6 Unique Non-Touristy Activities in Turkey
While most tourists favour cities like Istanbul, Bodrum, or Antalya, exploring beyond unveils captivating cultural traditions, ancient cities, living history, and delectable regional cuisines. Discover a local's recommendations on places to visit, activities to engage in, and optimal times to do so.
Step into History in Cumalikızık, Bursa, where cobblestone streets and Ottoman-era houses beckon, offering a picturesque journey through time in this charming village. Explore the rich heritage and captivating ambiance of one of Turkey's well-preserved historical gems.
- Cumalikızık is a 700-year-old Ottoman village located in a valley near UNESCO site Bursa, first Ottoman capital
- Charming houses in vivid colours line the cobblestone streets and narrow alleys of this picturesque village
- Ancient water channels flow underfoot through the higgledy-piggledy layout of buildings clustered together
- Some passageways between dwellings are so narrow only one person can pass through at a time
- Easily accessible by 20 minute minibus ride from Bursa, ideal for a day trip immersion in history
- Recommended to start with a Turkish breakfast then wandering the lanes of this well-preserved cultural site
Edirne's Traditional Oil Wrestling Festival Unveiled
Experience the ancient art of oil wrestling dating back to 1346, as Edirne hosts its traditional festival every late June/early July, featuring intense bouts, ceremonial rituals, and the camaraderie of Pehlivan competitors generously coated in over 10 tons of olive oil.
- Annual Tradition Since 1346: Edirne hosts the Oil Wrestling Festival every late June/early July, a tradition since 1346, offering a glimpse into the ancient art of oil wrestling with roots dating back 4,500 years.
- Pehlivan and Kıspet: Competing Pehlivan, clad in sturdy water buffalo skin trousers known as kıspet, engage in intense battles generously coated with over 10 tons of olive oil.
- Ceremonial Kickoff: The festival commences with a ceremonial launch by the Kırkpınar Ağa, featuring a procession of the coveted golden belt for the Chief Pehlivan winner.
- Spiritual Prelude: Special prayers at the Selimiye Mosque precede the wrestling bouts in the fields, setting a spiritual tone for the ancient and fierce tradition.
- Musical Extravaganza: Thousands gather to witness the bouts, accompanied by the rhythmic beats of drumming from 40 bands and the melodious tunes of zurna reed instruments.
- Pehlivan Introductions: Each Pehlivan is introduced to the audience, showcasing their nicknames and distinctive wrestling moves, adding a personal touch to the competition.
- Oiled Wrestling Culmination: The festival culminates in the emergence of a champion, marking the end of intense and oil-laden wrestling battles that define this cultural spectacle.
Alaçatı's Spring Extravaganza in March
Nestled on the Çeşme Peninsula along the Aegean Sea, Alaçatı is renowned as a bustling summer hotspot, adorned with charming streets and traditional stone buildings.
While the warmer months allure with beachside relaxation and vibrant markets, early spring unveils a hidden gem – the Alaçatı Herb Festival, locally known as Alaçatı Ot Festivali.
This annual event not only introduces the latest in regional and traditional cuisine but also offers a delightful array of cooking demonstrations, informative talks, and lively music events. For herb enthusiasts and culinary explorers, March is the ideal time to immerse themselves in Alaçatı's rich gastronomic scene.
Discovering Winter Wonders in Kars, Turkey
Explore the enchanting city of Kars, celebrated through Orhan Pamuk's "Snow" and the Eastern Express train, where snow-covered steppes, Russian architectural influences, and echoes of Armenian history converge, offering a unique winter wonderland waiting to be discovered.
- Literary Inspiration: Kars garnered domestic tourism attention through Orhan Pamuk's novel "Snow" and became a popular destination, especially with the scenic Eastern Express train journey from Ankara.
- Snow-Covered Steppes: Embracing winter for eight months, Kars transforms into a snow-covered wonderland, offering breathtaking mountainous landscapes.
- Russian Architectural Legacy: The city's streets boast carefully planned grids adorned with stone mansions, reflecting 40 years of Russian rule and influencing landmarks like Hotel Cheltikov.
- Armenian Influence: With a diverse history, Kars experienced brief Armenian rule post-WWI and served as a significant principality, leaving traces seen in landmarks like the Apostles Church (Kümbet Camii) and the mediaeval ruins of Ani.
- Ani's Panoramic Views: Situated by the Akhuryan River, the mediaeval city of Ani provides clear views into Armenia, featuring a cathedral, mosque, and chapels on a desolate plain.
- Captivating Winter Vistas: Kars invites exploration, beckoning travellers to delve into its rich history and immerse themselves in the allure of its captivating winter landscapes.
Camel Wrestling Extravaganza in Selçuk
Experience the vibrant pageantry of Selçuk's Camel Wrestling Festival, an annual January spectacle where male camels engage in intense matches, adorned in vibrant saddles, creating a unique fusion of tradition, excitement, and ethical entertainment.
- Annual Wrestling Spectacle: Selçuk's Camel Wrestling Festival, an annual highlight on the 3rd Sunday of January, promises a mesmerising display of strength and skill as male camels engage in intense wrestling matches.
- Ancient Setting: Nestled near the ancient city of Ephesus, Selçuk transforms into a cultural arena, drawing over 20,000 spectators who bask in the historic charm while witnessing the camel wrestling extravaganza.
- Camel Adornments: The festival becomes a visual feast as proud owners showcase their camels adorned in vibrant saddles and intricately embroidered tabards, adding a touch of cultural splendour to the competition.
- Festive Atmosphere: Infused with a lively ambiance, the festival radiates a celebratory spirit with sizzling barbecues, engaging debates over camel merits in tea houses, and a lively soundtrack provided by drums and reed instruments.
- Fierce Wrestling Matches: As the matches commence after a brief standoff, the air is charged with anticipation as camels lock necks, engaging in intense battles that unfold over 10-15 minutes, showcasing their innate wrestling instincts.
- Engaged Spectators: Spectators form a captivating ring around the wrestling camels, actively participating in the spectacle, and the winner emerges when an opponent retreats, emits a distinctive scream, or is forced to kneel.
- Ethical Entertainment: Upholding ethical standards, each camel is restricted to one wrestling match per day, ensuring a thrilling yet responsible form of entertainment that captivates the audience while respecting the well-being of the animals.
Exploring Tarsus, Mersin: Ideal Any Time Except Summer
Embark on a journey through Tarsus, Mersin, where history comes alive amidst modernity. Begin at St. Paul Kilisesi, a 1862 church adorned with a Christ fresco, then explored Ulu Camii, a 1579 Ottoman mosque, and the intriguing Kırkkaşık Bedesteni market.
Uncover the Makam-i Danyal mosque, tied to the prophet Daniel, and savour the charm of Tarsus Tarihi Evler—historic houses turned cafes—providing a taste of daily life from bygone eras. Ideal for exploration year-round, Tarsus offers a walkable journey through its captivating heritage, best enjoyed in seasons other than the scorching summer.
What are some lesser-known destinations in Turkey worth exploring?
Delve into the enchanting beauty of Cumalikızık in Bursa, the winter wonders of Kars, and the cultural allure of Tarsus, Mersin.
Are there unique festivals to experience off the beaten path?
Yes, witness camel wrestling extravaganzas in Selçuk every January and immerse yourself in the Alaçatı Herb Festival in March for a taste of local traditions.
What historical sites beyond the mainstream should I visit?
Explore St. Paul Kilisesi and Ulu Camii in Tarsus, unveiling centuries-old churches and mosques with rich architectural and cultural significance.
Any recommendations for authentic cultural experiences?
Visit the Forty Spoon Bazaar in Tarsus for Shahmaran images and an elixir linked to Cleopatra, offering a unique blend of myth and history.
How can I engage with local traditions in Turkey?
Immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere of Selçuk's Camel Wrestling Festival and savor the vibrant heritage within the historical houses of Tarsus.