Christmas Break in Amazing Turkey: Istanbul & Cappadocia
Updated: May 17, 2020
Istanbul is the economic, cultural, and historical hub of Turkey. Though it is not the capital of Turkey, the strategic location makes Istanbul a Megalopolis. Through the Bosporus strait between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, It is not only connecting Europe and Asia geographically but blending east and west culturally. Previously known as Byzantium and later as Constantinopole, today's Istanbul is the amalgamation of several cultures influenced by different rulers over different eras.
While in Istanbul, one moment you wake up in the beautiful sounds of Azan from different Mosques, another moment you hassle your way through the huge populace in Bazaar. Then in the next moment, you wander in the cobblestone street of the European part or maybe sipping your coffee in a quiet corner. With its enormity, Istanbul exposes you to numerous diverse experiences.
To me, Istanbul is exotic, exquisite and extraordinary.
I visited Istanbul and Cappadocia in Turkey at Christmas Break for a few days and here is my itinerary.
But before I jump to my itinerary, I would like to mention, you could easily spend five days – one week only in Istanbul without getting bored because it has too many things to see. As I always say, adjust your itinerary the way you like.
Here you go:
Day1: Arrive in Istanbul, check-in, lunch, explore the city, enjoy the delicious Turkish Kebab and shisha
Day2: Visit: Hippodrome, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Lunch, then start again with Egyptian Spice Bazaar, Galata Tower, Taksim Square
Day3: Visit Hagia Sophia, a quick break for breakfast, then go to Grand Bazaar followed by Balat, Bosphorous Cruise, Dinner
Day4: Early Flight to Cappadocia, Check-in, Visit Goreme open-air Museum, Visit Uchisar Castle, Dervish Show in the evening in Avanos, Dinner
Day 5: Hot air Balloon ride, Guided tour or Rent a car
You could add one more day and reserve the day only for Hot Air Balloon ride and take it slow. But most of the Balloon tour starts very early and you have also the entire day after that.
Day 6: Flight to Istanbul and back home
Important Information: Unfortunately, we could not do the Hot air Balloon ride because it got canceled for two weeks before our visit due to the bad weather. But I would share the information that I have later in the blog.
First thing in my to-do list: Of-course Turkish visa. I needed a visa to visit Turkey. Please visit here before you plan your visit to be sure whether you need a visa and how to get it. I also followed the same process and got my e-visa. Frankly, I found these 3 steps e-visa process super easy. It is just a matter of a few clicks and you are done with the visa process.
My perspective on Budget: I visited Istanbul during Christmas time and it was a very spontaneous plan. I did not book everything very early. As usual, because of holiday time, flights were a bit expensive. If you book your flight a bit early or avoid holiday season or avoid summer months you could get the flight at a cheaper price. Apart from the flight fare, I found accommodation, food, transportation, tickets are very reasonable.
Istanbulkart: It is also one of the essentials while roaming around the city. I found this link quite helpful. This travel card is prepaid one and you can reload it from the machine as per your need. It is extremely helpful while traveling from different parts of the city because the city is big.
Step by Step: Coming back to my Itinerary....
Day 1: We reached Istanbul before lunch taking early flight. After completing the immigration procedure, we headed for our hotel. We stayed at Hotel Maduro which is very close to Grand Bazaar Metro Station and within walking distance from Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. We pre-booked Airport Shuttle with the hotel so we did not have to think about transportation. In case you are not renting a car and did not book any shuttle, you can still take the taxi from the airport or take public transport.
For more information check it here
I have just two recommendations on arrival: 1. Istanbul is wide-spread. Decide your transportation on arrival while you plan since the airport is a bit far from the city center and taking public transport would be time-consuming and hectic (especially considering the traffic). 2. Having local currency always makes your life a lot easier. Take Turkish Lira from the ATM at the airport once you arrive.
After check-in, we headed for lunch. In the evening, we went to explore the city on foot. Even though it was a Sunday evening, it was so lively, vibrant and full of people. The streets are full of beautiful shops, mouthwatering sweets, tea, spices, coffee, and whatnot.
You will be amazed to see the shops just beside the streets. We stopped at one shop just to see the beautiful decoration and asked whether I could take some photos. The owner was so generous and kind, he offered us some flavored tea.
One thing, I noticed on my first day in Istanbul that people are really warm and willing to help. Even if we had the slightest confusion regarding the direction, people helped us. I would definitely say, I felt more than welcome in Istanbul.
We already decided to eat kebab on that day before we stepped out of the hotel.. 😂
So, there was no confusion about the food. We found a nice street full of restaurants on our way and had an amazing Kebab platter there. This was one of the authentic Turkish Kebab Platters I ever had. We stayed there a bit late and later headed back to the hotel.
Day2: We started our second day from Sultanahmet Square. First on the list:
Hippodrome: It was the social and sports center of ancient Constantinopole. 20-meter high Egyptian obelisk is the center of attraction here.
Blue Mosque: Just a few minutes of walk from Hippodrome, you will find Blue Mosque. Blue Mosque or Sultan Ahmed Mosque is built between 1906 to 1916. The interior of the Blue Mosque is decored with hand-painted blue tiles. There is no entry fee for the Blue Mosque. You must remove your shoe and carry it in a plastic bag provided there before entering into the Mosque and visit the Mosque quietly. And if you are a woman, you need to cover your head with a scarf. Once you enter into the Mosque and you can see the beautifully designed tiles and walls.
Once you exit from the Mosque, you can see the Hagia Sophia just in the opposite. We did not visit Haga Sophia on the same day because Haga Sophia was closed on that day and we needed to buy tickets for a visit. So we headed for Topkapi Palace.
Topkapi Palace: Topkapi Palace is one of the most visited places in Istanbul. In Turkish, Topkapi means Cannon gate palace since huge cannons are displaced outside of its gate. The place was built by Sultan Mehmed II and was the political center of the Ottoman Empire during the 15th to 16th centuries. The palace has four big courtyards and hundred of smaller buildings. But After the 17th century, Topkapi palace lost its importance since the Sultans preferred to spend in
Dolmabahçe Palace later on.
You need to have at least 2 hours to visit courtyards, armory, royal kitchen, Harem, etc. We spent our entire afternoon there.
Bonus point: you will get an amazing view facing the Golden Horn, Sea of Marmara, Bosporus from Topkapi Palace.
For opening hours and ticket information visit here.
We had a quick lunch after that. After our lunch, we were walking towards Eminönü to see the Egyptian Spice market. it is another mini version of Grand Bazaar. We spent some time in Egyptian Spice Bazar and headed for Galata Tower crossing the bridge.
Galata Tower: Medieval tower from where you can see the panoramic view of Istanbul.
Istiklal Caddesi to Taksim Square: From Galata tower, we headed for Istiklal Avenue and ended our day by having dinner at Taksim Square. Istiklal Street is a super busy area with the historical passage, building, cinema and not to mention shopping opportunities. Additionally, we also explored the picturesque neighborhood of Beyoglu. We absolutely loved Beyoglu.
Day3: Our third day started with visiting Hagia Sophia. We already booked our ticket the day before with a 10 am appointment. We reached there five minutes before. There are already many people standing. It was not a problem to find them once we reach there.
You can find more information regarding the ticket here.
Hagia Sophia: Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) was a Greek Orthodox church that was converted into a Mosque during the Ottoman Empire and now is a museum. It went through many transitions and has a fascinating history. During the guided tour, our guide explained the history very well and also showed us a special place to get a good picture. After his explanation, we explored the place on our own.
After visiting Hagia Sophia we had breakfast and then headed for Grand Bazaar.
Grand Bazaar: Grand Bazar is probably one of the most highlighted/recommended spots while visiting Istanbul. It is huge and I have simply no words to explain its “Grandeur”. You might lose the time track and also lose your way inside the Grand Bazar. But it is worth an experience.
Every shop I went to, I found something different. I found so many things straight away from my childhood fairytale: Fairy lantern, Evil-Eye bread, Magic Lantern of Aladin, and whatnot. Apart from that, you can find n number of spice shops, dry fruits, Turkish delight, flavored tea, beautiful carpet, ornaments, beautifully designed ceramics, and many more. You could easily spend 3-4 hours or more in Grand bazaar (maybe the whole day).
After two hours we realized we should also go ahead and see the other places instead of trying to shop whatever we see.. 😂😂
Grand Bazaar highlight: Blue Evil Eye or Nazar. It is used to protect the wearer from evil or a bad curse. The blue color and shape are so intriguing and you can find it in every shop in different forms. It is one of the famous souvenirs from Istanbul.
After Grand bazaar, we quickly came to Eminönü and took the bus for Balat and Fener.
Balat: A beautiful neighborhood of Istanbul with cobbled stoned streets, hip cafes, and colorful houses. Once known as the Jewish Quarter, it is the hidden gem of Istanbul. If you prefer to escape the busy life of the city, this is the perfect place to be.
Just wander around the narrow-stoned streets and amazed by the graffiti and also spend some time in the awesome cafes. The streets are full of so many artsy cafés (sometimes in the same row) it is hard to choose among them.
After Balat, we went straight ahead to Eminönü for our Bosporus trip.
Bosporus Cruise: Bosporus or “strait of Istanbul” is the waterway separating the two continents Europe and Asia. Bosporus trip is one of the must-do things while in Istanbul.
Istanbul and the surrounding looks surreal during sunset and gorgeous in the evening light and you will be amazed to experience this.
Important: The Bosporus boat trip has different timing and all the tours finish by 7 pm max. Do check the time before you plan your trip. The time table can be found in Eminönü. Also here is the info for another provider. There is also a full day trip available. But we did two hours short trip.
We finished the Bosporus trip almost around 7 pm and then went for early dinner.
It was our last day in Istanbul and the next day we headed for Cappadocia.
We had an early flight for Cappadocia from Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen International Airport.
** We prebooked our airport shuttle the day before.
Cappadocia: It is a region of central Turkey consists of Nevşehir, Kayseri, Kırşehir, Aksaray, and Niğde provinces and famous for its cone-shaped rock formation and hot air balloon ride.
Three or four million years ago volcanic eruption shook the region and formed this landscape. Thick ash of the eruption solidified into soft rock and the soft rock mixed with wind and water formed the unique structure. Visiting Cappadocia is like visiting a fairytale planet or entering into an unreal world or maybe into a movie.
How to reach: There are two airports Kayseri Erkilet Airport and Nevşehir Kapadokya Airport. It is a direct flight from Istanbul. We stayed in Göreme which is approximately 45 minutes' drive from Nevşehir Airport.
1. If you are not renting a car, I strongly recommend taking an airport transfer from the hotel. All most every hotel offers airport transfer. We also took the airport transfer from our stay. Nevşehir is a very small airport and everything is easy to find. Upon arrival, we collected our luggage and immediately we saw a person holding our name for the specific shuttle.
2. Carry cash while visiting Cappadocia. You might need it for buying souvenirs, booking some guided tours, tickets. There is an ATM available at Nevşehir airport. Of course, you can find ATM in the city but having cash always comes handy.
Day 4: While visiting Cappadocia, I recommend to stay at Cave hotel. There are plenty of cave hotels available and they are not so expensive. You can also find many affordable options. But the experience of staying a cave with all modern amenities is amazing. I also found that almost every hotel has a beautiful terrace where you could see the entire village. It looks magnificent with the evening light.
We reached our hotel and checked in at 9.30 in the morning. We had the entire day for us. We started exploring the nearby and headed for Göreme Open Air Museum.
Göreme Open Air Museum: It is a small cave city located in Göreme Valley. It looks like several monasteries queued side by side and built a complex architecture. it was just 20minutes by walk from our hotel. When we started walking, we were completely spellbound by the beauty of the landscape. You can not take enough pictures of it.
Once you reach the museum, you have to wait in line for the ticket. It costs around 40 Turkish lire. You can also get an audio guide if you like.
Whirling Dervish Show: In the evening, we went for the Dervish show in the nearest village Avanos. We booked the show from our hotel which also includes transportation. Afterward, there is a small laser show which shows the history of Cappadocia.
Hot air Balloon Ride: Before I start with our day 5, I want to add information for the hot air balloon ride. The hot air balloon ride is one of the exciting and popular activities while visiting Cappadocia. There are few companies I looked up and talked to one of them personally. I am listing their names here:
1. Kapadokyaballoons: http://kapadokyaballoons.com/en/ucus-programlarimiz.html.
They have also an office in Göreme.
2. Voyager Balloon: http://voyagerballoons.com/standard-flights/
3. Royal Ballon: http://www.royalballoon.com/
You can find many options for Hot air Balloon ride but none of them is cheap. Sometimes you get the option from your hotel also.
Book in advance to reserve your spot. Incase it is canceled, you get a full refund.
Day 5: For Day 5, we booked a full-day trip from our hotel which includes transportation and lunch. If you are renting a car, you can choose the places you like. Otherwise, it is wise to opt for tours.
Guided tour in Cappadocia:
There are many guided trips we researched: Green Tour, Red Tour, and Blue Tour.
You can choose any of them because all of them include beautiful places.
The main difference between the tours is they take three different routes:
a) Main attractions of Red tour: Göreme Open Air Museum, Love Valley, Devrent Valley, Pasabag, Avanos (Mostly focuses on North Cappadocia)
b) Main attractions of Green tour: Göreme Panorama, Derinkuyu underground city, Ihlara Valley, Belisirma Chruch, Selime Monastery, Pigeon Valley, Onix Jewelry factory (Mostly focuses on South Cappadocia)
c) Main attractions of Blue tour: Soğanlı Valley, Mustafapaşa Old Greek Village, Underground City, Şahinefendi Ancient City, Keşlik Monastery, Ürgüp Fairy Chimneys
But it is always better to check the itinerary with the company you are booking with for updated information. I chose the "Green Tour" during our stay. We had an English speaking guide. They gave us enough time for every place. In between the tour, they also pre-ordered our lunch so that we do not have to wait. We had traditional lunch after Ihlara Valley hike in Anatolian Restaurant near the river. Overall, the guided tour is a good experience for me.
**It is also possible to hire a private car with a driver in Cappadocia. If you have more time, you can also opt for hiking.
Each place in Cappadocia is unique. You will be astonished to see the extraordinary landscape. But there are two places I found remarkable:
Ihlara Valley: It is an incredible16 km long gorge with a river cutting down the volcanic rock. you can also see the rock-cut building and many cave churches. Hiking in Ihlara valley takes around 45 minutes. It is a pleasant hike along with the river Melendiz. Luckily, we experienced snowfall while hiking the valley.
Derinkuyu underground city: I saw many caves but I never have seen such a place. This is a multilevel underground city that provided protection and shelter to the people at the time of need. The cave city was built in the Byzantine era and used by people in different periods during the war. You will be amazed to see how cleverly they designed the city. They have different places to eat, cook, sleep and also cellars, stable, chapel, large ventilation shaft for fresh air. This underground city is connected to other underground places through tunnels.
People who have claustrophobia might find it a bit difficult because you have to go into many levels down to visit the city. But this is a must-visit place while in Cappadocia.
Day 6: We left Cappadocia and headed for home.
** We took airport shuttle from our stay on our way back too.
Food in Turkey:
My blog will be incomplete if I do not mention anything about the food. Turkey is a paradise for a foodie. My recommendation will be to try out every street food possible because you might not get the authentic taste anywhere else. 😁
My Favorite: Lokma, Baklava, Halka Tatlisi, Tulumba, Kadayif, Kunefe, Helva, Sekerpare, boiled and grilled Corn, Börek, Meze platter, Sish Kabab, Pottery Kebab, Pilav, Lentil Soup,
Dolma, Iskender Kebab. I also loved the roasted lamb, beef, and goat meat as a part of my Kabab platter but I do not remember the exact name.
Also one must not miss authentic and flavourful Turkish Coffee, Tea, and Lokum while in Turkey.
Now comes recommendations for restaurants:
a) For an amazing view, good service and food:
Olive Anatolian Restaurant, Hamdi Restaurant, D Migos in Balat for finger food and coffee
b) In Cappadocia:
Topdeck cave Restaurant, Pumpkin cafe, Dibek Restaurant (for traditional food), The rooftop restaurant on top of Dibek has also nice food.
Before I end my Turkey Blog I want to provide additional information about the other places.
If you have a few extra days, you could add a few more places in your Itinerary. I have mentioned my choices here:
Izmir: Take a short flight to Izmir from Istanbul and visit Ephesus, Temple of Artemis, Sirince. You can add this part at the beginning of your trip or maybe at the end of the trip.
Pamukkale: The "cotton castle" of Turkey in Denizli is famous for mineral-rich thermal water.
Nemrut: I came to know about this amazing place while flying with Turkish Airlines. I am fascinated by this place and history and would love to visit this place someday. Mount Nemrut or Mountain of Gods is a UNESCO heritage site. Nemrut Dag is built by the King Antiochos I of Commagene (69-34 B.C.) as a monument to himself. It is a spectacular site in Turkey. For more reference check out here.
Fun fact: If you give a try to watch the Turkish Series The Gift on Netflix you might see some places.
So, my Turkey blog ends here. I wish to visit Turkey again to explore some more places. But, until then....
Güle güle 💕