Turkey has so much to offer, and you will find something that interests you. History? Aplenty! Landscape? One-of-a-kind. Food? Finger licking. Beaches? Inviting. So the hard questions are how long you have and what do you want to see first? We found that ten days could give a good sense of what the country is about, so based on the best things to do in Turkey, we put together a Turkey Itinerary 10 Days recommendation that we hope you will find useful.
We describe it as a “classic 10 days in Turkey itinerary” as this program takes you through the most popular and iconic attractions of Turkey. But given there is so much more to visit, we will have another itinerary shortly that covers East Turkey. Stay tuned for more!
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Top Places to Visit in Turkey
The list can be quite long, but we will focus here on the top Turkey things to do as part of that classic itinerary. What to do in Turkey depends on what you like and are interested in. But if you are looking for a trip that covers some of the best places to go in Turkey for first-time visitors, our Turkey 10 days itinerary below will take you to:
How to Get to Turkey
Most people will arrive in Turkey via plane. While there are several international airports in Turkey, we will focus in Istanbul here since our itinerary for Turkey 10 days recommendation starts here.
There are two international airports in Istanbul, the Sabiha Gokcen Airport in Kurtkoy on the Asian side and the New Istanbul International Airport (IST). The older Ataturk Airport has been closed with the opening of the new airport.
At arrival, make sure to grab an Unlimited 4.5G WiFi Device right at the Airport
Turkey Itinerary 10 Days
Here are our travel recommendations for what we think is the best itinerary for Turkey to explore some of the best Turkey sightseeing.
Day 1: Arrival in Istanbul
Istanbul can be reached by land or sea though most people will arrive by air. The new airport is about 35 kilometers from Istanbul City Center (Taksim Square), and it takes about one hour, given the heavy traffic. Book your Istanbul Airport Transfer now.
Depending on the time of your arrival, you might have some time to visit Istanbul or will want to head to your hotel to catch up on your jetlag ahead of your 10-day turkey itinerary.
If your day is mostly free and feel you are ready to explore in the afternoon, wander the streets of the Old Istanbul around the 4th-century Hippodrome and check the Egyptian Obelisk, visit a mosque, or head to the Basilica Cistern, Istanbul’s old reservoirs.
- OUR TIP: We recommend staying in the old Sultanahmet where you can find hotels with views of the Blue Mosque and other beautiful buildings around the area.
Day 2: Istanbul Old City – Sultanahmet
Your Turkey trip starts in earnest – be prepared for a long day in the Sultanahmet. There you can find three of the top things to do in Istanbul: Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and Blue Mosque.
The Hagia Sophia should be your first stop to beat the crowd that comes to the famous building. Make sure to plan for two hours at least, and head to the second level for a chance at admiring centuries-old mosaics.
The next stop would be the Topkapi Palace, where Ottomans lived for centuries. Ceremonial rooms, gardens, and an Imperial Harem with 400 rooms await and will provide for a couple of exploration as well. We liked the mosaics and carved woodwork of the Harem, so make sure you don’t miss it.
After lunch on one of the rooftop restaurants, head to the Suleymaniye Mosque. The blue tiles gave the mosque its name of the Blue Mosque. Note that the mosques close to visitors during prayers’ times. Of all the famous places in Istanbul to visit, these three historical places in Istanbul are what you don’t want to miss.
- Consider a Museum Pass in Istanbul if you are planning on visiting more than just a couple of museums. Find out what attractions the Istanbul Museum Pass covers, which also offer skip-the-line guided tours.
- Another option is the Istanbul Tourist Pass, which includes entrances to 35+ Top Attractions in Istanbul. Check the latest deals on the Istanbul Tourist Pass.
End your day with a visit to the Grand Bazaar or the Egyptian Spice Bazaar. The busy streets might be overwhelming, but you will soon get accustomed to the narrow alleys where spices, teapots, fabrics, carpets, and food await.
Below are a few tours I would definitely recommend doing in the Sultanahmet:
Day 2: Beyoglu
Another early rise, this time for a visit to the Kariye Museum (The Chora Church). The medieval Greek Orthodox Church is famous for its frescoes and mosaics. The church might not be in the immediate Istanbul Top Things to Do, but the frescoes should get more attention.
Walk back towards the bridges that cross the Golden Horn to see people going about their work and one of the main areas in Istanbul where people board boats for their Bosphorus cruises.
Make your way towards the Galata Tower, which is impressive from the outside. Make sure to go up to the top where incredible views of the Bosphorus Strait and Istanbul.
- OUR TIP: Stop at one of the outdoor coffee shops to sip a cup of hot sweet Turkish tea or coffee.
Head to the busy commercial Istiklal Caddesi street, where you can shop for clothes, and have your lunch break with kebabs and other Turkish delicacies. Nearby Taksim Square is the right place for people-watching.
After the long walk of the previous days, it’s time to treat yourself with a Turkish Bath. So return to Sultanahmet and be ready for some Hammam. The best hammam spas tend to be reserved, so book your Hammam experience in advance!
Check these recommended tours around Beyoglu and the Galata Tower:
Day 3: Day Trips from Istanbul
A couple of options are available. The most popular choice is to go on a Bosphorus Cruise, one of the best things to do in Istanbul, that will take you along the Dolmabahçe Palace and the Rumeli Fortress. Some cruises even offer the possibility to stop at these places for sightseeing.
Sultan Mehmed II built the 15th-century Rumeli Fortress at the time of his conquest of Constantinople, Istanbul’s old name during the Eastern Roman Empire. Sultan Mehmed II was the decisive ruler through whom the Ottoman Empire saw its expansion.
The 18th-century Dolmabahçe Palace combines Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassical styles, and was a favorite summer residence under the Ottomans.
If you don’t want to go on a cruise, you can still visit these two significant buildings that are equally impressive.
Find Bosphorus Cruises and other tours from Istanbul:
Day 4: Istanbul to Izmir
You can either drive for around 5 hours or take a one-hour flight from Istanbul to Izmir.
Among the things to do in Izmir, you can visit the expansive archaeological Roman site Agora of Smyrna, now an open-air museum. Smyrna was the city name during the Antiquity as the Greeks founded it. On the hilltop stands the Kadifekale, or Velvet Castle, which had been built under Alexander.
- OUR TIP: A tasty option to explore the city is to go on an Izmir walking and street food tour. Click here to see what this covers.
If you want to chill by the Aegean coast, head to Cesme for some relaxing beach time.
Day 5: Ephesus
Get up early to be among the first to visit Ephesus. As one of the main Turkey landmarks, the site gets crowded fast.
The massive ancient city had been inhabited since 6,000 BC and the Neolithic Age. Still, the Greeks expanded the city from the 10th-century BC and then by the Roman Republic around 129 BC to become the third-largest Roman city in Asia Minor with over 56,000 residents.
Ephesus is one of Turkey’s biggest open-air museum, leaving to the imagination to picture the city’s beauty and largess. Pass by the Bath of Varius, the ancient Basilica, the main “street” called the Curetes Way, to reach the iconic Library of Celsus – probably the most photographed building of Ephesus. Continue along the Marble Road, which leads to the Great Theater, and imagine gladiators fighting for their life.
Then head to the Temple of Artemis, where ancient horse races were held, visit the last home of the Virgin Mary, or alternatively check the Selcuk Museum.
Day 6: Pamukkale
The day will see you explore Pamukkale, which is probably one of the most iconic Turkey attractions. Pamukkale means cotton castle” in Turkish, an apt description of the white travertine terraces created by the mineral-rich thermal waters.
The ancient Greco-Roman spa city of Hierapolis, which is built on the hilltop over Pamukkale, was founded around 190 B.C. The site features extensive ruins, including a large theater and a necropolis, and an Antique Pool with submerged Roman columns.
We came for the famous Pamukkale travertine terraces as it is one of the things to see in Turkey, but were happily surprised by the Hierapolis site. The complex is massive, and you can spend several hours exploring the grounds, admiring the necropolis, and learn about the history of the place. The theater is incredibly well conserved and is a must-see.
While Pamukkale was incredibly beautiful, it was also jam-packed with tourists. It was hard to appreciate the beauty of the terraces with so many people. We walked away from the main areas to try to get a view. The pools were equally busy with people.
- OUR TIP: If we were to do it again, we would probably try to head to the travertine first thing, then explore Hierapolis after.
Take a guided tour to Pamukkale and Hierapolis, or even splurge in a hot air balloon over Pamukkale!
Day 7: Cappadocia Göreme
Cappadocia is undeniably one of the best places to visit in Turkey, and by far, the most intriguing.
Take an early flight to Cappadocia and land to either Kayseri Erkilet Airport (ASR) in Kayseri and Nevşehir Kapadokya Airport (NAV).
- Find the latest deals on Cappadocia Airport Transfers
- Rent a Car for your Cappadocia Trip
- Book a 3-day Cappadocia Tour
Budget travelers might want to consider overnight buses that run from Istanbul to Cappadocia. Look for a ticket on Metro Turizm’s website.
The Göreme Open Air Museum is a must-see, and be prepared to spend several hours as well. No wonder this museum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to the rock-carved churches, the ancient frescoes, and the incredible history behind how Göreme came to be.
- OUR TIP: Don’t miss the Dark Chuch, which additional small entrance fee is totally worth the incredible frescoes!
Zemi Valley (also called Love Valley) and Monks Valley are nearby and are worth a quick stop and hikes around each valley.
Day 8: Cappadocia Hot Air Balloon
Early bird gets the worm, they say. Well, here, you get the sunset! Rise way before the sun and board a hot air balloon for a ride of a lifetime. Cappadocia is one of the best places in Turkey, if not in the world, for hot air balloon rides.
On that day, head to Esentepe then Uchisar, which stands at the highest point in Cappadocia! Many sections are unstable, but you can still appreciate the massive city and see how local people still live.
A visit to the Pasabag Fairy Chimneys is a must, where you can admire the fantastic rock formations. A stop to the Devrent Valley, and potentially wine tasting of the Cappadocia wine in the Urgup winery.
In the afternoon, hike the Pink and Red Valleys between Göreme and Çavuşin, and explore the cave churches that are well hidden within the rock formations. One such beautiful cave is the Hacli Church. Known as the Hacli Kilise or Church with the Cross, the church would date back from the seventh century and features colorful frescoes from the 10th-century.
If you can, time your visit to watch the sunset at the Rose Valley. Gorgeous colors over a beautiful landscape!
Take one of these guided tours around Göreme, from a hot air balloon to hiking:
Day 9: Cappadocia
Visit Pigeon Valley and the Red Valley, checking the Cave Churches as you go.
After the higher altitude of the hot air balloon, descend into Derinkuyu, the largest of the underground cities in Cappadocia. Built in the 7th and 8th centuries B.C., Derinkuyu goes down 200 feet (60 meters) through 16 levels, and was home to over 20,000 people at its peak, until the last residents had to leave in the 1920s. Today, the ancient city is a museum display. An alternative, underground city is Kaymakli.
Drive to Sarihan north of Avanos, where you can visit the 13th-century caravanserai before attending the ceremony performed by the Whirling Dervishes. The famous Semâ Ceremony is an 800-year old Sufi tradition, where the dance is an active meditation process. The rhythmic music performed live by musicians to induce a meditative state, which helps the whirling dervishes turning continuously, aiming to reach perfection.
Visit the underground cities or enjoy an evening dinner with Turkish dances:
Day 10: Istanbul
Fly back to Istanbul as early as possible.
Depending on the time of your return to Istanbul and your departure from the capital, you might have time to explore some of the remaining sites of the city.
And as everything has an end, so is the completion of your Istanbul Cappadocia Pamukkale itinerary. Sadly, it’s time to leave for your return flight.
Of course, there are most places in Turkey to explore. If you are looking at extended itineraries, consider the Turkey destinations:
How to Travel in Turkey
Should you travel independently or book a guided tour? Well, you can do both.
Independent Turkey Road Trip
You can rent a car and go on a self-drive road trip. The roads in Turkey are well maintained in general, and driving is fine. Click here to find the latest deals on car rental for your Turkey trip itinerary.
Another option is to take buses which are available from and to most cities in Turkey. You can find and book your bus ticket on the Metro Turizm’s website.
Being independent is a great way to explore on your terms. We found that we enjoyed taking guided tours at specific sites to learn about history. Guided tours of Old Istanbul, Hierapolis, and Cappadocia were fascinating, and we can only recommend an experienced and knowledgeable Turkey tour guide for these Turkey top attractions.
Organized Guided Turkey Tours
Another option if you don’t want to worry about booking hotels or driving yourself, is to reserve an organized tour for your entire Turkey itinerary. You need to sit back and enjoy your tour of Turkey!
Here are a couple of multi-day Turkey tour packages that might be of interest:
Turkey Travel Visa
To the question “do I need a visa to travel to Turkey?” it all depends on your nationality.
Visa-exempt countries to Turkey include the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Ukraine, Greece, and Georgia. These Turkey visa-free travel nationals can travel with their valid ID cards.
However, many other nationalities, including residents from the UK, US, Canada, and Australia, are required to apply for a Turkey visa before entering the country. An evisa Turkey is a travel authorization that will allow you to enter by land, air, and sea. The electronic travel visa to Turkey – or e-visa” is a fast and easy process for submitting your application.
This e-visa Turkey is dedicated to tourists planning on taking a vacation, or visiting friends and family. All visitors, even children, and babies need to apply for their own individual visas for travel to Turkey.
A passport-sticker variant of the Turkey visa can be applied at the Turkish consulate directly, where you need to make an appointment and have an employee at the Turkish consulate put a sticker in the passport. This process tends to take longer and be more expensive.
When coming for tourist travel purposes, visitors can stay up to 90 consecutive days (even if the travel visa for Turkey is valid for 180 days). The stay can be over a period of 90 consecutive days, or for example, three different trips of 30 days each, as long as the overall visit doesn’t exceed 90 days over 180 day-validity.
Other purposes, like studies, working, or even archaeologists, will require different types of visas that need to be submitted at the nearest Turkey consulates.
Best Time to Visit Turkey
Spring and Falls are the best seasons to visit Turkey. In April, May, and June, the temperatures are warming, but that’s also when most travelers come, which makes the months the high season with higher prices. During September, October, and November, the weather is fresher, and days are getting shorter, but an excellent alternative option for fewer visitors and lower prices. Avoid hot summer temperatures and busy crowds, and winter cold, wet weather. However, winter has become increasingly popular in Cappadocia, the rock formations under the snow being particularly appealing.
We visited Turkey the first time at the end of June and had the perfect weather. Warm, long days but not extremely hot. The second time was in February, and the short days were cold and rainy most of the time.
Turkey Travel Tips
- Dress conservatively, especially for women where covering knees and shoulders, is recommended. Have a scarf handy before entering the mosque. For men, wear pants under the knees in summer. Of course, swimsuits are fine when you reach beaches at coastal resorts.
- Wear good shoes appropriate for walking. Sandals and flip-flops are nice but won’t be fitting when walking the cobblestone streets of Istanbul, the uneven paving of Ephesus, or hiking by the rock formations in Cappadocia.
- Bring warm clothes even in the summer if you are planning to go on a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia. The pre-sunrise preparations and elevations will take you to cold and potentially windy conditions.
- Get a Museum Pass in Istanbul to save money and explore more Istanbul Museums.
- Rent a car when exploring around Izmir or Cappadocia, which will allow you to plan your own visits, beat the crowds, and be more flexible
- Book a tour if you prefer the comfort of being driven around and have a guide to explain to you the history of the sites.
- This 10-day itinerary is packed and fast-paced. If you can add a few more days, you can stretch the itinerary as well as adding a few other interesting stops, like Gallipoli, Troy and Pergamum, Marmaris, Fethiye, Ankara, and Antalya.
- Learn some Turkish phrases beforehand or grab a phrasebook to help out during your Turkey travels.
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We hope you found this Turkey travel blog useful. If you are looking for other Travel Turkey blog posts, check about our other Turkey experiences.
Do you have any other travel tips for Turkey to add? We would love to hear from you in the Comments section.
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