A road trip in Turkey is truly the stuff of dreams. The best part about planning a short road trip in Turkey is that you can get everything from mouth-watering food and amazing beaches to ancient historical sites and bustling cities, all in one road trip! This itinerary will take you from Istanbul to Izmir to Pamukkale to Sirince to Bodrum to Antalya – it can easily be covered in 7-10 days but if you have longer, there are endless places where you can spend a week or two travelling slowly and enjoying that Turkish beach life.
A road trip along the Aegean Coast of Turkey is a wonderful way to explore the stunning landscapes, historical sites, and delicious cuisine of the region. Here’s a suggested itinerary for your road trip, including information about the best things to eat and the most beautiful beaches:
We hope you’ll find everything you need to plan a road trip in Turkey in this article. If you have any questions leave them below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can
Flying into Istanbul and renting a car
No matter where you’re coming from, chances are you will fly straight into the busy capital of Turkey. You can easily compare prices here and rent a car in Turkey here. If you’re planning to spend a few days in Istanbul, then we would recommend renting the car on the day you’re supposed to leave Istanbul. This is because of 2 reasons – firstly, Istanbul is quite crowded and driving can be a hassle! Secondly, public transport is quite good in Istanbul. So a car isn’t necessary to explore the city.
Days 1: Check into your hotel in Istanbul
Like any other big city, it is easy to spend weeks exploring Istanbul. But if you’re on a schedule, then we would recommend spending at least 2 days in Istanbul. Istanbul is a vibrant and historical city that straddles two continents. This makes it a captivating destination for travellers. There are endless hotels for all budgets in Istanbul but since your road trip in the Turkish countryside will feature many modest and extremely-affordable hotels, we would recommend splurging on a luxurious hotel when you’re in Istanbul.
If you love amazing views or you’re celebrating a special occasion, then we would recommend Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet. Located steps away from Istanbul’s most famous landmarks, the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, the Four Seasons Hotel at Sultanahmet boasts stunning panoramic views of these architectural wonders. It also has a gorgeous rooftop bar, which offers amazing views of the city. If you want next-level opulence, consider Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul, a luxurious hotel housed within a restored Ottoman palace on the shores of the Bosphorus. The hotel’s rooms offer great views of the waterway and the Asian shore. Finally, if you want a truly centrally-located hotel, close to everything, then InterContinental Istanbul, located in Taksim Square, is also a great option.
Days 2-3 Explore Istanbul
Istanbul is a city with an extremely rich history and an abundance of iconic landmarks. We suggest exploring at least some of these places in your 48 hours in Istanbul
- Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque): Start your day early with a visit to the Blue Mosque, one of Istanbul’s most famous landmarks. Admire its stunning blue tiles, impressive domes, and six towering minarets. Arrive early to avoid the crowds and to experience a sense of tranquility in this beautiful architectural marvel – this is usually the first stop for most visitors in Istanbul
- Hagia Sophia: Right across from the Blue Mosque is the Hagia Sophia, a former cathedral and mosque that now serves as a museum. Marvel at its massive dome and intricate mosaics, which represent the blending of Christian and Islamic art.
- Basilica Cistern: Just a short walk from the Hagia Sophia, visit the Basilica Cistern, an underground reservoir that once supplied water to the city. Explore the eerie atmosphere and admire the rows of ancient columns and the famous Medusa heads.
- Topkapi Palace: Head to the Topkapi Palace, the former residence of Ottoman sultans. Explore the opulent rooms, lush gardens, and impressive collections of artefacts, including treasures, jewellery, and weapons.
- Lunch at a Local Eatery: Enjoy a delicious Turkish lunch at a local eatery. Try traditional dishes like kebabs, mezzes (appetisers), or a hearty bowl of Turkish lentil soup.
- Grand Bazaar: After lunch, make your way to the Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s oldest and largest covered markets. Get lost in its labyrinthine alleys filled with shops selling everything from spices and textiles to jewellery and souvenirs. Make sure you bargain with the friendly shopkeepers to get the best deals.
- Spice Bazaar (Egyptian Bazaar): Located near the Galata Bridge, the Spice Bazaar is a sensory delight with its aromatic spices, dried fruits, nuts, and Turkish delight. Stock up on some unique flavours to take home.
- Bosphorus Cruise: Treat yourself to a relaxing Bosphorus cruise. This boat tour allows you to see Istanbul from a different perspective, sailing between Europe and Asia and passing by picturesque waterfront mansions, palaces, and historic sites.
- Galata Tower: If you don’t mind a bit of exercise, climb to the top of the Galata Tower to enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the city, especially at sunset. This medieval stone tower offers a perfect vantage point to witness the golden hues cast over Istanbul’s skyline.
- Dinner with a View: Head to a rooftop restaurant or a waterfront eatery for dinner and enjoy a delicious meal while taking in the glittering lights of the city or the serene waters of the Bosphorus.
- Taksim Square and Istiklal Avenue: After dinner, take a leisurely stroll along Istiklal Avenue, a bustling pedestrian street filled with shops, cafes, and street performers. The vibrant atmosphere here captures the essence of Istanbul’s modern energy
- Enjoy the nightlife or a Turkish Night Show: You can spend your evenings exploring Istanbul’s vibrant night life or if you want a more traditional evening, then there are several entertaining Turkish Night Shows, where you can watch traditional dance performances like the energetic belly dancing and the enchanting whirling dervishes.
These are a few places everyone explores in Istanbul. If you’re still not tired of exploring or simply enjoy going offbeat, then here are a few unconventional suggestions of things to see and do in Istanbul
1. Explore the Princes’ Islands: Escape the hustle and bustle of Istanbul by taking a ferry to the Princes’ Islands. This cluster of small islands in the Sea of Marmara offers a serene and car-free environment. Rent a bicycle or even a horse-drawn carriage to explore the charming streets lined with historic wooden houses and lush gardens. Enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and breathtaking views, and don’t miss sampling the islands’ famous seafood and delectable desserts.
2. Visit the Miniaturk: Step into a tiny world at Miniaturk, a theme park featuring over 100 miniature models of famous Turkish landmarks and historical sites. Wander through this fascinating outdoor exhibit, which showcases Turkey’s rich heritage, and marvel at the attention to detail in the scaled-down replicas of palaces, mosques, and ancient ruins. This is a good stop, especially if you’re with kids!
3. Uncover Street Art in Kadikoy: If you enjoy street art and hipster districts, head to the vibrant neighbourhood of Kadikoy on the Asian side of Istanbul. The colourful murals and graffiti adorning the walls offer insights into the city’s contemporary culture and creativity. You can also join a street art tour to learn about the artists behind the masterpieces and the stories they tell through their art.
4. Turkish Coffee Fortune Telling: Experience a fascinating aspect of Turkish culture by partaking in a traditional Turkish coffee fortune-telling session. Many cafes and restaurants in Istanbul offer this ancient practice where a skilled fortune teller interprets the patterns left by the coffee grounds in your cup. It’s a fun and insightful way to gain a glimpse into your future and the meanings hidden in the symbols.
5. Wander through the Chora Church: While the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque draw most of the attention, the Chora Church (Kariye Museum) is also quite the gem. It houses unique frescoes and mosaics that depict religious scenes with incredible artistry and detail. Stepping into the Chora Church is like stepping back in time to the golden age of Byzantine art and architecture.
6. Take a Ferry to Anadolu Kavağı: Escape the city’s urban hustle by taking a leisurely ferry ride to Anadolu Kavağı, a charming fishing village at the northern end of the Bosphorus. Hike up to the Yoros Castle, an ancient fortress with panoramic views of the strait, and enjoy a traditional seafood meal at one of the village’s waterfront restaurants. If you’re doing the rest of this road trip, you can skip this as you will see many similar villages on the rest of this road trip 🙂
7. Visit the Istanbul Toy Museum: If you’re travelling with kids, the Istanbul Toy Museum is a delightful and quirky attraction, housing an extensive collection of toys from various eras and countries. It is also a nostalgic place for adults as you rediscover toys from the past.
9. Sufi Music and Whirling Dervishes: Experience the spiritual side of Istanbul by attending a Sufi music and whirling dervishes performance. The mesmerising ritual provides a unique insight into the city’s religious heritage. It is truly a spell-binding experience – highly recommended!
10. Hammam Experience at a Local Bathhouse: Instead of visiting the well-known touristy bathhouses, seek out a local hammam for a more authentic and affordable experience. Enjoy a traditional scrub and massage in a centuries-old setting, indulging in a rejuvenating and culturally rich spa experience.
We hope these few days in Istanbul will provide an introduction to Turkish culture, people, and food. Once you’ve had your fill of the city and experienced everything from the Grand Bazaar to mystical Sufi performances it is time to get your amazing week long road trip in Turkey started. Rent your car and get ready to leave Istanbul and drive almost 5 hours to Izmir
Day 4 – Drive to Izmir
Izmir is Turkey’s third-largest city and the perfect pit-stop on your road trip in Turkey. We suggest spending 2 days here. First check into your accommodation – make sure the hotel offers parking. A couple of great options are Zeniva Hotel and Ramada Suites. You can also opt for a gorgeous beach-facing and affordable apartment such as this one in the neighbouring Cesme if you enjoy self-catering accommodation.
Izmir is a lively city – make sure you visit the Konak Square and see the iconic Clock Tower, a symbol of the city. Stroll along the Kordon Promenade, a scenic waterfront area with beautiful views of the Aegean Sea. Don’t forget to try traditional Izmir cuisine at a local restaurant. Especially Kumru, a popular sandwich filled with sucuk (spiced Turkish sausage) and cheese. You can also try some delicious Izmir Kofte, spiced meatballs unique to the region. Even if you’re vegetarian or vegan, you will find several restaurants catering to you in Izmir.
Days 5 & 6 – Explore Cesme & Alacati
You can easily continue to stay in Izmir and take a day trip to Cesme, a pretty seaside town in Turkey. Cesme is known for its stunning beaches and thermal baths, so don’t forget to pack sunscreen and your swimsuits.
Explore Cesme Castle, spend a lazy day at Cesme Beach, a long and sandy stretch offering crystal-clear waters perfect for swimming and sunbathing. If it is too crowded, you can always drive along the coast to a quieter stretch of beach as well. Enjoy a seafood dinner at a local restaurant by the harbour. You must try some grilled Aegean fish or a plate of fresh seafood mezze if you enjoy local flavours.
You can devote an entire day to Alacati or combine it with your drive to Cesme to Alacati, a charming town famous for its narrow cobblestone streets, beautiful architecture, and vibrant local market. Explore Alacati’s quaint streets, art galleries, and boutique shops. Indulge in a traditional Turkish breakfast known as Kahvalti at a local café. The spread typically includes olives, cheeses, jams, honey, and freshly baked bread – truly one of the yummiest breakfasts in the world!
Day 7 – Head to Pamukkale and Hierapolis
After a couple of relaxed days at the beaches of Turkey, it is time to head inland to Pamukkale and Hierapolis, located in southwestern Turkey. This is where natural wonders merge with ancient history. This unique UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must-visit destination for travellers even though it has recently started to get really crowded thanks to some viral social media posts. Hotels in Pamukkale aren’t the best but Herakles Thermal Hotel and Pam Thermal Hotel both make for a good base to explore the area
Pamukkale, which translates to “Cotton Castle” in Turkish, is a breathtaking natural wonder that captivates visitors with its surreal landscape. This geological marvel consists of terraces of white mineral-rich travertine, formed by the flow of thermal waters cascading down the hillside. The result is a series of milky-white, calcium-rich pools that resemble cotton cascades, creating a magical and otherworldly sight. Pamukkale’s thermal waters are also believed to have healing properties. So it provides, not just an aesthetic experience but a unique and therapeutic one
Adjacent to Pamukkale lies Hierapolis, an ancient Roman spa city. Hierapolis was established to take advantage of the thermal waters of Pamukkale for their therapeutic benefits. Today, visitors can explore the well-preserved ruins of Hierapolis, including the stunning grand theater, the Temple of Apollo, the Roman bathhouses, and the necropolis. One of the most fascinating features of Hierapolis is the ancient pool known as the Cleopatra Pool, believed to have been frequented by the Egyptian queen herself. The warm, mineral-rich waters still invite visitors for a relaxing swim amid the historical ruins.
The stark contrast of the dazzling white terraces against the backdrop of historical ruins makes this site an extraordinary and picturesque experience.
Day 8 Sirince
Day 9 – Drive to Bodrum via Lake Bafa
As you check out from a couple of quiet days in Sirince, it is time to drive to the party capital of the Aegean Coast – Bodrum. Make sure you drive via Lake Bafa Natural Reserve – take a quick pitstop for a picnic or some photos – and drive onto Bodrum. Akkan Hotel is a good option as it offers scenic views. You can also opt for a gorgeous beach-facing apartment such as this one if you’re travelling with family or friends.
Spend the day exploring Bodrum’s beautiful beaches. Bitez Beach and Gumbet Beach are great options for relaxing and swimming. Bodrum Castle is an impressive medieval fortress overlooking the harbour. It also offers some nice photography opportunities. You can also visit the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, located in Bodrum.
In the evening, enjoy a seafood dinner at one of Bodrum’s seaside restaurants, paired with a glass of Turkish Raki. Or try some traditional Turkish kebabs or Lahmacun, a thin and crispy Turkish pizza – so good! But make sure you aren’t too full because Bodrum really comes alive at night. You can go partying or dancing at one of the many places in town.
If you enjoy scenic spots or photography, do drive from Bodrum to Datca one day. Datca is a tranquil and scenic peninsula with beautiful bays and crystal-clear waters. Relax at one of the serene beaches in Datca, such as Aktur Beach or Palamutbuku Beach.
Day 10 Ending your road trip in Turkey and more suggestions
This ends a spectacular road trip in Turkey. If you have some more days in Turkey, then you can drive onto Antalya and explore even more of the Aegean Coast. You can also drop your car in Bodrum for a small surcharge and fly to another Turkish hotspot Cappadocia.
If not, it is now time to drive back to Istanbul and drop your car at Istanbul Airport before catching a flight back home. No matter what you do, you will end this trip with amazing memories of countless scenic drives, little villages, Turkish culture, and the delicious flavours of Aegean cuisine