A fascinating mix of modern and ancient, where East meets West, Turkey is one of the most incredible countries in the world. This Turkey itinerary is on a route which will lead you through some of the country’s highlights: from the capital Istanbul to the otherworldly Cappadocia, to the ancient ruins of Ephesus and Troy to the beautiful turquoise coastline and beaches. You will be blown away by the variety of sights and scenery on this journey.
After you arrive at Istanbul Airport, check into a hotel. You can choose to stay in the Sultanahmet area, also known as Old Istanbul, from where many attractions are in the vicinity and you get a clear view of the Bosphorus Strait.
Or, you can stay in Taksim Square, which is known as modern Istanbul and is a busier area with several options for eating out and nightlife.
Once you settle in, start your day in Sultanahmet Square. If you stand here and turn around you’ll be able to see both, the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.
Start your day with the Blue Mosque, the largest functioning one in Turkey. Built in 1609 using blue Iznik tiles with abstract and geometric patterns, flowers and trees, it has six unique minarets built in the name of Sultanahmet. Sultanahmet Square also has the remnants of an ancient Hippodrome, which was built in the 4th century AD and was the venue for chariot races and gladiator sports. In the centre of the Hippodrome, you’ll see an Egyptian obelisk. From there, you can walk to the beautiful Hagia Sophia.
The Hagia Sophia is one of the most iconic historical buildings in Istanbul. Built as an Orthodox church in the 6th century, it was converted into a mosque in 1453 and then into a museum in 1935. Today, it retains elements of both religions.
Between these landmarks, you can stop for lunch at one of the many rooftop restaurants in this area. Popular options include Marbella Terrace Cafe Restaurant, Roof Mezze 360 and BonTerrace Restaurant. Sip on some Turkish coffee while you’re here to give you that much needed-kick for the rest of your day.
Once lunch is taken care of, proceed to check out Topkapı Palace. This used to be home to the Ottoman Sultans for many years until it was converted into a museum in 1924.
It also has on display many relics of Muhammad, considered some of the most important ones in the Islamic world. Topkapı Palace closes at 4.45pm, though, so make sure you get there in time.
As your last stop of the day, head to the Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s oldest markets. Wandering through these busy market streets is part of the Turkish experience. You can buy a lot of things here, from ceramic dishes and lanterns to jewelry, silk, and even Turkish delight sweets.
If you’re interested in local food, you’ll find a lot of restaurants serving Turkish food around the area. Byzantion Bistro Restaurant, Lezzet-i Sark and Vefa Bozacisi are among the popular ones.
Begin your day with a proper Turkish breakfast, also called kahvalti, which translates to the food you eat before drinking coffee. Top that off with a Turkish coffee, of course, and step out for day two.
If you missed out on any of the important landmarks from day one, use this morning to cover them. If you’re a history buff and looking for other important landmarks in the city, explore the Basilica Cistern, Dolmabahçe Palace and the Galata Tower.
However, if you want to indulge in other aspects of the city, it’s time to try the Turkish bath here, called a hammam. The public hammam, a steamy sauna that also has a bath and massage option, is still a big part of Turkish culture. You can check out hammams like Cağaloğlu Hamamı, Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamami, and Aga Hamami.
Once you feel refreshed after that relaxing hammam, it’s time to soak up another authentic Turkish experience – the Bosphorus Cruise.
The shoreline of the Bosphorus has a lot of history – it’s home to grand palaces and old castles of the Ottoman royalty, rich summerhouses and traditional wooden Turkish yalis. The Bosphorus cruise is one of the best ways to explore these glories of Istanbul.
Take the afternoon Bosphorus cruise, which you can be reserved through your hotel or online. The half-day tour runs for five hours along Istanbul’s Bosphorus Strait, all the way to the Black Sea.
On the cruise, you’ll be served a delicious Turkish lunch with traditional dishes like grilled chicken or fish, fresh salad, cheese, and the famous baklava.
After the cruise, head straight to Galata Bridge, one of the best places for viewing the sunset. The two-tiered bridge connects old Istanbul to the new town.
After sunset, walk towards the new town near Taksim Square. Here, the streets are lined with trendy restaurants, bars and nightclubs. You can party the night away on your last day in Istanbul in bars like Litera or Nargilem Café that are quite popular in the area.
How To Reach Cappadocia?
To get to Cappadocia, you need to take an early-morning flight from Istanbul airport to the airport located in Kayseri. From there, travel to Göreme, which takes about an hour and check into a hotel.
For a unique experience, we recommend you stay in one of the cave hotels. These are carved out into the landscape, allowing you to experience the true culture and beauty of the place. The natural limestone walls are good for ventilation, as they keep you cool in summer and warm in winter.
After settling in and having breakfast, start your tour of Cappadocia at Rose Valley. Hike through this area to find some of the finest fairy chimney-strewn vistas, high cliffs, colored rocks, and dwellings and churches carved into the tufa stone.
Walk a little further to reach Pasabag. Here, you will see highly remarkable earth pillars in the middle of a vineyard. Like Rose Valley, Pasabag also contains some of the most striking fairy chimneys with twin and even triple rock caps.
Head back to Göreme for lunch and revive yourself for another spectacular landscape. Göreme has many good restaurants offering you multiple food choices. Take a pick from steakhouses to restaurants serving Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and local cuisine.
Then, travel to Kaymakli Underground City, one of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Turkey. This is an underground city with eight floors below the ground. They were used by the first inhabitants of Cappadocia to escape the harsh weather and wild animals. Later, this place was used as a hindingpla by the first Christians who escaped persecution from the Roman soldiers. Spend at least half a day exploring this architectural masterpiece.
For your evening entertainment, choose between a traditional whirling dervish show or a livelier Turkish night show of dance and music.
You can find the Whirling Dervish performance at Sarihan Caravanserai. Caravanserais are buildings on the ancient Silk Road. These buildings were set a day’s camel ride apart, so weary travellers could stay there. The old Sarihan Caravanserai is one such building that has been restored, where the holy ceremony of the whirling dervishes takes place.
The Turkish night show is another good way to spend an evening in Cappadocia, where performances include folk music, performances and belly dancing. You can find a Turkish night show at Evranos – Avanos, Uranos – Avanos, or Yaşar Baba – Üçhisar.
Start your day early with a hot-air balloon ride. This is the perfect way to bask in all the beauty of Cappadocia.
Seeing the picturesque scenery from the vantage point of a hot air balloon is truly an unforgettable experience. Make sure to get a reservation for the ride a day before from your hotel or online from websites like voyagerballoons.com or cappadociaballoonbookings.com.
Grab a meal in your hotel or around, then head to the Göreme Open Air Musuem. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site, featuring rock-cut churches dating right from the 10th to 12th century.
After this, you can choose to explore Cappadocia further by visiting other attractions like Derinkuyu Underground City, Soganli Valley, Avanos River and Town, or Uchisar Castle. A more relaxing option would be to head back to Göreme and visit a hamma
Pack and relax for the rest of the day. Prepare yourself for an overnight journey to Selçuk, İzmir.
How To Reach Selçuk
Overnight buses from Kayseri to Izmir take about 14 hours to reach Selçuk. You can also opt for a cab ride, which will take you around 10 hours.
Selçuk, in İzmir province, makes an ideal stopover as it is well-located from the ruins of Ephesus, the next attraction, and is accessible from Pamukkale, which you’ll also be visiting. It is also not too far from İzmir airport, in case you choose to travel by air.
Take a short taxi ride from Selçuk to the ancient city of Ephesus, where you will see some of the best-preserved ancient ruins. This is one of the most visited destinations in Turkey.
Empires, from the Neolithic to Roman to Ottoman, have all ruled over Ephesus. Take a tour of these ancient ruins and explore the Library of Celsus, the Temple of Hadrian, Gate of Hercules, the Great Theatre and the Odeon.
Also, don’t forget to check out the Temple of Artemis, once among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Take a break from exploring the ruins and head to a good restaurant offering a sumptuous Turkish meal. Restaurants like Mehmet and Ali Baba Kebab House, Cadir Café and St John Cafe Shop have a good menu and are located close to your next destination, the Ephesus museum.
After lunch, head straight to the Ephesus museum, where one of the popular artefacts is an exquisitely carved Artemis statue famous for its multi-breasted depiction of the goddess. The highlight of the museum is the Gladiator Room, with displays from the gladiator cemetery excavation.
Next, take a walking tour to the House of the Virgin Mary, a popular Christian pilgrim spot. It was believed that the Virgin Mary and Saint John settled here after the crucifixion of Christ.
Spend the day exploring Ephesus and head back to Selçuk once you’re done.
Pamukkale is renowned for its white terraces and hot springs. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
How To Reach Pamukkale
Pamukkale is a two-and-a-half-hour taxi ride from Selçuk. You can also take a bus that departs from Selçuk to Denizli, which takes three hours and then another bus from Denizli to Pamukkale, which takes about 20 minutes. Start your day early as you may need the whole day for this trip.
The famous cotton castle travertines in Pamukkale can be your first stop once you get there. If you look at the terraces from far, it does look like a castle made of fluffy white cotton.
However, the dazzling white calcite cliff was created by calcium deposits from the area’s hot spring. Explore this area by walking barefoot from the base of the calcite mountain up the entire cliff ridge. The upper levels hold pools of mineral-rich water, in which you can sit to imbibe its health-giving properties.
Next, head to the Hierapolis City Ruins, another UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s walking distance from the travertines. Walk through this ancient city to explore the mighty theatre that’s located on the hillside. You can also see the ruins of the Temple of Apollo and then head to the Hierapolis museum.
The cluster of attractions in Pamukkale are all located closely, but 5km to 6km away from the main town.
For lunch, you will have to take a break from touring and head to the town for a meal. Restaurants like White House Restaurant and Café, Kayas Restaurant and Bar, and Mehmet’s Heaven offer delicious local cuisine.
After lunch, head to the Pamukkale antique pool, where you can take a dip and cool off in the afternoon. This hot spring features sparkling “champagne water” and is located somewhere within the Pamukkale-Hierapolis complex. Legend has it that this artificially sculpted pool was a gift by Marc Anthony to Cleopatra.
Antalya or Bodrum
Alternatively, you can choose to spend day 6 in the beach towns of Antalya or Bodrum.
How To Reach Antalya & Bodrum
Antalya is a five-and-a-half-hour cab ride from Selçuk. You can also opt for a bus from Izmir’s city centre to Antalya, which will take you about seven to eight hours.
Bodrum is about three hours from Selçuk. Taking a bus from Izmir’s city centre to Bodrum will take you a little over four hours.
Since you’ll be considering these two places for a day trip, it might be more ideal to choose a cab ride that’s quicker.
Antalya will thrill both beach lovers and history buffs – the labyrinthine old town is full of historic sites. Take your time to explore attractions like Hadrian’s Gate and the Broken Minaret, then walk into Karain cave or take a ride to the top of Mount Tahtali.
Don’t miss the burning flames of Chimaera. As the sun begins to set, spend the evening on the white-sand beaches of Turkey’s Turquoise Coast.
Antalya has a lively nightlife scene, too. There’s a narrow street called Hesapci Sok, where you’ll be able to find several restaurants and garden bars with live music. If you’re lost, just follow the music.
Bodrum is on the western coast of Turkey and boasts some of the clearest waters in all of the country. It is also home to the famous Museum of Underwater Archaeology, which is housed below the renovated Bodrum Castle, a wonder in itself.
The Mausoleum of Mausolus, Myndos Gate and Bodrum Theatre are a few other beautiful sites to visit. Bodrum also has a “bar street” that offers an array of bars and clubs to party the night away.
After breakfast, pack up and leave from Selçuk for İzmir Airport, where you can catch a flight to Istanbul. You can take the road too, but the seven-hour travel might be a little extensive for your last day in Turkey. Depending on your flight timings, you can choose to indulge in some retail therapy.
Blue evil-eye charms are good souvenirs to take back. You can also purchase Turkish delight, spices, ceramic souvenirs, mosaic lamps and Turkish tea and coffee. The Airport Outlet Center is the closest mall to the airport. If you don’t have much time, stop here to pick a few items.
However, you if you have a few hours, stroll around the Grand Bazaar or Serdar-i Ekrem street, where you’ll find plenty of souvenirs to take back.
A diverse country like Turkey deserves a lot more days, but if you have only a week at hand, this seven-day itinerary could help you explore some of the best spots.