Is it possible to see Turkey in 5 days?
All of it? Of course not. However it is possible to capture the magic of this country with a twin-stop break in Istanbul and Cappadocia. A Turkey itinerary 5 days, taking in two distinctly different, but equally iconic cities that allow you to enjoy the best of this country.
Turkey 5 Days
So how do you spend five days in Turkey? In an ideal world I’d actually recommend 3 days in Istanbul and 3 days in Cappadocia, so 6 in total, but if you’re tight on time then you can easily condense it to 5 days in Turkey. You just need to listen to your heart and decide which is more important to you – seeing the famous hot air balloons in Cappadocia or ticking off more sights in Istanbul.
The hot air balloons of Cappadocia are a daily occurrence. However, they are weather dependent so if like me, that’s the major reason for your visit to Turkey, allow a bit longer in this area to allow for a buffer.
To give you a bit of context, the balloons went up during my visit but were then cancelled for the next two days due to a storm. Imagine going all that way and then not seeing them…
An Interchangeable Turkey Itinerary
Bear in mind that you can get a direct flight from England to Istanbul and you’ll then need to get an internal short flight to Kayseri, which is in the Cappadocia region, and back again for your flight home.
I cover all the travel logistics at the bottom of this post, but I guess what I’m trying to make clear is that you can tailor the split of locations to suit your flight times and travel style.
Essentially, feel free to pick and choose from this itinerary. You could have one day in Istanbul, followed by a few in Cappadocia, and a finale in Istanbul or you may just choose to do a solid few days in each.
Two Days in Istanbul
There are so many Istanbul points of interest, from religious buildings to fascinating museums and markets. However, it’s the natural charm of the city that makes it so special; the much-loved street cats that sleep on the market stalls, the sprawling street art, the hipster locals and the stunning sunsets over the river.
1 Day in Istanbul
Only have 1 day to visit Istanbul? See the best of the city with the following itinerary. Got more days to play with? This will be a spectacular start, then head to the day 2 section.
Breakfast – 1 hour
Start your day in Istanbul with breakfast at your hotel. There are some amazingly cool coffee shops and cafes in Karaköy, particularly near Murakip Sk, but most don’t get going until 10am, so unless you’re planning a lazy start save those for another time.
If you don’t have any other time in your Turkey itinerary, wolf your breakfast down and walk down this street so you can at least soak up the vibe (though slightly muted at this time of the morning, a bit like me…)
Old City – 2-3 Hours
Head to the Old City. It’s a beautiful part of Istanbul that seems to offer a sight to see at every turn; Hagia Sophia (approx £3.60 entry), the Blue Mosque (free), Hippodrome (free) and Suleymaniye Mosque (free) to name a few.
The Old City is mainly flat, very walkable and flows through wide open squares so if you’re travelling to Istanbul with kids you’ll have no bother with a pushchair.
Just be conscious that if you want to go inside any religious buildings you’ll need to take your shoes off and women will need to cover their head, shoulders and knees (and the in between!) before stepping inside. There are cloaks and scarfs to borrow from the entrance points.
Whether you choose to go inside the historical sites or just admire the impressive exteriors is up to you.
At the very least endeavour to step inside Hagia Sophia. It’s been under renovation for the past 12 years so you will probably see a bit of scaffolding, but it’s not enough to distract from the captivating shades of gold.
Lunch – 1 – 2 hours
Enjoy lunch at Ali Baba Kanaat Lokantasi. This unassuming favourite spot with locals specialises in beans and rice. It sounds rather rubbish, but is actually really tasty. Think of it as a Turkish version of baked beans on toast. Rice has never tasted so good.
Hammam – 2-3 Hours
Enjoy the traditional ritual of Turkish bathing at the stylish ‘Çeşme Hammam‘ at The Galata Istanbul Hotel. Sure, it’s not as brutal as some of the others you may have heard, but a bit of pampering is a lot more preferable. It’s still an authentic Turkish experience and one that’s very different from the spas back home.
The sweet smell of aromatic candles lure guests down to the spa area. Don your bikini, slip on the soft complimentary robe and enjoy a glass of Prosecco whilst you wait for your turn. You’ll be beckoned to remove your robe and top, before relaxing on the warm stone, looking up to the domed ceiling.
The staff scrub every inch of your body, washing away any impurities with an excessive amount of bubbles and warm water. It’s invigorating, relaxing and amusing, a combination that’s worth every penny of the c. £40 price tag. Book ahead.
Change – 1 hour
Head back to your hotel for a nap and change of clothes, before heading out for the evening.
Dinner and Drinks – 2+ hours
Arrive at Double Meze Bar Pera ahead of sunset. It’s on the terrace of the Palazzo Donizetti Hotel and offers impressive views of Istanbul. Come sunset guests flock to the terrace to snap pictures and marvel at the show. I was lucky enough to see one of the most memorable sunsets of my life.
It’s not just about the views. The food and drink is spectacular. Opt for a mezze of dishes to share with your fellow diners. The vegetarian options are sublime. If you only have one night in Istanbul, this is the place to visit.
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2 Days in Istanbul
Got 2 days in Istanbul to play with? Enjoy another day in this huge vibrant playground with this schedule…
Breakfast – 1 hour
Visit the Basilica Cistern – 1 hour
This unusual underground stop offers a chance to step back in time. It’s a relic of the Byzantine Empire’s water system. Expect darkness, ancient columns and a few Medusa heads at Yerebatan Sarnici.
Lunch – 1 hour
Don’t judge a book by its cover. This tiny, bustling joint specialises in soup. You’ll find traditional soups, like the well-loved red lentil, but also intriguing concoctions named Mother and Daughter, and Wedding Soup, here at Karaköy Corba Evi.
It’s cheap, delicious and a good place to people watch.
Shop – 2-3 hours
It’s one of the top 10 things to do in Istanbul, so head to one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, the Grand Bazaar. Step inside and accept that you may not exit any time soon. You’ll either get drawn into buying something or simply get lost in the warren of seemingly identical alleyways (there are over 60!).
With countless stalls selling jewellery, clothes, books and anything else you could possibly imagine it’s an exciting place to lose your bearings.
Although it’s understandably a tourist hotspot, locals still shop here. Be prepared to barter on anything you see, but equally don’t try the ‘walk away’ approach unless you’re happy to part ways with the coveted item – chances are you won’t be able to find the same stall again.
The Alternative Shop
Fancy something a little edgier and modern? The hipster area in Karaköy that I mentioned earlier is near this lunch spot, so you could head here. And make sure you grab a coffee at the super cool Ilmisimya Cafe and Art Space.
Dinner and Drinks – 3-4 hours
Dine and sip underneath the blanket of stars at 360 Istanbul. Admittedly not as polished and impressive as the bar from day one in Istanbul, it’s still very fun and the food is delicious.
The bar vibe is more prominent than the dining experience and it’s clear this is the place to come for a few cocktails. That said, make sure you try the chocolate bomb dessert. You won’t regret it.
Ah magical Cappadocia. This unusual region is home to the famous hot air balloons that drift through the sky at sunrise, skimming past rocky horn landscapes. It’s the main reason so many people visit Cappadocia.
However, there is so much more to do in Cappadocia than just the balloons. So much so, that you could easily have 3 days in Cappadocia.
One Day in Cappadocia
Only have 1 day in Cappadocia? See the very best part of this region with this itinerary…
Breakfast – 5 minutes
You’ll need to leave around 5am so grab a drink and a little something to keep you going.
Hot Air Balloons – 2-3 hours
You have two choices; ride in a hot air balloon or watch them. Either way, they start leaving the launch site around 5.30-6am.
If you want to enjoy a Cappadocia balloon ride, but are wondering if it’s safe, rest assured that all pilots are approved. Supposedly they have to train five times longer than anywhere else in the world so you’re in capable hands.
You’ll usually be collected from a nearby hotel, watch the set-up and then head up in the sky for anything from 30-90minutes. A Cappadocia balloon price is about £150-£200.
It’s a calm, serene experience. I’m not a fan of heights, but find hot air balloon rides strangely comfortable and enjoyable. The slow pace and lack of stomach lurching that you sometimes experience in a lift or on a ride lulls you into feeling safe and relaxed.
Watching the Hot Air Balloons in Cappadocia
I’ve done a few balloon rides, so decided to enjoy the view from below on this occasion. I’d dreamed of watching the balloons float past the rocky expanses and it didn’t disappoint. This is also a great option if you’re travelling to Cappadocia with kids. Can you imagine trying to contain a toddler in the basket?!
If you don’t have your own set of wheels, pre-book a taxi through your hotel. Most are familiar with the balloons of Cappadocia so they’ll take you to the balloon launch site in Göreme. Watch them fill with air, gently knocking each other and then wave the excited tourists off.
Hop back in your taxi and speed up to another location such as Sunset Point or the Love Valley. Ignore the touristy photo props (unless flowery swings and heart-shaped benches are your thing of course) and perch on the cliff egdes whilst you watch the balloons bob past.
Time seems to slow down and the sunrise glow enhances the unusual landscape. It’s beautiful, captivating and magical.
Despite being a touristy spot, it doesn’t get very crowded – or at least it didn’t during my visit. I had visions of people elbowing each other to see them, but it was all very relaxed.
Expect to pay around £18 for a taxi to drive you to those two locations, waiting in between and then taking you back to your hotel.
Breakfast (Round 2!) – 1-2 hours
Head back to your hotel for breakfast and to come down from cloud nine. Chances are you’ll want a nap or at least a shower.
Lunch – 1 hour
Head to Göreme, the hub of Cappadocia, and go to Fat Boys. The staff are friendly and speak good English.
This small restaurant serves every kind of food you could imagine, including a pottery kebab. The portions are big and the prices low – my favourite combination.
Love Valley – 1 hour
A short drive from the shops and restaurants of Göreme will lead you to the Love Valley. A dusty area filled with ‘fairy chimneys’ that perhaps may be suited to another name…
You can wander around the Love Valley at your own whim. It’d be a great place to run little ones about. Make sure you a pack hat and some water though as there’s not much shade at all.
You’ll find one little shack selling a few souvenirs and drinks, as well some cute dogs and cats, though they’re not for sale.
Cookery Class and Dinner – 2-3 Hours
Considering the early start you’ll probably want an early night. Enjoy a cookery class at a homestay, though how hands on you’ll get is up to you.
Watch or join in to create a three course meal of traditional dishes like vine leaf roll and, stuffed aubergines.
Enjoy your feast and then head back, sleepy and full.
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2 Days in Cappadocia
Got an extra day in Cappadocia? Lucky you! Here’s what I’d recommend for two days in Cappadocia, though if you like a fast-paced trip you could pack a few more activities in from day 3…
Breakfast – 5 minutes
It’s time to do it again, so just have something light.
Hot air balloons – 2-3 hours
If the weather ruined your hot air balloon plans on day 1 this is your chance to try again. If you went on a balloon ride on day 1 then I’d recommend skipping the balloon launch and heading to Sunset Point for about 6.15am (double check the sunrise time for your visit) to get a different perspective.
It’s such a magical scene that it makes sense to enjoy it as much as possible.
Brunch – 1-2 hours
Maximise your hotel buffet or indulge in a holiday breakfast of kings.
Discover Kaymaklı – 1 – 2 hours
Step inside an underground kingdom. Kaymaklı is a city consisting of secret caves that were only discovered by mistake.
Story says a chicken escaped its home and the owner chased it to a hole in the ground, which then happened to lead to a warren of cave homes.
If you find tight spots claustrophobic you might want to skip this activity. The caves follow a series of one way routes, so once you’re in you’re in and there might be a queue to get back out.
Children are welcome, but obviously you won’t be able to take a buggy inside and to be honest, it would probably be quite tricky to carry one in a sling as you have to crouch and lean quite a bit.
Pottery Demonstration – 1 hour
Head to Chez Galip’s to see the master effortlessly create a pot or two. If you’re lucky you might even get to have a go on the traditional kick pedal.
You can buy many creations here – pots, cups, plates and well, anything you can think of, including glow in the dark pieces.
Dinner – 1 – 2 hours
Head to a women’s cooperative for another feast of dips, breads and soups. The red lentil soup is always a good choice.
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3 Days in Cappadocia
3 days in Cappadocia is a treat. For your final day/night splash out by enjoying a stay in a super luxurious cave hotel that has a rooftop pool so that you can enjoy another view of those magical balloons (and of course, get a photograph for Instagram). Check in late the night before and wake up here…
Breakfast – 1 hour
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast in your new swanky hotel and hit the pool, or at least the rooftop, for some snaps with the balloons.
Turkish Carpets – 1 hour
Learn about the traditional art of carpet weaving and see the process in action. You’ll discover there’s much more to it than you might think.
You’ll have the chance to buy a rug, but check the price tag first as even the tiniest of patches can fetch up to $38,000 thanks to the skills of the silk worm and weaver.
Lunch – 1 hour
Grab a light bite to eat in Göreme. There are loads of places to choose from and I guess it depends how much you scoffed at breakfast!
ATV Ride – 2 Hours
Time for some fun! Take a quad tour through Sword, Love and Rose Valley.
I didn’t get time to do this, but it looks like such a laugh. Your guide will brief you on all the safety points, so bring your sunnies, a headscarf and get ready to cruise.
The tour costs around £30 per person for 2 hours.
Mud Baths – 1-2 Hours
Ready to wash that dust off? Head to Katpatuka Camur Maharasi Baths.
Enjoy three unique experiences, though I’d maybe skip the first…
The first involves those tiny fish that nibble the dead skin from your feet, the second bathing in the hot waters and the third, covering yourself in mud. Told you it was different!
Expect to pay around £30 per person.
Turkey Travel Logistics
How to go from Cappadocia to Istanbul (or vice versa)
The easiest way to travel between Cappadocia and Istanbul is to fly.
It’s a short (90minutes) flight from Kayseri to Istanbul. Kayseri is the nearest airport to Cappadocia, the latter of which is actually a region, rather than a town in itself.
There are regular, direct flights throughout the day and I’d recommend Turkish Airlines.
With that airline the Cappadocia to Istanbul flight is enjoyable – hello, TV screen and free meal. I thought it would be on a tiny plane, but it’s not. Tourists flock to the region, so given the demand is there, the planes are big.
Once you land in Kayseri it’s a one hour drive to Goreme, the hub of all the activities in Cappadocia.
A drive from Istanbul to Cappadocia would take a whole day, so that wouldn’t work for this itinerary.
How far is Cappadocia from Istanbul?
It’s a 1.5 hour flight or a c.8 hour drive. It’s a super easy journey if you choose to fly and there are cheap flights (from £24) every few hours on most days.
Where to Stay in Istanbul
Splash the cash at stylish Soho House Istanbul.
Stay in the beautiful Old City at the Crowne Plaza Istanbul – Old City.
Opt for affordable style near the metro line at 10 Karaköy Istanbul. I stayed here in my own room and enjoyed it.
Where to Stay in Cappadocia
Splash the cash at the iconic Sultan Cave Suites (complete with rooftop views)
Stay near the activities in Cappadocia at the stylish Carus Cappadocia.
Opt for an affordable, stylish cave hotel that’s in a quieter spot. I stayed in my own room in the beautiful mismatched Exedra Hotel.
Turkey Travel Advisory
Worried about travel in Turkey? It’s understandable seeing as the country often receives a lot of negative press.
I felt surprisingly safe in the city, whether that was walking with the tour guide or with a few of the other girls in our group, or on public transport. As an all-female, white group dressed in pretty dresses we received a few looks but nothing untoward.
I’d recommend checking the government’s Turkey travel advisory for the latest advice.
Oh and don’t forget your e-visa for travel to Turkey. It takes 5 minutes to complete online and costs around £16. It’s recommended that you apply no later than two weeks before your trip, but my visa arrived in my inbox within minutes.
Guided Tours of Turkey
If you want to visit Turkey with the comfort of someone who knows where they are going and the company of likeminded travellers, I’d recommend looking at the Twins That Travel tours of Turkey.
I travelled on their recent Twins That Travel Turkey tour, which is backed by Intrepid Travel, on a variation of the above itinerary. I had the best time seeing some of the country, making new lovely, lovely friends and above all, having a stylish, fun and exciting time. Take me back!
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