Even in as few as five days, you can see two highlights of Turkey in two distinct regions. First, you'll tour the historic streets of Istanbul, visiting Byzantine and Ottoman landmarks and browsing massive covered markets. Then it's off to central Turkey and the lunar valleys of Cappadocia, where you'll walk in underground cities and fly high over the plateaus in a hot-air balloon.


  • Discover Istanbul's Byzantine landmarks like Hagia Sophia
  • See the ancient, rock-hewn churches in Cappadocia
  • Soar over Cappadocia's lunar valleys in a hot-air balloon

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Istanbul Istanbul
Day 2 Walking Tour of Istanbul's Old City Istanbul
Day 3 Istanbul to Cappadocia, Göreme Museum Cappadocia
Day 4 Sunrise Balloon Tour, Kaymaklı Underground City, Ihlara Valley Hike Cappadocia
Day 5 Free Morning in Cappadocia, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Istanbul

Welcome to Istanbul!

Welcome to Turkey! This culturally rich nation is both 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. In the thousands of years since, it has changed hands from the Greeks to the Romans to the Byzantines to the Ottomans. 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 delicious food. Upon arrival, a driver will meet you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel. After settling in, you can spend the rest of the day relaxing. Later, you should 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: Walking Tour of Istanbul's Old City

Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul's Old City

Wake up and enjoy a classic Turkish breakfast of olives, tomatoes, eggs, cheese, fresh bread, and other goodies. You'll need the energy, as today you're off on a 6-hour walking tour of the significant landmarks in Istanbul's Old City. This peninsula sits at the southernmost entrance to the Bosphorus and historically was of great strategic importance. 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.

Some of the most famous landmarks are centered around the Byzantine-era Hippodrome. This large square was a circus and sports center in the days of Constantinople. Today it's renowned 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 is 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. Fun fact: each tile was individually hand-painted and crafted so that no two are alike. 

In the afternoon, your guide will take you to the Grand Bazaar. Sprawling more than 333,000 sq feet (30,700 sq meters), this is one of the largest covered markets in the world. And because it was built way back in 1455, it is also one of the oldest. There are more than 4,000 shops and stalls here across 61 covered streets that 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, the Galata neighborhood, or waterfront Karaköy.

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Day 3: Istanbul to Cappadocia, Göreme Museum

Rock homes and buildings in Cappadocia
In the morning, your driver transfer you to Istanbul's airport for your 2.5-hour flight south to the city of Kayseri, located in the Central Anatolia region. 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. Cappadocia is famous for its towering rock formations, nicknamed "fairy chimneys," because of their otherworldly shape.
During the Roman era, persecuted Christians fled to this region and made it their home. They carved all manner of caves and dwellings into these rocks, creating a honeycomb network of living quarters, storehouses, and even churches. They also dug under the valleys to create vast subterranean cities in which to hide from hostile forces. It's precisely because of this mixture of unique geology and rich history that Cappadocia has earned Unesco World Heritage status.
To learn more about Cappadocia's deep history, you'll take a 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.

Day 4: Sunrise Balloon Tour, Kaymaklı Underground City, Ihlara Valley Hike

Conquer your fear of heights with a hot air balloon ride
See Cappadocia from the basket of a hot-air balloon

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 because of the views and 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.

After the balloon tour, you'll head out on another excursion 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 levels of the city 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 here 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 as well. 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 5: Free Morning in Cappadocia, Depart

Farewell, Turkey
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast and then spend a few hours in the morning taking in the sights of Cappadocia one last time. A driver will pick you up from your hotel and transfer you to the airport in Kayseri at the appropriate hour. You'll fly to Istanbul and catch your connecting flight home. Until next time!

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Map of Highlights of Turkey - 5 Days
Map of Highlights of Turkey - 5 Days