“Istanbul, a universal beauty where poet and archaeologist, diplomat and merchant, princess and sailor, northerner and westerner screams with same admiration. The whole world thinks that this city is the most beautiful place on earth.” – Edmondo De Amicis
Turkey’s major tourist attractions are scattered in between the four corners of the country. In this travel guide, we will focus on Istanbul, Cappadocia, Pamukkale and Ephesus. Discover the breath-taking natural beauties of Turkey using our 7-day suggested itinerary that starts and finishes in Istanbul.
Istanbul Ataturk Airport is one of the busiest airports in Europe. It is the main hub for Turkish Airlines, one of the fastest growing airlines today. Thanks to its location, between Europe and Asia, Istanbul’s airport got in the middles of airlines’ price war that makes flights to Turkey much more affordable than to other destinations in Europe. For example, a round trip flight from New York cost about 640 USD (compare to 700 USD to London, which is much closer to New York), from Hong Kong the price of a direct round-trip ticket is 900 USD (but price drops to 670 USD if you decide to go with a flight with one connection) and from most European airports the price for a round-trip ticket is under 200 USD (from Berlin is only 150 USD).
Day 1: Istanbul
Where to stay in Istanbul:
After your arrival at Istanbul Airport, check in to your preferred hotel in, preferably in the Sultanahmet area, also known as the Old Istanbul. Reserve the afternoon for a Bosphorus cruise which can be arranged through one of the travel agencies or directly through your hotel in Istanbul. The tour runs for 5 hours along Istanbul’s Bosphorus Strait and visit to the Black Sea. A delicious lunch will be served which typically includes grilled fish and chicken, fresh salads, Anatolian cheese and Turkish desert Baklava. Rates for half-day Bosphorus cruise range between 39 USD and 130 USD.
After the cruise you can opt to go back to your hotel or go straight to Galata Bridge, one of the best places for sunset viewing. This two-tiered bridge is very famous among tourists because it connects Istanbul’s historic old town and new town. End your day with healthy and delicious dinner at Giritli Restaurant (Keresteci HakkI Sokak Armada Otel YanI Cankurtaran). The rate of about 55 USD per person might scare some tourists, but this restaurant offers authentic Turk meals such as freshly fished seafood, grilled octopus, fresh veggies with herbs, olives stuffed with walnuts and feta and so much more. The best part is unlimited glasses of local wine, rakı or beer. Or if you prefer a trendier place, check out 360 Istanbul Roof Bar.
Day 2: Emerge yourself in history
The best place to start your tour in Sultanahmet (Old Town Istanbul) is the center of ancient Constantinople at the ruins of Roman Hippodrome. Most of the structures built in this area are long gone as it was converted into a park that we see today. Your next stop should bee Blue Mosque, located in the former grounds of Constantine’s Grand Palace. This impressive mosque was built with blue Iznik tiles with different abstract and geometric patterns, flowers and trees. You could also find Arabic Calligraphy with excerpts of the holy Quran.
After lunch, continue your walking tour by visiting Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya Square, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey; tel: +90 212 522 1750), an architectural wonder built as a house of worship for different religions until it was converted into a museum in 1935. Hagia Sophia is pretty huge and there a lot of areas to explore so it’s best to get a brochure with a detailed map prior to entry.
Your second to the last destination is Topkapi Palace which used to be the home of Ottoman Sultans for over 400 years until it was converted in to a museum in 1924. The palace was very well preserved as tourists can still explore the ancestral residence of the Ottoman Sultan. There are also many Relics preserved in the palace such as gifts presented to the Sultans during wedding and birth, weaponry collection as well as Chinese and Japanese porcelain.
End your day at the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest markets in the world. You can find almost everything inside its covered market, from Jewelry, silk, ceramic dish ware, mosaic, Turkish delights, traditional Ottoman clothing and tons of knock off designer clothing. You might need an extra suitcase though which you can also find here. Don’t forget to haggle to get the best bang for your buck. Aside from shopping, Grand Bazaar is also a food destination. You can explore its back alleys and interior courtyards to find restaurants frequented by locals.
After your tour, go back to your hotel and prepare for your late Kayseri flight (round-trip with Turkish Airlines costs about 50 USD. We checked the same flights with Priceline and Orbitz and they showed 500 USD and it makes us believe there is a glitch with converting the Turkish Lira to USD. Check our guide about where to look for the best priced airfares). From Kayseri Airport, take a bus going to Goreme. Travel approximately takes 1 hour. Most hotels in Goreme offer free shuttle service if you will be staying for three nights. Reservations are required. If you can’t arrange a shuttle service from your hotel, then you can opt to pre-book a shuttle from these two recommended companies – Helios Transfer and Kapadokya Shuttle.
Travel Tip: For a unique Cappadocia experience, stay in one of the cave hotels in Goreme. Most rooms are made of limestone which is said to be good for ventilation as it keeps guests cool during summer months and warm during winter. Price starts from EUR 55 per night for two people including breakfast.
Where to stay in Goreme:
Day 3: Cappadocia
You may start your third day early with a Hot Air Balloon Ride, the perfect way to witness the beauty of Cappadocia. Reservations can be done directly through your hotel or online. Price starts at about 200 USD but it is totally worth it!!!
Travel Tip: We recommend scheduling your Cappadocia Hot Air Balloon Ride on your first day. This way if the weather is unfavorable, you will still have a chance the next day.
After your breakfast at the hotel, start your full day Cappadocia tour at the Rose Valley. Here you will find colored rocks, high cliffs walls, and more dwellings and churches carved into the tufta stone. Then walk towards Pasabag (Monks Valley) where you’ll discover its interesting mushroom-shaped pinnacles. Go back to Goreme for your lunch.
Spend the rest of the afternoon at Kaymakli Underground City, one of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Turkey. The underground city has 8 floors below ground but only 4 of them are open to public. Half day tour is suggested in order to explore Kaymakli Underground City as there are many small passage ways inside.
In the evening, you can also avail a tour to watch the Whirling Dervishes in the old Sarihan Caravanserai. This ceremony is part of Turkish History and Culture and can only be performed by religious men. It is said that the motion of men whirling endlessly, with their arms wide open, their right hands directed to the sky, represents spiritual journey and the search for truth and perfection.
Day 4: Derinkuyu Underground City
On your fourth day, explore the ancient villages and other underground cities in Cappadocia. You may start at Mustafapasa, a former Greek village of wealthy merchants who settled in the town in the late 18th and 19th centuries. After this, head to Soganli Valley, 25 km South East of Derinkuyu. It is one of the most secluded and tranquil valleys in Cappadocia that are too often overlooked by tourists. Soganli Valley offers fairy chimney and well preserved rock-cut churches with colorful frescoes. You can also have your lunch at Soganli Garden Restaurant (situated Near Yesilhisar In The Province of Kayseri, 38800, Turkey) which offers traditional Turkish food.
After lunch, the tour concludes in Derinkuyu Underground City. It is an ancient multi level underground city which is considered the deepest in Cappadocia. The extensive network of tunnels and passages of this ancient underground city is complete with wells, chimneys for air circulation, water tanks, stables and areas where the dead could be placed until such time as conditions on the surface would allow their proper disposal. The ancient settlers also strategically devised moving stone doors to quickly block the corridors in the event of an attack.
After the tour, head back to your hotel and relax at the deck for a splendid panoramic view of the entire region with a cup of tea. You can also try a Hamam (Turkish bath) located right by the bus station where you can enjoy a spa day before you take the overnight bus to Selcuk (Ephesus). Be prepared and read this reviews about the bus station in Goreme!
Where to stay in Selcuk:
Travel Tip: Since you are touring Ephesus and Pamukkale on two consecutive days and you will be going back to Istanbul, it is recommended to book a hotel in Selcuk (Ephesus) as it is much closer to Izmir Airport.
Day 5: Ephesus and the Virgin Mary’s House
Take this day to visit the ancient city of Ephesus. Ephesus plays an important role in the History of the Greeks, Romans and Christians. During the Roman era, it served as the capital of the Roman province of Asia Minor. According to Archaeologists, what we see is just a little of what still remains underground of the ruins of the ancient city. The remaining is still buried and yet to be explored.
You may start your walking tour at Meryemana or the Virgin Mary’s House which is popular for Christian pilgrims. It is believed that Saint John and The Virgin Mary settled in Ephesus after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The site of Meryemana is up on a mountain with a surrounding small forest near Ephesus. We suggest an early visit when it is less crowded and also because touring the ancient ruins of Ephesus can take so much time.
Have lunch at one of the Turkish Restaurants near Ephesus. Then visit some of the most popular attractions like the Library of Celsus, Ephesus Grand Theater and The Temple of Artemis, one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World Unfortunately there is only one column out of 127 standing on the site today. Once finished, return to your Hotel in Selcuk, have dinner at one of the restaurants and then call it a day.
Day 6: Pamukkale
Selcuk (Ephesus) is not very far from Pamukkale so it is relatively easy to take a day trip from there. Pamukkale Turizm, a bus company in Selcuk, departs three times daily from Selcuk to Denizli. From Denizli Bus Station, take a dolmus (minibus) to Pamukkale. Travel approximately takes 60 minutes and the bus fare is 22 Turkish Lira (7.50 USD).
You will need one whole day to explore the famous attractions of Pamukkale. Start your tour early by exploring the travertines and the extensive Roman ruins of the Hierapolis.
Within the Pamukkale – Hierapolis complex, you can also explore Pamukkale Antique Pool (more commonly referred as Cleopatra’s Pool). It is a warm, mineral rich spring and is said to be where Cleopatra have swum. The entrance fee is 30 Turkish Lira (10 USD).
Day 7: Blue eye charms for good luck that will remind you about Turkey for the time to come
After breakfast, travel to Izmir Airport to catch your morning flight to Istanbul. If time permits, you can go shopping before your flight back home. Some of the souvenirs that you can take home with you are “Blue Eye” key chain-sized charms which is said to protect you from bad will, ceramics with traditional mosaic designs, Turkish Delight, and of course Spices.
This is the end of our 7-day Suggested Itinerary. Honestly, 7-day trip is not enough time to explore Turkey and it will somehow force you to make some hard choices. But if you are committed to maximize this short stay, you can definitely see a little bit of everything. That said, you can make some changes on this itinerary based on your interests. Happy travel!
Have you been to Istanbul, Cappadocia, Pamukkale, Ephesus or anywhere else in Turkey? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.
Featured image: Panorama of Istanbul at a dramatic sunset from Galata Bridge, Istanbul, Turkey (boule / Bigstockphoto)