There’s much more to Turkey than Istanbul and Cappadocia. If you get off the well beaten tourist path, you’ll discover ancient ruins, hot springs, castles and some of the friendliest people you’re likely to meet in your travels.
Read on to discover my recommendations for a two week adventure across Turkey.
Days 1-3 Istanbul
If this is your first time in Turkey, then the best place to start is Istanbul.
You’ve probably all seen the photos and know that the must see sights include the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, Galata Tower and the Bosporous River.
Istanbul is spread across two continents. You’ll likely spend most of your time on the European side, but can easily take a boat across the river to the Asian side.
Days 4-5 Selcuk and Ephesus
From Istanbul, head south to the small town of Selcuk and visit the nearby ancient ruins of Ephesus. To save yourself a long bus ride, you can fly from Istanbul to Izmir and then head to Selcuk by train or bus.
Selcuk is worth a look with an interesting castle and the ruins of St John’s Basilica. The ticket price is 15 TL ($2.50 USD).
Selcuk is the gateway town to Ephesus and you can walk the two kilometres to the ruins from Selcuk.
Entrance to Ephesus is 60 TL ($10 USD). Allow at least two hours to explore the UNESCO Heritage Site, which is believed to have been first settled more than 2,000 years ago.
The amphitheatre, Roman streets and Library of Celsus are highlights of Ephesus.
Day 5 Pamukkale
From Selcuk, take a bus or a train to Denizli. Denizli is the gateway town to access the Pammukale Mineral Hot Springs.
From the Denizli Bus Station, you can take a mini bus to Pammukale. You can buy tickets from the driver. The bus leaves when full from bay #76 on the lower level of the bus station.
Get to the hot springs as the sun rises and you’ll be treated to the sight of hot air balloons floating over the top of the limestone terraces.
Once you reach the top of the springs, you can explore the ancient ruins of Heirapolis, which has both Greek and Roman influences.
Entrance to the hot springs and Heirapolis is 50 TL.
Days 6-9 Turkish coast
From Denizli, it’s a three hour bus ride to the Turkish coast. You can choose from a number of cities to enjoy ocean views, but the most popular destinations are Antalya and Fethiye.
Antalya not only offers ocean views and beautiful ocean side parks – but it also has many ancient ruins nearby such as Termessos and Perge. Make sure you also catch a sunset or two while on the coast.
Day 9-12 Cappadocia
While very touristy these days, Cappadocia is a must on any first time Turkey itinerary.
You can take a hot air balloon ride to see the sunrise over the unique landscapes; go hiking; and explore the Goreme Open Air Museum.
The best town to base yourself in during your stay in Cappadocia is Goreme as it offers many guesthouses and restaurants, but surrounding areas such as Uchisar also offer many accommodation options.
There’s a number of hiking trails in the Goreme region such as through Love Valley, and from Goreme to Uchisar Castle via the Pigeon Valley. Most of the hikes only take about 2-3 hours and are not too strenuous. The hikes can easily be done independently, but if you want a more guided approach, every tour agency in town offers hiking tours.
Day 12-15 Explore the east
Not many tourists explore the east of Turkey, partly because of its proximity to Syria.
However, intrepid travellers will be rewarded by seeing beautiful castles, old towns and meeting a host of friendly people in the east.
From Nevsehir (the major transport hub in the Cappadocia region), it’s a long overnight bus ride to Urfa – then you need to change buses to reach the charming town of Mardin.
The long bus ride will be worth it once you see the old town of Mardin – one of Turkey’s many hidden gems. You can spend hours wandering the old town laneways, stopping for sweet tea, and enjoying traditional Turkish food served by smiling, enthusiastic locals.
Unfortunately you can’t go inside the castle above Mardin anymore but you still get a good view from the Old Town. For a panoramic view of the city, head to the top of the Kasimaye Madrasa (Islamic school).
The bus rides are shorter from here on in – and from Mardin, you can head to Van for a night. The drive itself is worthwhile as you drive the length of pretty Lake Van with towering mountains all around you. Van is also home to an interesting fortress – and also the famous Van breakfast.
There’s a whole street dedicated to the most important meal of the day called Breakfast Street. The Van breakfast includes an array of dishes including cheese, bread, olives, eggs, jams and of course bottomless cups of tea.
From Van, you can head to Kars, which is a quaint town with a beautiful castle situated above the town.
From Kars, you can finish your Turkish adventure and head into Georgia. Turkish Airlines and Pegasus Airlines also offer flights back to Istanbul from many destinations in Turkey.
Things You Should Know
- English is widely spoken in Istanbul and Antalya, but you’ll be hard put to find an English speaker in the east. The good news is people are very friendly in the east and will try and help you despite the language barrier.
- Buses in Turkey are very modern and clean and run frequently to tourist destinations on a schedule. It’s easy to buy bus tickets at the bus station. Trains are also possible in some areas such as between Izmir and Denizli. Flights within Turkey may also be an option and Turkish Airlines and Pegasus Airlines offer competitive prices if you don’t want to sit on a bus all night.
- While in Turkey, you have to make sure to try local food. Meat eaters will find they eat a lot of kebabs in Turkey. Other must haves are kunefe (a dessert made with cheese and rosewater syrup), borek (a layered puff pastry typically filled with meat or cheese) and lahmacun (a flat bread topped with a mix of minced meat and vegetables).
- There’s lots of hostels in Istanbul, but fewer hostel options elsewhere in the country. In the east, there’s a hostel in Van, but only hotels in Mardin and Kars, however the east is cheaper than the west.
- Most nationalities need a visa to enter Turkey. You can apply easily for an e-visa online. The cost of the e-visa varies depending on your nationality.