Turkey is a country of contrast, it is a great mix of cultures, religion, nations, architecture and history. And even now people can’t decide if it is more Middle East or Europe. This is the country that should be on the bucket list of everyone who thinks of themselves as a traveler. There are many places to visit in Turkey and a year won’t be enough to explore this part of this world. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have a year to travel due to jobs, duties, or simply visa issues. So here is the itinerary for a 14 day trip around Turkey.
You of course don’t need to follow my plan exactly, but one thing that you should do is to start your trip from Istanbul. Istanbul is an amazing place to dive into Turkish culture and history. This is the cultural crossroads of Ancient Greek, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires.
You should spend at least 3 full days in Istanbul. There are many things to do and places to visit in this city. The most important places to see in Istanbul are The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, Topkapi Palace, and Süleymaniye Mosque. These are places with deep historical and cultural meanings and should not be skipped. There are also other fun things that you should do in Istanbul, like taking a food tour. So here is a daily guide to how to organize your days in Istanbul.
For those who arrived in the late afternoon my advice is to take it easy and just relax. Walk around the neighborhood and get a nice dinner at one of the restaurants nearby. By the way I do recommend staying in the Sultanahmet area since it is going to be very convenient for you to visit most of the important sites. It is a touristy section of the city, but a great choice for first timers to Istanbul.
For the first full day, in the morning, you will want to hit sites like the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern. They are located right next to another in the Sultanahmet area and won’t take a long time. The Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia are both mosques now, so you don’t need to wait in a long line to buy an expensive ticket to get to the Hagia Sophia like a few years ago (both of these places are now free). The Basilica Cistern (my favorite site) isn’t that crowded to begin with, so you won’t spend more than 20 minutes waiting to get inside.
After your busy morning, get yourself a nice lunch at one of the local restaurants and in the afternoon walk to another historical\religious place – Süleymaniye Mosque
This is a beautiful mosque with a great view. I must say that I liked this place way more than the Blue Mosque. On the way back you should hit the Grand Bazaar which is located in the same area as the Suleymaniye Mosque.
The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest markets in the city and is a popular tourist site. Here you have the option to get all the souvenirs you need. To be honest I wouldn’t recommend buying stuff here as everything is overpriced, but if you wanted a trinket to say you bought something at the Grand Bazaar then here’s the place.
Day 2 you should start with visiting Topkapi Palace in the morning. The palace is quite big and gets quite crowded later on in the day. To see the whole palace you will need to buy an additional ticket (42 TL) to see the part where the Harem was. This is a very beautiful part of the palace, so I do recommend visiting it as well.
The Topkapi Palace will take you all morning, so don’t plan anything else. For the afternoon you can go to the Spice Bazaar. Here you can get exotic spices like saffron and others. I recommend you do not buy spices inside the Spice Bazaar but walk behind the Spice Bazaar to the outdoor section since the prices are way better there.
After the Spice Bazaar you just need to cross the road and you will find yourself standing next to the Galata Bridge. Next to the bridge you will find places where they are having Bosphorus Cruises. It is better not to book the cruise through the tour agency (they charge 2, sometimes 3 times more).
The Bosphorus Cruise is a very relaxing activity where you just sit and enjoy the view. It is a perfect ending to a very busy day.
This day is all about the Turkish food. You can start your day by taking a walk to visit Galata Tower in the Karakoy section first and then get yourself on the ferry that goes to the Kadikoy district. It is the Asian side of Istanbul and a very popular place for food tours. Many of the best restaurants that locals eat at are located in Kadikoy. Here is a list of all the places you can visit and detailed instructions to where they are, how to get there, and what food to order.
You can do this food tour on your own or join a guided tour. There are of course advantages for both ways. By yourself you will save money and with a guide you will learn more interesting facts and history about Turkish cuisine.
Since Istanbul is a major flight hub, you can pretty much fly out to anywhere you want. However I do recommend going to the Cappadocia region. You can fly to Kayseri airport and from there get to Goreme city. Domestic flights can often be found for less than $20.
Cappadocia is kind of a fairy tale place. This region is famous for its fairy chimney rock formations, underground cities, and hot air balloon rides. You probably have seen Instagram photos with people sitting on terraces or rooftops surrounded by hundreds of hot air balloons, so now you know that this is Goreme, Cappadocia. In Cappadocia you can spend three nights easily since there are many things to do outside of just riding in a hot air balloon or taking pictures on the terrace of your cave hotel.
You probably will spend half a day travelling to Goreme and checking into the hotel. In Goreme you will want to stay at a nice cave hotel. It is a great experience and one of the must-do things in here. There are many options to choose from for every budget. If you want to splurge I really recommend Anatolian Cave Hotel.
During the second half of the day you will need to book your hot air balloon ride. If it is off season go to the office in person, and if it is high season it is better to book your hot air balloon ride online in advance. Then you can visit one of the famous Cappadocia sites – Kaymakli Underground City. Since you can do activities that involve hot air balloons just from 6 to 7 AM, Kaymakli will be a perfect place to spend your first afternoon. To get there you can arrange a taxi to take you there, wait, and take you back. Prices are around 250 Turkish Lira.
Kaymakli Underground City
Goreme is a great little town with many exceptional places to eat. Here are some of the best restaurants in Goreme.
This is the day when you will need to wake up very early. They launch all the balloons around 6 AM and you surely will need to get to them even earlier.
The best advice I can give you is to bring warm clothes for the ride, because even if it is the middle of the summer it is going to be cold in the morning flying in the basket of a hot air balloon.
After the hot air balloon ride you can get a nice breakfast and get to Uchisar City . It is a neighboring city and you can just take a taxi there (5 minutes, 25 TL to get from Goreme to Uchisar). Uchisar is another place that looks like a fairy tale. In the center of Uchisar there is the Uchisar Castle. This is a very unique structure and I haven’t seen anything like this anywhere else in the world.
After climbing up and down the castle you can walk to Pigeon Valley. This is the place full of fairy chimneys and at one point people were breeding pigeons for food. If you go down the valley, you’ll see many pigeon halls made by people in fairy chimneys.
A nice way to finish your second day will be a walk around Goreme. You can pay a visit to a popular carpet shop where the owner has organized an Instagram spot for everyone who wants to take colorful pictures.
The morning of this day you will have to start early again. Get to the top roof of your hotel at 6 AM and wait for the hot air balloons to go up in the air. This is the way to get some of those amazing photos that you have seen on Instagram.
After a cup of coffee and Turkish breakfast you need to visit the Open Air Museum. This is a great place to learn more history of the monks that used to live in this area and get some great photos.
Open Air Museum
After lunch you need to see the Love Rocks or Mushroom rocks, or Pen*s rocks (usually called by tourists). The easiest way is to walk to the bottom of Zemi Valley and from there walk a little bit up right to the Mushroom rocks. There are other Love valleys, although Zemi valley is the closest and the easiest to get to from Goreme city.
This is the day when you will need to leave. If you can, book the flight in the afternoon, so that you will have an opportunity to visit Sunset Viewpoint to enjoy the view of the city surrounded by hot air balloons.
Sunset View Goreme
And don’t forget to book your transfer van from Goreme city to the airport in advance.
Next stop is Izmir and the Agora of Smyrna. Izmir is one of the biggest cities in Turkey. There are not many things to do, but it is a very comfortable place to stay overnight, spend a great afternoon and travel to another location.
While staying in Izmir I advise you to visit the famous Agora of Smyrna. It is an old Greek Agora that at one point was rebuilt by the Romans. The site is very well preserved and looks fantastic.
To end your perfect afternoon in this city you can have a nice walk along the sea and have dinner at “İzmir Sakız Alsancak”, one of the best restaurants I have visited in Turkey.
On day 8 take a bus from Izmir for an hour to Kusadasi, a smaller port city that lies on the shore of the Aegean Sea. It is very comfortable to get to and there are many good hotels to stay at.
In Kusadasi the rest of your day 8 you can spend on the beach or by the pool relaxing from all the sightseeing and saving your energy for the next day
The main reasons you should come to Kusadasi is the ancient city of Ephesus (Efes) which is 25 minutes away, the Temple of Artemis (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world), and the location where Maria (Jesus’ mother) was born.
You need half a day to visit these three locations. It is quite easy and can even be cheap if you are doing it on your own without a tour guide. In fact, visiting Ephesus from Kusadasi by public transportation can save you over $40 a person.
If you do Ephesus as early as possible you can be done by late afternoon. If you want to take a late afternoon or evening bus you can go to Pamukkale early to save off a day.
After Kusadasi the next stop is Pamukkale and the ancient city of Hierapolis. To get to Pamukkale you can go by bus or plane. There is a big bus terminal and an airport in the nearby city of Denizli. From there just take a taxi to your accommodation. I recommend taking a Pamukkale Bus from Kusadasi to Denizli (4.5 hours) for about $6. Then just grab a taxi to your hotel in Pamukkale.
We booked the hotel “Venus Suites” next to the travertine mountain. It was quite comfortable to be so close to the entrance of Hierapolis and the travertine terraces. I do recommend staying in Pamukkale for one full day and two nights. The place gets really crowded with tour groups so it is better to wake up as early as 6 AM and head straight to the upper entrance.
There are three things that you should do once you are at Pamukkale: explore Hierapolis, check out the white travertine terraces, and swim at the Cleopatra pool.
The ticket to the Hierapolis and Travertine terraces costs 80 TL (about $11) and the additional tickets to the Cleopatra Pool cost 100 TL a person (about $13).
Pamukkale Hierapolis and travertine terraces
From Pamukkale you should arrange another Pamukkale Bus to Antalya for the rest of your stay in Turkey.
The next and final stop in Turkey is Antalya. There you can visit Kaleici, the old city of Antalya. It is a nicely preserved cute place that lays around a moon-shaped harbour.
The city looks magnificent with old thin walking streets, small shops, and romantic cafes. There are many beautiful spots with a great view of a harbour. Here you can visit Hadrian’s Gate and the old “Broken” mosque. Take a ride on the glass elevator overlooking the harbour and have a cliffside walk at Karaalioglu park.
Another reason why Antalya should be the last on your list is that there is a pretty big international Airport which makes it convenient to fly wherever you plan to next.
If you want you can stay the final night closer to the airport next to Lara beach. Spend your last day relaxing at the beach, drinking summer cocktails and getting a suntan. You deserve a relaxing end of your trip before flying back home.
Well now that you’ve read my itinerary for a 14 day trip around Turkey you should be more than excited to go. I mean, Istanbul, Cappadocia, and Pamukkale alone are reasons to visit, but if you can also see the Smyrna Agora, Ephesus, and Antalya that makes it even better.
What do you think about this itinerary? Too rushed? Too slow? Let me know some of your favorite places to see in Turkey in the comments down below!
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