If you're looking for the perfect summer European getaway, it's hard to beat Turkey and Greece. We've put together the ultimate 10-day itinerary for the best combination of exploration and relaxation!
Location: Cappadocia, Turkey
Your trip begins with an early start, but don’t worry, it will be so, so worth it. Over the last twenty years, Cappadocia has become an incredibly popular spot for hot air balloon enthusiasts. Every day around sunrise, weather-permitting, hundreds of hot hair balloons rise up over the rooftops of Cappadocia, filling the sky with a beautiful display as colorful as the sunrise itself. From a hot air balloon, you can see not only the bird’s-eye view of the city but also incredible geological features nearby. Canyons, rugged valleys and massive stone pillars that look as out-of-place as if they’d dropped from the sky create an otherworldly landscape one can only truly appreciate from above. Many companies offer hot air balloon tours but we recommend Cappadocia: Hot Air Balloon Flight. This three-hour tour includes pickup from your hotel, coffee and snacks before the flight and champaign upon landing.
After seeing the city from above, it’s time to see the city by foot! Cappadocia has a rich history of craftsmanship and there’s no better way to experience this than by heading to the center of town for some shopping! Cappadocia is famous for its pottery, jewelry and carpets so keep an eye out for these shops.
In the evening, find a restaurant for some Turkish food, which is a delicious blend of Central Asian, Middle Eastern, Eastern European and Balkan cuisines, often with subtle spices, rice and fish.
For a truly special experience, book a room at the Koza Cave Hotel, a locally-owned traditional hotel with an eco-friendly twist. Handcrafted furniture, tribal carpets and curving, cave-like walls as well as a rooftop with an unbeatable view will make your stay here unforgettable.
Location: Cappadocia, Turkey
Your second day is also an early start but again, you can’t miss it! Make sure you’re up a little before sunrise to watch the daily hot air balloon takeoff from the roof of your hotel. Have some Turkish coffee during the sunrise to help you wake up!
After watching the sunrise, meet your driver for a tour to three incredible places outside of Cappadocia. The first stop is Tatlarin underground city, a city believed to have been built around 3000 years ago but not discovered until 1975. The next stop is at Agzikarahan Caravanserai, a roadside inn along the Silk Road which was an ancient route for traders. Finally, the tour reaches the main attraction: Tuz Golu, or Lake Tuz. One of the largest hypersaline lakes in the world, Lake Tuz feels a little like it should belong on another planet with its endless reflective salty shores. For larger groups, this Cappadocian Guide tour is a great option while this private Daily Salt Lake Tour is perfect for couples. For those who would rather have a less-structured day, you can rent a car for about $35 and drive out to Lake Tuz on your own time as well as stop anywhere else you would like, like Love Valley.
Location: Flight from Kayseri to Istanbul
When you arrive in Istanbul, head to your hotel to get settled. We recommend Hotel Amira Istanbul, an award-winning hotel in the center of the historical part of Istanbul where the most famous attractions are. Hotel Amira offers some of the best views of the city and ocean with a rooftop bar and terrace. Their concierge service can also assist you with making restaurant and tour reservations during your stay.
For lunch or an early dinner, try Balikci Sabahattin, one of the city’s best seafood restaurants. Next head to the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. Here you can find a nearly overwhelming number of items, from touristy trinkets to blocks of silver. If you’re not sure you want to haggle for souvenirs or risk getting lost in the 60 streets you can get a tour guide, often available through hotels.
Location: Istanbul, Turkey
After a Turkish breakfast of tea, bread, cheese and some sucuklu yumurta, an egg and sausage dish, head to the Blue Mosque, a breathtaking mosque covered in blue tile inside and out. Remember that this is still an active mosque so it closes for 90 minutes at each prayer time; the best time to visit is mid morning. You may encounter people who offer to help you enter the mosque without waiting in line, but do not take their offers; it is a scam! The line for the mosque moves quickly and is free to enter.
The next stop is the beautiful Hagia Sophia, which was the Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral during the Byzantine Empire. It is renowned for the structural engineering of its massive dome; at the time it was constructed it was the world’s largest building and is said to have changed the history of architecture. Now, the Hagia Sophia is primarily a museum, although it is still occasionally used for worship.
Location: Flight from Istanbul, Turkey to Athens, Greece
It’s time to see what Greece has to offer! After your hour and a half flight from Istanbul, check into your hotel. We love In[n] Athens, a boutique hotel that is in the heart of Syntagma yet still feels removed from the hustle and bustle. Once you’re settled, check out the local eateries for lunch; look for traditional Greek foods like souvlaki (anything on a skewer), kebab, revithokeftedes (similar to falafel) or feta me meli for dessert.
In the afternoon, it’s time for the main attraction in Athens: the Parthenon! Also called the Acropolis, this ancient temple was constructed in 447 BC and remains one of the most recognizable symbols of Ancient Greece. Make sure you wear good walking shoes as the terrain around the ruins can be unstable.
After dinner, take advantage of Istanbul’s great nightlife scene and check out the local bars or clubs.
Location: Ferry from Athens to Koufonisia
Scattered throughout the Aegean and Ionian Seas, the Greek islands are known for crystal clear water, picturesque white-washed villages and for being among the most popular vacation destinations in Europe. While the islands are all stunning, each one offers its own unique Greek experience, from shopping to diving. When you think of the Greek islands, the first ones that come to mind are probably Santorini, Mykonos and Crete but there are actually 6,000 islands, with about 200 of those inhabited! Some of the less-known islands offer just as amazing of experiences as the more popular ones, but are much less-touristy and more intimate. We’ll start our Greek islands tour on one of those beautiful islands about five hours off the coast of Athens by ferry. Koufonisia is a quiet island with beautiful beaches, caves and crystal clear water.
Staying in a small apartment like My Island Home or Aegean Colors lets you feel like you really are at home during your stay. Koufonisia is a pretty small island so a fun way to explore it is by renting a bike! Follow the road along the coast to get to Prori Beach, a beach with crystal clear water next to a large cove, and then a little ways further to Platia Punda, the most popular beach on the island.
Koufonisia is actually made up of three islands, and what better way to see several islands than by boat? Spend the day on a catamaran with a tour like this one by Yachtpon where you can swim, snorkel and dive in a number of locations including the Rina Cave. Enjoy a traditional Greek lunch as well as a variety of fresh fruit and refreshments throughout the day.
For dinner, check out some of the wonderful seafood restaurants while watching the sunset with a glass of chilled Ouzo, an alcoholic drink with coffee grinds and lemon!
Location: Ferry from Koufonisia to Santorini
The final leg of your trip takes you to one of the most famous Greek islands: Santorini. Known for its beautiful white and blue village and breathtaking sunsets, Santorini also has a flourishing wine industry and several beautiful hiking trails. Lodging is available in every village in Santorini but for the true Cyclades experience, treat yourself to a stunning room at the Atlantida Villas on top of Oai village with a pool overlooking the ocean or the classic Marcos Rooms with curved whitewashed walls and a continental breakfast every morning.
After arriving in Santorini and settling in at your hotel, grab a bite to eat and then get ready for an afternoon of easy sightseeing and wine tasting. The Santorini Highlights with Wine Tasting Tour will take you to the coastal towns of Oia, Pyrgos and Megalochori and to a wine tasting of wines from Santorini’s vinyards. For dinner, try La Colline Restaurant where you can watch the sunset while dining on traditional Mediterranean dishes.
Begin your day with a leisurely breakfast at your hotel, then get ready for a day on a luxury catamaran touring some of the most striking spots around Santorini. Depending on where you would like to watch the sunset from, you can choose either a morning cruise or a sunset cruise; both stop at the same locations though. We love this five-hour Santorini Caldera Cruise, which includes hotel pickup and dropoff, a Greek meal and unlimited Santorini wine and Greek beer. You will stop at the Red Beach for a swim, the hot springs near Santorini’s ancient volcano and the White Beach for another swim or snorkel in warm turquoise waters. If you choose the sunset cruise, watch the sun sink below the Aegean Sea, painting the sky orange and pink.
On your final day, soak up as much more sun as you can by relaxing at your favorite Santorini beach until it’s time to catch your flight back home.