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Rize | © Feride Yalav
Rize | © Feride Yalav

The Most Unique Experiences in Turkey

Picture of Feride Yalav-Heckeroth
Updated: 1 May 2017

Every visitor has their own list of unique experiences from their time in Turkey because of the country’s rich array of cultural, historical, natural, and culinary enticements. From hiking trails to oil wrestling championships, Culture Trip takes a look at some of the most unique Turkish experiences.

Hamam

There’s nothing like having someone scrub you down and then wash and massage you in a cloud of soap foam, especially inside a historical hamam decked out in marble and a whole lot of steam. The hamam experience is definitely one of Turkey’s foremost attractions, and many visitors look forward to a relaxing and thoroughly cleansing Turkish bath.

Courtesy of Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı, Istanbul

Hot air balloon in Cappadocia

With its striking fairy chimneys and network of underground cities, visiting Cappadocia is a unique experience in its own right, but witnessing a bird’s-eye view of the landscape is, of course, quite amazing. Several hot air balloon tours take off early in the morning so that you can watch the glorious sunrise as you float over Cappadocia.

Whirling Dervishes

The whirling dervishes are part of the Mevlevi/Sufi Order founded by 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi and explores elements of mysticism within Islam. The whirling dervish ceremony is a truly striking experience not only visually because of the dervish robe and perfected movement but also because of the spiritual aura that the ritual expresses.

Cooking classes

The Turkish kitchen is a true amalgamation of its many regions that all have their own recipes and ingredients, not to mention the multitudinous inventions of the imperial Ottoman kitchens. As such, a glimpse into Turkish cuisine is always a unique experience for those who’d like to understand the country’s many dishes on a more hands-on level.

The Lycian Way

Many are already quite familiar with Turkey’s major sights such as Istanbul’s imperial mosques and palaces, Ephesus, Cappadocia, etc.; however, the ruins of the Lycian Empire are still a bit on the down low. The Lycian Way is an excellent hiking trail that stretches 540 kilometers (336 miles) along the coast and passes by about 25 remote historical Lycian sites. The footpath can take around 29 days to complete and goes from Fethiye to Antalya.

Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling Festival

Oil wrestling is probably one of Turkey’s most unusual sports in which athletes are doused in oil before they wrestle for the win. The Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling Festival has been taking place since 1346 and is the place to see both younger athletes and the champions (called Pehlivan) battle it out on the field.

Culinary walks

Exploring a city through its eateries, markets, and restaurants is probably one of the most unique and enjoyable ways to become acquainted with a culture. Culinary Backstreets hosts culinary walks in Istanbul that have become extremely popular and allow participants to eat their way through Istanbul’s kebab restaurants, bazaars, meyhanes, neighborhoods, and much more.

Hiking in the Far Northeast

The area comprising Trabzon and Rize along the Black Sea can be most readily compared to the Alps, with beautiful mountains, green valleys, and small mountain cabins all around. For nature lovers, Turkey’s Far Northeast is a truly unique experience because of its utter detachment from city life within unspoiled nature. One of the area’s most visited spots is the Sumela Monastery, a Greek Orthodox monastery within the Pontic Mountains.