Turkey has been on my radar for a while now, due to the number of historical sights there is to see but had put it off due to the size of the country and i felt i needed at least a week to see a decent amount (i’m used to shorter trips taking days off either side of a weekend, and making the most of bank holidays to get as many trip as possible in a year).
In a nutshell….
We started our trip in Istanbul, staying in an AirBnb apartment which was fab! I’ve used this website a few time now and love the boutique-style apartments you can rent in the most amazing locations! Travelling as group (6 of us) it makes the stay much more social as you have space to hang out. We stayed a short walk from Taksim Square, it was a good location for restaurants/bars and more regular shopping, but not really very close to any of the major sightseeing.
To get around we bought the hop on hop off sightseeing bus, which took us all around the big sights. We spent the first two days exploring Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque – a must see!), the Grand Bazaar and a short bus ride over the Bosphorus to Asia. You’ll find locals offering to be your ‘guide’ as you line up for entry into the sights, we never accepted (i feel like if you had a good guide book you’ll learn all the major points).
Day three saw us take a bus tour to the Gallipoli peninsula, this was a 6 hour bus trip from Istanbul (and almost 8 on the return due to traffic – there are 20 million people living in Istanbul!), so it is a long day but being Australia this trip was so worth it! To see the history and sights were a once in a lifetime experience, we covered all the main sights over the peninsula including Brighton Beach, the beach cemetery, ANZAC Cove, the Nek, Johnston’s Jolly and Lone Pine Australian Memorial (to name a few). Lunch was also included.
We booked through Gallipoli Tour – and the guide was amazing, you could tell how much he loved his job, and his facts/tales of the soldiers were on point!
The next day we flew from Istanbul to Izmir to start our mini road trip, we could have started the drive from Istanbul, but to drive from there to Izmir alone is an 8 hour drive, and Pegasus Airlines were offering flights for £12GBP (no brainer). We picked up the car and started the drive to Pamukkale (just under 3 hour drive) to the see the hot springs and travertines. In the same spot is Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis, you pay to enter the whole sight and can still actually swim in the terraces. You can also swim in the ‘Antique Pool’, the water is hot from the springs and you paddle over the marble columns from the Roman temples. We stayed in the nearby Pamukkale Ninova Thermal Spa & Hotel (about 10 minutes from the springs).
The next morning we headed back in the direction of Ephesus, we stopped along the way at Laodicia, an ancient city built on the river Lycus. It’s not a huge sight, but was significant to us being Christian and the connection to the one of the early centres of Christianity, referred to in book of Revelation as one of the Seven Churches of Asia. We continued on the road to Ephesus (approx 2 ½ hrs). We checked into our accommodation, the Ayasoluk Hotel which has it own villa perfect for our group. The hotel organised us a private tour to the main sights including the House of the Virgin Mary and the ancient city of Ephesus. We started at the top and walk down through the sight, the guide explaining things along the way. Highlights definitely included the Library of Celsus and the Great Theatre.
The last day was spent chilling by the pool at the hotel until the ½ hr drive back to Izmir for the flight home.
The Grand Bazaar was one of the nicer markets i’ve been to around the world, and i thought perhaps they wouldn’t be so open to bartering, but they were! We got some really nice throws and lamps, i would have loved to bring back a rug, but was slightly out of my price range….
Ladies carry a shawl/scarf with you for when you want to enter the religious sights and Mosques.
What would i do differently next time?
Our apartment in Istanbul was lovely, but i would probably stay closer to the main tourist sites as it would have been nice to walk around them in the evening as well.
A week was a good length to travel, and we crammed a lot in that week, considering the size of the country! Perhaps a few more days would have been good to travel down to the south coast, to the beach resorts, but this could be a future trip!
We travelled to Turkey in May 2016, and in the months leading up to it there had been several attacks in the news, a lot of friends/colleagues had advised against going there during such a time but as the government hadn’t advised ‘against’ travel we booked it anyway. Once we were there we felt completely safe the entire time! We were welcomed by every shop owner, every restaurant waiter with ‘open arms’. Talking to locals you can really see their lively hood is compromised severely due to situations out of their control. I loved the culture, the sights and the whole experience and i would definitely go back.