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2 Weeks in Turkey

Blue Mosque

I just put together a mock-itinerary for a friend who is thinking of traveling to Turkey. This is how I would recommend someone spend two weeks. Most of the photos are from my 3 week trip there 2005 (full flickr set). The photos above and below are the Blue Mosque in Istanbul – where any trip to Turkey should start (clicking most of the images will get you a bigger view).

Blue Mosque close

The city of Istanbul is built around three peninsulas that extend out into the Bosphorus. Unlike Rome where the marvels are spread out all over, pretty much everything to see in Istanbul is in one area – the southern peninsula known as Sultanhamet. For obvious reasons this is a pretty touristy area. I found the hostel area just SE down the hill from the main area a bit loud, even by backpacker standards. After the first night I found a comfy little hotel (Hotel Turkmen) with share rooms just SW of the Blue Mosque that was a couple bucks more (literally like $2 more) but much more peaceful.

Aya Sofya Dome

Aya Sofya

You could pretty easily spend a week in Istanbul but remember you’ll be here at the end of the trip too, so try to see what you can in just a few days. I recommend spending the first day just walking around Sultanhamet. Go inside the spectacular Aya Sofya (above), one of the greatest churches in the world. Walk around the Blue Mosque and explore the shops just below it. I found the food right there near the main park to be a bit lacking. Venture a bit further West along the main tramway to an area called Aksaray for more options. The area around the University out that way is also cool to explore.

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Harem

Spend the second day in the impressive Topkapi Palace (above) which occupies most of the horn of the peninsula. To avoid crazy lines, go super early in the morning and wait for the gates to open. You can then buy your tickets for later I believe. I think there are three different tickets – one to enter, one for the Treasury, and one for the Harem – the palace’s royal quarters. I bought a Harem ticket (lower of two photos above) but I think I just walked into the treasury. The Treasury was actually my favorite part – full of ridiculously gigantic gems. The big park underneath the palace is a nice place to relax and people watch. I also went into the Archeology Museum in the park and remember it being worthwhile.


Cistern Medusa

If you can squeeze it in I definitely recommend going down into the Cistern – a very cool underground passageway for water storage and a particularly refreshing break from the hot sun.

Grand Bazaar

There is enough to see in the Grand Bazaar that you could probably spend the better part of your third day tromping around it or you could push this until you come back to Istanbul so that you can get your souvenir shopping on.

Spice Bazaar

After the Grand Bazaar, walk down to the Spice Bazaar and make your way through that. From there you can also explore the waterfront.

Beyoglu View

The northwestern peninsula is known as Beyoglu. This is the main city part of Istanbul. I walked all the way up the main shopping drag called Istikal Cadesi and wasn’t all that impressed. I’m sure there are hip parts of the city somewhere but I didn’t find them and wouldn’t put Beyoglu too high on the list.


Atilla’s Getaway

While I have heard there are some nice spots around the NW corner of the country, I would head south on the fourth day to the town of Selcuk (8 or 9 hours via Izmir by bus). In Selcuk I stayed at the very comfortable Atilla’s Getaway – a true backpacker’s resort. For only a few bucks a day you get a bed and two great home cooked meals. I spent a whole week just chillin by the pool, relaxing in the little bungalows, playing volleyball, meeting travelers, drinking at the in-house bar – the place is a blast.


Ephesus Theater

Ephesus Facade

The real attraction of Selcuk are the nearby ruins of Ephesus – one of the best preserved ancient cities in the world. Head here early your fifth day and spend the morning exploring. It was really hot when I was there (August) and I found myself hugging the shade – but the sights are incredible and supposedly much better than Troy.

Selcuk Ruins

Selcuk House

If you aren’t too tired after Ephesus, take a taxi into Selcuk for lunch, and then explore the ruins of St. John’s Basilica and the nearby Ephesus Museum. Apparently this is where you go to get hash too, because as I was walking around the ruins I had two different guys come up and just start a friendly chat, only to later whip out a little bag of black tar and tell me what a great deal it was. I’m sure it wasn’t all that great of a deal.


Fethiye Harbor View

Day six is another travel day. Both Bodrum and Marmaris lie near Selcuk on the Southern coast, but I found both to be boring and overpriced European style resort cities with expensive souvenirs and tacky clubs (I went to Marmaris to catch the ferry to the Greek island of Rhodes – pretty cool but not worth it if your time is limited). Instead, I highly recommend going straight to Fethiye (photos above) which takes around six hours, probably via Dalaman.
Alternative: This company offers minibus trips from Selcuk to Fethiye via the very cool looking Pamukkale which I would have loved to have seen. It might be a bit expensive but they also do the blue cruises (see below) so you might be able to work out a deal.

Blue Cruise Sunset

Mediterranean Harbor

Water Ruins

On the morning of the seventh day, board your Mediterranean Blue Cruise to Olympos aboard one of the old wooden sailboats. This was my favorite part of the trip, by far! Shop around before you go or talk to the guys at Atilla’s about the best company to go with – there are quite a few. The cruise is four days of lounging on the boat, swimming, eating and drinking – and three nights of sleeping under the stars. The boat cruises around from little turquoise cove to cove and everyone jumps off and swims around, snorkels, hikes up to waterfalls, etc. This is truly one of the coolest things I have done in my life and I am dying to go do it again.


Olympos Tree Houses

Olympos Corn and Tree House

You will disembark on day ten and take a mini bus to the village of Olympos, famous for its Tree House Hostels. I stayed at Kadir’s and had a great time.

Olympos Beach

Olympos Beach Ruins

Within walking distance of the hostels is Olympos’s beautiful beach and some very cool ruins

Olympos Cliffs


Be sure to catch the mini-bus up to the Chimaera. A 20 minute hike in the dark gets you to this hillside where flames inexplicably lick out of the rocks. Very much worth seeing. If you have time you could spend an extra day in Olympos but you’ll probably want to leave the next day if you are going to make it to Cappadocia.



(photos via flickr 1 2 3)

You’ll have to leave early day 11 to make the 90 minute trip to Antalya and then grab a ten hour bus to Goreme in the center of Cappadocia. I didn’t get to do Cappadocia on my trip but certainly will when I go back. The incredible rock formations apparently still serve as dwellings and places of worship. It is said to be unlike anywhere in the world.

Bosphorus Sunset

Spend two nights in Goreme and then catch an overnight bus back to Istanbul (11 hours) on the 13th night. This should get you back to Istanbul in time for another day of sightseeing/souvenir shopping before taking off.

I hope you find this useful – at least to fantasize over. Let me know if you anyone has any questions or if anyone who has been to Turkey has other comments.

Posted by enderzero at 2:26pm on Mar. 6, 2009  


  1. BB says:

    I spent over 8 years in Turkey and a big part of my role was advising itineries to travellers.
    I strongly recommend a “beginner’ re Turkey leaves Istanbul til last. Every year I heard hundreds of people say how much they hated Istanbul – how hassled they were and how hard it was. This is very unfortunate as Istanbul is an absolutely wonderful place – surely one of the most fascinating ancient cities in the world to visit. It would be easy to fully occupy yourself in Istanbul for the entire 2 weeks, even a month.
    Avoid the possibility of such an outcome simply by leaving Istanbul until last in your trip ‘when you know the ropes’: essentially how to handle street touts effortlessly and know what stuff actually costs. Australians and New Zealanders typically head for Gallipoli first, but otherwise, Selcuk (Ephesus) really is an excellent place to start – a small, country town with so many attractions you can easily fill 3-5 days or more, depending on your interests (see
    The photos here are magnificent – well done for such a good solid pictorial overview. As you say, you did not have enough time to go “everywhere” in 2 weeks, missing yjr major areas of Cappadocia and Pamukkale, 2 weeks really is an utter, utter minimum and you will be moving on incessently.
    Over the years, I found that a highly successful approach to planning a trip is – rather than thinking about destinations – to decide what interests you and then find where you can best experience it. You may find it achievable in just a few places, even just one. (

    Mar. 7, 2009 at 4:19pm  
  2. Sarah says:

    Rye! This is awesome! You put sooooo much work into this. Thank you much! When are we going to travel together???? <3 Sare

    Mar. 7, 2009 at 6:26pm  
  3. GSA says:

    Ryl…lead a tour…I want to come! Can I have that photo of you by the fire!?

    Mar. 8, 2009 at 9:48pm