Turkey is one of my favorite places travel destinations because it has everything of a great destination within, or as a Big Trip: crossroads of ancient civilizations; a capital city of the world, natural wonders unlike anywhere else in the world, gorgeous beaches, friendly people, and easy to get around.
Really, though two weeks is not enough to see it all. However, if that’s all you have, which was my situation, and then I recommend this itinerary. It’s starts with a few days in Istanbul to see the “must sees” and time explore the modern part of this incredible city. There’s time for natural wonder and a chill experience Cappadocia in central Turkey. Finally, the itinerary concludes with a little bliss along the Mediterranean in the not-very-touristy coastal town of Kas, which was recommended to me by the Istanbul hotel owner as his “favorite place in all of Turkey.”
- Istanbul: 4 days in this dynamic city will be enough (for a first time visit) to mix sightseeing to the big spots: Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, Topkapi Palace; with visits to more modern Turkey in Istanbul’s Taksim district and Balat neighborhood. See more info on Istanbul>
- Cappadocia: 2-3 days in the land of the fairy-tale rock formations and cities carved into cliffs is enough to explore this central part of Turkey. I recommend traveling into Goreme and then taking day trips to the different towns and museums nearby. There are plenty of public buses, tours, or motorbike rentals to get around.
- Kas: 3-4 days to forever in this Mediterranean paradise. I loved it here so much, it hurt to leave. There are other Turkish towns along the Mediterranean that showcase the blue-green sea and golden cliffs, but none with the same feel as Kas. Kas is not overrun by tourism operations and the pace is slow and friendly.
- In and out of Istanbul: I flew Royal Jordanian Airlines from Amman. It was expensive – about $300, but on par with Turkish Airlines from the same destination. Out of Istanbul, I flew British Airways to London and then to Barcelona. It was cheaper to book the two separate tickets than one ticket of Istanbul.
- Istanbul –>Cappadocia –> Kas–> Istanbul: I took three overnight buses (and coordinating local buses) at about $40 each trip. They were worth it for the short time I had and the buses were very comfortable to ride. Each journey had stewards who served tea, coffee, and sometimes ice cream. There were ample stops for the bathroom and food. You can buy your tickets in town upon arrival. If the bus isn’t your thing, then there are several domestic airlines, like Pegasus Air, within Turkey that go to all the main destinations for about twice the prices minimum. This is a wonderful article by Katie Going Global on what the buses are like in Turkey.
- Visit Hajia Sofia at 9 a.m. and you have a chance of beating the crowds.
- Tuvalet means “Toilet”
- Do not buy a carpet for full price. Really – start at about 1/6 of the price in bargaining and walk out if you do not get your limit.
- There will be calls to prayer at 4:30 a.m. and four more times a day. If you stay anywhere near the Blue Mosque, expect the call to be loud and lengthy.
- Take the train from the airport to the center of Istanbul. Istanbul has an excellent public transportation system.
Rooftop View of the Bosphorous
I splurged a little on the hotel in Istanbul and found a delightful place with a killer rooftop and views that curved around the Golden Horn. My friend B and I sat very contented on this rooftop sipping Efes beer and watched the sun turn the river gold and then black. It was a grand view and we felt more significant up on the roof than we had a right to in this ancient city. The only challenge to this location: The nearby Blue Mosque prayer calls begin at 4:30 a.m.
Roman Cisterns: What’s with the Medusa Head?
Deep underground in the Sultanahmet district is the Roman Cisterns. The orange-lit dark underground structure is the size of several football fields and features a forest of Roman Arches that create a beautiful symmetrical view at every turn. It feels like something out of a Harry Potter movie and is a must see place to visit.
But here’s the really exception part, I found. There are two large stone Medusa heads in the corners of the cavern. One is upright and one is sideways, both serve as base of a pillar and are green with moss. NO ONE knows how they got there. No one bothered to write down, hey two huge stone heads of a mythological god arrived today. And it’s just spooky, why Medusa? Why here? And why no other heads?
An Accidental Ferry Ride to Asia
Istanbul is the only city in the world to span two continents, so it’s pretty easy to understand that one may jump on the wrong ferry and end up in Asia. Which wasn’t so bad, B and I accepted our fate that we had gotten on the Sirkeci-Harem ferry and walked to a very student-filled neighborhood. There we sipped a few more Efes beers and people watched in a place with very few tourists. On the way back, we saw the city spread out over each side of the Bosphourous coast and got a feel of the expanse of this mega city.
Nevazade Market or “Beer Street” In the Taksim
A hard day of sightseeing requires some quality refreshment. B and I had spent about 1 hour looking for the Nevazade marketing – admittedly half hartedly as we shopped the Taksim district with what felt like most of Istanbul. In fact, we had given up and taken some beers and frites in the Fish Market. We left the restaurant with full bellies and resignation, turned the corner and there was the Nevezade street – lined with cafes, pubs, and restaurants. Another pint? I asked. Of course, B said and we pulled up on of those stools and joined the fun on beer street.
Giggling at Suggestive Rock Formations in Cappadocia
Cappadocia is magical, it’s unlike anyplace I’ve ever been. There are cities carved into the rock bluffs, there are 11th century Byzantine churches with the paint still on the mosaics, and a very chill, relaxed vibe among this natural wonder. And some of the rock formations, frankly, look like phallus. There I said it. It’s hard to keep a straight face and honestly I don’t trust anyone who saw this particular park and did.
Finding Blue-Green Paradise in Kas
I spent three days doing nothing in Kas but looking at and swimming in the blue-green water. Every place to visit in this city showcases the pristine sea: the hostels and their verandas on the bluff; the snorkel and dive tours that start at the small dock, the restaurants along the cobblestone streets turn seaward; and the beach is just a quick 10 minute walk away. It’s a peaceful, not so touristy (yet!), paradise on the Mediterranean sea and there’s nothing to do there at all.
More Posts on Traveling to Turkey:
- What’s a Turkish Bath like? You want the scoop on what you can expect, check out the blog article I wrote about it.
- Five sites to see in Istanbul