A fascinating mix of modern and ancient, where East meets West, Turkey is one of the most incredible countries in the world. After many visits and months of planning our Turkey itinerary, we settled on a route which led us through some of the country’s highlights: from the capital Istanbul to the otherworldly Cappadocia, to the ancient ruins of Ephesus and Troy to the beautiful turquoise coastline and beaches. We were blown away by the variety of sights and scenery on our journey. We’ve put together our Turkey Itinerary below, including our suggested route, where to stay and the best things to do in each place.
Turkey Itinerary: The Route
Our Turkey itinerary took us on a loop of all the popular locations throughout western Turkey, starting and ending in Istanbul. The entire route can be completed in two weeks at a rush or three to four weeks to explore at a more relaxed pace. This Turkey itinerary can be extended or reduced depending on what sights you want to see and the time you have available. We did this route in 3 weeks which was around the right amount of time, however we had been to Istanbul previously so only spent 3 days there on this trip.
You can reduce the time by flying to Cappadocia or simple flying to Antalya and driving back to Istanbul via the coast road.
Route Summary: arrive by air to Istanbul (1) – Safranbolu (2) – Cappadocia/Goreme (3) – Konya (4) – Antalya (5) – Kas (6) – Feithye (7) –Pamukalle (8) – Ephesus/Selcuk (9) – Izmir (10) – Troy (11) – Istanbul (1)
Map of Turkey Itinerary Route
How to Use This Google Map: Click on the grey star at the top of the map and this map will be added to your Google Maps account. You can then view it on your phone or computer in Google Maps by clicking on the menu button, going to “Your Places” and selecting this map. We use these maps all the time as you can set out your itinerary ahead of time and quickly reference the saved maps.
How to get around Turkey
Renting a Car
Renting a car in Turkey is very safe and it’s the best way to explore the country. We rented a car to explore Turkey and it was a great way to see the country. Driving is relatively easy and having your own car gives you the flexibility to travel at your own pace and see places that are simply not possible on group tours or public transport. Check out our tips for renting a car in Turkey
We’re huge fans of road trips and have driven rental cars in almost 50countries so we have a lot of experience renting cars in foreign countries. Book your car now with RentalCars.com, where you will find the best rental car prices
Much of this route is also possible by bus although it will likely take a little longer to allow for public transport schedules.
Hopefully, you’ll never need to make a claim, but if you do, it’s essential to have a travel insurance policy with a reliable and straightforward claims process. We personally use World Nomads insurance on our travels as it’s one of the best on the market
You can buy and claim online, even after you’ve left home.
Turkey Itinerary: The Daily Itinerary
We’ve listed our itinerary in a loop coming from and returning to Istanbul. Feel free to reverse the order as it works just as well backward
Turkey itinerary tip: if you are planning on visiting a lot of the sights listed in our itinerary make sure to pick up a Turkey Museum Pass which provides one time access to over 300 museums and sites affiliated to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Turkey. It costs around US $35 and covers most of the ancient sites and museums and also avoids queuing for tickets. We used ours everywhere from Ephesus to Aphrodisas to Hagia Sofia and the open air museums in Cappadocia.
Day 1: Arrive in Istanbul
Most visitors to Turkey arrive and depart via the new Istanbul International Airport. After a late flight, we picked up our rental car and opted to spend a night at an airport hotel before we started our Turkey road trip. We’ll return at the end of the trip for a few relaxing days in Istanbul.
Turkey itinerary tip: Istanbul can be explored at either end of this itinerary: we preferred to save it to the end of our trip and spend a few days in the city before we left Turkey.
Where to stay at Istanbul International Airport
- Bricks Airport Hotel Istanbul – excellent reasonably priced option a short taxi ride from the airport – check prices now!
- Rox Hotel Airport – well-appointed hotel a short taxi ride from the airport – check prices now!
- WOW Airport Hotel: – spacious and comfortable rooms, free airport shuttle – check prices now!
Days 2 & 3: Safranbolu
The Ottoman City of Safranbolu is perfect for a one or two-night stop. We opted for two nights as the drive to Cappadocia requires an early start and we wanted to have a day to explore Safranbolu. If you prefer, you can go straight from Istanbul to Cappadocia using our guide on how to travel between them.
Drive time: 5 hours from Istanbul Ataturk Airport to Safranbolu
Safranbolu is almost frozen in time. It is a typical Ottoman city with well-preserved architecture: there are 2,000 traditional Safranbolu houses which are incredible examples of traditional Turkish housing. Safranbolu played a key part in the caravan trade as the main commercial link between the Orient and Europe.
Where to Stay in Safranbolu
- Hilton Garden Inn Safronbolu – great modern option in Safranbolu. Rooms are clean and spacious – check prices now!
- Gulevi Safranbolu Hotel – lovely hotel set in restored 220-year-old Ottoman mansions in the historic centre – check prices now!
- Safranbolu Seyir Konak Otel – traditional hotel with great breakfast and wonderful views overlooking the historic centre of Safranbolu – check prices now!
Things to do in Safranbolu
- Explore Çarşı, the Old Town district, a maze of cobblestone alleyways winding up the hillside
- Shop for local crafts and delicacies
- Visit Cinci Hamam, a beautifully restored bathhouse
Turkey itinerary tip: we decided to drive from Istanbul to Cappadocia via Safranbolu and the archaeological site of Hattusha, both awesome historical sites. If you prefer to start your trip in Cappadocia it’s worth checking out connecting flight options to Cappadocia as it’s an 8 hour direct drive from Istanbul.
Day 4: Safranbolu to Cappadocia via Hattusha
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hattusha is an interesting stop between Safranbolu and Cappadocia and, after spending the afternoon exploring the ancient site, we arrived in Cappadocia just in time for sunset.
Drive time: the total drive is 500km and takes around 7hours: 4hours from Safranbolu to Hattusha and 3hours from Hattusha to Cappadocia
Hattusa was the capital of the Hittite Empire, an ancient Anatolian people, in the late Bronze Age and the archaeological site consists of ruins of temples, a royal residence and fortifications. A second site close to Hattusha, Yazilikaya, contains a fascinating ensemble of rock art. The highlights are the Lions’ Gate and the Royal Gate, the rock art and the Great Temple, the best-preserved ruin of a Hittite Temple from the 13th century BC.
Things to do
- Drive around the ancient site of Hattusha
- Stop by Yazlilkaya for ancient rock art
- Watch the sunset in Cappadocia
Days 5 to 8: Cappadocia
With its whimsical landscape, ethereal beauty and balloon-filled sky Cappadocia is otherworldly. Magical valleys stretch as far as the eye can see and the sunrise hot air balloons are a once in a lifetime experience. Check out our guide to choosing where to stay in Cappadocia here.
Turkey itinerary tip: We recommend spending at least 3 nights as there are lots of things to do in Cappadocia. If a hot air balloon ride is on your must do list then make sure to leave a few extra days in case the balloon ride is cancelled due to weather. We visited in March and the balloons only flew on one of our three mornings in Cappadocia.
Where to stay in Cappadocia
We stayed in three different hotels during our time in Cappadocia and recommend each of them!
- Sultan Cave Suites – the ultimate spot to watch the balloons rise over the Cappadocia sky at sunrise, we loved waking up to a balloon filled sky. Guests have exclusive sunrise access to the rooftop terraces which over the best views – check prices here!
- Rox Cappadocia – located right next to the highest point in Cappadocia at Uchisar Castle, the hotel has incredible views of Goreme and Guvercinlik Valley from its rooftop. We stayed in a beautiful cave room and breakfast was a real treat – check prices here!
- Taskonaklar Hotel – we spent a few nights in a cave room at the luxury Taskonaklar Hotel. Awesome rooms, great food and fantastic views over the valley – check prices here
- Museum Hotel – one for the bucket list, the Museum Hotel is based on the concept of a living museum. The view of the hot air balloons from the hotel’s Roman Pool is breathtaking – check prices here!
You can read more about our stay at the Sultan Cave Suites and our guide to the Cappadocia hotels with the best view of the balloons.
Things to do in Cappadocia
There are so many awesome things to see and do in Cappadocia that your three days will be packed! Our favourite things to do were:
- Take a sunrise hot air balloon ride – click here to book a hot air balloon flight
- Hunt for the best Instagram photo spots in Cappadocia
- Watch the sunset over the red valley
- Explore Imagination Valley
- Stock up on rugs at a Turkish carpet shop
- See the iconic Cappadocia fairy chimneys
- Explore the underground city’s
- Visit the open-air museums
- Hang an evil eye charm on the evil eye trees
For all the photographers reading we’ve put together a list of our favourite photo locations in Cappadocia (hint: there are lots!)
Day 9: Konya
After an incredible few days in Cappadocia, it’s time to head towards the stunning Turkish coast. Konya, a compelling mix of ancient and modern and the home of the whirling dervish orders, is the perfect overnight stop before Antalya. On the way check out the Sultanhanı Caravanserai, an ancient trading outpost with an incredible entrance gate.
Drive time : 3 hours (235km)
Where to stay in Konya
Hotels in Konya were extremely affordable and you can stay in some very nice modern hotels for a reasonable rate.
- Hilton Garden Inn Konya – clean, spacious and modern in an excellent location close to all the major Konya sights – check prices here!
- Novotel Konya – great facilities and clean, modern rooms with minibus access to sights – check prices here!
- Ramada Plaza Konya – modern hotel with hammam and pool, located close to the tram stop – check prices here!
Things to Do in Konya
- Çatalhöyük – located just outside Konya, this stunning UNESCO World Heritage site is an ancient city over 9,000 years old and one of the oldest Neolithic settlements in the world.
- Mevlana Museum – home to the tomb of Rumi, a philosopher, poet and Islamic scholar who founded the whirling dervish sect of Sufism.
- Kyoto Park – a slice of Japan in the middle of Turkey!
- Mevlana Whirling Dervishes: synonymous with Konya, the Turkish Dervishes perform a ceremony of worship, spinning in deep prayer.
Days 10 and 11: Antalya
Antalya is known as Turkey’s Turquoise Coast and offers a change of pace and scenery in addition to some of the best sunsets we’ve ever experienced. Antalya is packed with very affordable luxury beach resorts and has a stunning coastline, so we recommend spending a few days relaxing and recovering from the so far packed itinerary and long drives.
Drive time: 4 hours (300km)
Where to Stay in Antalya
Hotels in Antalya are very reasonably priced so we opted for some luxury during our stay!
- Akra Hotel – a five-star hotel on the sea, we loved our ocean view room and the amazing facilities. One of our favourite hotels in Turkey! – check prices now!
- Crown Plaza Antalya – set along the beautiful check prices now!
- Rixos Downtown Antalya – overlooking the check prices now! and the Taurus Mountains, Rixos Downtown is located close to Konyaalti Beach and has a host of dining options and great pools. –
Things to do in Antalya
- Aspendos Theater: the theatre at Aspendos is one of the best preserved in Turkey and is still used for performances to this day
- Termessos – located in the mountains just north of Antalya, Termessos is one of the best ancient sites we visited in Turkey. This mountaintop city is a must for anyone visiting Antalya and the views from the theatre are incredible.
- Perge – the UNESCO site of Perge is another must see in Antalya. This ancient city prospered during the bronze age.
- Hadrians Gate: iconic entrance gate to the Old Town Kaleiçi district which was erected in honour of a visit by Emperor Hadrian in AD 130.
- Manavgat waterfall: beautiful waterfalls located just east of Antalya, these are very popular and busy.
- Düden Waterfalls: a beautiful group of waterfalls in Antalya, be sure to stop at the source and by the sea.
Day 12 – Coast Drive between Antalya and Kas
After a few relaxing days in Antalya, it’s time to move west along the stunning Turkish coastline. There are so many stops along the coast that it’s worth making an overnight stay half-way in the seaside town of Kas.
Drive time: 3 hours (190 km)
Where To Stay in Kas
- Hotel Cachet – located on the peninsula outside Kas, Hotel Cachet is one of the best in the area. The hotel is secluded and quiet with stunning views of the ocean – check prices now!
- Olea Nova Hotel – this beautiful hotel is located just outside Kas and has amazing ocean views and a beautiful outdoor pool. The local bus stops just outside the hotel every 30 minutes for a short trip into the town of Kas – check prices now!
- Nur Hotel – one of the best hotel options in Kas town is the Nur Hotel. With beautiful sea views and a 5 minute walk to the town centre, the location is perfect for relaxing and enjoying all Kas has to offer – check prices now!
Things to do on the Coast Drive between Antalya and Kas
- Butterfly Valley: only accessible by boat, Butterfly Valley is a large and picturesque canyon that is home to a diverse population of butterflies, beautiful scenery and a beautiful beach
- Phaselis: take a step back in time at the ancient Lycian port of Phaselis where the contrast of ruins and turquoise water is mesmerising
- Kaputas Beach: sheltered beach with huge waves and amazing viewpoints above
- Theimussa ancient place: sunken ruins from 4BC of the ancient city of Theimussa
- Ancient Myra ruins: incredible ruins with an amphitheater and Lycian rock tombs
Day 13: Fethiye
The bustling marina town of Fethiye is another excellent base along the coast and we recommend a one-night stopover en route to Pamukkale.
Drive time: 90 minutes from Kas to Fethiye (100km)
Things to do in Fethiye
- Xanthos and Letoon: a joint UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ancient city of Xanthos was the capital of Lycia and Letoon, a cult sanctuary of Leto and one of the most important religious centres in the region, is located nearby.
- Fethiye waterfront and Old Town: from the bustling waterfront, a hub of restaurants, bars and yachts to the character filled Old Town, it’s lovely to wander through Fethiye
- Lycian Rock Tombs: incredible Lycian tombs carved into the cliffside above Fethiye
- Kayakoy Ghost Town: a ghost town now preserved as a museum village. Kayakoy was a thriving town of 10,000 until the early 1920s when, at the conclusion of the Greco-Turkish War, it was emptied of its Christian inhabitants.
Where to Stay in Fethiye
- Yacht Classic Hotel – seafront hotel with beautiful decor, spacious rooms and excellent food. The Yacht Classic is another of our Turkey favourites – check prices now!
- Ece Boutique Hotel – located on the Island of Sovalye, a 10-minute boat ride from Fethiye – check prices now!
- Letoonia Club & Hotel – excellent resort style option with a huge range of restaurants and facilities – check prices now!
Day 14: Aphrodisias, Pamukkale and Hierapolis
The brilliant white travertine of Pammukale is on the cover of nearly every Turkey guidebook and, with over two million visitors annually, Pamukkale is Turkey’s single most visited attraction. The ancient Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis, a thermal spa city, is located on the hot springs of Pamukkale. We spent a night in a hotel in Pamukkale to give us the chance to explore at less crowded times.
Drive: 3 hours (230km)
The brilliant white travertine terraces of Pamukkale, meaning cotton castle, are topped with turquoise hot pools cascading down the mountainside above the town of Pamukkale. Pamukkale, while still beautiful, doesn’t quite look like the iconic images that you might be familiar with – some of the travertines have suffered from the effects of mass tourism over the decades and are closed off to allow them to heal. Bring swimwear to bathe in Cleopatra’s Pool, an antique pool where Cleopatra the Queen of Egypt once swam.
Turkey itinerary tip: shoes and sandals are not permitted when visiting Pamukkale to prevent further erosion.
The ancient Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis was a thermal spa city located on the hot springs of Pamukkale in the classical kingdom of Phrygia. The ruins of Hierapolis ruins sit atop the natural site of Pamukkale and there are panoramic views for miles around. The ancient Theatre and the Museum are both unmissable. Together Pamukkale and Hierapolis are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the mix of natural and ancient is still breathtaking today.
Turkey itinerary tip: visiting Pamukkale and Hieropolis takes around half a day depending how much you wish to explore Hieropolis. Make sure to stop at the nearby site of Laodikeia where an active excavation is underway. Most of this site remains underground however it’s an incredible place.
Around an hours drive from Pamukkale is the UNESCO world heritage site of Aphrodisias. You can visit as an afternoon trip from Pamukkale or en route to Selçuk plan to spend a few hours exploring the most recent UNESCO site in Turkey, the ancient site of Aphrodisias. The small ancient Greek Hellenistic city was named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and the highlights include the monumental gateway leading into the site, the temple of Aphrodite which dates from the 3rd Century, the stadium which is one of the best preserved of its size and the museum which house the friezes from The Sebasteion building.
Where to stay in Pamukkale
- Hal Tur Hotel – family run hotel with the best view of Pamukkale, all rooms have a balcony/terrace overlooking the site. We stayed here and it was a minutes walk to the Pamukkale entrance. – check prices now!
- Hotel Sahin – another great family run hotel on the main street with excellent views and close to the entrance – check prices now!
Days 15 to 18: Selçuk & Ephesus
Our visit to Ephesus was one of the absolute highlights of our Turkey trip and it really is unmissable. Ephesus is located in the town of Selcuk and, together with ancient Ephesus, there are lots of things to see and do in Selçuk: the area deserves at least 2 to 3 full days to allow you to explore fully.
Ephesus is hands down the most spectacular archaeological site we visited in Turkey and it is worth committing an entire day to visit the site alone. The ancient Greek city of Ephesus was built in the 10th Century BC and contains successive settlements from the Neolithic, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Selçuk and Ottoman periods. It’s impossible to describe the feeling of standing in front of the magnificent Celsus library in Ephesus as the morning light washed over the ruins.
Turkey Travel Tip: Aim to visit Ephesus first thing in the morning when it’s relatively quiet and after a few hours return to your hotel to relax during the hottest part of the day. This avoids the immense crowds that visit the site each day and the worst heat of the day. Although it cost us an extra ticket, we returned around 90 minutes before closing when the tour groups had left.
Things to do in Ephesus and Selcuk
The ancient city of Ephesus is located in Selcuk and there is much to explore in the town. For a more detailed guide, check out our article on things to do in Ephesus and Selcuk
- The ancient city of Ephesus: the ancient Greek city of Ephesus was built in the 10th Century BC and was home to over 300,000 people at its peak.
- The terraced houses: an excavation site in Ephesus, the terraced houses were once luxurious residential villas and were known as the houses of the rich.
- Ephesus Archaeological Museum: exhibits artifacts that were excavated from the nearby ancient city of Ephesus
- Basilica of St John: ruins of the 6th Century Basilica where the Apostle John, having travelled from Jerusalem to Ephesus, is said to have spent his remaining years
- House of Mary, Meryemana: the house of the Virgin Mary is a pilgrimage site close to the ancient ruins of Ephesus and is considered to be the place where Mary, the Mother of Jesus, lived and died after being taken there by Saint John
- Ayasuluk Fortress: built to protect St John’s Basilica, the Ayasoluk Fortress dominates the skyline of Selcuk
- Isa Bey Mosque: the Isa Bey Mosque was constructed in the late 1300s and is based on the Great Mosque of Damascus
- Sirince: small village close to Ephesus is famous for its fruit wine and red-roofed houses
- Grotto of the Seven Sleepers: tombs of seven young Christians, who, having refused to renounce their Christian beliefs, were said to have hidden in a cave close to Ephesus to escape religious persecution by the Roman Emperor Decius.
- Temple of Artemis: Dedicated to the goddess Artemis, it is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
Where to Stay in Selçuk
- Hotel Mary’s House – family run hotel with handmade woodwork in bedrooms, a beautiful breakfast and a great location in the heart of Selcuk. We stayed here during our visit to Ephesus and loved it – check prices now!
- Cella Boutique Hotel & Spa: luxury boutique hotel with outdoor pool, a spa and Turkish baths close to the centre of Selcuk – check prices here! – check prices now!
- Hotel Bella – another great boutique option with Ottoman style furniture and a rooftop restaurant with great views of the fortress – check prices here!
Days 19 and 20: Pergamon, Çanakkale, Troy and Gallipoli
After leaving Ephesus, we made a stop at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pergamon before spending two nights in Canakkale, a seafront town where the 2004 movie version of the wooden horse of Troy stands. Canakkale is a great base to explore Tory and Gallipoli.
Founded in 281 BC, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Pergamon was one of the most important cities of the ancient world. The city housed theatres, gymnasiums, the Great Altar and the library. The Trajan Temple is impressive and the theatre, the steepest surviving Roman Theatre, is a highlight. The nearby Asclepieion healing center is also an interesting visit.
With 4,000 years of history, the world famous archaeological site of Tory was immortalised by Homer in the Iliad as the site of the Trojan War. In an early beauty contest, Paris of Troy had to choose between the three beauties Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. Paris chose Aphrodite who had promised Paris the love of Helen, the Queen of Sparta. Paris’ subsequent abduction of Helen to Tory provoked the Trojan war.
The battlefield of Gallipoli saw immense bloodshed during World War I and many visit to pay their respects to the thousands of soldiers who lost their lives in the battle.
Where to Stay in Çanakkale
- Buyuk Truva Oteli: simple and comfortable hotel overlooking the Sea of Marmara – check prices now!
- Hotel Limani: a nice seafront hotel with functional rooms – check prices now!
- Kervansaray Canakkale Hotel: charming hotel located in an old mansion in the heart of Canakkale – check prices now!
Day 21: Çanakkale to Bursa and Istanbul
After leaving Çanakkale we made a stop in the UNESCO city of Bursa before travelling to Istanbul, the final city in our Turkey itinerary.
Between 1335 and 1363 Bursa was the first major capital of the Ottoman State and was known as Hüdavendigar, or God’s Gift, during the Ottoman period. Some of the highlights of the Bursa UNESCO include the Ulu Camii Mosque and the Osman and Orhan Gazi Tombs.
Days 22 to 25: Istanbul
It’s hard not to fall in love with the vibrant, hip city of Istanbul and we recommend spending at least 3 nights exploring the city. The eclectic mix of Europe and Asia, East and West and old and new make Istanbul an amazing spot.
Things to do in Istanbul
- The Blue Mosque
- Hagia Sofia
- Topaki Palace
- Basilica Cistern
- Grand Bazaar
- Istiklal Street
- Galata Tower and Bridge
- Bosphorus Strait
- Dolmabahçe Palace
- Chora Church
- Check out the best photo spots in Istanbul
Where to stay in Istanbul
We love staying in the historical district as the hotels are close to many of the major sights and we can walk or take the tram to sightsee.
We love staying in the historical district as the hotels are close to many of the major sights and we can walk or take the tram to sightsee.
- White House Hotel: a fantastic hotel in a great location close to Hagia Sofia, Topaki Palace and the Blue Mosque. We’ve stayed here on many visits to Istanbul, it’s the perfect spot for exploring the city – check prices now!
- Hotel Amira Istanbul: a luxury hotel in the Sultanahmet district close to many of the major sites. The roof terrace has lovely sea views – check prices now!
- Osmanhan Hotel: another great option in the historical district, the Osmanhan has a rooftop terrace overlooking the Blue Mosque and the Marmara Sea –check prices now!
Extending the itinerary
Our detailed itinerary is ideal for a two-three week trip but there are other Turkey highlights which you might wish to include if you have additional time in the country:
- Explore the East:
- Mount Nemrut: deep in the Anatolian heartland massive statues of Greek and Persian gods scattered across a mountaintop. The road is closed during the winter months.
- Van: Lake Van is the largest lake in Turkey and has many historical sites.
- Trabzon: once an important stop on the Silk Road, Trabzon’s Hagia Sophia was built in the 13th Century and has served as a hospital, a museum and a mosque.
- Kars: as a result of the 19th Century Russian Occupation Kars is like stepping into Russia. It’s also a base for exploring the ruins of an abandoned medieval Armenian city, Ani.
- South Eastern Turkey:
- check for travel advice before travelling. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to within 10 km of the border with Syria and to the city of Diyarbakir and all but essential travel to other parts of the south-east.
- West of Istanbul:
- Selimiye Mosque: a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Erdine, 3 hours north-west of Istanbul. The Ottoman mosque is considered a highlight of architect Mimar Sinan’s work and one of the greatest achievements in Islamic architecture.
For more on Turkey
- Check out our guide to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites