Hoş Geldiniz Türkiye’ye! Welcome to Turkey!
Welcome to colorful/crazy/chaotic/beautiful place that is Turkey! Here are a few suggested day-itineraries for the city of Istanbul and information on some of my favorite places to explore throughout the rest of Turkey.
Sultanahmet (The Old City), the place with all the history—
You’ll want to get early start today avoid crowds of tourists. This is also the day you’ll want to dress according to mosque dress code (long pants and long sleeves). Places you won’t want to miss include Sultan Ahmed Cami (The Blue Mosque), Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia), and Topkapı Sarayı (Topkapi Palace). There is an awesome park near the palace (Gülhane Parkı) where you can relax in the grass, have a picnic, etc. Across the street from the the palace is Yerebatan Sarnıcı (the Basilica Cistern) which is a cool underground cistern that was once lost for centuries beneath the city before being rediscovered. In the evening you might want to go to Kumkapı (a part of the city within walking distance of where you’ll be) with lots of Meyhanes, the restaurants Turkey is famous for that serve fish (balık) and colorful small appetizers (meze) and have live music playing all evening.
Eminönü and Taksım, get ready to feel like a sardine—
This day will be the most crowded yet, tossed right into the hustle and bustle of daily life and local Turks. You can start in Eminönü where will find Yeni Cami (the New Mosque), Mısır Çarşısı (The Egyptian Market, a.k.a. Spice Bazaar), and some busy market streets. These tightly packed streets are super fun to explore, full of Turkish foods and spices and locally made items. Once you’re good and lost in these streets ask someone to point you toward Kapalı Çarşı (the Grand Bazaar). You’ll wind your way up a hill to find the biggest covered market in the world. It’s colorful and chaotic and people will try to convince to you pay five times more than you should for anything that catches your eye. If you do plan on buying anything to take home from Istanbul I would recommend doing it on the Asian side of the city (next itinerary) except if you want a hookah set, backgammon set, or inlaid wooden boxes of which the Grand Bazar has the best selection. Outside of the Grand Bazar is a little hidden hookah place full of smoke and old men with big beards. Ask someone to point you towards Corlulu Ali Pasa Medresesi Nargile (nargile is hookah in Turkish). It’s a little rough around the edges but it’s my favorite. From there you can take the tramway or walk up to Suleymaniye (the Magnificent Mosque). This is my favorite mosque in all of Istanbul, high up on a hill with views of the whole city from the courtyard. In the evening I’d recommend walking back down to Eminönü and eating fresh fish sandwiches (balık ekmek) along the water by the Galata Bridge. You can walk across the top of this bridge (where men are always fishing), across the street, and up the hill called Galip Dede Cadessi. The street is lined with little shops and leads up to Galata Tower, which has a good view of the city (be careful who you go up to the top with, though..legend has it you’ll marry them). From there you can continue up the hill to Istiklal Cadessi, Turkey’s busiest street, for night life that lasts until the sun comes up.
Karaköy and Kadıköy, hopping over to Asia—
Today you’ll being hanging out with the locals on the Asian side of the city where tourists rarely go..my neighborhood! You might want to start the day in Karaköy, along the water on the European side of the city. I’d recommend walking from the Karaköy ferry station to Kılıç Ali Paşa Camii (mosque) and grabbing coffee somewhere in these sweet windy streets full of coffee shops and art galleries and boutiques full of handmade trinkets. This is considered a really hip and artsy part of the city where more affluent Turks get their caffeine fix. From there go back to the ferry station and cross the Bosphorus waterway to Kadıköy. Welcome to Asia! Hop off the ferry and ask someone to point you towards Kurukahveci Yavuz Bey, my favorite little coffee shop and barista family in Istanbul. This will put you right on the edge of Kadıköy’s market streets full of fish, fresh fruits and veggies, cheeses, bakeries, and other yummy things brought in daily from the villages outside of the city. These are also the streets where I would recommend doing your shopping if you feel so included. Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi Türk Kahvesi is known for having the best coffee in Turkey. Across the street from Yavuz Bey is a little underground passage with golden tea cups and intricate coffee cups and other pretty things at really reasonable prices. Aziziye Hamam is one of the oldest and most authentic Turkish baths in the city. Getting aggressively scrubbed down by a large naked human will surely leave you scarred internally but on the outside you’ll feel as squeaky clean and fresh as a baby. In the evening you can walk along the seaside and watch the sun go down with good views of the European side of the city across the water. I like to sit near the ferries in the evening and watch the people dancing and playing music, men shining shoes, passing out tea, serving Turkish bagels (simit) and other treats. At night you can explore Moda Cadessi for restaurants and bars and head over to Barlar Sokağı (Bar Street) to hang out with young and modern local people and students.
Kapadokya (or Cappadocia) is a dreamy land full of cave houses and underground cities, hot air balloons and fairy chimneys (the nice way they have of calling the giant phallic shaped rock formations scattered over the landscape). This place seriously looks like you landed on another planet but just so happens to be one of my favorite places on this one. To get here you’ll likely fly from Istanbul to Nevşehir. You can arrange ahead of time via Airbnb to stay in one of the cave houses or hotels that make this region famous. I recommend staying in any of the surrounding small towns. Uçhisar is a good one because it’s not very touristy but still close to all the things you’ll want to see. You can arrange for your Airbnb’s shuttle to pick you up from the airport and take you to where you’re staying. They can also help you get a rental car, which I would definitely recommend getting any tine you’re outside of Istanbul. Places you will want to explore in this region include the town of Uçhisar and climb Uçhisar Kalesi, a castle at the very top of the city carved entirely into a massive rock. Pigeon Valley has nice views and interesting trees covered with hundreds of Nazar Boncuğu (Evil Eyes). The Zelve Açık Hava Müzesi (Zelve Open Air Museum) is an amazing park and one of my favorite place in all of Kapadokya. The Goreme Open Air Museum is full of cave churches with old frescoes. Avanos is a small town known for it’s ceramics and wine. Rose and/or Red valley has great hiking as well as the nearby towns of Göreme or Çavuşin. The nderground cave cities of Kaymakli (the largest underground city) and Derinkuyu (the deepest underground city) are a little out of the way but very cool (and claustrophobic) to explore. No matter what, I would recommend waking up at 4:30 AM, driving to Göreme and getting to a high place to watch the hot air balloons dotting the sky as the sun rises. You can also arrange ride in one of these balloons if that’s you’re thing, although it’s pretty pricey. Kapadokya is like one big playground..the type of place you can get off the beaten path, explore on your own, and find amazing things around every corner.
Mediterranean and Aegean Sea—
The regions of Turkey along the Mediterranean Sea (Akdeniz Bölgesi) and Aegean Sea (Ege Bölgesi) are dotted with beautiful seaside towns and turquoise blue waters. I would avoid the large touristy cities of Izmir, Bodrum, and Antalya and stick to the smaller towns. I might recommend flying to Izmir and renting a car from there. These places won’t be super packed at this time of year so no need to arrange for a place to stay ahead of time. You can check local hotels and hostels for availability when you get there and depending on where your adventure takes you. The nearby town of Efes (or Ephesus) is known for it’s ancient ruins, although if you’re coming from Greece you might not be inclined to go out of your way for these. Alıçata is a lovely village painted entirely in white known for it’s charming windmills and cobblestone streets. Akyaka is a seaside town famous for it’s wind surfing, with Mediterranean style architecture and bungalows. The number one spot I would recommend visiting is Kaş, a beautiful seaside town with crystal clear waters, sweet market streets, paragliding, scuba diving, and a twenty minute boat ride from the Greek islands. Kekova (also named Caravola) is a nearby small island with a sunken city worth exploring. The ancient ruins near Kaş are a stop on The Lycian Way, a long-distance footpath along the coast of ancient Lycia. It is approximately 540 km long and passes some of Turkey’s most famous ancient sites. Adventurous people like to backpack this trail in the Spring and Fall, which I would totally recommend if you’re up for it!
The Black Sea region of Turkey is made up of little villages scattered across the green misty mountains in the Northeastern region of Turkey near the border of Georgia. The mysterious landscape is difficult to navigate, and so is it’s unique culture, but if you’re up for a bumpy (and wet) adventure this place is worth the trip. You would fly from Istanbul to Trabzon and from there take a bus to Rize where you would rent a car (with four wheel drive) and cpntinue up into the mountains. If you want to stay in a humble hotel or rented cabin I would recommend Ayder. If you’re up for camping, you can continue up into the Kaçkar Dağlar (Kaçkar Mountains) and set up camp at any of the yaylas..high elevation valleys that are very precious to the culture of the Black Sea. People have been migrating up to these valleys from the surrounding villages for countless generations, spending their summers in mountain passes they consider to possess some kind of magic. The air is crisp, the water is fresh from mountain springs, the landscape is quite barren but beautiful. Trees don’t grow as high as you will be, but the sun is so bright it will turn your cheeks pink, and the stars are so shiny you’ll swear you could reach up and touch them. Days are warm-ish, nights are veryy cold and often rainy, so you’ll want to pack accordingly. Ayder has places you can eat if you want to use it as a base, otherwise you will have to pack your food, which you can pick up in Rize at any of the markets. You can take the bumpy road from Ayder to Palovit Yaylası and continue as far and as slowly as you’d like, camping along the way. The very last and most distant yayla is called Hapivanak, which is where I’ve stayed for the past three summers. If you make it there, say hi to whoever you spot from me please! Only about ten people live there, so they’ll probably know me as the one with yellow hair.
Safranbolu is a town in the Black Sea region of northern Turkey, once a stop on the trade route between Europe and the Orient. Its Ottoman architecture includes the old Çarşı district, with hundreds of preserved, red-roofed Ottoman houses on cobblestone streets. Mardin is a historical city in Southeastern Anatolia near Syria situated on the top of a hill and known for its fascinating architecture. It lies at the heart of homeland of Syriacs, an ancient people who trace their origin to Akkadian Empire and speak a language directly related to the native tongue of Jesus Christ. Basically, it has lots of cool history. If you make it this far to the Southeast there are lots of other cities and sites you can visit. Nemrut Dağı (Nemrut Mountain) is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre known for its colossal head statues assumed to be an ancient royal tomb. Göbekli Tepe is the oldest religious site known to humans and has some interesting ruins to explore. The cities of Adana and Urfa are known for their incredibly delicious (not an exaggeration) kebab. Diyarbakır is the center of Southeastern Turkey’s Kurdish population, known for its historical sites and almost constant (but easily avoidable) violence and attacks. Anywhere you go in this region you will want to use a bit of extra precaution, but a little common sense should keep you out of too much trouble.
Phrases to Know
Hello: Merhaba (MEHR-hah-bah)
Thanks: Teşekkürler (tey-shey-kuhr-LEHR)
Welcome: Hoşgeldiniz (hosh-GEL-din-iz)
Response to welcome: Hoş bulduk (hosh-BUL-duhk)
See you/Bye: Görüşürüz (goo-roo-SHOO-rooz)
How are you?: Nasılsınız? (NAH-suhl-suh-nuhz)
I’m fine, thank you: İyiyim, teşekkür ederim (EE-yihm, teh-sheh-KEHR-eh-deh-rehm)
Pardon me: Pardon (par-DOHN)
Bathroom: Lavabo (LA-va-bo)
Water: Su (SOO)
Food: Yemek (YEH-mek)
Yes: Evet (ehv-EHT)
No: Yok (yohk)
Please: Lütfen (loot-FEN)
Cheers!: Şerefe (SHER-rey-fey)
İyi şanslar! Good luck!
Hope you have an amazing time! Let me know if I can be of any help at all. Sincerely, Lauren