turkey!”

You know what? Turkey has surprised us too. We didn’t know much about this country before we booked our flight, but it has quickly become one of our favorites.

Turkey is a country where East meets West and history meets adventure. The people are welcoming, the cuisine is delightful, the culture has depth. Turkey has sun kissed beaches, pine-covered mountains, and more than enough attractions to fully occupy a month’s time.

We’ve put together a list of activities that alone are reason enough to start looking into flights to this surprising country!

Take a Dip in Thermal Hot Springs in Pamukkale

The terraces pools filled with milky mineral waters look surreal in pictures and more dreamlike in person. The white mineral deposits make it look as if you’re stepping on a snow-covered hill, but the tepid water will tell you otherwise. Spend an afternoon soaking, splashing and relaxing in these unique springs. And when your fingers have turned pruney, head to the top of the hill where you can explore the ancient ruins of Hierapolis.

Take a Turkish Cooking Class

A country’s culture is tied closely to its cuisine, and you can learn about one by exploring the other. If you like to eat (and let’s be real, who doesn’t?!), taking a cooking class when visiting a new country is one of the best things you can do! Turkish cuisine has complexities you won’t pick up on as an outsider, yet many dishes are easy to recreate at home. Istanbul has many classes to choose from, but we’re pretty sure we found the best! In this class you’ll not only learn, but you’ll leave Turkey with a souvenir that keeps on giving – a recipe and the knowhow to recreate it at home!

Hike through the Valley of Love

Viewing the landscape of Cappadocia from a hot air balloon is mesmerizing, but so is getting up close and personal with the flowers and rock formations that dot the region’s valleys. And speaking of rock formations… the ones in Love Valley resemble… ummm... well, let’s just say it’s called “Love Valley” for a reason. Pack a picnic lunch and wear sturdy shoes for this little day trip, where you’ll likely be amongst just a handful of other hikers. 

Get Scrubbed Down and Lathered Up in a Hammam

A ubiquitous Turkish experience is visiting a hammam, or bathhouse. We'd had similar experiences in a Korean jimjibang and a Japanese onsen, but this experience was unique in its own way. The longstanding tradition of shedding ones clothes, getting scrubbed down and lathered in bubbles then relaxing on warm marble slabs has transcended centuries and is common even today. Many hammams are hundreds of years old, and if you close your eyes and listen you can almost hear the conversations of centuries past. Hammams range from budget-friendly establishments that are frequented by locals to seriously luxurious joints that’ll rival any 5-star spa.

Tip: For a budget friendly hammam that is particularly good for couples, our pick is the historic Aga Hamami, which is conveniently located between the Taxim and Beyoglu neighborhoods.

Sleep in a Teepee in Paradise

If you’re like me and have a childhood dream of sleeping in a teepee, Farayla is the place to do it! To be honest, it’s not much different than spending the night in a traditional tent, but the location is what really made our stay special. Shiva Camp is perched high on a cliff and boasts panoramic views of the Mediterranean below. This million-dollar view isn’t just for the rich. A night in a teepee at Shiva Camp costs just around $40 USD (very typical for the area) and includes a hearty breakfast and dinner for two people.

If you get tired of looking at the ocean, and really want to get your toes wet, hike down 20 minutes to the shore to one of the best beaches in Turkey! Though you’ll find pebbles instead of powdery sand, this secluded strip on turquoise waters will steal your heart. Kabak Beach is quite remote, but there are a couple restaurants and even a market that sells wine. Cheers to a perfect afternoon!

Go Paragliding over Ölüdeniz

Paragliding is perhaps the closest you can get to feeling of flying without actually sprouting wings. Ölüdeniz gained fame when Daniel Craig ran off a cliff in the movie Skyfall. If Ölüdeniz was good enough for James Bond, it’s good enough for you! Make like Mr. Bond and give paragliding a try in this seaside town. If soaring above the lush cliffs that hug the Mediterranean isn’t adventurous for you, and ask you pilot to for an extra adrenaline rush! This was a first for both of us, and I think its safe to say we were spoiled by the views.

Our Note: We had a great time seeing Ölüdeniz from above and think it is one of the most beautiful places to go paragliding in the world. That said, we didn’t love the town itself. We found it to be extremely touristy, overpriced and dare we say… trashy. We definitely weren’t feeling the vibe, and it was the only town in Turkey we actually disliked. If you are in the south of the country and want to paraglide, we would highly recommend making a stop there, but not for much longer than a day.

Go Underground in Cappadocia

This region of Turkey is known for its “fairy chimney” cave dwellings, but what lies beneath the surface is just as impressive. Cappadocia was one of the earliest Christian settlements, and to avoid persecution, many people lived underground. We’re talking thousands. You can visit these underground cities today and see the labyrinth of cave systems that include places for livestock, churches and wineries. They really did have everything they needed under the earth’s surface! 

Explore Magical Butterfly Valley

Wander amongst wildflowers, fruit trees and wild goats in this enchanted valley that will have you wondering if you’re stepped into a storybook paradise that’s been frozen in time. Just a kilometer from the ocean, you’ll find a tumbling waterfall framed by boulders and flowering trees. And if you get bored of wandering, relax on the pebble-strewn beach that is lapped by crystal waters. Have I sold you on this dreamy paradise yet? To get there, you must either climb down from the village above using ropes and a bit of rock climbing prowess. If you’re no mountaineer, you can reach Butterfly Valley via a 20-minute boat ride from Ölüdeniz. The water taxi leaves the main beach in Ölüdeniz twice each day, at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and returns at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. If you want to spend the night in Butterfly Valley, bring a tent, or stay in the very basic accommodation in the valley.

Kayak Over the Ruins of Kekova

Turkey has an incredible amount of ancient ruins, and is lest touristed than its popular neighbors, Italy and Greece. One of the areas with a high concentration of ruins is a region along the south coast that forms the Lycian Trail. 

Don’t expect to look down and see a whole city with recognizable storefronts and homes. This isn’t a movie, but it’s impressive nonetheless. The clear water allows you to see remains of a town that was flooded after an earthquake. Ruins still stand on the shore as well, and are reminders of those who called the land home. 

The kayak trip will stop at the charming little town of Kalekoy, which can only be reached by boat. Spend a few hours in the sun enjoying a leisurely lunch, hiking to some hilltop ruins, snorkeling with turtles and devouring the town’s famous goat milk ice cream.

Tip: The kayak trip was relaxed and not very difficult or tiring compared with other sea kayaking we’ve done. We would highly recommend taking a kayak trip because it’s an environmentally friendly way to explore and group size is small; but if it’s just not your thing, you can also see the sunken city of Kekova by boat.

Roast Marshmallows over the Eternal Flame of the Chimera

The quiet seaside town of Olympos is known for its ruins, a laidback pebbly beach and the eternal flames called the Chimera. This groupings of flames burns naturally in the Cirali mountains and they are rumored to have been seen by ships at sea for hundreds of years.

The scientific explanation is that the flames are caused by methane gas oozing from the mountain’s crevices. While they are constantly burning, the time of year and the barometric pressure can make them vary in size.  

Once the sun has set, take a shuttle to the edge of the mountain, and once you get out of the vehicle you’re on your own. Hike about 30 minutes up the steep and wooded mountainside, enjoying serenity and spectacular stars. Eventually you’ll reach a clearing where flames emerge from the rocky ground, and this is where you’ll stop. Enjoy a peaceful night on your own in the moonlight, or make friends with others gathered around the flames by offering to share marshmallows! The campfire vibes are strong on this mountain with endless flames, and you may be tempted to stay all night. Just don’t miss your return ride to Olympos because it’s a long walk back!

Tip: Buy marshmallows, sticks and perhaps wine in town to bring along! We didn’t think of this, but met a couple that was kind enough to share with us, and it really made the experience special. Be sure not to leave any trash if you decide to do this.

What to pack: Bringing a blanket would have made our time camped out in front of the flames even more comfortable. Also, wear sturdy shoes, as the hike is on uneven ground in the dark. Your driver should provide you with a flashlight, but it’s never bad to be prepared. Mine didn’t work, so I was glad I had my own headlamp.

Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride Over the Dreamlike Landscape of Cappadocia

Riding in a hot air balloon is the ultimate bucket list experience, and Cappadocia is one of the world’s top destinations for this adventure! Rising above unique rock formations in a sea of colorful balloons will certainly be a highlight of your time in Turkey and is an experience you will remember for a lifetime. Everyone we talked to who had done a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia was starry-eyed days later and swore the experience was worth every penny.

Tip: For an incredible hot air balloon ride, book with the best company out there!

Sleep in a Cave

People from all over Turkey and the rest of the world flock to the Cappadocia region for two reasons:

  1. Go on a hot air balloon ride (see above).
  2. Sleep in a cave.

Now, we’re not talking about laying down your head in any old bat-ridden cave. The hotels in the town of Goreme are seriously luxurious (though there are a few options for budget travelers as well).

We stayed in two wonderful different cave hotels that are suited for different budgets, and we highly recommend both depending on how much money you want to spend.

Tip: If you’re on a tight budget: Falcon Cave Suites is an incredible value at around $25 USD per night (price can vary based on time of year). The room isn’t a cave per se, but is made of stone bricks and has a high, arched ceiling which makes it feel almost as if you’re in a cave. The room itself has lots of natural light and a spacious bathroom with a Jacuzzi pool (yes please!). The breakfast is good and the family who runs this hotel is nice, though their English is minimal.
Note: Many “cave hotels” in this area don’t have actual cave rooms, but instead feature stone rooms (like Falcon Cave Suites, mentioned above) . If you want the real cave experience, you’ll have to do a bit of research and will have to be willing to pay a bit more money.

If you have a bigger budget: Kelebek Cave Hotel is ahhhh-mazing! Each of their 47 rooms is unique, and are suited for a range of budgets. We stayed in an actual cave room, which was very cozy. Read our full review to find out our favorite part about this hotel. Hint… it may have something to do with food!

Which Bucket List item looks best to you?! Have you ever visited Turkey? What were your favorite experiences?