The ultimate 10 day Turkey itinerary for first timers
Is it Asia or Europe? Turkey is both – the best of two continents in just one country.
At first, it may appear that Turkey mostly suits cultural travelers. After all, it sits on the cusp of both Europe and Asia, so it’s no wonder that the Turkish heritage is a fascinating fusion of various cultures.
By finely balancing age-old traditions with modern influences, Turkey promises travelers an unforgettable experience.
Here’s the thing – Turkey is an amazing destination for literally every kind of traveler. Adventure seekers, backpackers, families, fantasy landscape chasers, pilgrims, and party travelers – all will love Turkey for the same as well as different reasons.
I’m not much of a cultural traveler but I’m always in search of fantastic landscapes. I traveled to Turkey mainly because I had seen photos of Cappadocia‘s surreal structures that looked something like a fantasy movie. Moreover, I really wanted to sit in Pamukkale‘s blue and white natural pools.
Yes, I did everything that I wanted to do, and even more. Believe it or not, I fell in love with the culture in Turkey despite claiming not to be a cultural traveler.
If you’re looking for a destination with fantasy-movie like strange beauty, rich history, amazing culture, insane bazaars, and good food then you really have to visit Turkey. The best part – Turkey is affordable. After all, Turkish Airlines runs promos for cheap flights to Turkey from many places in the world.
Alright, now that I have sold Turkey as a travel destination for you, I’d like to share my highly researched itinerary for Turkey that I personally made for myself. It includes Istanbul, Cappadocia, Pamukkale, and Ephesus.
There is a lot to see and do in Istanbul and Cappadocia, so you will spend most of your time there if you follow my itinerary. Pamukkale and Ephesus can be covered in a short time but can get extremely crowded during the mid-day because most of the people head there for a day trip. No, as per my itinerary, you will visit these places early enough and stay the night nearby for a more relaxing experience.
Rather than searching through various Turkey itineraries to find the one that best suits your interests, I will share golden nuggets on how to spend 10 days in Turkey. From information about how to move from point A to B and where to see the best sunsets, our Turkey trip planner has you covered.
Istanbul Activities to Book
Cappadocia Activities to Book
Pamukkale Activities to Book
Ephesus Activities to Book
- Ephesus & Temple of Artemis Shore Excursion (skip the line)
Istanbul Hotel Recommendations
Cappadocia Hotel Recomendations
Pamukkale Hotel Recomendations
Selçuk (for Ephesus) Hotel Recommendations
The Ultimate Turkey Itinerary
Table of Contents
Day 1: Arrive in Istanbul
Start off your trip to Turkey by arriving in the bustling city of Istanbul. Your first day of Istanbul itinerary will be light and relaxed and yet will highlight the captivating history and culture of the city. You will return to Istanbul towards the end of your trip and that’s when you will visit the majority of important landmarks.
Hippodrome of Constantinople [Sultan Ahmet Square]
The best place to start off after touchdown is Sultanahmet Square. Today, Sultanahmet Square is a historical area that is filled with various iconic attractions, and within close walking distance to other major landmarks such as Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. In the past, the square was the Hippodrome of Constantinople, the social and sporting center of the Byzantine Empire.
Take your time to discover the Serpent Column, the Obelisk of Thutmose, the Walled Obelisk, and the German Fountain before making your way to Gulhane Park. It is nice to walk around here in the evenings and see the colorful fountain. The minarets of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia look spectacular when they’re lit up.
Gulhane Park is a short 10-minute walk from Sultanahmet Square and offers a relaxing, tranquil escape from the busyness of Istanbul’s tourist center. The historical, urban park stretches alongside the famous Topkapi Palace, and even extends to its grounds.
Your first day in Istanbul serves as an introduction to the rich history that resonates across the whole country. Take the time to soak it in and prepare for the rest of your Turkey itinerary.
Day 2: Istanbul to Cappadocia, Spend the night in Goreme
Waking up early enough to make the most of your day, prepare to have your mind blown as you leave Istanbul. Cappadocia awaits!
How to Reach Cappadocia from Istanbul?
It is easy to reach Cappadocia from Istanbul. The simplest way is by catching a flight. Cappadocia has two airports – Kayseri Erkilet Airport (ASR) in Kayseri and Nevşehir Kapadokya Airport (NAV). The flights are usually not expensive if you book in advance. However, if you’re traveling on a budget, then you may want to get on an overnight bus from Istanbul to Cappadocia. Look for a ticket on Metro Turizm’s website.
After an easy one-and-a-half-hour flight, you’ll arrive in Cappadocia, the breathtaking semi-arid region known best for its honeycombed hills. Cappadocia has a reputation as a fairytale destination, whimsical in nature and magnificent in beauty. We recommend that you make sure that your camera (or phone) is fully charged before arriving.
Head to Goreme
Cappadocia is unreal – you will see caves, fairy chimneys, weird formations, and giant mushrooms. The best part – you can stay in a cave too! Cappadocia is massive and has around 10 towns (or villages) but I recommend you stay in Goreme. It is super lively and you can walk to the main town center from most parts.
Prepare to spend the night at one of the cave hotels in Goreme. While Gerome has several amazing accommodation options to choose from, we’d definitely recommend the Sultan Cave Suites. The unique hotel offers cave rooms perched on top of Aydinli Hill.
Derinkuyu underground city, Ihlara Valley, Pigeon Valley
Now that you’ve found your nest, it’s time to explore the wonder of Cappadocia. There are many different tours that are available in Cappadocia because there’s so much to see. However, I joined the Green Tour with New Goreme Tours. The reason why I picked this tour was because it includes places that I knew I definitely wanted to see, but couldn’t reach myself by walking. The Green Tour takes you to explore Derinkuyu underground city, marvel at the view from Ugrup Panorama Point, and includes a traditional Turkish lunch.
Sunset Point in Goreme
After going back to the comfort of the Sultan Cave Suites for a well-deserved rest, you’ll go for an evening stroll to Goreme Sunset Point before bed. The insurmountable beauty of this view is sure to stay with you for a lifetime.
Day 3: Hot Air Balloon Ride in Cappadocia + Göreme Exploration
Let’s face it – people visit Cappadocia from all over the world to experience the famous hot air balloon ride over the fairy chimneys. This is how you will start your day today.
Hot Air Balloon Ride in Cappadocia
On your third day in Turkey, you get to tick off one of the most iconic activities in the region – soaring above the ground in a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia. Because of this, the Lonely Planet says – “Turkey is Balloon filled skies”.
After a restful night in the Sultan Cave Suites, you’ll get picked up around 4:30 a.m. by the balloon company.
Prepare yourself for the magical experience that is to come as you watch the incredible sunrise while climbing 3000 feet above the ground. Ready yourself to take pictures of the fairy chimneys, volcanic spires, and unique architecture of the buildings below.
You’ll get dropped off at your hotel in the mid-morning, giving you enough time to catch a nap and relax before grabbing lunch.
Göreme Open Air Museum
Once your belly is satisfied by the tasty flavors of Turkey, head over to Goreme Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It includes the most magnificent rock-cut churches, beautiful frescoes, and rock-formed architecture.
Zemi Valley, a.k.a., Love Valley
If you still have energy, make your way to the nearby Zemi Valley for a hike. It is very close to the Goreme Open Air Museum. It is also known as Love Valley because of it’s penis-shaped structures – or more politely called the fairy chimneys. The route is advertised to cover a distance of 3.3 miles and is easy enough to be able to enjoy the surrounding view.
Sunset in Red Valley, Cappadocia
Finally, end your day by catching the sunset in Red Valley, which also happens to be our top choice for Instagram-worthy spots in Cappadocia. This promises to be the perfect way to end your day before returning to sleep in Ottoman Cave.
Day 4: Breakfast with a view of balloons + Night in Uchisar
You will hate me for including another early morning activity in your Cappadocia itinerary, but you will totally thank me when you see the view.
The thing is, Cappadocia isn’t the place for a late-night, late-morning kind of trip. The nightlife is pretty nonexistent, thanks to the early morning hot air balloon rides. Cappadocia’s sunrises and sunsets are epic, so make sure you wake up early every day.
Breakfast with a view of Balloons at Sultan Cave Suites
Day 4 of your Turkey 10-day itinerary starts off brightly by catching the sunrise and enjoying a hearty breakfast at Sultan Cave Suites before heading to Uchisar.
This particular spot is the most Instagrammed place in Cappadocia, thanks to the Do You Travel and Gypsy Lust duo. The location is perfect because of the nearby fairy chimneys. Moreover, the sky looks amazing as it gets flooded with hundreds of hot air balloons while the sun rises.
Kale Konak Cave Hotel, Uchisar
Once in Uchisar, the highest point in Cappadocia, check in at Kale Konak Cave Hotel.
From here, make your way to Gumusler Monastery. Turkey was the center of the Byzantine Empire, and the Gumusler Monastery is a cave monastery that reflects this history. It is carved out of a large rock and is considered one of the best-preserved in the region.
Sunset at Uchisar Castle
Next, head to Uchisar Castle. The castle is a fascinating rock citadel that is perched on a rock spur. The views from the top are out of this world. We’d recommend that you get there around 5:30 pm or 6 pm so that you can explore before watching the sun dip behind the fascinating rock formations.
While you are in the area, choose from the many wonderful Turkish restaurants and enjoy dinner before heading back for the night at Kale Konak Cave Hotel.
Day 5: Cappadocia to Denizli, Pamukkale
How to Reach Pamukkale from Cappadocia
Having wrung every ounce of goodness from Cappadocia, it’s time to fly to Denizli. You can choose to fly to Denizli from either Kayseri or Nevsehir Airport. If you’re lucky to find a direct flight, it shouldn’t take you longer than an hour and 15 minutes. As of 2020, there aren’t any direct flights from any of the Cappadocia airports to Denzili. You will have to book a flight that makes a stop in Istanbul.
Denizli city is slightly more industrial but is surrounded by beautiful valleys and natural sites. When you arrive in Denzili by flight, it is very easy to reach Pamukkale because there are shuttles from the airport after every flight. These shuttles typically cost 13 TLs. The trip is short and shouldn’t take longer than 15 minutes to half an hour. Pamukkale village will be your home for the night.
Arrive in Pamukkale, Check in at Ozbay Hotel.
Directly translated, Pamukkale means “cotton castle” in Turkish. It is a mineral-rich natural site that boasts thermal waters that flow over white calcite travertines (terraces). The area is regularly frequented by day travelers who travel to dip into the pools, but we would definitely recommend that you spend the night here, explore the small village, and visit the thermal pools in the morning without crowds like I did.
I highly recommend booking a room in Ozbay Hotel, Pamukkale. It is literally 1-minute walk from the calcium pools. It is a pretty hotel and absolutely loved their breakfast. Yum! Staying the night will also allow you to enjoy the rest of the village, further exploring the ancient ruins in the area.
Explore Pamukkale Village and Market
The white travertine pools are the main highlight of Pamukkale but we will leave that for tomorrow morning. Today is the day to walk around and explore Pamukkale’s little market. This market is a good place to buy handmade souvenirs because it is much cheaper as compared to other places in Turkey.
A shuttle to Pamukkale should cost you around 13 Turkish Lira (TL).
Day 6: Explore Pamukkale
Pamukkale Thermal Pools
Having spent a large portion of the day before traveling, your sixth day in Turkey is dedicated to exploring the surreal environment and travertine thermal pools of Pamukkale. Start your day early and reach Pamukkale’s travertine pools by 8 am to avoid crowds.
The beautiful, white, terraced waters invite travelers to indulge in the offerings of the ‘spa town’. The pools offer a great way to unwind and relax while enjoying the beauty of the surroundings.
Walk around Pamukkale’s mineral-rich formations, sit inside one of the pools, and make dozens of pretty photos. Spend enough time here so that you can check out the other attractions within this complex.
While you’re exploring Pamukkale’s travertine complex, there’s another famous pool that you can enjoy here – the Cleopatra’s Pools, also known as the Antique Pool.
Unlike the other pools in the area, Cleopatra’s pool is privately owned and a cost of 30 – 35 TL is required upon entry.
As tempting as it is to wallow in the ‘healing waters’ of the hot springs all day, you also need to visit Hierapolis, the ancient Roman city. Don’t worry – everything is right next to each other in the same complex. The settlement boasts a fascinating history, and iconic attractions such as the Hierapolis Theatre, Necropolis, and Museum.
Lunch in Pamukkale
Get out of the Travertine complex and check out of your hotel. Leave your luggage there or carry it with you to the market where you can spend some time in a restaurant. Enjoy a nice Turkish lunch in Pamukkale before you head to Ephesus. Actually, you won’t be staying in Ephesus but in the nearby town Selçuk.
Pamukkale to Selcuk
Pamukkale and Selçuk are just 2.5 hours away from each other by road, so this journey is very easy if you do it in a rental car or entirely on a taxi. If you’re two or more in number, then a taxi makes sense and the cost isn’t so high when you split it up. The taxi journey will cost you around $60.
Another way of reaching Selcuk from Pamukkale is by hopping on a bus from Denzili. By now you surely know that Denzili town isn’t far from Pamukkale, so you can get here on taxi. From Denzili, get on a Kamil Koc bus to Selçuk.
Day 7: Explore Ephesus
Selçuk to Ephesus
Having spent one week in Turkey, Ephesus introduces a new and exciting adventure to your trip. Depending on where your hotel is in Selcuk, you can choose to bicycle or walk to Ephesus over a distance of roughly 4 kilometers (2.5 miles).
Explore Ephesus – the Walled Ruins
If you want to make the most of your Turkey itinerary 7 days in, then we suggest you get an early start. The lost city of Ephesus has a lot to explore, and you want to get the most out of it before all of the day-trippers arrive.
Alternatively, you can visit it right before the complex closes when it isn’t so crowded. The complex closes at 7 p.m. during summer months and 5:00 p.m. during winter months. You may want to check the official website for more information.
Enter Ephesus at the lower gate, which is closer to Selcuk town. The entire city of Ephesus is a World Heritage Center and a shining example of Greek and Roman architecture and history. Whether or not you are a history-lover, Ephesus is sure to leave you in awe at the marvelous ruins that tell stories of centuries gone by in the ancient port city.
Some key sights to include on your agenda are the Library of Celsus and Ephesus Amphitheater – arrive at these places early to avoid the queues.
Ephesus Outside the Walled Ruins
There are things to see outside the walled ruins too. These attractions are close to the Lower Gate. The Temple of Artemis, Basilica of St. John, Isa Bey Mosque, Ayasoluk Castle, and Ephesus Archaeological Museum among many others.
Evening in Selçuk
After soaking up as much history and culture as you possibly can, spend a relaxing evening with a beer and cool off at Denis Bar or Dplphin Bar. Both these bars are in the main town center.
Prepare to leave the next day for Istanbul on a flight. Alternatively, you can also catch an overnight bus to Istanbul from Selçuk by Varan Bus lines.
Day 8: Arrive in Istanbul, Cruise over Bosphorus
If you chose to spend the previous night resting in Selcuk, then the morning of your eighth day in Turkey will start off with a morning flight from Izmir to Istanbul. If you took the bus, you’ll also arrive sometime in the morning. Check into your Istanbul hotel of choice, and head straight to a Turkish hamam for a relaxing massage.
These hammams are all over the city and offer a variety of services. You can choose from a self-service option, a traditional hammam that offers the real Turkish bath experience, or other styles which include aromatherapy massages, reflexology, and facial clay masks.
Sunset cruise over Bosphorous River
After your hammam experience, you should feel rested and revived. Make your way to the Bosphorus River, the notorious river that separates the continents of Europe and Asia.
Kick back, relax and enjoy a sunset cruise on the Bosphorus River, taking in the unique perspective of the city.
Nightlife in Istanbul – Bosphorus Area
Unlike most of the trip – you won’t need to wake up early for the next 2 – 3 days so take time to explore Istanbul’s party scene.
One of the most popular and scenic spots for nightlife in Istanbul is the Bosphorus area. Here you will find many places where you can enjoy your food and drinks with a view of the Bosphorus Sea.
Head to Beer Point or Taps Bebek for good beer. If you want to get fancy, head to Sortie – the most lively (and expensive) place to party in Istanbul.
Day 9: Explore Historical Istanbul (and Dan Brown’s Istanbul)
Istanbul has got so much to offer, and as your trip draws to a close, it’s time to put on your comfortable walking shoes and prepare to explore the historical Istanbul. If you are a fan of Dan Brown’s Inferno, you’ll recognize a lot of these attractions from the adventures of Robert Langdon.
There are a few must-see attractions that can’t be missed and need to be added to your Istanbul itinerary. These are all located near one another and can be explored in one go.
Sultan Ahmed Mosque [the Blue Mosque]
It is commonly known as the Blue Mosque, The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is one of the most visited mosques by travelers. It has six minarets that you can spot from a distance. The interiors look spectacular with ceramic tiles, blue paint, and stained glass windows that let the natural light in. To make things even more awesome, there are 100s of chandeliers inside.
The Blue Mosque has no entry fee because it is a place of worship. When entering the Mosque, please make sure that you are dressed modestly as a sign of respect for the culture.
Many first time visitors are surprised to know that Hagia Sophia was once a Greek orthodox church, was later also a mosque but is now a museum. As of now, it is one of the greatest surviving architectural example of the Byzantine empire. It has been restored a few times and new structures have been added. The minarets were added during the Ottoman time.
The entry fee for Hagia Sophia is 72 Turkish Liras.
The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Hippodrome, and Basilica Cistern are a stone’s throw away from one another, each offering a uniquely special and touching experience. The Galata Bridge and Tower is slightly further away, but still walkable and definitely worth a visit.
Sunset at Galata Bridge and Tower
Walk over the Galata bridge and get on top of the tower to enjoy the sunset. The tower has 9 floors but the lift will only take you till the 7th – so wear comfortable shoes. There is a 360-degree observation deck on top which will give you breathtaking views of Istanbul city.
Drinks and Dinner in Galata District
Galata District is a good spot to enjoy the nightlife in Istanbul. You have had to wake up early on many mornings but the next will start late. Head to Riddim or Mojo in the Galata district to enjoy good music.
Day 10: Bazaars of Istanbul
While Istanbul is rich in history, it is also buzzing with a lively atmosphere. At the center of this culture are a large number of bazaars and markets that can be found in the city. From the sharp and sultry aromas of the Spice Bazaar to the Turkish lanterns and carpets at the Grand Bazaar, the hustle and bustle of the city is unrelenting.
Spice Bazaar (Misir Carsisi)
Spice Bazaar is one of the largest bazaars in Istanbul and is in the Faith District. It has 85 shops that sell spices, tea, dry fruits, nuts and more. It is not to be confused with the Grand Bazaar, which you will visit right after this.
Grand Bazaar is the grandest of all bazaars in Istanbul. It is a covered market with 41 streets. It is the largest and the oldest covered market in the world. You can maybe skip the Spice Bazaar but do not miss the Grand Bazaar because it will offer you the most memorable sights.
The Grand Bazaar is also located in the Faith district and is easy to reach from the Spice Bazaar
The most visited Mosque in Istanbul is the Blue Mosque but it is the Süleymaniye Mosque that’s the grandest. When you are not snacking on the Turkish delight treats or bargaining the price of a golden trinket, make sure that you visit Süleymaniye Mosque, an iconic landmark in Istanbul.
The Ottoman imperial mosque is staggering in size and quite a sight to behold. It is Istanbul’s second largest mosque – you will see it from your Bosphorus cruise and maybe even from the airplane when you land.
Turkey Itinerary, 10 Days Gone
After a whirlwind adventure through Turkey, enjoying the taste of the intricate culture, your Turkish trip has come to an end. From the fascinating, sweeping views of Cappadocia, the ethereal hot springs of Pamukkale, the ancient ruins of Ephesus, and vibrant culture of Istanbul – what more could you ask for? You can now enjoy one of the best Turkey itineraries 10 days long, and full of adventure.
Flying out of Istanbul on day 11 will leave you with a light heart and a mind full of memories. No amount of Turkey travel blogs can fully describe the magnificence of this country, you simply have to go on this adventure and experience it yourself.
Is Turkey Safe to Travel?
Many people warned me before I traveled solo to Turkey and said it wasn’t safe. They also said I should be careful of unwanted male attention. Honestly, I did not face any issues with “unwanted male attention” because many Turkish men helped me.
I still remember how a stranger helped me find my shuttle from Denzili to Pamukkale. On a hot afternoon in Istanbul, a shopkeeper gave me free bottles of cold water while I was hunting for my hostel.
Just when I was about to leave Turkey, I was stranded in Istanbul during the military coup. Bad timing! During this time, a lot of strangers helped me with information, support, and more. My suggestion to you – please read the latest travel advisory before traveling to Turkey.