Are you overwhelmed trying to plan a trip to Turkey? Don’t know where to go and what to see in Turkey? Believe me, I was in your shoes just a few months ago. Turkey is such a massive country with so many cities to visit, it’s hard to figure out where to start, let alone how to get around, where to stay and what to do in each destination.
If you’re feeling a bit lost, read on for an easy, customizable 14 day Turkey itinerary for first time visitors to the country that straddles 2 continents.
Is this Turkey itinerary right for me?
Turkey is a big country, and one of the biggest travel mistakes you can make when planning your Turkey itinerary is underestimating the time it takes to travel between cities. Personally, if it is your first time I would not recommend spending 7 days in Turkey as you won’t be able to cover much ground – it’s best to aim for no less than 10 days to 2 weeks in Turkey.
If you’ve read my overly ambitious 6-day road trip guide for Mainland Greece, you’ll know that I do not like wasting time. This Turkey itinerary is for you if you:
- don’t want to waste time traveling between destinations…
- …but also want to take in the sights without feeling rushed
- don’t want to travel with a tour group
- are comfortable renting a car in Turkey
- are happy to take a few domestic flights to save time
- are a first-time visitor and want a taste of what Turkey has to offer
Is it safe to travel to Turkey?
The country underwent an attempted coup in July 2016 and has experienced political unrest over the past couple of years. A state of emergency was imposed after the coup attempt but has since been lifted in 2018. There have also been a number of attacks in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and other Turkish cities.
Multiple governments have travel advisories telling its citizens to reconsider traveling to Turkey. Should you cancel your travel plans? It depends. From personal experience, we experienced nothing but warm hospitality from the Turkish people, except for some minor scams here and there – 1 taxi driver in Istanbul overcharged us by almost 5 times the normal rate, and a shopkeeper in Cappadocia tried to scam us out of 60 bucks when we exchanged our US Dollars to Turkish Lira.
But that’s not to say that you shouldn’t be aware and cautious, just as you would at home or abroad in any other country. Here are a few precautions to take according to the U.S. Department of State:
- Stay alert in locations frequented by Westerners
- Avoid demonstrations and crowds
- Stay at hotels with identifiable security measures
- Monitor local media and adjust your plans based on new information
Most governments also agree that you should avoid traveling to the border region with Syria.
Essential Turkey travel tips
- You need an e-Visa to enter Turkey – Rates vary depending on nationality and you can apply for your visa ahead of time on the official Turkish government e-visa website here.
- Turkish currency – The Turkish Lira (TL) is used in the country and the exchange rate is approximately 5.8 TL: 1 USD or 6.8 TL: 1 Euro. Euros and USD are occasionally also accepted (and sometimes preferred) by shops and tour companies.
- Weather – When we visited in September, it was already significantly cooler in Istanbul than other coastal areas like Izmir, Alacati, Fethiye and Oludeniz. The temperature in spring and autumn dips, and the country experiences snow during the winter months.
- Best time to visit Turkey – In general, tourism numbers are far lower than they have historically been, so in my opinion there is no “bad” time to visit Turkey if you want to avoid tourist crowds. However, the weather is more pleasant from April to about October/November, after which it can get bitterly cold.
- Language – Turkish is the most spoken language in Istanbul, and most people, especially those in hospitality or food & beverage, speak English very well so you shouldn’t have a problem with communication.
- Dress code in Turkey – Most people in Turkey are Muslim, yet Turkey as a whole is not extremely conservative. Men can walk around with sleeveless tops and female tourists are not required to wear headscarves. The only exception is when you enter a mosque, in which case you will need to abide by the dress code (in general, men must wear long trousers and women must cover their hair, arms and knees). That being said, to be respectful of cultural norms I wouldn’t recommend walking around with too much exposed skin.
- Invest in the Museum Pass – The Museum Pass Turkey is a great card to purchase if you are visiting multiple cities in Turkey. It is accepted at most museums and archaeological sites including ones in Istanbul, Ephesus, Pamukkale and Fethiye and allows you to skip-the-queue – all you need to do is swipe or present the card at the entrance and you can sail right in. The Museum Pass Turkey is valid for 15 days and currently costs 315 TL though the price does tend to go up every year. Nevertheless, you end up saving a lot in entrance fees if you put it to good use. It can be purchased at pretty much any landmark that accepts it.
- Booking hotels in Turkey – You can not book hotels in Turkey using Booking.com when you are already in Turkey, as it has been blocked by the Turkish government (so has Wikipedia, and they’re looking to extend the ban to other websites including AirBnB and Expedia). Instead, make sure you book hotels for your stay in Turkey before your trip, or use Hotels.com or HotelsCombined for any last-minute hotel bookings that you need to make when you are already in the country. These two websites don’t appear to be blocked – yet – but either way you’ll want to book ahead, especially if you’re visiting during the peak travel season.
How to get around Turkey
There are a number of options to get around Turkey. We ended up traveling around using a combination of domestic flights, rental car, scooter (in Cappadocia) and by public transportation or on foot. You can also take buses if you are on a budget.
At the beginning of our trip, we flew into Istanbul and immediately caught a domestic flight to Cappadocia as the drive would have taken 10-12 hours. Next, we caught another domestic flight from Cappadocia to Izmir and rented a Hyundai i20 car from Alamo to travel from Izmir-Ephesus-Fethiye-Pamukkale-Alacati-Izmir. It cost us just US$110 for 8 days and tolls are virtually non-existent in Turkey.
For any drives longer than 5-6 hours I would recommend trying to take a domestic flight. Sometimes it’s just easier to fly between cities as there are many domestic flights and they are reasonably priced. After dropping the car off at Izmir we then ended the trip by flying back to Istanbul and spending our last 3 days in Turkey in the capital city.
14 day Turkey itinerary
Turkey surprised me. There, I said it. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I did not expect it to be as diverse as it was, especially as most of what you read in news headlines doesn’t exactly paint the country in the most positive light. In just 2 weeks, we explored archaeological ruins; swam off the Turquoise Coast; saw dolphins in the Bosphorus Strait; visited palaces, museums and mosques; sampled a plethora or Turkish cuisine; soared above otherworldly terrain in a hot air balloon and much much more.
My biggest tip for visiting Turkey is this: keep an open mind. The country is rich in history and culture, and the landscapes are unreal. Here is how I recommend spending 2 weeks in Turkey!
Note: We did a “big loop” from Istanbul-Cappadocia-Izmir, and then a “small loop” from Izmir-Ephesus-Fethiye-Pamukkale-Alacati. This itinerary is also do-able in reverse and is a rough guide to help you decide how many days to spend in each city. We did it this way to minimize our time on the road and to cover as much ground as possible in just 2 weeks in Turkey.
Day 1-4: Cappadocia (3 nights)
Cappadocia is an iconic Turkey travel destination, and it is one of the most popular places in the world to go hot air ballooning – but as we learned, there’s more to Cappadocia than hot air balloons, carpet shops and Instagram rooftops. To get there, we got off our long-haul flight in Istanbul and hopped straight onto a domestic flight to Cappadocia – you can fly into either Kayseri (Erkilet International Airport or ASR) or Nevşehir (Nevşehir Kapadokya Airport or NAV).
Don’t overlook what the region has to offer beyond ballooning, because it is also home to sprawling underground cities, a plethora of viewpoints, open air museums and archaeological sites. You’ll want to spend at least 3 nights here to explore the region, and you’ll need a few “back-up” mornings in case your hot air balloon ride is cancelled (which does happen!) and you need to reschedule.
Don’t miss Uchisar Castle, the Goreme Open Air Museum, the Pasabag Fairy Chimneys, Rose Valley, Derinkuyu Underground City and book a hot air balloon ride. For more information about what to do in Cappadocia click here.
Hotel recommendation for Cappadocia: The majority of the hotels are located in Göreme, Ürgüp and Uçhisar, but in my opinion, the best place to stay in Cappadocia is in Göreme as the town has lots of tour companies, grocery stores, restaurants and hotels. Hanzade Suites is located right off the main street in Goreme and is within walking distance to the Goreme Sunset Point. Our room was spacious and cozy, and the rooftop is a great place to hang out for tea or coffee – you can also watch the balloons fly overhead in the mornings. Click here to check current rates at Hanzade Suites or head on over here to see other highly rated hotel options in Cappadocia!
Day 4-5: Ephesus via Izmir (1 night)
The ancient Greek (and later, Roman) city of Ephesus is home to some of the most wondrous UNESO-listed ruins in the world including the Library of Celsus and the Great Theatre. Present day Ephesus is located in Selçuk.
We left Cappadocia on the morning of the 4th day and took a flight to Izmir (there are direct flights between Cappadocia and Izmir during the summer months, or flights via Istanbul during the other months of the year). From there, we drove just under an hour to Selcuk and arrived in the early evening. After a light dinner, we turned in for the night to wake up refreshed and energized to go sightseeing on the morning of the 5th day.
The Ephesus ruins can easily be explored within 2 hours, and you should also stop at the Ephesus Archaeological Museum and Temple of Artemis. Don’t miss the Library of Celsus, the Terrace Houses and the Antique Theatre. Click here for more information on visiting the UNESCO-listed ancient city of Ephesus in 1 day.
To make the most of your time in Turkey, move onto the next top after you’ve explored Ephesus – 1 night in Selcuk is enough.
Hotel recommendation for Selcuk: I recommend Akanthus Hotel Ephesus, just minutes away from the ancient ruins. It is a beautiful and cosy boutique hotel with elegant, country chic decor. The owner is incredibly welcoming and the staff are very helpful and warm. The hotel also has a pool for those extra warm days and free street parking outside. Click here to check current rates at Akanthus Hotel Ephesus or click here to see other highly rated options in Selcuk. Prefer to stay overnight in Izmir instead? Here are some popular hotels in Izmir.
Day 5-8: Fethiye (3 nights)
After leaving Ephesus in the early afternoon, we drove south for about 5 hours and arrived in Fethiye (with a quick stop in Dalyan) in the early evening. Fethiye was once known as the ancient city of “Telmessos”, one of the most important cities of the Lycian civilization. It is located in the Aegeon region in southwest Turkey, about 4 hours south from Izmir.
Fethiye is surrounded by outrageously cool heritage sites, archaeological wonders, pristine beaches and lagoons and towering mountains. It’s also one of the best places in the world to go paragliding, or you can watch the paragliders take off one after the other from Mount Babadağ.
Don’t miss the Ölüdeniz Blue Lagoon, a day trip around the ultra blue bays of Fethiye, Butterfly Valley and the the Amyntas Rock Tomb. Click here for the best things to do in Fethiye!
Hotel recommendation for Fethiye: Book yourself into Yacht Boheme Hotel, an adults-only beach chic hotel steps away from the marina. The decor is beautiful and very bohemian, the rooms are extremely spacious and the breakfast spread is amazing and fresh. The hotel is just a 5 minute stroll away from the “downtown” area of Fethiye with restaurants and shops, and there is also free parking – the staff even provides valet services at no extra cost. Click here to check current rates at Yacht Boheme Hotel (Adults Only) in Fethiye or head on over here to see some other highly rated hotel options in Fethiye and Oludeniz.
Day 8-9: Pamukkale (via Kayaköy and Tlos) (1 night)
After a glorious 3 nights in Fethiye, we reluctantly peeled ourselves away from the water and made our way towards Pamukkale in Denizli province. Enroute, we stopped at Kayaköy and Tlos: Kayaköy is less than half an hour away from Fethiye and is a ghost village that was once home to nearly 20,000 Greek Orthodox residents.
The Tlos ruins are only about 40 minutes away from Fethiye, and it is believed that the hero Bellerophon once resided in Tlos. Bellerophon was a Greek hero credited with slaying the dreaded Chimera, a monster with a lion’s head, goat’s body and a serpent’s tail. You can read more about Kayaköy and Tlos here.
Next, make your way onwards to Pamukkale, or Turkey’s “cotton castle”, one of the most spectacular natural landscapes in the world. Pamukkale was formed when a spring with a high content of calcium bicarbonate cascaded over the edge of the mountain cliff, which cooled and hardened leaving white-coloured calcium deposits and aquamarine mineral-rich water.
We stayed overnight in Pamukkale and visited the travertines on the morning of the 9th day – you should only need a few hours to see the travertines and the Hieropolis ruins. Head on over here for more tips on visiting Pamukkale and how to be a responsible visitor at the travertines.
Hotel recommendation for Pamukkale: The town of Pamukkale has very limited accommodation options and Bellamaritimo Hotel is probably your best bet for a 1-2 night stay in the area. Many people plan a day trip to Pamukkale from Bodrum or Izmir, but I would recommend spending 1 night in Pamukkale so that you can visit the travertines early in the morning. Click here to see availability and current rates at Bellamaritimo Hotel, or head on over here for some other hotel options near the Pamukkale travertines.
Day 9-11: Alaçatı (2 nights)
We left Pamukkale around noon after visiting the travertines on day 9, and drove to Alaçatı in just under 4 hours. Alaçatı (pronounced “Ala-cha-ti”) is a small town just a hop and skip away from Izmir on the west coast of Turkey. The charming town is a hidden gem that most people haven’t heard of, and the majority of first-time visitors leave Alaçati off their Turkey itinerary.
Alaçati is not one of those places where you follow a list of things to do to the letter. There aren’t a ton of landmarks, archaeological sites or museums to add to a checklist – instead, wander through the cobblestone streets and check out the colourful buildings. Read more about what to do in Alaçati here.
Hotel recommendation for Alaçati: I recommend staying at GAIA ALACATI, a stylish boutique hotel in the heart of the old town. One of the best parts of the small boutique property is the enclosed internal courtyard-slash-restaurant where you can get your fix of mouthwatering food and drinks. Click here to check current rates at GAIA ALAÇATI or head on over here to see even more Alacati boutique hotels!
Day 11-14: Istanbul (3 nights)
On the morning of day 11 in Turkey, we drove back to Izmir to return the rental car and hopped on a short flight to Istanbul. End your 2 weeks in Turkey in the capital city, Istanbul. Go on a food tour around the city, visit the 17th century Egyptian Bazaar, wander through the Grand Bazaar, tour the Topkapi Palace Museum and visit the famous Blue Mosque just to name a few. Head on over here for more ideas of things to do in Istanbul!
Istanbul is a fantastic place to start your Turkey adventure or to end your trip – you’ll want to spend a minimum of 2 to 3 nights in Istanbul to make the most of your time in the city.
Hotel recommendation for Istanbul: We stayed in the Beyoglu district, just steps away from the Galata Tower and Istiklal Street. Pera Neuf is a stylish and classy yet comfortable boutique apartment in the thick of it all. We loved how clean the apartment was – the beds are extremely comfortable and the shower pressure is fantastic. Click here to check current rates and availability at Pera Neuf or click here to see other centrally-located and highly-rated accommodation options in Istanbul!
Other suggestions for your Turkey itinerary
Have more than 2 weeks in Turkey? If you are able to spend 3 weeks in Turkey you might want to add a few of these destinations to your itinerary: Kaş, Apollo’s Temple in Didim, Mount Nemrut in eastern Turkey, Pergamon or Troy.
I hope this Turkey 2 week itinerary helps you to better plan your dream trip, and gives you an idea of how long to stay in each place, what to do and where to stay. You can easily shave off a few days here and there or skip a destination to convert this into a 10 day Turkey itinerary. Been to Turkey before? Leave a comment below with your favorite landmark!
Click here for more Turkey travel tips and guides or you can read more on what not to do in Turkey over here
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