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How To Plan An Epic 7-Day (Or 10-Day) Turkey Itinerary
So much of my travel is a long weekend here, five days there. But putting together a longer trip in a large country takes work. And so as I was planning what I hoped would be an epic 35th birthday adventure, I eventually settled on Turkey, and then set about figuring out how to put together a 7-day Turkey itinerary.
The thing is, you’re just…spoiled for CHOICE when it it comes to Turkey. I could easily spend a couple months there and still feel like I’m only scratching the surface. Do you want history? Landscapes? Culture? Do you want to go deep in one or two places, or skim across several?
The great thing is that with a 7-day Turkey itinerary (or even better, a 10-day itinerary) you can choose a few of those things. And I have a lot of individual posts diving DEEEEEP into individual pieces of my Turkey travels, this post is more about putting the itinerary together and how the pieces worked together.
How this post is laid out:
- General tips for planning a trip in Turkey
- Overview itinerary for 7-day or 10-day Turkey itinerary
- Topline breakdown of each different place
- Fethiye and Olüdeniz
- Göcek Islands / Sailing
How to plan a trip to Turkey
I’ve written a SUPER IN-DEPTH post detailing tips for planning a trip to Turkey—covering visas, transportation, safety, currency, clothing, and more. I definitely recommend you check it out no matter how you’re structuring your itinerary. So here I’ll speak more to how I approached this specific itinerary.
First off, you need to remember that Turkey is massive, so transportation times will need to factor heavily into your itinerary. Flights will be the fastest and often most cost-effective means of getting between parts of the country, rather than long overnight buses or car trips. Make sure to plan in plenty of time in your itinerary for delays or cancellations though…assume a whole day of travel to be safe.
You’ll be able to use credit cards in most places, but will absolutely need cash on hand for smaller purchases, or for spending in smaller, more remote areas. Cappadocia in particular felt like I needed to use cash more. I have a detailed post on how to deal with money overseas that I recommend looking at…what to look for at ATMs, the types of credit cards that are best, etc.
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A perfect 7-day Turkey itinerary (or 10)
To put this itinerary together, I started with my #1 “must-have”, then went to #2, and filled in from there. To start, I knew I was dying to visit Cappadocia (top of my bucket list for a few years), and secondarily I wanted to experience the Turquoise Coast. So I started with those as my two tentpole pieces.
On top of that, I’ve fallen in love with sailing, and given how gorgeous the Turquoise Coast is, I wanted to build in 2-3 days for a boat trip. That ate up quite a bit of a 7-day itinerary, so I sacrificed Pamukkale (looks amazing but I’ve heard it doesn’t live up to its Instagram rep) and extra time in Istanbul. I’d been to Istanbul a couple times (one of my fave cities ever!!) so could live with that.
Here’s what the 7-day itinerary looked like then:
- Day 1: Arrive in Istanbul, transfer flight to Cappadocia (this entire day is travel)
- Day 2: Explore Cappadocia
- Day 3: Morning in Cappadocia, fly to Fethiye
- Day 4: Explore Fethiye, Olüdeniz, other towns (consider paragliding!)
- Day 5: Get to Gocek mid-morning, board boat for sailing trip
- Day 6: Sailing
- Day 7: Return to Gocek, fly from Dalaman to Istanbul; explore Istanbul
- Day 8 (through 10): Istanbul in the morning, fly home
Istanbul could technically go on either end of the itinerary. HOWEVER, there are some logistics to consider. If you decide to return to your home country NOT from Istanbul (e.g. take a flight from Dalaman), it will need to connect through Istanbul anyway, and there’s always a chance of delays or cancellations that could make you miss your international flight home.
So with that said, I decided to do Istanbul at the end because it felt safer to fly TO Turkey and immediately catch the connection to Cappdocia (with a long enough layover built in).
If you can make your itinerary a couple days longer, I definitely would recommend spending more time in Istanbul. For a 10-day Turkey itinerary, add two days in Istanbul (and maybe even a day trip to Ephesus). You can also skip the extra days of sailing if that’s not your thing and add more time along the coast, or make it to Pamukkale.
Planning a trip to Turkey?? Here are some posts to help you out!
Where I stayed in Turkey
I’ll show more about each of the individual places I stayed in each section as well, but you have a lot of great options for accommodation throughout Turkey. And it’s quite affordable so you can splurge without it hitting your wallet that hard.
I typically tend to default to apartment or house rentals rather than hotels, but there are exceptions and I mostly went with hotels on this itinerary—short stays, easier access to food, and I looked for something that felt kind of luxury. It was a big birthday, after all 🙂
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What to pack for this itinerary
Obviously this will depend on what time of year you’re visiting Turkey (and to some extent what area). I visited in late September, a perfect time for temperatures and not typically too rainy. I’ve talked more about clothing considerations in my Turkey travel tips post, but overall I always make sure to dress a little more conservatively in Turkey than I might at home.
Istanbul is definitely more urban and a little less conservative, while more remote areas (and less-touristy ones) will be more conservative. Along the Turquoise Coast it will have more of a beach town feel, and there will be some bikinis. I wore a combination of maxi skirts, swingy sundresses and cardigans, and lightweight pants. I kept a scarf with me in case I needed to cover my head or shoulders in a pinch.
If you’re planning to visit any mosques, you will need to plan ahead. Women are required to have shoulders and upper arms covered, and knees as well. I typically try to group my mosque visits together on one day and wear a long skirt and have a cardigan with me for safety (my headscarf can cover my shoulders as well). Pants are fine, but I’ve seen mosques make women put skirts on over leggings or tight pants. Men should wear pants (no shorts) and have their upper arms covered as well (no tank tops).
Days 1-3: Cappadocia
So let’s dive into the itinerary pieces. I flew Turkish Airlines and landed in Istanbul, and made sure my flight to Cappadocia also flew out of IST (rather than the domestic SAW airport). There are two airports close to equidistant from Cappadocia, Kayseri and Nevşehir. Of the two, Nevşehir is a little closer to Göreme but either will work. I flew into one and out of the other.
I arrived around midnight after 24+ hours of travel, so just crashed, but was up fairly early. I only had a little over a full day in Cappadocia, so wanted to make the most of it. I’d specifically made sure I had two mornings there, as I was DYING to experience the famous hot air balloon ride there (as well as also watch it from my hotel one morning).
The hot air balloons fly all year (about 250 days on average), but the weather does ground them some mornings, and sadly my luck was terrible. Both mornings the wind kept the balloons down…I still got a gorgeous (freezing!) sunrise on my second morning though.
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Cappadocia is famous for its fascinating landscape, dominated by caves and “fairy chimneys”. You can see them from overhead in the balloons, but you also need to make sure you explore them up-close. I took a taxi to Uçhisar Castle as a starting place, then negotiated with my taxi driver Osman to take me to several other places.
From there we made a quick stop at Pigeon Valley and the Panoramic Viewpoint, then Love Valley (which was a little more cheesy feeling). I spent some solid time exploring Pasabag (Monks) Valley, with its unique mushroom-cap tops and caves you can actually climb into.
He took me to Zelve, which I hadn’t even heard of (more on that later!), and then watched pottery being thrown in the ancient Hittite way and bought a gorgeous turquoise owl statue. We made a quick stop at Devrent Valley (totally skippable) and the ended at the surprisingly small but very cool Gorëme Open Air Museum. It was a very cool day! Only bummer is, I wish I’d had blue skies because wow these pics would have popped.
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So back to Zelve Open Air Museum. This hadn’t really shown up on my research AT ALL. And I have no idea how that is, but this was hands-down the best part of the day!
Zelve is dotted with cave houses and churches, showcasing the oldest examples of Cappadocian architecture and religious paintings. And you can really get up close and personal, and feel like you have the place all to yourself! It’s the opposite of the Gorëme Open Air Museum. I’ve written an in-depth post all about visiting Zelve, and I highly recommend you have this on your itinerary!
The other cool thing about this stop was that Osman took me to a little shop in the parking lot where women make gozleme the traditional way. Gozleme is an Anatolian flatbread filled with cheese, meat, or a combination of fillings (a little like a quesadilla or crepe). I loved watching the women roll out the dough CRAZY thin and cook it on their special griddle. And it was DELICIOUS!
We got a sunset of sorts, though due to the clouds it wasn’t as epic as I’d hoped. I watched it from Sunset Point in Gorëme because it was close, but there are lots of great places for sunset viewing if you plan ahead. One other Cappadocia tip: personally I’d skip the famous testi kebab (or “pottery kebab”) dish. Check out my deeper Cappadocia post for restaurant recommendations and more!
Where to stay in Cappadocia
Once I started planning my trip here, I was 100% sure I wanted to stay in a cave hotel. My travel planner and I did a ton of research and got down to a short list, and eventually I chose Mithra Cave Hotel. It got great reviews, had amazing views (for sunrise and the balloons), an insane breakfast spread, and looked really cool.
I’ve written a separate post all about my stay at Mithra and also talking about a couple of the other hotels that were on my short list, if you’re interested!
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From Cappadocia I flew to Dalaman to begin my adventure along Turkey’s magical Turquoise Coast!
Days 3-4(ish): Fethiye and Oludeniz
There are many places you can base yourself along the coast, but I chose Fethiye since it was supposed to be a little quieter and less of a party atmosphere. Once known as the ancient city of Telmessos, Fethiye has a beautiful shoreline and hills in the distance, and some easily-accessible ancient Lycian tombs to explore.
I hiked up to the Tomb of Amyntas, which is right in town and has great views over the city. It would be amazing at sunset, but I wanted to see the sunset from my lovely hotel balcony so scurried back down the hill.
The next morning, Deep Blue Travel picked me up at my hotel and drove me to nearby Olüdeniz. The paragliding here ranks among the top in the world. And since I went skydiving in New Zealand in honor of my 30th birthday, this seemed like a nice throwback and possible new “technicolor birthday” tradition in the making!
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I spent the entire day in Olüdeniz, enjoying the stunning beaches and peaceful atmosphere. I did pay to enter the famous Blue Lagoon, but ended up finding the main Olüdeniz Beach more to my liking. You can park yourself on the (pebble) beach and listen to the waves lap while the paragliders silently float overhead. Or grab a drink and lunch somewhere along the boardwalk and people-watch.
Where to stay in Fethiye
For this part of the trip I stayed in the utterly charming Hotel Unique, a beautiful boutique hotel with great water views. I stayed in a deluxe double room, which was open and airy, with two separate balconies and gorgeous sunrise and sunset views over the water. The service was wonderful, pool area beautiful, and food good. Totally recommend!
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Then it was a short taxi ride down the coast to Göcek to set sail (figuratively, given my boat had no sails)…finally, my boat trip adventure was here!
Days 5-7: Sailing the Göcek Islands
Now THIS is how you need to see Turkey’s famous Turquoise Coast! Stretched all along the southwestern half of the country, you’ve got rugged tree-lined mountains, ancient tombs, sun-kissed sand and turquoise sea, filled with idyllic little islands and private beach alcoves.
I met Sadi and Meryam at the harbor and was welcomed aboard their boat, the “Nirvana S”. I grabbed some snacks and drinks at the grocery store, but from a meal standpoint (and some snacks) they had me covered with Meryam’s awesome cooking.
We headed out in to the Göcek Islands, making an initial stop at Paradise Island. Meryam led me up a trail to the top of the island, where I had a fairly panoramic view of the different shades of turquoise water, several other islands, and a few other lucky fellow boaters.
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We spent a lot of time out on the water itself, which I personally love. I soaked in the sun, drank tea and wine, read my Kindle, and generally basked in my good life choices. We stopped a few different places throughout each day (including Cleopatra/Hamaam Bay and Seagull Bay), and anchored somewhere different each night.
I swam occasionally and got fat off of Meryam’s insanely good cooking. The water changed colors constantly, and we got glimpses of Lycian tombs along the shore from time to time. We stopped at Seagull Bay where Meryam led me over the top of the island to my own MAGICAL PRIVATE BEACH!
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One of the mornings we had rain, and I cozied up in the cabin with tea and my Kindle. And the second morning, my birthday dawned cool and clear, and I watched the sun rise over the water with a few glasses of tea and took approximately 300 pictures.
About the boat I chartered
My travel planner and I did a TON of research on boat trip options, especially since I’d be traveling alone so safety was also a consideration. I ended up choosing the “Nirvana S” off Airbnb, for a number of reasons but also because I liked that Meryam (Sadi’s wife) was traveling with us rather than just a crew of all guys. They were a very warm and hospitable couple in their 50s/60s, and I absolutely loved my time with them.
The cost of the boat included three meals a day, with Meryam’s phenomenal cooking. I was stuffed all the time, and Meryam also was always adding beautiful little extra touches…trays, pretty accents, and the like. It made me feel so special and welcomed! I enjoyed talking with Sadi as well, hearing about their life in Turkey. I highly recommend booking with them, you won’t regret it!
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After waking up to that beautiful sea sunrise on my birthday, we headed back to the marina and I grabbed a taxi to the Dalaman airport, for a short stint in Istanbul.
Days 7-8 (or 10): Istanbul
And then I had a very brief time in one of my favorite cities in the world! As I mentioned in the outset, Istanbul is absolutely amazing and it definitely deserves 2-3 days if you’ve never been before. I’d already been able to see many of the most famous sights during previous visits, so wasn’t feeling as pressed for time despite having less than 24 hours here on this particular itinerary.
BUT even if you only have a short time in Istanbul, so many of the iconic places are clustered together, so you can still do a lot. I have a more detailed post on how to see the biggest historic sites in 24 hours, everything from Hagia Sofia to the Blue Mosque to Basilica Cistern and so much more. And some other ideas if you only have a long layover.
One of your biggest considerations will be what day of the week you’re visiting. Most mosques are closed to visitors or have extremely limited hours on Fridays, and Hagia Sofia is generally closed on Mondays. Look up closings, opening times, dress requirements, COVID issues, and more ahead of time for anywhere you’re wanting to visit.
If it were me on a first visit, I’d roughly prioritize in this order:
- First: Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent, food tour, ferry ride on a beautiful day, Galata Bridge at sunset
- If time allows: Galata Bridge area (soaking up the ambiance of Eminonou), Galata Tower up to Istiklal Street, Spice Market
- Fine but not highest priority: Grand Bazaar, Hippodrome, climbing to the top of Galata Tower
The thing is, Istanbul is one of those cities that really grabs you by the heart and squeezes…don’t try and fit so many “must do” things in that you don’t have time to just BE. To really get a feel for the city, just wander around, maybe get lost in some of the twisty alleys of Beyoğlu looking for a cool piece of art to take home, eating every piece of street food and baklava you can get your hands on.
I had such a short time so I wandered some of my favorite areas, including getting some delicious burek and eating it on Galata Bridge. I re-visited the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent, since I hadn’t loved my pics from the first time. I made sure to watch the sunset from Galata Bridge. And then I did two new things, which I speak to more below.
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One thing I treated myself to since it was my birthday was dinner at Mikla, one of the top 100 restaurants in the world. Billing themselves as a “new Anatolian Kitchen”, Mikla is a really interesting modern take on ancient Anatolian dishes, flavors, and ingredients. It was delicious and special, and honestly wasn’t overly expensive by nice restaurant standards either. I did get reservations a few weeks ahead.
Whether it’s a fancy dinner or not, food should definitely play a role in your visit. Turkish food overall is AMAZING—it’s one of my favorite cuisines in the world. If you’re able to make the time, one of my favorite things to do in Istanbul is take a walking food tour. It lets you try a lot of different things, usually in more local-known places than you might discover yourself. I did two food tours on my first visit to Istanbul and loved them!
And on my last morning in Turkey, I knew I had to head to the airport around 11am so decided to spend my morning wandering through the narrow, hilly streets and alleys of Beyoğlu. I soaked in the ambiance, discovered fun street art, meowed at all the cats—and drank an insane amount of coffee.
I did some research ahead of time and wanted to try out some of the best coffee shops in the neighborhood. Even in the short time I had, I managed to hit five of the best!
Where to stay in Istanbul
My first time here, I stayed in an awesome Airbnb apartment with a view, but this time due to the short stay I opted for a lovely boutique hotel. I love the Beyoğlu neighborhood (the historic European side), and specifically between Galata Bridge and Galata Tower, so concentrated my search here and found the Hotel DeCamondo.
The building and the Camondo family have a really interesting history (which you can learn more about in my review), and it’s a beautiful blend of historic, modern, and fashionable. The service was wonderful, the room comfy, and the location super convenient. You absolutely need to stay here if you’re visiting Istanbul!
And there you have it! An amazing 7-day Turkey itinerary that will give you a little of everything…crazy landscapes, gorgeous beaches, culture, food, and more. Heck, make it 10 days and really explore Istanbul. Hopefully I’ve convinced you to plan a trip RIGHT NOW M’KAY!
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