My Turkey fascination started years ago with a school report on the Hagia Sophia Mosque. It took years to actually make the trip because every time we were ready, it felt like something happened politically. So, when things were peaceful, we jumped on the chance to go. This trip exceeded every expectation and we’re sharing our 7 Day Turkey itinerary so you create your own incredible adventure.
Turkey has something thrilling for everyone – world class hot air ballooning, swoon worthy beaches, historic biblical sites, iconic Grand Bazaar shopping and the bustling metropolis of Istanbul. It’s one exciting globetrotting moment after the next!
7 Day Turkey Itinerary
Thankfully Turkey travel is surprisingly easy to navigate. At the bottom of this 7 day Turkey itinerary, you will find travel tips and practical information like the best time to travel to Turkey, the top places to visit, safety information and how to get a Turkish visa.
Istanbul Day – 3 Days
The first stop on our Turkey itinerary was 3 days in vibrant Istanbul. Istanbul straddles Europe and Asia and is a mesmerizing mix between ancient and modern. In the city center there are historic mosques and buildings right near hipster cafes and designer shops.
With a population of 15 million, Istanbul is the largest city in Europe. You will likely spend most of your time on the European side but you can take a Bosphorus cruise right down the middle to see both sides. Even with it’s enormous size, you can still walk to most of the sightseeing spots.
Top Things to See in Istanbul
Hagia Sophia & Blue Mosque
To put this “historic” city into perspective, the oldest buildings in Istanbul are more than 600 years older than oldest buildings in Paris. Our first stop was the Hagia Sophia since I had been captivated years prior by it’s complex religious history. This 6th Century cathedral was transformed into mosque in the 15th century.
The photo above and indoor shot below are the Hagia Sophia. The link has more information about the history, architecture and hours of operation. Below right is the Blue Mosque, the neighbor to the Hagia Sophia, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful mosques in the world.
In case you’re thinking “a mosque is a mosque.” These two mosques could not be more different from the inside. The Hagia Sofia (above left) is very dark and dramatic in black and gold while the Blue Mosque is a stunning display of intricate tile work and windows as seen in the photo of the ceiling below. It’s an architectural masterpiece.
In this same area, you can check out Topkapi Palace, a former royal residence that is now a museum. This UNESCO Heritage site is the oldest surviving palace in the world. Make sure to check out the harem rooms.
Grand Bazaar & Spice Bazaar
Still in the old city, we headed to the Grand Bazaar and found this cute, colorful street. You can grab a quick bite to eat before you delve into the biggest shopping area you’ve ever seen. The Spice Bazaar was my favorite. It conjures up images of traders traveling the Silk Road to bring precious and exotic spices to market.
The Grand Bazaar is a great place to pick up souvenirs. Some souvenir ideas: ceramics • lamps • kilim Rugs • spices • Turkish Delight • Turkish coffee & tea • jewelry • Turkish towels
You can take a Bosphoros Cruise through the middle of 2 continents. We hopped on from the area called Ortaköy. For $5 it’s a delightful, hour long cruise that gives a completely different view of Istanbul’s beautiful waterfront houses and palaces. This was one of our favorite activities on our Turkey itinerary.
Galata Tower and Galata Bridge
Galata Bridge connects two major parts of the European side of Istanbul over the waterway known as the Golden Horn. There have been 5 iterations of this bridge dating back to the 6th century. If you walk across the bridge, you get a great view of both sides.
In your view, standing above everything else is Galata Tower, which was built in 500 A.D. as watchtower to help defend the city. This is the optimal place to get a 360 degree view of Istanbul.
Local Life – Istiklal Caddesi, Karaköy, Besiktas & Nisantasi
We love to ditch the travel guide and walk between tourist spots to see what cool local hangouts we can find. This is where Istanbul shines. The restaurant culture and plethora of awesome places to go is outstanding. I would opt for hanging out in trendy cafes and bars over a tourist show of whirling dervishes any day.
- Istiklal Caddesi – On Sundays, the Grand Bazaar is closed so it’s the perfect day to check out this lively pedestrian shopping area by Taksim square with tons of restaurants and stores. We had the yummiest healthy lunch at EK BİÇ YE İÇ. For lunch or dinner with a view, check out 360 Istanbul.
- Nisantasi – The posh area with designer stores. A fun place to people watch, shop and grab lunch. Check out the rooftop bar at Swisshotel for a killer sunset over the Bosphoros.
- Besiktas – We accidentally ended up finding this super cool area on our way way from Ortakoy. Definitely a great place to go out for dinner and drinks. It was packed and so much fun at this bustling part of town. There are a zillion choices of restaurants and bars here.
- Karakoy – A revitalized neighborhood, total hipster spot where you’ll find great galleries, charming coffeehouses like Karabatak. This area is really close to Galata Tower.
Cappadocia – 2 Days
Cappadocia (pron. Cap-uh-dokia) is a region in the middle of Turkey comprised of multiple towns and villages. We almost didn’t include Cappadocia in our 7 day itinerary because it seemed so inconvenient to everything else in Turkey. That would have been a huge mistake – it was definitely a trip highlight.
Getting from Istanbul to Cappadocia is easiest by plane. Take a 1 hour flight into Kayseri or Nevsehir airports and then an hour drive to your hotel. The least expensive, most direct route is the overnight bus that takes you right to Gorëme, the main downtown area.
You should plan at least 2 nights here so you have 2 chances to watch or take a hot air balloon flight in case there are weather issues. Cappadocia has some really interesting and fun things to see but it’s pretty touristy, which is why 2-3 days is plenty.
Things to do in Cappadocia
There are many tour companies who serve this area. You can easily find them through your hotel. If you prefer sightseeing on your own, it’s completely doable. For those that are limited on time or want a tour guide that will take care of everything, you should check out the red, green and blue tours that will take you to multiple locations.
Hot Air Balloon Ride
Cappadocia is world famous for hot air ballooning. The experience was spectacular. There are 2 take off times so you are able to fly and enjoying watching them afterwards. Make sure you book in advance. There are 150 balloons a day that are regularly full. The prices vary between $180-250 per person for a 1 hour balloon ride and champagne toast.
Visiting the Valleys
If you plan to take a hot air balloon flight, you will get a bird’s eye view of the Cappadocia valleys. You should also go visit them on foot. We did a Sunset ATV Tour to Love Valley, Red Valley and Rose Valley. It’s a great place to hike and experience the fascinating landscape.
One of the top things to do in Cappadocia is see all the different valleys. The landscape is otherworldly and there are interesting caves everywhere. We opted for a 2 hour sunset ATV tour with some local guides. Plan to get dirty and wear something that can cover your face, hence my goofy outfit below!
Pasabag (Monk’s Valley) above right is a popular spot to visit. It’s on the road to Zelve where there is an open air market you can check out. You’ll see excellent examples of fairy chimneys and you can walk into the caves where monks lived.
There are 200 underground cities in Cappadocia. The most famous and largest is Derinkuyu. Going 200 feet underground, it could house 20,000 people including their livestock stables. If you are claustrophobic, skip this.
Kaymakli, an underground city that’s further away, was discovered in 1963 when a local found a room behind a wall in his house. I’ve had dreams where I find a hallway and realize that my house was so much bigger than I thought, but could you imagine finding a whole city!!
Stay in a Cave Hotel
Staying in a cave hotel is a prime attraction in the area. We stayed at Local Cave House because they had the super cool pool and we were only staying for a day so we wanted to be walking distance from town. In town there was an impressive rug store and lots of delicious restaurants. Some other great choices that are a little more upscale:
- Sultan Cave Suites is also centrally located and very popular because of the incredible view. They have a beautiful set up for you to get amazing balloon photos at the crack of dawn.
- Museum Hotel – This is probably the most sought after upscale cave hotel because of the stunning balloon views and beautiful pool.
Bodrum Peninsula – 2 Days
Bodrum is known for its luxurious seaside hotels, and Nikki Beach Resort & Spa Bodrum is a total stand out! The private pool, turquoise coast villas have “to die for” unobstructed views of Torba Bay. Our first thought, and honestly every thought after was – we want to live here!
You can go totally low key and just enjoy the villa or the hotel’s infinity pool. If you have kids, there’s a nice family beach. OR, you can live it up at the next door Nikki Beach Club with live music and fun party scene.
Other Things to Do in Bodrum
- Spend an afternoon in Bodrum. The charming harbor town has restaurants and souvenir shopping.
- Take a day cruise from Bodrum harbor on a wooden Gulet boat and spend a leisurely afternoon exploring the coastline and bays.
- This is a great place to hop over to Greece. You can begin the journey to Santorini or just do a day trip to the island of Kos. It’s only a 40 minute ferry ride to be in another country.
- Take a day trip to Ephesus or Pamukkale.
Related Post: 3 Days in Santorini Itinerary
Ancient City of Ephesus – 1/2 Day
From Istanbul or Cappadocia, fly into Izmir airport. Ephesus can also be visited as a day trip from Bodrum. This UNESCO World Heritage site was the 4th largest city in the Roman Empire. A veritable who’s who of famous figures spent time in Ephesus including Paul the Apostle, Alexander the Great, Anthony and Cleopatra. Pretty mind blowing, right!
The thing that really struck me here with the grand size of everything. The theater that held 25,000 spectators, the Arcadian Way, a 500 meter marble road lined with 50 streetlights and shops that connected the theater to the sea and the ancient Library of Celsus that housed 12,000-15,000 scrolls shown above.
You should definitely use a tour guide here to learn all of the historical significance. Hours: 8am – 5pm (7pm April to October). Plan your visit to be at the opening or the late afternoon to avoid big tour groups and the heat.
Why We Left Pamukkale Off Our Turkey Itinerary
On a 7 day Turkey trip, you have to pick and choose what to include on the itinerary. We opted not to go to Pamukkale because it’s a trek to get there and many of the pools that look beautiful in photos are dried up. Before you head to Pamukkale, check out Trip Advisor where people post current conditions and photos so you can decide if you want to visit.
How to Get a Turkish Visa
How to Get Around in Turkey
- Air travel – the flight system within Turkey is very affordable and there are a surprising amount of flights The 2 main airlines that fly to almost every airport are Turkish Airlines and Pegasus.
- Rental Car – Many people choose this option because the roads are good. One thing to keep in mind is that you will be looking at some long drives. Cappadocia to Istanbul is 10-12 hours. Cappadocia to Ephesus is 12-14 hours.
- Bus – The distances are the same as the car rides but someone else is doing the driving and you can take the bus overnight. If you are looking for the budget option, this is it.
- Train – The train doesn’t easily go everywhere in Turkey but it does go to some places. It seems too complicated to get around this way.
Is it Safe to Travel to Turkey
The #1 question we were asked about traveling to Turkey – is it safe? The #2 question – did we feel safe? All of the areas we visited on our 7 day Turkey itinerary were safe according to the Travel.State.Gov website. The area of Turkey near the Syrian border is and has been off limits for some time but we were no where near there.
Here are the links to the the current status of Turkey for American citizens and British citizens. My advice for anyone is to look up any country you plan to visit and follow the Government recommendations.
As things can change, it’s always a good idea to purchase travel insurance in case you need to change your trip due to some unfortunate change. World Nomads is a great travel insurance plan that will cover you for trip cancellation or emergency medical expenses and they have 24 hour assistance when you need help.
Best Time to Go to Turkey
We went to Turkey in May and the weather was perfect! The most comfortable months are April-May and September-October. Visiting during the shoulder season will allow you to avoid crowds and hot temperatures.
- Istanbul is hot and swarming with tourists in June-August. The shoulder season of April/May and September/October is pleasant weather wise but expect some rain like we had in May. November – March has cooler temps and rain but you’ll be free of the tourist crowds.
- Cappadocia – You can go year round, but balloon flights can be cancelled due to weather. If you are going during an iffy weather time, stay an extra day to get an extra chance at flying or seeing the balloons fly. Best months are April, May, September and October. June – August is HOT! The winter gets snow. We had perfect weather in May.
- Bodrum – High season in Bodrum is July and August. If you prefer a more relaxing vacation with great weather, go in May, June, or September. Some hotels shut down during the off season.
We hope this 7 Day Turkey Itinerary helps you plan your trip and fall in love with this country the way we did. To make a shorter trip, you’ll have to decide between Cappadocia and the Turkish Riviera.
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