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A Complete Guide to Planning the Perfect Three-Week Itinerary in Turkey

Updated: Aug 15

Turkey had been on our wish list for a long time, so when we got the opportunity to travel there, we jumped at it. After looking at numerous blog articles about travelling to Turkey and its must-see places, I drew a map with a three-week itinerary, thinking that would be enough to cover everything. As it turned out, I was wrong. I had completely underestimated how big Turkey was, and we had to make some quick changes. To be fair, the changes weren't only due to my ignorance, but also due to the opinions of the locals, we were able to interact with on our trip.

Of the seven places we originally planned to visit, we ended up visiting only four, but it was much better that way. And why? As I said, Turkey is huge and the distances between cities are great, so great that after 12 hours on overnight (or day) buses and only three days in each place, we probably would have died of exhaustion.

We therefore made some minor changes and decided to omit Ankara, Pamukkale and Bodrum. Why again, you may ask? Well, we were mainly guided by the reactions of the locals when we presented our three-week itinerary to them. Reactions like "But why go there?", "If I were you, I'd avoid it" or "There's not much to see there" whilst laughing, highly influenced us. We did our own research, of course, and these are the reasons that convinced us to skip these three places:

  • Ankara

Aside from it being the capital of the country, I think a lot of people stop in Ankara on their way to Cappadocia to shorten the 12-hour bus ride, but it didn't seem worth the time and effort to us. Don't get me wrong, there are certainly some sights to see, but we preferred to save the money and time to enjoy Cappadocia a little more.

  • Pamukkale

We've all seen the amazing blue pools of Pamukkale, perched on a bed of white cottony stone (Pamukkale actually means cotton in Turkish!), but don't be fooled! Most of these pictures are from 2010, when there were no influencers and Instagram and the place was still pretty unknown and untouched. Not to mention it's quite expensive and there's nothing else to do in the area apart from the ancient city of Hierapolis. It takes 4 hours to get there from Antalya and in one day you pretty much saw all the sights. It seemed a bit of a tourist trap. Unfortunately, the natural beauty of the place has been destroyed by mass tourism, and we didn't really want to be part of that

  • Bodrum

Bodrum is the last town we left out because blogs and locals have made it clear that the place is mainly a seaside resort, which is good in summer if you're looking for a Turkish Benidorm, but not so interesting in autumn.

So here’s what the final three-week itinerary in Turkey looked like :

Accommodation in Turkey

As always, we travelled on a limited budget, so we had to adjust according to how much we were willing to spend. Istanbul and Cappadocia, for example, are more expensive than Antalya and Izmir as they're the biggest tourist spots. Apart from our stay in Cappadocia, where we stayed in a hotel/hostel, we opted for private rooms on Airbnb. If you don't feel like spending three weeks in hostels, this is a great option to save money. We met so many nice and interesting people that these encounters made the trip even more memorable.

The Turks are known for their warm hospitality and they didn't disappoint us Nevertheless, it's important not to take advantage of people's kindness. The Turks tend to prepare food for you and make small purchases without asking for anything in return, so we always made sure to give something

A three-week itinerary in Turkey: getting around

The most popular mode of transportation for long trips in Turkey is the bus. There are few railroad lines, so the only way to travel long distances is by bus or plane, although we did not choose the latter for environmental reasons.

The bus network is very reliable and well-connected. You can go anywhere in Turkey, and most cities have bus stations. There are many companies such as Metro and Kamilkoc that serve the whole country. Recently it has become possible to book buses through the Flixbus app, which makes things much easier as it is easy to use and you can pay in Euros!

It is also possible to book tickets on the Obilet website or directly at the train station but beware, Flixbuses in Turkey are not like those in Europe! We almost missed ours to Cappadocia because we were looking for a neon green bus, but it was actually a Kamilkoc bus. So if you do not want to face a bunch of nasty looks for delaying the departure like we did, do not hesitate to ask the driver.

Turkish buses are comfortable and spacious. It is possible to charge your phone on board and recline the seat. I advise you to take a plug on board because sometimes the screens with USB sockets are turned off (learn from my mistakes🤪).

During the trip, a host comes by to serve free drinks and snacks. The buses stop frequently for breaks of varying lengths (between 5 and 30 minutes). The 30-minute break takes place at a big petrol station where you can eat and have tea (and especially pee!!). I say that because there are no toilets on board, which is enough to make those who have to pee every 10 minutes panic (hello 👋).

Other means of transport:

  • Plane

If you don’t fancy long bus journeys, you can always take an internal flight with Pegasus Airlines for example. We preferred to avoid this option because of the unnecessary carbon footprint it entails but it can always be a plan B.

  • Car rental

If we ever travel to Turkey again, we'll definitely rent a car. The bus system is very good, but it limits your freedom of movement. When we were in Antalya, we wanted to visit many small fishing villages, but a car was necessary. I didn't really look into car rental options since we had planned to go by bus from the beginning, but there are obviously many options available online.

Turkish Currency

The currency in Turkey is the Turkish lira (1 ₺ = 0.05€). Despite the high inflation that has hit the country, everything was very cheap. We exchanged a lot with locals who said that daily life has become so expensive. For us it was a luxury, but we felt sorry for the Turks who are suffering from the current situation. Payment is usually made in cash. In many places, credit cards are also accepted, but you should always have some with you, just in case!

Language barriers in Turkey

We didn't know what to expect in terms of language barriers in Turkey. Of course, in tourist areas like Istanbul and Cappadocia, most people speak English (even if it's just a few words), but you can't expect everyone to understand you. I say this every time, but it's important to learn basic words like "hello" and "thank you" when travelling to a new country. Our last Airbnb host in Istanbul didn't speak a word of English, so we had a quick exchange thanks to Google Translate. Language barriers can be intimidating, but if you smile and are friendly, you'll be fine!

Here are a few words to start with:

  • Merhaba = Hello

  • Güle Güle = Goodbye

  • Teşekkürler (Teh-sheh-kull-erh-ler) = Thank you

Now that you have the three-week itinerary set, you're ready to see the mosques of Istanbul, hike the valleys of Cappadocia, stroll through the old town of Antalya and take in the views of Izmir!

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