Highlight of 20 days Turkey Itinerary
Updated: Feb 27
'Turkey is an European country, an Asian country, a Middle Eastern country, Balkan country, Caucasian country, neighbour to Africa, Black Sea country, Caspian Sea, all these - Ahmet Davutoglu'.
In order to escape cold weather that started to hit Central Asia, I started to search for a cheap gateway flight ticket to the next country that offers visa-free access to Malaysian passport holder. After a quick search, I booked a cheap Turkish Airlines flight from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to Istanbul. And this is the beginning of my stay in the country where East meets West.
As previous countries, I decided on route seldom travelled by mass-tourism. Last minutes planning and by local recommendation, this is how my 20 days itinerary look like.
This route starts and end in Istanbul and it offers a variety of sights and scenery from some of the best that Turkey have to offers. From the modern city of Istanbul to the ancient sunken city of Kekova, hope you will be able to experience the wonders that I had experience. Turkey had never stop amazed me.
As Turkey is a large country stranded in between Europe and Asia, I would recommend travelling in Turkey for at least 2 weeks in order to fully experience all that Turkey had to offer at a comfortable pace. The journey will start mostly in Istanbul as most international flight will land in either Istanbul or Ankara. However, I would recommend to start it in Istanbul as Istanbul itself is amazing city which span 2 continents. And of course, the flight ticket to Istanbul is cheaper as well 😁
For this itinerary, you can adjust the length of the stay in each cities depending on your travel preferences. It will start in Istanbul in the north to Goreme in the east and all the way south to Antalya. From Antalya, it will involve driving through coastal highway (which in my opinion is the most beautiful road trip in whole Turkey) before ending it in Istanbul to catch your flight to your next adventure.
Summary - Istanbul (4 days) -> Gerome (4 days) -> Konya (1 day) -> Antalya (2 days) -> Chimaera (1 day) -> Kekova (2 days) -> Pamukkale (1 day) -> Sulcuk (2 days) -> Sirince (1 day) -> Istanbul (2 days)
Travelling make easy in Turkey as most local can speak English and are friendly enough to offer their help except in Istanbul which has a few rotten apples in term of tourist scammer (which I would explain more below).
Day 1-4 Istanbul
Once you touch down at Istanbul airport, make your way to the city centre by using the airport bus. You can also put Istanbul as your last stop if you manage to catch a cheap connecting flight to Nevsehir or Kayseri for the next destination (Gerome).
The best area to stay in Istanbul is on the European side of the city. I would recommend staying at either Sultanahmet Square or Taksim square as both areas are close to major tourist spots and an excellent transport hub.
Start your journey in Istanbul by spending at least a day in Sultanahmet area to visit the majestic Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace Museum, the Blue Mosque and Basilica Cistern. If you intern to visit other parts of Turkey as per this iterinary, consider purchase the Museum Pass which is valid for 15 days for visit to government-managed museum.
My favourite place is Hagia Sophia. It was once of the most impressive and important buildings ever constructed in Turkey. People even call it the 8th wonder of the world. Currently, it was known as Hagia Sophia Holy Grand Mosque. Formerly it was the Church of Hagia Sophia. Hence when you walk into it, you can experience the mixture of architecture of 2 of world largest religions. Here you may see a drawing of Christianity next to Islamic symbol.
Once you completed your tour, walk across the square to visit the Blue Mosque. Take a short break during the prayer recital to listen to the 'Battle of Prayer' between Hagia Sophia mosque and the Blue Mosque.
Near to Sultanahmet Square, try to look for the entrance to an ancient cistern (artificial reservoir) Basilica Cistern. 52 stone steps are all you need to enter this fantastic architecture. It was built in the 6th century. Ambient lighting and cold air will soak your skin upon stepping down the stair. Here, you will be surrounded by 336 marbles columns that give you fantastic Instagram photo.
While you are there, try to search for Tear Column and Medusa Column and you will be surprised.
Spend the next few days in Istanbul by taking a stroll at Istiklal Street which is the most popular avenue in Istanbul. You may start your stroll from Taksim Square in the north and finished it off with a sunset view from Gelata Tower (south). Plan your timing well if you want to experience the sunset from the top of Gelata Tower as the queue to enter the tower just before the sunset will be long.
Complete your visit by indulging in local cuisine at the Spice Bazaar.
Day 5-8 Gerome
The next destination will be Jewel of Turkey, Cappacodia. I had always been fascinated by the sight of countless hot air balloon across a landscape that looks like it was from another planet. However, Cappacodia is more than just hot air balloon ride.
There are a few small towns where you can catch the hot air balloon but a stay at Gerome will be ideal as basic amenity is there (including a Hamman bathhouse). Check the weather forecast before planning your trip to Gerome if you wish to take the hot air balloon as hot air balloon ride was very dependence on the weather condition. Spend your first day with hot air balloon ride and strolling around this lovely small town.
Visitor to Gerome have the option of 2 route; the Red tour (North) and Green Tour (South). If you are base on Gerome, you can do the Red tour DIY style.
Red Tour: Start your day in the early morning with the view of rising hot air balloon at Sunrise point (use Maps.me for direction). Here, you can see the rock formation of Love Valley under the brimming sunlight. After enjoying the sunrise, walk to the town of Uchisar to visit the magnificent Uchisar Castle. Other interesting points to explore including Gerome Open Air Museum, Love Valley and Fairy Chimney.
Fun Facts: Pigeon house's name came from numerous man-made dovecotes (Pigeon Houses) that had been carved into volcanic tuff. In ancient Turkey, pigeons had been used in this region as message carrier and their dropping had been used as fertilizer. With the advancement in today morning, the usage of messenger pigeon had been phased out. However, their legacy remains in the form of these amazing Pigeon houses.
Up next is the Green tour on day 3. On Green tour, you will visit Derinkuyu Underground City and Ilhara Valley. There is about 36 underground cities in Cappacodia with Derinkuyu Underground City being the deepest with 600 plus outside doors and with the deep of 85m. You will find various room with interesting features such as stables (yes, ancient Cappacodian raise livestock under the ground), cellars, storage rooms, schools and churches. Locals build it as a temporary shelter from frequent raids by invading armies.
Next up is Ilhara Valley. This 14km gorge was the settlement of Christians escaping prosecution by Roman soldiers. Here, you may enjoy serene gorge with many ancient churches.
It is quite a distance if you drive from Istanbul to Gerome. As a budget tight traveller, I opt to travel by overnight bus to Gerome. This way, I can save on my travel expenses and at the same time, save on 1-night accommodation. And believe me, long-distance bus in Turkey is the best I had throughout my journey (imagine being served with drink by a bus attendance. Yes, you hear me right. Buses in Turkey have onboard attendance just like in any flight to serve your need and drink). While there, why not staying in one of the numerous cave hotel/hostels, right?
Day 9 Konya
Inspired by photos I saw online about a group of men in white robe dancing and swirling, I made my way to the city of Konya from Gerome. But upon reaching here, I was wrong. It was not a dance, instead, it was a religious praying ritual.
The ceremony runs for several hours and divided into 7 parts. I visited Mevlana Cultural Center to witness this surprising calm ceremony. However, the information on the schedule and purchasing of the ticket cannot be done online. Hence, I decided to try my luck there.
Once at the cultural center, I proceed to the receptionist and apparently, the ticket had to be booked in advance through a specific website. Seeing my disappointed face, the nice gentlemen proceed to offer me a free ticket. Yeah...
This ritual had become an unseparated identity of Turkey. Here at Mevlana Cultural Center, you will be treated to the captivating sight of Turkish Dervishes hypnotically spinning accompanied by the chant of prayer. It can also be view at Istanbul, but why don't visited it in its birthplace itself, right?
Day 10-11 Antalya
Antalya is famous as a tourist destination for many local Turkish. Beautiful beaches and majestic ruin of Aspendos are a must include in the itinerary's checklist.
Start your stay in Antalya by visiting Karaalioglu Park, Hidirlik Tower and Hadrian Castle Gate. All these three attractions are located in the city itself.
Alexander the Great. I believe most peoples had been heard of this name before. And here, in Antalya, you can visit one of the best-preserved legacy of the Roman Empire under the command of Alexander the Great; Ancient Theatre of Aspendos.
Work hard, party harder. I believe this is also the motto of the ancient Roman. To entertain themselves, ancient Roman-built numerous theatre across the empire and Aspendos is the among the best preserved. Sitting on the stone seat alone, I closed my eye and imagine how many great musician and performers had graced this theatre during the height of the Roman empire. How beautiful it would be.
Day 12 Playing with Fire @ Mt Olympos
Had you ever visited a mountain that had been burning for centuries just Fire Mountain in Dragon Ball animation? Yes, you can find it at Yanartas (Burning Rock in Turkish) in Southern Turkey. According to the myth, a mythical hero by the name of Bellerophon had killed the Chimaera; a monstrous fire breathing hybrid creature in ancient Greek culture.
Today, visitors can visit this mountain where cluster of small natural flames blazing. You can try to extinguish it, but it will come back alive after a while. While at there, pay a visit to 2 local guardian cats there. Yes, there are 2 cats lovely cats that call this mountain home. There are 2 flaming points in the mountain. The best time to visit it is after sunset where the flame is more visible. The hike to first flaming point takes about 40 minutes with mild difficulties. This is where you can find the two cat. It would be a good idea to bring some marshmallow to be grilled here.
Hike to the second flaming point will take another 30 minutes. However, the difficulties level is higher and I would not recommend it to hiker without torchlight and poor physical. Unlike flaming point 1 which have bigger flame, the flame at this point is smaller but it was blue in color. Again, use Maps.me to guide you to these 2 points.
As there is no accommodation nearby, please book your stay at Cirali instead.
If you are history buff, you can visit another ancient Roman ruin by the beach; the Olympos ruin.
Day 13-14 Sunken City of Kekova
As you drive from Cirali toward Kas, you will pass by a small town called Myra (Kali). Have a quick stop here to visit the rock-cut tomb and another ancient Roman theatre. Myra is one of four cities in ancient Roman which hold the title of metropolis city. It is also believed to be the origin of Santa Claus because this is where St Nicholas developed his teaching and spread his fame during his life time.
Complete your quick stop here by visiting the Santa Claus Museum.
Next, proceed to the nearby ancient port city of Andriake. Visit both the open air and enclose museum here to learn more about how Roman build their wealth via trading and taxation.
Surrounded by turquoise sea, the next sleeping town of Kas is a seaside town overlooking the Sunken City of Kekova. Kekova was once a flourishing city which is now completely underwater.
No swimming was allowed around the sunken city. To reach here, you must rent a boat from the local. The local boatman will bring you to various point of interest apart from the sunken city. Part of the boat tour normally will include a visit to the floating stone sarcophagus and Kalekoy village to visit it historical fortress.
Day 15 Pamukkale
Cotton Castle of Turkey needs no introduction. Doubted as among the most spectacular natural landscapes in the world, it was formed when spring water with high content of calcium bicarbonate flow over the edge of mountain terraces, cooled down and crystallized leaving behind a solid white-colored Calcium deposit. But warn you, as famous as it is, it comes with huge crowd.
Day 16-17 Sulcuk
Make Sulcuk your base to explore another world-famous Library of Ephesus. You can easily spend a day at Ephesus. Unlike other ancient remains on this itinerary, Ephesus is where you can experience the remain of the whole ancient Roman town. In Ephesus, you must visit its ancient library, walk through the market and strolling around the town square with its ancient Roman pillar. The town is so huge and you can expect to spend a whole day here.
If you have extra budget to spare, I would recommend you to visit the Terrace House of Ephesus (additional ticket required). Also known as 'Houses of the Rich', you can imagine life as rich peoples in Ancient Roman. Here, ancient Roman's technologies such as the heating system for the bath can be seem. Wow, imagine... hot water shower in ancient Roman? Unbelievable.
Apart from Ephesus, Selcuk is home to many other wonderful attractions such as Ephesus Museum, Basilica of St John, Temple of the Artemis (Seven Wonders of Ancient World), Meryemana, Ayasuluk Fortress, Roman Aqueduct and Grotto of the Seven Sleepers.
Day 18 Sirince
Approaching the end of the travel in Turkey, spend a night at the little village of Sirince. Wonderful food, lush greenery and no car are allowed in the town. It means, you can wander by foot around the narrow cobbled streets. Enjoy the bazaar here and remember to try the famed Turkish ice cream show and Turkish coffee.
The brewing of Turkish Coffee. Since I am allergic to coffee, the model in the video will be my travel companion from China 😁
As I am camera shy person, again, the model in the video is him again. Haha.
Day 19-20 Istanbul
You can spend the final 2 days in Turkey was spend in Istanbul for some last minutes sightseeing and souvenir hunting. 😊
TRAVELLING HACK IN TURKEY
The best and cheapest travelling method to and from Istanbul two airport is using the airport transit buses with various drop off point in the city center. Istanbul like any other modern city is equipped with many modern transportation modes. However, some part of Istanbul consists of deep slope, so, be careful when you walk around especially during the raining season or snow. To get around Istanbul, consider purchase ISTANBULKART which you can use for tram, buses and metro.
Public transportation in Turkey is among the best in the world especially their buses. Booking can be done online. However, the seat was assigned based on gender, hence you might not be able to sit together with your opposite gender companion. Based on my experience however, this rule mainly applies to local Turkish.
The best way to travel here is by self-driving. The car rental is cheap here. However, the price of petrol is expensive. So, to maximise your dollar, please rent a diesel car. Toll is almost non-existence here. However, it would be safe to rent a car with HGS tag or OGS-onboard unit. No cash will be accepted. Your car rental provided will deduct the toll fees when they do the refund of your deposit. Pick up and return can be done on different location including the airport. My piece of advice is to rent from reputable rental company as just after I provide my credit card to my rental car provider (small local company), multiple unauthorised transactions on my credit card amounting to USD4000+ was made. Luckily, I manage to log a dispute and no payment was made.
Turkey boasts some of the best food in the world. From Kebab, Mediterranean cuisine to Burklava, you can find it all here. And the hygiene level is world-class too. So, you can rest assure when you ate even from the street.
Turkey government pay extra attention to make the country safe for visitors which make Turkey one of the most visited country in the world. The locals are friendly and helpful. However, with fame comes scammer.
As in the poster shown, I encounter two of the traps (shoe shiners and carpet sellers) in Istanbul. Just walk away when you feel uncomfortable. Some of the scammers are persistent but once they realise they not able to gain anything from you, they will walk away.
Better be safe than sorry, right?
As most Turkish can speak excellent English, language barrier will not be a problem here as well.
My thought after visiting Turkey
Coming from another Islamic country, my initial thought about Turkey is it going to be a conservative country. However, it proves I am wrong. Turkish are among the less conservative Islamic countries. I love the fact how the Turkish manage to strike a balance between the modern world and their religious value.
Whenever you go in Turkey, expect to greet with smile by the locals. And of course, the foods are the best. 😍
AND I can't wait to go back to explore the remaining of the country. 20 days in this amazing country is too short.