Internal flights for £12 with baggage, buses with snacks and personal TVs, it is honestly so easy and cheap to travel around Turkey! I can’t understand why people choose to stay in one resort town for a week or so. Maybe doing a day trip here or there. There is so much to see!
I have just spent two and a bit glorious weeks exploring the west of Turkey. As avid adventurers, Craig and I decided to do this trip as a backpacking trip. We devised a Turkey travel itinerary to cover a decent amount of ground, but without moving somewhere every other day so we could relax a bit.
I will take you through my Turkey travel itinerary, as well as a few suggestions for things we wish we could have done and will hopefully do on another trip some day.
Turkey travel route
The obvious place to fly to from London is Istanbul. Loads of regular flights and you get to go to an awesome city spread over two continents. A no brainer. You can also fly direct to some of the resort towns such as Antalya and Bodrum, but we wanted to explore the cultural hub of Istanbul.
We decided to do a loop from there, as return flights were by far the cheapest option with the following destinations and number of nights for our 16 day trip:
- Istanbul – 3 nights
- Cappadocia – 4 nights
- Antalya – 4 nights
- Pamukkale – 1 night
- Selcuc – 2 nights
- Istanbul – 2 nights
We flew into the new Istanbul airport with Turkish Airlines from Heathrow. The flight was comfy and took just over 3 hours, we even got a little hygiene kit with masks, wipes and hand sanitiser.
To get into the city we got a shuttle bus, which cost 25 Turkish Lira (TL) each – around £2.50. We did have to wait a while as they seem to be once every 30 mins, and then we still had to take a taxi to the hostel.
People will tell you that taxis will try and scam you but actually we mostly found them totally fine and very cheap. One when we arrived back in Istanbul tried to tell us our money from the airport was fake (‘old serial number they said’) and we had to give them Euros or Dollars. We had been in the country 2 weeks and had no problems with the money, which didn’t even come from the airport and didn’t have any issues after leaving that taxi to find another. So watch out for that kind of thing and don’t fall for it.
Anyhow, we stayed in a fab hostel called Cheers in Sultanahmet. The roof bar was closed because of covid but you could take your own drinks up there. It had the most fantastic view of the Hagia Sofia, especially when it was lit up at night. We met a lot of fun people here and would definitely recommend it. By far the nicest of the private rooms we had on the trip too, it was basically a hotel room! It was also very close to main sites such as the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace.
I won’t go into detail about what we did in Istanbul, I will definitely write a separate post on that… It was incredible though and should be on anyone visiting Turkey’s itinerary.
When we left, we booked a transfer through the hostel to take us to Sabiha Gokcen, which is the older airport on the Asia side. From here we caught our flight to Kayseri, and the real Turkey travel adventure could begin!
Cappadocia is the most stunning place. Possibly one of the most beautiful I have ever encountered. The landscape is other worldly with the fairy chimneys, caves and interestingly shaped rocks… It is an absolute must for any Turkey travel itinerary. It is known as a romantic/Instagram destination, but there is plenty of adventure there for backpackers too!
There are two nearby airports, Kayseri which is an hour away or Nevsehir which is about 45 minutes. We went for Kayseri, and pre booked a transfer from the hostel we stayed in, Kose Pension. Unfortunately someone on our transfer was staying in the next town over and we had to go and drop her off first apparently, so it was almost a 2 hour transfer which sucked. But that was just bad luck, it was far quicker on the way back.
Kose Pension was another good hostel, with a pool and a bar that was actually open yay! It also had a number of resident tiny cats which I was a big fan of, even if they did try and steal my breakfast. We had a lot of fun at this hostel and it was nice to enjoy some pool time. They also organised a pretty cheap hot air balloon tour for us at around €70 per person.
However whilst in Cappadocia we also treated ourselves to our only hotel stay of the trip for one night. It seemed a shame to come all this way and not stay in one of the incredible unique cave hotels. So we booked into Koza Cave hotel, as it is supposed to have the highest roof terrace in Goreme to watch the balloons from at sunrise.
This turned out to be true and the view was fantastic. We also lucked out in that only one other person was staying there, so they upgraded us to a suite which was much fancier than the room we paid for! Incredibly grateful to them for this. The staff were so lovely and attentive and gave us the most amazing Turkish breakfast in the morning. Plus they also had 2 cats to play with. They got us our transfer back too for our journey on to Antalya.
Now Antalya is a bit of a gateway resort town. We were expecting it to be so, but maybe not as full on as we found it. Perhaps as we went straight after the peace of Cappadocia, but it was a fairly busy metropolis setting. We arrived pretty late in the evening so opted for a short taxi to the hostel as the airport isn’t too far out.
Here we stayed at the Funky Monkey pub hostel. The pub bit was fun and they had live music on the Saturday and it was pretty busy, but it got quieter during the week. The room was fine, pretty standard hostel stuff. It wasn’t the best hostel ever but we did meet a few fun people here to hang out with which was good.
We didn’t spend much time in Antalya itself, mostly using it as a base to visit the surrounding area. This included a few beach days as well as a trip to a national park with waterfalls and an ancient city. We also found a nice spot to watch the sunset in the Marina and lots of pubs to crawl on the way back up to the town.
The food in Antalya was also a bit disappointing, it was quite western and touristy. Whereas the rest of Turkey we visited had great authentic food that was easy to find. But we went there for a beach holiday within out holiday and we certainly got that. The sea was actually not bad at all, much warmer than the swimming pools we encountered.
One morning we got the tram to the bus station to go buy our tickets. It is notoriously hard to buy bus tickets online as a foreigner in Turkey, particularly now you need a HES code for covid tracing which you can only get via a Turkish mobile number. In person however the bus staff can get one for you, which was really helpful! They weren’t too packed so you could probably have just turned up on the day, but we didn’t have too much time to play with.
The bus to Pamukkale cost us 55TL each, so £5.50 and took 3 hours. To our surprise we were given ice cream, juice and biscuits as well as water! And we had personal TVs in our seats which was cool. It was a pretty comfortable journey really. The bus takes you too Denizli bus station which is about 15km from Pamukkale, which is a tiny town with no bus station.
Once we arrived someone who we assume worked for the bus company (we went with Pamukkale buses) took us to the desk to get our ticket to Selcuk for the next day and then showed us to the minibus which we could take into Pamukkale. This little bus took us and dropped us in town, where it was a 2 minute walk to Mustafa Pension where we stayed. We only had 2 hostels as options and thought that one looked better. It was pretty dead with only a few Russians and us there it seemed.
The room was pretty basic but it was only for one night. We explored the pools in the evening for sunset then headed back again in the morning, which I will write another post about! They are stunning.
You don’t need more than one night here, in fact most people do it as a day trip. I would advise you either stay or drive here rather than come on a big day tour, as you will miss the amazing sunset and only see it when it is most crowded. But there isn’t much in the town and again all the restaurants are aimed at tourists. However you don’t want to miss this natural wonder out of your Turkey travel itinerary.
Next day it was time to catch the minibus back from the bus stop at 4pm as they told us to head back to Denizli and onwards.
Another 3 hour bus later, this time sadly with no ice cream, and we were dropped off in Selcuk. Here we had booked to stay at Atilla’s getaway, which was recommended by a fellow backpacker at the Kose Pension. It is just outside the town, but Atilla’s runs a free shuttle service to the hostel. We were too late arriving for this as it was around 8pm, however he paid for our taxi instead which was kind.
There is a large and a small pool here which is awesome as well as a pool table and fire pit. It was a great set up and we had a nice room, although the lock was broken. Atilla and his staff were friendly and we had some drinks with them, sadly there wasn’t really anyone else around and those who were weren’t that social. We also learned to play killer pool, which is a fun way to include many people in a game.
A few others we met stayed there at our recommendation once we left and it looked a bit more lively so we are a bit jealous! We did have the 5 resident dogs for company though, who were all very friendly and loved attention.
The reason we came to Selcuk was to visit the nearby ancient city of Ephesus. Craig had been before but he kept saying how great it was and I wanted to go! I am very glad we added it into our Turkey travel itinerary. It is truly incredible and the library of Celsus will blow you away. Don’t worry, more on that in another post to come!
The we took the bus to Izmir for 15TL each for an hours journey, and we were on a plane and back to Istanbul for our last few nights, where we would celebrate Craig’s birthday.
Places we wanted to go
There were some other places along the coast where freinds we made visited that we wished we had time to get to as well. The gorgeous blue waters of Las, where you can see over to Greek islands is one. Fethiye, home to a national park and plenty of ruins is another. We would love to come back to the coast and do a bit more of an action based trip. You can do paragliding, parasailing, canyoning in the mountains of Antalya, diving in Kas.
Turkey travel thoughts
I hope that this post has articulated how cheap and easy it is to get around Turkey and given you a good idea of an itinerary. It is definitely feasible to spend less time in Cappadocia/Antalya and fit in another location given how easy it was to get about.
If you are on a shorter trip, I would say do Istanbul and Cappadocia only. You cannot miss Cappadocia it is breathtaking.
Travelling around Turkey may not be the most obvious backpacker route out there, but that is a great reason to go do it! We hadn’t really considered it until a few weeks before when places started going on the quarantine list and we had very few options. Incidentally we made it back just in time as Turkey is now on it, not due to a high rate but doubts over their reported figures, which is a shame. We found that people wore masks on the street most places as required, especially in the cities. Plus there were temperature checks in most bars and restaurants and buses etc. And loads of sanitiser available.
Turkey, we will be back!