What to do in Turkey: Cappadocia to Istanbul
It’s time for another #StealMyVacation post! I spend a LOT of time planning my trips from scratch, and I usually get asked for my itineraries. So, I started this series with my trip to Thailand, then followed up with Italy, Indonesia, and Morocco.
(Pin for later!)
This year, I was fortunate to take two incredible international trips with my former co-ambassador and current BFF and travel buddy, Nathaniel Palma. Our most recent trip was to the beautiful country of #Turkey.
Turkey has a fascinating history, and even holds the cradle of human civilization! It’s geographically and culturally interesting since it spans two continents—Europe and Asia—and is considered the gateway to the Middle East.
I’ve been researching and planning my own trips for the past few years, so I’ve started sharing them with those who love to travel (which I think is only fair, since so much of my travel insights and inspiration comes from fellow bloggers and Instagrammers). So, let’s dive right in so you can steal my vacation to Turkey!
Is it safe?
There is unrest in Turkey, but we were in more touristed areas and nowhere near the Syrian border. I never felt personally unsafe in my surroundings and felt like the people were very welcoming. Safety to me is relative. It’s probably less safe to get in your car every day than it is to travel to most of the countries people worry about. Be alert, be smart, and you’ll be fine.
A note on travel style
I always share a caveat on my travel style, because everyone is different, right? If you are a history buff who loves spending hours in meusems, you probably won’t want to steal my vacation because I tend to skip those things (yes, even the Louvre).
My trips are usually pretty active—I prefer to “go and do” rather “go and see.” I love photography, so beautiful places are usually the impetus for a lot of my trips. Accommodations are usually above the budget range (I’m not a 20-something anymore), but luxury splurges are a sporadic treat. I would say that we tend to travel moderately, but save money where we can. And I do love to eat, so I usually do a lot of vetting of restaurants, though I wouldn’t consider myself a gourmand.
This itinerary is perfect for:
· City lovers
· Travelers without a lot of time
· Early risers
Pro Tip: Since most flights from the US require a layover somewhere, I generally book two separate flight legs. I found a great deal roundtrip to Paris for only $400 on Norwegian, so we stayed there for a few nights before taking a short, inexpensive flight to Turkey.
My top suggestions are doing an Eiffel Tower photoshoot—we booked ours with @_parispics_ through Airbnb. My favorite rooftop for drinks and a view was over the Terras hotel.
Day 1—Konya, Turkey
Ok, confession time. Our arrival into Konya was kind of a hot mess. Our flight we booked never actually existed and I booked our rental car for the wrong day, so we lost a bit of time in this cultural city. I wouldn’t recommend more than a day here, but it is beautiful and there are not many tourists.
Check-in --Araf Hotel (about $60/night)
This hotel was so charming! Very small, clean, and right in the middle of the city. They not only helped us with our rental car troubles, but they provided a wonderful breakfast spread (which was great, because we also had problems taking out money).
Konya is the home of the whirling dervishes, so if you are there on a night they are performing, this would be the place to see them! There are two options: Year-round on Saturdays, there's a performance at the Mevlana Culture Center at 7pm. In the summer (roughly June to September) there's a performance in the rose garden of the Mevlana Museum starting at 8.45pm. Both are free, and no advance booking is necessary.
Rent a car with Nissa Car Rental.
We rented a car for the drive to Cappadocia. You can go through one of the internationally recognized companies at the airport—or you can go with a local company with better prices. It was a bit harder to get in touch with them when I made the mistake of booking the wrong dates, but our hotel was very helpful and the prices were very reasonable!
Day 2—Cappadocia, Turkey
If you follow any travel influencers on the ‘gram, you have seen Cappadocia—you probably just didn’t realize it was in Turkey! Cappadocia is full of rich history—notably Christians fleeing from Rome and hiding out within the thousands of cave dwellings and intricate underground cave cities. It is also geologically fascinating. History buffs and photographers rejoice!
Check In --Sultan Cave Suites
Comfortable, beautiful, and with great views of the balloons each morning! There are so many hotels to choose from in Cappadocia. We selected Sultan because it was highly rated and it was close to all the action. Even though it is considered luxury, it was very affordable by our standards. Get up early to see the balloons—but be ready for crowds of Instagrammers doing photoshoots all over the deck! I’ve also heard the Mithra hotel next door is a nice option if Sultan is sold out.
Day 3—Full day tour of Cappadocia
If you’re up for it, wake up early to watch the balloons rise over Cappadocia! If you are on the deck by 6:00am, you will see most of the balloons already in flight.
We found the most amazing couple (via Instagram!) to privately guide us for two days around Cappadocia! Both Nihat and his wife were very knowledgeable about the history of the region and knew the BEST places to take us for authentic meals (no touristy spots during our tours)! They were also very hospitable, and we made fast friends. They even invited us to their home for tea. I highly recommend their services! You can find Nihat on Instagram @guidenihat.
Areas covered: Gerome outdoor museum, underground city, delicious lunch at a family-owned Greek restaurant
Dinner--The Roof Lounge
Day 4—Balloon Chasing Tour
Get ready for an early morning! We were up before the sun for a balloon chasing tour. Nihat drove us to locations all around the city to see the balloons up close. We got some amazing photos throughout the day. He also took us to an amazing restaurant (I don’t even know the name) run by a coalition of women. The food was AMAZING and the women were so kind—we sat right in the kitchen as they cooked us authentic food from scratch. We finished the day at Crazy Ali Café’s panoramic viewpoint (with a thousand other people) to watch the sun turn the valley red.
Dinner--Top Deck Cave Restaurant
Day 5—Hot Air Balloon Ride + Ilhara Valley
Experience --Butterfly Balloons
Another early morning to experience Cappadocia from above. This was one of the more expensive activities during our trip, but it was so worth it. Butterfly Balloons had a lot of good reviews and the basket wasn’t stuffed full of too many people. I literally cried with joy as we took off.
Just an hour or so from Cappadocia is Ilhara Valley, a beautiful outdoor area with a river and “hiking.” It was really more like walking and felt a little touristy, but it was nice to see some greenery. Not a must-do, but if you have a little extra time, possibly worth visiting.
We once again hopped in our car and drove a short ways away to Avanos, a quaint little town known for their ceramics and pottery. Stroll the streets and chat with the artisans. If you do take any photos, at least make sure to buy something from the shop! The woman whose shop we visited was so kind—she didn’t speak much English, but we were able to gather she had personally handcrafted and painted every piece. She even took us in the back to see her pottery station and let us test out the equipment. We purchased a number of items from her and even met her family!
If you are hankering for something familiar, there is a McDonald’s here!
Take a private sunset tour on horseback. Our tour provider offered private rides for only about 20 Euro more than the group trip. Our resort concierge directed us to the office in town (which actually shared a space with the Butterfly Balloon company) since they only accepted cash.
Dinner --Millocal Cave Restaurant
A perfect way to end our time in Cappadocia—with delicious food and beautiful views!
PRO TIP: I emailed ahead to each restaurant and asked to reserve a table with the best view. In most cases, we were seated at one!
Istanbul surprised me. It was beautiful, modern, cosmopolitan, and the people were some of the friendliest I’ve ever met. It was much less conservative than other places we had traveled within Turkey. Istanbul is home to over 15 million people and 4,000 mosques. It is also the only city in the world to span two continents—Europe and Asia. This is also a cash-heavy city, so be sure you have plenty of money on hand!
There are a number of Airbnbs in Istanbul. In major cities, this is typically my MO. You can get $55 off your first trip if you follow this link!
Honestly, we mostly wandered around in Istanbul and just enjoyed cafes and bazaars as we happened upon them. Some highlights were the obvious—the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, and the Spice Bazaar.
The only pre-planned experiences we participated in was a Turkish Hammam and a Bosphorous Cruise. The cruise is part of the public transportation—it’s very inexpensive, but a little difficult to find. Go down to the ferry docks and ask around if you need help. We selected the full day tour, but I would recommend the half day or even shorter.
We had a couple great dining experiences in Istanbul (always with a view)! I recommend Seven Hills Restaurant if you like seafood (or even if you don’t, the views were that great). We were also directed to a great rooftop bar and restaurant overlooking the Bosphorous River that I highly recommend. We didn’t eat anything, but just ordered some drinks and enjoyed the gorgeous views.
Turkey was my first foray into the Middle East and I absolutely loved it. While we visited during a time of political unrest at the country’s borders, we never felt unsafe or worried. In fact, we had been traveling without money for most of our trip (pickpocketed in Paris, expired debit cards, it was a thing) and we had more people offer to help us than I ever would have expected in the US. The history and topography was incredible and the culture was beautiful. Overall, just an incredible experience!
Feel free to follow along on our travels on Instagram! And show this post some love or Pin it for later!
If you'd like to see the epic(ly long) video I spent way too much time on, feel free! It's for posterity, y'all--so don't expect anything profesh.