Turkey is a country that is so rich in history and culture. From the Ancient Greeks, to the Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans, numerous civilizations and religions have called this place home. It also has immense natural beauty as dramatic mountains meet the tranquil and blue Mediterranean. The food is also world class. Anyone that’s a fan of meats grilling on a stick, fresh seafood, and meze will love Turkey.
I had just under two weeks in this country which I thought gave me a good amount of time to see the country. I think one to two weeks is enough to do the country some justice, with a preference to two weeks of course. There’s a lot more to Turkey than just Istanbul.
In total, our trip was 13 days and included the following highlights. This itinerary would work for someone with even 10 days to spare. You’ll just need to condense accordingly.
- Izmir/Kusadasi & Ephesus
- Olu Deniz
Day 1 to 4: Exploring Istanbul
After landing in Ataturk International Airport, we took a cab to our Airbnb in the Taksim Square area of Istanbul. We spent the first three nights exploring this wonderful city that straddles Europe and Asia. An alternative option is to fly straight to another Turkish destination like Cappadocia and save Istanbul for the end. Either option will suffice but I’m a fan of saving the relaxing part of the trip for the end (Olu Deniz).
Istanbul is a big city with so much to see. The area between Taksim Square to Sultanahmet is the main tourist grid. Here you’ll find attractions like Taksim Square, The Blue Mosque, Basilica, Hagia Sofia, The Grand Bazaar and more. I wouldn’t have minded an extra day here as there is just too much to see and eat. I didn’t even make it to the Asian side of the city!
Much of the city is organized in a disorderly angular grid making it very difficult to figure out directions. We only managed to find the restaurants and bars we wanted to see because of Google Maps (thank god).
Day 4-6: Cappadocia
Cappadocia is one of the most popular places in Turkey. It’s famous for its aerial views of the rock chimneys from the hundreds of hot air balloons. There is an overnight bus option from Istanbul that drops you off near Goreme (the main town within Cappadocia). We elected for the flights to the nearby city of Kayseri as they were very cheap (100 TRY 1 day).
Cappadocia is also famous for its cave hotels. We booked a 2 night stay at the Erenby Cave Hotel. Would highly recommend staying in one of these hotels! In olden times, the people of this region fashioned houses into the rocks here to hide from Roman soldiers. Nowadays, they’ve since been turned into hotels and Airbnbs.
Hot air ballooning
The highlight of this area is the hot air balloon tour. Not doing a hot air balloon tour here is like not visiting the pyramids in Cairo. It was as amazing as the pictures looked and I probably should have gone a second time because why not? There are hundreds of agencies selling tours in town and almost all of them will try to rip you off by charging obscene rates like 150 euros per person. Make sure to ask around for the best rates as it should be no more than $100 per person.
There are a handful of other tours that go to the surrounding areas of Goreme. I would also highly recommend doing at least one of these tours. They are color coded; red, blue, and green tours. I opted for the Green tour but if time permits, do the others ones as well!
Two nights in Cappadocia is sufficient to see some of the highlights of the town, especially if you’re leaving late on the last day. Ideally, I would have liked to have at least 2 full days here, or three nights. The cave hotels alone are worth it!
Day 6-8: Ephesus and Pamukkale
From Cappadocia, we took a direct flight from Kayseri to Izmir via Pegasus Air. From Izmir, we took a taxi to the port town of Kusadasi, which would be the base of operations for us to explore the nearby highlights of Ephesus and Pamukkale.
Ephesus is one of the largest and most well preserved ancient Roman cities in the world. Archaeologists are still discovering new ruins so expect the ruins to be more grandiose every time you visit. We took a day tour to Ephesus which can be booked just about anywhere. The Turkish take their tourism seriously and you will always have a hundred different operators giving you a thousand different options. We also stopped at the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. There isn’t much of it left sadly as it was destroyed long ago.
We went to Pamukkale the second day to observe its beautiful salt pools. The surreal, brilliant white travertine terraces are filled with warm soothing mineral water making this a popular destination for all tourists. Pamukkale is also home to the ancient Roman city of Hierapolis, an attraction in its own right. While not as impressive as Ephesus, there is still plenty to see.
I wasn’t quite as impressed with this part of my trip. The pictures I saw outclassed the actual salt pools. There were also thousands of people here but that could have just been the time of year we came. Also, given the current geopolitical landscape in Turkey, tourism numbers are likely down.
Day 9-13: Fethiye and Olu Deniz
The last leg of the trip was spent in the Lycian peninsula in southern Turkey. This area is highlighted by it’s beautiful jagged mountains, and impossibly turquoise seas. The most famous attraction in Olu Deniz is by far the paragliding from the top of Babadag mountain. This is one of the highest paragliding destinations in the world at over 2km high. The ride lasted a good 5 minutes in the air. The views of the ocean and surrounding scenery was unforgettable.
In addition, there are a number of tours we took here as well. The 12 islands tour visits a number of the nearby islands (12 in total) and is well worth the trip. We also took a tour of the famous Blue Lagoon. There are also ferries that run daily to the Greek island of Rhodes. This is a perfect day trip from Olu Deniz. Sadly, those boats only run after Easter, which was after our stay.
If this is all too much, the beach is quite nice here as well!
Day by Day Itinerary
Day 1: Land in Istanbul, explore town
Day 2: More Istanbul Exploration
Day 3: Istanbul continued
Day 4: Istanbul in the morning, flight to Cappadocia in the afternoon
Day 5: Early morning hot air balloon tour, Green tour in the afternoon
Day 6: Cappadocia blue tour in morning, Fly to Izmir at night
Day 7: Day tour around Ephesus
Day 8: Day tour to Pamukkale
Day 9: Take bus to Fethiye, check out Fethiye in the afternoon
Day 10: Olu Deniz
Day 11: Olu Deniz
Day 12: Olu Deniz
Day 13: Fly back to Istanbul via Dalaman
If I had another day or two , it would have been perfect. I would have done the following:
- One more night in Cappadocia
- one more night in Kusadasi
On the other hand, I think this itinerary can also be done in 10-11 days by doing the following
- One less night in Istanbul or 1 less night in Cappadocia
- Immediately after the Pamukkale tour, take a bus to Fethiye as it’s much closer than from Izmir