- 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
|Day 1||Arrive in İstanbul||İstanbul|
|Day 2||Tour İstanbul by Foot & Boat||İstanbul|
|Day 3||Walking Tour of İstanbul's Old City||İstanbul|
|Day 4||Transfer to Cappadocia, Göreme Museum & Valley Hike||Cappadocia|
|Day 5||Sunrise Balloon Tour||Cappadocia|
|Day 6||Kaymaklı Undeground City, Ihlara Valley Hike||Cappadocia|
|Day 7||Transfer to Şirince, Explore||Şirince|
|Day 8||Day Trip to Ancient Ephesus||Şirince|
|Day 9||Transfer to Pamukkale, Tour & Visit Hierapolis||Pamukkale|
|Day 10||Pamukkale to Denizli, Depart|
Day 1: Arrive in İstanbul
Welcome to Turkey! This culturally rich nation is a geographic and cultural bridge between the Middle East and the West. It's been a central 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, İstanbul.
This city lies on the Bosphorus Strait, which divides it into European and Asian halves, thus bridging the two continents. It's known for its awe-inspiring architecture spanning the Byzantine and Ottoman empires and its 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 İstanbul'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 İstanbul by Foot & Boat
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 three-hour walking tour of the city. Your guide will take you to the heart of İstanbul, around the lively Karaköy and Galata districts. Important landmarks include St. Antoine's Church (the largest Catholic Church in İstanbul), 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 İstanbul, 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 must see to believe. Afterward, cross the Golden Horn via the Galata Bridge before arriving at the Eminönü waterfront, known for its many bazaars.
Day 3: Walking Tour of İstanbul's Old City
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast, then meet your guide for another adventurous day exploring İstanbul. 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 strategically important to anyone who controlled the city. The Roman emperor Constantine, for example, built the Walls of Constantinople here in the first century CE. These stone fortifications ran around the peninsula's spine 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 İstanbul's architectural marvels.
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. Seeing all of it would take a few hours, so be sure to stop often and give your legs a break at one of the bazaar's many cafés.
Afterward, return 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: Transfer to Cappadocia, Göreme Museum & Valley Hike
In the morning, your driver will transfer you to İstanbul 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 three-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 residents' techniques for creating these structures and artworks. Note that most of the churches here date from the 10th-12th centuries.
You'll witness another type of local art form in the afternoon 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 the Kızılırmak River has supplied all the red clay used to produce these earthenware items since antiquity. The visit includes a live demonstration from a master ceramist, plus you'll get to try making some pottery yourself.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 5: Sunrise Balloon TourMost 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 because of the views, and 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 three-hour balloon tour over the valley.
Day 6: Kaymaklı Undeground City, Ihlara Valley Hike
In the morning, you'll head out to Kaymaklı 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 is one of the region's widest 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 two-hour hike in Ihlara Valley. This 4-mile (7 km) walk follows the canyons of the lovely Melendiz River. The flat terrain makes it easy for most age groups and skill levels. Keep an eye out, as, along the valley, there are several rock-cut churches. You can extend the hike another four miles to visit the Selime Monastery if you'd like. This massive religious structure, which dates to around the ninth century BCE, is carved right into the volcanic rock. Inside is a cathedral, kitchens, stables, and living quarters decorated with ancient frescoes.
Day 7: Transfer to Şirince, Explore
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 hour ride south to the historic village of Şirince, located in the Aegean foothills. After checking into your hotel, you'll have free the remainder of the afternoon. If you'd like, head out and stroll around this picture-postcard town. You'll want to visit the colorful town center to find numerous artisanal shops and vendor stalls.
Day 8: Day Trip to Ancient Ephesus
In the morning, you'll head down the hill from Şirince to the ancient city of Ephesus. This 1,030-acre (417 ha) archaeological site is home to a wealth of history spanning various eras, dating to around the 10th century BCE. 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 second 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 Bülbül Mountain, it's believed that this is where Mary came with St. John, who spent several years spreading Christianity in Ephesus. There's 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: Transfer to Pamukkale, Tour & Visit Hierapolis
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 six-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 milky-blue water, are open for swimming, but the place you want to go for a soak is at 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 archaeological landmarks include 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.