- 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 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|
Day 1: Arrive in IstanbulWelcome 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.
Day 2: Tour Istanbul by Foot & BoatWake 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.
Day 3: Walking Tour of 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 HikeIn 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.
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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 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 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
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 ŞirinceAfter 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.
Day 8: Tour Ancient EphesusIn 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.
Day 9: Visit Pamukkale & 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 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.