Turkey: Suggested Itinerary
Bridging the East and West
Day 1: A good starting point is obviously, the capital city, Istanbul. Most transatlantic flights won’t arrive until late morning and if you are planning to spend a week or more here, this is fine. Spend the first afternoon getting acquainted with the old city of Sultanahmet, and one of the most legendary sites to visit is the Hippodrome. If you fancy getting a bite to eat, don’t go to the ones directly near the famous monument. Then head to the Sultanahmet Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque. This sets you up perfectly for a walk through the imposing Ayasofya, though don’t miss the Haseki Sultan Hamami, which is now a beautifully restored space used by the Ministry of Tourism as a fixed-priced carpet shop. The next destination has to be the ancient underground Yerebatan Cistern across the street at Yerebatan Caddesi. If you fancy a bit of culture, in particular some of the finest Byzantine mosaics, stop by St. Savior in Chora Church. And what better way to end a hectic day with a fine dinner at one of the many authentic restaurants in this area.
Day 2: Start out early for a daylong cruise up the Bosphorus, allowing plenty of time to explore the Egyptian Spice Bazaar and the neighboring Yeni Cami, before boarding at the nearby ferry docks. If you fancy leaving proceedings to the experts then take a half-day guided sightseeing tour, which includes a stop at the Egyptian Bazaar, an informed description of the sights along the Asian and European shores, and a visit to Rumeli Castle. If you do take the tour, spend the remainder of the daylight hours walking the length of Istanbul's main artery, on Istiklal Caddesi and popping in and around the back streets of Beyoglu. If you can arrange this afternoon exploration around the 3pm performance of the mighty Mehter Band in the Military Museum up in Harbiye - all the better. If you miss the 3pm English performance, the whole thing repeats in Turkish at 3:30pm. But there’s so much more to see in Istanbul, so from the Military Museum, take a taxi up to the modern and trendy seaside village of Ortaköy (above the Çiragan Palace), home to numerous restaurants, cafes, and sidewalk vendors under the Bosphorus bridge. Nothing beats a fine local dining experience, so enjoy one of the many places on the quay, or head back to Beyoglu for a meal at one of the classic meyhanes (taverns) of the Balikpazari (the fish bazaar).
Day 3: This is your culture day and there are plenty of cultural hotspots in Turkey to take your breath away. Spend the morning looking around Topkapi Palace and pay particular attention to the Treasury, although if you're pressed for time or money, you can skip the tour of the Harem, departing at regular intervals. Now it’s museum time, scoot back to the first courtyard, where you'll find access to the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. This is one of the surprisingly less-visited spots, all the better for you, so feast you eyes on this impressive collection of ancient and even famous artifacts. For example, the Treaty of Kadesh, signed by Pharaoh Ramses and the Hittite King is housed here. When you leave the palace grounds, turn right immediately outside the main gate out along Sogukçesme Sokagi for a unique chance to stroll through a typical 19th-century Ottoman community. Grab the tram at the Gülhane stop (cross the main avenue to get the correct tram) or taxi it to the Beyazit stop, near one of the entrances to the Grand Bazaar. A shopper’s paradise, there's also a sound-and-light show in Sultanahmet Park under the Blue Mosque on summer nights at 9pm (language of the display rotates daily), and what better way to end the evening than dining in a rooftop restaurant? Nope…
Day 4: If you really want to experience everything, you must visit both Ephesus and Cappadocia. The good news is if you pick the ancient Ephesus site, you get to go all bucket-and-spade on some beautiful beaches. To begin this journey into history, grab a domestic flight to Izmir to either Selçuk or Kusadasi as your base. From these you can spend the day visiting the archaeological site of Ephesus, the Ephesus Museum, the legendary Temple of Artemis, St. John's Basilica, and the House of the Virgin Mary. If you have hired a car, you can enjoy an exotic dinner in the village of Sirince.
Day 5: No visit to this stunning side of the country would be complete without homage to three famous Ancient Greek sites of Didyma, Priene and Miletus. You will need to dedicate the day to this but you should be able to find travel operators that can accommodate you, should you be mainly pedestrian-based.
Day 6: If you didn’t get chance to visit those iconic landmarks, it will somewhat limit your time in Pamukkale, but you can still make a decent day of it. When visiting Pamukkale, visit the travertines and the archaeological site of Hierapolis, as well as a dip in the bubbling Sacred Pool. If you have the luxury of transport, stop along the way at the impressive ruins of Aphrodisias.
Day 7: This is what it was all building upto right? If you want remarkably unspoiled sand action, a visit to Gümüslük, an as-of-yet unspoiled waterside village and the site of submerged ancient ruins, is an essential pick. But don’t worry, better beaches are located all along the peninsula, particularly around Yalikavak and Turgutreis. Though for that true tourist experience, you can’t beat a visit to the crowded resort beaches at Gümbet, (the bay adjacent to downtown Bodrum), and it’s significantly closer too. If you don’t fancy willing your days away on a beach, then schedule a visit to the Underwater Archaeology Museum, located in the conspicuous and imposing St. Peter's Castle. A cultural visit to the wondrous Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (or what’s left of it) shouldn’t be missed either.
Day 8: If you’re doing it right, you’ve left plenty of time to hit all the right cultural spots. Take an early domestic flight to Cappadocia. If arriving in Kayseri, it’s about an hour’s drive into the local towns in the region. Start off in the rock-cut monastery of Zelve Valley, you can even release your adventurous side by partaking in some rock-climbing. Near Zelve, there are plenty of signs for the open-air museum of Göreme. In the modern section of the village you can grab some souvenirs or a bite to eat. No expedition here would be complete without a visit to the rock city of Üçhisar. The top of the fortress affords a jaw-dropping panoramic view of the entire region. There are shops here too but you could be forgiven for being slightly out of breath by the end of this regime.
Day 9: The heart of Cappadocia’s cultural value is undoubtedly the underground cities of Kaymakli and Derinkuyu. When you’re down plunging and rising to depths of mystery and intrigue, head the short distance to Belisirma, which will get you into the Ihlara Valley. You might fancy a rural bite here after all that underground exploring, so do go ahead before making it over to the village of Güzelyurt. Through the valley and yet another hotspot, the village's own underground city. There are plenty of authentic dining options here too for that all-important evening meal.
Day 10: Depending on how long you’ve got, visit Ankara, where you can arrange to fly home via Istanbul, if you haven’t arranged this already. In Ankara, around the ancient citadel, start with the unmissable Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. Opposite the entrance to the fortress is the restored Çengelhan, housing the Rahmi Koç Science Museum. There are plenty of copper, antiques, and carpet shops on the steeply cobbled streets heading to the daily market on Çikrikçilar Caddesi, should you not have nailed those souvenirs yet. If you’ve time, take a taxi to the Atatürk Mausoleum and Museum atAnitkabir. Then post-haste to Ankara and then the capital to call it one resoundingly active 10 days.