Follow in the footsteps of ancient civilizations and uncover sacred places of worship on this two-week pilgrimage through Turkey's eastern Anatolia region. Explore some of the world's oldest cities, ruins, and archaeological sites, including Göbekli Tepe, as you discover the Persian, Armenian, Byzantine, Ottoman, and Syriac Orthodox influences. But it's not all ancient monuments. You'll also soak in the beauty of saline Lake Van, look out in wonder over the Mesopotamian plains, and explore the buzz of Istanbul.


  • Visit the archaeological site that changed the story of ancient civilization
  • Uncover the romantic legend of Akdamar Island on a boat cruise
  • Wander the Valley of Georgian churches with a guide
  • Discover Syriac Orthodox heritage in the Tur Abdin region
  • Get to know old and new Istanbul and tick off important sights

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Trabzon Trabzon
Day 2 Discover the Churches of Trabzon Trabzon
Day 3 Transfer to Erzurum, Explore Seljuk Heritage in Erzurum Erzurum
Day 4 The Valley of Georgian Churches: Oshki Monastery & Bana Cathedral Erzurum
Day 5 Transfer to Kars via Ani, a Medieval Armenian City Kars
Day 6 Transfer to Van, Discover Ishak Pasha Palace Van
Day 7 Explore Van & Akdamar Island Van
Day 8 Visit Ilısu Dam & Hasankeyf, Transfer to Midyat Midyat
Day 9 Explore Midyat, Transfer to Mardin Mardin
Day 10 The Medieval City of Mardin Mardin
Day 11 Discover Ancient Gobekli Tepe & Harran, Transfer to Şanlıurfa Şanlıurfa
Day 12 Fly to İstanbul İstanbul
Day 13 Tour Old İstanbul & Bosphorous Boat Cruise İstanbul
Day 14 Depart İstanbul  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Trabzon

Trabzon city overlooking the Black Sea

Welcome to Turkey! Your adventure starts in Trabzon, an energetic and traditional coastal city on the Black Sea with a long history. Arrive at the airport and take a private transfer to your hotel. After check-in, the rest of the day is yours to explore or relax. Tomorrow's sightseeing will be loaded with history. You'll hear about Trabzon's independent empire that ruled several periods of history, its influence stretching to Sinop in the west, Georgia in the east, and even Crimea.

Day 2: Discover the Churches of Trabzon

Soumela Monastery
Sümela Monastery

The best way to get to know Trabzon is through its churches. Start at the Hagia Sophia Mosque, built as a Greek-Orthodox church and converted to a mosque in 1584. It dates back to the 13th century when Trabzon was the capital of the Empire of Trebizond and is regarded as one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture. Next, visit the 10th-century Panagia Chrysso Kephalos. Meaning "the gold-headed virgin," it was the church of the Komnene family, rulers of the Byzantine Empire. When the Ottoman Empire captured the city in 1461, it was converted into a mosque.

Finally, end the day at the Sümela Monastery, an impressive building that clings to the rock cliffs of the Pontic mountain range behind Trabzon. Built around 386 CE, it sits at about 3,900 feet (1,200 m) and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. 

Day 3: Transfer to Erzurum, Explore Seljuk Heritage in Erzurum

Explore the unique Seljuk heritage buildings in Erzurum
Explore the Seljuk heritage buildings in Erzurum, including the Çifte Minareli Medrese
Wave goodbye to Trabzon and take a four-hour inland transfer to Erzurum. This afternoon you'll get to know the Seljuk Empire, a medieval Turko-Persian Muslim empire founded in the 11th century. The Seljuks created a unique architectural language, contributing to Islamic architecture. Stone carving was one of the most accomplished decoration mediums, with eclectic motifs ranging from earlier Iranian to local Byzantine and Armenian motifs. You'll visit the Çifte Minareli Medrese (a Koranic school), Üç Kümbetler ("Three Mausoleums"), and Yakutiye Medrese ("Museum of Islamic Art and Ethnography").

Day 4: The Valley of Georgian Churches: Oshki Monastery & Bana Cathedral

Oshki Monastery
The ruins of Oshki Monastery
Today's full-day excursion will seek out two beautiful 10th-century Georgian churches in and around Erzurum. Oshki Monastery is considered one of the four Great Cathedrals of the Georgian Orthodox world and was built between 963 and 973 CE. Dedicated to St John the Baptist, it was a major center of Georgian literature and enlightenment during the Middle Ages. The other highlight is Bana Cathedral, a ruined early medieval cathedral used by the Bagrationi dynasty, a royal family from Georgia, until the Ottoman conquest in the 16th century. 

Day 5: Transfer to Kars via Ani, a Medieval Armenian City

Ani: The City of 1001 Churches
Ani: The City of 1001 Churches
On the way to Kars today, your driver will stop at Ani, an important medieval Armenian city. Known as the "City of 1,001 Churches," the former capital of the Bagratid Armenian kingdom (961 to 1045 CE) covered much of present-day Armenia and eastern Turkey. Ani was one of the world's largest cities, with a population greater than 100,000, and was famous for its religious buildings, palaces, and sophisticated city walls. To date, 50 churches, 33 cave chapels, and 20 chapels have been excavated, reflecting the city's size and splendor. You'll visit the churches that date back to Ani's glory days.
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Day 6: Transfer to Van, Discover Ishak Pasha Palace

Discover a unique Ottoman palace: Ishak Pasha Palace
The magnificent Ottoman palace of Ishak Pasha 
This morning you'll hit the road again with your private driver, stopping at Dogubayazıt to visit the magnificent Ishak Pasha Palace. This semi-ruined fortress and administrative complex is one of the few surviving historical Ottoman-period palaces whose construction started in 1685. Its architectural features are unique, reflecting a mixture of Anatolian, Iranian, and North Mesopotamian architectural traditions. After the excursion, continue to Van and check in to your hotel. 

Day 7: Explore Van & Akdamar Island

Sightseeing at Van: Akhtamar Island and Boat Tour
Beautiful Akdamar Island
Spend today sightseeing around Van, a historic city set on the world's largest saltwater lake at an elevation of about 5,750 feet (1,750 m). The highlight of today will be Akdamar Island, which sits in the middle of Van Lake and is part of an ancient legend. In the center is the distinctive Armenian Church of the Holy Cross from the 10th century. Take a short boat trip to the island and visit this historical and natural wonder. Keep an eye out for the cats of Van—they are a rare breed with different-colored eyes and a fondness for swimming in the lake!

Day 8: Visit Ilısu Dam & Hasankeyf, Transfer to Midyat

Visit Ilısu Dam and Hasankeyf
Ilısu Dam and Hasankeyf
It's another morning on the road. Your private driver will take you on a journey along the edge of Van Lake westwards, past the city of Batman, and onto a remarkable place called Hasankeyf, an ancient village on the Tigris River. Despite local and international objections, the town and its archaeological sites were flooded as part of the Ilısu Dam project in 2020. Luckily you can still explore the past glory of the town and see the cultural heritage buildings, like the Zeynel Bey Tomb, which were safely moved to the Hasankeyf Park. Afterward, your driver will transfer you to Midyat.

Day 9: Explore Midyat, Transfer to Mardin

Exploring Midyat and the Syriac Orthodox Heritage
Explore the Syriac Orthodox Heritage of Mor Gabriel Monastery

Today is all about exploring Syriac Orthodox heritage in the Tur Abdin region. You'll start in Midyat, an ancient town with a maze of rustic streets and stone walls. Look for the bell towers rising above to spot the town's many churches and admire the work of the syriac telkari, or filigree artists. Their fine silver jewelry is the perfect souvenir from this part of Turkey. 

A little out of town, visit the intact Monastery of Mor Gabriel. Dating back to the fifth century, the sprawling complex blends ancient with new and is surrounded by an oasis of orchards and fields. On the way to Mardin, visit an abandoned village where Syrian Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches stand side-by-side with a mosque. 

Day 10: The Medieval City of Mardin

Mesopotamian Plains, Syriac Heritage and the beautiful city of Mardin
The city of Mardin at twilight
Enjoy a slow day soaking up the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage city of Mardin. This medieval city is perched on a rocky hill overlooking Mesopotamian plains and is famous for its mosques, churches, and madrasas (religious schools). Start with a sightseeing tour of the Mor Hananyo Monastery, which was once the seat of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch for 900 years. Then continue to tick off the city's greatest sights, such as the Kasimiye Medrese, a historic Islamic school, or the Ulu Camii, the grand 12th-century mosque.

Day 11: Discover Ancient Göbekli Tepe & Ḥarran, Transfer to Şanlıurfa

Discover one of the world's oldest temples: Göbekli Tepe
Discover one of the world's oldest temples: Göbekli Tepe

When Göbekli Tepe was discovered in 1994, it upended everything the world knew about civilization. Predating Stonehenge by some 6,000 years, this ancient settlement reveals the way people lived in southeastern Anatolia some 11,500 years ago. Today you'll visit the archaeological site and learn how the hunter-gatherer community gathered here for worship.

Later in the afternoon, swap the ancient world for modern Şanlıurfa, better known as Urfa. Called a "Prophets' City," it is a pilgrimage and spiritual center and one of the oldest in the entire region. Explore Balıklıgöl, the mythical city of Prophet Abraham, and the Halil-ul Rahman Mosque complex before driving to Ḥarran. This major ancient Mesopotamian town is famous for its traditional "beehive" adobe houses, constructed entirely without wood. The design of these makes them cool inside, suiting the climatic needs of the region, and is thought to have been unchanged for at least 3,000 years.

Day 12: Fly to İstanbul

Free Time in Istanbul
East meets West in İstanbul
Pack your bags and take a private transfer to the Şanlıurfa Guney Anadolu Airport. Once you land in İstanbul, Turkey's biggest city and the former capital of the Ottoman Empire, the rest of the day is yours to enjoy at your own pace. Let your feet take you to the streets and meet the locals, drop into small shops, and taste Turkish delicacies in this captivating city. Enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee outside a café, like a true İstanbulite, or cherish contemporary artworks at prominent galleries and museums—tomorrow, you'll visit the must-see sights, so use today to relax. 

Day 13: Tour Old İstanbul & Bosphorous Boat Cruise

Discover Byzantine + Ottoman Istanbul
See echoes of the Byzantine and Ottoman in İstanbul

Meet your local guide this morning for an adventurous day in Old İstanbul. Tick off important highlights such as the Hippodrome and Basilica Cistern, which date back to the Byzantine era, and visit the Blue Mosque, built in the 17th century. Then explore the magnificent Hagia Sophia Mosque. Constructed in 537 CE, it was the world's largest building and quickly became a place of sanctuary and political power for centuries of Byzantine reign. The mosaics, grand architecture, and its waterfront silhouette made a 12th-century Byzantine historian name İstanbul "the song of all songs and the splendor of all splendors."

After a tour of the Hagia Sophia, walk over to Topkapı Palace, the royal palace of the Ottomans from the 15th to 19th centuries. Catch a glimpse into the lives of the sultans while reveling in the remarkable architecture of the Ottoman Empire. Finally, it's time to hit the water for the best views of İstanbul. Board a boat cruise along the Bosphorus Strait, admiring the shores of İstanbul's European and Asian sides. Seeing the city by boat offers an entirely different perspective, allowing you to grasp the size of the city and why it has played such an important geographic role for centuries.

Day 14: Depart İstanbul

Goodbye İstanbul!
It's your final morning in Turkey. A private driver will meet you at the front of your hotel, ready to transfer you to İstanbul Airport. Have a safe flight!

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Map of Turkey's Eastern Anatolia: Discover the Sacred Spaces of the East - 14 Days
Map of Turkey's Eastern Anatolia: Discover the Sacred Spaces of the East - 14 Days