NOTE: This article was inspired by our 8-day Turkey Highlights trip.
Offering ancient history, bustling cities, pumping nightlife, jaw-dropping landscapes, blissful beaches and an incredible cuisine, there is something for everyone in Turkey.
Experiencing (nearly) everything in 7 days can be a daunting task, but with this itinerary you can do it a ton!
I didn’t know what to expect before heading to Turkey – Western media coverage isn’t always glowing and in terms of tourism, you don’t hear about much outside of Istanbul and Cappadocia. Well, I was well and truly blown away by how open-minded and friendly the locals are, and the number of incredible and often overlooked attractions.
READ MORE: 6 AMAZING DESTINATIONS IN TURKEY THAT AREN’T ISTANBUL OR CAPPADOCIA
It is also an excellent-value destination and is a safe place for tourists. Ready to dive straight in? Here’s your all-encompassing guide to a week there:
Day 1: Istanbul
Istanbul is one of the world’s great destinations. A bustling, cosmopolitan metropolis at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, in 2,000 years of existence different civilisations have left their mark on the city. Istanbul is a 24-hour city where bars, clubs and restaurants are open all hours and shops, bakeries and even barber shops are open as late as 3am!
Begin in Sultanahmet where you will find most of Istanbul’s major attractions, including the Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, the Blue Mosque and the Basilica Cistern.
Three tram stops away, yet feeling like a different world, is multicultural Aksaray. You can get a great-value lunch here; I had a delicious falafel roll and an ayran (salty yoghurt drink) for six lira (about $1.25 USD).
Next, make your way to the world famous Grand Bazaar. It’s one of the oldest and biggest covered markets in the world. Or, for an alternate experience, head downhill to Mısır Çarşısı for spices, jewellery and sweets.
Take in the sunset and spectacular city views from the ferry to Kadıköy which is a great place to spend the evening. For dinner Borsam Taşfırın serves excellent wood-fired pide (like a Turkish pizza) and lahmacun (flatbread topped with mincemeat). End your day at any of the countless bars or shisha cafes in the laneways.
READ MORE: EVERYTHING YOU SHOULD DO IN ISTANBUL, FROM MUST-DOS TO HIDDEN GEMS
Day 2: Istanbul
Wake up to a traditional Turkish breakfast of menemen (Turkish scrambled eggs), white cheese, olives, fresh tomato and cucumber.
After breakfast, head to Süleymaniye Mosque which is less well-known than the Sultanahmet monuments, but just as stunning. Then cross the Galata bridge, passing the hordes of fisherman and head uphill to the Galata tower which offers panoramic views of the area.
For lunch head to a lokanta – a cafeteria-style eatery where food is served from a bain-marie. These are excellent value and a good way to try a range of dishes. Balkan Lokanatasi is one of the most popular ,with outlets across the city offering a large range of dishes including soups, vegetarian dishes and desserts. (Want to know more about the top Turkish eats? Read this guide.)
Spend the afternoon wandering around Beyoğlu. Work your way along the shoppers paradise of İstiklal Avenue, zig zagging in and out of its warren of side streets. Explore bohemian Cihangir and finish the day in Taksim Square.
MEET THE SYRIAN REFUGEES RUNNING THEIR OWN FASHION BRAND IN ISTANBUL
Day 3: Cappadocia
Cappadocia is one of the most unique destinations in the world, with a stunning landscape that looks unlike anything else you’ll ever see. Get up early to see thousands of hot air balloons floating above the landscape at sunrise. Whether witnessed from the basket of a hot air balloon or from ground level, it is jaw-dropping.
Next, head to the Göreme Open Air Museum, a collection of well-preserved orthodox churches dug into the hills. Afterwards, walk down the hill for Tokalı Kilise, one of the biggest cave churches in the area.
Spend the rest of the day exploring Göreme National Park. One of the nicest areas is Rose Valley, which contains towering rock formations known as ‘fairy chimneys.’
Finish the day by climbing the hill that overlooks Göreme and join the crowds watching the landscapes change colour in a spellbinding sunset.
READ MORE: 7 INCREDIBLE VIEWS TO SEEK OUT IN CAPPADOCIA
Day 4: Cappadocia
Use your second day in Cappadocia to see some of its farther out attractions. Local transport can be inconsistent so a tour is the way to go. Ensure you visit at least one of the many underground cities in the region – Kaymaklı and Gaziemir are two of the best. Here you can witness how people lived their lives sleeping, cooking, eating and even keeping livestock deep underground.
Ihlara valley is another not-to-miss attraction featuring more cave churches but in a very different landscape from the rest of the area.
Uçhisar Castle, with its panoramic views of the whole area, is a fantastic final stop on the tour. I actually asked if I could be left here and walked back to Göreme through Pigeon valley. Walking through the amazing rock formations at sunset turned out to be one of my highlights of Cappadocia.
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Day 5: Izmir /Ephesus
Izmir, Turkey’s third city, is a youthful and vibrant city that is a great place to base yourself to visit Ephesus.
The history and location of Turkey mean that there are stacks of ruins throughout the country but the most impressive are at Ephesus. Built by the Ancient Greeks in the 10th century BC, Ephesus was one of the major cities of the ancient world.
It is worth devoting a full day to explore the ruins. The terraced houses are some of the finest examples of Roman homes and are a must-see, while the restored fresco of the library is stunning. The site of the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, is also worth a look, although barely any of it remains.
Upon returning to Izmir, check out Konak square and its iconic clock tower. Spend the evening wandering among the hipster bars and cafes in the laneways of Alsancak. These are open well into the night.
READ MORE: YOU WILL FEEL SAFE IN TURKEY – AND 5 OTHER MUST-KNOWS
Day 6: Pamukkale
After five hectic days, its time for a bit of relaxation among Turkey’s most Instagram-friendly destination after Cappadocia.
Pamukkale means “cotton castle” in Turkish which is a perfect way to describe the pearl white terraces with pools of spring water. Wander the travertines, bathe in the pools and admire the views of the village and surrounding plains.
If you’re not content just chilling out, there are numerous other attractions in the area. The region has been a spa area since Roman times and the ruins of the town of Hierapolis sit on top of the hill above the terraces and contain a large amphitheatre.
The travertines aren’t the only unique swimming spot in the area. At the nearby Cleopatra Pools you can swim in crystal clear thermal water among ancient columns and other ruins.
READ MORE: WHY TO VIST PAMUKKALE (AND WHAT TO KNOW)
Day 7: Ölüdeniz
Turkey has many fantastic beaches and one of the best is found at Ölüdeniz. Consider spending your last day simply relaxing on the beach and maybe take a leisurely stroll down to the beautiful blue lagoon.
If you’ve still got energy left, there is plenty to see around Ölüdeniz including the beautiful Butterfly Valley and the hippie hideout of Kabak. Both places can be accessed by local transport or on a tour. If you go by local transport, stop at any of the restaurants along the road for a delicious gözleme, which is kind of like a savoury, stuffed pancake.
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From the bus stop you can trek down to the beach at Butterfly Valley, thought only if you’re a confident hiker and are wearing proper shoes. Once you’re down in the valley you can hang out on the beach or walk to a small waterfall.
What a photogenic way to end an otherworldly week in Turkey!
Ready to see this incredible country for yourself? Check out Intrepid Travel’s range of small group adventures in Turkey.
(Kabak Beach photo courtesy of author Dylan Berg. All other images courtesy of Intrepid Travel.)