Rick Steves' Turkey > pre- & post-tour alternatives
Pre-tour alternatives & services

Istanbul is one of world’s most vibrant and fascinating cultural capitals. The city has a colorful cultural life, especially during late spring to early fall. Most cultural activities are state subsidized, so do not hesitate to ask for a front row seat!
Spring thru fall, city is home to various international music and art festivals.

In the past, International Istanbul Music Festival (June) hosted world renowned artists & groups from La Scala (Muti), to New York Philharmonic (Kurt Masur & Zubin Mehta). Venues are diverse... Vivaldi's Bajazed opera was selected for an exclusive performance for the 27th year, and the world premiere version was staged at Hagia Irene. On the 250th anniversary of his birth, Mozart's renowned opera, “Abduction from the Seraglio” was staged at the Topkapi Palace. The Jazz Festival is usually held during the first two weeks of July. Performances are held in venues such as Hagia Irene, Rumeli Fortress, Topkapi Palace, etc.

Online ticket agency Biletix - "www.biletix.com", and Istanbul Foundation of Culture and Arts, IKSV - "www.iksv.org" have up-to-date information on cultural events and performances.

People of Turkey enjoy being outdoors, especially during pleasant weather. Ortakoy on the Bosphorus strait is a great place for people watching. It used to be a non-muslim residental neighborhood in the late 1800s. Today the district is busy with younger people, from university students to yuppies, and people that feel young. The buildings are restored into cafes, restaurants, pubs, etc. During weekends, the district is like a fairground with crowds of people from all over the town.
Further up the Bosphorus, Bebek is one other spot to see the people of Istanbul enjoy the outdoors, having breakfast in the cafes along the Bosphorus.

Taksim Square and Istiklal Street area has something for all; art nouveau theatres, art galleries, pubs, cafés, bookstores, music shops, and beyond... You can see all sorts of people on the streets, from yuppies to Istanbul ladies following early 20th century vogue. Although Istiklal Street is part of the Best of Turkey tour, our stop is brief. You might want to spend more time on this pedestrian street, to really see the beating heart of the contemporary city, and to observe the ethnic diversity that makes today's Istanbul.

Local street markets (organized same day of the week in alternative neighborhoods) are a unique experience. These are more than just a farmers' market; you can find anything that comes to your mind, from lace underwear to gardening tools, to fresh fruits and vegetables. Kadikoy's 'Sali Pazari - Tuesday Market', is worth the boat ride to the Asian side.

The area around the Spice Market and up the hill towards the Grand Bazaar is a huge outdoors market all through the week, especially on Saturdays. It may be an interesting walk from Grand Bazaar to the Spice Market.

Rick Steves' Istanbul guidebook by Lale & Tankut Aran, both of whom are natives of Istanbul, will give you further alternatives to enjoy this diverse city.

  • Pre-tour Foodie Tour
The tour is designed to complement Rick Steves' Best of Turkey. There will be no overlaps but interesting experiences with a look into the daily routine as we take you beyond the Old Town, and carry you into the lives of the residents. On the tour, there will be many chances to talk about contemporary life, such as; being a working woman, cost of life, everyday issues, etc.

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  • Museums & Exhibitions
Located in the outer gardens of Topkapi Palace, the Istanbul Archaeological Museum is well worth a visit. The collection rivals any on earth, with intricately carved sarcophagi, an army of Greek and Roman sculptures, gorgeous İznik tiles, ancient Babylonian friezes, the world’s oldest peace treaty, and an actual chunk of the chain that the Byzantines stretched across the Golden Horn. The museum is divided into three parts; Museum of Archaeology, Tiled Kiosk, and Museum of the Ancient Orient.

Dolmabahçe Palace reflects the life-style of the Ottoman Dynasty back in the 19th century. The Palace is preserved with its original decoration; Baccarat crystal staircase, largest hand woven carpets and crystal chandeliers of the world, tons of gold used for the interior decoration and for guilding the furniture. Your ticket includes a guided tour, and it is the only way you can see the palace. As you buy your ticket, you can choose the palace tour, or the palace and Harem combined tour. Harem is not as impressive. If you have plenty of time to enjoy 19th century eclectic architecture and design, go for both. If not, just take the palace tour.

You may say a military museum is no fun, but this one can be. The Military Museum is actually a scaled-up version of the Imperial Treasury’s Armory collection at Topkapı Palace, focusing on the progress of Turkish military might. The collection includes tents of Ottoman sultans and the sword of Suleyman the Magnificent. The Janissary Band, which puts on a one-hour performance at 15:00 each day the museum is open, can make it worth the visit. Also known as the Ottoman Military Band (Mehter Bandosu), the Janissary Band was the first of its kind, eventually prompting other European monarchs to create similar military bands of their own. The musicians dress up in original costumes as they play centuries old tunes.

Sadberk Hanim Museum is one of the first private museums in the country. The museum is named for Sadberk Hanım, wife of a well known industrial entrepreneur. She was a passionate art collector; the two 19th-century mansions overlooking the Bosphorus display separate exhibits dedicated to archaeology and art history.

Rahmi Koc Industrial Museum is located on the Golden Horn, in a historical shipyard that once produced anchors and parts for Ottoman navy vessels. Turkey’s industry giant Rahmi Koc started this museum in 1994 with his private collection dedicated to history of industry, transport, and communication. What makes this museum special is its location - off the beaten path - and its optional but highly recommended Golden Horn cruise (offered only in summer) on an old, 65-foot industrial boat powered by a steam engine.

Sabanci Museum is home to the 'Ottoman Golden Letters', illustrated gold gilded calligraphy. The collection known as the Golden Letters made an extensive tour to the USA a few years ago. The museum has some interesting temporary exhibitions, worth checking out.

Istanbul Modern - museum for contemporary arts - reflects the dynamism of Istanbul. It is located in an old warehouse, close to Karakoy port by the Golden Horn. It has a permenant collection, also houses temporary exhibitions and events. Cafeteria has a great view of the Old Town.

For further information on museum/site orientation and background, as well as major highlights of the city, please refer to Rick Steves' Istanbul guidebook.

Post-tour alternatives

The Best of Turkey tour ends in the coastal town of Kusadasi on the Aegean. From here you may continue on to nearby Greek island of Samos (and on to others), or extend your stay in Turkey to include other destinations within the country.
From Kusadasi, you can easily get to Izmir International Airport, or the inter-city bus terminal in Selcuk (Ephesus).
It’s easiest to fly into Istanbul and home from Izmir. Also check the international departures out of Izmir for convenience.

If you are flying out of Izmir on the last day of the tour; the bus will leave the tour hotel in Kusadasi immediately after breakfast around 8:00am, arriving at the Izmir International Airport by 9:00 to 09:30am. You need to be at the airport at least two hours (due to recent regulations) prior to scheduled time on domestic flights, so you’ll want to book a flight that departs around 11:30am, or later.

To go to Samos, you do not need to book the ferry ahead of time. You can do that when you are in Turkey, and buy your ticket once you arrive in Kusadasi. Your guide will give you further information on this. The price is approximately USD 35.-, including departure tax. This may slightly change as the value of Turkish Lira fluctuates.

The Village Turkey tour ends in the coastal town of Bodrum. At the end of the tour, you can catch a ferry to nearby Greek island of Kos (and on to other islands), or extend your stay in Turkey to include other destinations. If you are heading straight back home, it’s easiest to fly into Istanbul and home from Bodrum. The airport is roughly 45 minutes driving distance.

To go to Bodrum International Airport; Havas (airport service) busses provide the least expensive option (about $10 a person). Services depart from the Bodrum Otogar (bus terminal) in downtown Bodrum, roughly two hours prior to flight departures. Then again you might want to check the departure location, and verify the departure times while you are in the town. The Otogar is only a few minutes walking distance from the tour hotel. Taxi cab or private transfer will cost you €40-55 (per cab/vehicle). Also check local/international companies that provide shuttle services for as little as €10.- a person. You need to be at the airport at least two hours prior to scheduled time on domestic flights, so you’ll want to book/arrange your transport accordingly.

To go to Kos, you do not need to book the ferry ahead of time. You can do that when you are in Turkey, and buy your ticket once you arrive in Bodrum. Your guide will give you further information on this, early on tour. The price is approximately EURO 28.-, or the equivalent in USD, including departure tax. Scheduled daily departure is at 09:00, then again check with your guide when you arrive.

In summer months, there is a hydrafoil service (usually starts on June 01) from Bodrum to Rhodes on Monday and Friday. Price of a one way ride, and a same day round-trip cost the same; EURO 60.- For hydrafoil tickets, you may contact Ms. Ayla Kurultay at ayla@arya.com.tr
  • Airlines / airports / domestic flights;
On domestic flights, you may save money when you buy your ticket online, direct from the airline's website. Keep in mind that people usually book far in advance in the high season. You may check flight schedule and availability on Turkish Airlines website; www.thy.com. Also check the alternative airline companies that fly Izmir to Istanbul, and Bodrum to Istanbul; Pegasus Airlines; www.flypgs.com - Atlas Jet; www.atlasjet.com - Onur Air; www.onurair.com.tr

If your plans are not finalized, you will also have opportunities to purchase this airline ticket online, or at a travel agency in Turkey. Flights fill quickly, buy your ticket before the tour starts, or early in the tour before you leave Istanbul.

Local airlines have so-called flexible rates on domestic flights. That means, they do not have a set price for a particular departure to a particular destination. The rate goes up as the seats fill. It will cost roughly $55-125 one way on economy, Izmir to Istanbul, and $75-150, Bodrum to Istanbul, when you purchase direct/online. Ticket agents will add a commission.
Some airline websites may not support credit cards issued by non-Turkish banks. If you can’t purchase your ticket online, this may be the reason why.

Local airlines have alternative flights, although limited in number, from Izmir and/or Bodrum to a second airport in Istanbul - Sabiha Gokcen International Airport - on the Asian side. Avoid this alternative if it comes up, unless you have a specific reason to fly there. It is quite far from the city, and the cab ride will cost a small fortune.

* The airport in Istanbul's European side is Istanbul Ataturk International Airport. Airport code is IST.
* Izmir airport is named as Adnan Menderes International Airport. Airport code is ADB.
* Airport in Istanbul's Asian side is Sabiha Gokcen International Airport. Airport code is SAW.
* Bodrum Airport is named as Milas/Bodrum International Airport. Airport code is BJV.
  • To travel to the Greek islands;
To travel to the islands, you need to have a flexible itinerary . It is hard to get a time-table in advance, but once you are on the first island, you can find the ferry schedule, and buy your tickets easily. Make sure your travel plan leaves plenty of time before your international flight. Even in mid summer, winds can be strong and the ferries can be cancelled. Early in the spring and late fall, ferries to Samos from Kusadasi, and Kos from Bodrum may also be cancelled for a day or two due to weather conditions.

Extending your stay in Turkey

The Aegean coastline of Turkey, both south and north of Kusadasi, provides great alternatives. If you are heading back to Istanbul, or decide to travel north, you might want to visit Troy & Gallipoli Peninsula. Troy is the legendary city in Homer's epic, the Illiad. This is where Schlieman found the treasures of King Priam. As you tour the site of ancient Troy, you will learn how the systematic excavations are carried out to find out the unknown behind nine different layers of settlement. Gallipoli was where fierce fights during WW1 changed the run of history. The spirit that was born during the battle caused three nations to realize their existance; Republic of Turkey, Australia and New Zeland.

If you are looking for a leisure time, we recommend that you travel south. There are several resort towns and villages along the Aegean and the Medditeranean coastline of Turkey that provide a great vacation and fascinating sightseeing options. Here is brief information on the alternatives;

Cunda (Alibey Island) and Ayvalik, couple of hours north of Izmir, are a great on the beach getaway for those who like cooler summers. The weather is comfortable and dry. Cunda, or Alibey island, is the biggest of an achipelageo. A larger section of the island is preserved as a national park. Olive oil of Ayvalik is among the very best.

Foca is a sleepy coastal town, an hour north of Izmir. The town has two parts; Yeni Foca (New Foca) is an uninspriring new development of vacation homes. A Genoese fortress, and stone houses line the shoreline of Eski Foca (Old Foca).
Eski Foca was Phocaea, the city of mariners. Phocaeans are known to be the founders of Marseille, besides other sites on the coast of Italy, France and Spain. On a lucky day, just off the coast of Foca, you may see the rare monk seals.

Cesme is a convenient spot to vacation due to its proximity to Izmir, and thus the international airport. From Cesme, you can also take a ferry to Chios, and on to other Greek islands. The town is known for its fine sand beaches, and the wind that makes it a real heaven for windsurfers. During summer months, weekends, and local holidays, town bustles with locals enjoying a get away.

Dydima and Priene are impressive historical sights, just to the south of Kusadasi. In Dydima, the all marble Temple of Apollo is one of the largest surviving Hellenistic structures in the world. Dydima is also famous for its large, sandy beach.

Bodrum, ancient Halicarnasus, is a phenomen by itself. Heredotus was a native of this town, and the Mausoleum, one of the seven wonders of the world, was built here. In the 70's, the town was a get away place for the intellectuals and artists. Today, Bodrum is a popular resort town. Beaches on Bodrum peninsula are accesible by public transportation.

Marmaris is surrounded by exceptional natural beauty, and pristine beaches, but there is almost nothing to see and do in the downtown. If you are into few days of a beach vacation, consider Resadiye and Hisaronu peninsulas, or Selimiye and Bozburun villages nearby. There are frequent ferry services in the season, from Marmaris to Rhodes.

Dalyan is where giant loggerhead turtles (among the endangered species) lay their eggs. The turtles travel all the way from Vietnam every year. The fine sand beach stretches for miles. The nearby sites of the ancient Lycian civilization are quiet attractive.

Fethiye is the destination for very many. Lycian rock-cut tombs, beaches and the lagoon known as the Dead Sea attract thousands. If you would like to add some adrenalin to your leisure time, you can go for parasailing, hang gliding, and other adventures. The nearby mountain village, Kayakoy, is worth a side-trip. It also has some simple but comfortable accommodations. It was an old Greek village, deserted after the population exchange back in 1923. Its location on the mountains is just spectacular.

Kalkan is a lovely village on the Mediterranean. The beaches are breathtaking, and the water is pristine. The town is close to several ancient sites attracting visitors to this part of the country.

To finalize your Turkey adventure, you may as well opt for a short cruise on a traditional Turkish gulet. Besides exploring the attractive Turkish coastline, extended trips also include visits to Greek Islands, such as Kos and Symi. And if you are traveling as a sizable party, you can cruise aboard your own private gulet, complete with a captain and crew.
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