At the beach in Koh Nang Yuan, Thailand

By Norbert Figueroa, an experienced architect, travel writer, long-term budget traveler, and photographer with over 13 years of travel experience in over 139 countries and counting. @globotreks

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I’ve been to Turkey twice, so far, and if you’ve read my posts on Turkey, you’ll see it is a country I love. The first time I visited was in 2012 when I decided to spend some time in Istanbul to learn more about the famous mosques in the city.

These included the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, as well as many other important mosques not widely known to the public but that I was aware of due to my architecture background. This was my “architectural” approach to get to know a city that, still to this day, is very foreign to me.

But beyond architecture (and Istanbul), Turkey has a lot more to show, and slowly, about a year later, I made my way through other parts of the country to discover more of its hidden history and its wide-open nature.

And through that discovery (which is still not done), I got to fall in love with its culture, landscapes, food, and history. I mean, I fell in love with everything Turkey (except its gas prices, of course).

There’s so much culture; from the Sufis to the music, and the delicious food –baklava anyone?– that instead of exploring the country visually, I realized that this was a place I had to experience with all my senses.

Here I’ll share eight memorable experiences that put Turkey quite high on my “love list”:

Ottoman Architecture in Istanbul

1. Seeing and Entering Hagia Sophia

I know I said I was going to show you other things beyond architecture, but this building is an icon. This building is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have “changed the history of architecture.”

It was the Greek Patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople back in the year 360 when it was built, then rebuilt as a Greek church in 532 to the structure we see today, and later converted into a mosque in 1453.

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Then in 1931, it was secularized and turned into the museum we see today. I can still remember studying it back in college, so seeing it in person for the first time, hearing the echoes, and marveling at its mosaics and plastered wall paintings was almost like a milestone in my architectural career.

Now I wish for my next trip to have the chance to see the stunning Imperial Harem which is one of the best Ottoman Architecture examples in Istanbul. I wrote more about Turkish Ottoman architecture here.

Sufi Dancing

2. Seeing the Sufis Peaceful Dance

Before going to Turkey, I knew nothing about the Sufi dance (or Sufi Whirling), but once there, my eyes were widened to a new art.

In fact, this is more than dance, it is a worship ceremony with physically active meditation, through which dervishes aim to reach the source of all perfection, or Kemal, by listening to the music, focusing on God, and spinning one’s body in repetitive circles, considered a symbolic imitation of planets in the Solar System orbiting the sun.

The whole act is a religious ritual that connects the dancer both with the earth (with one hand facing down while spinning) and the heavens (with the other hand facing up). While this dance can be seen in many restaurants, it is best experienced in a dedicated ceremony.

Baklava in Istanbul

3. Baklava!

If you’ve never tasted baklava before, go to your nearest Turkish restaurant and try one, now! This sweet is so delicious that you wouldn’t be able to eat just one.

Of course, your nearest Turkish restaurant might not make Baklava as delicious as the Karaköy Güllüoğlu baklavas in Istanbul, but at least you’ll get the taste. Karaköy Güllüoğlu is the most famous baklava maker in Turkey, with a family recipe that has been done since 1820.

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Basilica Cistern

4. The Dark Reflections of the Basilica Cistern

I was sad when I learned I missed visiting this unique sight during my first visit, so on my second visit, I made sure to go there.

The Basilica Cistern is an underground colonnade space considered to be one of the most magnificent historical structures in the city, and still to this day is lightly flooded (reminiscent of its former use as a cistern).

Even though its design was planned, most of the 336 marble columns are different since they were built with materials taken from various old buildings from the Roman Empire back in the 500s AD, when Byzantine Emperor Justinian ordered its construction under a basilica.

As you walk through the catwalks, you can see the beautiful, perfect reflection of the entire space in the calm waters, and hear the soft echoes of water drops and whispers.

Camping in Turkey

5. Camping Everywhere

In 2013, I did the Mongol Rally, and part of that journey included crossing Turkey from west to east. It took us a week to cross the country, so every night we camped wherever the night took us.

We camped in farms, mostly, and while they were un-gated, they were obviously someone’s land. On one occasion, we ran into a shepherd with its herd (which we assumed was the property owner), and as soon as the saw us camping there he went near us, full of curiosity, and asked what we were doing.

The conversation, albeit completely lost in translation, was a fun moment because we both wanted to know more about each other. Eventually, he continued his way with his sheep and told us to stay and enjoy his farm.

Cappadocia, Turkey

6. Seeing the Sunrise while on a Hot Air Balloon Ride over Cappadocia’s Landscapes

This is an activity you must do while in Cappadocia. You’ll wake up at an ungodly hour to be picked up and taken to a field where you’ll board a hot air balloon.

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Once in the sky, you’ll see how the night turns into twilight, and then into daylight. You see how the shadows retrieve slowly and in odd shapes, following the landscape’s fascinating contours.

Beyond the sunrise, it is stunning to see this unique eroded valley from above, including the Uchisar Castle that crowns Göreme, and the mountains far beyond the region.

Turkey mountains

7. Driving across the High Mountains of Kaçkar, Karçal, and Yalnızçam, and Lake Tortum Gölü.

This has been one of the most beautiful drives I’ve done so far! The narrow road followed the river and winded between high and low mountains along a narrow valley.

Each turn showed a different view that wowed me every single time. There was everything from cliff drops and canyons to vast expanses filled with enormous mountains.

Devrent Valley Sunset

8. Seeing the Sunset from a 3,500-year-old Cave House

My friends and I decided to look for a spot in the Devrent valley in Cappadocia to watch the sunset. After hiking for a few minutes, we saw a hole on the side of the mountain and decided to do the short climb to reach it.

Most holes in these mountains once served as a dwelling, and this one proved to be one too. It looked to be a 3500 years old house/living space, with the common holes connecting between areas as you see in other famous sights like Uchisar Castle.

It wasn’t that easy to get up to it, but we managed to enter the space, explore it a bit, and look at the sunset through the natural window in the cave.

After reading experiences like these, don’t you think Turkey is quite amazing?

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  1. You have amazing blog and verry nice pictures. Do you think Turkey s dangerous cuz of refuges or that is not truth or reality is different than in TV news?

    1. Not at all! I have to say the news only depict the worst of the story and in many cases they spin it in a negative way. In my opinion, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about if you want to visit Turkey. Refugees or not, they shouldn’t affect your experience there.

  2. Love your travel experiences in Turkey! Love the photo colors, it made me want to be there too!

  3. turkey is amazing place for holidays. watching sunrise with hot air balloon ride is awesome experience. photos are amazing and describing its beauty.

  4. It is magnificent in Turkey watching sunrise with hot air balloon ride,high mountain lake & seeing in sunset from a 3500 year- old cave house.
    I would love to visit in near future.

  5. A very wonderful experience in Turkey. I loved the Hagia Sophia the first time I visited it, it was very huge. I also liked the hot air balloon ride very much.

  6. Turkey is a very famous place because of its historical places. It is very famous for the tourists. Topkapi Palace, Aya Sofya, Istanbul Archaeology Museums and Gala-ta Tower are very famous in turkey. Great post.

  7. Great collection of these wonderful photos you’ve clicked as your memories
    You must’ve had an amazing experience in Turkey
    Thumbs up to you
    Thanks for sharing your memories !

  8. Hi Norbert,
    You have been the witness to the grand mosque of Turkey, you have camped outside, you have seen the man making interesting moves in traditional dance and you have also posed about sweet bun, then those photos of huge balloons dotting the sky simply take my breath away.

    These balloons made me remember, that I had a memorable trip in hot air balloon few days back.
    Thanks for giving an enlightening perspective about Turkey, and I conclude that my friend lives there as well.