Beyond the Blue Mosque: Places to Visit and Things to Do in Turkey

Check out our video of "81 Fun and Interesting (and Completely Safe) Things To Do in Turkey" on YouTube

As you can probably imagine, I answer a lot of questions from people who are thinking about visiting Turkey. Although my area of "expertise" is in Blue Cruise gulet holidays (and, according to Google, sharks and shark attacks in Turkey), I get enquiries about all things related to travelling in, and travelling to Turkey.

Last week, I answered a question from a nice young woman who was planning her itinerary for a month-long trip to Turkey. "I'm visiting the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia", she said. "What else is there to do in Turkey?"

Now she's probably thinking "Egads! What am I going to do for a whole month in Turkey?" And I'm thinking "Egads! A month isn't nearly long enough!" But, as they say, if one person asks a question, other people are probably wondering the same thing. So here's a random list of 81 fun and interesting things to do in Turkey. Some are popular (like visit the Blue Mosque), others less so (like trying a squat toilet). But they are all things that should go on your Bucket List if you're planning a trip to Turkey.

In no particular order:

  1. Spend a day at the beach, any beach. Turkey has 454 Blue Flag beaches, which are beaches recognized for their safety and cleanliness by an international assessment.
  2. Take a Turkish cooking class. Each region has specialty dishes made from local ingredients and special spices.
  3. Wander the ruins of churches built to honour St. Nicholas on Gemiler Island.
  4. Put on comfortable hiking shoes and explore the ghost village at Kayaköy.
  5. Ride the ferry between Europe and Asia.
  6. Visit a shipyard and watch master boat builders craft wooden gulets by hand.
  7. Visit the original Mevlana lodge in Konya, home to the Whirling Dervishes.
  8. Slather yourself in insect repellent and explore the ruins at Kaunos.
  9. Practice your haggling skills and shop 'til you drop in the Grand Bazaar.
  10. Explore the underground city at Cappadocia and the badlands in surrounding Göreme National Park.
  11. Pay a visit to the public latrina in ancient Ephesus and be thankful that modern day toilet facilities are a little less... social.
  12. Tour Bodrum Castle.
  13. Explore Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, home and headquarters of the Ottoman sultans.
  14. Admire Istanbul from every direction at the top of Galata Tower.
  15. Skip McDonald's and Burger King, eat Turkish street food instead.
  16. Tube down the Saklıkent Gorge.
  17. Hike the Lycian trail, or parts of it, because the entire trail is nearly 550km long!
  18. Stock up on your favourite spices at the Spice Bazaar. (The famous Spice Bazaar is located in Istanbul, but you can find good quality spices at smaller bazaars and shops around the country.)
  19. Try a squat toilet, just for fun. And a bidet. And don't forget, used toilet paper isn't flushed here. Put it in the bin provided.
  20. Ride a water taxi through the Dalyan Delta, a brackish, bamboo filled wetland where the fresh water flowing down the Dalyan River mixes with the Mediterranean Sea.
  21. Sleep in a tree-house hotel in Olympos.
  22. Fish from a bridge, fish from a boat, fish from pretty much anywhere.
  23. Sit with the locals and drink çay (Turkish tea).
  24. Wake up early and go for a sunrise hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia.
  25. Visit the caves at Eriğli to see where Hercules is said to have battled Cerberus, the three headed dog.
  26. Cruise the Bosphorus at night and admire Istanbul's skyline.
  27. Explore the ruins of Byzantine-era Simena castle in the Kekova region.
  28. Watch the sun set over the Mediterranean from a restored theatre in Kaş.
  29. Visit the Hippodrome of Constantinople, a bustling circus and gathering place in its day.
  30. Visit the turtle sanctuary at Iztuzu Beach.
  31. See and be seen at Taksim Square.
  32. Play Backgammon, a popular board game that originated in the Middle East about 5000 years ago. Many Turks like to play at lightning speed. Can you keep up?
  33. Go to a nargile bar (also called a hookah or shisha bar).
  34. Visit the Chora Church and marvel at the gold-gilded artwork on the walls and ceilings.
  35. Drink Türk kahvesi (Turkish Coffee) with a local and have your fortune told.
  36. Volunteer your time and skills. Children, animals, and Syrian refugees are popular causes in Turkey.
  37. Watch a Whirling Dervish show.
  38. Go scuba diving in Kaş to experience some of the clearest water in the Mediterranean.
  39. Dance in the courtyard of the Ankara castle.
  40. Learn to belly dance.
  41. Eat dessert made from chicken. Yep, it's called Tavuk Göğsü, and it's a thing!
  42. Play Okey, a tile game that is commonly played in Turkey's tea and coffee houses.
  43. Feast on Turkish Breakfast, the most important meal of the day!
  44. Learn about the traditional art of carpet weaving. Any carpet seller will be happy to talk about the craft for hours.
  45. Explore the ruins of Phaselis near Antalya.
  46. Visit the church where St. Nicholas was a bishop.
  47. Pay your respects at Galapolli.
  48. Play night-time golf in Antalya.
  49. Witness the "Fire of the Gods" at Olympos.
  50. Visit the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus in Bodrum.
  51. Watch the sunrise at Mount Nemrut.
  52. Kayak over the ruins of a Sunken City in Kekova.
  53. Eat dondurma (Turkish ice cream made with mastic) and enjoy the ice cream man's show.
  54. Buy Simit from a street vendor and enjoy with a glass of çay (Turkish tea).
  55. Paraglide off Mount Babadağ at Ölüdeniz.
  56. Educate yourself at any of the incredible museums in the country. There are quite literally hundreds of them!
  57. Visit the Basilica Cistern.
  58. Eat Baklava every day.
  59. Visit the ruins at Troy.
  60. Discover why Rakı is called "Lion's Milk".
  61. Eat Turkish "fast food" like a local - pide, lahmacun,and doner kebaps.
  62. Visit the House of the Virgin Mary near Selçuk.
  63. Suntan on Patara Beach, Turkey's longest sand beach and the birthplace of St. Nicholas. (Okay, he probably wasn't born ON the beach, but he was born nearby.)
  64. Visit Atatürk's Mausoleum and Museum in Ankara and watch the Changing of the Guard.
  65. Marvel at the Blue Mosque.
  66. Go to a Turkish football game. Always cheer for Galatasaray if they're playing!
  67. Shop for authentic Turkish textiles; Turkish cotton is the best!
  68. Drink Salep, a sweet tasting hot drink made from ground up orchid roots.
  69. Explore the ruins at Tlos, the mythological home of Pegasus.
  70. Drink Ayran, a salty yoghurt based drink that is often served with foam. (Personally, I'm not fan. But, like blue cheese, you'll either love it or hate it. No one is ambivalent about the taste of Ayran.)
  71. Take a daily boat trip to explore local bays and coves. Most serve a barbequed lunch and visit several spots for swimming and sunbathing.
  72. Tour Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul.
  73. Check out a local grocery store and see if you recognize any brands from home. The names may be different, but the packaging and trademark colours will give you a sense of déjà vu. Detergents, cereals, and shampoos - that's where I noticed the most similarities. How about you?
  74. Learn about ceramics, many of the upscale ceramics shops offer demonstrations.
  75. Visit a local mosque and learn a little about the Muslim religion and culture.
  76. Visit the Lycian theatre and tombs at Myra.
  77. Splash in the thermal baths at Pamukkale.
  78. Luxuriate in a Turkish Bath.
  79. Attend a local farmers' market and marvel at the diversity of products. From fresh produce to knock-off handbags and electronics, you can find almost anything at the local pazar!
  80. Eat every flavour of Turkish Delight you can find- and pick a favourite. (If you're in Istanbul, you can even visit the shop where Turkish Delight was first created!)

And, last but not least, #81 - take a cruise along the turquoise coast with Arkadaslik Yachting.

Check out our video of "81 Fun and Interesting (and Completely Safe) Things To Do in Turkey" on YouTube

By no means exhaustive, this is just a quick list (things I have done, or things I want to do in Turkey) but it shows there's no shortage of places and activities to include on your Turkish vacation. The Blue Mosque is lovely, but there are so many more places to visit and things to do when you holiday in Turkey!