Here’s the itinerary that the Boy and I followed for our Turkey trip! An alternate itinerary followed by our friends and fellow travelers, Usman and Faria, can be found here.
The trip we planned before we got to Turkey, and the itinerary we ended up creating for ourselves while in Turkey, turned out to be quite different! We actually changed our whole trip on our first full day in Istanbul. There we were, sitting on a bench in Sultanahmet, in front of the Hagia Sophia and overlooking the Blue Mosque, cancelling our previously booked hotels and booking new flights!
Did we lose money doing this? Most definitely! Because the flights we took could have been so much cheaper had we planned in advance. But we don’t regret this at all as it allowed us to restructure the trip in a way that allowed us more days in Istanbul – something we hadn’t planned on in the start.
Here is the itinerary we created when we were doing our planning:
Day 1: Land in Istanbul in the evening, stay the night at the Maritime Hotel, Istanbul.
Day 2: Spend the day exploring Istanbul. Visit the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Grand Bazaar, and Taksim Square. Stay the night at Maritime Hotel, Istanbul.
Day 3: Fly from Istanbul to Izmir. Stay the night in Izmir and explore the city.
Day 4: Book a day tour from Izmir, which takes us to the Ephesus, the Temple of Artemis, the House of Mary etc. Stay the night in Izmir.
Day 5: Fly from Izmir to Kayseri, Cappadocia. Take a shuttle from Kayseri airport to Nevşehir or Göreme, and stay the night there.
Day 6: Book an air balloon tour early morning in Nevşehir/Göreme. Book a half day tour for the rest of the day, trekking through the Ihlara Valley and visiting the underground cities.
Day 7: Take a shuttle back to Kayseri, and fly from Kayseri to Istanbul. Spend the rest of the day touring Istanbul.
Day 8: Fly back to Islamabad from Istanbul!
Now there’s nothing wrong with this itinerary. Just that we had given ourselves too little time in Istanbul, when Istanbul definitely demands a longer stay! Also, while on a boat in Zanzibar, I met an amazing British lady who lives in Turkey, and she advised us to skip Izmir altogether. She said we were spending too long in Izmir, as per our planned itinerary, and that we should in fact go to Selcuk directly, where the Ephesus is.
Long story short, here’s the (slightly crazy, ambitious and tiring) itinerary we ended up following:
Day 1: Landed in Istanbul in the evening, stayed the night at the Maritime Hotel, Istanbul.
Day 2: Spent the day exploring Istanbul. Visited the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Grand Bazaar, Taksim Square, Isteklal street and more. We walked more than 25,000 steps that day! Stayed the night at Maritime Hotel, Istanbul.
Day 3: Flew from Istanbul to Izmir in the morning. Took a local train from Izmir airport to Selçuk. Walked from the Selçuk train station to the Ephesus and the Temple of Artemis, explored everything (saved money by not booking a tour!). Then we walked back to the town center, had a delightful Turkish lunch at a local family run restaurant. Ran (because we were late) back to the train station, got back to the airport, and fly to Kayseri, Cappadocia via Istanbul. Spent the night at Istanbul airport. =p
Day 4: Arrived at Kayseri in the morning. Got our hotel shuttle to pick us up and drive directly to Göreme. We were booked at the Hidden Cave Hotel, which was absolutely delightful. Spent the day exploring Göreme. We rented an ATV for an hour and saw the whole town. There are a ton of food places, and the hills are gorgeous. It’s pretty chilly – pack a jacket (we went in May)!
Day 5: We booked a balloon ride for dawn, for which we were picked up at 3:30 am! The balloon ride ended around 9 am. We spent the morning lazying around the hotel and Göreme, then took a shuttle to Nevşehir and flew from Nevşehir airport to Istanbul!
Day 6: Full day exploring Istanbul! Details Here. We stayed at the Taksim Para Orient Hotel, which was close to Taksim Square and Isteklal Street. It was still a good 15-20 minute walk though. If you want to walk less, there are many other options that are directly on Taksim Square or Isteklal street!
Day 7: Spent the whole day exploring Istanbul (and shopping – this was my ‘designated’ shopping day!).
Day 8: Flew back to Islamabad from Istanbul. And thus ended our super fun Turkey trip!