15 Epic Places to Visit In Turkey
During our 3 weeks in Turkey, we posted lots of wanderlust-inducing pictures on our Instagram account of all the places to visit in Turkey 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 many things to 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. There are just so many reasons to visit Turkey.
We’ve put together a list of all of the things to do and places to visit in Turkey that are reason enough to start looking into flights to this surprising country!
1. Take a Dip in Thermal Hot Springs in Pamukkale
The terrace 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.
This is one of the most epic places to visit in Turkey. 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.
How to get there: You can catch an overnight bus from Istanbul to Denizli, which will take about 12 hours. From Denizli, you will need to get on a minibus to complete the 30 min drive to Pamukkale. Both Pamukkale Bus Company and Metro Bus Company offer regular routes between the two cities. Another option would be to take the bus from a city on the coast, such as Antalya.
Where to Stay in Pamukkale:
We found the best hotel prices on Agoda while staying in Pamukkale. The Pamukkale Melrose Viewpoint Suites and the Ayapam Hotel both have good reviews and are in a decent location in proximity to the center of town.
2. Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride Over 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!
VIDEO: Watch our hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia!
How to get there: Depending on the season you can fly to into Cappadocia airport for less than $100 USD, round-trip from Istanbul. Another option would be to take an overnight bus from Istanbul or from other cities on the coast for about 100 TL (less than $20 USD).
3. 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.
How to get there: If you’re staying in Göreme in the Cappadocia region, Love Valley is a quick 15 min cab ride outside of the city.
4. Sleep in a Cave in Göreme
People from all over Turkey and the rest of the world flock to the Cappadocia region for two reasons:
Now, we’re not talking about laying down your head in any old bat-ridden cave. The hotels in the town of Göreme 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.
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 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!
5. Go Underground in the City of Derinkuyu
The Cappadocia region of Turkey is known for its “fairy chimney” cave dwellings, making it one of the most unique places to visit in Turkey, 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.
Imagine doing some renovations to your house and finding a hidden doorway to lead to the largest underground city is Turkey. That is exactly how Derinkuyu was discovered in 1963. The underground city, which is large enough to have sheltered 20,000 people together with their livestock, has since been excavated.
Tourists can wander through the narrow tunnels and passageways 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!
How to get there: The city of Derinkuyu is just a 45 min drive from Göreme (in the Cappadocia region). Buses and even taxis will take you there for a day of exploration.
6. Visit the Ancient City of Ephesus
Once the trade center of the ancient world, today Ephesus is a UNESCO World Heritage site visited by tourists year-round who want to learn more about Turkey’s ancient roots. The city has both Greek and Roman history dating back to the 10th century BC. You can stroll for hours down the streets viewing the ancient ruins of temples, libraries, theaters, houses and statues.
Possibly the most famous building that once stood in this city is the Temple of Artemis, which is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Other buildings include the impressive Library of Celsus and the Temple of Hadrian.
How to get there: The easiest way to visit Ephesus would be to take a bus from Izmir. The bus system in Turkey is very comfortable and reliable with busses running about every half hour and tickets costing you only about 10 TL for the hour-long trip to Ephesus. Renting a car is another option that would give you slightly more freedom.
7. Go Paragliding over Ölüdeniz
Paragliding is perhaps the closest you can get to the feeling of flying without actually sprouting wings. Ölüdeniz gained fame when Daniel Craig ran off a cliff in the movie Skyfall. If James Bond can do it, so can we! Err… right?
Make like James Bond and give paragliding a try in this picturesque seaside town. If soaring above the lush cliffs that hug the Mediterranean isn’t adventurous enough for you, you can ask your guide if you can pilot for an extra adrenaline rush! This was a first for both of us, and I think it’s safe to say we were spoiled by the views.
How to get there: We took a bus from nearby Antalya, a resort town on the south coast. It was about a 4-hour trip and costs us about $30 USD. You can book a paragliding tour with Get Your Guide which includes an experienced instructor, transportation and extreme sports insurance.
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 to go paragliding over these blue waters, but not for much longer than a day.
Another spot to go paragliding in Turkey is in Alanya, on the southern coast. There are plenty of things to do in Alanya and is worth a spot while traveling around Turkey.
8. 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 $50 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!
How to get there: There are several buses that go to Faralya from big cities and nearby towns. We took the bus from Ölüdeniz, a short and comfortable ride.
9. Explore Magical Butterfly Valley
Wander amongst wildflowers, fruit trees and wild goats in this enchanted valley that will have you wondering if you’ve 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 blue waters. Have I sold you on this dreamy paradise yet?
How to get there: To enter Butterfly Valley, 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 the 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.
10. Kayak Over the Ruins of Kekova
Turkey has an incredible amount of ancient ruins, and is lest touristy 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.
Experience it for yourself: We booked our kayak tour in the town of Kaş where there were plenty of tour options to choose from. Just be sure to do your research the get the tour best suited to your needs!
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.
11. 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.
How to get there: 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.
12. Holiday Like a Local in Çeşme
Çeşme is a resort town west of Izmir on Turkey’s Aegean coast surrounded by clear blue waters and accessible dive sites. The beauty of Çeşme is that it hasn’t quite hit the international radar and is mostly frequented by Turkish vacationers giving it that untouched-by-tourists sort of charm.
How to get there: You can fly into the international airport in Izmir, from which there are regular shuttles to Çeşme, just a 1 hour drive west. Another option would be to take the bus all the way down from Istanbul, which will set you back about 9 hours, however the buses in Turkey are quite comfortable and offer amenities like restrooms and snacks.
Where to Stay in Çeşme:
We found some great boutique hotels in Çeşme on Booking.com for reasonable prices between $50 - $100 USD per night.
13. Take a Walking Tour of Istanbul
The gateway between the East and the West, and the only city in the world that can claim residence on two separate continents, Istanbul is truly a one-of-a-kind city. With two major airports and direct flights to cities all over the world, it’s likely to be your entry point into Turkey and we highly suggest you take advantage and stay a few days (or more if your schedule allows!).
While it is a large city – it’s spread out over two continents after all – most of the major highlights of Istanbul can be visited on a walking tour, combined with some public transportation. You’ll learn about the progression of this historically significant city, visit landmarks like the famous Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and Topkapı Palace. Any good walking tour will show visitors the famous Grand Bazaar, Turkey’s largest and oldest covered marketplace, and the Spice Market next door.
Experience it for yourself: Unless you want to book a private tour guide, there is no need to spend money on a walking tour of Istanbul, or even book ahead of time! Just show up at the Sultan Ahmet Park (in between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia) at 10:30 a.m for a free walking tour. Guides typically have a name tag and flag or umbrella. The tour usually takes 2.5 hours.
Tip: If you’re female and plan to enter the Blue Mosque, you will need to have the appropriate clothing covering your shoulders and legs. The mosque offers coverups for female visitors, but you can skip the line for that if you come prepared with your own clothes.
BONUS: Take a Turkish Cooking Class
While you can find these classes in many locations around Turkey, the one we did was in Istanbul and we are pretty sure it was 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!
14. Party the Night Away in Bodrum
Dubbed the “St. Tropez of Turkey”, the city of Bodrum is a summer hot spot and idyllic beach destination on the turquoise blue Aegean coast. Whether you prefer live music or a hopping club, there is no shortage of nightlife in this coastal paradise. Party the night away and then sleep it off while you soak up some rays on the beach or at one of the many infinity pools in the area.
Bodrum is not just for partiers. There is plenty of culture and history to be soaked up as well. The city features side-by-side bays surrounding the Bodrum Castle, a medieval fortress completed in the 4th century B.C. The castle was built from the stones of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The ruins of which can still be viewed in the area as well.
If history isn’t your thing, you can get a taste of the local culture. The coastal location boasts plenty of restaurants with fresh seafood and local favorites such as traditional stuffed muscles. Check out the local market for fresh olive oils (created at the hundred-year-old factory in the old town) and watch local artisans weave beautiful Turkish carpets.
How to get there: Bodrum has an international airport with direct flights from Istanbul and other European and Asian cities. You can also take a bus from other major cities in Turkey, rent a car and make the drive yourself, or arrive by sea! There are daily ferries from the Greek islands of Cos and Rhodes that make their way into Bodrum.
Where to Stay in Bodrum:
For a city that’s centered around it’s harbor, you’ll want to stay close to the coast if you want to be in the center of the action.
If you’re on a budget:
You cannot beat the prices at the Sah Hotel, starting at just $60 USD per night for a beachside hotel. Be sure to book well in advance as these deals get picked up fast!
The Su Hotel & Cottages will give you more of an apartment feel where you can book one and two bedroom places with small kitchenettes.
If you are willing to splurge:
The Bodrum Edition is part of the Edition boutique hotel collection. With stunning views of the Aegean Sea, you’ll get the five-star treatment at this luxury establishment.
15. Sail Up the Coast of Turkey
The southeast coast of Turkey, with its turquoise blue waters, white sandy beaches and charming coastal towns, is known as the Turkish Riviera, or better as “The Turquoise Coast.” Whatever you want to call it, Turkey’s Mediterranean coast is truly a paradise that is best explored by boat. Whether you book a tour aboard a traditional gület (wooden yacht) or charter a boat yourself, sailing this glistening stretch of coastline is sure to be a highlight on anyone’s Turkey itinerary.
Places to Visit on Turkey’s Mediterranean Coast:
Antalya: A resort city filled with yachts and fancy hotels surrounding the Old Harbor and beautiful white sand beaches. Antalya is considered the “Gateway to Turkey’s Mediterranean Coast.”
Fethiye: A port city known for the famous blue lagoon and white sand peninsula jutting out from the beach at Ölüdeniz (See #6). Aside from it’s beautiful coastline, Fethiye’s proximity to Butterfly Valley (See #8) makes it a coastal town not to be missed.
Marmaris: Another resort town known for its hopping nightlife on Bar Street, pebble beaches and long seafront promenade. It’s crystal clear waters makes Marmaris a popular diving destination.
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