Over 10 packed days, you'll experience the highlights of Turkey, from the Ottoman and Byzantine monuments in Istanbul to the lunar valleys of Cappadocia. It's an itinerary that includes adventurous hot air balloon rides and explorations of ancient city ruins. Plus, between the fun city tours and outdoor excursions, you'll even have time to relax in a natural spa.

Highlights

  • Discover Istanbul's Byzantine landmarks like Hagia Sophia
  • Soar over the "fairy chimneys" of Cappadocia in a hot air balloon
  • Tour famous ruins of ancient Ephesus like the Temple of Artemis
  • Bathe in the mineral waters at Pamukkale and the spa at Hierapolis

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Istanbul Istanbul
Day 2 Tour Istanbul by Foot & Boat Istanbul
Day 3 Walking Tour of Istanbul's Old City Istanbul
Day 4 Istanbul to Cappadocia, Göreme Museum & Valley Hike Cappadocia
Day 5 Sunrise Balloon Tour Cappadocia
Day 6 Kaymakli Undeground City, Ihlara Valley Hike Cappadocia
Day 7 Cappadocia to Şirince Şirince
Day 8 Tour Ancient Ephesus Şirince
Day 9 Visit Pamukkale & Hierapolis Pamukkale
Day 10 Pamukkale to Denizli, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Istanbul

Welcome to Istanbul
Welcome to Turkey! This culturally rich nation is a geographic and cultural bridge between the Middle East and the West. It's been a major plot point on the global map ever since the days of the old Silk Road. It has changed hands from the Greeks to the Romans to the Byzantines to the Ottomans in the thousands of years since. And few cities in the world represent such a melting pot of cultures through the ages quite like Turkey's largest, Istanbul.
 
This city lies on the Bosphorus Strait, which divides it into European and Asian halves, thus bridging the two continents. It's known for awe-inspiring architecture spanning the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, as well as a delicious culinary landscape. Upon arrival, a driver will meet you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel. After unpacking and settling in, you can spend the rest of the day relaxing. When you feel peckish, venture out for dinner at one of Istanbul's many kebapçıs (kebap restaurants), or try other staples like fresh fish and mezes (platters of small plates and finger foods designed to be shared).

Day 2: Tour Istanbul by Foot & Boat

Enjoy a boat ride on the Bosphorus 
Wake up and enjoy a classic Turkish breakfast of olives, tomatoes, eggs, cheese, fresh bread, and other goodies. Now that you're fortified, it's time to head out on a 3-hour walking tour of the city. Your guide will take you right to the heart of Istanbul, around the lively Karaköy and Galata districts. Important landmarks include St. Antoine's Church (the largest Catholic Church in Istanbul), the 19th-century Tünel (the oldest underground train in Europe), and Neve Shalom Synagogue.
 
Then head up Galata Tower. This 14th-century watchtower was built by the Genovese and offers stunning views of the European side of Istanbul, the Golden Horn waterway, the Bosphorus, and south to the Historical Peninsula (Old City). Then head down to the waterfront enclave of Karaköy via the stunning Camondo Steps. This curved stairway was built in the 1870s in an Art Nouveau, Gaudi-esque style you have to see to believe. Afterward, cross the Golden Horn via the Galata Bridge before arriving at the Eminönü waterfront, known for its many bazaars.
 
Board a boat for a two-hour excursion along the Bosphorus at the waterfront. From the deck, you can admire the shores of both the European and Asian sides of the city. This vantage point reveals the full scope of Istanbul and how all its minarets, ancient buildings, and colorful homes dotting the hills comprise one of the most impressive skylines in the world. 

Day 3: Walking Tour of Istanbul's Old City

Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul's Old City

Enjoy a leisurely breakfast, then meet your guide for another adventurous day exploring Istanbul. Today's focus will be the Old City, located on a peninsula that juts eastward into the Bosphorus. Because this landmass sits at the southernmost entrance to the strait, it was of great strategic importance to anyone who controlled the city. The Roman emperor Constantine, for example, built the Walls of Constantinople here in the 1st century CE. These stone fortifications ran around the spine of the peninsula and survived even through the Ottoman Empire. Many are still intact today.

You'll visit significant landmarks in the Old City, some of which are centered around the Byzantine-era Hippodrome. This large square was a circus and sports center in the days of Constantinople. Today it's famous as the location of Hagia Sophia, which was built in 537 CE and was the largest building in the world at the time. The Blue Mosque sits just across the Hippodrome, another of Istanbul's architectural marvels. Officially called the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, it was built in the early 17th century and earned its nickname due to the 20,000 blue Iznik tiles speckling its interior. 

In the afternoon, your guide will take you to the Grand Bazaar. Sprawling more than 333,000 sq feet (30,700 sq m), this is one of the largest covered markets in the world. And because it was built in 1455, it is also one of the oldest. More than 4,000 shops and stalls across 61 covered streets sell everything from hand-woven Turkish rugs to knockoff designer clothing. To see all of it would take a few hours, so be sure to stop every so often and give your legs a break at one of the bazaar's many cafés. 

Afterward, head back to your hotel and relax for a bit. Then head out to dinner at one of the restaurants around Taksim Square, Galata, or trendy Karaköy.

Day 4: Istanbul to Cappadocia, Göreme Museum & Valley Hike

Rock landscapes and buildings in Cappadocia
In the morning, your driver will transfer you to Istanbul's airport for your 2.5 hour flight south to the city of Kayseri, located in the Central Anatolia region of Turkey. This is the main hub for travel to nearby Cappadocia, an area known for its towering geological formations and lunar valleys. Upon arrival at the airport, you'll transfer to your hotel in the heart of Cappadocia. After unpacking and relaxing, it will be time to head out for some area tours. UNESCO-protected Cappadocia is famous for its towering rock formations, nicknamed "fairy chimneys" because of their otherworldly shape. 
 
To learn more about Cappadocia's deep history, you'll take a 3-hour tour of the Göreme Open Air Museum. This cluster of rock-hewn churches and Byzantine landmarks is home to ancient art and beautiful frescoes. As you stroll the site you'll learn about the techniques the residents used to create these structures and artworks. Note that most of the churches here date from the 10th-12th centuries.
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In the afternoon, you'll witness another type of local art form when you visit a pottery studio. The craft of pottery has been a long-standing tradition in the region, probably since the Hittite civilization (2000-1500 BCE). That's because all the red clay used to produce these earthenware items has been supplied by the Kızılırmak River since antiquity. The visit includes a live demonstration from a master ceramist, plus you'll get to try making some pottery yourself.

The uniqueness of the structures also lends the valleys of Cappadocia a lunar quality. In the afternoon, you'll embark on a brisk, easy hike to one such locale: Love Valley. It is so named for the towering rock structure's shape. Alternatively, you can choose an optional, 2-hour horseback ride through another stunning valley.

Day 5: Sunrise Balloon Tour

Conquer your fear of heights with a hot air balloon ride
Wake up with a morning balloon ride over Cappadocia
Most images of Cappadocia feature the incredible valleys and rock formations—plus colorful hot air balloons flying overhead. The most famous activity in this area is a sunrise balloon ride over the valley. It's an unforgettable experience not just because of the views but also because the plateaus and rocks here have a painted quality. They even appear to change color in the shifting light. First thing in the morning, you'll hop in the basket and embark on a 3-hour balloon tour over the valley. 

Day 6: Kaymakli Undeground City, Ihlara Valley Hike

The Amazing Underground City of Kaymakli
Tunnel in the Kaymakli Underground City 

In the morning you'll head out to Kaymakli Underground City. This is one of the aforementioned underground cities built by the early Christians to protect themselves from religious persecution. It comprises an elaborate maze of nearly 100 tunnels and various caves, and it's one of the widest of the region's underground cities. Four city levels are open to the public, with the fourth level located 65 feet (20 m) underground.

Up next is a scenic and easy 2-hour hike in Ihlara Valley. This 4-mile (7 km) walk follows the canyons of the lovely Melendiz River. The terrain is flat, making it easy for most age groups and skill levels. Keep an eye out, as along the valley, there are several rock-cut churches. If you'd like, you can extend the hike another four miles to visit the Selime Monastery. This massive religious structure, which dates to around the 9th century BCE, is carved right into the volcanic rock. Inside is a cathedral, kitchens, stables, and living quarters decorated with ancient frescoes.

Day 7: Cappadocia to Şirince

The tranquil village of Şirince
After breakfast, you'll transfer to the airport in Kayseri and fly about 1.5 hours to İzmir, located on Turkey's western Aegean coast. This city is so lovely that the Turks refer to it as "the pearl of the Aegean." Upon arrival, a driver will pick you up for the 1-hour ride south to the historic village of Şirince, located in the Aegean foothills. After checking into your hotel, you'll have the remainder of the afternoon free. If you'd like, head out and stroll around this picture-postcard town.
 
Şirince is a town of just 600 people, one whose primary industry is agriculture. The area around it is a major producer of olive oil, peaches, and grapes, but tourism is a big draw too. People flock from all over to experience this charming town and its impressive Ottoman-Christian architecture. You'll want to visit the colorful town center to find numerous artisanal shops and vendor stalls.
 
An easy hike just outside the village reveals even more history. There are landmarks here dating to the Hellenistic period (323–31 BCE), and up the road, you'll see the remains of several Roman aqueducts. This is due to the fact that Şirince was a vital water source for nearby Ephesus during that ancient city's heyday. After exploring on foot, you can head back to your hotel to relax before enjoying dinner in town. 

Day 8: Tour Ancient Ephesus

The Ruins of Ephesus
Library of Celsus ruins in Ephesus
In the morning, you'll head down the hill from Şirince to the ancient city of Ephesus. This 1,030-acre archeological site is home to a wealth of history spanning various eras, dating to around the 10th century BCE. Ephesus is a well-preserved testimony to Hellenistic, Roman, and early Christian periods—one that attracts millions of tourists each year. The most famous monument on the site is the Temple of Artemis, dating to around 550 BCE, and is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Other incredible ruins include a 24,000-seat amphitheater and the Library of Celsus, a grand funerary monument that dates to the 2nd-century CE. 
 
Later in the afternoon, you'll walk in the footsteps of more religious history when you visit the House of the Virgin Mary. Located atop the beautiful greenery of Bulbul Mountain, it's believed that this is where Mary came with St. John, who spent several years spreading Christianity in Ephesus. There's even reason to believe the gospel of St. John was written here.
 
After touring Ephesus, you'll return to Şirince in time for dinner.

Day 9: Visit Pamukkale & Hierapolis

Natural Thermal Pools in Pamukkale
Thermal pools at Pamukkale

After breakfast, hop in the car and head east from Şirince on a 3.5-hour drive inland to Pamukkale. This town in southwestern Turkey is known for what might be the most stunning natural wonder in the entire country: its collection of terraced thermal springs. The name itself translates to "cotton castle." On a 6-hour day tour of this area, you'll understand why.

The landscape here comprises mineral forests, petrified waterfalls, and terraced basins. These were formed by calcium waters that cascade down from a 656-foot (200-m) cliff overlooking the plain. Some of the terraced pools, with their baby-blue water, are even open for swimming. But the place you want to go for a soak is nearby Hierapolis, an ancient Roman spa city founded around 190 BCE. Take a dip in the Antique Pool, a thermal bath full of submerged marble columns from the nearby Temple of Apollo. Other landmarks at this archeological site include various baths, temple ruins, arches, a necropolis, and an amphitheater.  

After touring Hierapolis and the nearby terraced pools, you'll go to your spa hotel in Pamukkale. Here you can spend the evening relaxing, swimming in more thermal pools, or enjoying a relaxing massage to take the edge off your long day.

Day 10: Pamukkale to Denizli, Depart

Farewell, Turkey
In the morning, you'll transfer an hour south from Pamukkale to the airport in the city of Denizli. From here, you'll fly to Istanbul and catch your connecting flight home. Safe travels!

More Great Turkey Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Turkey? Check out these other Turkey itineraries, with outdoor adventures, cultural trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 

Map

Map of Highlights of Turkey - 10 Days
Map of Highlights of Turkey - 10 Days