An itinerary that includes history, food, culture and coastline
Turkey is a surprisingly large country that has so much to offer. I recently visited for 10 days and designed myself a trip that combined city life, exploration of ancient sites and relaxation on the coast. It was a great introduction to Turkey!
Itinerary and Logistics
Istanbul: 5 nights, Selcuk (Ephesus) 1 night, Bodrum 3 nights.
I flew into Istanbul from LA with Turkish airlines. We spent 5 nights in Istanbul, which was just enough time. We then caught a 3 pm flight to Izmir on the West Coast. We then picked up our rental car and drove for 1 hour to Selcuk, the town beside Ephesus. We stayed one night, hitting the sites early the next day, then drove 3 hours to Bodrum, further south on the coast. We were on the Bodrum peninsula for 3 nights, before flying to Bristol with Easyjet. We dropped off our rental car at the airport in Bodrum. I liked the itinerary because it only included one internal flight, and wasn’t too fast-paced, yet we saw a lot. We had a good amount of time in Istanbul, saw world-famous historical sites in Ephesus, then relaxed on the coast in Bodrum.
Istanbul – 5 nights
Straddling both Europe and Asia, Istanbul is the largest city in Europe, with a population of 15 million. There’s nowhere quite like it Istanbul has an incredible energy and history, and often tops favourite city lists. Five nights is a good amount of time to get a feel for Istanbul, as a first time visitor. We stayed in Galata in the Beyoglu district, which I loved. Galata is abuzz with tourists and locals, busier on the streets at midnight than at 9 am. Everywhere you look there’s a restaurant, bar or shop. Many of the cities best restaurants are in this area, including Mikla, which is listed in the worlds’ top 50. The $80USD tasting menu was a great price for such an incredible meal, and was a real highlight! We enjoyed some other good meals, and especially loved the rooftop views from Leb-i Derya and Cochi Locanta Bar. Each day we enjoyed breakfast at the bohemian Privato Cafe, and coffee at the Federal Coffee company, who serve Australian style coffee, the best in the world! Galata is a fantastic location for food and nightlife, and it’s a great area to stay in due to the proximity to the sites in Sultanahmet.
We visited the Hagia Sophia, which is stunning, I preferred it to the Blue Mosque. The Topkapi Palace is an incredible building and extensive museum, that deserves a few hours. We also visited the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, which I would give a miss, unless you are specifically interested in this field. The Dolmabahce Palace is over the top opulence, it’s something to see, especially for anyone into gold and chandeliers! This former sultans’ palace is on the Bosphorus, in a cool area of the city, Besiktas. It’s a great idea to combine your visit with a Bosphorus boat cruise. We hired a private luxury yacht for 2 hours and brought our own champagne on board, which was a real highlight!
Must see: Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Bosphorus Cruise, rooftop sunset drinks.
Stay: Georges in Galata, Ajwa in Sultanahmet, Ciragan Palace hotel in Besiktas.
Eat & Drink: Fine dining – Mikla, Rooftops – Leb-i Derya & Cachi Locanta Bar, Patio – Guney restaurant overlooking Galata tower, Coffee – Federal Galata, Breakfast & Lunch – Cafe Privato, wine bars – Ambiyans & Sensus
Ephesus/Selcuk – 1 night
As the closest town to the ancient site, travelers primarily stay in Selcuk to visit Ephesus, but it has yet to be spoiled by over-tourism. Many tourists stay aboard cruise ships in nearby Kusadasi, a coastal town 8 miles away. Selcuk only has a few hotels and restaurants, it’s sleepy and feels like an authentic Turkish village. I enjoyed our stay but was happy to only be there one night. There are a couple of lovely boutique hotels, Ayasoluk is my top recommendation, it’s got a lovely aesthetic and a great restaurant. At Ayasoluk we enjoyed one of our best meals in Turkey, watching the sunset over the fields, from their patio. We stayed at the Amazon Petite hotel, a boutique property that’s basic, but comfortable with friendly service.
The following day we had our private guide meet us at our hotel at 745am, to arrive at Ephesus for 8 am and beat the crowds. We were the first ones inside and enjoyed wandering the ancient city alone with only the local cat residents. It’s essential to have a guide, as you really wouldn’t know what you were looking at otherwise, and there are over 5000 years of stories.
Apart from Ephesus, we visited the Temple of Artemis, which is one of the ancient wonders, and still worth a visit even though only one column remains. The rest can be seen in the British Museum. We also visited the Ephesus museum, which has a small but excellent collection. This was enough for us, but other visitors might be interested in the House of the Virgin Mary or Basilica of St John.
Must see: Ephesus, Temple of Artemis, Museum of Ephesus
Stay: Ayasoluk Hotel for premium, Amazon Petite Hotel for basic, yet comfortable
Eat & Drink: Ayasoluk Restaurant
Yalıkavak on the Bodrum Peninsula – 3 nights
After our morning in Ephesus, we made the three-hour drive to Bodrum Peninsula. The roads were mostly good, but the drivers are terrifying. We stayed at an excellent hotel, the 4 Reasons Hotel + Bistro in Yalikavak. It’s an oasis in the hills, overlooking the ocean, with a pool, restaurant, and 20 stylish rooms. I enjoyed Yalikavak mainly due to the relaxing nature of our hotel. The waterfront resorts are busy, blaring music with packed sun loungers, so I was happy to stay in our oasis.
There are some top-notch waterfront restaurants in Yalaksavik, with fantastic views. Every second car is a Porsche and everyone is dressed to the nines. The prices of top restaurants are more than double the price of Istanbul, but if you have some money to spend, the settings are unbeatable. Brava is the top restaurant on the Bodrum peninsula, it’s Peruvian with Mediterranean influence. The setting is stunning, the food is superb and the prices are high. Another great spot for the view is the Memedof Balik Restaurant, which also specialises in seafood.
We explored the town of Yalikavak, enjoyed great food and relaxed at our hotel, doing overtime at the pool and terrace. It was incredibly relaxing! If you have a bit more time and energy, you can also take a boat to the Greek Island of Kos, or visit the sites in Bodrum town.
Must see: Sailing trip, sunset drinks on the waterfront
Stay: 4 Reasons Hotel + Bistro for understated luxury, The Bodrum Edition for luxury
Eat & Drink: Brava, Memedof Balik Restaurant
Other popular places to visit in Turkey
We were limited to 10 days, so we stuck to three locations. If you have more time, there is so much more to see, including:
Cappadocia – famous for hot air balloons, rock formations and cave dwellings
Pamukkale – thermal spa terraces & Hierapolis
Lake Van – a saline soda lake
Uzungol – The Turkish version of the Swiss Alps
Oludeniz – famous for beaches and quaint villages
Antalya – holiday town famous for beaches and ruins
Fethiye – Beaches and sailing
Gallipoli – famous coastal town, especially with Australians, WWI site
Important considerations when visiting Turkey
Weather: The summers are very hot, the winters are cold and snow is common. Spring and Autumn are ideal times to visit for mild temperatures.
Peak travel season June to September, which means long lines at the sites and higher hotel prices.
Electrical Plugs: European style outlets with 220V, 50 Hz
Money: Turkish Lira is the currency and is easily obtained from ATM machines or currency exchanges. Euros and GBP are sometimes accepted at major businesses. Credit Cards are widely accepted.
Airports: Istanbul (IST) Airport is the major airport and is modern and clean. It’s around 15 minutes closer than Ataturk (ISL), the old airport. Taxi is the easiest method of commuting from the airport and should cost around 140 TL from IST and 160TL from ISL.
Religion: 95% Islam, Turkey is a secular Islamic country meaning there is a separation between church and state. Turkey is not under Sharia law. Alcohol is widely available and the dress codes for visitors are liberal.
Getting around: Use the Uber platform to order taxis, which are cost-effective. Wherever possible, walk or take the tram, as traffic is heavy.