Turkey is typically described as a colorful blend of Eastern and Western influences, yet it is about so much more. The noticeable diversity from region to region has enabled the country to accommodate every type of traveler, from the budget conscious to the luxury elite.
Over the last 10 years, it has strengthened its reputation on the international travel market by becoming a leader in spa tourism, adventure sports holidays, beach resort stays and historical exploration. Sites like the ancient ruins of Ephesus receive hundreds of visitors daily, and while the number-one recommended activity might be a Turkish hamam, it’s the unusual holiday pursuits that put the country in a league of its own. Check out our slideshow for 10 offbeat experiences that will spark an everlasting love of Turkey.
Take a Honey Expedition in the Northeast
The northeast of Turkey offers diversity and a chance to get off the beaten path. Much of the scenery resembles the Swiss Alps, with flower-filled green fields and wooden chalets dotted over the landscape. This region is also famous throughout Turkey for the sweet, high-quality honey it produces. Locals provide excursions that focus on honey-harvesting, walking and photography.
Balyolu (translated, it means “honey road”) runs tours that range from four to eight days. Visitors will participate in traditional honey making, taste regional cuisine, learn about culture and traditions, and, if requested, receive expert advice from a professional photographer on how to capture the best holiday photos. Accommodation is split between boutique hotels and the homes of local Turkish families. Visitors who want to take advantage of trekking routes are accompanied by professional guides, and organizers are flexible with itineraries, depending on the number of participants.
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Sea Kayak Over the Ruins of Kekova
The Mediterranean coast of Turkey has many ruins, some dating as far back as the 10th century B.C. The sunken ruins of Kekova belong to an ancient city destroyed by an earthquake in the second century. It was rebuilt during Byzantine times but eventually abandoned because of Arab invasions. Scuba diving is prohibited here because many artifacts have been stolen, so the next best method is to see the underwater ruins from a sea kayak.
Bougainville Travel organizes trips that start with an instruction and safety briefing in the sleepy village of Ucagiz. Sea kayakers paddle across the bay to Kekova, then head to the small village of Simena to see a panoramic view from the castle and taste locally made ice cream. Because of the long distances involved, participants should be physically fit, but previous kayaking experience is not necessary. A safety boat follows the group in case anyone is unable to complete the course or someone has a partner who wants to join the experience without doing the actual paddling.
Take a Cooking Class in Istanbul
Turkish cuisine has historically been influenced by a variety of diverse cultures, and today it features a fusion of flavors and cooking techniques that leave people licking their lips. In the cosmopolitan city of Istanbul, where both street food and fine dining are serious business, the culinary experience goes one step further by introducing visitors to ingredients used, their history and traditional Turkish recipes that every cook can replicate at home.
Participants join a class of 10 other cooks to receive instructions from a Turkish food expert. Together, they create regional and local delicacies, such as dolma (stuffed vegetables), sigara boregi (cheese pastries), hunkar begendi (meat and eggplant stew) and yayla corbasi (high mountain soup). Dishes are then paired with suitable Turkish wines, and, when ready, participants sit down to taste the results of their culinary adventure. This class is offered by Turkey Travel Centre.
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Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There
Istanbul by jerblu
“I realized that these were the mezes and I was fully prepared to make my selection; each of the dishes was a little too small to make up an entire appetizer, but two would be fine, and three would be more than adequate, I thought, as I sized up the dishes. But they outsmarted me; they put all eighteen (yes, I said 18) of them on the table. I have a picture of Nancy rather wild eyed as she looks them over. They were delicious.” Read more!
Take a Sunrise Balloon Trip in Cappadocia
Cappadocia is nicknamed by Turks as the land of fairy chimneys and cave hotels. The unusual terrain also impressed actor Nicolas Cage, who filmed a scene from “Ghost Rider” among the weird rock formations that dot the lunar landscape. A great way to see it is on an early-morning hot-air balloon trip.
At 5 a.m., visitors arrive at the take-off site and, after a safety briefing, board a large wicker basket. It’s a smooth, slow ascent into the air before the pilot changes course to float over the Goreme Open-Air Museum (a UNESCO site) and the cave homes of Pigeon Valley. The experience is made even more surreal by the sunrise on the horizon. Royal Balloon flies daily, and the company has received outstanding reviews for its level of customer service — and for the Champagne breakfasts that are provided after each flight.
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My Very Cheap Home Exchange Holiday in Turkey by LSKahn
“The hotel was one of the cave hotels and was very nice. I was charged 55 euros a night. I spent my days doing tours with Yama tours to all the usual places (underground city, Goreme open air museum, hiking along a river, seeing churches in caves, etc.).” Read more!
Take a Painting Holiday in Bodrum
The Bodrum peninsula is a creative haven for writers and artists. Originally made famous by the “Fisherman of Halicarnassus,” who started the trend of sailing the Turkish Riviera, the region lures record numbers of visitors every year. The Old Stone House in Gokcebel inspires experienced and novice artists with one-on-one instruction and group classes. A weeklong painting holiday with them develops any hidden talent harbored by wannabe painters.
Daily excursions to surrounding landmarks provide inspiration for subjects, and walks around the traditional Turkish village are an ideal glimpse into daily life in the country. All painting equipment is provided, and facilities are offered on a half-board basis. The company can also provide lodging for anyone who wants to accompany his or her partner, but not take part in the painting activities.
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“Bodrum is a town that dazzles against an unbelievable blue sea with its picturesque yacht harbour filled with traditional wood-varnished sailboats. It has charming outdoor cafes and small cobbled streets bursting with shops selling carpets, jewelry and local artwork. The flat roofed square built houses are almost blinding under the hot sun, their white walls festooned with great clusters of purple bougainvillea. No wonder this town is known as the Saint-Tropez of Turkey.” Read more!
Stay in a Local’s Home in Yuvacali
Organizing a stay in a local home helps bridge the gap between cultures by allowing curious and independent tourists to recognize differences in family life, cuisine and traditions. The small Kurdish village of Yuvacali in Southeast Turkey regularly welcomes foreigners for homestay experiences that last from a couple of days to a week.
This area is culturally rich with diverse landmarks to explore, including the beehive houses of Harran and the Neolithic ruins of Gobekli Tepe. When visitors are not out exploring, they join in with household chores like cooking traditional Kurdish food, collecting eggs from chickens or milking the family’s prized cow. The local tribes also share their ancient traditions and rural beliefs that have existed for centuries. This is a community organization dedicated to giving all money back to local families. Visit NomadToursTurkey.com.
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Go Scuba Diving in Kas
Kas is a popular scuba diving destination on the southwest coast of Turkey. Divers will see rays, turtles and colorful fish under the surface. After a safety briefing and health check, passengers are taken out on boats to ideal diving spots.
Bougainville Turkey offers various diving courses based on experience level. Beginners start with one-on-one lessons from a qualified instructor. Any scuba divers with previous experience and recorded dives can complete their PADI certificate under the Mediterranean sun. If you have already done all that, take advantage of nighttime and deep-sea wreck diving, led by locals with knowledge and experience of underwater life in the area.
Enjoy Spa Treatments in Balcova, Izmir
The hot sulfur springs of Balcova run all year round and are recommended by health experts to relieve symptoms of many illnesses, including stress, eczema and muscle conditions. Historians suggest that during the Trojan Wars farther up the coastline, injured soldiers were sent to this region to have their wounds treated. More recently, a thermal hotel was established to complement the overall experience of rejuvenation and offer relaxing spa holidays.
Balcova Thermal Hotel combines the benefits of hot sulfur springs with the expertise of an onsite health team, which includes dozens of doctors, physiotherapists and massage therapists. This takes the healing concept to a deeper level, and visitors will feel the benefits long after they leave the center. The length of the stay is optional, ranging from two days to a month.
Trek the Lycian Way
The Lycians were forward-thinking people who occupied southwest Turkey, mainly in the eighth century B.C. The Lycian Way Trekking Route, which opened in 1999, plots a course among the ruins of their ancient cities, which crumbled after their demise. The journey stretches for about 310 miles but can be completed in different stages. One easy section is the 3.72-mile trek from the ghost village of Kayakoy to the picturesque resort of Oludeniz. It takes just half a day while walking at a slow pace, and it rewards walkers with stunning coastline views, especially of the Blue Lagoon.
Companies like Exodus.co.uk offer professional guides to accompany you on more strenuous sections — like the one between Kas and Antalya — but if historical ruins are your passion and trekking is not, use local transport or rent a car instead. The scenic D400 main coastal road follows roughly the same route, and slight deviations give easy access to ancient Myra, historic Patara, and the UNESCO sites of Xanthos and Letoon. Practical information on the Lycian way, guidebooks, maps and GPS are provided at CultureRoutesinTurkey.com.
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Volunteer with Sea Turtles in Dalyan
Volunteer tourism (also known as “voluntourism”) does not rank highly on many travelers’ agendas, yet it can be a rewarding experience for anyone with humanitarian interests. The Dekamer Centre in Dalyan offers monthly volunteering positions from June to August to help with rehabilitation of injured sea turtles. The reptiles are attracted to the area because of ideal nesting conditions. However, they constantly face injuries from things like turtle baiting and boat rudders.
Run by Pamukkale University, the program accepts all volunteers who can help with the day-to-day running of the rehab center. Many species of sea turtles are now officially categorized as vulnerable and facing extinction, so this is a rewarding and educational experience with the marine life in Turkey.
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Best Time to Go to Turkey
Weather watchers will want to consider spring and fall, which are the most pleasant times to go and less touristed. Winter can be cold and the weather problematic, so if you want to avoid crowds and don’t mind raingear, plan accordingly. City lovers may want to a visit in the summer, a notoriously hot time in many regions of the country — while beaches are packed and pricey, Istanbul is relatively quiet, with fewer people to be found at the capital’s myriad attractions.
Turkey on a Budget
Turkey is no longer the steal it once was, but the shoulder seasons (generally late spring and early fall) offer a chance to snag discount rates on hotels in many locations. There are hostels in most cities and beach resorts, many of which are perfectly pleasant alternatives to the higher-priced resorts and hotels. Many of the major sites are relatively inexpensive to get into, and don’t be shy about bargaining with a guide to get a better deal. In Istanbul, the Grand Bazaar is free to enter but can provide hours of entertainment (just try not to shop too much). Consider travel between cities, archaeological sites and seaside resorts by bus; fares are moderate, the vehicles and highways are modern and well-maintained, and it’s a great way to get a sense of the country.
–written by Natalie Sayin