I planned an impromptu 12 days trip to Turkey and visited two touristy and two off-beaten cities exploring Turkey's culture, history, and food!
EuropeTurkey11 days / June 2019
Highs & Lows
Weather was clear and sunny throughout the trip
I visited during the high season so some of the popular places in Istanbul and Cappadocia were too crowded.
Turkey is one of those countries that cannot be explored entirely on a single trip unless you plan on spending a month or more there! The country is rich in history, culture, and food. Thanks to its rapidly growing entertainment/showbiz industry, it has helped the country's tourism sector by showing small towns and villages which no one earlier knows about!
I spent some good 12 days in Turkey exploring the cities of Istanbul, Cappadocia, Tokat, and Sivas:
- 4 nights in Istanbul
- 2 nights in Cappadocia
- 3 nights in Tokat
- 2 nights in Sivas
I explored Istanbul solo and joined a group to visit the rest of the cities.
- I landed in Istanbul early in the morning and started my trip with a walk around the Sultanahmet area in Istanbul - the tourist hub of the city!
- Visited the Blue Mosque, also called the Sultanahmet Mosque. The mosque is free to enter for both Muslims and non-Muslims, however, during the prayer times, non-Muslims cannot enter the mosque. Also, women are required to cover their heads with a scarf and wear clothes that cover their shoulders and knees. Men are required to wear full-length trousers/pants.
- Right next to the Blue Mosque is Hagia Sophia, a museum that has recently turned into a mosque (in June 2020). During my visit, it was serving as a museum only and the entrance fee was 100 Turkish Lira.
- Another interesting place to visit in the same area is the Topkapi Palace Museum, which served as the headquarters of the Ottoman Empire during the 15, 16th century. The entrance fee of the museum is 100 Turkish Lira. The museum displays remnants of the Ottoman leaders and belongings of many prominent figures in Islam, including Prophet Mohommad's personal sword.
- After some back-to-back sight-seeing in the morning and noon, I spent a lazy evening chilling at a cafe in Sultanahmet ending the day munching on Turkish Kebabs!
- Today I stepped out of Sultanahmet to see the rest of the city and caught a tram to Taksim Square. I would like to name Taksim as 'The heart of modern-day Istanbul'. The place is so lively and buzzing, it is almost impossible not to spend the entire day there! After strolling around the square and taking many pictures, I found a cool group of street performers and quickly spent an hour watching them dancing and playing music. For lunch, I just walked a few meters to a food street in Taksim and ordered Shawarma and Hummus from a tiny food stall.
- After lunch, I walked to Istiklal Street, which right next to Taksim square. Istiklal street is the place to be for every shopaholic! From branded stores to amazing cheap duplicates of the brands, you can find absolutely everything there! I didn't know how I quickly a few hours passed in Istiklal and I had to force myself to stop spending money on shopping just on the second day of the trip!
- It was almost time for the sunset, and many friends suggested that Ortokoy is the best place to witness a sunset in Istanbul, and that's exactly what I did! I hopped on a bus, directly from Taksim to Ortokoy. I went straight to Ortokoy Mosque, which is a beautiful mosque built right across the river. It has a vibrant seafront area with seatings and many chic cafes and restaurants. I watched the sunset sitting right in front of the mosque and then spent the rest of the evening relaxing at a super cute cafe!
- This day was all about the long day trip to the Princes Islands! The Princes Islands are a cluster of nine small islands near mainland Istanbul. Only four of the islands are open to the public and they can be reached by a public ferry in 90 minutes from the mainland.
- The ferries to Princes Islands run all day and the last ferry return back from the Islands at 6 PM in the evening. There is no prior booking required, it works on a first come first serve basis.
- I choose to visit Buyukada Island, the largest island. The best activity to do on the island is to ride a bicycle on the beautiful streets and enjoy seafood sitting at the edge of the Marmara Sea.
- You can also visit the other three accessible islands, however, I just loved my time ay Buyukada so much, I didn't mind not visiting the other islands.
- After returning to mainland Istanbul in the evening, I spent the rest f the day driving around the Asian side of Istanbul, which looks very different than the touristy European side.
- One of the must-see places to see in Istanbul is the color Balat neighborhood, which is famous for its colorful houses, street art, and chic cafes. I spent the entire morning walking in the narrow steep alleys of Balat before stopping for lunch at a small cozy cafe at the corner of the street.
- Next up, I made my way to the Grand Bazar for some souvenir shopping. Grand Bazar is closed only on Sunday so plan your visit accordingly. It can get very overwhelming to visit due to the tourist crowd, loud shopkeepers, and all sorts of haggling and bargaining happening around. Nonetheless, it is a must-visit place for souvenir shopping of all sorts!
- For my final evening in the city, I chose to have a nice peaceful dinner while cruising on the Bosphorous River. I booked a spot for a 2-hour dinner cruise, which included dinner plus a guided tour of the city from the river. It was a wonderful experience to learn about the history of the city while sailing around it and to see some of the royal palaces and courtyards from a distance that is not open to the general public.
I reached Tokat late in the night and started my tour of the city from the next morning. I explored Tokat with a tour group so, like Istanbul, I wasn't alone here.
- To learn more about the city, I started my tour with a visit to the Tokat museum. The museum displays artifacts from Tokat and the surrounding cities dating back to the 15th century. The museum is free to enter.
- Next up, I visited some local farms to see the cherry plantation. Agriculture is the main source of income for the locals in Tokat. The land is very fertile and most of it is covered with cherry farms. I and the group got involved in a cherry-picking competition. We had lunch with the local family who owns the farm.
- Jamia Tokat, the main Friday Prayer mosque in the city was next on the list. Unlike the Blue Mosque, only Muslims with proper dress code are allowed to enter the mosque. It is built on a big property in typical Ottoman architecture.
- We ended the day by enjoying an early dinner at Tokat Kebabs. Tokat Kebabs are unique to the Tokat region and are cooked with local farm meat and organic ingredients.
- We drove a little outside of the city to reach Lake Almus at the Almus Dam in Tokat. It is a huge and magnificent artificial lake built for the purpose of trout breeding. The cafe at the lake offers a free boat ride to everyone who dines there.
- Next, we visited the Roman Ruins also called 'Roma Arsenal' in the neighboring town of Niksar. Right underneath the main street of Niksar are the centuries-old Roman Ruins, only a small part of which is opened for the public. The ruins are supposedly considered to be used as a hiding spot for the Ottomans fighters and also a dedicated part of it is turned into a military graveyard for the Ottoman fighters.
- We ended the day after strolling in the main Niksar Bazar (Niksar main town market) and sipping lots of Turkish Tea.
- We started the final day by visiting the Tokat castle. Built atop a hill, the castle offers great panoramic views of the city. At some point in history, the castle also served as a 'Madrassah' which is an educational institute for Islamic teachings.
- Lastly, we drove outside of Tokat in the outskirts to visit Ballica Magarasi which is one of the largest underground caves in Turkey. The cave is inhabited by millions of bats who acts as the main source of air ventilation inside of the cave when they fly. Only a small portion inside of the cave is opened to the public.
We reached Sivas after a few hours' drive from Tokat.
- Our first stop in the city was the Sifaiye Madrassah, which is an Islamic teachings educational institute build in1217 by the Ottomans. During my visit, it was closed for students due to renovation. Its interiors are beautifully made with blue tiles symbolizing the Blue Mosque of Istanbul. The courtyard has a fountain, which used to be the main lecture area when the Madrassah was built.
- To learn more about the city and its history, we visited the Ethnography Museum of Sivas. The museum is one of the largest ethnography museums in the Central Anatolian region of Turkey. The artifacts in the museum date back to Roman times that were excavated in and around the city of Sivas.
- Tired from the road trip, we decided to call it a day early and stopped for lunch at the Meva Restaurant, which served Turkish food unique to Sivas. The restaurant is perfect for solo/family visits and also offers activities such as a video games arena and children play area.
- Started the day visiting the Ataturk Congress Museum. This is no ordinary museum as the building complex of the museum itself holds great historic importance. The complex was used as the main center to prepare the troops for the Turkish Independence 1919. Later, the founder of Turkey, Kemal Ataturk made it the Sivas Congress. The political history of Turkey is beautifully shown through graphics and other media in the museum.
- The museum is located just adjacent to the Sivas Merkez, which is the main downtown market of the city. After the long visit to the museum, we spent a good amount of time strolling through the main market.
- For a picnic-style lunch, we went to the main picnic area in the city - Pasabache Picnic area. The area is located at the highest point in the city surrounded by mountains and lush green trees. It is a big empty land turned into a huge park. There are hobbit house style hotel rooms, cafeterias, and huge open spaces to have a laid-back afternoon picnic.
- We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the Sufi performance by the revolving Derwish organized by Alaadin Hotel.
We reached Cappadocia in the afternoon after a 5 hours drive from Sivas.
- Our first stop in Cappadocia after reaching there was the Goreme Open Air Museum. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to 400-1200AD. Back in the day, it was a university for Christians, who seek refuge in the stone-built complexes from the Muslims in the area. Still, there are a lot of chapels and churches built inside of the caves in Goreme.
- As it was nearing sunset and everyone was already tired, we made our next stop to Pasabag, also known as The Monk's valley. The place is filled with 'fairy chimneys', which are structures supposed to be formed millions of years ago due to sand erosion. Later on, the monks used the areas to meditate as it was far away from any civilization.
- We started the next day early for the hot air balloon ride which starts at 4 AM in the morning. The tour was organized by Turkiye Balloon, which lasted for almost 90mins. It is a must-do activity to do in Cappadocia.
- After breakfast at the hotel, we visited the Ozkonak Underground City. There are many underground cities in Cappadocia, however, only three including Ozkonak are open to the general public.
- Next up, we visited a ceramic shop in Avanos, which makes the best ceramics in all of Turkey. You can watch how they make it and even try your hand making one piece of ceramic. Beautiful pieces of ceramic are displayed to shop there.
- Lastly, in Cappadocia we visited the Rose Valley, to get a complete panoramic view of Cappadocia. It is also one of the best places to ride an ATV and that's what I did to end my trip to Turkey.
Q & A
What would you have changed?
I would have added extra days to my trip to visit Antalya and other coastal cities.
Anything go wrong during the trip?
Shop-keepers in Istanbul were very rude and they misbehaved when I tried to negotiate an otherwise absurdly high price
Restaurants across the Galata bridge serves the best seafood in Istanbul
Tips you would give a friend?
Add extra days to your plan as there is so much to see and do in Turkey that you can always be short of days
Pack according to the weather. Summers are hot in Turkey and winters in some parts of the country are very cold so pack accordingly
Avoid using taxis in Istanbul as they are famous to be scammers. Use public transport instead. Other than Istanbul, taxis can be used all the other cities without any troubles