Dave and I have been thinking of going to Turkey since 2012, but due to many reasons we didn't go until this year. And to make things easier, we took a Rick Steves tour instead of going on our own. It is my 2nd Rick Steves tour, Dave's first. Overall we loved the tour, but there are definitely times that we wish we could have more time at certain places.
The itinerary from www.ricksteves.com/tours/greece-turkey/turkey is:
We'll meet at 3 p.m. at our hotel in Istanbul's historic Sultanahmet district. Shortly after, we'll take an orientation walk past the city's iconic Blue Mosque (interior under renovation) on our way to tour one of the world's great treasures: the Hagia Sophia, for 1,000 years the grandest domed structure on Earth. We'll end our day getting acquainted with one another over dinner. Sleep in Istanbul (2 nights). No bus. Walking: moderate.
This morning we'll focus on the era when the city was known as Constantinople, the eastern capital of the Roman Empire. We'll start at the opulent Ottoman Topkap? Palace, where we'll see the sultans' riches at the Treasury and tour the inner world of the Harem. Next we're off to the New District's pedestrian-friendly ?stiklal Street — with its Art Nouveau facades, restaurants, and trendy boutiques — where you'll have free time for lunch on your own. We'll cap off the day exploring Istanbul's legendary Grand Bazaar and Mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent. Bus: 1 hour. Walking: strenuous.
We'll explore Istanbul's more recent past and present today, beginning with the exotic and fragrant Egyptian Spice Market. Then we'll take to the water for a scenic cruise of the Bosphorus waterway and its panorama of grand palaces, colorful neighborhoods, and bustling waterfront activity. Afterward, we'll board our big, comfortable bus for the drive to Ankara, Turkey's bustling modern capital city, where we'll sleep (1 night). Boat: 2 hours. Bus: 6 hours. Walking: light.
After breakfast we'll tour the world-class Anatolian Civilizations Museum, and marvel at its collection of treasures from Turkey's pre-Roman civilizations. We'll pay our respects at the monumental An?t Kabir, Atatürk's Mausoleum, where we'll learn about the revered founding father of modern Turkey. After lunch, we'll travel to what feels like another planet — the scenic and historic Cappadocia region — where we'll have dinner together and sleep in the village of Mustafapa?a (3 nights; group may be split between two B&Bs). Bus: 6 hours. Walking: light.
Surrounded by Cappadocia's otherworldly "fairy chimney" rock formations, we'll begin our day with a walking tour of our village of Mustafapa?a, followed by a drive to the nearby Göreme Open-Air Museum, where, in Byzantine times, cave-like churches and monasteries were carved in the cliffs. Some astonishing 1,000-year-old frescoes still remain. This afternoon we'll be treated to a home-prepared, Cappadocian-style lunch, and learn about the centuries-old tradition and artistry of Turkish carpet weaving. We'll have dinner together back in Mustafapa?a tonight. Bus: 2 hours. Walking: moderate.
Weather permitting, your guide will take interested hikers on a scenic walk through a Cappadocia valley. Nonhikers can spend the morning in Mustafapa?a, or ride with our bus driver to the colorful weekly market in the nearby village of Ürgüp. After lunch, we'll tour the ancient underground city of Kaymakl? — which once included churches, kitchens, metal shops, and stables — before returning to our village. Tonight we'll attend a religious performance by the followers of Mevlâna Rumi, better known as Whirling Dervishes, held in an ornate 13th-century caravanserai. Bus: 4 hours. Walking: moderate.
This morning we'll travel to the village of Güzelyurt and meet with the local mosque's imam (counterpart to a minister or rabbi), with an opportunity to ask questions about the Muslim faith and the separation of mosque and state in Turkey. After lunch we'll hit the road and, like Silk Road travelers hundreds of years ago, stop to admire the intricate carvings of a medieval caravanserai (unlimited camel parking). Today's destination is conservative Konya, famous as the 13th-century home of Mevlâna Rumi. We'll tour the poetry-filled Mevlâna Museum, also the site of the mystical philosopher's tomb, a Muslim holy place, before setting you free for dinner on your own. Sleep in Konya (1 night). Bus: 5 hours. Walking: moderate.
We'll begin our day with a tour through Konya, including the busy maze of its sprawling bazaar — a time-tripping treasure trove of hardware, household items, clothing, jewelry, religious paraphernalia, and cell phone accessories. Then we'll head over the Taurus Mountains and down to the Mediterranean resort town of Antalya, where we'll take an orientation walk and set you free for dinner on your own. Sleep in Antalya (2 nights). Bus: 6 hours. Walking: moderate.
Antalya is an ideal place to enjoy a "vacation from your vacation." The day is all yours to enjoy the impressive ancient Greek sculptures in the Antalya Museum, one of Turkey's finest archaeological museums; explore the narrow, cobbled streets of Antalya's old town and Roman harbor; or experience a traditional Turkish bath (your guide will help arrange it). No bus. Walking: light to strenuous (your choice).
This morning we'll take off for the amazing weekly farmers market in the town of Korkuteli, where you can assemble your own delicious picnic lunch. We'll then drive to the hilltop overlooking Pamukkale, where we'll get oriented to its spectacularly calcified cliffs and the impressive ruins of Hierapolis, where ancient Greeks and Romans considered the thermal springs sacred. During your free time you'll even have a chance to take a quick dip in a natural spring pool amid the remains of Roman columns. We'll have dinner together and sleep tonight in the Pamukkale area (1 night). Bus: 6 hours. Walking: moderate.
We'll work our way west toward Turkey's Aegean Coast, where ancient Greek colonists settled 2,500 years ago. Freed from the "establishment" norms of Athens, these communities thrived as centers of learning and creativity — and wealth. This morning we'll tour the ancient site of Aphrodisias, which, under Greek and Roman rule alike, prospered as a center for the arts. After lunch together we'll continue on to the lively harbor city of Ku?adas?, where we'll sleep (2 nights). Bus: 6 hours. Walking: moderate.
Today we'll tour the ancient city of Ephesus. Famous for its spectacular Temple of Artemis — one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World — it was one of the wealthiest cities in Ancient Greece. It also played a role in the formation of the early Christian Church, drawing the attention of the Apostle Paul, and possibly even the Virgin Mary. We'll take an extensive walking tour along the still-paved streets and remarkable ruins of Ephesus, including the dramatically restored facade of its Library of Celsus. This afternoon you'll have free time to visit Mary's House (where the Virgin Mary may have lived), view more ancient artifacts at the excellent Ephesus Museum in nearby Selçuk, or relax back in Ku?adas?. Tonight we'll meet for a final dinner together to share travel memories and toast new friends. Serefe! Bus: 2 hours. Walking: strenuous.
Breakfast is provided, but there are no group activities today. You can hop a ferry to the Greek island of Samos (where you'll find easy plane/boat connections to other islands and Athens), or take the tour bus to nearby Izmir for quick flights to Athens or Istanbul and home. Güle güle!
Itinerary specifics subject to change.
We didn't follow the itinerary exactly. For example, visiting the Topkapi Palace had to be done on day 3 because day 2 was a Tuesday and Topkapi Palace closes on Tuesday.
(To be continued)