Set aside 2 weeks for a Turkey road trip adventure, looping around the country's western side from Istanbul down the coast. Along the way, you'll experience the country's archaeological treasures, hand-crafted artisan's goods and striking landscape including twinkling seascapes and unusual rock formations. Planning a road trip through Turkey allows you to set your own itinerary and explore some out of the way spots that aren't as accessible by public transportation. It's simple to rent a car from the airport with recognizable car rental chains offering services in Istanbul, but book ahead of time to be sure a car is available. The road systems are generally easy to navigate and clearly marked, but some are poorly lit at night so plan accordingly. Drivers throughout the country have a reputation for aggressive behavior and speeding, so be aware and drive cautiously.
Road Trip Starting Point
Stay: The Çiragan Palace is a romantic, elegant spot overlooking the Bosphorus, or Istanbul Strait, that runs between Europe and Asia. The rooms are lavishly suited for the Ottoman Imperials, but the real draw is the common areas including the infinity pool and expansive outdoor dining areas overlooking the water.
Do: You could spend your entire vacation exploring the wonders of Istanbul, but we've narrowed down the options to those spots you must see before setting off on your road adventure. Marvel at the architecture and wander the great halls at Hagia Sophia, the museum that was once a church and later a mosque dating back to to the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Nearby, the stunning Blue Mosque that is equally lovely inside decorated with more than 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles, stained glass windows and massive chandeliers. See the best of the Byzantine frescoes and mosaics depicting iconic scenes of Christianity at St. Savior in Chora which was built outside of the walls of Constantinople in the beginning of the 5th century. After appreciating some of the city's oldest art, pick up some new pieces for yourself at the sprawling Grand Bazaar, or Kapaliçarsisi, the world's oldest and largest shopping mall where markets offer carpets, leather goods, silver and good housewares, textiles and all varieties of art work. If you're looking for a more intimate shopping experience, try the state-owned Haseki Sultan Hamami for Turkish carpets, the Egyptian Spice Bazaar for spices or Iznik Foundation for ceramics, pottery and hand-painted quartz tiles.
Eat: Asitane celebrates classic dishes from the Ottoman Empire with nearly 200 recipes that are tweaked for the modern palate, but rely on traditional recipes and cooking techniques from 500 years ago.
Istanbul to Ephesus
7 hours (including 2-hour ferry ride)
Stay: Since you're traveling with your own car, explore the small villages surrounding Ephesus. Head 5 miles up the hill to the village of Sirince where the Nisanyan Hotel welcomes guests to its quaint 5-room inn as well as a collection of furnished home and cottages for more spacious accommodations.
Do: Before you hit the open road along Turkey's western coast, cut back on driving time and embark on a 2-hour boat ride on the IDO fast ferry from Yenikapi in Istanbul to Bandirma. From there, it's about 5 more hours in the car to Ephesus and Selçuk where you should plan to spend a 1 to 2 days exploring one of Europe's most well-preserved ancient Roman cities. The Ephesus Museum in Selçuk houses many of the archeological wonders grouped together by theme, including statues, tools and everyday products. Other sites from the ancient world included the ruins of the Temple of Artemis, amongst the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, and the church at the House of the Virgin Mary, where many believe she lived her final days.
Eat: There are plenty of affordable restaurants around the attractions in Selcuk serving home-cooked Turkish food in a welcoming environment. Head to Okumu Mercan Restaurant at 1006 Sokak 44 for mixed grills, kebab platters and vegetarian fare in a cozy courtyard or enjoy dinner at your hotel or in any of the small restaurants in the village of Sirince
Ephesus to the Fethiye
Stay: The Hillside Beach Club in Fethiye is a beachfront resort with upscale amenities including an award-winning Blue Flag beach at Hillside beach and adults-only spots at Serenity Beach and Silent Beach, comfy rooms and a slew of beachfront and pool bars perfect for watching the sunset over the turquoise Mediterranean.
Do: Head southeast to the Turkish Riviera to the city of Fethiye, known for its lovely beaches at Oludeniz and as the starting point for the Lycian Way. Most tour groups generally take 1-2 weeks to walk this 311-mile path past ancient ruins and quaint villages, but you'll only have limited time to sample the treasures outside of Fethiye. Recover from your hiking along the seashore in Fethiye or Oludeniz and marvel at the picturesque Blue Lagoon. Once you've soaked up enough sun, pry yourself away from your sun lounger and set out for a coastal drive, stopping at the ruins of Patara, before continuing on the Turquoise Coast to the beach town of Antalya.
Eat: The White Dolphin/Beyaz Yunus at the Oyster Residences in Oludeniz is the area's most talked-about seafood restaurant.
Fethiye to Antalya
3 hours, 30 minutes
Stay: Forgo the beachside resorts for a cozy pension like Tekeli Konaklari in the quaint historic neighborhood Kaleiçi.
Do: Antalya may be best known for its delightful beaches and stunning views of the towering Toros Mountains, but there's plenty of culture to enjoy away from the beach. The Antalya Museum is a treasure trove of more than 5,000 archaeological finds, some dating back 50,000 years. Pass through the massive triumphal arch at Hadrian's Gate into the city's charming historic district Kaleiçi.
Eat: Enjoy dinner in a quintessential Kaleiçi garden courtyard at the Secret Garden restaurant with outdoor seating in the romantic garden or cliff-side patio.
Antalya to Cappadocia
8 hours, 30 minutes
Stay: Embrace Turkish hospitality at the Cappadocia Göreme House Hotel, a classic Anatolian-style hotel with hand-crafted natural stone arches, gleaming wood floors and modern rooms, many with views of the fairy chimney rock formations.
Do: It's a long trip northeast to Cappadocia, but the magical surroundings and stunning architecture make it well worth the drive. Spend your first day exploring Göreme Open Air Museum, a complex of monastic churches and dwellings with remarkable frescoes and classic Byzantine architecture. Then drive to Zelve Valley for more rock formations and caves. Plan to spend a day underground exploring the abandoned subterranean cities of Kaymakli and Derinkuyu where you can explore the public spaces, tunnels and churches up to 177-feet beneath the Earth's surface. Set off early in the morning on your final day because the ride back to Istanbul is 470 miles and will likely take over 9 hours. But before you hit the road, stop in Avanos to support the local artisans and pick up a piece of the region's noted earthenware pottery to bring home.
Eat: Sample traditional Anatolian cuisine and mezze at Alaturca with plenty of hummus, grilled meats and sweet baklava.