Great Itineraries in Turkey
Great Itineraries in Turkey
Crossroads of Faith, 9 days
Once home to powerful Christian and Muslim empires, the area that makes up modern Turkey has played a crucial role in the development of both religions. This tour takes you to some of the most important religious sites in Turkey, places that still poignantly convey spirituality.
Days 1 and 2: Istanbul
Arrive in Istanbul and check into a hotel in Sultanahmet. If you have time, visit two of the quintessential Istanbul sites: the Aya Sofya and the nearby Blue Mosque.
Start your second day with a visit to the Süleymaniye mosque, one of the greatest achievements of Mimar Sinan, the Ottomans' favorite architect. Then head to the western edge of Istanbul's old city walls, where you'll find the Kariye Museum in what was the Byzantine Chora church. It's filled with glittering mosaics and beautiful frescoes that are considered among the finest in the world. End your day in Eyüp Cami, a historic mosque complex on the Golden Horn that is one of the holiest areas in Istanbul.
Day 3: Konya
Take a morning flight from Istanbul to Konya and pick up a rental car at the airport. In Konya you'll see the magnificent Mevlâna Museum and tomb, dedicated to the life and teachings of Rumi Celaleddin, the 13th-century mystic who founded the order of the whirling dervishes. The city's 13th-century Alaaddin Mosque is also worth a visit. In the evening, catch a live dervish performance at the Cultural Center behind the museum if they're performing.
Days 4 and 5: Cappadocia
After Konya, head east toward the lunar landscape of Cappadocia, where the volcanic rock outcroppings and cliffs were used by local Christians for centuries ago as churches, monasteries, and homes. One of the best places to see these unique structures is in the village of Göreme. Spend the night in one of the hotels built into the stone caves. Ürgüp has what is regarded by some as the best collection of boutique hotels in Turkey.
The attractions in Cappadocia are above ground and below it. Under siege from Arab invaders in the 7th through 10th centuries, local Christians built a series of underground cities—some going down 20 stories and capable of holding 20,000 people—where they sought refuge. The ruins in Kaymaklı and Derinkuyu are marvels of ancient engineering. Get an early start if you want to beat the summer crowds, and bring a flashlight.
If you have time, consider a visit to the Ihlara Valley, a deep gorge that has numerous monasteries and churches cut into its cliffs and a lovely green river running through it.
Days 6 and 7: Cappadocia to Antakya
From landlocked Cappadocia, head south to the Mediterranean Sea and the city of Antakya, formerly known as Antioch, which played an important role in the early days of Christianity. It's a long drive of 472 km (293 mi), so plan on spending most of the day on the road. Fortunately, there's a highway for most of the way. If you get to Antakya early enough, head to the Church of St. Peter, in a cave on the outskirts of town. Blackened by 2,000 years' worth of candle smoke, this is perhaps the oldest church in the world, where the apostle Paul preached to his converts.
The next day, spend the morning walking through the narrow lanes and the lively bazaar of Antakya's old town. Then visit the Archaeological Museum, which has an excellent collection of Roman and Byzantine mosaics and other artifacts. Antakya is famous for its Syrian-influenced cooking, influenced by Syrian cuisine, so have lunch at one of the restaurants serving local dishes (Antik Han or Sultanı Sofras are two good options). After lunch, begin your 333-km (206-mi) drive to Şanliurfa, where you can stay in one of several grand old stone houses that have been converted into small hotels.
Day 8: Şanliurfa
Many Muslims believe the biblical patriarch Abraham was born in Şanliurfa, and a fascinating and peaceful pilgrimage site has developed here, with mosques and a park with spring-fed pools filled with sacred carp. After lunch, make the quick drive to the small village of Harran, 45 km (28 mi) southeast of Şanliurfa. Harran is mentioned in the Bible as a place where Abraham lived for a period, and the village, with its ancient stone walls and unique beehive-shaped houses, has the look of a place that hasn't changed much since biblical times.
Day 9: Şanliurfa and Return to Istanbul
You can fly back to Istanbul from Şanliurfa, or from nearby Gaziantep (138 km [85 mi] away). If you have a flight from Şanliurfa later in the day, take some time to explore Şanliurfa's bustling and authentic bazaar, where coppersmiths hammer and tailors work on foot-powered sewing machines. If your flight is out of Gaziantep, consider driving there in the morning in order to have lunch at one of that city's famous restaurants. Imam Cağdaş, which has great kebabs and heavenly baklava, is your best bet.
Best Beaches and Ruins, 10 days
It's fairly safe to say that the main features that attract visitors to Turkey are the beaches and the magnificent archaeological sites. This itinerary covers the best of both, along the two major coastlines. Adding a couple days in Istanbul at the beginning or end would make a perfect trip.
Days 1 and 2: Arrival, Istanbul
Arrive in Istanbul and head to one of the charming small hotels in Sultanahmet (the Empress Zoe and the Sarı Konak Oteli are two favorites). If you have time, go to see the awe-inspiring Aya Sofya and the nearby Blue Mosque.
The next day, visit Topkapı Palace to get a sense of how the Ottoman sultans lived (make sure to take a tour of the Harem). From there, go to the nearby Archaeological Museum, whose collection of Roman and Greek artifacts comes from many of the sites that you'll soon be visiting. In the evening, head to one of the little neighborhoods along the Bosphorus, such as Ortaköy or Arnavutköy, for a fish dinner by the waterside (take a taxi if you're just going for dinner; the Bosphorus ferries are good if you've got time for a leisurely cruise).
Day 3: Ephesus
On the morning of Day 3, take the roughly one-hour flight to İzmir and rent a car at the airport to make the quick (79-km [50-mi]) drive down to the ancient Roman city of Ephesus. If you get an early flight out, you should be here by lunch. The site is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Turkey, and you'll see why: the buildings and monuments here are remarkably well preserved and easily give you the sense of what life must have been like in this important trading city 2,000 years ago. After Ephesus, visit the nearby Meryemana, a pilgrimage site for both Christians and Muslims where the Virgin Mary is believed to have spent her final years. Spend the night in the pleasant town of Selçuk, which is right on the doorstep of Ephesus. Or better yet, head 9 km (5.5 mi) into the mountains above Selçuk and stay in the tranquil village of Şirince, surrounded by fruit orchards and vineyards.
Day 4: Priene, Miletus and Didyma
Start off your day with a visit to Priene, an ancient Greek city that sits on a steep hill looking out on a valley below—it's about 60 km (38 mi) from Şirince. From there continue 16 km (10 mi) south to Miletus, another Greek city, where a spectacular theater is all that remains of its former glory. Twenty km (12 mi) south of here is Didyma and its magnificent Temple of Apollo, its scale as grand as the Parthenon, with 124 well-preserved columns. To keep yourself from burning out on ruins, continue another 5 km (3 mi) to the white-sand beach of Altıkum (NOTE: This is not the same as the similarly named beach near Çesme) and take a dip in the warm water, then have a meal at one of the numerous fish restaurants lining the shore. Drive back to the busy seaside resort town of Kuşadası, where there are several small pansiyons at which you can spend the night.
Day 5: Aphrodisias
Get an early start for the drive to the ruins of Aphrodisias, a Roman city named in honor of the goddess of love, Aphrodite. High up on a plateau and ringed by mountains, Aphrodisias has a spectacular setting and as much to offer as Ephesus, although with significantly fewer crowds. From here work your way down to the coast and the quiet town of Dalyan, where you can spend the next two nights in one of several riverside pansiyons.
Day 6: Dalyan, İztuzu Beach and the Rock Tombs of Kaunos
At Dalyan's riverside quay, you can hire a boat (try Dalyan Kooperatifi) to take you on to the ruins of ancient Kaunos, a city dating back to the 9th century BC and famous for its collection of tombs cut into the surrounding cliffs. Watch for the herons and storks idling in the river's reeds when you stop to take a look at the ruins. Continue your day cruise to the famed İztuzu Beach, a 5-km (3-mi) stretch of undeveloped sand that's also a nesting ground for sea turtles. There are a few snack bars at the beach, but you might want to consider bringing a picnic lunch along.
Day 7: Letoon, Patara and Kaş
The mountainous coastal region south of Dalyan is the home of ancient Lycia. An independent and resourceful people, the Lycians built a series of impressive cities whose ruins are sprinkled throughout the area, today also known as the Turquoise Riviera. To get a good glimpse of one of these Lycian cities, drive from Dalyan to Letoön, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with three fascinating temples dating back to the 2nd century BC. From here continue to Patara, another Lycian ruin that has the added bonus of being right next to one of Turkey's finest and longest beaches. You can spend the night in the relaxing little seaside town of Kaş, which has several good lodging and eating options. If you have an extra day, take the three-hour boat trip out of Kaş through the beautiful Kekova Sound and its fascinating underwater Greek and Roman ruins.
Day 8: Olympos
On your eighth day (ninth if you spend an extra day in Kaş), drive to the Lycian ruins of Olympos, which have running through them a small river that ends at a beautiful crescent beach backed by mountains. Stay in the little village of Çıralı, a good spot for an evening visit to the legendary Chimaera, small flames of ignited gas that shoot out of the rocks of a nearby mountain.
Day 9: Antalya/Termessos (or Aspendos)
Spend your last night in the rapidly growing resort city of Antalya, but before going there head up into the rugged mountains above the city to visit the dramatic site of Termessos, an impregnable city that both Alexander the Great and the Romans decided not to attack. (Alternatively, continue 54 km [34 mi] past Antalya to visit Aspendos, a spectacular Roman theater that is still in use today.) Return to Antalya in the afternoon and stay in one of the renovated old Ottoman houses in the Kaleıçı, the city's charming old town.
Day 10: Return to Istanbul
If you have time before your flight back to Istanbul, use the morning to walk around the narrow streets of the Kaleıçı and then visit the city's large archaeological museum. If you need to stock up on souvenirs before your return, head to Antalya's bazaar before going to the airport.
Roads are mostly in good condition, though rarely wider than two lanes or lit at night, so we recommend not driving after sunset.
This trip takes you through some of the most popular spots in Turkey, so book lodgings in advance.
Consider doing this itinerary in the fall: prices will be lower, the crowds will be gone, it won't be baking hot, and the ocean will still be warm enough for swimming.
Many towns on this itinerary have fabulous weekly markets, when farmers and craftspeople from the area come to sell their goods; try to time some of your trip around one of them. Most markets are held on Saturday, but check locally.
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