Crafting an Ideal 10-Day Itinerary for an Unforgettable Turkey Adventure

Turkey is a captivating country straddling Europe and Asia. It has a rich history as home to powerful empires, stunning natural landscapes, incredible archaeological sites, vibrant culture, and mouthwatering cuisine. 10 days allows you to experience some of the main highlights across this diverse country. This in-depth itinerary will guide you through the very best places to visit and things to do in Turkey on the journey of a lifetime. In order to travel to Turkey for tourism purposes, you will need a Turkey visa to enter the country.

Getting Around Turkey

Turkey has a very well-developed transportation infrastructure making it easy for travelers to get around the country quickly and affordably. Here are your main options:

  • Flights - There are multiple airlines offering quick, inexpensive domestic flights connecting all the destinations on this itinerary, including Turkish Airlines, Pegasus, AnadoluJet. Flights take from 1-2 hours and can cost as little as $20 USD each way.
  • Intercity buses - Modern, comfortable buses run by companies like Metro Turizm and Kamil Koç connect all major cities in Turkey. Tickets cost approximately $10-20 USD one-way depending on distance, paid onboard.
  • Trains - The Turkish rail network is currently being expanded but already connects main hubs like Istanbul-Ankara-Konya. Tickets start around $5 USD per person one-way.
  • Ride shares - Apps like BiTaksi and BlaBlaCar connect you with locals offering cheap rides between cities in their own cars.
  • Taxis & Uber - Relatively affordable for getting around within cities, metered so ask for meter to be turned on. Uber available in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir.
  • Public transportation - Cities have metros, trams, buses and ferries. Excellent network in Istanbul.

10 Day Turkey Itinerary Overview

This route is designed to maximize your time by minimizing transit days and backtracking. It includes a taste of Turkey's top highlights and major regions.

  • Day 1: Arrive Cappadocia
  • Day 2: Explore Cappadocia
  • Day 3: Explore Cappadocia
  • Day 4: Fly to Izmir, overnight Izmir
  • Day 5: Day trip Ephesus & Selçuk
  • Day 6: Cesme & Alacati
  • Day 7: Fly to Istanbul
  • Day 8: Istanbul Old City Tour
  • Day 9: Istanbul Bosphorus Cruise
  • Day 10: Depart Istanbul

Below is a detailed day-by-day itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive in Cappadocia

Catch a 1 hour 20 minute flight from Istanbul to Nevşehir or Kayseri airport in Cappadocia. Arrange a shuttle or private taxi transfer to your hotel, taking around 45 minutes.

  • Check into your Cappadocia accommodation. For easy access to all the sights, stay in Göreme or Uçhisar. Göreme has the widest range of boutique cave hotels, pensions and backpacker options.
  • In the afternoon, take an optional sunset horseback riding tour for your introduction to Cappadocia's landscapes. Ride through the Pigeon and Red Valley for 2 hours as the rock formations glow pink at dusk. Tours are around $50 USD.
  • Spend the evening strolling around Göreme. Browse handmade crafts and souvenirs in the small shops. Have dinner at one of Göreme's delicious restaurants, trying local dishes like testi kebab (meat and vegetables cooked in a clay pot).

Top Accommodation Picks in Cappadocia

  • Budget: Valonia Cave Hotel
  • Mid-range: Cappadocia Cave Suites
  • Luxury: Yunak Evleri Cave Hotel

Day 2: Hot Air Balloon & Full Day Tour

  • One of the most magical experiences you can have in Cappadocia is an early morning hot air balloon ride for sunrise. Watching the golden light slowly illuminate the exotic fairy chimneys from above is unforgettable.
  • Flights are weather dependent and last about 1 hour, running from $120 USD per person. You'll likely have to try a couple mornings as rides sometimes get canceled due to wind. Opt for a smaller balloon for a more intimate experience.
  • After your balloon ride, fuel up on Turkish breakfast at your hotel. Spend the rest of the day exploring Cappadocia's top sights by joining a full Red Tour by minibus, seeing:
    • Göreme Open Air Museum - Rock-cut Byzantine churches with colorful frescoes.
    • Uçhisar Castle - Hike up this 60m tall volcanic rock castle for panoramic views.
    • Pigeon Valley - Visit the caves that once housed messenger pigeons.
    • Devrent Valley - Also called Imagination Valley, see rock formations resembling animals.
    • Pasabag Fairy Chimneys - The most surreal landscape of mushroom shaped fairy chimneys.

The full day Red Tour costs around $40 USD including lunch and hotel pickup/drop-off.

In the evening, watch the sunset over Cappadocia with dinner at one of Göreme's cliffside restaurants like Orient Restaurant.

Day 3: Ihlara Valley & Underground City

  • Start the day exploring the Ihlara Valley, created by the Melendiz River carving through layers of volcanic rock. This lush canyon is dotted with rock-cut churches built by early Christians who hid from persecution here.
  • Take the pathway through the valley, stopping to see highlights like the Ağaç Altı church covered in Bible stories depicted in paintings and the stunning Yılanlı church (Church with Serpent). The hike takes around 3 hours.
  • On your return stop at Selime Monastery, the largest rock-cut monastery in Cappadocia with a vast cathedral, churches and chambers carved out of the mountain.
  • In the afternoon visit the multi-level Derinkuyu Underground City, one of the largest underground networks in Cappadocia extending 85 meters below ground. You'll get a glimpse into how ancient civilizations carved entire subterranean cities out of volcanic stone as protection from surface threats.
  • Have a final evening back in Göreme before your Cappadocia departure. Attend a Turkish Night Show with folk music and dancing - a great cultural experience combined with a tasty dinner.

Day 4: Flight to Izmir

  • Take the quick 1 hour 20 minute flight to Izmir, arriving late morning. Check into your centrally located hotel - Konak or Alsancak districts are most convenient.
  • Get your first taste of Turkey's third largest city starting with the main Konak Square and clock tower, rebuilt in 1901 after a fire.
  • Walk through Kemeraltı Market - the vibrant bazaar area selling everything from spices to sweets to clothing. Stop at a café for Turkish tea and baklava.
  • Climb up to Kadifekale, an ancient castle built by Alexander the Great. Enjoy panoramic views over Izmir from its walls. On the way down, see the Agora Open Air Museum ruins of the ancient Greek marketplace.
  • In the evening, join locals strolling along the Kordon waterfront promenade. Have dinner at one of the restaurants, many specializing in seafood like grilled calamari and fried mussels.

Top Accommodation Picks in Izmir

  • Budget: Hotel Kilim
  • Mid-range: Key Hotel
  • Luxury: Swissotel Büyük Efes

Day 5: Ephesus & Selçuk

Just over an hour from Izmir, Ephesus was one of the largest Roman cities in the Mediterranean and incredibly well preserved today. Walk the ancient Curetes Way, see monuments like the Library of Celsus, and imagine city life thousands of years ago.

You can visit Ephesus as part of an organized day tour from Izmir, or travel independently via microbus from Izmir's Basmane station.

Top sights at Ephesus include:

  • The Grand Theater - Built in the 3rd century BC with seating for 25,000 people.
  • The Library of Celsus - One of the most famous monuments, restored with an ornate façade.
  • The Temple of Hadrian dedicated to the Roman Emperor.
  • The lavish Terraced Houses decorated with intricate mosaics.

After exploring Ephesus, head to Selçuk for lunch. Try şevketi bostan, a dish of fried eggplant and veggies.

See the Basilica of St John and Isa Bey Mosque before returning to Izmir for the night, perhaps stopping at the Ephesus Museum.

Day 6: Cesme & Alacati

  • Rent a car or hire a driver for the day to explore the beautiful coastal towns of Cesme and Alacati on the Çeşme Peninsula, around a 90 minute drive from Izmir.
  • Cesme has stunning white sand beaches, a historic castle with sweeping views, and a lively seaside promenade lined with restaurants and cafes. Don't miss Cesme's famous boyoz sesame-topped buns.
  • Alacati has an artsy, upscale vibe with stone Ottoman houses, trendy boutiques and bougainvillea-strewn streets. Relax on Alacati's windswept beaches with top-notch windsurfing conditions.
  • Enjoy a laidback day alternating between the beach, boutique shopping, and alfresco dining in these two charming towns before heading back to Izmir for the night.

Day 7: Fly to Istanbul

Catch a 1 hour morning flight from Izmir to Istanbul. Drop your bags at your hotel then it's time to start exploring this magical city spanning Europe and Asia!

Some top sights and neighborhoods to discover over the next three days include:

  • Sultanahmet - Istanbul's old city center with Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and more.
  • Bosphorus Strait - Scenic waterway dividing continents. Cross between Europe and Asia by ferry.
  • Istiklal Street - Cosmopolitan avenue full of shops, restaurants and nightlife.
  • Galata - Hip neighborhood with art galleries, cafes and views from Galata Tower.
  • Grand Bazaar & Spice Bazaar - Two enormous and historic covered marketplaces.

Spend your first afternoon in Istanbul strolling across Galata Bridge for views of the Golden Horn, browsing the overflowing Egyptian Spice Market, and exploring the trendy Karaköy neighborhood.

Top Accommodation Picks in Istanbul

  • Budget: Rapunzel Hostel
  • Mid-range: The Green Park Hotel Pera
  • Luxury: Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus

Day 8: Istanbul Old City Tour

  • Dedicate today to uncovering the history and cultural treasures of Sultanahmet, Istanbul's old walled city:
  • Start at the magnificient Hagia Sophia, appreciating how this church-turned-mosque represents the intersection of Islam and Christianity in Istanbul. Gaze up at the glittering Byzantine mosaics alongside ornate Ottoman calligraphy.
  • Next door, the Blue Mosque awes visitors with its cascading domes and over 20,000 handmade blue Iznik tiles. Visit the interior to observe the elaborate chandeliers and stained glass.
  • Afterwards, explore Topkapi Palace, home of Ottoman sultans for 400 years. Wander through the lavish courtyards and pavilions for insight into imperial life. Marvel at treasures like the 86-carat Spoonmaker's Diamond.
  • Break for a kebab lunch before visiting the ancient Hippodrome, Suleymaniye Mosque and lively Grand Bazaar with over 3000 shops under one roof.
  • End with dinner at one of Sultanahmet's rooftop restaurants like Seven Hills or Gedik Ahmet Pasa Steakhouse, with delicious Turkish food and perfect views.

Day 9: Bosphorus Cruise & Asian Side

  • Start with an unforgettable Bosphorus cruise between Europe and Asia, admiring palaces, fortresses and opulent waterfront mansions lining Istanbul's scenic strait.
  • Disembark on the Asian side and immerse yourself in local life in the vibrant district of Kadıköy. Wander through the food market, then explore the charming cafes and shops in Moda.
  • Have lunch at one of Kadıköy's restaurants trying stuffed mussels, a local speciality. Afterwards, relax in Moda Sahil Park with postcard-perfect views across the water.
  • Take the ferry back to the European side in the late afternoon, disembarking in Karaköy to explore Istanbul's modern art scene. Browse the galleries around Istiklal Street before having dinner in hip Cihangir.

Day 10: Departure

Enjoy one last scrumptious Turkish breakfast at your hotel before your flight home, reflecting on your amazing 10 days discovering Turkey's treasures.

Some options if you have extra time before your flight:

  • Take a Bosphorus cruise up to the village of Anadolu Kavağı for coastal views.
  • Visit the lavish Dolmabahçe Palace, built in 1856.
  • See the underground Basilica Cisterns, built in the 6th century.
  • Stroll through the colorful Balat district admiring Ottoman houses.
  • Pick up some final souvenirs at the Grand Bazaar or Spice Market.

Hope you had the trip of a lifetime exploring the history, culture and beauty of captivating Turkey! Let me know if you need any other suggestions.

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