This fifteen-day tour invites you to explore some of Turkey’s greatest cultural treasures, from cosmopolitan metropolis of Istanbul to the spectacular fairy-chimney landscape of Cappadocia and the ancient battlefields of Troy.
Day 1: Arrival
Arrive in Istanbul
Our representative will meet you at the airport and accompany you to your hotel in a private car. Rest, relax, and refresh yourself at your own pace. As today is an arrival day, there is no scheduled program.
The only city in the world to span two continents, Istanbul is a fascinating metropolis that has long entranced travelers as a bridge between Europe and Asia, Islam and Christianity, Occident and Orient. Serving as a capital for the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires, Istanbul boasts thousands of cultural sites dating from the sixth millennium BCE to the present day. Istanbul endures as the cosmopolitan heart of the Republic of Turkey, its financial center, cultural hub, and most populous city. Any visit to Turkey must begin here.
Should you arrive early and feel ready to venture out, we will take the opportunity to visit sights not indicated in the itinerary.
Day 2: Full Day Istanbul Old City
After breakfast, your guide will meet you in the hotel reception lobby. Our first visit will be to the Topkapı Sarayı (Palace), home to the Ottoman emperors for more than five centuries. Stroll through the grounds at a leisurely pace, imagining the opulence of Topkapı Sarayı at the height of Ottoman power, its grounds filled with strong rulers, ministers, and awe-struck visitors. The next stop on your tour will be one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture, the Hagia Sophia (literally the Church of “Holy Wisdom”), serving in succession as the seat of the Orthodox Patriarchy of Constantinople, a mosque, and (currently) a museum. Wander slowly through the cathedral to take in the spectacular mosaic scenes of the Virgin Mother, Jesus, the saints, many biblical narratives, and Byzantine emperors and their entourage. After lunch, we will cross the Sultan Ahmet Gardens to visit the Blue Mosque, with its wonderfully curvaceous exterior featuring a cascade of domes and six slender, fluted minarets. Beautifully crafted blue Iznik tiles adorn the interior and give the building its unofficial but commonly used name. Next we will walk through the Hippodrome, the athletic and social center of ancient Constantinople. Today the park contains the Serpent Column of three intertwined snakes, the Obelisk of Pharaoh Thutmose III, and the Fountain of Kaiser Wilheim II. En route to the Grand Bazaar, we will stop at the sixth-century Basilica Cistern, constructed using 336 columns, many of which were salvaged from ruined temples and feature finely carved capitals. Its symmetry and sheer grandeur of conception are quite breathtaking, and its cavernous depths make a great retreat on summer days. The Grand Bazaar itself is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world and remains an integral part of daily local life among city residents and visitors alike. With sixty-one covered streets, more than three thousand shops, five hundred stalls, and eighteen fountains, the Grand Bazaar attracts between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors each day and continues to be an alluring draw for shoppers from around the globe.
After our visit to the Grand Bazaar, we will return to your hotel.
Day 3: Half Day Bosphorus Cruise and Istanbul - Safranbolu
We will meet in your hotel lobby and begin the day with a visit to the city’s Spice Market (Mısır Çarşı, literally “Egyptian Bazaar”) that draws its name from the Ottoman-ruled districts in Egypt that provided the revenue to build the structure in 1660. Today the Spice Market boasts more than eighty-five shops selling spices, Turkish delight and other sweets, jewelry, souvenirs, and dried fruits and nuts. We will then board a ferry for a scenic excursion up the Bosphorus. From the comfort of boat’s lounge, take in the city's dramatic skyline, filled with Ottoman palaces, citadels, and centuries-old mansions on both the European and Asian shores.
After the Bosphorus excursion, we will depart for Safranbolu.
Day 4: Bulak Cave - Crystal Terrace - Incikaya - Yoruk - Safranbolu
After breakfast we depart for Turkey’s finest example of a preserved Ottoman town: Safranbolu’s old town, known as Çarşı. Along the way, we will stop at the Bulak Cave, with its stunning array of stalagtites and stalagmites. On top of the cliff is the Crystal Terrace, a viewing platform that dramatically juts out over the valley. We will then visit the ancient Roman aqueduct at Incikaya. We also stop in the village of Yoruk, with its delightfully authentic stone houses. Once in Safranbolu, stroll through the meandering alleyways filled with shops, and admire the timber-framed architecture and red-tiled roofs. First made famous as an isolated source of the precious spice saffron, today Safranbolu allows you fully to experience life in an eighteenth-century Ottoman town, complete with creaky wooden floors, carved ceilings, cupboard bathrooms, and cobblestones. Soak up the scene (and steam!) in the old town’s hamam (Turkish bath), browse the many shops, and explore the old town’s many mosques, tombs, fountains, and roadside inns. Climb Hidirlik Hill for a stunning view of the old town’s houses, and do not miss the fabulous collection of Ottoman artifacts in the Kaymakamlar Museum. We will stay overnight in Safranbolu.
Day 5: Anıtkabir – Cappadocia
Leaving Safranbolu we drive to Ankara. The mausoleum (Anıtkabir) of the Founding Father and First President of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, stands amid immaculately kept gardens perched atop a hill to the west of Kizilay. The embalmed mortal remains of Atatürk lie in a simple red marble sarcophagus. Visitors are filled with awe by the grandeur and solemnity of the Anıtkabir.
We then drive to Cappadocia along the Salt Lake, where we will stay for two nights.
Day 6: Cappadocia
Your day begins with an optional hot-air balloon trip over the stunning Cappadocian landscape. After breakfast, we will visit the Kaymaklı underground city, known in ancient times as Enegup. Next we’ll see the Paşabaǧ Valley, also known as “Monk Valley,” the celebrated site of the majestic fairy chimneys that mark Cappadocia’s topography as utterly unique. We’ll then proceed to Avanos, famed for its Anatolian ceramics. After lunch, we continue on to the Cappadocia's most celebrated attraction, the Göreme Open-Air Museum, a vast monastic complex with richly painted cave-churches first carved by Orthodox monks beginning in the seventh century. The site contains the region’s best collection of painted cave-churches, and the frescoes’ colors still retain all their original freshness.
Day 7: Cappadocia – Konya
We will leave for Konya after breakfast. Konya embodies the historic and the contemporary, the whirling dervish and the global economy. Serving as the capital of the Anatolian Seljuk Empire under Suleyman Shah between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the city was home to the celebrated poet and philosopher, Mevlana Celaleddin (Jalal Al-din) Rumi, founder of the sect known as the “Whirling Dervishes.” Rumi forms the cultural and religious center of Konya’s identity today, and its most famous building is the Green Mausoleum of Rumi. Konya harbors other fascinating sights as well, including the Aladdin Mosque and Palace, atop Aladdin Hill, both fine examples of Seljuk thirteenth-century architecture and planning. Please keep in mind that Konya is known as one of the most religiously conservative cities in Turkey, and modest clothing and behavior is encouraged. We will stay overnight in Konya.
Day 8: Konya – Antalya
After breakfast we leave Konya for the coastal city of Antalya, founded in the second century BCE on the Gulf of Antalya, and today both classically beautiful and stylishly modern. At its core is the wonderfully preserved old city district of Kaleiçi (literally “within the castle”), offering atmospheric dining and shopping within exquisitely restored Ottoman houses. The old city wraps around a splendid Roman-era harbor with striking cliff-top views. Just outside the central city is one of Turkey's largest and finest museums, the Antalya Archeological Museum. Another highlight is the well-preserved Roman theater of Aspendos, a truly awesome sight not to be missed. We will stay overnight in Antalya.
Day 9: Laodiceia - Pamukkale
After breakfast we will drive to Laodiceia, an important Christian center and one of the Seven Churches of Revelation. Its extensive ruins are currently being excavated. Next we’ll visit Pamukkale (literally “Cotton Castle”), an absolutely unique natural wonder, as well as a spectacular archaeological site with unusually well-preserved ancient ruins. The name derives from the cottony appearance of the site’s travertines, white or light-colored calcareous rock deposited by the area’s rich mineral springs. Just above the travertines lies Hierapolis, founded circa 190 BCE as a curative center by Eumenes II of Pergamon. Its spectacular Roman theater, built in stages by Roman Emperors Hadrian and Septimius Severus, could seat more 12,000 spectators. A path from the theater leads up the hill to the fascinating Martyrium of Saint Philip the Apostle, an intricate octagonal structure on the very spot where Saint Philip was supposedly martyred. We will stay overnight in Pamukkale.
Day 10: Aphrodisias – Ephesus
After breakfast we will visit the Roman city of Aphrodisias, set among beautifully scenic mountains. In Greek times, the site was dedicated to Aphrodite, the goddess of love and fertility. Our tour of Ephesus begins with the House of the Virgin Mary in the hills above the ancient city, where she is believed to have spent her final years. The second largest city in the Roman Empire, one of the greatest seaports of the ancient world, commercially prosperous, and an important center of early Christian practice, Ephesus was first established at the mouth of the Cayster River (Küçükmenderes, “Little Meanderer”) between 1500 and 1000 BCE. Long a sacred site for Christians due to its association with several biblical figures, including Saint Paul, Saint John the Evangelist, and the Virgin Mary, Ephesus hosted the third Ecumenical Council in 431 CE. The extensive ruins include the Temple of Artemis, the Library of Celsus, the Gymnasium, the Agora, and a magnificent array of terrace houses still under active excavation. After touring Ephesus, we will visit either the Basilica of Saint John or the Ephesus Museum. We then leave for the village of Şirince, where we will stay overnight.
Day 11: Birgi - Bozdagi - Sart - Izmir
After breakfast we will drive to the village of Birgi with its authentic stone cottages and Ottoman-era houses. From Mount Tmolus, the river Pactolus washed down gold dust, which was collected on sheepskins by the Lydians in Bozdagi. Sardis (modern-day Sart) was once the capital of the powerful Lydian kingdom that dominated much of the Aegean before the Persians arrived. It is also one of the Seven Churches of the Revelation (or Apocalypse) mentioned in the New Testament. From Sart we drive to Izmır for an overnight stay.
Day 12: Pergamon - Troy - Canakkale
After breakfast, we will travel to Bergama, more famously celebrated as the ancient Greek city of Pergamon. A major center for culture, commerce, and medicine, and teeming with philosophers, scientists, and artists, Pergamon boasted an outstanding library, a famous school of sculpture, excellent public buildings and monuments, and numerous celebrated art works of the ancient world. We will visit the Acropolis by cable car, then the theatre and the library, whose 200,000 volumes were bequeathed by Mark Anthony to Cleopatra.
We then visit the ancient city of Troy, famous the world over as the site of the epic siege recounted in Homer’s Iliad. Fully nine civilizational layers extend beneath the surface, all atop a hill with sweeping views of the Aegean Sea. Conquered many times, destroyed by earthquakes, and rebuilt over millennia, today all that lies visible are the city’s foundations. Exercise your imagination as you wander the site, and try to picture the glories of the ancient city described so eloquently by Homer.
From Troy we depart for Çanakkale and an overnight stay.
Day 13: Bursa - Cumalıkızık
From Çanakkale we drive to the city of Bursa. Modern Bursa is built around the mosques, mausoleums, and other sites that marked it the first capital city of the Ottoman Empire, then known as Hūdavendigar (literally, “God’s Gift”). Here the empire’s architectural techniques that blended both Persian and Byzantine styles were first developed. The city today is famous for its early Ottoman religious and architectural highlights, its silk-filled bazaars, roadside inns (caravensarais), and thermal baths. Ride a cable car ride to the top of Uludağ Mountain (the legendary Mount Olympus), now a favorite center for winter sports and skiing. We next visit the beautiful village of Cumalıkızık, with its carefully tended Ottoman houses.
Day 14: Istanbul
After breakfast we return to Istanbul, where you have the full day to explore the city at your leisure.
Day 15: Return
After breakfast, we will transfer you to the airport for your flight home.