History Lover’s Tour of Turkey

A 10 day trip to Turkey 
4.75 out of 5 stars
16 reviews

Turkey floats on exotic musings of interwoven chronicles and beguiling stories: Greek temples, Roman relics, early theology, Ionian beauty, Ottoman sultans, and sundry other tales spanning four millennia. No other country offers such a compelling journey through world history. Bursting with famous wonders and sublime untold history, this handcrafted tour takes you across the centuries, evocatively revealing a land that epitomizes the diversity and beauty of an entire planet.

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General Information

Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Istanbul, Hagia Sophia, Hippofrome, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, Grand Bazaar, Rustem Pasha Mosque, Santa Kariye, Bosphorus River, Dolmabahce Palace, Cappadocia, Goreme Open-air Museum, Urgup, Kizilcukur, Sinasos, Soganli, Ihlara, Belisyma, Selimiye, Kaymakli Underground City, Pigeon Valley, Izmir, Sirince, Epheses, Temple of Artemis, Pergamon, Archaeological Museum

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Istanbul – Famous Wonders Welcome You to Istanbul

The heart of the old city basks in its ancient charm. Narrow streets are flanked by dazzling domes and 12th century architecture. Boutique shop-fronts are fringed by smells of Turkish delight. Cafes roast coffee beans beside traders squashing grapefruits into fresh juice. And your hotel evokes lingering impressions of ancient Istanbul, the antiquated interiors reminiscent of when the city was one of the richest and most powerful on the planet. You're met at the airport and transferred to the Hotel Arena. Relax and settle in before this afternoon's guided tour.

As the tour starts, one panorama stretches across 2,000 years. Sit on the benches that fill the remains of the Roman Hippodrome. Your guide points out the last relics from Constantinople before explaining the domes that surround your position. On one side lies the Blue Mosque, an exquisite feat of religious engineering dating to Ottoman times. To the other is the Hagia Sophia. First wander through 1,400 years of history as you explore the gigantic rooms and domes of the Hagia Sophia. Etched into the walls are murals of Christian memoirs, the colors faded but the biblical scenes easily deciphered. For many centuries this was the world's largest church. Then it became a mosque and there's evidence of Islamic beauty all around; calligraphy, intricately patterned walls, ornate tiles. Now cross the square and step inside the Blue Mosque, a rare opportunity to explore the elegant glory of one of the world's finest Islamic buildings. Return to the hotel and the evening is deliberately left free. By staying in historic Sultanahmet it's easy to walk to dozens of restaurants, cafes, and enticing streets.

What's Included: accommodation at Hotel Arena, lunch, afternoon guided Istanbul walking tour, airport transfer

Day 2: Istanbul – Fabulous Palaces, Markets, and Art

Mornings in Istanbul are to be savored. Sounds float across the street; a chai seller clinking glasses, footsteps on cobblestone, mysterious bells. A languid hotel breakfast is taken amongst the enchantment of yesteryear before your expert guide begins today's tour. Start in Ottoman times and the excesses of sultans. The Topkapi Palace rooms are stuffed with indulgence obtained from across the world; admire ornate Chinese porcelain, marvel at chandeliers and chairs from European antiquity, be blinded by polished silver, and discover how each sultan built new wings and rooms in his own unique style. Then head back in time to ancient Constantinople, the 6th century cistern hidden beneath modern Istanbul and bellowing of Roman mystery.

Lunch is traditionally flavored as you sit on a broad cafe terrace in the heart of Sultanahmet. Enjoy a sumptuous meze and watch the locals wander past, a hundred mustachioed faces heading off to the mosques and bazaars. Join them in the Grand Bazaar; follow along 300 year old alleyways as you get lost within the world's largest covered market. Shops overflow with goods, filling the passageways with silver, antiques, carpets, and souvenirs. The bazaar has been destroyed and rebuilt many times and your guide points out the evidence of fires and conflict that's etched into curved ceilings and hidden corridors. Complete today's tour at the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, a fabulous and vast-reaching exhibition space that provides a complete beginner's journey into Middle Eastern art. Like yesterday, the evening is free.

What's Included: accommodation at Hotel Arena, breakfast, lunch, full-day guided Istanbul tour

Day 3: Istanbul – Hidden Mosques and Exploring the Bosphorus

Exoticism radiates through the streets of Istanbul. From the elaborate carpets that shout from shop windows to the history that hides behind markets, the city is both a renowned wonder and hidden paradise. Today's full-day tour follows both paradigms, starting with some of the city's veiled sights and continuing with Bosphorus riverfront opulence. Explore Tahtakale Market, stepping past the vibrant fruit stalls and meandering towards the minarets of Rustem Pasha Mosque. Magnificent Iznik tiles cast a blue haze across the mosque's interior and camouflaged into archways you read Arabic passages. It's serene and soothing. Then you step back outside into the bustle of the market. Nearby, an 11th century church is equally hidden. Santa Kariye is a remarkable sight, perfectly preserved and emanating color in the midst of tightly packed traditional streets.

Even today's lunch is historical. The Asitane Restaurant concocts the favorite dishes of sultans, taking recipes from the Topkapi Palace archives and creating feasts of regal delight. The cuisine blends spices and flavors and your next stop keeps your nose and palate firmly entertained. Saffron, cardamon, mysterious dishes of kaleidoscopic powder; the Spice Market is another of Istanbul's exotic goodies. The rest of the afternoon is spent cruising along the Bosphorus River, Europe to one side, Asia to the other, and ancient architecture filling the small towns you pass.

What's Included: accommodation at Hotel Arena, breakfast, lunch at Asitane Restaurant, full-day guided Istanbul tour including Bosphorus River cruise

Day 4: Cappadocia – A Sublime Welcome to Surreal Cappadocia

Cappadocia is initially all about aesthetics. Gaze across the lunar-like landscape and admire the chimneys as they roll towards the horizon. Stand above precipitous cliffs and watch rivers cut past valleys of troglodyte dwellings. You fly from Istanbul to Kayseri and the start of your all day tour is about enjoying the panoramas. But leave the vehicle and there's an early Christian history intermingled within this photogenic world. Monastic cave churches are hidden from the road, their frescos dating back almost 1,800 years. In some you feel as if you're the first ever visitor. In others it's as if you've stumbled across millennia old secrets.

Your full-day tour stops at some of the region's most spectacular attractions. Visit the Goreme Open-Air Museum, where dozens of churches and chapels have been sculpted into the soft stone and painted with biblical scenes. Explore Urgup's Dark Church, a mysterious entranceway leading you into ascetic rooms. Then watch the valleys softly fall under the spell of sunset from the viewpoint at Kizilcukur. Your hotel continues the submersion in a weird landscape. Delectably carved into a cave and stuffed with a surreal antique collection, the Museum Hotel in Uchisar makes a fine base for the next three nights.

What's Included: accommodation at Museum Hotel, breakfast, lunch, full-day Cappadocia tour, airport transfer

Day 5: Cappadocia – Tiny Traditional Village and Vast Canyons

While yesterday imbued impressions of scale and grandeur, today's full day Cappadocia tour reveals the tiny and traditional, taking you off the beaten track and into a region of stoic religious dedication. Wander the quaint streets of Soganli Village, seemingly stuck in an 18th century time warp with its women in floral dresses and its half-crumbling houses. Hear your footsteps against the stone as you explore untouched Eskigumus Monastery and Mustapha Pasha. A skilled historical guide paints the region's forgotten tales, recreating stories of persecution, conflict, peace, and artistic splendor.

After lunch in a local village, the afternoon continues on foot. A languid hike takes you through the stunning Ihlara Canyon. Without trained eyes you'll probably miss the rock-carved churches. But veer off the trail and hiding from view are monks' dwellings and tiny entrances that open into vast open churches. The monks would live in this peculiar isolation and then preach from atop the cave. Today's walking isn't intense and ends at the cute villages of Selimiye and Belisyrma, ideal places for a mug of sweet tea before returning to the Museum Hotel.

What's Included: accommodation at Museum Hotel, breakfast, lunch, full-day Cappadocia tour

Day 6: Cappadocia – An Underground City and More Dazzling Landscapes

Much of Cappadocia's history is hidden from view. Just like the cave churches, the entrance to Kaymakli is easy to miss. Your guide reveals the secret entrance and you head into the underground city, bumpy staircases going down floor after floor until you're deep underground. Fifteen-thousand people once lived in the gloom here, and their simple cave houses stand side by side on the narrow corridors. They were escaping Arab raids in the 7th century and their story offers another piece in the jigsaw puzzle of Turkey's varied history. After a local lunch the afternoon can be spent gently walking through the remarkable landscapes of Pigeon Valley.

What's Included: accommodation at Museum Hotel, breakfast, lunch, full-day Cappadocia tour

Day 7: Sirince – Exploring the Remarkable Ancient City of Ephesus

Fly to Izmir and the Ephesus cityscape greets you from afar. Ionian columns rise skywards, carved temple ceilings glisten beneath the Mediterranean sun, and a haphazard sprinkling of pillars and stones dot the city. At one time, Ephesus rivaled Rome for its unadulterated splendor and lavish architectural design. But let's step further back in history. Ephesus was originally an Ionian city, and evidence of this 3000 year Greek history has been carefully preserved. When the Roman Empire expanded, Ephesus became a regional capital. Admire the Gymnasium and Nymphaion. Explore the recreation of the Temple of Artemis, one of the original Seven Wonders of the World. Next you will visit thermal baths, the Domitian Temple, and then the towering columns of the Celsus Library as they rise straight and true.

Ephesus covers a huge site. For all the renowned sights there's also a poignant history in the boulders and remains that line old marble streets. Your guide is an expert in both the city's and region's history. Tales of emperors and marauding armies are evoked, as well as engineering ingenuity. You will delve into Christian memoirs as you discover the Basilica of St. John and the resting place of the Virgin Mary. Ephesus has played an integral role in shaping the world and today it is a real treat for history lovers. From the global to the local you check into intimate Nisanyan Evleri, much more of a private home than a guesthouse. Perched on the fertile hillside overlooking Sirince this is a chance to appreciate ancient village hospitality in an opulent setting.

What's Included: accommodation at Nisanyan Evleri, breakfast, lunch, full-day Ephesus tour, airport transfer

Day 8: Sirince – Satan's Throne and the Dramatic Ruins of Pergamon

While Ephesus dazzles, Pergamon is shrouded in mystique. An astonishingly steep theater cascades down the hillside, the Temple of Athena suggests esoteric powers, and the city dramatically extends across a hilltop. St. John's influence was crucial in the early stages of Christianity. He boldly declared that the altar of Zeus was Satan's Throne; by exploring the temple you can create your own impressions. Nearby, the healing center of Ascelpion juxtaposes with a temple dedicated to Egyptian gods. Here you will find another intriguing story in the heart of Asia Minor, one that helps tie together lose knots in the region's history. Take your time and explore Pergamon, the collection of magnificent ruins radiating the enchantment of kingdoms and gods.

What's Included: accommodation at Nisanyan Evleri breakfast, lunch, full-day Pergamon tour

Day 9: Istanbul – Returning to Istanbul's Sensual Feast

A new morning brings another quaint breakfast with views onto the valley below. Relax, take your time, savor the lingering impressions of rural Turkey, and then bid farewell to your hosts. Today you return to Istanbul for the final night of your vacation. Luxury airport transfers are included and you're welcomed back to Hotel Arena in Sultanahmet. As a final treat before leaving Turkey, you will spend two hours at a salubrious Istanbul hamam; the pores are opened by lying on steaming hot stones, skilled masseuses provide indulgent exfoliating treatments, and then you sit and relax in your bathrobe completely rejuvinated. The rest of the day is at your leisure and enables you to slowly enjoy the sensual beauty of the city.

What's Included: accommodation at Hotel Arena, breakfast, airport transfers, entrance to traditional hamam

Day 10: Istanbul – Departure

This morning you bid farewell to Istanbul and Turkey. It's been a journey that's connected Apollo to Constantinople and the Virgin Mary to Ottoman sultans. So what resides as your defining memory? Perhaps Ephesus and its ancient glory. Maybe the allure of Cappadocia's rock cut churches. Or could it be the immersion in history and discovery of a land that holds many of the world's secrets? Enjoy a luxury transfer to the airport and ponder the question on your international flight home.

What's Included: breakfast, airport transfer


Starting Price 

This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.