Backpacking in Turkey on a Gap Year

Countries  »  Turkey

Sitting on the edge of Europe, Turkey feels like a gateway to the rest of the world, a blend of rich histories, scenery ranging from mountains to beaches, and incredible, varied cuisine. Exotic and comfortable, backpacking in Turkey is more than a stepping stone out of Europe - it's an experience you're never likely to forget.

Whatever your fancy, Turkey has you covered. The great city of Istanbul does its best to serve as a greatest hits package while still maintaining a character of its own. The more adventurous will also seek out sparkling Izmir on the Aegean coast, cosmopolitan Ankara, and the otherworldly landscapes of Cappadocia, famous for its dreamlike hot air balloon displays.

Unfortunately the UK government advises against travelling to anywhere along the Syria and Iraq borders in Southeast Turkey due to conflict in the area and the high risk of terrorism. Visitors anywhere in Turkey should remain alert to possible terrorist attacks.

Cities in Turkey

Just as Istanbul has attracted marauding Greeks, Romans, and Ottomans over the centuries, now it attracts backpackers in their droves. Turkey's most magnificent city straddles two continents and wears its history on its sleeve, both in the layers of architecture that make up its streets and the cultural diversity engrained in its spirit, making it endlessly fascinating to explore.

Delve into the heart of Istanbul's Old City and haggle for deals in the sprawling technicolour lanes of the Grand Bazaar, before visiting the spectacular Aya Sofya museum building, losing yourself in the grand Topkapi Palace, or wandering around the Blue Mosque as calls to prayer ring through the streets.

If you ever manage to tear yourself away from Istanbul, head to capital city Ankara, home to world class performing arts, historical Izmir that feels half open air museum and half glittering coastal resort, or go the whole way and spend a few days in the Mediterranean beach resorts of Antalya. No matter where you choose, Turkey is bound to reward your curiosity.

Countryside in Turkey

While Istanbul is the main draw, most backpackers in Turkey also gravitate to Cappadocia in the centre of the country. This is where you'll find arguably Turkey's most striking sight - hundreds of hot air balloons taking to the sky at sunset and drifting over the area's alien landscape of so-called fairy chimneys, canyons, craters, and valleys. It's rare that a single place is truly like no other on Earth, but Cappadocia is one of a kind.

From golden beaches on the Mediterranean coast to rustic olive groves on the Aegean, the alpine Kackar Mountains to the arid heart of the country, Turkey's landscapes frame a long and storied history that has made it what it is today - chances are it'll leave a similarly lasting impression on you.

Top Experiences in Turkey

Cappadocia

You might never get to visit another planet, but Cappadocia is the next best thing. As hot air balloons rise over the bizarre, beguiling landscape, the horizon flushing red with the setting sun, you might find yourself never wanting to come back to Earth.

The Lycian Way

Undoubtedly one of the world's most picturesque walks, the Lycian Way hugs the Mediterranean coast to curve around the Teke Peninsula to Antalya, taking in mountains, forests, ruins, and more. It's 500km long, so don't try doing it all at once.

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

A spectacular, colourful building in its own right, it's the stories of this former home of the Ottoman sultans that really bring it to life. Wondering through its rooms and courts, you can practically see the political and personal dramas playing out in front of you.

Whirling Dervishes, Konya

Konya, found in Turkey's Central Anatolia Region, is known for its Seljuk Dynasty architecture and ruins, as well as the mausoleum of Persian theologian Rumi. His followers formed the Whirling Dervishes, their ceremonies of spinning around while wearing billowing white gowns still one of Turkey's most memorable sights.

The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

If you want to get to the heart of Turkey, this is it. The lanes and alleys of this chaotic market bring together all the cultures, history, and flavours of Turkey in a collision bound to thrill the senses.