Bridging the boundary between Europe and Asia, Turkey offers a diversity of nature and historical destinations. This is another country that gets a bad rep for being dangerous, yet I received nothing but warm welcomes and the most professional tour guides during my stay. I spent a week traveling through Cappadocia and Istanbul and learned about so many more incredible destinations within the country worth exploring that I would love to go back and see.
Here are ten things not to miss when planning your trip through Turkey that are safe and accessible for solo travelers:
1) Take a hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia- this once in a lifetime experience is simply incredible and provides sunrises views that can be found nowhere else in the world. After an early morning pickup, guests are escorted to nearby fields where giant balloons are already being prepared for the mornings flight. While it is still dark out everyone loads up into the massive baskets and the pilot begins working on filling up the balloon with hot air via the burners in the center. Soon the balloon fills and lifts off to join the growing number dotting the early morning sky. Looking down the town gets smaller as the balloon rises higher until finally the sun peeks over the horizon.
2) Enjoy Breakfast with the Best View in Town- made famous through social media, the Sultan Cave Suites rooftop offers the most iconic view in Cappadocia to greet the sunrise and the dozens of massive balloons bobbing up and down over the city. It is the perfect place to see the unique landscape and the staff caters to the crowds by setting up a breakfast table and bringing out their adorable dog to pose for pictures with the guests.
3) Explore the Famous Fairy Chimneys- from Cappadocia it is easy to walk around the city on foot and discover several areas with the famous chimneys that look strikingly like human anatomy. Many of the older hotels are carved into them or located directly beside them. There are also numerous tour groups in the area that offer various routes through the area to discover the underground cities and some of the most unique formations.
4) Discover Istanbul’s Famous Mosques- several of the world’s most ornate Mosques are located in Istanbul and visible from almost anywhere in the city. Both the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) and Hagia Sophia are built on such a grand scale that they dwarf the surrounding buildings and can be easily spotted even from across the river. They are both unbelievably intricate in design and open to the public.
5) Get a Hammam- this Middle Eastern treatment is an excellent way to rejuvenate skin and leave feeling silky smooth. Some countries are certainly more aggressive than others with the rigor that they scrub, but Turkey falls into a comfortable middle. This was a unique experience to be scrubbed down by a grown woman but after I got over the initial awkwardness I was able to fully relax in the hot steam rooms and during the following massage which ensured that I left feeling very relaxed.
6) Take a dip at one of the Cave pools- several of the hotels in the area offer unique views of the city from their pools. The Local Cave House offers some of the original cave rooms as well as an ideal spot to catch the sunsets as it is located directly adjacent to Sunset Point. Even better, the best views of the city can be seen while lounging beside their gorgeous pool. Definitely a beautiful spot to enjoy the morning ritual of watching hot air balloons stream overhead as well as the evening sunset over the city and one of the best pools I have visited.
7) Do a river cruise through Istanbul- There is plenty to explore and see within the city on foot, but one of my favorite ways of seeing the city was taking a river cruise. Departing from the Galata Bridge, the 2-hour tour that highlighted many of the major sights along both the European and Asian sides of the Bosphorus Straight including the Blue Mosque, Dolmabahce Palace, Ciragan Palace, Ortakoy Mosque, and Anadoluhisari fortress.
8) Grab a Coffee at the Bank turned Café- near the river on the Europe side is an old Ottoman Bank that has been converted into a library, research center, and café called SALT Galata. It is a beautiful building to explore and offers an excellent view over Istanbul. This is a unique opportunity to see the city above the busy streets while enjoying a coffee in peace and quiet.
9) Eat like a Royal at the Ciragan Palace Kempinski- perched on the edge of the river is this stunning Palace. Originally this luxury hotel was built as the Sultan’s Palace in the 17th century by Sultan Abdülâzizuntil but was later destroyed by a fire in 1910. After it was rebuilt and renovated in the original baroque style, it was eventually transformed into a hotel where guests can enjoy luxury accommodations. Since the rooms were far above my price range I decided instead to treat myself out to a nice dinner at their restaurant. I felt like royalty gazing out over the well-lit river from the balcony of the stunning hotel while eating a fabulous candle lit dinner.
10) Take a Ferry out to Princes' Island- located less than an hour by ferry off the coast lies a small string of islands that are a quiet escape from the hustle of Istanbul and perfect for an afternoon biking and relaxing on the beach. The islands offer numerous restaurants and ice cream shops to choose from and the frequent ferries make it easily accessible from the local port.
Of course there is much more to see and do including the Grand Bazaar and incredible food spots around the cities. Enjoy your travels through Turkey!!
Hostel Average Cost: $25
Currency: Turkish Lira
Drink: Ayran- a yogurt based drink that is strong and a bit salty but quite popular with the locals
Food: Manti- small ravioli style meat filled dumplings
Electric Outlet: European style
Visa: Not required