When most travelers share their bucket list, Turkey does not often make the cut. This is probably the greatest argument for why more people should visit. Simply put, this cultural nexus is not as saturated with tourists from North America and Western Europe. As a country that straddles both Asia and Europe, most of Turkey’s visitors are next-door neighbors from the Mediterranean, but anyone can enjoy themselves here.
Turkey also sits in the Middle East, which often gets a bad rep as a war-torn area. So, it may surprise you to learn that one of the main reasons people visit the area is for rest and relaxation. Tourists can wander the streets, soaking up the culture and frequenting local spas. If you love the idea of occasional pampering amidst a wealth of culture, this is the next destination for you.
Brief History of Turkey
To better understand why so many of its neighbors flock to these cities, a brief history lesson is in order. Turkey’s history dates all the way back to the prehistoric age. In fact, Stone Age artifacts have been discovered in the region. There have also been findings indicating that civilization thrived here during the Bronze Age.
However, the period for which most people recognize Turkey is the Ottoman Era. Bursa, a city located in modern-day Turkey, was the second capital of the Ottoman Empire during this era. The Ottoman Empire eventually spread into Europe, where it posed a threat to Europeans and constantly butt heads with the Eastern Roman Empire.
Like most great empires that grow in power and expand into other territories, it eventually met its match. The Republic of Turkey sprang from the ashes of that defeat in 1923 and spawned a new modern era that was nonetheless firmly grounded in the past.
Where To Go and What To Do There
As you can imagine, Turkey is a large country. It would be impossible to see it all in just five days, so narrowing it down to three major areas can help. Here is a general five-day itinerary for the ambitious tourist:
- Day 1: Arrival in Istanbul
- Day 2: Istanbul
- Day 3: Cappadocia
- Day 4: Izmir
- Day 5: Depart from Istanbul
Istanbul is a magical city to visit. The beautiful architecture takes you back in time without looking dated or out of place. All around you, history is alive and well, waiting to be discovered. Whether you want to appreciate the visual aspects through architecture and art or learn about the whens, whats and hows, you can find tours and activities that suit you.
For visual learners, water tours will leave you mesmerized. You can take rides on the Aegean Sea in everything from a modest boat to a luxurious yacht. Even better, both options are affordable. You could board a boat for about $12, a cruise for roughly $30 and a luxury yacht for $70. These rides are available throughout the day and the lengths of trips vary.
If exploring on land is more your preference, then there are two ways to enjoy Istanbul: from the city or green spaces. In the city, you can enjoy private tours of local landmarks, such as the Hagia Sophia mosque. For a beautiful walk on trails flanked by tall trees, try Polonezkoy Tabiat Parki. To see a park from the air, book a cable car ride at Macka Park.
This city is an outdoor lover’s paradise, but it has something for every type of visitor. Whether you want to be underground, in the sky or firmly planted at ground level, be ready to spend the entire day exploring. The underground cities are not as dark and damp as you might expect. Lights are mounted throughout and any holes are covered, making it a reasonably safe adventure. You can even stay in a cave hotel if you decide to spend the night.
There are many outdoor trails and hiking opportunities. See the rock formations at Devrent Valley. Try to spot the rocks that resemble animals, such as a snake, penguin and camel. If you think you can only handle so many hours on your feet and no more, go horseback riding along a trail for two to four hours.
Small Spice Market in Izmir
For the history buffs, you can watch many of the locals at work making pottery. The spice markets are also a must-see. Even if you never buy anything, you’ll love the different smells and rainbow colors of the street markets. This is also a wonderful chance to appreciate the architecture of old cities that came several years after underground living fell out of vogue.
A great way to close out the evening is with a hot air balloon ride. This is an amazing way to take in one of Istanbul’s most beautiful natural landscapes. If you would prefer to avoid heights, then there are other grand finales to consider. Visit a local restaurant to enjoy a delicious Turkish meal while belly dancers entertain you.
At this point, you may be wondering about the initial promise for relaxation and spas. That’s where Izmir comes in. Here, you can find one of Turkey’s most popular spa baths, named the Fes Spa Bath. The Kaya Izmir Thermal is a popular choice among tourists and is also worth visiting.
If you still have a bit of strength left for adventure, consider visiting the Roman ruins. There are several of these, so you’ll have to do your research and choose the ones that most interest you. Here are five of the most popular landmarks:
- Hercules Gate
- Celsus Library
- Ephesus Terrace Houses
- Ephesus Ancient Theater
- Temple of Hadrian
How To Travel Between Locations
The cheapest way to get from Istanbul to Cappadocia is a night bus. It takes 10 to 12 hours, but if you can find a comfortable spot to sleep, the hours will fly by. You can then wake up rested and ready for your adventure in Cappadocia. There are also direct flights to a few airports close to Cappadocia. From there you can rent a car and drive for about 1 hour and a half to get to your destination.
Cappadocia and Izmir are a good distance from each other. Because of this, the fastest way to travel between the two is by air. Flights take an hour and a half or so. You can go by bus, but expect to travel for roughly 12 and a half hours.
A flight from Izmir to Istanbul is once again the most convenient way to travel. You can also book a train ride, bus or ferry, but these may take several hours. Most people avoid the potential hassles and go by air.
Watch the sunset in Cappadocia
Travel Hacks for First-Timers
Turkey offers great value for your money, but there are ways to save even more to enjoy your trip. Here are a few options to consider.
1. Get Your E-visa
An e-visa is required for entry into Turkey. The good news is that you don’t have to book your flight and cross your fingers. Apply ahead of time. It’s not uncommon to get an almost immediate response. Once you receive your approval, print a copy to travel with. Rates differ based on the nationalities of the people applying.
2. Book Hotels Early
Some people like to wing their vacation. If you’re one of these, you probably plan on waiting until you arrive in Turkey to make your reservations for hotels. After all, what if you discover somewhere else and want to stay there instead? This can be a great idea sometimes, but not for Turkey. The government occasionally blocks sites such as Booking.com, so make all your bookings before arrival or you may struggle to access the websites once you get there.
3. Beat the Crowds
Beating the crowds and lowering travel costs can be a two-birds-one-stone scenario for the lucky traveler. Traveling during the week tends to be both cheaper and less crowded. You also run into fewer tourists if you set out in the early mornings. Avoiding peak season is an even better way to counter both issues. Try to book your trip between October and May.
4. Get Discounts
Another great way to save money is to buy passes. The Istanbul Tourist pass allows you to save up to 75% off the biggest attractions in the city. If you plan to spend a lot of time wandering through historical sites that attract a fee, this is a good investment. There is also a museum pass for Cappadocia. That said, you stand to get the best value from the Museum Pass Turkey. You can purchase any of these passes at the eligible museums when you visit them.
5. Check the News
As beautiful and relaxing as Turkey is, it is not without its occasional disturbances. Because of this, many countries still have travel advisories out against Turkey. One of the most recent well-known events was a bombing in 2016. The unfortunate truth is that incidents like these can happen anywhere, including Western Europe and North America. Consequently, simply keep an eye on the political situation in Turkey and plan accordingly.
While there are several ways to reduce the cost of traveling to Turkey, there’s no doubt that flying from outside the region can be expensive. The closer you are to peak season, the truer this is. One great workaround is to use Skyhour to crowdfund the cost of your trip. Ask your family and friends to gift you flight time starting at $30 for 30 minutes.