Travel Guide Turkey

The Best Turkey Itinerary for First Time Visitors (2024)

In March 2018, I spent 11 days traveling through Turkey, starting from Selcuk and going all the way to Istanbul. It was a classic Golden Triangle of Turkey tour, but my friend and I did it independently. While you can have a great time exploring just Istanbul, I highly recommend exploring the rest of the country for a week or two to discover many beautiful highlights. Here’s a Turkey Itinerary to help you in planning your trip. I genuinely hope it’s comprehensive enough!

Note: This is my actual itinerary when I visited Turkey, so I can attest that the sequence of activities is doable.

Roman Ampitheatre at Hierapolis

Is it safe to travel in Turkey?

This is the most commonly asked question from people who are planning a trip to Turkey. This is a legitimate question because of two years of political instability and well-publicized terrorist attacks in the country. My friends and family all thought that I was putting my life in danger by visiting Turkey. But is that really the case now?

While I postponed this trip for almost two years because of safety concerns, when I finally decided to go, I neither experienced problems nor felt unsafe at any time. Traveling in Turkey for almost two weeks from the cities to provinces was really an eye-opening experience for me. The only country that I haven’t felt that I’m an outsider and even though I couldn’t speak or understand their language, people were super kind and welcoming. I have no doubt I will make a return trip someday!

this photo was taken at the Sunset Point in Cappadocia

How to get a Turkey Tourist Visa

Visitors to Turkey can either apply for a regular visa or an e-Visa. The Turkey e-Visa is easy and hassle-free to obtain, that is if you have a valid visa or residence permit from the United States (USA), any Schengen country, the United Kingdom (UK) or Ireland. If you do not have any of those mentioned, I’m afraid this post cannot help you as I did not experience getting a regular visa from the Turkish Embassy in Manila.

How much is the plane ticket from Manila to Turkey

What usually takes the biggest chunk out of a budget is the price of airline tickets. Tickets from Manila to Turkey are not something I could buy off a CebPac seat sale, they are a massive purchase that I cannot make lightly. I did a hundred mock bookings months before the trip and the cheapest I found is around PHP 34,000. So when Etihad Airways announced a sale to Europe, I did not think twice. I got a roundtrip ticket to Istanbul for only 30,000 pesos (around 35,000 pesos when we applied for a 6-month installment from CitiBank). Domestic flights, on the otherhand, are cheap! One way ticket to Izmir (nearest airport from Selcuk) and Kayseri (nearest airport from Cappadocia) costs 600-900 pesos. You don’t really need a seat sale to travel to local destinations in Turkey!

How to get around Turkey

Transportation in Turkey are abundant and far less expensive than nearby European countries. In Selcuk, Pamukkale and Cappadocia, getting around is possible by local buses, taxis, dolmushes (shared mini-vans) and trains. To give you an idea, I paid TRY 6 (49 pesos or USD 1) for a train ride from Izmir Airport to Selcuk (1 hour and 10 minutes). The train was like the limited express trains in Japan, which costs around 1,000 pesos for an hour of travel. Another example is the overnight bus from Pamukkale (Denizli) to Cappadocia, which only costs TRY 70 (600 pesos or USD 12).

Getting to the Asian side of Istanbul is possible thru this ferry, which only costs TRY 4 (less than 40 pesos or less than USD 1)

In Istanbul, there are numerous modes of public transportation to choose from – trams, trains, buses, taxis, ferries, cable cars, funiculars. Payment in the city is done by one single payment system called ISTANBULKART, a contactless smart card similiar to London’s Oyster Card and Seoul’s T-Money. For 4 days, I’ve only spent TRY 55 (550 pesos or USD 9) in Istanbul.

Tours (DIY vs. Guided Tours)

Touring with a travel agency and DIY-stye or self-guided both have their own advantages. I’m the first one to suggest to travel DIY, but if you prefer a more relaxing holiday experience, you can use a travel agency to plan your perfect Turkey vacation. is a unique travel company – offering custom and group tours in Turkey.

Best Places to Stay in Istanbul

  • For Solo and Budget Travelers: Primero Hotel, nestled in Istanbul’s historical heart, Sultanahmet, offers a strategic location with short walks to major attractions like the Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia, and the Blue Mosque. Public transport is easily accessible. While rooms may be compact, the hotel stands as a great value option for solo and budget-conscious travelers.
  • For Couples: The Stay Nisantasi offers spacious rooms and suites with distinctive furnishings and classic modern lighting fixtures. Situated in Istanbul’s chic Nisantasi district, renowned for designer stores and Art Nouveau buildings, the hotel seamlessly blends luxury with the area’s rich 18th-century history.
  • For Families and Groups: Nestled in Istanbul’s historic heart, Tomtom Suites is a restored hotel merging elegance and history. Originally a French Palace outbuilding, it offers a unique blend of heritage and modern comfort. Enjoy a delightful breakfast with panoramic city views on the top floor, just a street from bustling İstiklal Caddesi.
c/o The Stay Nisantasi

Best Places to Stay in Selcuk

  • For Solo and Budget Travelers: Ephesus Palace, a charming family-run boutique hotel in Selcuk, sits a mere 3 km from the ancient marvel of Ephesus. Centrally located, it offers easy access to town attractions, shops, bars, and restaurants. Having stayed here before, I can say that this guesthouse provides excellent value with comfortable rooms and a delightful Turkish breakfast, making it a standout choice in Selcuk.
  • For Couples: Akanthus Hotel Ephesus is a family-owned boutique hotel in a quiet area of Selcuk, perfect for couples seeking tranquility. The hotel boasts a beautiful courtyard pool with sunset views, comfortable and clean rooms, ample closet space, and delicious breakfasts. Its proximity to town and various restaurants makes it an ideal choice for an intimate and peaceful getaway.
  • For Families and Groups: Celsus Boutique Hotel is located just a short walk from Ephesus Archaeological Museum and the Temple of Artemis. Conveniently close to dining and shopping options, the hotel ensures easy exploration for families and groups without the need for private transport. Additionally, it’s just a 10-minute drive from the Ephesus Ruins, enhancing its appeal for those keen on historical exploration.
free Turkish breakfast at Ephesus Palace

The Best Places to Stay in Pamukkale

  • For Solo and Budget Travelers: Pamukkale Melrose Viewpoint Suites is perfect for solo and budget travelers seeking affordability without compromising on comfort and location. It’s about 10-minute walk from the iconic Pamukkale travertines and Hierapolis. Despite its age, the hotel stands out with outstanding service, value for money, and the added perk of complimentary breakfast.
  • For Couples: The Cotton House is perfectly situated a few blocks from Pamukkale’s downtown. With a bus service to Pamukkale travertines and Hierapolis, its location is ideal. Guests are treated to a large, delightful breakfast each morning, and complimentary tea time featuring fresh fruits from the hotel’s garden each evening.
  • For Families and Groups: Sirius Boutique Hotel Pamukkale offers a tranquil escape from the crowds, yet remains conveniently close to the travertines. The hotel’s location ensures a peaceful stay while being within walking distance of dining options and Pamukkale activities.

Best Places to Stay in Cappadocia

  • For Solo and Budget Travelers: Antique Terrace Cave Suites is a budget-friendly cave hotel in Cappadocia. The location is fantastic, just a short walk from everything. The cave rooms are authentic and comfortable, but what truly sets this place apart is the exceptional service. The staff is incredibly polite, friendly, and effortlessly organized everything for my friends and I – from quad biking to hot air ballooning, green tours, and even the airport shuttle, all at the best prices. I couldn’t be happier with my experience.
  • For Couples: Sultan Cave Suites is THE iconic cave hotel in Cappadocia. Located atop Aydinli Hill, it offers unique rooms adorned with Turkish antiques and boasts a panoramic terrace with stunning views of Goreme. The majority of guest rooms feature private patios, sitting areas, and modern bathrooms. If I ever find myself in Cappadocia again, I would definitely stay here!
  • For Families and Groups: Azure Cave Suites, nestled in Goreme National Park, offers a serene escape near historical sights. With a prime location, it boasts one of the region’s most beautiful sunset views and is the ultimate spot for watching morning Hot-Air Balloons.
Our cozy cave hotel at Cappadocia 🙂

*When looking for accommodations in Turkey, I found it very easy to book via

How much is the average cost of food in Turkey

Turkish Food was one of the best parts of my trip in Turkey. Just like the cost of transportation and accommodation, food is relatively cheap in both cities and provinces. Just to give you an idea, the average price of food including breakfast, lunch and dinner for one day is TRY 50 (400 pesos or USD 8). Take a look at the expense summary at the very end of this post and you will see that I only spent 5,912.86 pesos for the entire duration of my trip! Amazing, no?

*I did not have any expectations with Turkish Food before my trip, but it certainly became one of my favorites! Because I was so amazed with Turkish cuisine, I joined two food tours in Istanbul! Check out my posts here and here.

This yummy Kebab lunch at Cappadocia costs around TRY 20 (170 pesos or USD 4)

My 11-day Turkey Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival at Istanbul Atatürk Airport; Travel to Izmir then to Selcuk

After 30 hours of travel (3 plane rides, 1 long layover in Abu Dhabi and 1 train ride), we finally made it to Selcuk, Turkey! It is the gateway to Ephesus, which is home to the Ancient Roman Ruins. We arrived at around 7 in the evening and totally got lost trying to find our guesthouse because of language barrier. Good thing, we asked a local and he contacted the owner of Ephesus Palace to fetch us. That’s a perfect example of Turkish hospitality, don’t you agree? :)I will tell you more about how I was overwhelmed by the kind of hospitality we have experienced in Turkey on my next posts.

Day 2: Ephesus Whole Day Tour

We explored the Archeological Site of Ephesus on our second day in Turkey. If you are a history buff and would like to learn as much information as you’d like, then hiring a local guide is a must. In our case, we explored the whole archaeological site on our own and just read an online travel guide while we were walking. Exploring it DIY allowed us to stay longer and get that perfect Ephesus selfies (lol!). In the late afternoon, we checked out from our hotel then traveled from Selcuk to Denizli by local train. No reservations required for this train, you just have to check the train schedule in the station and buy tickets from there.

Highlights of Ephesus:

  • Basilica of St. John
  • Ephesus Museum
  • Temple of Artemis – Just one lonely column is all that remains of the temple
  • Meryemana (House of the Virgin Mary)
  • Library of Celsus
The iconic Library of Celsus of Ephesus

Day 3: Pamukkale Whole Day Tour

On day 3, we explored the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pamukkale (meaning “cotton castle” in Turkish) and Hierapolis, an ancient Roman spa city founded around 190 B.C. Our hotel, Pamukkale Melrose Hotel, was located at the foot of the travertines so we never had problems exploring it on our own. In the late afternoon, we check out from the hotel and headed to Denizli Bus Terminal.  We bought our overnight bus tickets then headed to Cappadocia at around 9 PM. No reservations required for the overnight bus, just go to the station directly.

Highlights of Pamukkale and Hierapolis:

  • The picturesque travertine formations
  • Hierapolis Theatre
  • Antique Pool
  • Hierapolis Archeological Museum
walking barefoot at the cotton castle

Day 4: Cappadocia DIY Tour

My friend and I were so tired from the long journey from Pamukkale to Cappadocia that we chose to stay in and sleep right after checking in at Guven Cave Hotel. They allowed us to check in at 8 AM! Can you believe that?! Standard check in time there is at 11 AM.  Since we woke up late, we were only able to visit the Love Valley and Goreme Town Proper, so we did not spend that much on this day.

Day 5: Cappadocia Green Tour

On day 5, we decided to join a small group tour of the Green Tour from Gorgeous Travel. The attractions on this tour are located far from each other so we cannot really DIY this. We visited the following:

  • Derinkuyu Underground City – the biggest and deepest underground settelment so far
  • Selime Kathedral – the biggest rock-cut Monastry of the region
  • Ihlara Canyon – contains more than 100 churches and approximately 10,000 caves which are carved by early Christian Monks
  • Pigeon Valley in Uchisar town – one of the best panoramic view of the region. The site also features hundreds of pigeon houses which are built by the ancient inhabitants of the region.

Day 6: Cappadocia DIY Tour

Day 6 was our last full day in Cappadocia so we decided to explore it on our own. In the morning, we went to the Sunset Point to witness the famed Cappadocia hot air balloons up in the air, which was definitely one of the highlights of this trip. After lunch, we went to Goreme Open Air Museum and explored it DIY. In the afternoon, we just ate and walked around town for some shopping. 

Day 7: Cappadocia to Istanbul

On day 7, we woke up at 2 AM to catch our early morning flight from Cappadocia’s Kayseri Airport to Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport. We arrived in the city at around 9 AM and decided to explore the Old City of Istanbul or the Sultanahmet area. We were also just in time for the Lale or Tulips Festival.

Highlights of Sultanahmet:

  • Hippodrome
  • The iconic Hagia Sophia
  • Blue mosque
  • Topkapi Palace
  • Basilica Cistern
Istanbul’s Tulip Festival 2018

Day 8:  Istanbul Spice Bazaar and Kadikoy Market Foodie Tour

What better way to explore the old city of Istanbul than to walk around the city with a local, sample the best of Turkish cuisine and taste a traditional Turkish coffee? On our 8th day in Turkey, may friend and I joined a food tour in the Spice Bazaar and Kadikoy Market.

Day 9:  Istanbul Culinary Backstreets Food Tour

On day 9, my friend and I joined the Two Markets, Two Continents food tour of Culinary Backstreets, a company that offers food tours specifically tailored to guide tourists to some of the oldest streets in Istanbul. On this tour, we explored Istanbul’s Karakoy neighborhood in the European side and Kadikoy neighborhood in the Asian side, tied together by a Bosphorus crossing.

Day 10:  Istanbul DIY Tour

On day 10, my friend and I decided to explore Istanbul on our own. We were confident with our navigation skills already since we joined two food tours in the city the previous days. On this day, we were able to explore Sultanahmet (again) and visited historic places like Basilica Cistern and Grand Bazaar.

Day 11: Istanbul to Airport

The best thing ever happened to us this day. While we were checking in for our flight to Abu Dhabi that afternoon, the staff of Etihad Airways advised us that the flight was full and they could not accommodate us. In short, we were off loaded. As a compensation, they provided us direct flight tickets from Istanbul to Manila c/o Turkish Airlines, priority immigration pass, airport lounge access and 600 euros each.

I pretended to think for a moment, but on my mind, I was already calculating how much is 600 euros in pesos. Lol! 38,000 pesos sya! The flight was scheduled the next day at 2 AM and we arrived in Manila at 6:45 PM. Just 2 hour difference from our original flight schedule. Amazing! I got my return tickets from Etihad for only 30,000 pesos then I received a compensation for 38,500 pesos, sobrang bawi ang puhunan!

How much did I spend on this trip?

In total, I spend 75,097 pesos inclusive of everything – visa, airfare, accommodation, tours, local transportation, shopping, etc.

So, there you have it! I spent a lot of time researching and planning for the perfect 11-day Turkey itinerary, so this post is here to help you save some time when creating your own trip. I hope you find it useful, and do feel free to add your own tips in the comments section. Do you have any questions? Suggestions? Let’s chat down below! 🙂

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By Project Gora

Hey there! My name is Milet Miranda, and I'm a full-time corporate employee during weekdays and a traveler during weekends (and get the picture). I'm a foodie at heart and I love joining food tours. When I'm not traveling, you'll find me walking my dogs or biking around my neighborhood.

4 replies on “The Best Turkey Itinerary for First Time Visitors (2024)”

Hi. Thanks for this blog. I plan to visit istanbul next week but for a conference.

About money (local currency), san ka po bumili ng Turkish LIRA before arriving? Any recommendations

Hello Ralph. I did not buy Turkish Lira in advance. I brought $100 for emergency and just used my debit card to withdraw money in Turkey. Hope this helps!

Your anecdote about navigating the local transport made me chuckle. Travel mishaps can be so memorable, can’t they?

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