ULTIMATE TURKEY ROADTRIP GUIDE
Istanbul Ankara Cappadocia Konya Antalya Kas Fethiye Pamukkale Bodrum Ephesus Cesme
GENERAL INFO + TIPS
For years Turkey has been and always will be one of the hottest traveling destinations. Centrally located, reasonably priced, and a variety of activities to do, this country has so much to offer!
On our one month journey through Central and Western Turkey, we enjoyed turquoise waters of Mediterranean, experienced a hot air-balloon trip, soaked up the sun on ancient travertine beds, and became aquatinted with historical sites. As you can tell, Turkey has it all and on our one month stay we only scratched the surface!
TEMPERATURE: We visited Turkey in the month of August. It is known to be one of the hottest months and this absolutely holds true! We found that in Central cities the temperature can get quite unbearable during when the sun is at it's peak, but quite pleasant in the early mornings and after 4 pm. Therefore, we planned our strolls and exploring around peak sun hours. However, in coastal cities on the seaside, it is the best time to be out and about, dipping in the cold Mediterranean water or working on the tan! Mediterranean tans are one of a kind and they certainly hit different.
LANGUAGE: All TURKISH. A majority of locals speak English quite well and love having conversations with tourists.
HOW TO GET AROUND: Two options here, you can fly city to city OR you can rent a car. Ubers and Taxis in Turkey are inexpensive comparatively to the rest of the world so if you chose to fly place to place within Turkey, it is certainly doable and definitely the more economical option. We tend to be on the adventurous side and love long drives, so we opted for a car rental during out entire stay. We were also traveling with Sepideh's mother and our cat so it made more sense to travel via car in our case. If you take a look at the map above, we drove to each and every one of these locations (11 stops to be exact) and considering we've driven in all parts of the world (India, Iran, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, USA etc.), we have to say, all major roads and highways of Turkey are very spacious and safe. Gas is also fairly inexpensive if you are coming from and outside nation (e.g. USA). If you to opt for driving, we just want to mention that in major cities (e.g. Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya etc.) the traffic within he city centers can get quite bad. Also within these city centers, keep in mind, you will get your fair share of overly confident (aka aggressive) drivers. Moral of the story - if you are a confident driver, go for it and rend a car in Turkey. It is a very fun country to drive around.
CURRENCY: Turkish LIRA. Unfortunately for the locals, the LIRA has been on steady decline for the past few years. When we visited in August 2021 the rate was 8.3 TRY for 1 USD now you can get almost 15 TRY for 1 USD. Keep this in mind as you navigate through this country, it is evident that the economy is struggling on this front and people are naturally sensitive to it. Although there are official exchange rate, it does not mean this is the rate you will get. With that said, Turkey accepts credit cards and cash (any currency) pretty much everywhere you go. However, you will certainly save if you choose to operate on cash flow whilst visiting Turkey.
If you prefer to go to an official exchange counter, make sure to shop around for the best rate as the exchange stands could charge you a hefty amount.
If you are like us, don't be shy to ask a local at a store or at your hotel to sell you their LIRA for USD/EURO. They will gladly do so and usually at a favorable rate. If you choose this method, we suggest to be prepared going into the conversation and know your exchange rates to avoid being taken advantage of. A simple LIRA/USD or LIRA/EURO Google search will do to job.
It it important to note that a majority places prefer to receive USD or EURO instead of LIRA as they prefer to hold onto less volatile currencies. Having safe haven currencies on hand in CASH will give give you amazing bargaining power in this country!
AIRLINE CHOICE: We travelled to Turkey in the midst of our permanent relocation from Hong Kong to New York, hence the many cat photos you will see throughout the course of this write up. As a result of our complex situation, we decided to fly in cabin with our baby girl, Lily the bengal. Turkish Airlines is one of the few airlines that is cabin pet friendly. Meaning, you can take your dog, cat, bird, etc. with you! They have a one animal at the time policy per flight, so it you want to travel with your pet, be sure to book in advance! There is a quite a bit of information that we would love to share around 'traveling across the world with your pet', so if you'd like to know more, drop us a message. Turkey is famous for their cats and being that they are a cat loving nation, we knew the country and Turkish people would be accommodating. In all honesty, we could not be happier with how seamless it was to travel with a pet throughout this country.
WHAT TO WEAR: Turkey has proper seasonality, where summers can get brutally hot and winters can be frigid. Check the weather and plan accordingly because depending on when you are planning to visit, you will experience very different climates. In terms of fashion, pack light because Turkey is known for it's amazing shopping, where you can check out outlet stores or simple boutiques run by local designers. We must have doubled our wardrobe during our stay in Turkey where all the garments were relatively inexpensive and of EXCEPTIONAL quality. One other topic we wanted to touch on was whether or not Turkey has a 'conservative dress code'. Short answer, NO. You will see it all, just be mindful if you plan on visiting a place of worship and remember to always respect and cover up as needed.
Istanbul is an incredibly convenient, lively and easy to navigate city. A majority of the 'must see' places are within a 5 kilometer radius. You can hit the top spots within a 2-3 day stay but be prepared with a comfortable pair of shoes and expect to put a lot of miles on that booty because this city will make you want to keep it moving! Public transportation is abundant and certainly the fastest method if you prefer not to walk. We also wanted to share that we found it faster to navigate by foot than Uber or taxi. The traffic in Istanbul is no joke!
In Istanbul, we planned for 2 full days during the beginning and 3 days at the end of our month long Turkey extravaganza. We decided to make the most out of Istanbul but also made some time for some R&R whilst in this former capital of the Roman Empire! This city is beyond rich with epic history, traditions and cute kitties all over. Having too many good recommendations from fellow Turkish friends (shout out to you Bugra!) We decided to be total tourist on our first 2 days and real Istanbulite on our last 3 days!
Where to stay: We were told, in order to stay away from the chaos, the best area is around Beşiktaş. That is where most higher end hotels are as well. We stayed at Conrad Istanbul Bosphorus and couldn't be happier with the location. We did have a car and even tried to drive it around but the traffic in Istanbul is a nightmare. It is also extremely difficult to get taxis there and Uber may take a while to show up. So opt in for some comfy shoes and order your Uber a while before you actually intend to head to your destination!
Day 1: As we got in early in the morning, energized and excited, we decided to walk from our hotel to Dolmabahçe Palace , followed by Taksim Square, making our way down all the way to Galata Tower for sunset. We stumbled into the Lebanese restaurant of our dreams for dinner.
Day 2: We woke up super early as we had plans to explore the mighty Hagia Sofia. We recommend getting there as early as you possibly can as it gets so busy and you may have to wait hours to actually get inside. Between The Blue Mosque , the Bazar and Sultan Mehmet Square, you will spend all day here! enjoy and make sure to take regular tea breaks to appreciate the view!
Notes to remember about Hagia Sophia: 1- Get in early 2- Take a scarf with you and make sure you are not showing too much skin (both for ladies and gents) 3- avoid prayer hours(Azan)as you will not be able to go in the mosque. Day 28: After coming back from our tour de Turk, we were ready for a Hammam experience! There is many options around but we decided to go with the most iconic place Cagaloglu Hamam. Walking in you will see pictures of many famous figures enjoying this experience. The Hamam is uber clean and the quality was top notch. Hammam Experinece, Galata Bridge and Baklava Shopping
After our Turkish bath experinece, we started walking toward the Galata Bridge, feeling in rush, exploring all shops and spots!
The only place that we had to visit was KARAKÖY GÜLLÜOĞLU. The most famous and love Baklava spot in Istanbul. You can get big baklava serving to enjoy there as well as some to take home with you! We opted or the green metallic tin Baklavas as they are the safest to travel with. Be sure to let them know you are transporting the, so they wrap it so meticulously with you!
Day 29: Originally, we were planning to watch the Whirling Dervishes at its birth place, Konya. However due to Covid, we were not able to catch there, so we chose The Whirling Dervishes Show at the HodjaPasha Culture Center. This iconic venue is a re-purposed 15th-century bath-house and it located in a traditional part of Istanbul with heaps of original Turkish cafes around.
We decided to have dinner with our baby girl Lily, as we were preparing to say goodbye to Istanbul and head towards our next destination.
We ordered room service and dedicate much needed love and attention. Only to our surprise, the room service was one of the best meals we had in Turkey! Featured here is the Baklava Cheesecake and the signature lamb and eggplant dish. We capped the night with a relaxing bath and happy bellies!
Day 30: As we had Lily with us, we had to get permission from Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to have her exit the country with us. So we took the morning to get the paperwork done and then visited a well recommended breakfast spot! Emirgan Sütiş is a local favorite with a big menu and bigger portions! We visited their most popular location with a view of Bosporus and had our selves an amazing time!
After a workout and a pool swim at our hotel, we continued our food tour to Nobu Istanbul. We were specially excited to check out Nobu at this location as it was just opened a few weeks before our visit and we were already craving Sushi after our amazing Zuma Bodrum experience. As Nobu is located at the Ritz Carlton building in Istanbul, we decided to get drinks at Bleu Lounge a popular cocktail bar at the Ritz. Given the prestige of the venue, the cocktails were quite underwhelming. We sent our drinks back twice and still were not happy with the quality and craftsmanship. Lucky we had a gorgeous view of one of the most famous Turkish Stadium, Sunset and Bosporus!
Our recommendation is to completely skip this bar and just get drinks at Nobu!
They have a dedicated indoor bar and the dining area has amazing views with a skyline so you will not miss any bit of the sunset!
We ordered the tasting menu as we curious of their catering to local taste. We were incredibly pleased with the black sesame and matcha Turkish delights! What a scrumptious twist!
And as we mentioned before, the cocktails are just phenomenal. Feature on the left is a cocktail from Asma, an incredibly qualified bartender, her personal favorite that we do not remember the name of! That's how you know how amazing she is!
Day 3: An early head start driving toward central turkey, we left our hotel at around 9 am to find our way to Ankara. After a 4.5 hours drive, we found ourselves in Ankara, the capitol!
There is not a whole lot of trendy hotel options in Ankara as the city revolves around officials and business visits. We stayed at the Hilton Ankara and had phenomenal views of the whole city as the hotel is located on top of the highest hill there!
Ankara is not a popular tourist destination. Having said that, we did find a few amazing spots to check out.
1- Ankara Kalesi (Castle)
2- Museum of Anatolian Civilizations
3- Anitkabir is the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the leader of the Turkish War of Independence and the founder and the first President of Republic of Turkey.
Day 4: After our morning at Anikabir, we started driving towards Cappadocia in the afternoon. Not so much of a scenic drive but we did a little detour to check out Tuz Golu (Pink Lake) on our way to Cappadocia. Unfortunately this beautiful lake is another victim to climate change and it completely dries out during the warm months of summer. Having said that, it is still a beautiful site to visit and appreciate a vast bed of salt!
We visited in Early August and the lake was completely dried up. We arrived to our hotel just in time for sunset and we could not believe our eyes... We stayed at Koza Cave Hotel the entire time we were in Cappadocia. Putting aside being the highest and the most instagrammable roof in Cappadocia, we loved the fact that we get a cave room experience. Being a boutique hotel, they are so attentive to those little details that create the best experience. They also do a great job taking care of any booking needs for any activities you have in mind including restaurant recommendation and reservation. They have a rooftop bar called Dusk which has the best cocktails in town, all with a yummy Turkish twist.
If you are a guest in the hotel, you don't have to worry about overcrowded roof as they don't allow people who are not guests to come to the roof during the popular hours of sunrise and sunset!
Day 5: We woke up and got quite lucky for experiencing one of those famous Cappadocian sunrises!
It is good to know, not all sunrises made the same. Due to altitude Cappadocia's weather could change from day to day. We experienced a different morning every single day during our 5 day stay here!
During the day we checked out
Fairy Chimneys in Zelve Open air Museum
We finished the day with some beers and shisha on Koza Cave Hotel rooftop! Day 6: A 4 am wake up for our first hot air balloon experience! Read the full blog on the company we used and the experience here.
Incredibly energized from our hot air balloon experience, we continued our adventure to Goreme open air museum.
Just before the open air museum, there is the famous Dark church. Known for its vibrant frescos & vaulted ceilings, this church is built in a cave. We felt Goreme open air is a lot similar to Fairy Chimneys complex. so if you don't have a lot of time, we recommend only checking out the Chimneys! Inside the Open air complex, there is Tokalı Church (Church of the Buckle) that needs an extra ticket to be visited. Although it is not a big church to visit, you can read the history on the walls inside. The guard at the door took time to explain to us a lot about the history of the church and how it used to not be protected up until 20 years ago. You see many of the paintings- specially the faces- being destroyed by older generations due to being religiously bias. Picture taking is forbidden inside this church so we took extra time here to take mental pictures!
Still running on the adrenaline of experiencing so many new things, we went for a Sunset Horse Back riding.
There is many companies to use, we went for our hotel recommended option, The Dalton Brothers.
Day 7: Our thirds sunrise in Cappadocia was a slightly different one as there was a chance of rain and the air balloons were cancelled! It was a chance for us to kick back and enjoy some time with our baby girl, Lily the traveling bengal!
Then we headed to the town for some cultural experience and a visit to Sultan Carpets for that famous aerial shot!
We did not know you have to book your spot and luckily we had some time left to come back. Make sure to contact them for a session booking. You can book to both use their props or take drone shots using your own drone or theirs.
Day 8: Our last morning here and we woke up to the balloons slowly making their way up to the sky! What a wonderful surprise it was after a day without them! Really got used to these dramatic mornings. No caffeination can match the energy!
We had a more chill look and shoot on Sultan Cave Hotel roof and packed to set sail to our next location, Konya.
Day 8: Inspired by the book The Forty Rules of Love and growing up with Rumi (Mevlana-مولانا), the Persian Poet, this one one of Sep's dream spiritual destinations.
Unfortunately the Mevlana Museum was under construction from outside and the Sema dance was reduced to once a week due to Covid when we visited. But the spiritual journey we came for guided us to another beauty to discover and that was the most unique and incredible hand made art store. Make sure to check out the second floor as the first floor is just the beginning of all the beauty you are about to see! A true family business, the plates are hand made, hand painted and glazed by the mother and the father and the son keep the shop organized and make sure you sip on their incredible Turkish coffee and tradition as you choose your favorite design.
We stayed at Hilton Garden Inn as we wanted quick access to the city centre. We only had a day to spend in Konya and this location helped us maximize all that we wanted to experience!
Day 9: One of the most visited cities in Turkey! It is most known for its all-inclusive resorts outside of the centre.
We had a day to spend here as we wanted to definitely check Antalya out but busy cities are not our style so we dedicated a day here. We stayed at Atelya Art Hotel a historic boutique hotel in the centre of the Old Town. Busy night life and gorgeous morning. We picked our poison wisely!
Send our regards to Mehdi if you ended up walking past Lidya Carpet Kilim! He let us take his Vespa for a stroll in town!
We started driving to Kas around midday. Three hours later and we are in the local's favorite oceanfront of Turkey!
Day 10: Our longest stop in Turkey and our favorite relaxation destination. Our HK Turkish friend (shout out to you Ozgen!) told us this is the stop we are going to love the most to chill at and she was right!
We stayed at an Airbnb to have all the home amenities for 6 days. Located on a hill, this place had amazing views of the ocean!
Make sure you are checking out this area during golden as the lights are just magical! There is a lot of restaurant around the area, so just walk around and take a pick! There is one or two historic sites to see in Kas. We specially woke up for sunrise for Antiphellos Ancient City however were unimpressed by the dirtiness of this ancient structure. Countless cigarette butts, alcohol bottles and some backpackers sleeping on the stairs! So if you are planning to visit Ephesus and Hierapolis-Pamukkale, you can definitely miss this one!
Day 11: Day Trip to Kekova Island. You can get tickets anywhere walking around the town. There is a lot of boats doing the KEkova Island tour, however they have a system not to arrive in a spot all at the same time, so you get to enjoy a somewhat peaceful experience at each place. We did a total of 3 snorkeling sites as well as climbing up the island and checking out the castle views!
We were told the handmade icecream at Kekova Island is one of a kind! We confirm the truth of the statement! be sure to try some!
Day 12: The most beautiful beach of them all Kaputas Beach. The road to drive here from Kas is windy and no matter how early you get there, there is no parking. You may have to drive a fair bit away from the beach to be able to park but don't worry! It totally worths it! We spent all day here and as it is a well-known beach, there is a a food court there with many options.
Day 13: If you walk around Kas a bit, you'd know beach clubs are a thing there! Placed on the edge of the cliff, their water access is on of a kind! We went to the one on the rights side of Narr Beach&Cafe which looks to be temperorily closed now. The cocktails and food were amazing and the servioce was top notch. Be sure to take advantage of the natural dive platform! Its the only way to do it!
Day 14: It's not a sea side trip for us if we don't get to experience the under water world and we did just that! We chose Likya Diving Center as they had amazing reviews and if you meet Volkan Yildirim, you'd know why!
They are PADI and CMAs certified, speak German, English and Turkish so their clients are usually from those parts of the world.
We got to see a plane reck, some marine life and had a great time on the boat!
Day 15: We arrived to Fethiye just before sunset. We were told and heared a lot aboit boat trips to Greek Islands from here nasd we could not find any resources online about its locations, frequency and boat timetables! We walked to what looked like to be a ticket selling spot and they mentioned the boat trips to Greece and back have been bann ed for a few months due to rocky relationships between the two countries. As we were set on boat life before coming here, we decided to book for a local island! Day 16: We boarder our boat towards Kizil Ada island at 10 am. A natural beauty, both the ride and the time at the island was incredibly relaxing and fun! We also learned about Samphire, succulent salt-tolerant plants that is frequently used in traditional recipes. We saw ladies picking them and they gave us a taste! not so amazing uncooked but they are exceptionally amazing when pickled!
Day 17: Oludeniz is a resort village just 20 minutes away from Fethiye. It is mostly famous for its sky diving and park view lagoons! Be sure to get there nice and early as most of the beach chairs get taken only a few hours after opening.
Day 18: The major site to see in Pamukkale is the Hierapolis-Pamukkale complex.
The sites are connected and there is a few different entrances to take. It is good to know that most people opt in for a day tour to the complex so if you are visiting between the hours of 9am-5pm, expect crowd. A lot of it and everywhere. The tour buses usually drop off on the south gate, close to the pools so the crowd start from there and make their way up to ruins. Observing this on the day, we decided to do the exact opposite!
We started our morning entering from the northern gate, which means we got to walk around Necropolis first, then the gate and the ancient city, with almost no one around! As we made it to the main area, it was noon and the hottest time of the day, which was perfect timing to take a break in the cool shades of the museum and the cafe area. We also went for a little swim to the Travertine Terraces. It was a great way to cool down and play around with the calcium carbonate which is in form of white clay! We saw a lot of people covering their bodies with it and that's what we just did too! The cooling effect is beyond pleasant and it leaves the skin super smooth! As 5 pm hit, all the tourist were gone, so we could take our epic sunset coliseum picture!
Day 19: We went back to the travertine terraces for sunrise! We sure recommend this as there was only a few people, the water was more clear and we also got to see the Pamukkale hot air balloons!
We got to properly relax and enjoy this phenomenon natural formation. The ancient city of Hierapolis was specially built and developed around 2nd century BC as the Romans loved these terraces and enjoyed them all year around as spas. No matter the tempreture, the waters bubling from the earth are warm and full of minerals. After this ultra relaxing experience, "Pamukkale" is our mantra when we are in a stressful situation.
mineral-rich thermal waters that flow down the bright white terraces of the steep valley side.
From busy part streets to luxury relaxing coasts, Bodrum sure has a lot to offer! Bodrum Dining tip: If you have a specific restaurant in mind, be sure to make reservation in advance. Bodrum is bust with local and international tourist, it's buzzing throughout the whole summer and usually spots at peak hours are taken.
Day 20: We stayed at Downtown Bodrum and we were specially excited about the airbnb as it has a retractable roof(!) and it was precisely a flight of stairs and 2 steps away from the shore!
As much as this airbnb looked picture perfect, we did not love the location and also the management. This is the busiest part of Bodrum, so if you are planning to relax, definitely stay away from getting your accommodation in downtown and opt for more trendy and quaint neighborhoods like Yalıkavak , Gümüşlük and Göltürkbükü.
Having said that, it was much easier to take advantage of the sigh-seeing in Bodrum, being so close to all the tourists spots.
Day 21: We walked around the downtown area all day! Checked out the Bodrum Castle , stopped at the bazaar, and also chilled on the beach side cafes so Maggie can work a bit!
Day 22: We started our day with an hour swim. How could we not being just steps away from the most clear waters of Mediterranean?! We took time to explore different parts of Bodrum, caught sunset at our balcony overlooking the castle, had dinner in the historic old town and topped off the night with a dip in our outdoor tub!
Day 23: We had a Tourkish friends from Hong Kong spending time in Bodrum at the same time as us!
They invited us on their boat to show us around the marine life of Bodrum and it was absolutely incredible! We had hour of conversations about Turkey in general, where it stand today, our home towns, similarity of Turkish and Iranian culture and Food! Asking Soner and Irem where is their favourite place in Turkey, they immediately replied Cesme! -which means spring- and that is why we decided to change our plans a bit so we can stop there!
after a lovely lunch, swimming in the most clear waters and driving through the sunset, Our friends dropped us off at Türkbükü one of the cutest, most scenic beach towns. We took advantage of the unique boutiques and did a lot of shopping. This town is also famous for its dining and on the water restaurants. After much consideration. we chose Atilay as our dining spot for the night. They have a display of mezza you can choose your starter from and order your main from their seafood menu. This was one of our faourite places in Bodrum!
Day 24: After our usual morning swim, we got ready to explore the Yalıkavak Marina. This is Bodrum as chic as it gets, so make sureto dress to impress! We had reservations at Zuma Bodrum for sunset. This was the most beautiful Zuma location we have been to. If you are in town, it definately worths checking out. Sep's mom particularly enjoyed this place as they had a whole section in the menu catered for non-raw-fish-lovers!
We originally were planning to stay in Bodrum for 6 days, howvere after speaking with our friends and much consideration, we decided to cut our Bodrum time short, to be able to check out Cesme!
A short drone video showing our epic Bodrum loft with retractable roof and balcony overlooking the sea! We have to give the idea behind this whole design an A+!
Day 25: A local favorite. You don't see as many tourist here and that is why it is loved.
The loveliest places to stay at is either Alaçatı or anywhere close to the sea. We opted for the sea side and as we were booking hours before arrival, we didn't have a lot of options. So we went with a hotel apartment around Kocakarı Plajı beach. after checking in we spent our evening walking around Alacati and were mesmerized by its incredible scenery. Plan to spend a lot of time here and make sure to bring your camera along as this place has a of uniqueness to offer! From mirrors all over the town, to antique pots, stylish boutiques and cute doors(!) Cesme got us in love head over heels!
Day 26: We had an early morning drive to Ephesus. Check all the details here
Day 27:The Stunning Cleopatra Bay or Güvercinlik Koyu. Cesme(Spring) has gotten it's name for the quality of its water. Clear, cold and light, this is the most amazing part of Aegean sea to swim at. There also is a captivating formation of limestone that we were obsessed with! This beach does not have any stores and restaurants, so if you are planning to spend a good few hours here, be sure to pack plenty of water and some snacks to enjoy at the beach!
This certainly was a pleasent experience, as our last beach in Turkey!
After that, we went back to Alacati for dinner and went to bed nice and early for our final road trip back to Istanbul!
Day 26: Ephesus is one of the most famous historic sites in Turkey and where their national beer Efes got its name from!
The second biggest city of the Roman Empire, home to one of the seven wonders and birthplace of many famous Greeks this place is not to be missed!
There is day trips from Istanbul as well and this means a lot of tourists on site! We left our place in Cesme at 5 am and got to Ephesus Archeological Site early enough to be able to get a guide. You are able to explore on your own, however, we usually invest in a guide to be able to learn and appreciate as much as possible.
The archeological complex is full of wonders! From the first recorded advert which belongs to a Roman brothel, etched into the marble walkway. To sizable Colosseum (then) overlooking the incoming ships, to inspirations for modern day logos such as Nike, The Caduceus and Triton! We also found Terrace Houses of Ephesus extremely fascinating. the Beverly Hills of ancient Rome, where the richest of the rich lived and the interior decorations are being revived.
There is many sites to see and as were not staying over night, we did not have enough time to check them all out. We consulted our tour guide and picked a few that sounded the most exciting to us! Of these few were Ephesus Archaeological Museum , House of Virgin Mary and The Temple of Artemis. Be sure to check out our Instagram posts that showcase the many locations and options. While you’re in Turkey, don’t forget to check out our Turkey Instagram highlight story – it may be super helpful!