Go to Turkey: A “Quick & Dirty” Tour Guide
This is the “quick and dirty” Turkey tour (for those that have only two or three weeks):
Reserve a room or a bed in Istanbul somewhere for your first night. In the summer, it fills up fast. I usually stay at the Sultan Hostel, but send my friends to the Apricot Hotel. Istanbul is an enormous city; there is plenty of lodging. Always book your first night in advance.
Arrive at IST, before you go through the Customs line, pay for a visa at the window to your left with US$20 (or whatever it says for your nationality), then go through the line to get your passport stamped.
Get some money out of an ATM. Get a cheat sheet from oanda so that you don’t get ripped off.
Take a taxi into town, unless you are a cheapskate, in which case take the airport bus. Or take the Metro [Subway] to Aksaray and trolly bus down to Sultanahmet (“Sultan-AH-met”), the neighborhood that has all the good stuff.
Check into your hotel or hostel, drop your bags and go buy a big bottle of water (“Su”). Believe me, you will need it. Go to the roof of the Sultan Hostel or the Orient and have a few beers. Watch the scene. Relax.
The next day, get your bearings in the morning and then get your butt to one of the many travel agencies in the neighborhood and buy a bus ticket to Selcuk for the next morning. Specify which seat you want, avoiding the ones over the rear wheels. (Yes, you are going to skip Troy. Avoid Gallipoli unless you are an Aussie/Kiwi. Bursa, though, is very worthwhile.)
Go back, walk around but avoid the aggressive carpet touts by not answering their questions. Don’t buy any carpets in Istanbul! See the Blue Mosque at sunset. After sunset, eat dinner on the roof at Doy Doy’s.
The next morning, take the bus down to Selcuk. It’s a boring ride and you will still have jetlag, so just sleep on the bus. You will arrive in Selcuk in the late afternoon. Touts will want you to stay at their hotel, but you want to stay at the ANZ or Artemis or The Getaway. Whatever you do, avoid Kusadasi!
The next day, go to Ephesus first thing in the morning (before all the tour buses get there), sleep in the afternoon, take a tour to Sirince in the evening. Ask your guesthouse how to do this. Also ask them how to see Pammukale.
Wander over to the bus station and ask the nice gentlemen at the bus companies who is going down to Oludeniz/Fethiye. You always want to specify “big bus” not a minibus. When you get there, stick around a few days and see Butterfly Valley.
Relax on the beach during the day; dance your booty off at night. For those under 30 there are tons of choices, such as Oludeniz Camping. I like to spend a little bit more and stay up the hill at Aygul Hotel.
Get a bus (or better yet, a boat cruise (gulet) to Olimpos. Spend a few days lounging around in Olimpos (if you are under 30) or a few days in Cirali (if you are over 30). The thing to do in Olimpos is sleep in tree houses. Kadir’s is the most famous place, but the places down the road are much better. All the places in Olimpos are the same price and inclusive of breakfast and your evening meal so choice is best made on size and atmosphere, not where the minibus drops you off.
Get a bus to Goreme. It’s a night bus, it arrives way too early and you will feel awful when you arrive. There is a free accommodation office in the Bus Station which, even though it is still before dawn, will show the options for lodging. I generally stay at Shoestring, Paradise Pension or Flintstones. These are the budget options. If you are not on a tight budget, I highly recommend the Local Cave House. (It is a long way up to Goreme, so if you want to break the trip in half, stop off at Egirdir. It’s a nice little town on a lake and there are no tourists there. There is plenty of good, clean, inexpensive lodging everywhere in Turkey, so don’t worry.)
Spend a few days in Goreme, but don’t do anything the first day! Rest. The next day, take a minibus tour arranged through your guesthouse or take a walking tour with the world famous (and the original) “Walking Mehmet.” (Ask for him wherever you see his poster. Everybody knows him!) Spend a few more days in Goreme just enjoying the amazing terrain. Walk in the morning, sleep during the midday sun, drink and dance at night (check out Flintstones Underground Cave Bar!). Goreme is the perfect town to do it in. After you check your email, browse the paperback books at the bookstore near the Sultan Carpet shop.
Buy your souvenirs at Has Silver, next to the bus station. Best prices in town (run by the Imam) – and carpets at half the price of Istanbul prices are found at Sultan Carpet. Remember: Any time a friendly guide or your hotel “shows” you a place to buy stuff, they receive a hefty commission.
Take a night bus back to Istanbul. It will leave at about 8:00 p.m. When you get back to Istanbul then see the major sights such as Topkapi and the Underground Cisterns.
Don’t miss the Egyptian Market (and particularly the area behind it) and make sure that you take a commuter ferry over to Uskudar and back. They leave from Emininou. Cheap! (Great photo ops, but Istanbul is smoggy and hazy during midday, so early morning is best for snapshots.) Stock up on foodstuffs at a Migros supermarket so that you don’t pay tourist prices. Bring home olive oil, hazelnuts, hazelnut spread, honey, jam, olives and spices. (I am very fond of the stainless steel cooking pots and kitchen knives made in Turkey.)
Want to be a bit more adventuresome? Get a bus to Urfa (Sanliurfa) and go see the sacred carp and the best market in Turkey. Turks/Kurds/Arabs living together in peace. Also visit the amazing beehive houses of Harran.