Updated: Mar 4, 2020
Straddling two continents and the boundary between ancient and modern times, Turkey was an interesting destination. Was it one of my favorites? No but it did surprise me more often than not.
I was determined not to visit the typical tourist spots on this trip and to some extent, we did do that. It truly is amazing what you discover when you decide to venture off the beaten track. We returned with wonderful memories and a 1000 pictures.
This post will help with everything you need to plan your trip to this country.
Itinerary breakdown: Day 1 - Istanbul
Day 2 - day trip to Princes' Islands and Cruise
Day 3 - day trip to Bursa
Day 4 - Cappadocia city, part 1
Day 5 - Cappadocia city, part 2
Day 6 - Antalya, part 1
Day 7 - Antalya, part 2 and departure
Best time to visit
I went in April - it was a lovely time to visit, at the start of spring. The weather was pleasant which made it easy to move around. It was also less touristy than I would have expected it to be. I would recommend visit during this season.
Flights and Visa
I flew direct with Turkish Airlines. Though expensive, I could not recommend it enough. Food and the in-flight entertainment were both great.
Turkish is the official language but people also speak Arabic. In Istanbul, everyone speaks English. Communication was a real problem once we left the city.
Travel and Medical Insurance, Currency
Travel Insurance is always recommended. Turkish Lira is the official currency. They also accepted dollars and Euro but be sure to check the exchange rate they are charging.
Where we stayed
In Istanbul, we stayed at the Elysium Hotel
In Cappadocia, we stayed at the Tekkaya Cave Hotel
In Antalya, we stayed at the Best Western Khan
Cost and getting around
Turkey is not very expensive. That being said, be sure to haggle everywhere. Local food is very affordable, so if you eat meat, you can save a lot on food.
We had no particular issues with safety... but Istanbul felt dirty, crowded and shady. People in the cities were a tad unwelcoming, almost snobbish. One of the few places I felt put off by the attitude of the local people.
Be mindful of your belongings and steer clear of people on the streets constantly trying to sell you things.
There was plenty of local food to try BUT vegetarian options were not great. We did try some Turkish Pizza (aka Pide) and of course, tons of Bakhalava. Don't miss the Turkish Ice cream - was surprisingly good.
What to pack
We traveled in April so mornings and evenings were cold. If you are traveling during the same time, be sure to pack long pants and full sleeve shirts. Bring a thick fleece jacket.
Day 1 - exploring Istanbul
Istanbul not Constantinople... this was the song that was stuck in my head the entire time I was in Turkey. Our first day was all about soaking in the history and traditions of this country while street strolling for treats & trinkets. The day was packed but we covered most of the places by 7 that evening.
Blue Mosque One of the city's most iconic spots was our first stop for the day. Unfortunately, it was under renovation (bit of an eye sore, really).
Traver Tip: you can take the TRAM to Sultanahemet stop and walk to the Blue Mosque... it is just another 2 minute walk to the Hagia Sofia.
The mosque is supported by four domes or pillars but has six minarets (second only to the Mecca in Saudi Arabia). The inside of the mosque, though pretty, was crowded during the day so we decided not to spend too much time inside.
Hagia Sofia The ancient basilica, built by Constantine the Great, in the 4th century and reconstructed by Justinian in the 6th century, is one of the architectural marvels of all time. This was one of my favorite places in the city.. with stunning lights and artistic mosaics of Jesus and Virgin Mary.
I felt that the story of Hagia Sofia tells the story of this old city and of Turkey. Did you know that after Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans, this impressive building was ordered to be converted from a church to a mosque? Now of course, it’s a decorated museum.
Tip: head up the stairs for an aerial view of the inside of the museum. You can observe the intricate details on the walls...
A short ride north of the center of Istanbul will get you to Ortakoy where you can explore the inside of the beautiful Ortakoy Mosque. If you really want to get a good shot of the mosque, go during sunrise or sunset or even better, do a cruise along the Bosphorus on a bright sunny day and watch the mosque sparkle.
Sprawling over 60 streets and narrow alleys with 4000 shops, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the oldest and largest markets in the world. I don’t shop at all.. so we were able to breeze through the market in a few hours. My favorite part about the market was the smell of spices from the freshly baked treats and these technicolor displays of lanterns. The colors were all kinds of amazing and oh, they make for a pretty cool backdrop!
Topkapi Palace and Bosphorus Views
There is an entrance fees of 40 Turkish Lira per person to get inside.. but it is worth it. You can spend up to three hours exploring this palace. One of the most famous spots inside the palace is the ROOM OF RELICS of the Prophet... followed closely by the Imperial Treasury. Oh, and stunning aerial views of the Bosphorus.
Day 2 - day trip to Princes' Islands and Cruise
Our second day was spent exploring the Princes’ islands, a chain of 9 islands. We took a cruise on the Marmara sea to explore two beautiful islands with amazing views of the city.
Our first stop was the small Island called Heybeliada. We rode the horse carriage to a scenic view point on top of the island... before taking the cruise to the big island called Buyukada. This island was obviously bigger with lots of shops and restaurants lining the streets. You can rent a bike or just walk around to catch panoramic views of Istanbul.