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How to plan a comprehensive 8-day Turkey Itinerary

One of the most fascinating countries with a mighty past and stunning attractions, Turkey is a destination well worth exploring. To encapsulate the essence of this cross-continental country in a memorable trip, I prepared for you an extensive Turkey itinerary for 8 days.

Planning a trip to Turkey? Check out my post on useful Turkey travel advice!

Istanbul is an amazing city on the Turkey itinerary list
Galata Tower and Bosphorus, Istanbul

Our initial plan included Istanbul and Cappadocia and was meant to last 6 days. But as I am travelwise insatiable, I soon realised that I wanted more. A bit of Turkey’s ruins and some bathing would be perfect for late September, I thought. Using my persuasive skills on my partner, I managed to extend the period up to 8 full days. And to include a decent amount of the above mentioned, plus lots of adventure and adrenalin.

Travel extensively throughout Turkey! It is a wonderful country with lots to offer: unique landscape, monuments, history, majestic buildings, seaside paradise, famous ruins and modern vibes!

Taste the Turkish cuisine! Ranging from simple street food, such as kebab to more elaborate dishes, it is a harmony of flavours and spices!

Feel the Ottoman presence, the Byzantine character and the Christian touch in this melting pot of influences. It is shaped today into a simple, beautiful and secular country.

Hierapolis spa city in Turkey
The ancient city of Hierapolis

Show Contents

8-day Turkey itinerary
Turkey Itinerary Basics
Day 1-4: Istanbul
Getting from Istanbul to Izmir
Day 5: Pamukkale
Day 6: Ephesus + Kusadasi
Getting from Izmir to Cappadocia
Day 7-8: Cappadocia

8-day Turkey itinerary

This is the ideal Turkey itinerary if you are looking for a cultural trip filled with challenges. And it is doable – tested on myself.

The post on Turkey itinerary includes not only the main visited sites, but also travel hints and ideas.

Here is our 8-day circuit in a nutshell:

Day 1-4: Istanbul

Day 5: Pamukkale, Cleopatra’s pool and Hierapolis ancient city

Day 6: Ephesus ruins + Kușadasi bathing

Day 7-8: Cappadocia

Happy at Cleopatra's pool
Totally enjoying Cleopatra’s pool

Turkey Itinerary Basics

Renting a car in Turkey

It is the best way to enjoy a road trip and gives you flexibility that comes with other advantages. Turkey has all the major rent-a-car companies known worldwide. Besides, driving in Turkey is relatively easy and renting is affordable. We rented a car from Wish company and paid 25 euro/day.

However, if you travel in high season, it is best to book a few weeks ahead.

Tolls While Driving in Turkey

Driving in Turkey means highway tolls. But if you drive a rented car, you needn’t worry: there is a device set in your rental car that charges the toll electronically. The highway system is called HGS and when you return the car, the renting company will withdraw the corresponding amount of money from your credit card.

Public Transport in Turkey

You can also use public transport. In this case the route takes a little longer, and sometimes you may need to switch trains. Public buses have many itineraries (we took a night bus from Izmir to Göreme) and everything was ok. Train in Turkey is truly cheap compared to other western countries, so you may consider it as an option, too.

Turkey itinerary tip

If you plan to visit many sights from the itinerary, it is best to pick up a Turkey Museum Pass. For 1000 TL (54 euro), you’ll get one time access to over 300 museums and sites affiliated to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Turkey. It is valid for 15 days and you can use it basically anywhere in Turkey.

Turkish underground
Istanbul underground
Turkish underground
… also comes to surface

Day 1-4: Istanbul

Our version of the Turkey itinerary starts from Istanbul, the mighty, intoxicating city.

Without being the most luxurious city, Istanbul has something that works as an instant charmer. Packed with history, emblematic buildings and spices, this city placed on two continents offers a lesson of history if you listen.

And seduces you.

We spent here exactly 3 days and a half and these are the highlights:

Istanbul day 1 – Sultans and spices:

  • Süleymaniye Mosque
  • Grand Bazaar
  • Spice Bazaar
  • Rüstem Pasha Mosque
  • Galata Bridge and neighbourhood

Make sure you get to Süleymaniye Mosque in Eminönü to start day 1

Süleymaniye Mosque is one of the most emblematic buildings commanded by Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. Its gigantic size creates a sense of space and light. Since you are here, don’t hesitate to take a look at the tombs of Suleyman, his wife, and Mimar Sinan, the architect. The whole complex has a superb view over the Bosphorus, so spend some time in the garden and take it all in!

Suleymaniye Mosque
Süleymaniye Mosque is huge

The Grand Bazaar is no doubt one of Istanbul’s main attractions. Visited yearly by over 90 million people, it is something you can’t miss. Be prepared to see lots of glittering merchandise and don’t forget your negotiation skills!

The Spice Bazaar (or Misir Çarşisi) is another iconic spot for a Turkey itinerary. It is the second most famous covered complex that originally sold spices. Prepare to immerse your nose and senses into a magic ride scented with cinnamon, mint, sumac, green tea or apple tea!

Rüstem Pasha Mosque is located next to the Egyptian Bazaar. One of my favourite mosques in Istanbul, Rüstem Pașa Camii was built by Süleyman’s son-in-law and is lavishly decorated. Besides, it displays a large number of beautiful Iznik tiles both on the inside and outside.

A short walk away and perspective changes after crossing Galata Bridge. You are now in Karaköy neighborhood, an area full of young people, modern vibes and many hipster cafés. Galata Tower, or Istanbul’s watchtower, is a building that most tourists love climbing for the view. Istanbul Museum Pass helps you skip the line, otherwise you should be prepared for a rather long queue. From the top, you can see the Bosphorus Strait, the Golden Horn, Galata Bridge and several of Istanbul’s most prominent mosques.

Rustem Pasha Mosque Istanbul
Rustem Pasha Mosque
Watching over Bosphorus
Contemplation after day 1…

Insider tips day 1:

  • If you are short on time, skip the tombs at Süleymaniye Mosque, but not the view over Bosphorus!
  • Carry a scarf with you to be prepared entering a mosque!
  • Prices both in the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar are considerably higher than in less tourist area.
  • Instead of going up Galata Tower, book a table at Galata Konak Café and enjoy a similar view while having a snack.

Istanbul day 2 – Culture and lifestyle:

  • Gülhane Park
  • Orient Express train station
  • Ferry ride over the Bosphorus
  • Mihrimah mosque (on Asian side)
  • Üsküdar neighborhood
  • Sifa Hamami
  • Whirling Dervish show

Start day 2 with a tour of Istanbul. City tours are a great way to find out many interesting things about Turkey’s old and new history. As a suggestion, Guruwalk organizes free high-quality tours. In such a tour you will find out about Gülhane Park, the most famous park, the first Turkish delight store in the world or the Archeology Museum, to name just a few.

The Orient Express Train Station is not the biggest in Istanbul, but used to be a landmark of luxury that connected Paris to Istanbul. Pay a visit there to imagine the fabulous carriages, and immerse even if for a second in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, apparently written while in Istanbul.

Next, let’s cross the Bosphorus Strait. There are many options to choose, from an elaborate cruise with dance and dinner to a private tour. Instead, take the state ferry for a rapid sail. It is very affordable and has regular shuttles.

So, it only takes 20 minutes to change continents. Bye bye Europe! Hello Asia!

Turkey itinerary

Start Asia by visiting Mihrimah Mosque. Overlooking the waterfront in the historic center of Üsküdar district, the mosque features beautiful architecture. Next, take your time walking in Üsküdar neighborhood, ideal for those who want to have a real Istanbul experience. It is one of the most populated residential areas in the city, where you can enjoy all sorts of authentic and traditional dishes, such as kokoreç, köfte or kebap.

After wandering around for almost half a day, a hammam experience pops in just fine. There are lots of Turkish baths all over Istanbul. Being in the area, you can choose Sifa Hamami for a thorough peeling, scrub and foam massage.

To get the most out of the Turkish experience, take the ferry and walk your way back to Hocapașa. Observe Istanbul’s hills and perfect view over the Golden Horn, while indulging yourself in a Turkish delight shop. Finally, make it to Hodjapasha Cultural Center for a unique and unforgettable Whirling Dervish show. The dervish (person who turns away from material world and devotes to God) show is very interesting and is loaded with spiritual meaning!

Mihrimah Mosque has a beautiful story
Mihrimah Mosque
Whirling Dervish
Whirling dervish dancer

Insider tips day 2:

  • I strongly suggest you take a tour of Istanbul: concise, comprehensive and knowledgeable
  • If you’re up to authentic food, try kokoreç (mainly a streetfood): grilled lamb intestines
  • While in Üsküdar have lunch at Nevmekan Sahil, a spectacular cultural centre with exceptional food at budget prices.
  • The Whirling Dervish show lasts around one hour and seems out of this world. You need to book tickets in advance!

Istanbul day 3 – Mighty history:

  • Topkapi Palace
  • Cistern Basilica
  • Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Mosque
  • Hippodrome
  • Hagia Sofia Mosque

Good morning! Start the day by visiting Topkapi Palace. Personally, I think it’s a mandatory visit if you want to get in touch with the Turkish culture. Former residence of the sultans over 400 years, Topkapi is a comprehensive history lesson that showcases some of the most precious and beautiful items of the Ottoman Empire.

But watch out! It is huge! And spectacular! Some highlights of the Palace are: the kitchen, the impressive arms collection, the Justice Tower, or the breath-taking Harem.

Topkapi Palace is a must on Turj=key itinerary
A glimpse into the Imperial Hall at Topkapi
Topkapi Palace arches
Cistern Basilica
Cistern Basilica

Turkey itinerary could not be complete without the newly renovated Cistern Basilica. It is the largest of many ancient cisterns from under the city that provided a water filtration system for the buildings around.

Unfortunately, the famous Blue Mosque is closed for renovation most probably until 2024. However, really close to it, you will find Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Mosque, a true stunning gem that will soon put astonishment back on your face.

The remaining fragments of the Hippodrome are proof to Turkey’s Roman past. It could accommodate up to 100.000 people and was the symbol of entertainment from the Roman ideology, bread and circus.

No Turkey itinerary is complete without visiting Hagia Sofia. Luckily, it is open until 11 p.m., so it is best to visit either early in the morning, or after the evening prayer. Hagia Sophia is not only a mosque. It is a Turkish institution. Initially built in 537 as a church, it turned into a mosque in the 15th century when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople.

Mehmet Pasha Mosque
Mehmet Pasha mosque at golden hour
Hagia Sophia Istanbul is a masterpiece
Hagia Sophia

Insider tips day 3:

  • We visited Topkapi Palace in around 5 hours, but if you are short of time, you can choose which part to visit. I would not give up on the Harem or arms collection
  • Do not forget to have mosque appropriate clothing, although at Hagia Sophia you can get a scarf.

Istanbul Day 4 – Palaces, luxury and shopping:

  • Dolmabahce Palace
  • Ciragan Palace
  • Taksim square
  • Eurasia tunnel

The day starts by visiting Dolmabahce Palace, the place where sultans lived in the last years of the Ottoman Empire. Inaugurated in the 19th century, this palace resembles a fancy European residence. Although not on my main favourites list, I have to admit that it contains some absolutely stunning rooms.

You are now in Beșiktaș district, on the shores of Bosphorus in a young and lively area. So, let’s continue our journey along the water towards former Ciragan Palace. Currently Kempinsky Hotel.

The palace/hotel is surprising by the fabulous landscape. You feel like in a luxury resort, while you are in the middle of a megalopolis. It is here that I understood the greatness of the Ottoman Empire: the building, the garden, the view!

Dolmabahce Palace
Dolmabahce Palace looks good on the outside and inside as well
Former Ciragan Palace
Former Ciragan Palace, currently a luxury hotel

But it is time to leave as we have other plans as well. On the way to the hotel, between the funicular and tram, we still have time for a quick stop in Taksim Square. The heart of modern Istanbul famed for restaurants and shops, but also protesters’ favourite spot.

It is time to leave Istanbul behind as other parts of stunning Turkey are waiting for you!

Ah, one last thing! If you drive to the airport, you may cross Eurasia Tunnel. It is of course just a tunnel, but it is a mighty feeling to know that you swap continents under the deep waters of Bosphorus Strait. It is over 5 km long, is payable and expect traffic jam.

Eurasia Tunnel
Heading to Eurasia tunnel

Insider tips day 4:

  • Not keen to see the former Ciragan Palace? After reaching Taksim Square, walk along Istiklal Caddesi, one of the most famous avenues in Istanbul. You can also take a ride with the nostalgic red tram.
  • Istanbul is a crowded city, so getting to the airport requires a lot of time. We made about 2 hours.

Getting from Istanbul to Izmir

Travelling within Turkey is usually a straightforward experience. It is best to take a domestic flight either with Turkish Airlines (national carrier) or Pegasus (Turkish low-cost airline). Prices are really affordable, starting from around 25 euro. The flight takes about one hour.

We opted for Pegasus because of their late evening flight.

When in Izmir, it is best to rent a car for the flexibility it offers. We took our Fiat Aegea, the basic rent-a-car in Turkey through Wish company and late at night, we set off for Selcuk (56 km). We established this peaceful seaside town as the basis for the two following days: Pamukkale and Ephesus.


If you cannot rent a car, there are other options. If you remain in Izmir, you may take the train to Selcuk (every 4 hours) for only 2 euro. Then, grab a cab for the remaining km. Would you rather take the bus? Choose also Selcuk as your destination, then take a taxi.

The distance from Izmir to Pamukkale is a bit longer, but you’ll find many bus shuttles. Take the bus from Izmir to Denizli, the biggest city around Pamukkale. Continue with a taxi.

Day 5 – Pamukkale, Cleopatra’s pool and Hierapolis

  • Pamukkale
  • Cleopatra’s pool
  • Hierapolis Roman city spa

You are ahead a new day with epic landscape different from everything you’ve seen before!

The distance from Selcuk to Pamukkale is around 155 km. The road is good, but it takes around 2 hours and a half, as the main part is on the national road.

Pamukkale, meaning cotton castle, is famous for its travertine terraces with blue water. Being a frequent destination on every Turkey itinerary, it is usually packed with tourists, so it is best to arrive early. We arrived around lunchtime, but being late September, the number of tourists was acceptable.

Pamukkale, the coton castle is splendid

Cleopatra’s pool is a must if you are in Pamukkale. It is a man-made pool said to have been a gift to Cleopatra from Marc Anthony. It is part of Hierapolis complex, a Roman city spa. Visit it around sunset for the best view over the ruins and the antique theatre. We had dinner at a local tavern from Pamukkale surrounded by a colourful atmosphere. Great!

It is time to take the car and head back to Selcuk for a well-deserved sleep.

Insider tips day 5:

  • Be careful about the entrance gate! We entered through the Lower Gate and exited at South Gate, so we had to take a taxi to get back to our car.
  • Make sure to have a bathing suit
  • You walk barefoot all the way the terraced pools, so it is practical to have flip flops
  • Planning to bathe in Cleopatra’s pool? No worry, you can leave your belongings in one of the lockers.
Ruins from Hierapolis

Day 6 – Ephesus ruins and Kușadasi beach

  • Ephesus ruins
  • Kușadasi beach
  • St John church in Selcuk

Let’s continue day 6 of the speedy, but comprehensive Turkey itinerary with the ancient ruins of Ephesus. The distance from Selcuk is just around 10 km, so you’ll reach Ephesus in a blink of an eye. The Library of Celsus is the iconic image of Ephesus, but you’ll find other ruins that reflect the power and wealth of the city. Buy the ticket that includes the terraced houses and you’ll be rewarded some incredibly well-preserved frescoes.

Too much history? Take the car and change perspective! You can drive to Kusadasi’s Ladies’ Beach no more than half an hour. Bathing in the Aegean Sea is always a good option, even late September, as we did. Enjoy a plentiful lunch at one of the terraces!

Heading back to Izmir, you can stop and visit the church of St John in Selcuk. built on the resting place of St John. Beautiful!

Celsus Library in Ephesus
Celsus Library in Ephesus
Detail 🙂 on the library

Insider tips day 6:

  • For Ephesus you have 3 types of tickets: basic, basic + terraced houses or basic + terraced houses + St John church
  • The church of St John is situated in Selcuk, around 10 km from Ephesus ruins.
  • According to your time and interests, you can opt either for a historical or a relaxing day at the sea
Ladies'Beach in Kusadasi
Peaceful Kusadasi late September

Getting from Izmir to Cappadocia

First, you have to return the car to Izmir. Second, you need to get to Cappadocia, a marvellous and unique region. If you want, take the plane to Nevsehir or Kayseri. But the problem with the plane is that they don’t fly directly to Cappadocia. You need to take 2 flights: Izmir-Istanbul and Istanbul-Nevsehir/Kayseri.

You can as well take the car and drive, but the distance is 850 km and it will take up to 10 hours.

That is why we chose the bus. Contrary to the negative reviews, our 12-hour ride with Kamil Koc company was only very long, otherwise no complaints. We were up to a whole night crisscrossing Turkey’s heart all the way to Goreme, the main resort of Cappadocia.

Our long-haul bus

Day 7-8: Cappadocia

Day 7 – Fairy chimneys and lovely sunset in Cappadocia

  • Uchisar Castle
  • Sunset tour of main valleys

If you take the bus, you arrive in Cappadocia at 9.30 a.m. So, you have a full day ahead in the paradise of hot air balloons.

After accommodation, take the public bus from Goreme to Uchisar. It costs TL13 (0.70 euro) and leaves the station every 30 minutes. In Uchisar you must climb the sand-looking castle that offers 360-degree breathtaking views over Cappadocia. Once returned to Goreme, I suggest you grab some quick lunch at one of the food stalls and pick a sunset tour of the area.

We chose an ATV tour, but watch out! In September, the sunset tour starts at 4 p.m.! It is a huge recommendation as you get to see the essence of Cappadocia in a splendid light: Pigeon Valley, Love Valley, Rose Valley! Back in Goreme, indulge in a slow dinner this time!

Insider tips day 7:

  • For a sunset tour you can choose between an ATV, a jeep or on horseback
Uchisar Castle in Cappadocia
Uchisar Castle
Love Valley in Cappadocia
Love Valley

Day 8 – Hot-air balloon ride and a tour of Cappadocia

  • Hot-air balloon ride
  • Green tour

The final full day in Cappadocia has to start with the famous hot-air balloon ride to crown these magic days.

After the ride, keep exploring Cappadocia. You can opt for the green tour (more comprehensive than the red or blue). It includes Kaymakli Underground City, takes you to the lush Ihlara Valley, Selim Monastery, and the Pigeon Valley along with some Turkish delight shop and a jewellery factory. For dinner you have many options, but I suggest Nazar Borek perched upon a cliff, with majestic view over Goreme and the surroundings.

Cappadocia is a must see on Turkey itinerary
Cappadocia landscape
Tea houses in Ihlara Valley
Tea houses in Ihlara Valley

Insider tips day 8:

  • In order to explore Cappadocia, it is best to take one of the three tours (green, red or blue) to explore the region. Watch out! Some of the attractions overlap!
  • Up for pottery? Take the red tour which includes a pottery workshop

The next morning, take the plane to Istanbul. Or, prolong your vacation if possible!


This is a map that contains the 8-day comprehensive Turkey itinerary.

All in all, Turkey is a majestic destination. No matter where you go, you will find amazing places, warm people and historical destinations!

Have you already been to Turkey?  Did you enjoy your visit there? Or maybe you discovered some interesting places worth sharing with other travellers? I am really looking forward to your additional tips.

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