- Discover the Byzantine sites of Istanbul, such as the Hippodrome and Blue Mosque
- Explore the extensive caves of the Kaymaklı Underground City
- Ride a hot-air balloon above the otherworldly valleys of Cappadocia
- Meander through the fascinating Göreme Open-Air Museum
|Arrive in İstanbul, Guided Tour of the Beyoğlu or Sultanahmet District
|Explore the Historic Sites of İstanbul's Famed Old Town
|Discover the Vibrant City of İstanbul by Foot & Boat
|Fly to Cappadocia, Visit the Göreme Open-Air Museum
|Enjoy a Hot-Air Balloon Ride, Explore Uçhisar, Visit Avanos
|Discover Kaymaklı Underground City, Depart Ürgüp
Day 1: Arrive in İstanbul, Guided Tour of the Beyoğlu or Sultanahmet District
Welcome to Turkey and the vibrant city of İstanbul! Meet your driver outside İstanbul International Airport to transfer to your centrally-located hotel. Settle into your accommodation, then meet your guide for a tour of the city. Depending on the location of your hotel, you'll either explore the Beyoğlu district on the European side of the city, or the Sultanahmet district, also known as the "Historic City."
On the European side, you can admire the early 18th-century buildings, embassies, and boutiques along the Çiçek Pasaj (Flower Passage). Visit the Beyoğlu Fish Market next, stopping at the many stalls selling fresh fish and plenty of souvenirs. As you walk, your guide will also point out notable churches, mosques, and the Galata Tower, a historic watchtower at the highest point of the city.
In the Sultanahmet District, you'll see some of the city's most famous buildings, many of which are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Pass well-known landmarks like Topkapı Palace, Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern, and the İstanbul Archeological Museum. After this action-packed first day, find a Turkish restaurant to try some of the city's many traditional dishes, like the stuffed mussels called midye dolma.
Day 2: Explore the Historic Sites of İstanbul's Famed Old Town
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast, then meet your host for another adventurous day exploring the streets of İstanbul. Today's focus will be the Old Town district, home to nearly all the most important buildings and sites. Start at one of the city's most famous sites, the Blue Mosque, which was built in the 17th century. It earned its name from the intricate blue tiles lining its interior. You can easily combine your visit with the Hippodrome, which sits on the west side of the mosque. This ancient Roman stadium is now a park known as Sultanahmet Square, where you can admire the exterior of the mosque.
The other famous site is, of course, the Hagia Sophia, which was built prior to the Middle Ages in the year 537 CE, making it the largest building in the world during that time. It's difficult to fully understand the true size of this landmark until you enter and marvel at its interior. In the afternoon, follow your guide through the winding streets of the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. You'll have your pick of 61 covered streets and over 4,000 shops selling goods like Turkish rugs, lanterns, teas, and spices.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 3: Discover the Vibrant City of İstanbul by Foot & Boat
Today, you'll dive a bit deeper into some of the sites you've already seen, starting at Topkapı Palace, the former residence of the Ottoman sultans in the 15th century. These days it houses a beautiful museum you can explore to learn more about the previous residents. Visit the Spice Market next, one of the longest bazaars in the city. It's the perfect place to buy local gifts such as nuts, coffee, teas, and Turkish delight, a traditional confection. After some free time for lunch, you'll enjoy a boat cruise along the Bosphorus Strait, admiring the shores of both the European and Asian sides of İstanbul.
Seeing the city by boat offers an entirely different perspective, allowing you to truly grasp the size of the city and understand why it's played such an important geographic role for centuries. Disembark in the Beyoğlu district to explore landmarks like St. Antoine's Catholic Church, the Galata Whirling Dervish Hall, the Tünel district, and the Neve Shalom Synagogue. Cap off the day with a stop at Galata Tower, and take an elevator to the top to enjoy views of Beyoğlu, the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus, and the historic peninsula.
Day 4: Fly to Cappadocia, Visit the Göreme Open-Air Museum
Today you'll trade the bustling capital of İstanbul for one of the country's most dramatically scenic destinations, Cappadocia in central Turkey. After breakfast, head to İstanbul Airport to catch an early flight. Once you land, transfer to the Göreme Open-Air Museum to explore some of the most beautiful 10th to 12th-century rock-cut churches and frescoes in the world. Wander through ancient corridors adorned by these intricate cave paintings to get a glimpse into the Byzantine period and learn about the historical techniques to create these frescoes.
After lunch, settle into your hotel before heading back out to discover the panoramic views from Avcılar Valley, where you can see the valley's famous rock formations called "fairy chimneys" and hidden cave dwellings that speak to the history of this ancient land. Visit Paşabağ Valley next, often called the "Valley of Monks" due to the surreal mushroom-shaped pillars covering the area. In the evening, enjoy dinner at a restaurant in Göreme, looking out over the valley as the sun sets.
Day 5: Enjoy a Hot-Air Balloon Ride, Explore Uçhisar, Visit Avanos
Wake up early if you want to enjoy the memorable experience of a hot-air balloon over Cappadocia's unique landscape at sunrise. Enjoy a light breakfast, then transfer to the launch point to watch as the crew inflates the massive balloons. They may even let you help before you hop into the basket and rise into the air. Admire the breathtaking views as the rock formations and valleys below you transform in the soft morning glow. When you land, transfer to the nearby town of Uçhisar to explore its natural fortress that was used for housing and defense. From the top, enjoy panoramic vistas over the whole region.
Visit the town of Avanos next, famous for its local pottery made with clay from the Kızılırmak River. Learn about the ancient tradition of creating this distinctive red pottery, which dates back to the Hittite period in 2000 BCE. In the afternoon, explore a 13th-century caravanserai, a historical roadside inn that served an important role for travelers marching along the Silk Road. Here, you can watch a popular performance of the whirling dervishes, a mystic ritual performed by the followers of the Mevlevi Order. Transfer back to your hotel to rest before dinner.
Day 6: Discover Kaymaklı Underground City, Depart Ürgüp
Start your last day in Turkey with a workshop to learn about the time-honored artistry and craftsmanship of Turkish carpet making. Then head to the lovely town of Musatafapasa, previously known as Sinasos. Until the early 20th century, Sinasos was populated mainly by the Greek-Orthodox minority, so you can see an unusual blend of Ottoman and Greek architectural influences around the town. Walk among the cobblestone streets, admire the well-preserved stone houses and churches, and learn about the town's diverse heritage.
After lunch, continue to one of Cappadocia's famous underground cities, Kaymaklı, which early Christians built in the seventh and eighth centuries BCE to protect themselves from religious persecution. Explore the elaborate maze of tunnels and caves on the first four floors, descending 65 feet (20 m). Walk along the narrow corridors and peek into ancient quarters to understand how residents once lived. After exploring the underground city, fly back to İstanbul to catch your flight home. Safe travels!
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