We knew one day wouldn’t be enough to see Istanbul properly, so we got up early to cover as much ground as possible.
Our first stop was Topikapi Palace (tickets cost 30TL per person). This is an impressive palace where you get a good understanding of the life of sultans. The Harem is amazing (tickets cost an extra 15TL), with room after room decorated with intricate patterns from floor to ceiling. You need a few hours to go through everything.
This is also a great place to get views over the Bosphorus.
We then walked to Hagia Sophia, a monumental display of both Christian and Muslim faith. Tickets cost 30TL. Right across is the famous Blue Mosque. There are set times for tourists to visit, so we only managed to see it from the outside.
In the afternoon we visited the Grand Bazaar. This is a great place to buy presents: there are lots of options for ceramic tiles, lamps, jewellery and much more.
Prices were really cheap, and you can get discounts by bargaining a bit. This was a much more manageable experience than the souks in Marrakesh – most things had prices on them and shopkeepers were friendly but not pushy.
This was all we had time for in one day – I will definitely come back for more!
Turkish food is great for vegetarians. There are lots of meze options (stuffed vine leaves, hummus, salads, etc) and many places offered some kind of vegetable stew as a main dish. The local pizza (pide) was really yummy.
In Istanbul there are lots of little cafes where you can choose a selection of small dishes from a buffet. These are a good and cheap alternative for lunch. Baklavas, ice cream and Turkish delights shops are everywhere, with impressive displays of delicious sweets.
I’ve been obsessed with Pamukkale ever since I discovered some amazing photos online. These natural hot springs that flow through calcareous rock pools just seemed too incredible to be real!
We had a whole day to explore, so we started off going up the terraces in the morning. The water is warm at the top terraces, but as you move down it can be quite cold (I imagine in the summer that wouldn’t be a problem).
After reaching the top of the terraces, we spent a couple of hours exploring the ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis.
The place is really beautiful and you get great views of the mountains and valley below. The highlight is the impressive theatre, which looks really amazing, especially as we got there just before sunset.
Another great thing to do is swimming in the Ancient Pool (also known as Cleopatra’s pool), where you can spend a couple of hours lounging about in the warm water among ancient columns.
At the end of the day we walked back down the travertine terraces, stopping to warm up our feet in the thermal pools along the way.
What makes Pamukkale really memorable is that you have ancient ruins, natural pools and an ancient bath all in the same place, with a great view in the background – it just adds up to a very unique experience. When we were walking back to our hostel, I knew this had been a day to remember!
Outside the natural reserve, Pamukkale is little more than one road with a few restaurants and shops. When we visited it was dead empty, but at our hotel they said this has been a very quiet year.
We had dinner at Kayas on our first night and went back again the next day. The food was nice and cheap – dinner for two including drinks and tip for about £20.
We flew from London to Istanbul and got straight into another plane to Izmir. Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey, but our main objective was visit nearby Ephesus.
Getting there was a bit tricky, but Ephesus was really amazing. This ancient Roman city is a Unesco Heritage site, and it’s right up there with Petra and Pompeii.
It was a lovely day in November, and mild temperatures made it perfect for exploring. There are many impressive buildings around, but the massive theatre with capacity for 25,000 people, and Celsius Library were the most impressive.
Among marble roads and Corinthian columns, you can easily spend hours walking around. When we visited there was hardly anyone there, which was just perfect!
After seeing all the sights we had a light meal at a cafe by the entrance and left just in time to get the last bus pack to the station.
There isn’t that much to do in Izmir itself, but the promenade by the bay is a great place to go for dinner.
We found Kosebasi, a nice Turkish restaurant with the kind of hospitality you only find in places tourists haven’t colonised yet. The food was really good, and we also tried the local spirit (raki, which is similar to ouzo although you should not say that to any locals), which I regretted straight away. Dinner for two including drinks and tip for 150TL (a bit expensive for local prices but definitely worth it).
I usually book my holidays thinking about all the things I’m going to see and do. But sometimes hotels can be destinations in their own right. Here are three amazing stays that I would love to visit!
This place is part of Alain de Botton’s project Living Architecture. It looks absolutely amazing – who wouldn’t love to spend a few days in a floating silver barn with a swing right underneath it?
Turkey has been on my wishlist before – there’s just so much to see and do there. Staying in a luxury cave hotel where you can watch hot air balloons go by? Count me in!
Well, this is a bit more than a tree house: it’s a tree house modelled after a French château. Perfect for a romantic getaway, as you can relax sipping French wine in the hot tub.