Straddling two continents, Europe and Asia, Türkiye has been on my travel bucket list for many years now. So, when my friend and fellow content creator Rene Daniella suggested that we plan a 10-day trip there this summer, I immediately said yes.
Türkiye lived up to my dreams.
The country has a mesmerizing, ever-changing landscape that quickly draws you in. It is home to the buzzy, international city of Istanbul with its bustling bazaars, historic mosques, delicious restaurants and 5-star hotels. From The Turquoise Coast, where the Taurus Mountains tumble into the Mediterranean Sea with glistening water hues that are true to its name. To Cappadocia, a region made famous on Instagram and TikTok. It is as magical as content creators portray, with its fairy rock chimneys and ancient underground cave cities.
There is much more to Türkiye than these three areas, as this country is massive and is best explored in smaller segments. So, for a first-time trip to Türkiye, I recommend spending 10 days exploring the regions in this order:
The Turquoise Coast
You should fly into Türkiye via Istanbul International Airport, then you can book a connecting flight to Antalya, where the Turquoise Coast begins. I recommend starting on the Turquoise Coast because it is a relaxing, easy introduction to your trip and a great place to recover from jet lag.
Also known as the Turkish Riviera, the beaches here are stunning, rivaling those in Greece. The water is warm, clear, and a mix of turquoise and deep cerulean blue. The coastline runs for more than 600 miles, but for this trip, you should stay between Antalya, where the airport is, and the town of Kaş, located about a 3 hour drive on a winding road to the west.
Book at least three nights at the newly opened Radisson Blu Hotel, Kaş. Bringing luxury to this charming seaside town, the property has 50 rooms and suites, some of which come with personal plunge pools. There is also a large swimming pool with sea views and an excellent restaurant (the wood fire pizzas are astounding). The property is not located directly on the beach, but offers guests golf cart transfers to a local beach club at the neighboring hotel.
Kaş is a lively town with plenty of dining options as well as shopping. Grab dinner at Ruhibey Meyhansei, which serves excellent turkish cuisine alongside tapas style dishes. Other attractions include swimming, snorkeling, diving to a shipwreck in Akvaryum Bay, or spending a day at the famous Kaputas Beach, and taking a ferry to picturesque Meis Island. You can also visit the historical ruins, dating back to 100 AD at the ancient city of Patera. Here you’ll find a roman theater, stone columns, and triumphal arches.
From Antalya catch a flight to Kayseri Airport in Cappadocia. This is probably the most photographed region in Türkiye, famous for its sunrise hot air balloon trips, which is an absolute must. Lifting off just as the sky begins to lighten into a kaleidoscope of colors, the balloons drift up above the otherworldly volcanic rock formations, known as fairy chimneys.
Another top experience is a sunset horseback ride. Personally, this was my favorite Cappadocia excursion (Rene preferred the hot air balloons though, if you can afford both, do not miss out). The journey takes you up and along the top of a ridgeline, past many fairy chimneys and caves, where you can watch the sun go down from the back of a horse. For experienced riders, ask to canter at the end of the ride. But if you are a beginner, this is a very easy excursion with well-trained horses and guides that will walk alongside you if need be.
Cappadocia is also famous for its cave hotels. I loved my stay at the Elika Cave Suites Hotel & Spa. The boutique property has rooms in cave-like structures, and each one has a unique color scheme and décor. The hotel pool is fantastic and perfect for a mid-afternoon dip on a scorching hot summer day. Head to the spa for a traditional Turkish Hamman experience as well as different types of massage – I loved my Balinese massage and it was very affordable
Cappadocia’s other main draw is its ancient underground cave cities. It is believed these multi-level subterranean cities were built in the beginning of the 7th century BC, by early Christians who carved living spaces into the soft volcanic rock. The cities were used to protect inhabitants from invaders during the Arab-Byzantine Wars. There are upwards of 200 of these ancient cities in Cappadocia, and you should tour at least one. Derinkuyu and Kaymakli are two of the most popular.
You’ll also want to check out the Göreme Open-Air Museum in Cappadocia. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is believed to have begun as a Byzantine monastic settlement. By the 17th century, this cluster of rock-cut churches had become a pilgrimage site. Today, you can admire the well-preserved Byzantine artistry.
End your trip with 3 nights in vibrant Istanbul. Europe meets Asia in this city, as the two continents are separated by the 19-mile-long Bosporus Strait. Istanbul is a large city with chaotic traffic, but it has a good public transportation system; and is easy to walk around if you don’t mind steep hills.
Base yourself in Sultanahmet. The neighborhood is within walking distance of Istanbul’s top attractions including the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Also, make sure to devote a few hours to exploring the massive Grand Bazaar, where you can buy pretty much anything (make sure to barter). I recommend bringing home some traditional Turkish spices, intricate stained-glass lamps or pottery; but if you are also in the mood for an identical Gucci or YSL knock-off bag, you’ve come to the right place. End your day with a dinner cruise down the Bosporus Strait to unwind.
Istanbul has hotels for all budgets. If you want to splurge, The Peninsula Istanbul just opened to rave reviews. Located in the vibrant Karakoy district, it has fantastic views of the city’s domes and minarets from the four waterfront buildings.
You don’t need a guide to get around Türkiye. The country is safe and easy to travel around. But hiring a private guide can make life a lot easier, especially if you are planning a trip with friends where you can split the cost. Another option is to hire a guide to get around Istanbul. Guides have priority to purchase tickets to tourist sites, and will be able to lead you to the best shops at the bazaars.
If you do use a guide, I highly recommend Ahmet Mercan. He runs his own travel company and can be reached via his Instagram account.