Turkey is a transcontinental country located mainly in Western Asia with a small portion in Europe. It shares borders with Georgia in the Northeast, the Aegean sea to the west, the Black sea to the north, Syria and the Mediterranean sea to the south, Iraq to the southeast, Bulgaria and Greece to the northwest, and Iran, Azerbaijan, and Armenia to the east.
Turkey is a haven for archaeological and historical enthusiasts as it has been through a lot of empires and civilizations. Foodies will also thrive in this country as every region has a unique kitchen culture. Turkey is often called the meeting point between east and west.
In this itinerary of 3 weeks in Turkey, you’ll see how you can spend 20 days here and cover all the must-see places of the country. This will help you visualise what a fun and educational vacation Turkey has to offer.
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THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE GOING TO TURKEY
Travelling to another country can be quite challenging, especially when it’s your first time doing so. Because of this, we compiled a list of things that you first need to know about the country that will help you plan your trip.
When is the best time to go to Turkey
Turkey’s summer season is from June to August and this is also its peak season while winter is from December to February, the perfect time to go for those planning to ski. May is the country’s wettest month so you might want to opt-out of travelling to Turkey during this month.
Are 3 weeks enough for Turkey
3 weeks in Turkey is a pretty good amount of time. You can visit popular places but also go off-the-beaten paths. It’s recommended to take domestic flights though to maximise your time. 4 weeks would be more ideal but 20 days is still a lot of time and you’ll get to see many places and learn about the Turkish culture.
What to pack
Since Turkey have lots of historical and religious sites that are open for foreign visitors to visit, the number one item you must pack is clothing that will cover your shoulder and legs. Many places such as Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque will provide a massive robe for visitors.
There will also be a lot of walking as you visit cultural sites and ancient ruins, bringing comfortable shoes or walking sandals is highly recommended. These attractions are also often open-air, meaning, there won’t be a lot of shade from the sun. Make sure you have plenty of sunscreen with you.
Take a look at our general packing list for a 3-week trip. If you are coming in the summer and plan to visit the beach, we also have a summer packing list or a winter packing list for those visiting during this season.
How to get around
There are actually tons of transportation options to get around Turkey. It is advisable to use trains only if you want to reach provincial centres and you have ample time to travel as the travel time usually takes twice as long compared to other modes of transportation. Long-distance buses are the most recommended and most commonly used transportation option.
Other alternatives include private car, taxi, ferry, motorcycle, plane, and dolmus, which is a small van or minibus. The fastest option would be to ride the plane and the cheapest option is a dolmus or shared taxi. You can opt to rent a car if you want to go to off-the-beaten-track sites and travel at your own pace.
IMPORTANT: Turkey has one of the best airlines in the world in terms of having direct flights between Turkey and other major cities. However, flying between cities in Turkey often means you have to track back or connect in Istanbul.
Language and Currency
Turkish is the country’s main language, with 90% of the people speaking it. Aside from that, there are 70 other dialects and languages spoken, including Armenian, Greek, Arabic, and some Caucasian and Kurdish dialects.
The Turkish Lira (TRY) is the country’s currency but there are some places that also accept Euros. Visa and MasterCard are also widely accepted, but bringing lira cash with you is best.
Visa and COVID-19 protocol
Turkey has quite a visa policy in place. Passport holders in Europe, South America, Malaysia, Morocco, West Sahara, Tunisia, New Zealand, and some countries in the Gulf and Central Asia don’t need a visa in advance and can enjoy visa-free for 90 days. Passports issued by Russia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Belarus, and Turkmenistan can enjoy visa-free for 30-60days.
If you hold a passport from North America, South Africa, Australia, China, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the Caribbean, you must apply for an evisa in advance which is valid for 30-90 days. While there are countries such as the Philippines,s Thailand, and North Africa that can also apply for an evisa under special conditions. You can check here if you can apply for an evisa.
Turkey closed its border to very few countries during the peak of the pandemic and only for a short period of time. Today, Turkey is open to all visitors. Showing COVID-19 vaccination cards and negative RT-PCR tests are no longer required. However, you must check with your airline if any of these are still required. Filling out the “Traveller Entry Form” is still required before you arrive in Turkey.
Other travel tips
When planning a trip, it can be confusing and overwhelming to deal with multiple websites offering the same services. Below is a list of my personal favourite travel sites offering services from accommodation, car rental, flights, tours, and even travel insurance and an exit ticket that is sometimes asked by the immigration officer.
MUST-SEE PLACES IN TURKEY (pinned map)
Click the enlarge button on the top right corner. Credit: map data: Google
3 WEEKS IN TURKEY ITINERARY
The country’s English name Turkey translates to the land of the Turks and the Republic was established in 1923. Prior to that, the Asian part of Turkey is called Anatolia and the European part is known as Eastern Thrace.
Aside from its archaeological sites, Turkey is also well-known for its Turkish baths and is a perennial favourite. It has diverse natural scapes where you could either hike or ski, depending on the season that you visit the country.
In 2022, the government of Turkey changed its official and worldwide name to Türkiye. Which is the name and spelling that locals use. One of the biggest reasons for the change is to disassociate the country’s name with the bird “Turkey”.
Istanbul for 4 days
The first city that you could visit during your 20 days in Turkey is Istanbul. This is the largest city in Turkey and is also the country’s historic, cultural, and economic hub. Istanbul is the only city in the world that sits across two continents. The Bosphorus strait lies both in Europe and in Asia.
Starting your trip in Istanbul is also ideal because the two airports here pretty much connect the West to the East, From anywhere in the world to Africa and Latin America. From Istanbul, you could also do lots of day trips that will only take a few hours to get to.
Interestingly, it is also the capital of four major empires, the Byzantine Empire, Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire, and Latin Empire. Many people assume that Istanbul is the capital of Turkey, which was true until October 29, 1923. Istanbul has a vibrant nightlife, amazing landmarks, and tons of malls where you would find authentic products and spices.
If you don’t want to spend 4 days in Istanbul and add more days to other destinations, you can book a private tour of the best attractions in Istanbul (choose between 1, 2, or 3 days) to save you time. You can also get the Istanbul welcome card which allows you to use public transportation and entrances to major attractions.
Things to do in Istanbul
- Hagia Sophia Mosque – check the price for a guided tour or combine this with a visit to the Blue Mosque
- The Blue Mosque
- Istanbul Archaeology Museum
- Basilica Cistern – purchase your skip-the-line ticket
- Misir Carsisi – exciting spice and textile market
- Topkapi Palace – join a guided tour or combine Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, and Topkapi Palace
- Shop in the Grand Bazaar
- Watch a Mevlevi Sema and Dervishes Show – enjoy traditional dances and cultural performances
- Dolmabahce Palace
- Bosphorus Cruise/day trip to Bosphorus – book a luxury sunset cruise or a cruise with an audio guide
- Yedikule Fortress
- Day trips to Troy – check the tour price
- Maiden’s Tower
- Princes’ Islands day trip – get your round-trip ferry tickets in advance
- Galta Tower
- Food tour – sign up for a fantastic food tour
Accommodations in Istanbul
- Affordable: De Maree or Gafa Garden Hotel
- Mid-range: Artefes Hotel or Ahmet Efendi Konagi
- Luxury: Romance Istanbul Hotel or Clarion Hotel Golden Horn or Hotel Poem
Ankara for 2 days
Ankara is Turkey’s capital when it was moved from Istanbul. It is one of the most diverse tourist destinations as it is filled with entertainment parks and museums. In order to reach Ankara from Istanbul, the most recommended option would be to take a direct flight. Travel duration lasts for more than 2 hours.
The cheapest option is to ride the train and other alternative options include riding the bus, using rideshare, riding a taxi or renting a car. The drive will take 5-6 hours.
Things to do in Ankara
- Ankara Castle
- Museum of Anatolian Civilizations
- Eymir Lake
- Youth Park
- Wonderland Garden
- The Roman Bath Museum
- Stroll at the Citadel neighbourhood
- Ankara Art Galleries
- Hattusa day trip
- You can make the most out of your time if you book a full-day tour around Ankara and spend the 2nd day relaxing/trying out restaurants
Accommodations in Ankara
- Mid-range: Guvenay Business Hotel or The Wings Hotels
- Luxury: Divan Cukurhan or Sheraton Ankara Hotel
Cappadocia and Goreme for 4 days
3 weeks in Turkey is not complete without visiting the magical region of Cappadocia. Goreme is a town in Cappadocia, which is a historical region in Turkey. Many parts of Cappadocia are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Aside from that, there are cave suits and fairy chimneys that are thrilling to see. There are also tours that offer hot air balloon rides, ATV rides, and hiking. Goreme would be a great base because it is close to various historical and natural sites. There are also tons of restaurants there.
The most affordable option to reach Goreme if you’re coming from Ankara is via bus, with a travel time between 3-5 hours. Other alternative options are to board the train, ride a taxi, or drive. You can also take a flight to either Nevsehir or Kayseri that connects to Istanbul. You then have to take a short bus ride or book a convenient airport transfer from the airport to Goreme.
Things to do in Cappadocia/Goreme
- Goreme National Park
- Cappadocia Hot Air Balloon – book a tour with hotel pickup, breakfast, and champagne
- Watch Hot Air Balloon during Sunsice from the ground – from Love Valley, Rose Valley, Balloons View Point, and Uchisar Castle
- Goreme Open-Air Museum – join a full-day guide tour and compare prices with this tour
- Uchisar Castle
- Pigeon Valley
- Fairy Chimneys – through an ATV/Quad tour or a horseback riding tour
- Rose Valley
- Red and Green Tour – red tour is for historical sites, and the green tour is for natural wonder attractions
- Ürgüp Kadıkalesi
- Watch a Turkish Night Show – enjoy dinner and drinks at a cave restaurant
- Love Valley
- Enjoy a relaxing Traditional Turkish Bath
Accommodations in Cappadocia/Goreme
- Affordable: The Dorm Cave by Travellers or Goreme Art Stone
- Mid-range: Artemis Cave Suites & Spa or Stone House Cave Hotel
- Luxury: Sultan Cave Suites or Aydinli Cave Hotel or Carus Cappadocia
Antalya for 3 days
The last but definitely not the least place to visit during your 3 weeks in Turkey is Antalya. It is the fifth most populous city and is Turkey’s golfing capital. This city is actually suitable for everyone as it is known for its beaches, adventurous sports, sailing, and festivals. It is also Turkey’s citrus capital and the starting point for a trekking route.
Antalya is a perfect location to end your three weeks in Turkey as there’s just something to do for everyone. Antalya is a favourite not only among the locals, but even among foreign travellers, so much so that there are tons of international flights from North America, Asia, and Europe towards this city.
There are a couple of ways to reach Antalya from Goreme including riding a bus, driving, and flying. The flight between Nevsehir and Kayseri to Antalya connects to Istanbul. The journey will take betweenv4-9 hours, depending on the connection. While the bus or driving will take between 7-8 hours.
TIP: If you want to see Pamukkale, you can easily book a day tour to Pamukkale from Antalya, then head to Bodrum from here
Things to do in Antalya
- Kaleici Old Town – book a city, waterfalls, and cable car tour
- Aspendos Ballet and Opera Festival
- Koprulu Canyon – thrilling activities such as white rafting, ATV drive, and ziplining – check the price
- Paragliding in Kas
- The Land of Legends Theme Park – get your entry ticket in advance
- Lycian Way
- Sailing the Turkish Riviera
- Antalya Waterfalls
- Perge, Aspendos, and Side day trip – join a guided tour
- Enjoy Turkish Bath and Massage
Accommodations in Antalya
- Affordable: Kuyu Beergarden Hostel or Atalla Hotel
- Mid-range: Mai Inci Hotel or Best Western Khan Hotel
- Luxury: Akra Hotel or Puding Marina Residence
Pamukkale for 2 days
Pamukkale is a natural site located in the province of Denizli in southwestern Turkey. This area is also known as the cotton castle and is famous for carbonate minerals left by the flowing of thermal springs. It is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site and people flock to the thermal pools that could be found there.
Most of the tourists opt to stay in Denizli and then take a minibus towards Pamukkale, but you could also remain in the town itself should you wish to do so.
In order to reach Pamukkale from Antalya, you can take a bus towards Denizli, which is the main town of Pamukkale or drive your rented car. The trip will take 3-4 hours.
Things to do in Pamukkale
- Travertines of Pamukkale – book a guided tour
- Hierapolis City Ruins/Archaeological Museum
- Hot Air Balloon Flight – check the tour price
- Salda Lake
- Cleopatra Antique Pool
- Pamukkale Amphi Theatre
- Northern Necropolis
- Karahayit Hot Springs
- Ride Denizli Cable Cars/Denizli Teleferik
Accommodations in Pamukkale
- Mid-range: Venus Hotel or Ozbay Hotel
- Luxury: Bellamaritimo Hotel or Pam Thermal Hotel Clinic & Spa
Bodrum for 3 days
Bodrum is a port city located in the province of Mugla. It is a major summer hotspot with beaches and historic castles. It also has open-air bazaars, boutique hotels, and even places considered hidden gems if you prefer to stay in locations with lesser crowds. Bodrum is famous for the Mausoleum of Mausolus, which is included in the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world.
The most recommended option to reach Bodrum for those from Denizli is riding a bus or driving. The travel time for this is more than 4 hours.
Things to do in Bodrum
- Scuba Diving – check the price
- Bodrum Castle
- Bodrum Boat Trip – book a Gulet tour with lunch or a full-day cruise to Orak Island or the Black Island trip
- Turtle Beach and Mud Baths
- Turkish Bath and Spa – book for the evening after a day of exploration
- Bodrum Museum of Underwater
- Aegean Coast Helicopter tour – book for sunset
- Mausoleum of Halicarnassus
- Karnas Vineyards – join a food and wine tour
- Yahsi Beach
- Gumbet Beach
- Camel Beach
Accommodations in Bodrum
- Affordable: Sevin Hotel Pension or Pasha Motel
- Mid-range: Dorman Suites or Ramada Resort by Wyndham
- Luxury: Radisson Collection Hotel or Odette Hotel
Izmir and Ephesus for 4 days
Izmir is a coastal town in the southwest of Turkey, it’s also known as the capital of the Smyrna region, founded by the Greeks. It was conquered by the Romans and was renovated by Alexander the Great. But the Ottoman Empire gained control of the city in the 15th Century.
Visiting Izmir is a popular place to base yourself if you plan to explore the archaeological and historical sites of Ephesus. Izmir is a busy harbour town as well, which means that if you want to enjoy the beautiful Aegean Sea, it’s recommended to head to Cesme.
To get to Izmir from Bodrum, you can drive your car, which will take 3-4 hours or the bus, which is about 5-7 hours. From Izmir, you can take a flight back to Istanbul or check if there’s a flight from Izmir to your next destination.
Things to do in Izmir
- Day trip to Ephesus – full-day tour or a private tour (with skip-the-line ticket)
- Izmir Clock Tower
- Izmir Historical Elevator Building
- Smyrna Agora Ancient City
- Join the food tour of Izmir
- Mount Kadifekale
- Izumi Archaelogocal and Ethnography
- Kulturpark Izmir
- You can even do a day trip from Izmir to Pamukkale
Accommodations in Izmir
- Affordable: Olimpiyat Hotel or Piano Hotel
- Mid-range: Deka Evleri or Hotel Apart Alsancak
- Luxury: Izmir Marriott Hotel or Swissotel Buyuk Efes
SUMMARY OF 3 WEEKS IN TURKEY ITINERARY
Turkey is a must-visit country as it has gorgeous beaches with calm turquoise waters and historical ruins. Aside from that, the natural scenery is also divine, with plateaus comparable to the Swiss Alps and mountainous backdrops with plenty of hiking opportunities.
I hope that you found this 3 weeks in Turkey itinerary helpful in writing your own travel plan. You of course don’t have to follow this religiously, but perhaps it will help you visualise what your vacation in Turkey will look like.