Here’s a 12- to 14-day TripKit™ self-guided itinerary through the best of Turkey, including Istanbul, Ephesus, Pamukkale, Konya, Cappadocia and Ankara, that you can plan on your own.
You can easily shorten, lengthen or modify it. Transport is mostly by rental car, but you may also want to travel certain portions by public transport.
If you’d like to see all the top sights in Turkey in two weeks, and would like the professionals to make all the arrangements for you, contact one of my recommended travel agencies or look at these fine 11- to 15-day guided tours of Turkey.
Day 1 — Arrival in Istanbul
After you arrive, plan on 2 hours to get through the airport, to your hotel, and registered. Even if your flight has been a long one you’ll probably want to get out and see something in the city before catching up on your sleep.
(The experts say that the best way to handle jet lag is not to take a nap but to maintain a normal schedule in the new time zone.)
I’d suggest going to Sultanahmet Square and exploring the Hippodrome, the Blue Mosque,Basilica Cistern, and even Hagia Sophia (closed Monday) if there’s time.
Plunging into a new place has an excitement and exhilaration that is among the greatest delights of travel. Your sense of discovery and wonder are at their highest, so revel in the moment: allow yourself an hour or two to just relax in a sidewalk café, taking in the new sights, sounds and smells, overhearing snippets of conversation, and adjusting your psyche to a different world.
Day 2 – Byzantine & Ottoman Istanbul
Get to Topkapı Palace (9-5, closed Tuesday; stay 2-3 hr) at 8:45 am, buy your tickets (or do you have a Museum Pass?), and be among the first to get to the Harem for the tour (9:30 am).
After you’ve enjoyed Topkapı, see the other sights around Sultanahmet that you didn’t get to see yesterday. Here are sample itineraries.
A Turkish bath (1-3 hr) can be amazingly refreshing after a long day! If not today, then later.
Day 3 – 19th-Century Istanbul
Start with a guided tour of Dolmabahçe Sarayı (closed Monday and Thursday), the sultan’s most lavish palace, then explore the romance of Beyoğlu, the heart of Europeanized Istanbul, which thrived during the same era. (If you’re not wild about ornate palaces, skip Dolmabahçe and go to Taksim Square and north to the Military Museum or southwest along İstiklal Caddesi (Grande Rue de Péra; 1-2 hr walking tour).
Lots to see along this main boulevard of 19th-century Istanbul: grand old embassy buildings, the Pera Palace Hotel, lots of boutiques, and even a whirling dervish hall. Plenty of restaurants for lunch. Walk downhill from Tünel Square at the southwestern end of İstiklal Caddesi to…
Galata Tower (9-7, discount on Monday; stay 1/2 to 1 hr) Best views of the city from this Genoese cone-topped stone tower. Continue downhill to Galata (Karaköy) Square and…
Galata Bridge (stay 1/2 hr) Cross the bridge over the Golden Horn which links Old and New Istanbul, taking in the view. At the southern end in Eminönü, take the Bağcılar tram back to Sultanahmet.
Day 4 – Istanbul to Selçuk (Ephesus)
Take an early morning flight to İzmir‘s Adnan Menderes Airport(ADM). From the airport, catch a train, or rent a car and drive (here’s how) to Selçuk (62 km/39 miles, 1 hour), the town next to Ephesus.
Arrive in Selçuk, Şirince or Kuşadası by 2:30 or 3 pm and check in at your hotel. Visit Ephesus Museum, St. John Basilica, and İsa Bey Mosque. Dinner and overnight.
Day 5 – Ephesus, Aphrodisias, Pamukkale
In the morning, explore the ruins of Ephesus (2 to 3 hours), then drive to Aphrodisias (143 km/89 miles, 2 hours); lunch either before leaving Selçuk or at Aphrodisias. Tour the ruins of Aphrodisias (1-1/2 to 2 hours), drive to the ancient mineral-water spa of Pamukkale (123 km/76 miles, 1-1/2 hours), arriving before dark. Settle in at a hotel in Pamukkale Town or Karahayıt.
Day 6 – Pamukkale, drive to Konya
Enjoy a swim in Pamukkale‘s mineral waters (perhaps in the Sacred Pool itself), and explore the ruins of the Roman health resort of Hierapolis.
After lunch, drive from Pamukkale by Lake Eğirdir to Konya(450 km, 280 miles, 7 hours). (Yes, it’s a long drive, but the countryside is interesting, and it saves you backtracking to İzmir‘s Adnan Menderes airport for a flight via Istanbul to Cappadocia.)
Day 7 – Konya, Silk Road, Ihlara, Ürgüp
Visit Konya’s whirling dervish Mevlana Museum, and the Seljuk Turkish monuments (1200s) on and around Konya’s Alaettin Hill during the morning (2 to 3 hours), then drive east along the ancient Silk Road to Sultanhanı (110 km, 68 miles) for a brief look at the grandest of Seljuk Turkish caravanserais(built in 1229), and lunch.
Continue through Aksaray (42 km, 26 miles, 40 minutes). If you want to explore the Ihlara (Peristrema) Valley, turn right (south) 11 km east of Aksaray for Selime, Belisırma and Ihlara (23 km). Spend 2 or 3 hours at Ihlara, then head east via Güzelyurt to Derinkuyu or Kaymaklı to see its underground city, though if you don’t watch your time carefully on this day you may arrive after it is closed for the day (17:00/5 pm). From Derinkuyu drive north to Nevşehir, then east to Ürgüp.
If you don’t want to see Ihlara, from Aksaray go east along the Silk Road to Nevşehir (65 km, 40 miles, 1 hour). There are more Seljuk caravansarays along this road if you’re interested, particularly the Ağzıkarahan 10 km (6 miles) east of Aksaray. As you continue east you’ll pass the ruined-then-restored Tepesidelik Han 13 km (8 miles) east, and the Alay Han, 33 km (21 miles) east of Aksaray.
If you’re interested in a hot-air balloon flight over Cappadocia, make your reservations well in advance of arrival. More…
Day 8 – Göreme, Zelve, Avanos, Uçhisar
Visit the Göreme Open Air Museum in the morning (2 to 3 hours), then drive to the Zelve Valley for more cave-church explorations. Have lunch in either Göreme Town or Avanos. If you have time, also visit Uçhisar.
Day 9 – Hot-Air Balloon, Underground City, drive to Ankara
Get up and out before dawn to fly in a hot-air balloon over Cappadocia. After you land, have breakfast, then explore more of Cappadocia. If you didn’t get a chance to visit the Underground Cities during your drive from Konya, do it today.
In the afternoon, drive to Ankara (308 km, 191 miles, 4 hours) for a quick visit on your way back to Istanbul. Find your Ankara hotel, and turn in your rental car.
(To shorten this itinerary by a day, turn in your rental car in Ürgüp and take the evening flight from Kayseri to Istanbul.)
Day 10 – Ankara
Visit the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations (closed Monday; 1 hour), then take a walk through the Hisar (citadel) just uphill from it, and have lunch in a restaurant in one of the old restored Hisar houses. After lunch, take a taxi to the Anıtkabir(Atatürk‘s mausoleum).
You can travel to Istanbul by any of several means:
– Take a bus (fast, frequent, cheap, comfortable, convenient)
– Fly (fastest, but relatively inconvenient and possibly expensive)
– Take a train (cheap, most comfortable, and relatively fast if you take the high-speed train)
– Drive your rental car (tiring, and relatively expensive because of fuel cost)
Day 11 – Istanbul
Enjoy a late breakfast on the rooftop terrace of your hotel with a view of the sea (most hotels have them), but take the tram to the Eminönü ferry docks to arrive by 10 or 10:15 am to get a seat on the Bosphorus tour ferry. Leave the boat at Sarıyer, have lunch, then take taxis south along the European shore of the Bosphorus stopping at Büyükdere to see the Sadberk Hanım Museum, and at Bebek to see the fortress of Rumelihisarı. Have afternoon tea in the shore village of Ortaköy, with its baroque waterside mosque and old Ottoman houses.
In the evening, enjoy a Turkish bath.
Day 12 – Istanbul Excursion
If you have an extra day, take a one-day or overnight excursion:
Comfortable day-long excursion by bus or car to see the fine old mosques and lively bazaars of the second Ottomancapital, delightfully free of tourist crowds. More…
Zoom south across the Sea of Marmara in a fast catamaran to see this first capital of the Ottoman Empire, with its fine old mosques, silk weaving trade, and thermal spas; make it an overnight and see İznik (Nicaea) as well. More…
Çanakkale – Gallipoli
Long day-trip by bus or car to see the Dardanelles, the Gallipoli battlefields, and even ancient Troy; possible in a very long day, but better as an overnight. More…
Day 13 – Istanbul Shopping
It’s not a bad idea to leave most of your shopping until the last day so you won’t have to lug your purchases around with you.
Start the day by seeing the brilliant Byzantine mosaics in the Kariye Museum out by the gigantic city walls.
Spend most of the day in the Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian (Spice) Bazaar, or in the boutiques and antique shops on and off İstiklal Caddesi in Beyoğlu.
In the evening, take a taxi to Beyoğlu for dinner and perhaps an evening in one of the small cafes or music clubs.
Day 14 – Departure
—by Tom Brosnahan
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