Planning a trip to Turkey but don't know where to start? We know that this can be a daunting task! It's such a big country that people often get anxious thinking about planning a trip to Turkey. We visited Turkey for 2.5 months ourselves and figured out when to go, how to get around, where to stay, and what to pack.
This Turkey travel guide will help you through the planning process with useful links and advice that will save you a whole lot of time for your own trip to this beautiful country!
Located on the border of the continents of Europe and Asia, Turkey has a rich history that saw many civilizations and empires thrive at different times. It has a lot to offer for tourists. From tropical beaches to lush mountains and thriving cities. In fact, Turkey has been getting more and more popular for tourists over the past few years.
Watch our Turkey travel video below to see the most amazing places in Turkey for yourself!
Turkey Quick Facts
Turkey is a country full of cultural heritage and history. If you want some proof of that you can just look at the number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Turkey. Turkey has 13 of them and 62 are on the World Heritage Sites Tentative List.
The tallest mountain in Turkey is Great Ararat at 5,137 m (16,854 ft)! This is significantly taller than the second highest mountain in Turkey, which is Uludoruk.
Turkey is bordered by 8 countries: Greece, Bulgaria, Iran, Syria, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, and Iraq.
Even though Turkey is associated with sunny weather and beach vacations, there are multiple places in the country where you can ski or snowboard as well. There are popular ski resorts around Antalya, Bursa, Kastamonu, Eğirdir, Isparta, and Kayseri.
Istanbul is the only city in the world that lies on two continents: Asia and Europe. Although everyone says Turkey is in Europe, only 3% of Turkey is actually in Europe. We noticed on our trip that most of the Turkish inhabitants prefer saying that Turkey is in Europe so we recommend not saying that Turkey is in Asia.
1. Marmara Region
Marmara, located in Northwestern Turkey, is the only region that is part of Europe and part of Asia. Marmara is the second-smallest region in Turkey but has the largest population. This is mostly thanks to Istanbul which is also the most well-known city in this region. It is one of the 10 most visited cities in the entire world. Some highlights in Istanbul are Galata Bridge, which gives you the chance to walk from Asia to Europe and other way around, and the Hagia Sophia which is the most visited attraction in all of Turkey.
But only visiting Istanbul when in Marmara would be a shame. This region has a lot more to offer. Çanakkale is a perfect example of this. It's mostly known for the Troy ruins and Troy museum. In case you don't know about Troy, it's is known for its significant meaning in Greek mythology. One of the first things that might come to your mind is the Trojan war and the Trojan horse. The Trojan Horse used in the movie Troy can be visited on the waterfront of Çanakkale. Some other well-known stories such as Achilles, Hector, and Paris also partially take place in Troy. If you love reading books we highly recommend reading The Song Of Achilles which explains the heartbreaking story of Achilles in a comprehensible way.
Other places to visit in Marmaris are Bursa, the first capital of the Ottoman Empire, and Edirne, having the Selmiye Mosque which boasts the highest minarets in Turkey.
2. Black Sea Region
Located in northern Turkey, the Black Sea region is famous for its steep and rocky coast. This region is less touristy than the others because of the less sunny weather. But don't let this stop you from traveling to the Black Sea Region. The different climate it is unlike the other parts of Turkey. A quarter of the region is forested so it's very green.
The biggest city in the Black Sea Region is Samsun, but there is not much to see here for tourists. There are some museums, but they often don't present their information in English. The beaches here are very nice though. We suggest visiting Trabzon instead of Samsun. It attracts more tourists because there is also much more to do. The top things to do in the city are Ataturk Kosku, the former house of Ataturk that is stunning inside and outside with its antique furniture and well-kept garden, Boztepe which gives you a beautiful view over the city and ocean, and Trabzon Museum. There are also some great day trips you can make from Trabzon such as the Altindere Vadisi National Park and the Sumela Monastery.
Some other cities to visit are Amasra, Sinop, Rize, and Giresun. Watch out if you plan on taking public transport because busses often go from town-to-town so it can take a long time before you arrive to your destination.
Hidden Gem: Sahinkaya Kanyonu
Sahinkaya Kanyonu is a beautiful canyon on the Kızılırmak River. It is perfect as a day trip from Samsun (1h30) or Amasya (1h15). It is so calm here because a lot of the tourists haven't discovered it yet.
3. Eastern Anatolia Region
The Eastern Anatolia Region is the biggest region of Turkey. It is the most mountainous region in the country and has the highest average altitude. Turkey's largest lake (Lake Van) is based in this region. Definitely a must-visit!
A must-visit when you're in the Eastern Anatolia Region is Kars. The city and its surroundings have a lot to offer. In the city, you can visit the Kars castle, the Kümbet Mosque, Caucasian Battlefields Military History Museum, and Kars museum. From Kars, you can do day trips to Lake Çıldır where you can walk on the lake and the ancient city of Ani.
Ruins of Ani
4. Southeastern Anatolia Region
The smallest region in Turkey is the Southeastern Anatolia region also known as Turkish Kurdistan. But even though it's small, there is still a lot to do here! One of the top things to do is to visit Şanlıurfa. The city and its surroundings have a lot to offer such as the archaeological site of Göbekli Tepe, Gölbaşı park, Şanlıurfa Castle, and much more.
Another must-do activity is climbing Mount Nemrut. It is one of the most iconic UNESCO World Heritage Sites. First of all, you will have some amazing views when climbing the mountain but more importantly, Mount Nemrut is home to some stunning ancient ruins. The ancient ruins exist of statues/heads of gods and kings, thrones, and terraces.
Unfortunately, this beautiful region isn't the safest so go to at the time of writing this article. So it's best to check your government website first to see if they recommend going there or not. For US citizens click here to go to the Government's travel advice.
5. Mediterranean Region
Boarding the Mediterranean sea, the Mediterranean region is famous for its warm weather and its tropical beaches. Although exploring the beaches is definitely something you have to do when visiting this region, it has a lot more to offer than just that!
The most well-known city in the Mediterranean region is Antalya, which is also the biggest city in the region. The city itself has a lot to offer such as its picturesque old town and the Lower Düden Falls. But it's mostly known for its surroundings which are a perfect combination of nature and culture. Some must-see places are the Aspendos Theatre, the Kursunlu Waterfall, the Perge Ruins, the Termessos Ruins, and much more. If you want to find out more about Antalya you can read our article on the best things to do in Antalya.
A more low-key destination compared to Antalya is Kaş. This hip coastal town is not as commercialized as Antalya. Here the top attractions are Patara Beach which is the longest beach in Turkey, the ancient city of Myra, and the old town of Kaş. You can check out our absolute best things to do in Kaş Turkey article to learn more about this magnificent place.
Some other places you can visit when visiting the Mediterranean region are Alanya, Belek, Kemer, and Side.
6. Aegean Region
The Aegean region is similar to the Mediterranean region. Mostly known as a beach holiday destination with its popular resort towns like Marmaris and Bodrum. But there is much more to do than just laying on the beaches.
The biggest city in the Aegen region is Izmir. This city has a lot to offer such as Konak Square, Smyrna, Alsancak, and much more it is perfect to discover Turkish history. A must when you're in Izmir is a day trip to Ephesus. It was a very important ancient port city. Now the city is our favorite Turkish ruin. Find out more about Izmir and Ephesus in our article on the 6 best things to do in Izmir. Another good day trip from Izmir is Pamukkale. It might be one of the most spectacular places in the Aegean region. Pamukkale has thermal pools, spectacular views, and an ancient city. Check out our guide to Pamukkale.
Our second favorite place in Turkey is Ölüdeniz. There are so many things to do such as visiting Fethiye, enjoying the views from Butterfly Valley and Kabak, walking down Ölüdeniz Beach, and much more. If you want to see more of Ölüdeniz watch our YouTube video on the best things to do in & around Ölüdeniz.
Hidden Gem: Dalyan
This laid-back town is located about 70 kilometers or 44 miles to the west of Ölüdeniz. It’s home to beautiful lakes and a winding river, Lycian tombs hewn into the rocks, and a unique stretch of beach. But it’s also beautiful from above. We highly recommend driving up to the Radar Hill viewpoint. It’s absolutely otherworldly looking and especially stunning at sunset.
The view from Radar Hill Viewpoint of Dalyan
7. Central Anatolia Region
Central Anatolia is the second largest region in Turkey. It is home to the capital city of Turkey, Ankara. Visiting Ankara is a must when you're in Turkey. There is so much to do in this bustling city, such as visiting the Ankara castle and enjoying the view over the city, the Anatolian Civilization Museum to learn not only about the past of Turkey and Ankara but also the present, shop till you drop at the Old Quarter, and enjoying the local cuisine.
Our favorite destination in Turkey is Cappadocia. This place is just magical. Cappadocia has an adventure waiting for every type of traveler. Whether you want to hike, find hidden gem natural wonders, relax while watching the hot air balloons, or experience the thrill of riding in a balloon yourself, Cappadocia has it all! Find out more about this cool place in our blog on the best things to do in Cappadocia.
Some other fun places to visit in the Central Anatolia region are Tokat, Konya, Boğazkale, and Amasya.
Watching the sunset and hot air balloons in Cappadocia
Hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia
Seeing the incredible rock formations from above is one of the most magical experiences we’ve had during our world travels so far. The beauty of the sunrise colors and hundreds of other balloons floating around us was almost indescribable. The flight usually lasts between 1 to 1.5 hours and only goes at sunrise. Learn more about these hot air balloon rides in our Guide to Cappadocia Hot Air Balloon Ride video.
TOP OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES
Hiking the best trails in Turkey
Lycian Way Trail
The Lycian Way Trail is 540 kilometers or 335 miles long. It starts near Fethiye and ends near Antalya. You can hike it completely or hike a part of it as a day hike. A perfect place to start the day hike from is Kaş which lies on the Lycian Way Trail. The best time to do the (day)hike is between March and May and between September and November.
Rose valley hike
The Rose Valley is probably one of the most beautiful hikes we have ever done. The color of the pink rocks is absolutely magical and there are so many unique fairy chimneys and churches that we found ourselves stopping for pictures every 10 minutes here. There are sections of the hike where it literally looks like a rainbow was painted on the rocks. Doing it as a round-trip like us took about 3 hours and was around 8 kilometers total. You can either start your journey from the Red Valley Viewpoint or from Göreme. This is only one of the many hikes you can do in Cappadocia, find out the others in our Cappadocia hiking video.
Sarıalan to Çobankaya
This 7.4 kilometers out-and-back trail in the national park of Uludağ Mountain is perfect for a day hike. This hike is not well known so you probably won't see many people.
The St Paul Trail is the second longest hiking trail in Turkey after the Lycian Way Trail. It is 500 kilometers or 310 miles long. Normally the hike starts at Perge which is 10 kilometers from Antalya and ends at Lake Egirdir but there is also a second option which is starting in the Köprülü Kanyon National Park and joining the other route at Adada. We recommend doing this hike between April-June or between September-November. In these periods you'll have the best weather without it being too hot.
Yenice Forest Trail
The Yenice Forest is located in the Black Sea region. This forest exists of 21 trails that are a total of 210 kilometers. If you add the alternative trails to it you have a total of 396 kilometers. The Yenice Forest is perfect for everyone because you have so many options of hikes, varying in length, difficulty,... There is something for everyone. You can find a complete guide to the Yenice Forest Trail with all the day hikes and longer hikes here.
Lycian Way Trail
Other fun outdoor activities in Turkey
Swimming, snorkeling, and diving
Turkey is one of the best locations in the world for snorkeling and diving. The diving capital of Turkey is Kaş but there are a lot of other places that are also great for snorkeling and diving such as Marmaris, Fethiye, Alanya, and many more places.
Paragliding in Ölüdeniz
Ölüdeniz is known as one of the world's best places to go tandem paragliding because of its breathtaking panoramic views and favorable wind conditions. Babadağ Mountain, where you jump from, is also one of the highest commercial take-off sites in the world, with a height of 1960 meters or 6500 ft. This makes for a thrilling and unique experience! You can watch our jump in our YouTube video about the Best Things to do in & around Ölüdeniz.
White water rafting at Köprülü Canyon
Turkey has a lot of places where you can white water raft but the most famous one is Köprülü Canyon. This canyon is a National Park in the Province of Antalya, located about 100 kilometers or 62 miles from the city of Antalya itself. The Köprülü River is a fast flowing river so this is not an activity for the weak hearted.
Citytripping and sightseeing
By now you already know that Turkey has some amazing cities such as Istanbul, Antalya, and Izmir, so what better activity than just walking around in them. Taking up the atmosphere, the people, the architecture, and much more.
WHEN TO GO
The best times to travel to Turkey
As every season is different in Turkey, each one brings different activities and events. So the best time to go totally depends on what activities interest you and what experience you are looking for.
The Summer Season
The summer period which is from mid-June to mid-September is the perfect time for a relaxing beach holiday. With a maximum average temperature of around 34 degrees Celsius or 94 degrees Fahrenheit in August in the Mediterranean region. There is also almost no rain during these months. This will be the most expensive period because a lot of the tourists come to Turkey in the summer.
The Winter Season
Are you a winter sports enthusiast? From mid-December to February, it is time to hit the ski slopes! This is the period when snow conditions and temperatures for winter activities are at their best. Turkey is known for its amazing heli-skiing!
If you want a cheap trip to turkey without all the tourists this is the time. This of course if you don't mind the cold and rainy weather. The average temperature in these months in Istanbul is 6 degrees Celsius or 43 degrees Fahrenheit and it has an average rainfall of 100 mm per month.
The Transitional Season
From mid-September to the end of October and mid-April to mid-June there is a time of transition from summer weather to winter weather and vice versa. This makes it the perfect temperature to visit the cities and do some hiking.
Because most of the tourists come in the summer months the cities won't be overcrowded and your trip won't be as expensive.
The easiest way to get around Turkey is by driving your own (or rented) vehicle. There are busses that can link you between the cities, but it's slower and harder to plan for if you have limited time.
On our trip, we spent about $250 for a 1-month car rental (not including gas). Having the car allowed us to visit all of the spots we wanted to at our own pace. It also allowed us to find some of the "off-the-beaten-path" spots that we mentioned in this article, such as Dalyan.
Another benefit of renting a car was that we could stay at destinations longer than the tourist busses. For instance, in Pammukale the sunset was spectacular. We were sitting in the warm pools just as the sun was going down. The tourist busses all had to leave about 30 minutes before that, so we had the place to ourself to relax and enjoy the spectacular colors of the evening.
To book your rental car, we recommend using rentalcars.com. They are a very reliable company, no matter where you are in the world. Plus, it's an easy process to book online with them.
If you have more time and plan on taking busses around Turkey, then we recommend checking out the Turkey Travel Planner website. They have a list of all the relevant busses for each region as well as up-to-date prices.
PLACES TO STAY
As mentioned earlier in this article, Turkey is a relatively cheap country to travel in. That means that their places to stay are also generally inexpensive. We stayed in some airbnbs that included two bedrooms and a great location for 25 dollars per night total.
One thing to keep in mind is that you are not able to use Booking.com in Turkey (at least at the time when this article was written). This is a shame because we really enjoy using Booking.com for our travel stays and this is the first country we haven't been able to use it in.
However, you can use Airbnb to book accommodations online. This is what we did and we highly recommend doing it as well for your trip. With Airbnb, you can see reviews of past customers and compare prices throughout the region that you're staying in. Below is a list of airbnb options that we recommend in various areas throughout Turkey. Compare for yourself to find the best places that suit your needs!
Our Airbnb in Kas
GEAR AND PACKING LIST
Contrary to what many people think about Turkey, it's not always sunny! If you're planning to visit during shoulder seasons or the mountainous areas, we recommend bringing a sweater, rain gear, warm jacket, and proper hiking boots.
If you're only planning on visiting the beaches of Turkey, then you should be fine bringing shorts, swimming suit, short sleeve shirt / tank top, sandals, and sunglasses. Make sure to bring your sunscreen if you plan on being out on the beach a lot!
If you're into outdoor adventures like us, it's also a good idea to bring a daypack so you can pack water, snacks, and other small supplies while you're hiking. Turkey has tons of hiking trails throughout the country and it would be a shame not to be prepared for them.
Bring a good camera for your Turkey trip as well! It's a picturesque country with tons of scenic views. Your phone won't be able to capture the full beauty of this country on its own. Check out our camera gear recommendations.
If you have 1 week in Turkey
3 days Istanbul
4 days Cappadocia
If you have 2 weeks, add
3 days Antalya
2 days Kaş
2 days Pamukkale
If you have 3 weeks, add
2 days Lake Egirdir
3 days Ölüdeniz
2 days Izmir
If you have 1-2 months, add
Olympos National Park
Black Sea Region
Eastern Anatolia Region