From Cappadocia to İzmir to Antalya to İstanbul, top experiences and tips for Türkiye travels
Türkiye is a fascinating destination to combine history, culture, nature and tasty food, along with activities that will earn you bragging rights. You can explore history both under the earth touring an underground city or from high above on a hot air balloon ride. It’s a place to get lost in magical landscapes, including while sleeping in a cave hotel. In many rural areas, you can stay in more intimate lodging and truly feel like a local in villages that are welcoming and interesting.
I recently returned to Türkiye for a third time to film for my PBS series, “Travels with Darley,” and was enchanted once again. From Cappadocia to İzmir to Antalya to İstanbul, here are some of my top experiences and tips for enjoying Türkiye.
#1 Galata Tower at Sunset
Get a 360-degree view of İstanbul at sunset and stay for dinner in an area of the city that’s popular for nightlife at Galata Tower. This tower’s history spans nearly 1500 years! It’s among the oldest towers in the world and one of the symbols of the city. It’s not just a tower to enjoy from below, you can actually climb up inside. One of the coolest times to visit Galata Tower is at sunset, when you can soak in the golden light. The views are stunning and will give you a new appreciation for just how green İstanbul really is! For those who want to make an evening of it, enjoy a post-tower dinner at one of the many restaurants in the Galata neighborhood.
#2 Boğaziçi (Bosphorus) Cruise
There are lots of ways to enjoy İstanbul by water, whether you hop a commuter ferry or commission a private yacht or boat tour on your own. For lovers of architecture, this is a great way to spot waterfront palaces, mosques and mansions from ancient times and the mighty Ottoman Empire as you glide along both European and Asian waterfronts. This experience will give you a new perspective on this bustling city! Fun Fact! The Boğaziçi (Bosphorus) Cruise is on a 19-mile-long natural strait and passes from one continent (Europe) to another (Asia) within 2 minutes.
#3 Galataport İstanbul
Head to the İstanbul Painting and Sculpture Museum by the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University and follow it with a meal of Anatolian meze by the water at Galataport İstanbul, located in Karaköy. The world’s first underground cruise terminal, this historic port area has been revitalized while keeping its historic roots alive. The shopping in the old post office building is unique with local artisans selling clothing, jewelry and specialty food items. Want to try Turkish delight? You’ll find it here! Galataport İstanbul a great place for families to also take a stroll, savor local gastronomy and check out the cruise ships coming to İstanbul.
#4 Urla Wine Route
Head to the Turkaegean in Western Türkiye, an area of beautiful landscapes, beaches, pine woods and olive groves mixed with villages and fishing harbors. This area is also known for its bounty of products, ranging from olives to wine. In İzmir, stop to try simit or gevrek from a street cart. This round shaped sesame seed covered pastry is tasty and reminded me of a New York bagel! Next, drive along the Urla Wine Route to see olive trees, wineries and the beauty of this part of Western Türkiye.
#5 Antalya Beaches & History
Hit the beach in Antalya, the largest city on the Turkish Riviera. This is the gateway to Türkiye’s southern Mediterranean region, known as the Turquoise Coast for its blue water. Stay a night or more in the heart of the old city Kaleiçi, which is great if you would like to explore the city on foot. There is history everywhere in Türkiye, including underfoot and perhaps under your hotel room!
#6 Göreme Open Air Museum
There are lots of places to explore history in Cappadocia, Türkiye. A favorite stop of mine to see beautiful rock carved churches and chapels is Göreme Open Air Museum. This former monastic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with well-preserved frescoes in the Dark Church, dating from the ninth century to the eleventh century! Take a guided tour or explore on your own in this magnificent valley.
#7 The Testi Kebab in Cappadocia
Avanos is Cappadocia is a special destination for lovers of the arts and pottery. The pottery tradition of Avanos has also resulted in unique culinary traditions, including the famous Testi Kebab. “Testi” in Turkish means a “pot” or a “jug’. Cooked in a clay pot in a tandoori oven, the meat, which can be lamb, chicken or beef, comes out delightfully moist and flavorful! Lots of restaurants in Cappadocia serve this special dish.
#8 Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia
Cappadocia is one of the top destinations to go hot air ballooning on the planet, but this is not necessarily an “undiscovered” Turkish gem. I added it to my list, though, as it’s a must! Floating in a hot air balloon above this land of fairy chimneys, especially at sunrise, is magical. The fantastical rock formations and landscapes in Cappadocia are impressive! What’s even more remarkable is that lurking within the landscapes and even the rocks, is so much rich history. If you have a few days in Cappadocia, try to book your hot air balloon ride at the beginning of the trip. This experience is weather dependent, so if you miss it on the first day, you’ll have more time to re-book.
#9 Türkiye Top Places for Coffee Lovers
Turkish coffee is a must when visiting Türkiye. If you fly Turkish Airlines, you may even be offered a cup on your flight over! Thick, strong and super finely ground, the coffee here is delightful. You can find Turkish coffee throughout the country, but if you’re near a coffee shop or local purveyor, take the time to watch it being made. Brewed in a cezve, a long-handled pot typically made of copper, it’s poured into small cups and can be made sweet or not, depending on your liking. If you’re in Cappadocia, stop in the small village of Mustafapaşa for a truly local coffee experience. In the main town square, you may be sipping it with locals who gather to play games and enjoy each other’s company on sunny days.
#10 Cave Hotels in Cappadocia
How often do you get the chance to sleep in a hotel carved out of rocks! Modern amenities are mixed with the traditional at many cave hotels in Cappadocia, Türkiye. Cozy, cool and downright romantic, these hotels are architecturally interesting and often located in smaller villages in Cappadocia, meaning you can often feel like you’re staying a bit more local here. Some places to consider for booking a cave hotel include Göreme, Avanos and Uçhisar.
These are just a few of my top picks for experiences that you can only have in Türkiye!