5 Bucket List Travel Adventures in Turkey
Here are some of my top picks for adventures in Turkey. With all the time I have spent in Turkey, these are some of my favorite things to do. Don’t miss these world class destinations! (They are more affordable than you think!)
1. Hot air balloon ride in Kapadokya above the ferry chimneys & stay in a cave.
Kapadokya is a world premier destination for hot air ballooning, and with its incredible landscape, hot air ballooning here is breathtaking. From inspiring the book Dune to George Lucas’ Star Wars, the landscape of Kapadokya leaves you perplexed and intrigued, if not obsessed.
Head to Kapadokya, stay in Goreme in a UNESCO world heritage cave hotel. My mom and I enjoy staying in Anatolia Cave Hotel because it’s affordable, a great place with excellent service, and they also have amazing complimentary breakfast. The breakfast was actually one of the best breakfasts I have ever had, and Turkish breakfast is already typically fantastic, but with Bekir’s homemade yogurt straight from the farm, this is one not to miss. They will help you figure out any services you might need during your stay in Kapadokya. I’m not a big tour person, but if you do want a tour of Kapadokya, the Green Tour with New Goreme Tours is great. Ask for Mesut Ercan; he’s an amazing guide. For our hot air balloon ride my mom and I went with the oldest and most trusted company, Kapadokya Balloon Company. They are one of the pricier companies, but safety and quality is important, so we went with the safe bet. The service was incredible, and they also provided a supreme buffet, but with Bekir’s amazing breakfast, we almost didn’t want it. You also have the option to drink champagne after the landing.
2. See the Whirling Dervishes
This is a once in a life time experience you absolutely can’t miss. It’s rare to see real whirling dervishes, and the sublime experience is surreal and something you will never forget. New Goreme Tours can arrange for you to see the dervishes at the nearby Karavansaray (Caravan Saray) in Kapadokya, which is great. You can also go to Konya to Rumi’s Mevlana, but it’s not necssary because the show in Kapadokya is convenient and fantastic. Book in advance because it’s only available certain nights. No photos can be taken during the actual show, and it’s a very silent and incredible experience I will never forget.
3. Visit picturesque villages near the Black Sea and stay in charming Saffronbolu
Saffronbolu is a beautiful UNESCO world heritage preserved village in the North of Turkey, near the Black Sea region. This is a great area to visit in the hot part of the summer, as it is much cooler than other regions of Turkey. In Saffronbolu we love staying with Cengis and his family who own hostel/pansion/guesthouse, Yildiz Konak Pension. It’s affordable and charming, and Cengis and his parents are lovely. Not only are they incredibly kind and helpful, you quickly feel like family. Cengis personally drove us around the Black Sea with him and his mother, taking us to a nearby beach and a picturesque village called Yoruk Yolu (Yoruk Village in Turkish) where several popular Turkish dramas are filmed. Saffronbolu is of course famous for its Saffron, but also various varieties of special Turkish Delight (lokum in Turkish). The village is charming and green, but like most of the rest of Turkey these days, it also appears to be full of Asian tourists throughout most of the year.
4. Take a ferry ride on the Bosphorus and eat delicious street food in Istanbul.
I love the Bosphorus. Endless books have been written about the Bosphorus and Turkey’s golden horn, so you must absolutely get on a ferry or take the boat tour when you’re in Turkey. The simple “Bosphorus Tour” from the ferry harbor is cheap and affordable, but if you don’t have time to wait for that you can always catch a ferry from Eminonu pier on the European side near Istanbul’s Old Quarter, or from Kadikoy if you are on the Asian side. Istanbul has a great easy and affordable ferry system, so don’t miss out on this relaxing mode of transit! It’s great to just sit and bring a pen and notebook and ride the ferry!
While you are at Eminonu pier or near the bridge, try a fresh fish sandwich. Typically you have to come at night to get the sandwich from the semi-illegal food stands, but they are well worth it. They are incredibly cheap and delicious, and the fish is freshly caught by the fisherman you see at the bridge. It’s basically the same thing as the fancy restaurants you see under the bridge, but much cheaper. My mom and I often buy fruit juice, fish sandwiches, and fresh corn from the street vendors at night. It’s delicious and the most authentically Turkish thing you can do in the tourist trap that is the European side of Istanbul. It’s also nice to sit in the park outside Ayasofia (Haga Sofia) and Sultanahmet (the Blue Mosque) at night and relax with friends. There are definitely a number of people who will try to hawk you things if they think you are foreign tourists, but it’s pleasant. We would usually get Sahlep, tea, fruit, or other snacks from the hawkers and sit under the sublime lights of the old mosque.
If street food isn’t your thing, head over to Beyoglu, one of my favorite areas. This lively area has great little eats and posh shops. Our favorite restaurant is Acik Mutfak (Open Kitchen). They serve homemade organic food, and their mezze’s are divine. Worth every penny of their price; it’s perhaps one of the best restaurants I have ever been to.
5. Try fresh goat milk ice cream (dondurma) in Eastern Turkiye
Turkey is famous for its stretchy chewy delicious ice cream, known as dondurma. Dondurma is chewy because it contains ground purple orchid root, the same ingredient as in the milky hot cocoa like drink known as “sahlep.” One of the best kinds of dondurma is called Marash, which is from the mountains of Kahramanmarash, in South Eastern Turkey. In this mountainess region is both home to this rare the orchid root and an amazing population of goats, making it the producer of the world’s best dondurma, made specially by organic goat milk ice cream. If you don’t have the chance to make it to the East (the East isn’t the best place to visit for people who are new to Turkey and the Middle East, and are not so comfortable with travelling in the region and cannot speak Turkish, but nonetheless it’s one of my favorites.), there is always Mado! Mado is a chain of dondurma ice cream shops in Turkey, sort of like Baskin Robbins. They serve a variety of organic homemade goat milk dondurma. While it’s still not quite the same thing as the fresh and “real” marashdondurma you get in the East, it’s still delicious. Don’t miss out on this when you are in Turkey!
If you can make it East though, don’t miss Mardin! It’s arguably one of the best cities in Turkey for it’s spectacular sites! This 6000 Year old ancient city is as diverse as it is old; it’s been home to Arabs, Kurds and other minorities, as well as Christians, Muslims and Jews for more than 1000 years. The houses are carved into the existing rock structure, making for incredible and world renowned architecture that inspired many renowned architects, including Gaudi. Also check out Urfa (Salinurfa) if you are in the area.
By economist & writer, Heather R Morgan (@HeatherReyhan)