Planning a trip to Turkey but not sure of where to begin with creating your Turkey itinerary? Wondering if you should stay for 5 days or 10 days in Turkey? After spending an entire month traveling to Turkey and visiting different pockets of this majestic country, I can confidently say that Turkey is well worth visiting for at least 10 days! There is so much to do and see in this cross-continental destination. Here are the top places to visit in a perfect 10-day Turkey itinerary for first-time travelers. And a few others to add if you can squeeze in more time in Turkey!
First trip to Turkey? Read 22 Important Things to Know Before You Travel to Turkey
Table of Contents
How to Get Around Turkey
It’s easy getting around Turkey. If you’re on a tight budget but have lots of time on your hands you can take buses which are about $10-$20 each way.
HOWEVER, if you book ahead of time you can book flights for about $20 to $60 (last minute bookings) each way within Turkey. This is likely the best way to travel because you’ll save time and energy.
Every traveler told me that their overnight bus experience was uncomfortable and they couldn’t sleep. So is $10-$30 worth losing hours and a good night’s sleep? Probably not. You can also easily arrange airport shuttles with your hotel/homestay for about $12 USD each way.
Within cities, public transportation works efficiently in the form of trams, buses, and metros. If you’d like to move between cities then you can also take long-distance buses. But there are also trains that run through some parts of the country like the Dogu Express Train.
- Flights – Starting at $20 each way
- Trains between cities – Starting at $1 each way
- Long-Distance Buses – Approximately $10 and up
10 Day Trip to Turkey Itinerary Overview
- 1st Day – Cappadocia
- 2nd Day – Cappadocia
- 3rd Day – Cappadocia
- 4th Day – Izmir
- 5th Day – Ephesus
- 6th Day – Cesme and Alacati
- 7th Day – Istanbul
- 8th Day – Istanbul
- 9th Day – Istanbul
- 10th Day – Departure from Istanbul
TURKEY ITINERARY – DAYS 1, 2 & 3
Why Start in Cappadocia Instead of Istanbul? Although Cappadocia is the second-most visited destination in Turkey (after Istanbul), we’re starting here to avoid: (1) extra rides back and forth to the airport, (2) risking the connecting flight out of Istanbul back home (this way you are already in Istanbul to catch your flight the last day), (3) checking in and out of hotels more than necessary, all of which lead to: (4) saving time, energy, and money.
Turkey Itinerary Day 1: Cappadocia
Understanding the Cappadocia Region
Cappadocia is a vast region in central Turkey that encompasses different towns, valleys, and natural and historical attractions. Excursions here range from the iconic hot air balloon rides to hiking through outdoor museums to crawling down underground tunnels to discover ancient cities built hundreds of meters below ground.
Arrival to Goreme in Cappadocia
After arriving at Istanbul international airport, take a transfer flight (starting at $20 USD) to one of the main airports of the Cappadocia region: Kayseri or Nevsehir. From one of these airports, take a shuttle bus or private taxi to the village of Goreme.
Goreme is the most convenient base for all your Cappadocia travels, especially if it’s your first time, you’re a solo traveler, and/or you don’t have a car. This very cute town is just a stone’s throw away from some of the most epic hikes, restaurants, and shops.
Sunset Horse Back Riding
If you arrive in Goreme before 3 PM, then consider a sunset horseback riding tour as your introduction to the valleys! Prices start at $40 USD. You’ll feel like you’re in West World as you trot on the silk road between rock formations and through vast desert valleys.
Shopping in Goreme
Spend the rest of your evening familiarizing yourself with Goreme Village, shopping for local Turkish artisanry crafts (such as rugs and handmade jewelry), and eating in one of the many delicious restaurants.
Day 2: Cappadocia’s Ballons & Green Tour
Morning Hot Air Balloon Ride
Riding a hot air balloon over Cappadocia’s desert valleys is an iconic must-do experience for many travelers to Turkey. However, it’s important to note two particular things about riding these hot balloons.
First, the prices range from at the very least $120 (if you’re lucky) to an average of $250 and up. So if this is out of your budget (or you have a fear of heights), consider simply waking up early to catch a glimpse of them over a delicious Turkish breakfast instead!
Second, whether the hot air balloons can go up into the air, depends on the weather. This means that these excursions get canceled all the time. I spent days in Cappadocia and didn’t get to see the balloons once. So allocate every morning in Cappadocia for hot air balloon riding/sightseeing. Just in case.
Cappadocia’s Green Tour
When you get to Cappadocia, you’re likely going to be bombarded with all different types of tours which are categorized by colors. But of all the tours, the Green tour is the most fulfilling and all-encompassing experience. You’ll see the Derinkuyu Underground City, go on a hike through the lush and green Ihlara Valley, visit Selim Monastery perched upon a rock, see the Pigeon Valley, and pop into a jewelry factory.
Day 3: Cappadocia’s Red Tour
The red tour is the most trotted and iconic trail to exploring Cappadocia’s beautiful landscape and history. It expands through deep valleys reminiscent of a West World episode, open-air museums, fairy chimneys, rock cut-out ancient religious sites, and much more.
On the red tour, you’ll:
- See beautiful rock formations
- Visit Open Air Museum complex of monasteries carved out of caves
- Walkthrough of Devrent Valley (aka Pink Valley)
- See Uchisar Castle
- Go to a pottery shop
- Explore Pasabag
- Visit a local winery (depending on the tour operator)
The red tour can be done with a company ($30-45 USD) or independently as a hike starting from Goreme Village (free). Travelers can also rent a car ($50/day) but will be responsible for finding parking.
Where to Stay in Cappadocia
- Airbnb or Vrbo Home Rentals($) – Consider staying with a local for a great price. This way you connect with a fellow Turk, get great (non-hotel) prices, and personalized assistance. I stayed in this Airbnb for $15/night, and it was a lovely experience with Sinou, who arranged my airport transfer and tours for a fraction of the prices I found elsewhere.
- Carus Hotel ($$) – A stunning cave hotel with a gorgeous restaurant and shop right below. This is a newer hotel so the prices are relatively low for now! This is also located a few steps from everything in town.
- Mithra Cave Hotel ($$$) – One of the classic cave hotels to stay in. If you are a guest here, you can access the breakfast lookout of the balloons.
- Museum Hotel ($$$$$) – Elegant and luxurious hotel reminiscent of a museum carved out of a tall rock cave.
TURKEY ITINERARY – DAYS 4, 5, 6
Day 4: Arrival to Izmir
Take a one-hour morning flight from Kayseri Airport to the city of Izmir (starting at $20 USD).
Introduction to Izmir
Izmir is like the Los Angeles of Turkey: trendy, liberal, on a coast, full of delicious restaurants, spacious parks, and lots of boutique stores. You likely won’t run into many tourists here, yet it is the third-largest city in the country. And what makes Izmir even more special for travelers is that it is the perfect launching pad to visit the ancient city of Ephesus and the gorgeous beach towns of Cesme and Alacati.
Guided Tour of Izmir
Join a guided half-day tour of Izmir, and visit many of its wonderful sights such as Alexander the Great’s castle, and the Ancient Agora, and visit Ethnographic and Archaeological museums. After you’ll still have time to explore Izmir independently.
Walking Tour of Downtown Izmir
Izmir is a fun city to walk independently while discovering its nooks and crannies. Stay in the downtown center so you can walk through the gorgeous parks, catch a weekend street market, stop by the many boutique shops, and enjoy the trendy restaurants. Don’t miss out on Izmir’s:
- Ancient Agora – Ancient ruins located in the middle of the city
- Kemaralti Market – A maze of local markets and shops
- Walk, run, or bike through the Kordon Waterfront
Want to understand Turkish culture today? Read A Turkish Awakening by the amazing Turkish-British writer Alev Scott
Day 5: Day Trip from Izmir to Ephesus
The ancient city of Ephesus (Efes) is a must-visit experience for history buffs. Ephesus (10th century BC) is one of the best ancient sites for Greco-Roman history. Here you can take a trip back in time to visit one of the Roman Empire’s most important cities. Stop by the Library of Celsus to witness the grandeur of Rome. And don’t forget to download Rick Steve’s audio guide to better contextualize your experience. If you’re pressed for time, consider this private VIP Ephesus tour that allows you to skip the lines!
Did you know? You can easily reach Ephesus from Izmir within 90 minutes and just for $1 by train. Here’s how to get to Ephesus on your own.
Where to Stay in Izmir
Hotel costs in Izmir are much better than in Istanbul and Cappadocia.
- Graymark Hotel ($$) – I stayed here and it was perfect. Affordable yet offers a nice quality stay in a perfect location.
- Spil Suites ($$) – Miss cooking? Rent an entire apartment in downtown Izmir!
- Renaissance Izmir ($$$$$) – a STUNNING five-star hotel in the city center with state-of-the-art amenities.
Day 6: Day Trip from Izmir to Cesme & Alacati
Cesme and Alacati are beach towns located less than an hour west of Izmir. They are well worth the visit for a beautiful day between the beach and taking leisurely strolls through the cobblestone streets of these quaint towns.
You can get there by hiring a driver for the day to take you to each town. You can book a driver online and get 8 hours to explore both towns. There is a combination of local transportation you can use, but it’s a bit complicated to use and not time-efficient.
Where to Stay in Cesme/Alacati
If you can add more time to your itinerary, I strongly recommend spending some time in Alacati. The boutique hotels there are to die for! This is where the affluent Turkish people come to spend their holidays so it will be much more expensive during the summer high peak months. But check these places out!
- GAIA Hotel – for it’s stunning interior decor, beautiful restaurant, and sleek bohemian touch.
- The Stay Warehouse – Modern, spacious, artistic, and luxurious stay right on a private beach! Ditch the busy crowded resorts and stay somewhere low-key and with a touch of artisan detail. Pictured above.
TURKEY ITINERARY – DAYS 7, 8, 9 & 10
Day 7: Istanbul – Relaxing Hamman & Epic Rooftops
Last but certainly not least: head to Istanbul! Take a morning flight from Izmir to Istanbul for less than $20. Or hire a blablacar driver for less than $10 for a 5-hour drive!
Welcome to Istanbul!
No Turkey trip is complete without visiting its crown jewel– Istanbul, formerly known as Byzantium and later Constantinople, was once the capital of the powerful Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Today it retains its deep cross-cultural influence, rich history, and captivating ancient architecture. Istanbul is brimming with so many amazing things to do that we dedicated an entire guide to the top highlights and things to do in Istanbul for first-time travelers.
Since you’ve been traveling around Turkey for a week now, take this day for some R&R by booking a Hamman (Turkish Bath) Experience at Kilic Ali Pasa.
Feel special in this 16th-century Turkish Hamam, located in the gorgeous neighborhood of Karakoy. This luxurious treatment is comprised of a hot marble steam room, massage, body scrub, and relaxing with Turkish tea. By the time you leave, you will feel squeaky clean, relaxed, and nurtured from head to toe!
Turkish Cooking Class
One of the easiest ways to explore the local culture is through food. And what better way to culturally immerse yourself (while eating delicious Turkish food) than at a cooking class? Cookistan is owned by two Turkish women and run out of their gorgeously decorated home.
The class begins by taking a small tour of their local neighborhood while going to different and unique markets to gather special ingredients. The class menu/dishes change by season, but it’s usually about a 7-course meal with dishes that are more commonly made at home so you likely won’t find them at any restaurant!
Day 8: Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Neighborhood
Wake up early and put on your most comfortable walking shoes. Today you’re going to peruse the most iconic attractions of Istanbul:
Sultanahmet Neighborhood (The Old Quarter) Must-Sees:
- Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
- Hagia Sofia
- Spice Bazaar
- Rooftops (restaurants, bars, and viewing points)
If you’re visiting museums, consider buying the Offical Museum Pass which gives you skip-the-line tickets, and discounted entry to 10 of Istanbul’s museums including the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts.
The Spice Bazaar
The Spice Bazaar is one of Istanbul’s biggest, most historic, aromatic, and photogenic bazaars. Dating back to 1660, the Spize Bazzar was (and still is) the center for the spice trade in Istanbul. It is located just next to the Bosphorus Strait, making it an easy stopover between everything else you’ll be doing in Istanbul.
Although it is a popular tourist location, it actually also draws many locals. Just outside and around the Spice Bazaar building, there are several other vendors where you can see other local shoppers as well — a great way to culturally immerse yourself in the local tastes of Istanbul.
Why not visit the Spice Bazaar as part of a private food tour? You’ll spend 6 hours exploring Istanbul’s local dishes, such as tantuni before visiting the Spice Bazaar.
In my opinion, if you have to choose between the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar, the latter is a much better experience.
Hagia Sofia is one of those tourist attractions that you know will be crowded with lines, but is worth it because of its unique historical significance. Formerly a Greek Christian cathedral turned Ottoman mosque, this architectural marvel is now a museum that showcases the evolution of two of the most influential religions in Turkey today. You can see peelings of Christian figures in one hall and Arabic calligraphy in another. It’s one of the best ways to witness hundreds of years of ancient Constantinople’s history.
You can visit Hagia Sofia as part of a guided cultural tour of Istanbul. During this tour you’ll visit many of Istanbul’s best cultural sights such as the Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia, and the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum.
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
Formerly a palace, it was converted into a museum under the rule of the Ottoman Empire in the 20th century. Here you can learn more about Islamic Art, the history and cross-cultural influences of modern-day Turkey, and admire Islamic calligraphy, tiles, rugs, and various unique artifacts.
You can pick up an Offical Museum Pass for Istanbul which includes a skip-the-line ticket for the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts (and 9 other museums).
A MUST visit for lovers of culture and history!
Some of Istanbul’s most iconic sights are from a rooftop or terrace overlooking the city’s most quintessential details such as the Blue Mosque or the Bosphorus Strait. If not for the epic photo opportunity or to grab dinner, then find a rooftop to just simply sit down with a book or some friends and enjoy the views over tea and snacks.
I really like Kubbe Istanbul for tea and photo ops and Doy Doy Restaurant for cheap delicious food with views of the Blue Mosque.
Day 9: Bosphorus Ferry to Kadikoy & Moda for $1
Did you know there’s a way to cross from Europe to Asia in 20 Minutes? Since Istanbul is located where these two continents meet, it’s possible to spend your morning in Europe and the afternoon in Asia!
There are several companies selling Bosphorus Ferry tours, but you can just cross the Bosphorus yourself for about $1 on the local public ferry. These commuter ferries are clean, comfortable, and a smooth ride away from the more populated and touristy parts of Istanbul.
If you’d like to do a tour of Bosphorus, you could consider this guided tour on which you’ll start by visiting the Spice Bazaar before taking a cruise. During the cruise, you’ll see many sights such as the Dolmabahce Palace, Rumeli Fortress, and the Bosporus bridges. After the cruise, you’ll visit a restaurant before heading across to Asia, where you’ll visit Camlica Hill for panoramic views of Istanbul.
Kadikoy & Moda Neighborhoods (Asian Side of Istanbul)
Consider hopping off at Kadikoy: Istanbul’s cool new neighborhood– for antique shopping, eating, drinking, and checking out the local art scene. Then head over to Moda which is considered the Brooklyn of Istanbul. Moda is one of Istanbul’s underrated gems with its quaint, spacious, green, and socially progressive vibes. You can walk from Kadikoy to Moda and finish at the Moda Sahili Park to people watch, taste the local rice-stuffed mussels, or just relax in this beautiful park overlooking the Bosphorus Strait!
You could also take part in a food tour, on which you’ll taste the local cuisine on both the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. The tour starts with a Turkish breakfast on the European side, then you’ll cross the Bosphorus by ferry to the Asian side. Here, you’ll explore Kadıköy and discover some of the best restaurants in Istanbul.
Crossing over to the European side of Istanbul is a must-do experience to feel a more local side of this cosmopolitan city.
Day 10: Visiting Balat & Fener/ Departure from Istanbul
If your flight is later in the evening or at night, you can still fit a few other extra things to see in Istanbul.
Balat & Fener (Off-the-beaten-path)
Visit this gorgeous, cute, hip part of Istanbul full of shops and restaurants. There’s no one main attraction to this neighborhood, but a cluster of gorgeous things to see and cute businesses to visit.
Where to Stay in Istanbul
Check out these accommodations and boutique hotels in Istanbul.
- ($) Juliet Rooms & Kitchen: Hotel + hostel + restaurant. They have delicious food, clean amenities, beautiful rooms, and are located in a gorgeous street in Moda.
- ($$$$) MGallery Galata: Gorgeous hotel with beautiful rooms, lovely restaurants, and a spa – all in a perfect location.
- ($$$$$) Four Seasons Sultanahmet: Perfectly located in the heart of the city’s oldest district but in a tranquil street, with a gorgeous restaurant and relaxing spa.
Extra Places to Visit in Turkey
Have extra time for your trip to Turkey? Consider adding these other amazing destinations in Turkey!
- Fethiye: Epic beaches, coastlines, and the chance to go paragliding.
- Marmaris: Beach towns and stunning coasts. Why not cruise along the Dalyan river and visit a mud bath whilst in Marmaris?
- Salda Lake: Considered the Maldives of Turkey!
- Pammukale: Natural pools that look like a cotton candle castle. This attraction is close to Ephesus/Izmir or you can fly into Denizli-Cardak Airport from Cappadocia (Kayseri). You can also take a tour from Izmir. However, it is very crowded and touristy. If you decide to go, get there as soon as it opens to beat a swarm of the crowds.