Outdoor Activities and Adventures in Turkey

22 Feb 2022

Turkey is a fantastic destination for outdoor activities, whether you are seeking adrenaline-pumping adventures or more leisurely pursuits. At more than three times the size of the UK, the country is packed full of beautiful scenery, and you can get off the beaten track on hiking, cycling, or horse-riding tours. On the other hand, you don't have to travel far from the big cities and busy holiday resorts to explore serene national parks or try your hand at thrilling adventure sports.

Hiking in Turkey

Turkey offers countless opportunities for trekking, whether you are hoping to go on a short walk to explore the countryside surrounding your resort, or have more ambitious plans to tackle one of the country's many long-distance routes. You can plan your own trip, hire a guide, or join a group tour, and discover ancient ruins and friendly villages, as well as national parks featuring rocky coastlines, thick forests, huge lakes, arid plains, snowcapped mountains, flower-filled meadows, and pristine rivers, plus an incredible variety of flora and fauna.

Long-distance routes include the Lycian Way, a moderately difficult route that runs for more than 500 kilometres between Fethiye and Antalya, linking small bays, mountains, and archaeological sites along the way. There are also the Kaçkar Trails, a series of 32 hiking routes of varying length that when joined together link Çamlihemşin and Yusufeli in northeast Turkey. It takes about 30 days to complete the whole route through the Kaçkar Mountains, which are full of gorgeous alpine scenery and powerful rivers. The Yenice Forest Trail, which consists of 21 routes that add up to around 400 kilometres, pass through a forested area of northern Turkey that is full of mountains, canyons, and waterfalls you can swim in, close to the Yedigöller National Park.

But you can find some less strenuous walks within easy reach of the main resort towns. You could walk around the Düden and Kurşunlu waterfalls in Antalya, head to the Sapadere Canyon, near Alanya — where you can follow a boardwalk past waterfalls — or hike in the Saklikent National Park, near Fethiye, which is home to one of the world's deepest canyons.

Mountain biking in Turkey

Mountain biking in Turkey

With lush, green mountains in its north, the sun-drenched Turquoise Coast in its south, and semi-arid wildernesses in the east, Turkey offers some stunning landscapes to explore on two wheels. You could find yourself riding among olive groves, around lakes, through flower-filled fields, and up the sides of steep mountains on route to magnificent panoramas, while stopping off in pretty towns and villages to rest and refuel along the way. Whether you are looking to test yourself on tough trails or take a leisurely cross-country trip, there are many excellent cycle routes that you can explore for a few hours or a few weeks.

Popular areas for mountain biking include Sarigerme, near Dalaman, a beautiful corner of the Turquoise Coast, where you can take in panoramas of pretty coves and cycle through pine forests. You could also get off the tourist trail on the dirt tracks and deserted roads of the Turkish Lake District, which has some of the most stunning peaks in the Taurus Mountains — you can tackle the high passes, meet some of the nomadic families who live in the area, and get wonderful views across one of the country's largest lakes, Egirdir. Wherever you choose to go, there are many tours available, which include all necessary kit and are led by guides with local knowledge.

Hot-air ballooning in Cappadocia

Göreme National Park, in the historical region of Cappadocia just west of the city of Kayseri, is one of Turkey's most iconic landscapes, with its spectacular rock formations and underground dwellings. The area's fairy chimneys, rock towers, volcanic valleys, and multicoloured cliffs were by wind and water erosion. But there has also been plenty of human influence on the landscape thanks to Byzantine Christians who dug out underground cities. As well as homes, they also carved out churches in the caves, and you can still see some spectacular frescoes inside these. Today, you can even stay in a cave, as many have been converted into hotels.

Hot-air ballooning in Göreme National Park

The best way to see this landscape is to take a hot-air balloon flight. Baskets vary in size, with some ideal for two people — a perfect romantic experience especially at sunset — while others can take up to 20 passengers. The sight of a sky full of colourful balloons over this landscape is unforgettable. Flights tend to last 1-2 hours, and some include extras like a glass of champagne on landing. April to November is the best time of year, with the most favourable conditions, but although winter flights can be cancelled due to high winds, a calm day when everything is covered in snow is one of the best times to take flight.

Horse-riding adventures in Turkey

A wonderful way to explore Turkey's wild landscapes is to travel on horseback. Riding allows you to cover much more terrain than walking, and there are plenty of organised trips led by expert guides that will help you get the most out of the experience, whether you are an expert or novice rider.

Some long-distance hiking routes are also suitable for horse trekking. They include the St Paul Trail, a cultural route that crosses the countryside that Paul the apostle travelled through. There are several sections of differing length, and the route stretches for 500 kilometres in total, some of it along the course of Roman roads. It begins near Antalya, and takes in ancient sites like Perge and Aspendos, stunning natural wonders like Yazili Canyon, small villages of stone houses, and cedar and oak forests, before finishing at Yalvaç, near Lake Egirdir. Along the way you can camp or stay in traditional village pensions.

There's also the Evliya Çelebi Way, which runs south from Hersek, near Istanbul, along a 650-kilometre route to Simav in the province of Kütahya, passing villages untouched for generations and crossing spectacular landscapes. It was named after the 17th-century Ottoman traveller and historian Evliya Çelebi, and follows part of the route he took on a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1671.

You can take day trips in many places, too — popular destinations include Cappadocia, while around the resort of Fethiye, tours usually include the Kayaköy ghost town and the famous beach at Ölüdeniz. Weather-wise, the best time of year for horse riding in Turkey is from April to October.

Watersports in Turkey

Scuba diving in Bodrum

Warm Mediterranean waters and wild rivers make Turkey a great destination for watersports. It is one of the best places in Europe for scuba diving thanks to clear seas, excellent value for money, and a rich array of marine life including coral reefs, plus you can explore caves, shipwrecks (some of them many hundreds of years old), and the submerged remains of ancient settlements. Popular centres for diving include Kaş, Antalya, Bodrum, Marmaris, and Fethiye. April to November is Turkey's diving season.

Canoeing and kayaking are great ways to go exploring in Turkey, and whether you are experienced or trying it for the first time, you can find some great tours, while it is easy to rent equipment, especially in the main beach resorts. Travelling by canoe or kayak allows you to get up close to stretches of coastline that are otherwise difficult to reach, and it's an activity you can do at any time of year. The Turquoise Coast, where the Mediterranean and Aegean meet, is especially scenic, while inland, Turkey also has plenty of rivers and lakes to paddle along.

Windsurfing and kitesurfing are also popular activities in Turkey — among the places with ideal conditions are Çeşme, Foça, Bodrum, Antalya, and Istanbul. There are some beautiful (and powerful) rivers in Turkey, so you could also go rafting. Popular locations close to the main resorts and cities include the Dalaman River near Fethiye, the Düzce area between Istanbul and Ankara, and the Köprülü Canyon near Antalya.

Jeep safaris in Turkey

If you want to explore Turkey's beautiful landscapes but don't want to do anything too strenuous, you could opt for a 4-wheeled adventure by taking a jeep safari. There are many tours available throughout the country, including private safaris and trips for larger groups where you travel in a convoy.

Jeep safaris allow you to get off the beaten track and get close to the mountains, valley, rivers, forests, and lakes, as well as visit cultural attractions like ancient ruins. You can also stop for lunch in small villages, where you can meet the inhabitants and learn more about local life. With the ability to cover greater distances, you can fit more into your day than you might on a walking or cycling tour.

Ideal places for a Jeep safari include the northern Black Sea coast, with its dense forests, mountains, and traditional wooden houses, while if you are visiting Alanya, you can book trips up into the Taurus Mountains along the valley of the Dim River, where you can visit magnificent caves, tour fruit plantations to taste the produce, stop at villages, go fishing, and cool off with a swim in the river. Other popular destinations for Jeep tours include Cappadocia and the Turquoise Coast.

Skiing and snowboarding in Turkey

Uludag is a popular ski resort

Turkey might not be the first place you think of when planning a winter sports break, but thanks to its stunning mountains, which receive a good covering of snow, the country now has some excellent resorts with modern facilities. Whether you are looking for lessons and beginner slopes, or black runs, there are ski centres right across the country.

Uludag is a well-established resort near Bursa, south of Istanbul. This ski area is above 1800 metres and has the best snow conditions from December to April. There's also a wide range of accommodation, including chalets and hotels, plus off-piste activities such as ice skating. Another popular resort is Palandöken, near Erzurum in the east of the country. It is one of the largest ski areas in Turkey, and lies at an altitude between 2200 and 3100 metres. It has hosted several international ski competitions, and has excellent snow and a total of 28 kilometres of runs (the longest being 12 kilometres long). There are also hotels, ski lodges, restaurants, and ski schools.

For more information, see the official travel guide to Turkey.

Then read about what to do in Istanbul
Plan your trip around the best festivals in Turkey
Indulge in Turkey's best foods
Study up on customs and safety in Turkey

Feeling inspired? Check out Travelzoo's latest deals on holidays to Turkey.

Nick Elvin contributed to this post.

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