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Things to Do in Turkey

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Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)
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587 Tours and Activities

A distinct Istanbul landmark, the world-famous Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii in Turkish) opened in 1616 and is renowned for its slender minarets and collection of domes. The Sultan Ahmet I conceived the structure to rival the nearby Byzantine Hagia Sofia which stands opposite the mosque in the city's busiest square. It was constructed over the site of an ancient hippodrome and Byzantine palace, and is one of the most beautiful mosques in Turkey.

Guarded by its six minarets and built around an enormous internal courtyard, the mosque's vast and curvaceous interior is ablaze with 20,000 delicate blue Iznik tiles—after which it gets its moniker of the Blue Mosque—featuring flowers, garlands, and intricate patterns.

The Blue Mosque can be visited on a small-group or private tour of the Sultanahmet neighborhood and is often paired with tours of Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia and the Hippodrome.

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Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)
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Hagia Sophia (or Aya Sofya) is one of the world’s most beautiful buildings, built to be the world’s largest place of worship by Emperor Justinian in 532 AD. The church became a Mosque under the Ottomans, and its mosaics and decoration were plastered over. They have been successively revealed since the 1930s, when the building was declared a museum by Turkey’s legendary ruler, Atatürk. The Hagia Sophia’s golden mosaics are rivaled only by Ravenna’s, and its design was the inspiration for the basilica of San Marco in Venice. The huge complex is a riot of domes and minarets, focusing on the huge central dome which for centuries was unrivaled as an architectural masterpiece. Inside, the lofty interior is a soaring sequence of domed and arched spaces, centering on the shell-like apse and the massive dome, which seems to float unsupported and gives the church its amazing sense of space.
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Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi)
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Synonymous with Ottoman style architecture, the Topkapi Palace is one of Istanbul’s most historical landmarks. Resident to Sultans for over 400 years, the palace is a measure of its empiric significance. Visitor interested in understanding the culture and pride of Turkey’s people would benefit from a visit to the complex.
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Hippodrome (Sultanahmet Meydani)
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Originally built in the third century, the Hippodrome of Constantinople was the sporting and cultural center of the former Byzantine capital for over 1,000 years. With a U-shaped race track and two levels of spectator galleries, the Hippodrome likely held more than 100,000 people. While the Byzantine emperors (and later the Ottoman sultans) took great pride in the Hippodrome and devoted significant efforts to embellishing it, little remains of the original structure today.

Sultan Ahmet Square now covers the former site of the Hippodrome and largely follows its ground plan and dimensions. Pavement marks the course of the old race track and several interesting monuments remain as well. You can’t miss the towering Obelisk of Theodosius, the oldest monument in all of Istanbul. Made of pink granite, it was originally erected at the Amun Re temple at Karnak in Egypt, but was brought to Istanbul by the Emperor Theodosius in the fourth century.

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Eminonu Pier (Eminönü Iskelesi)
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The Eminonu Pier is located along the southern end of the Galata Bridge and consists of multiple docks for ferries cruising along or crossing the Bosphorus.

Eminonu Halec Iskelesi (dock) is the furthest west of the docks and is the departure point for Sehir Hatlari Golden Horn ferries. The other dock west of the Galata Bridge, the TurYol Eminonu dock, is where you will find TurYol ferries to Uskudar, Haydarpasa and Kadikoy, as well as Bosphorus cruises. Follow the pedestrian way under the Galata Bridge and you will come to remaining five docks, with ferries heading to Uskudar and Kadikoy, as well as a car ferry heading to the Harem Otogar on the Asian side of Istanbul and multiple ferries cruising across the Bosphorus.

Before or after your ferry journey, try a fish sandwich from a boat at the pier, peruse the goods being hawked by merchants along the pier and sample some of the bites offered by other vendors.

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Taksim Square (Taksim Meydani)
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Located on the European side of Istanbul, Taksim Square is the heart of the modern part of the city. It takes its name from the stone reservoir on the west side of the square, which today houses the Taksim Republic Art Gallery. Sultan Mahmud I originally established the square as the point where water lines from north of Istanbul converged before branching off to other parts of the city.

Today, Taksim Square buzzes with activity day and night. With Istiklal Caddesi, the city’s main pedestrian thoroughfare, ending in the square, it is surrounded by shops, restaurants and high end hotels, making it a popular gathering spot for locals and tourists alike. Over the years, it has also been home to numerous public celebrations, parades and demonstrations.

In the center of the square, you’ll find the Monument of the Republic, constructed in 1928 to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Turkey after the Turkish War of Independence.

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Bosphorus
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Bosphorus, or the Istanbul Strait, functions not just as a border between Europe and Asia, but as one of the most beautiful sites in all of Turkey. Lined with scenic greenery, palaces, parks, and not to mention an absolutely gorgeous waterfront, Bosphorus has much more to offer than one may initially suspect.

One of its more popular landmarks, Dolmabahce Palace is one of the Ottoman Empire’s most significant and grandiose structures. With more than 240 rooms, and 43 hallways, Dolmabahce was a political hub in Turkey for the better part of one and a half centuries before the collapse of the empire.

If you’re looking to embrace the wonderful outdoors of the area, two of Bosphorus’ more beautiful parks are the Emirgan and Macka Parks. Where Emirgan contains a plethora of water-related scenery including ponds, waterfalls and the Bosphorus itself, Macka too shares views of the Bosphorus’ beauty, but is composed of charming valley terrain.

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Grand Bazaar (Kapali Çarsi)
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The Grand Bazaar, or Kapali Carsisi, is the mother of all markets, a treasure trove of gifts, souvenirs, essentials and fripperies. Heading into the cavernous bazaar from the daylight, it takes a minute for your eyes to adjust to this Arabian Nights visual feast of glimmering Turkish lights, brightly colored rugs and flickering candles.

Crammed into more than 60 domed alleys or streets, around 5,000 stallholders hold court in the labyrinthine covered market, parts of which date back to Byzantine days.

Calligraphy, carpets, beaded bracelets, gold and silver jewelry, curly-toed slippers, multicolored lanterns, flower-bedecked ceramics and belly-dancing outfits are just the tip of the iceberg in this shoppers’ cornucopia.

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Ephesus (Efes)
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The ancient Greek city of Ephesus, also know as Efeze. Famed for its Temple of Artemis, it is also one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Ephesus’s most spectacular site has to be the façade of the Library of Celsus. Constructed between 110 and 135AD, the library originally had three floors, but an earthquake destroyed the building in the 10th century.

Other sites include the Theater, Basilica of St. John, the Cave of the Seven Sleepers, Church of Mary, House of the Virgin, the Isabey Mosque, the Prytaneion, the synagogue and the Temple of Hadrian. All the sites are in varying states of disrepair. Unfortunately, all that remains of the Temple of Artemis, rumoured to have been four times as large as the Parthenon, is one column standing in a marshy basin.

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Rose Valley (Güllüdere Vadisi)
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Made up of a number of smaller valleys, Rose Valley is famous for its otherworldly rock formations and world-class hiking opportunities. The valley trails provide a variety of levels of challenge, and there are plenty of walks that are suitable for beginners. For seasoned hikers, there are trails where you get to scale stone tunnels and climb down ladders. Either way, you’ll get to wander canyon bottoms and explore Cappadocia’s rocks at sunset when the valley turns blood red.

Valleys within the famous valley that’s named for its rose-hued rocks are Gulludere, Kizilcukur, Meskendir and Zindanonu. The most popular path in Rose Valley is a 3.5-km route that begins just outside the town of Goreme, but you could easily come back several times to explore new trails and catch sight of its hidden cave churches and abandoned rock houses.

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More Things to Do in Turkey

Ataturk Mausoleum (Anitkabir)

Ataturk Mausoleum (Anitkabir)

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The Ataturk Maouselum, part of the Anıt Kabir (literally ""memorial tomb""), is the mausoleum of Mustaga Kemal Ataturk, the leader of the Turkish War of Independence and the founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey. The Anit Kabir encapsulates both architectural impressiveness and historical significance, making it one of Anakara's must sees.

Anit Kabir's construction spanned 9 years and commenced in 1944. It consists of four main parts - the Road of Lions, the Ceremonial Plaza, the Hall of Honor (the location of Atatürk's tomb) and the Peace Park that surrounds the monument.

Inside of the ceremonial plaza you can find several museum rooms displaying memorabilia and personal artifacts of Ataturk, giving visitors a sense of the famous leader's life. The Hall of Honor is an impressively lofty structure, lined in marble and decorated with mosaics. An immense marble cenotaph stands at the northern end of the hall above the actual tomb.

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Museum of Anatolian Civilizations

Museum of Anatolian Civilizations

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Ankara Castle (Ankara Kalesi)

Ankara Castle (Ankara Kalesi)

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Located atop a hill in the heart of Ankara, the Ankara Citadel, or castle, serves as one of the most recognizable symbol's of Turkey's capital. Visiting the citadel is more than just seeing the impressive structure, with its 14-16 m (46-53 ft) high walls. A journey inside the citadel also provides you with a look at what ancient Turkey might have looked like.

The structures within and around the castle serve as some of the oldest authentic examples of traditional Turkish architecture. Although no one know for sure exactly how old the citadel is, its foundations were thought to have been laid by Galatians nearly 3,000 years ago. Inside the citadel, many of the old houses have been restored and converted into restaurants, creating the atmosphere of an ancient Anatolian village. The local people still live as if in a traditional Turkish town. As you wander along the narrow winding streets, you'll often see women beating and sorting through skeins of wool.

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Dolmabahce Palace (Dolmabahce Sarayi)

Dolmabahce Palace (Dolmabahce Sarayi)

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When the Ottoman sultans wanted to update their living space, they moved from the Topkapi complex on Seraglio Point to the Dolmabahce Palace (Dolmabahce Sarayi).

The sultans lived here from 1856 to 1922. With its columns and pediments, the opulent palace has a very European appearance, and the interior is a mid-Victorian statement in over-the-top luxury.

Gilt, marble and crystal abound, and also the home ot the world’s largest crystal chandelier, which was a gift from Queen Victoria.

Guided tours lead from waiting rooms to the offices of the Grand Vizier and other ornate apartments looking over the sea.

The palace has a special place in the hearts of modern-day Turks, as its where the leader Atatürk lived and passed away in in 1938.

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Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayi)

Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayi)

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Atmospheric music, rosy flood lighting and the lilting sound of water lapping on marble – entering the Underground Cistern known in Turkish as Yerebatan Sarayi - or Basilica Cistern, is an experience that charms all the senses.

Built to store water, this has to be the fanciest and most enormous well you’ll ever see. The cistern dates back to Byzantine days when the city was called Constantinople.

Built by Emperor Justinian in the mid-500s, the cavernous underground water-storage area has a vaulted brick ceiling supported by a forest of Corinthian-carved marble columns.

If this eerie, magical place looks a little familiar, you may recognize it from a scene in the James Bond movie From Russia with Love.

On your walk around the Basilica Cistern, seek out the two pillars that have the face of Medusa carved onto their base.

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House of the Virgin Mary (Meryem Ana Evi)

House of the Virgin Mary (Meryem Ana Evi)

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Pigeon Valley (Güvercinlik Vadisi)

Pigeon Valley (Güvercinlik Vadisi)

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Pigeon Valley, just outside Göreme in Cappadocia, is one of Turkey’s most beautiful landscapes.

The unique rock formations known as fairy chimneys, or peri bacalar, which are made from wind and water erosion on soft volcanic rock, rise high from the valley floor like chimneys and are dotted in their tops with birdhouses. Some reach at tall as 130 ft (40m). Pigeons live in these dovecoats carved into the rocks and cliffs. Years ago the pigeons were used to carry messages from this remote region, and their droppings have long been used by local farmers for fertilizer. Today, however, there are fewer pigeons in the valley.

Pigeon Valley is a great place for hiking. The whole area around Göreme is made up of valleys with almost no fencing and there are well-marked trails. The mildly hilly trail through Pigeon Valley is free of charge and about 2.8 miles (4 km) long running between Göreme and Uçhisar.

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Temple of Artemis (Artemision)

Temple of Artemis (Artemision)

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Spice Bazaar (Misir Carsisi)

Spice Bazaar (Misir Carsisi)

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The heady scents of saffron, cloves, sugar and spice fill the air at the Egyptian Spice Bazaar and Market, or Misir Carsisi, one of Istanbul's oldest markets. Aisle after aisle of stallholders sell their wares in this cavernous covered market, built in 1660, under the market's vaulted ceiling lit by Turkish lamps. Baskets filled with every spice under the sun add colors of gold, orange, yellow and green, and the array of dried fruits and nuts is astounding. Stock up on Turkish delight, dried apricots, pistachios and walnuts, honey sweets and top-quality saffron. This is a place to simply dive in and wander. Don't have an agenda, just walk the crowded stalls and get lost. Stop for a tea, stop to chat with a carpet seller. If you're in a rush, you're missing the point.
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Istiklal Street (Istiklal Caddesi)

Istiklal Street (Istiklal Caddesi)

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Istiklal Street, known in Turkish as Istiklal Caddesi, is one of the most well-known avenues in Istanbul. Stretching for about three kilometers, it is the main pedestrian thoroughfare in the city and welcomes as many as 3 million visitors on any given day.

Known as Grand Avenue during the Ottoman Period, the avenue was renamed Istiklal (Independence) in 1923 to commemorate the declaration of the Republic of Turkey after the Turkish War of Independence. Running from the Galata Tower to Taksim Square, it is lined with late Ottoman era buildings built in a variety of architectural styles, ranging from Neo-Classical to Art Deco. Istiklal experienced a downturn in the 1970s and 1980s, but by the late 1980s a massive restoration project was underway to revitalize the historic area. Historic buildings along the street were restored, pavement was laid for full pedestrianization and the tram that once ran up and down the length of the avenue was reinstalled.

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Sultanahmet District

Sultanahmet District

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Leave the present day behind and take a wander around Old Istanbul, the wonderful old Sultanahmet district.

This World Heritage-listed district is crammed with historic buildings and enough magical atmosphere to keep you enthralled for days.

Drink in the majesty of Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofia), a museum-church-mosque all in one, and admire the Blue Mosque that mirrors it. Spend days amid the riches of Topkapi Palace, and discover the underground world of the Basilica Cistern.

Then shop for everything from curly-toed slippers to magic lanterns in the massive Grand Bazaar.

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Süleymaniye Mosque (Süleymaniye Camii)

Süleymaniye Mosque (Süleymaniye Camii)

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The largest mosque in Istanbul, the Suleymaniye Mosque was built between 1550 and 1558 on the orders of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. It is widely known as imperial architect Sinan’s greatest masterpiece.

You will enter the mosque through an impressive courtyard featuring columns of marble, granite and porphyry and four corner minarets – a number only allowable for a mosque commissioned by a sultan. Constructed as an almost perfect square, the interior of the Suleymaniye Mosque is grand in its simplicity, with basic designs in ivory and mother of pearl and a subtle use of Iznik tiles. The mosque was designed as part of a larger complex that included a hospital, primary school, a caravanseri, four madrassahs, a medical college and a public kitchen. Two mausoleums stand in the gardens behind the mosque, including the tombs of Suleyman I and his wife, daughter, mother and sister, as well as several other Ottoman sultans.

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Hodjapasha Culture Center (Hocapasa Kültür Merkezi)

Hodjapasha Culture Center (Hocapasa Kültür Merkezi)

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It’s been said that music, rhythm, and dance are universal languages that can transcend borders, ethnicity, race, and time. This is certainly true at the Hodjapasha Cultural Center, where ancient Turkish and Anatolian traditions are rhythmically weaved right before your eyes in an historic and intimate theater. The cultural center building itself was once an enormous Turkish bath dating back to 1470, and the building continued to serve as a bath up until 1988.

Today, however, this modern and captivating performance studio regularly hosts a variety of dance shows that manifest a spiritual beauty. Of the center’s three different dance performances, the Mevlevi Sema Ceremony is the most traditional, and features Whirling Dervishes who hypnotically spin in a mystical ancient routine. Other performances—such as Rhythm of the Dance—are more modern, upbeat, and lively, and belly dancers and troupes of both male and female dancers perform tales of Anatolian folklore.

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Bosphorus Bridge (Bogazici Koprusu)

Bosphorus Bridge (Bogazici Koprusu)

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The Bosphorus Bridge is one of two bridges that spans the Bosphorus Strait, connecting the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. It stretches from Ortakoy on the European side to Beylerbeyi on the Asian side and is sometimes referred to as the First Bosphorus Bridge. At 1560 meters long, the Bosphorus Bridge was the fourth longest suspension bridge in the world when it opened in 1973 and was the first bridge to connect Europe and Asia since a bridge spanning the Dardanelles in 480 B.C. Today, it is the 21st longest suspension bridge in the world. In 2007, an LED lighting system was installed to illuminate the bridge at night and the computerized system is now used to create a colorful light show every evening. While the bridge is typically closed to pedestrians, it opens each October for the Istanbul Eurasia Marathon – the only marathon that crosses from one continent to another.
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