Their proximity also means that it is easy to combine them both into an incredible itinerary to make the most of touring Greece and Turkey together. The following itinerary takes in the best of Turkey and Greece, with a variety of sights and activities that pay homage to the countries’ past, and present.
When to visit Turkey and Greece
Turkey is very much a year-round destination with something for everyone. There is a lot to see and do in Istanbul of course but also in the interior of the country where it can really be a magical winter destination.
On the coast, there are thousands of beautiful beaches and a few islands too so that is when warmer weather is a popular time to visit especially between June and September.
Greece is best known for the islands which are most popular from Greek Easter (April) until October with July and August being absolute peak season. The Greek mainland again is great all year round and in fact, there are 25 ski-fields in the north that provide a very inexpensive alternative to many European ski destinations.
Day 1 – 3 Touring Greece and Turkey: Istanbul
How to get to Istanbul:
Istanbul is well-connected to cities all over Europe and the rest of the world via brand new Istanbul International airport, said to be eventually be the largest in the world. At present the city is connected to the airport by bus with the Metro planned for late 2019. A private transfer can be a great way to greet this incredible city.
Arrive in Istanbul, a city that is quite literally a mix of the East and West. With one ‘foot’ on the continent of Europe and the other in Asia, Istanbul is a city like no other. The varied influences shine through Istanbul’s cuisine, architecture and culture, offering a unique and exciting blend.
While Istanbul is a sprawling metropolis, its sights are surprisingly easy to get around. Many are clustered together, and an efficient public transport network makes navigating the city a breeze. There are some excellent private walking tours of the city and a very good Hop-on Hop-off bus to explore on too.
- Sultanahmet, home to many of Istanbul’s most iconic sites. We suggest a walking tour (either self-guided or in the company of a professional guide) taking in the following sights:
• Topkapi Palace, the stunning palace that housed Ottoman sultans for some four centuries, and was the heart of the sprawling empire. A tour with an historian is the best way to see what is one of the best sites in Turkey.
• Byzantine Hippodrome, the main sporting arena during Byzantine times when Istanbul was known as Constantinople.
• The Basilica Cistern, an eerie underground water cavern that was famously featured in the James Bond franchise.
• Hagia Sofia, the jaw-dropping 6th century Church that is one of the most iconic buildings in the world, and a symbol of Istanbul.
• The Blue Mosque, another magical icon of Istanbul that is beautiful inside and out (note that it is closed during Islamic prayer). Make sure you book a skip-the-line ticket and tour.
- the incredible Istanbul Archaeological Museum, which provides a comprehensive and logical overview of Turkey’s complex history. Open 9am-7pm daily.
- An unusual way to heal those tired walking feet and muscles is to pay a visit to Turkey’s famous hammam baths. Usually consisting of a sauna, massage and body scrub, a visit to a Turkish hammam is sure to be a memorable experience that’s great for your skin. You will never feel cleaner! Fair warning: an authentic hammam usually means going sans clothing, however more touristic experiences will allow you to preserve some modesty with a bathing suit!
- shopping for souvenirs in the Grand Bazaar. This huge, colourful market is filled with incredible goods and charismatic shopkeepers, so there really is no better place to pick up some souvenirs of your stay in Istanbul. Be prepared to haggle the prices down, as it is definitely expected!
- experience a famous Bosphorous Cruise down the river that flows through the city. On the cruise, you’ll get a unique and beautiful perspective of the city, and then there’s the experience that is watching the birds that flock around the boat. A typical cruise is two hours, and you might like to splurge for one that includes refreshments. A sunset cruise is one of the best things to do in Istanbul at night.
There is so much to do and you may not get to all these things in only 3 days. As a minimum we suggest the Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, but it can be altered depending on your interests. These are all close to together and near to the Grand Bazaar so combining them on a full day tour is a great idea.
Dinner with a view is a must, as Istanbul while the sun sets and during the evening is absolutely enchanting. The restaurant at the Galata Tower is a great option for excellent food with a phenomenal view as are many of the restaurants in the nearby Beyoglu dining precinct.
Where to stay in Istanbul
The most convenient area to stay in Istanbul is right near the main attractions which is why some of the best hotels in Sultanhamet, such as Romance Istanbul and Idyll Hotel are so incredibly popular. Neorion Hotel is fantastic for families whilst the Four Seasons is considered one of the most luxurious hotels in the world and has an unbeatable waterfront position.
Day 4-5 Touring Greece and Turkey: Ephesus
How to get to Ephesus:
Ephesus is located about 530 kilometres away from Istanbul. The fastest way to reach it is to fly domestically between Istanbul and nearby Izmir, although it is also possible to travel between them by bus or car, which takes about 6 hours.
Turkey is, in many ways, a living museum and you can’t miss the exhibit that is Ephesus. This was once a powerful Greek city, but it also flourished under Roman rule. Laying eyes on the incredibly preserved ruins, it is almost impossible to believe that the city was first constructed in the 10th century BC.
From that time until it was abandoned in the 15th Century AD, many of the world’s great empires would leave their mark on Ephesus. In particular, the Ancient Greeks and Romans had a great impact on the city, although other empires including the Byzantines and Goths also influenced its construction and appearance.
You will need at least a full day to explore the large site. We also highly recommend doing so in the company of an experienced guide on a small tour who can explain the history of the most important temples and parts of Ephesus, such as the Library of Celsus and the Odeon.
Ironically, perhaps the most famous building at Ephesus is one that no longer exists – the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. Although it was destroyed centuries ago, you can still see hints of where it would have stood, including parts of the foundation.
Some of the artefacts from Ephesus have been relocated to the Ephesus Archaeological Museum to ensure they are preserved for future generations. It’s certainly well worth paying a visit to this museum and learning more about the area’s history.
Where to stay near Ephesus:
There is no accommodation at Ephesus itself. People choose to either stay in Izmir or Kusadasi.
Kusadasi Hotels are best serviced by these Ephesus Tours from Kusadasi and people staying at Izmir hotels such as the incredibly well priced and located Key Hotel will love this guided tour which includes a skip-the-line ticket.
Day 6 Touring Greece and Turkey: Pamukkale
How to get to Pamukkale;
Pamukkale lies about 190 kilometres east of Ephesus. Numerous buses leave from Izmir for Pamukkale daily, or it is a two-hour car journey.
The name Pamukkale literally translates to ‘cotton castle’, and its name will make sense once you lay eyes on it. This dazzling place is utterly unique, and you may not believe what you’re seeing as you look upon its striking features.
Pamukkale is most famous for its rows of cerulean blue natural pools, which are surrounded by striking white terrain. Warm, mineral-rich water flows into the terraces, pooling and tempting visitors to take a long, relaxing soak and enjoy the atmosphere and almost extra-terrestrial beauty. In fact, Pamukkale has attracted wellness-seeking tourists for thousands of years, and show no signs of slowing down.
While it is the natural pools that are the area’s most famous attraction, there are also well-preserved Roman ruins nearby, should you finish exploring the pools with enough time for another activity.
Day 7 & 8 Touring Greece and Turkey: Konya and Karapınar
How to get to Konya:
Konya is located about 400 kilometres east of Pamukkale, so it is a long drive by bus or car. An alternative is to fly, as there is a daily direct flight with Turkish Airlines.
One of Turkey’s oldest continually-inhabited cities is also home to some of its most unique and famous customs. This is Konya, a city located in the heart of central Turkey, which boasts rich culture and tradition.
In particular, Konya is known for its “Whirling Dervishes”, a religious practice that was founded by Celaleddin Rumi (known later as Mevlâna) in the 12th Century. The Mevlâna Museum (complete with Mevlâna’s tomb) is the city’s greatest attraction, while seeing the Whirling Dervishes in action is a spellbinding experience.
The city also offers a number of beautiful and historic mosques, while the Archaeological Museum offers up even more treasures.
About 90 kilometres south of Konya – therefore ideal for a day trip – lies Karapınar. This often overlooked region is well worth a visit, with its many magical crater lakes. This includes Meke Crater Lake, which has an imposing island in the middle.
Where to stay in Konya:
Konya is another very affordable town and doesn’t have a huge variety of accommodation choices. The Ramada Plaza is one the newest and biggest choices and has a beautiful inhouse Hammam. For something smaller and more authentically Turkish Hich Hotel and Araf Hotel are both lovely and very inexpensive.
9 – 10 Touring Greece and Turkey: Cappadocia
How to get to Cappadocia:
Cappadocia is about 192 kilometres, or two hours by car, from Karapınar. If catching public transport, it will likely be easier to circle back to Konya and get a bus from there to Cappadocia, as options are limited in Karapınar.
You may well have spent time gazing dreamily at photos of Turkey’s Cappadocia, the unique region famed for its “fairy chimneys” and dozens of hot air balloons that tower over them at dawn and dusk.
Cappadocia is most famous for these unique rock formations, which are found particularly around Goreme. Staring at these dizzyingly tall and perfectly sculpted formations, it’s almost impossible to believe they are the work of nature.
Indeed they are, although some have also been influenced by thousands of years of human settlement. Another famous feature of Cappadocia is the rock-cut homes and churches, while even visitors today can stay overnight in a unique cave hotel. Also below ground are huge complexes designed to hide entire cities away, such as Derinkuyu.
It’s totally bizarre yet enticingly beautiful – especially when seen from above in a hot air balloon at dawn or dusk. Although it could be condensed into one action-packed day, two will allow you to really experience the unique atmosphere of this enchanting place.
Things to do in Cappadocia:
- Hot air ballooning – an absolutely magical experience and highlight of our visit!
- a private day tour will take you through the Goreme Valley exploring the fairy chimneys, the Cardak Underground City and a local winery.
- the Devrent and Pasabag valleys including the Göreme Open-Air Museum are best done as a full day tour.
- Visit the crystal white salt at Lake Tuz as well as Tatlarin Underground City and Ağzıkarahan Caravanserai.
Where to stay in Cappadocia:
Cappadocia has some of the most amazing accommodation in Turkey and indeed the world. Most visitors are very excited to stay in a famed Cappadocia cave suite and some the loveliest would have to be Vineyard Cave Hotel, Azure Cave Suites and Aren Hotel and Art Gallery. Visitors enjoying their honeymoon in Cappadocia should check out Kayakapi Premium Caves or Sacred House whilst budget travellers will be very happy at Monte Cappa Cave House.
Day 11 – 13 Touring Turkey and Greece: Çanakkale
How to get to Cannakale:
Loop back up to north-west Turkey with the 1,000-kilometer trek between Cappadocia and Çanakkale. If a 14-hour bus or car ride doesn’t sound appealing, your best bet is to fly. Unfortunately there is no direct connection – the easiest way is to fly from Kayseri or Nevsehir to Istanbul, and then on to Çanakkale. There are numerous daily flights so your stopover is likely to be brief.
The city of Çanakkale is a must for lovers of history – both the ancient and modern variety is represented here. Perhaps most universally recognisable is the legend of Troy, immortalised in books and performances for thousands of years.
Things to do in Canakkale:
- Visit Troy: Troy was the ancient city that was felled when enemy Greek troops snuck inside the city walls hiding inside a ‘Trojan Horse’, thus creating a legend and colloquialism still used today. Nowadays, a reconstruction of the alleged horse still stands in the area that is thought to have been part of Troy.
- Kaz Dağı National Park: While it is history that draws many visitors in, they often stay for the natural beauty. We recommend spending some time exploring the stunning Kaz Dağı National Park south of Çanakkale. It is fitting that it is believed to be near the site of the world’s first beauty pageant, allegedly held between the famous Goddesses Aphrodite, Hera and Athena.
- Temple of Athena in Behramkale. You can do a day trip here along with the ancient city of Assos, once home to Aristotle.
- Gallipoli: Moving forward many centuries in time, Çanakkale was also highly significant during World War I. The nearby beaches of Gallipoli hold particular significance to Australians, as they were the site of a casualty record of 100,000 deaths and 400,000 wounded over a span of nine months. Moving remembrance services are held here annually, while people of many nationalities visit to pay their respects all through the year. Book tickets for a guided tour in advance to avoid the crowds. The Turkish domestic tour buses can be signifacant!
Day 14 – 16 Touring Turkey and Greece: Lesvos
How to get to Lesvos from Turkey:
Daily ferries run between Lesvos and Ayvalik in Turkey. Ayvalik is 3.5 hours by bus from Çanakkale, and the ferry then takes about 1.5 hours to arrive at Mytilene on Lesvos. Check Ferryhopper for up to date timetables and to book tickets.
Although it lays off the coast of Turkey, Lesvos is distinctly Greek. In fact, its biggest draw is the opportunity to experience traditional Greek Island life, as it has largely avoided the mass tourism of some other islands.
It is also somewhat of a microcosm of all that makes the Greek Islands so wonderful. The island is fringed by beautiful beaches, meaning spending a lazy afternoon or two relaxing in the sun is non-negotiable. There are many options, but Skala Eressos is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the Greek Isles.
It is worth drawing yourself away from the beach (as difficult as it may be) to experience more of what the island has to offer. Traditional villages such as Xidera and Antissa offer quaint cafes and true Greek hospitality, making them the perfect place to stop for a lunch with a side of culture and perhaps some lively conversation.
Historians are also sure to be impressed by sites including the two castles of Molyvos and Mytilini, and a Roman Amphitheatre that once seated up to 15,000. Millions of years before this was constructed the Petrified Forest was also created; today it is one of the most unique attractions on the island.
Two days is a good amount of time to explore the island’s attractions and enjoy some relaxation on the beach. However, more time will allow you to explore even more of what it has to offer, and you certainly won’t be short of things to do and see.
Where to stay on Lesvos:
Lesvos is the 3rd biggest island in Greece so it pays to chose somewhere central. The Aphrodite Hotel and the delightfully named The Schoolmistress with the Golden Eyes are both in the charming fishing village of Molyvos ( aka Mithimna) and are popular for good reason. So too are the Imerti Resort Hotel and Pasiphae Hotel in the protected harbour town of Skala. If you would prefer to stay in the main port town of Mytileme then its hard to go past Theofilos Paradise Boutique Hotel or Pyrgos of Mytileme.
Day 17 – 20 Touring Greece and Turkey: Athens
How to get to Athens from Turkey:
There are ferries that travel between Lesvos, other Aegean Islands and Athens regularly, especially during Summer. Ferryhopper is probably the best online booking platform at present.Timetables change each year and they can be weather affected so be give yourself plenty of breathing space if catching them. There is also an airport on Lesvos and regular flights from Athens, Thessaloniki and other European destinations. Flights to Athens from Lesvos take less than an hour and Aegean Airlines and Turkish Airlines cover the most routes. You can also connect with trains between Turkey and Greece and there are a number of ships that cruise Turkey and Greece destinations on the Aegean Sea.
Highlights of Athens:
- Visit the Acropolis, the ancient citadel perched on the hillside and overlooking the city and home to the famous Parthenon – the temple of Athena. Try and arrive either as as early as possible or as late as possible to avoid both the queues and the heat and book ahead for skip-the-line tickets.
- the Acropolis Museum – arguable one of the best in the world!
- the Erechtheion and the Temple of Olympian Zeus
- Explore the many museums which include the Children’s Museum, the Music Museum and the Jewish Museum
- Explore the Plaka. Whilst touristy and full of souvenir shops this neighbourhood has retained a village feel and is full of good cafes, galleries and shops. Its also very central and largely closed to traffic.
- See the Evzones – the Greek presidential guards, during the main changing of the guard ceremony at 11:00 Sunday or every hour on the hour every other day outside Parliament House where they guard the Tomb of the Unkown soldier.
- Explore Ermou street, the main pedestrian shopping street and Syntagma Square and surrounds.
- Take a free tour of Parliament house.
If time permits you may want to consider a day trip to either the extraordinary archaeological site of Delphi or a tour the includes Mycanae, Epadaurus and the beautiful town of Nafplion, the first capital of Greece and one of our favourite places in the entire country. For more ideas for day trips and tours CLICK HERE.
Where to stay in Athens:
There are some amazing places to stay in Athens including a number of stunning boutique hotels that have opened in the last few years and are some of the best I have stayed anywhere in the world. Cool, funky, with incredible attention to detail and excellent service these hotels are all centrally located and walking distance to all the main sites. Two of the best are The Zillers and the brand new Egron House which is an amazing addition to the very successful food business it cohabits with. Something of a modern day Agora. A little further away in the trendy and lively entertainment district of Psiri is The Foundry, another small design hotel built in, you guessed it, a former Foundry. All of these have rooftop bars or gardens and great views.
If you would prefer a large hotel and one with a swimming pool then the Electra Palace is excellent as is the famous Grande Bretagne Hotel, home to Hollywood movies stars, mobsters and millionaires over the decades. Budget travellers will be very happy at Centrotel or Athenian Residences which are great for families. For more accommodation recommendations see our Athens Accommodation page.
Day 21 – 24 Touring Greece and Turkey: Santorini
How to get to Santorini:
There are ferries that travel between Santorini, other Aegean Islands, Crete and Athens regularly, in fact several times a day in Summer. Timetables change regularly as do the carriers. There is also an International airport on the island with flights from Athens and many other destinations.
It can be expensive, particularly for accommodation with a Caldera view so most people don’t stay too long although it is possible to have an affordable stay on Santorini with a bit of clever planning.
Highlights of Santorini:
There are a lot of things to do on Santorini to suit all ages, budgets and interests. Dont miss;
- explore the villages of Fira, Oia, Imerovigli, Pyrgos and Kamari
- see the world famous SUNSET, especially on the water
- visit the unusual beaches including Red Beach and Black Beach
- do some wine tasting at a world famous winery. The Santorini whites are being hailed as some of the best in the world!
- Hike between Fira and Oia
- visit the neighbouring island of Thirassia
- hit the many shops and pick up some excellent produce, art and craft and world renowned precious jewellery
- explore the archaeological site of Akrotiri, one of the most important prehistoric settlements of the Aegean.
Where to stay on Santorini:
Santorini is home to some of the most spectacular hotels and villas in the world. It really does pay to splurge on a room with a Caldera view if you can afford it but if not it is possible to stay on Santorini on a budget and still have an amazing time. Read all our Santorini accommodation recommendations here.
Day 24 – 27 Touring Greece and Turkey: Paros
How to get to Paros:
Paros is one of the larger islands in the Cyclades and is located between Santorini and Mykonos. In fact it is often the first port of call for many of the ferries from Athens and there are several boats from there each day. There will also be several a day from Santorini to Paros and less in the off season. Paros also has a domestic airport but you will need to fly back to Athens airport for a connecting flight first.
Highlights of Paros:
There are a lot of things to do on Paros to suit all ages, budgets and interests. Don’t miss;
- explore the villages of Parikia, Naoussa, Piso Livadi and Lefkes
- take the ferry across to beautiful Antiparos
- visit any of the many stunning beaches including Kolymbithres, Logaras, Farangas, Golden Beach and more…
- reflect on thousands of years of history at the Church of 100 Doors, on of the most important Byzantine monuments in Greece
- hit the many shops and pick up some excellent produce, art and craft and world renowned precious jewellery
- take day trips to Mykonos, Naxos or Syros
- sail around the magical Small Cyclades Islands
Day 28+ Touring Turkey and Greece: Athens,Lavrio or Rafina
Getting from Paros to Athens:
You can either fly back to Athens from Paros or catch the ferry.
If you have a flight home from Athens then I always recommend you arrive there at least one day prior. This is in case ferries or flights are cancelled or delayed due to bad weather or strikes. Its never happened to us but we certianly know many people who have been caught out.
If you would like to spend that last night in Athens then I recommend the ferry and most of them will take you to the port of Pireaus. If however you would like to be closer to the airport then have a look at staying in Rafina or Lavrio, nice fishing ports not too far from Athens airport and they do have some ( limited) ferries as well. Avra Hotel in Rafina has a free airport shuttle and comes recommended.
With this itineray you will spend 2 weeks in Turkey and 2 weeks in Greece visiting 3 Greek islands, and possibly more depending on what day trips you choose.
You will take in stunning vistas, fascinating historical sites and information, hang out at beautiful beaches, visit medieval villages and world class wineries. You will see authentic fishing villages, sail on the clearest azure water you’ve ever seen and indulge in some of the best food and nightlife on the planet.
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