If you’re looking for stunning and unusual landscapes, fascinating ancient history, fantastic beaches and gorgeous quaint seaside towns, as well as one of the most culturally diverse capital cities in the world, Turkey needs to be on your travel bucket list.
I’d been to Turkey as a young child and had fond memories of climbing over huge ruins and sailing out on deep blue seas. So last year, when considering where to spend a few weeks in the summer, I thought returning to Turkey sounded like a good idea. I ended up heading there on a bit of a solo adventure, but I found travelling around Turkey as a solo female traveller to be completely safe and fine.
I spent two weeks travelling in Turkey. I visited the ancient ruins in Ephesus, the fascinating capital Istanbul and the magical landscape of Cappadocia, as well as plenty of relaxing beach time in Bodrum and a brilliant three day sailing trip on a traditional Turkish gulet boat.
I travelled the length and breadth of the country solo and entirely on public transport, which I’ve detailed in this guide to public transport in Turkey. In a nutshell, it was a fantastic trip so I thought I’d put together my Turkey itinerary for others to read. This guide to travelling in Turkey will cover where to go, how to get between destinations, where to stay and all of the best things to see and do. I’ll attempt to cover everything you might need to know for your own Turkey itinerary, so read on and start planning your own 1 or 2 week Turkey itinerary!
Turkey itinerary planning: Essential things to know
How long to spend in Turkey?
This could be purely dictated by annual leave or other commitments, but if you are free to plan your own time, then I’d recommend a 2 week itinerary for Turkey. This is ample time to visit the main sites and get a really good feel for the country. If you only have 1 week to spend in Turkey, I’d recommend perhaps just one or two places to see. A three week Turkey itinerary could incorporate an additional location perhaps, or more time in Istanbul to really learn about its fascinating history and mix of cultures. Alternatively, a 3 week itinerary in Turkey could be spent entirely along its beautiful coastline. You can hike the country’s famous Lycian Way which traverses beautiful craggy mountains, pine forests and weaves through typical Turkish coastal villages. The options in Turkey are endless – it is a country that really encompasses so much!
When is the best time to visit Turkey?
Quite an important question when planning your trip itinerary is deciding when to visit Turkey. The summer months (May to September) are the peak times to visit, but if you’re not keen on strong sun and heat, then the shoulder months could also be a good time to visit.
If you visit Turkey in the winter, you might even experience Cappadocia as a winter wonderland! If you’re planning on sailing the Turquoise Coast in Turkey or visiting places such as Bodrum or Antalya, it would definitely be advisable to go in the summer months otherwise many restaurants and hotels might not be open yet.
Getting around Turkey
I found Turkey very easy to get around by public transport. Using the buses, trains, dolmuş and domestic airlines was an efficient and convenient way to explore Turkey. I found nearly all public transport ran mostly on time, was very affordable, could be booked quite last minute and was clean and comfortable. I really enjoyed the independence that using public transport in Turkey afforded me so I’ve written a full and detailed guide on getting around on public transport here.
What to take to Turkey?
What you should bring to Turkey really depends on what time of year that you visit. If you’re visiting in the summer months, you’ll need some good walking shoes for all of the sightseeing and exploring, as well as a sunhat, plenty of suntan lotion and sunglasses! In terms of being covered up in Turkey, it is fairly relaxed throughout most the country. In Istanbul, women do need to cover up to enter most of the religious buildings.
Itinerary Planning for 1 or 2 Weeks in Turkey
In many countries, it’s probably most likely that you’d land in one of the main cities to for your travels. Turkey however, as a popular summer tourist destination for countries across Europe, has larger airports all over the country. Therefore, you might opt to take a flight into Bodrum, Izmir, Antalya or Dalaman Airports, all of which are on the coast and mean you wouldn’t necessarily start your Turkey itinerary in Istanbul.
Turkey is one of the best countries to travel around independently, as it has a very comprehensive, well-priced and convenient public transport system in place. So no matter which town you start your Turkey trip in, it’s likely you’ll be able to travel to next destination with ease.
I travelled in late August and chose to fly from London to Bodrum on an affordable flight which worked out well timing wise.
I knew I was interested in visiting Ephesus and as soon as I realised the public transport would be straight forward, I decided Bodrum would be a great first stop on my Turkey itinerary.
I found Bodrum to be charming, lively, interesting and really beautiful. It was such a pleasant surprise and Bodrum town centre has none of the large all-inclusive resort hotels I expected. The big resort hotels are located just out of town, leaving the centre of Bodrum to be a delightful car-free place. You could easily spend just one or two days in Bodrum, or a whole week soaking up the sun and enjoying the beaches. I’ve written a longer guide on what to do and in see in Bodrum, which will give you everything you need to know before deciding whether or not to include Bodrum in your Turkey itinerary.
Where to stay in Bodrum
There are plenty of brilliant budget hotels in Bodrum, as well as more luxury options. I stayed at the excellent Eskici hotel (you can check rates here at Booking.com
A few suggestions for some other great budget hotels in Bodrum:
In terms of luxury hotels in Bodrum, there are several to pick from. I’ve listed some of the best below:
The best attractions to see in Bodrum
From wandering its charming streets and visiting the historic Bodrum Castle, to sampling the best of Turkish cuisine in the atmospheric restaurants, there’s plenty to see and do in Bodrum.
If you’re only visiting for a short time, one idea could be to book a local tour, or a tour with GetYourGuide to ensure you see all of the must-see attractions in Bodrum:
Ephesus and Selçuk
The ancient ruins of Ephesus are definitely one of the top things to do in Turkey. Located relatively nearly Izmir and also the cruise port of Kusadasi, they are popular with cruise day-trippers and huge crowds arrive at Ephesus everyday. I’ve written a long guide you can read here covering how to visit Ephesus without the crowds.
I chose to visit Ephesus and the adjacent town of Selçuk after Bodrum, as I realised it was a straight forward bus from between the two. I spent a full day exploring Ephesus and the surrounding area before hopping on a train from Selçuk to Denizli.
Where to stay near Ephesus
As I mentioned, Selçuk is the nearest town to Ephesus. There are several mid-range hotels here to choose from, all catering for tourists visiting Ephesus. I stayed at the Saint John Hotel, which was about a five minute walk to the train station and offered a really pleasant stay.
The lovely hotel is family-owned and run, and they made me feel right at home. You can check rates for Saint John Hotel here.
What to see at Ephesus?
The main archeological sites include the Library of Celsus, the Temple of Artemis and the amphitheatres. At the entrance you can pick up a map, and there is signage throughout, so you could give yourself a self-guided tour through Ephesus. However, you can arrange a tour through a local tour company in town, or book on a tour with GetYourGuide advance:
This spectacular natural wonder is unusual and distinctly different to anything else in Turkey. I’d highly recommend including a visit to Pamukkale on any length Turkey itinerary. Not only can you submerge yourself in these pools, but you also explore Hierapolis at the top. Here are some more fantastic ancient ruins, perhaps in some ways, even more spectacular than Ephesus and definitely more overlooked.
A day trip to Pamukkale does require a bit of pre-planning. If you can arrive before the day tripper crowds arrive, it’ll be a much better experience and you can enjoy an hour or more of the pools to yourself.
Whilst visiting Pamukkale can be done as a day trip from nearby Denizli (and other towns in Turkey), it is worth spending the night before in Pamukkale for a more relaxing and less hurried experience. My guide to visiting Pamukkale is well worth a read if you’re planning on going during a Turkey itinerary. However, you will not need more than one day and perhaps one night to explore Pamukkale.
Where to stay in Pamukkale
If you choose for the convenience of an overnight stay in Pamukkale, there are several hotels to pick from. I stayed at the Melrose House Hotel which was the perfect base from which to explore Pamukkale. You can check rates for this great hotel here. If you’re looking for something a little more fancy, you could choose Doğa Thermal Health & Spa or Richmond Pamukkale Thermal, both of which would be considered the best luxury hotels in Pamukkale.
Sailing the Turquoise Coast
Sailing the Turquoise coast is a magical way to spend a holiday in this beautiful country and if you can include it in your Turkey itinerary, you wouldn’t regret it. The stunning coastline is lined with deep emerald green pine forests, craggy rock faces, charming Turkish villages and fascinating history. It is also where you can go paragliding above Ölüdeniz.
Spending a few nights on board a traditional wooden gulet cruise boat is a fantastic and authentic way to sail the coastline. They tend to sail between Fethiye and a town near Antalya called Olympos. I departed from Fethiye for my gulet sailing trip, and although I wouldn’t choose to return to Fethiye (over commercialised and definitely not quaint), it was meant the trip finished in Olympos which has unique treehouse accommodation dotted through the town.
There are plenty of local companies to pick from for your sailing trip in Turkey. I would definitely recommend Alaturka Cruises who I found online in advance of my visit. The boat was great, the team fantastic and their their email support before the gulet departed was brilliant.
I’ve written a much longer and extensive guide to sailing the Turquoise Coast in Turkey here. I’ve covered everything you’d need to know including when to go, how to get to the departure points, what to take on the sailing trip and what to do in each of the ports.
Following the end of my sailing trip along the Turkish coastline, I took a quick domestic flight from Antalya to Istanbul.
Istanbul is a city like no other. Straddling two continents, Asia and Europe, it is a true melting pot of religions, cultures, backgrounds and traditions. I only had one day in Istanbul but I felt I visited a good number of the best attractions in the city. I wrote a detailed guide on all of the top things to see and do in Istanbul if you only have one day or maybe a weekend to spend in the city.
A must visit destination in any Turkey itinerary, Istanbul offers a mesmerising experience from its Grand Bazaar, one of the biggest indoor markets in the world, to the fascinating Hagia Sofia, a religious structure that has been used by Christians and Muslims through time.
Where to stay in Istanbul
Istanbul has thousands of hotels to choose from, covering budget bases to ultra-luxurious palatial stays.
I enjoyed an excellent stay at the Intercontinental Istanbul, which was well located and adjacent to Taksim Square. It offered the most impressive breakfast and had a lovely pool to enjoy after a long day of sightseeing in the city. You can check rates for this hotel here.
Some of the other best luxury hotels in Istanbul include:
- Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul At Sultanahmet
- Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus
- Raffles Istanbul
If you’re looking for somewhere as more of a comfortable base, these are some of the best value money hotels in Istanbul:
From Istanbul, it’s a very quick one hour flight to Cappadocia (nearest airport being Kayseri). I think a visit to Cappadocia and its magical fairy chimneys and mesmerising sunrises, is essential on any trip to Turkey. Most of the best attractions and sites in Cappadocia can be visited in a two day visit, and together with regular flights from several Turkey airports, it’s pretty easy to include on any Turkey itinerary.
I spent 3 days in Cappadocia and thought it was one of the best places I have ever visited in the world. Staying at a cave hotel is an must-do whilst in Cappadocia – we stayed at the beautiful Sultan Cave Suites, a cave hotel that has become famous thanks to Instagram and its incredible terrace for the perfect sunrise photo spot.
The best cave hotels in Cappadocia
There are so many cave hotels in beautiful Cappadocia to choose from, it isn’t an easy decision. Sultan Cave Suites (read my full guide to staying at this amazing cave hotel here) is one of the most popular cave hotels to stay in in Cappadocia, but if it is fully booked, there are still so many other amazing cave hotels to pick.
Some of other best cave hotels in Cappadocia include:
The best attractions in Cappadocia
One of the very best things to do, and easily one of the main attractions in Cappadocia, is to witness one of the incredible sunrises. If you can, do it twice. Once from a beautiful viewpoint, such as the terrace at the Sultan Cave Suites hotel (you must be a guest) and once from a hot air balloon ride.
But that’s not all there is to do in Cappadocia. Some of the other main attractions include the visiting the Göreme Open Air Museum, exploring the nearby village of Uçhisar and some of the incredible rock formations at Pasabag and Devrent. This detailed guide here covers all of the best things to do and see in Cappadocia.
If you’re short on time, it’s best to see all the top sites in Cappadocia by a day tour. You can arrange this through your hotel, or you can plan your time in advance by booking a tour through GetYourGuide:
Last, but not least – here’s my useful guide to using public transport in Turkey to get around which should be helpful in planning a 1 or 2 week Turkey itinerary.
I do hope this Turkey itinerary planning guide is useful – the more time you have, the places you can visit although some, such as Pamukkale, you really you don’t need to spend more than one day in.
Feel free to drop me a line if you would like any advice or further recommendations 🙂 If you’ve enjoyed this post, please do share using the below links!
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Disclaimer: This visit to the Turkey was entirely paid for by myself and there was no involvement from the tourism board or a hotel. This is an independent guide.