Grand Turkey Tour
Visit Turkey’s famous UNESCO World Heritage sites, from stunning natural landscapes to remarkable ancient ruins on this 23 days private Grand Turkey tour, offers in-depth experience of the country.
Itinerary of Eastern Turkey Tour
Day 1 – SAFRANBOLU
In this morning we will meet you and drive to the historic town of Safranbolu, which is graced with many traditional old houses and mansions. The friendly people of Safranbolu will welcome our interest in traditional Turkish culture as we wander through the town, admiring its charm and beauty. This town is full of unusual photo opportunities with thousands of Ottoman houses, all from the 18th and 19th century.
Day 2 – AMASYA
We will drive to the Hittite ruins at Yazilikaya to see the private temple of Hittite kings and then to Hattusas, the capital city of the Hittite Empire. At this site we will follow the ancient city wall constructed nearly 3,400 years ago and see the ruins of the Great Temple of the Storm God, the Lion Gate, the King Gate (guarded by a relief of the Hittite War God) and the Great Fortress. Afterwards, we will depart Hattusas and continue to Amasya, the one time capital of the Pontic Empire. It is a lovely little town nestled in a small mountain valley formed by the Green River. Some of the most striking features of Amasya are the tombs of the kings of Pontus carved into the high cliffs surrounding the city. Here, we will explore the old streets of Amasya.
Day 3, 4 – TRABZON (Sumela Monastery)
Today is a driving day. We will travel from Amasya to the beautiful wooded coast of the Black Sea, following the coastline to Trabzon. The scenery on this drive is unbelievable. Trabzon is an ancient Silk Road Black Sea port with its recorded history dating back to 746 B.C.. With lush, green vegetation throughout the region, this area is a very unique part of Turkey. Hazelnut and tea plantations are the major contributors to this region’s agricultural exports. The following day, we will visit the Sümela Monastery, which is from the Byzantine era. One of the remarkable features of this site is that it is carved into a cliff face!
Day 5 – ERZURUM
From Trabzon we will drive five hours to Erzurum, with many stops along the way. This is a very beautiful drive, which follows various rivers. Erzurum rests at a base altitude of 6,600 ft. and, although it is somewhat remote, it is one of the largest cities in eastern Turkey. Despite its size, the people maintain quite a conservative outlook. Here, one will frequently encounter more women wearing veils than in other cities. While in Erzurum we will have lunch in a restaurant converted from old Ottoman houses decorated with antiques everywhere. We will visit Ulu Cami (the Great Mosque) and an old Selcuk Medrese (schoolhouse).
Day 6 – KARS (Ani)
An early morning departure from Erzurum will take us on a beautiful drive to Kars. We will arrive in Kars to visit Ani at the Turkish-Armenian border. A 45-minute drive will take us to the medieval Armenian City of Ani, which lies mostly in ruins. Impressive fortified walls still encircle the ruins of numerous churches, mosques and caravansaries. Walking around the ruins, we will be able to see a beautiful view of Armenia across the Arpa River, which creates the border between Turkey and Armenia. Other attractions in the city of Kars are the immense citadel, its old bridges and an Armenian church (the Church of the Twelve Apostles).
Day 7, 8 – VAN (Mt. Ararat)
Early in the morning, we will drive along the beautiful yet rugged border between Turkey and Armenia and arrive in Dogubayazit. On the way, we will stop for photo opportunities, especially of the beautiful flowers in this region (depending on the season). We will also have the opportunity to see Mt. Ararat, where Noah’s Ark is believed to be, and visit the spectacular Ishak Pasa Palace. This complex is a combination of a mosque, fortress, and 17th century palace. We will then drive two and half hours to Van, stopping again for various photo opportunities.
In the morning of second day, a short ferry ride will take us to Akdamar Island. There is a wonderful 10th century Armenian Church here called the Church of the Holy Cross. The outside walls of the church are decorated with wall reliefs depicting various well-known tales from the Bible and the Old Testament. This church, recently restored to its former glory, is a true gem. We will first visit the 3,000-year-old fortress built by Urartians, who inhabited the region between the 9th and 6th century B.C. and called their capital city, Tushba.
Day 9, 10 – MARDIN
Early in the morning, we will drive to Batman where we will visit the incredible and ancient city of Hasankeyf nearby. Hasankeyf is on the banks of the Tigris River and is located in an area of the Fertile Crescent where animals were domesticated and grains were cultivated over twelve thousand years ago.
After driving ninety minutes, we will arrive in Mardin, capping a long but spectacular day with many stops. Mardin is a very unique and lovely city with many old Arabic style houses. It is a city that played an important role in the early development of Christianity. We will take time to visit, walk in its busy streets and bazaars and take superb photographs during our two day stop there. Just outside of town, we will visit the monks in the Monastery of Deyr-az-Zaferan, which was founded in 4th century A.D. It was the seat of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch for almost 800 years. This monastery is built on top of a 4,000-year-old temple originally used by sun worshippers.
Day 11 – URFA
Today, we will drive to Urfa, the birthplace of the prophet Abraham. We will visit nearby Harran and see the incredible beehive houses. Harran, according to the Bible, was the site where the prophet Abraham lived with his family for several years before moving to Israel, the promised land. We will also visit the holy sites at Ainzelha, a lake with domesticated fish. In addition, we will visit Göbekli Tepe, a recently discovered site where excavations have just begun. Built in 10,000 B.C..
Day 12 – MT. NEMRUT
From Urfa we will drive two hours to Adiyaman-Kahta. On the way, we will stop to see Ataturk dam, the fourth largest dam in the world built on the Euphrates River. We will drive through the Pistachio orchards and stop to pick them (depending on the season). We will check into our hotel by mid-day. Soon after, we will hire small mini-buses to drive up Mt. Nemrut. Resting at an elevation of 7700 ft., this extraordinary mountaintop features a funerary-temple complex composed of two flattened areas strewn with huge statues and fallen heads of Greco-Roman Gods. Each head measures six to nine feet high, belonging to the likes of Zeus, Hercules, Fortuna, Apollo and the King Antiouchus, who considered himself a God. There is also a mound of broken gravel that makes a perfect false peak of crushed rock. Antiouchus built the entire complex 2,050 years ago as a monument to his “divine ancestry”.
Please Note: The hike to Mt. Nemrut consists of 20 to 40 minutes of a 30% uphill hike, mostly with stairs. There is no time limit and most can do the hike. There are also donkeys or mules available for hire.
Day 13, 14, 15 – CAPPADOCIA (One of the Natural Wonders of the World)
Early in the morning, we will drive to Cappadocia; stopping frequently for rest breaks during the drive. One of the places we will stop in is Kanesh, a 4,500 year old city that was the capitol city of the Hattis and a trade city for the Assyrians.
While in Cappadocia we will enjoy the unique landscapes of wind and rain-eroded volcanic rock formations and have opportunities for incredible hikes. During the hikes, you will see amazing formations, valleys, grapevines and orchards full of fruit trees and hot air balloons fill the sky early in the morning. Wild flowers also decorate the landscape from April through September and will be blooming most brilliantly from early April to late June. Cappadocia is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and you will see why. It is the highlight of all of our Turkey tours regardless of the fact that we also go to places like Istanbul, Ephesus, Troy, Pamukkale and many other impressive locations, all of which are World Heritage sites.
Discovering the unknown Cappadocia, we will go off the “tourist track”. One of these outings will be to the Ballidere Valley where many formations of rocks, carved by nature 30 meter tall (or higher) and 3 to 5 meter wide, create otherworldly vistas. Because it isn’t easy to access this site, most people aren’t aware of it. Missed by 99% of visitors to this area, you will be able to taking unbelievable pictures at this site.
Also amazing is the incredible underground cities of Cappadocia, some of which were home to as many as 15,000 inhabitants. We will go to Derinkuyu where ancient civilizations from 3,000 to 4,000 years ago started carving layers of living quarters into the bedrock connected by catacombs. These floors are separated by huge wheels of stone that could be moved by a lever to close the passage, providing security.
In the region of Cappadocia, there are 1,000 churches carved into bedrock by early and later Christians. About 100 of the churches still have frescoes from the Old and the New Testament. We will visit these churches and living quarters at the Open Air Museum, which is less than a mile from our hotel. This is a very impressive site.
We will also visit ancient handicraft shops and a caravanserai, an ancient caravan motel. Cappadocia is also famous for its pottery. We will have an excellent lecture-demonstration on Turkish ceremic and pottery. On one evening, we will attend a Whirling Dervish ceremony in a 12th century caravanserai.
OPTIONAL: Hot air balloon rides over Cappadocia at reduced rates. A balloon ride in Cappadocia (for people of all ages) is safe and nothing less than spectacular.
Day 16 – PAMUKKALE (One of the Natural Wonders of the World) – Hierapolis
On this day, we will drive to Pamukkale. On the way, we will drive to Çatalhöyük, which is the best preserved and largest Neolithic site found to date and is considered by archaeologists as the oldest-communal living-city in the World. It goes back to 7,500 B.C.. Layer by layer, archaeologists have excavated this tumulus/mound and put a cover over their excavations. Very few people visit this site. We will then continue to Konya to visit the Whirling Dervish Museum, a very holy place for Turkish Muslims. There are exhibits of Dervish costumes, instruments, illuminated manuscripts and various ethnographic artifacts.
Arriving in Pamukkale, we will visit the snow-like travertine of calcium for which Pamukkale is famous. Pamukkale is one of the natural wonders of the world with strikingly beautiful mineral springs clinging to the hillsides that will amaze you.
Day 17, 18 – Bodrum (Aphrodisias/Bodrum-Halicarnasus)
In the morning, we will visit the Greco-Roman city “Hierapolis”. It has an incredible necropolis (city of the dead) and we will see many sarcophagi (burial monuments) there. Afterwards, we will drive to Kusdasi. On the way, we will drive to Aphrodisias, the city of art dedicated to the Goddess Aphrodite. Octavian once said that “of all the cities in the world, Aphrodisias is my favorite.” The marble theatre is beautiful and the stadium that seats over 35,000 is immense. It is also the largest in the world and the best preserved. The city was a center to cultivate the finest sculptors, whose works were found all over the Roman Empire. We will then drive to Bodrum where we will stay two nights.
The next day we will expolre the city, Bodrum is the site of one of the seven wonders of antiquity. The Mausoleum was built as a funerary monument to honor Mausolos, the ruler of Caria. The impressive medieval castle built by the Knights of Rhodes guards the entrance to the mesmerizing blue bay of Bodrum, where the Aegean and Mediterranean seas meet. Bodrum Castle (Castle of St. Peter) is an excellent example of 15th century Crusader architecture, which has been converted into the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, with remains dating as early as the Bronze Age.
Day 19, 20 – KUSADASI (Didyma/Millitus/Priene/Ephesus)
Today we will drive to Didyma to see the well preserved Apollo Temple that had been inhabited only by the priests and suppliants who came to consult the famous oracle there. Then we will visit Miletus, the famous Ionian city that had also been visited by St. Paul during his missionary trip. Finally drive to Priene, the first planned city in the ancient world, and visit to the Theatre, the Temple of Athena, Agora, the Bouleterion and the Zeus Altar. Then drive to Kusadasi.
The next day, we will visit the incredible city of Ephesus and its colossal Greco-Roman Theater where St. Paul preached. This particular theater is still used for performances today. The Marble Road, the Celsus Library, and the Temple of Diana are just a few of the sites we will visit. We will also visit the house where St. Mary lived her final days (After the crucifixion of Jesus, St. John brought her to Ephesus).
Day 21 – CANAKKALE (Troy)
We will have a scenic five-hour drive up the Aegean Coast. On the way, we will stop in Pergamon to see the Asklepion, the world’s oldest hospital. We will then drive to Çanakkale where we will visit the legendary city of Troy and have the opportunity to see a replica of the Trojan Horse. To date, nine different Troys have been discovered with each one built on top of the other. We will have a chance to see this site still in the process of excavation. While in Çanakkale we will stay at the best available hotel, which overlooks the Dardanelles and Gallipoli across the Straits.
Day 22 – ISTANBUL (Gallipoli)
A drive and a 35-minute ferry ride will take us to Istanbul. On the way we will stop to visit Gallipoli and the WWI battle sites, cemeteries and memorials. Arrive to Istanbul in the afternoon.
Day 23 – ISTANBUL
We will visit the spice market, the Rüstem pasha mosque with its exceptional tiles. We will take a morning Bosphorus cruise (the size of the boat will vary depending on the group’s size):
Small groups (under 10 people) will take a city ferry cruise, which touches both the European and Asian sides of the Bosphorus.
Large groups (more than 10 people) will take a Bosphorus cruise in a private boat.
The afternoon will then be free and will give you a chance to go out on your own to explore the city. We would recommend visiting the Grand Bazaar on this day.
Please Note: The order of events may vary with each tour depending on the availability of various museums on certain days of the week.
Accommodation as per itinerary (4 Star Hotel in Istanbul and 5 Star Hotels in other locations).
All taxes, fees and handling charges
Meals as per itinerary (B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner)
Airport pickup and drop-off