Wonders of Turkey: A Family Adventure
Named one of National Geographic Traveler’s “50 Tours of a Lifetime,” this family-friendly journey features a four-night cruise along the Turquoise Coast aboard a traditional wooden boat with stops to swim, snorkel, hike, and discover hidden ruins.
WHAT OUR TRAVELERS SAY
All of the land journey was fabulous.”
Previous Smithsonian Journeys Traveler
Our guide Omar was fabulous! He is knowledgeable, patient, and sensitive to group needs. He was amazing!”
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From Istanbul’s scented bazaars and impressive mosques to the caves of Cappadocia, from the ancient ruins at Ephesus to the Turquoise Coast, this adventure offers endless opportunities to entertain and enrich the entire family. Learn traditional techniques for making terra cotta pottery and paper marbling, attend a Mevlevi Sema Ceremony (Whirling Dervishes performance) and meet an archaeologist at the ruins of Kibyra. Spend four relaxing days sailing on a gulet, Turkey’s traditional wooden yacht, meandering along the Mediterranean Coast with frequent stops to swim, hike, snorkel and discover hidden ruins—including Cleopatra’s Sunken Baths. There’s no end to the fun as your family explores magnificent landscapes and coastal regions, with lots of time for fun in the sun and soaking up the beauty of this magical place. This tour is recommended for families with children ages 8 and older.
Days 1 & 2 — U.S., Istanbul
Arriving in Istanbul after your flight, you will be met by your guide and taken to your hotel. This evening, enjoy a welcome dinner and orientation at your hotel’s rooftop restaurant, with stunning views of Istanbul and the Bosporus as your backdrop. Istanbul Hotel in Sultanahmet District (D-Day 2)
Day 3 — Istanbul
Dive into Istanbul today, the remarkable city that has been a crossroads of history for three millennia and the capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Explore the narrow streets and visit such architectural treasures as the Basilica Cistern, Topkapia Palace and the Basilica Cistern, as well as the Blue Mosque. In the late afternoon, browse the narrow stalls of the Spice Market. Istanbul Hotel in Sultanahmet District (B,L,D)
Day 4 — Istanbul
This morning tour the Golden Gate of the Byzantines at Yedikule, which means “fortress of the seven towers.” This impressive site incorporates impressive Byzantine and Ottoman structures, and the triumphal arch was once covered with gold and the facade was decorated with sculptures. When the city walls were later extended, the arch was incorporated into the new plans.
After visiting the Golden Gate, board a ferry for the short ride from Europe to Asia—it’s not often that you can travel between continents on a short boat ride!
The earliest known marbled papers are Turkish ones from the 1400s. They were used for decorative purposes, and also as a background for official documents and signatures, to prevent erasure and forgery. To achieve this affect, the colors are floated and patterns are made on the surface of a viscous mucilage, known as size or sizing in English, and then carefully transferred to an absorbent surface, such as paper or fabric. Your lesson will be in a beautifully restored Ottoman building, where you will have a special demonstration of this Turkish art form, and then get to try your hand at it to create a souvenir from your trip! Istanbul Hotel in Sultanahmet District (B,L,D)
Day 5 — Istanbul to Cappadocia
Fly to Cappadocia, a region in Turkey's central highlands noted for its remarkable underground dwellings, conical "fairy chimneys," frescoed cave churches, and even whole villages carved from soft volcanic stone. The route takes you through villages of modern-day troglodytes where locals ride donkeys and dry apricots on their rooftops. Start with a visit to the Kaymakli Underground City, one of about a dozen in the area, where thousands of Byzantine monks could seek refuge for months at a time during times of peril. Walking through the geological wonderland of Baglidere feels like being on another planet! Wind your way along narrow paths between giant, yet delicate, pointed rocks, or “fairy chimneys” as the locals called them. This magical landscape was formed by centuries of elements that shaped the soft volcanic ash that lay beneath a cap of harder rock. Enjoy a whirling dervish show this evening. Lykia Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 6 — Cappadocia
Roam through the incredible open-air museum of Göreme, where the conical hills were carved out centuries ago to create churches and monasteries for the monks who once inhabited the area. The centuries-old Byzantine frescoes are still brilliant! In the afternoon, children will have the opportunity to meet their pen pal through playing a game or participating in a mutual activity. Kids enjoy the eye-opening, and truly rewarding experience of making new friends from a culture different from their own.
Pottery has been an art form here for centuries, and you can learn the local techniques as you watch how terra cotta pottery is made during a visit to a cave workshop, and then try your hand at imitating the process. Lykia Lodge (B,L,D)
Days 7 & 8 — Cappadocia to Izmir
Exploring the wonders of Ephesus is a memory-making family travel experience. Kids will love the chance to imagine what the city looked like in its heyday, from its opulent baths and gymnasium to the Great Theater, which held 24,000 people, and its Library of Celsus, which once contained nearly 15,000 scrolls. Located five miles from the center of Ephesus and perched atop Nightingale Hill, there is a modest stone house that is now a Christian and Muslim shrine, and is believed by many to be the site where the Virgin Mary spent her final days. Located outside of the House is a Wishing Wall, where patrons write their personal intentions or wishes on a piece of paper or fabric and attach it to the wall. After, visit the once-glorious Temple of Artemis—one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, which is now only some ruined remnants. Time permitting one day, families can opt to visit a weaving cooperative, where local girls weave woolen and silk carpets, spinning and dyeing the materials themselves. Hotel Kalehan (B,L,D)
Day 9 — Izmir to Pamukkale
Hierapolis was a city that was founded by the Seleucids as a thermal spa in the 3rd century B.C. It has long been believed that the mineral-rich thermal waters of Hierapolis have healing properties, and the area has always attracted people from all over who were seeking a cure for their ailments. The town of Hierapolis and the nearby springs are a UNESCO World Heritage site, featuring remarkable white travertine pools and impressive ruins. The travertine formations are called Pamukkale, which means “cotton castle,” and your family can enjoy a walk in these ancient baths before exploring the ruins of the town. Colossea Thermal (B,L,D)
Day 10 — Pamukkale to the Turquoise Coast
Kibyra was founded by Lydians in the 3rd century B.C. It attracted settlers from the neighboring countries and became a cosmopolitan city where four languages—Lydian, Pisidian, Solymian and Greek—were spoken. The city was known for its iron works and horse breeding, and during the Roman era it was a judicial seat of the province of Asia. The city hall has 3,600 seats and it was one of the largest in Asia Minor. Excavations started in 2006 and are still going on—only just this year the interior of the city hall was unearthed, and the world’s largest portrait of Medusa was discovered, made out of inlaid marble pieces. Enjoy an exclusive tour and talk by the chief archaeologist.
Following lunch, drive the high route around the Bey Mountains to Fethiye and back on to the coast. Here you can wander through the colorful farmers market before boarding your wooden boat that await you in the marina. Set sail in the late afternoon and reach pine-clad Turuncpinari wilderness cove in 45 minutes, just before dusk and in time for a delightful swim in the clear cobalt waters. Dinner is on board tonight, the first of your star-lit tranquil evenings. Private Gulet (traditional wooden sailboat) (B,L,D)
Day 11 — Turquoise Coast
It’s a one-hour sail to Gemiler island, where Byzantine ruins spread among the wild olive and oak trees. A one-hour hike circumnavigating this exciting monastery island reveals monks’ cells, refectories, chapels, and breathtaking hilltop scenery. From here you’ll drive 15 minutes to the modern Greek ghost town of Kayakoy. This eerily beautiful and ghostly place was the site of a human tragedy—a mass exodus following the population exchanges of the 1920s. You will have ample time to explore Kayakoy and then enjoy a hike to Soguk Su wilderness cove where you’ll meet your boat. There is time to enjoy swimming off the boat or to simply relax on deck. Private Gulet (traditional wooden sailboat) (B,L,D)
Day 12 — Turquoise Coast
Today sail to Cleopatra's Sunken Baths at Göcek Gulf Lagoon. It is said that Cleopatra and Mark Antony frolicked in these coves in the 1st century B.C., and here you find a ruined and half submerged Roman bath that is dated to those times. After a leisurely swim and lunch, there is an optional hike to ancient Lydae. The path leads through woods of Aleppo Pine and over low laying ridges with views of hidden beaches, to a plateau where Yoruk nomads set their summer camps. You can visit with the nomads who tend to their goats, keep bees and harvest olives and herbs of oregano, thyme, sage and carob. Explore the rarely visited ruins consisting of monumental tombs overlooking the sea, domed cisterns and the remains of a temple dedicated to Apollo. The broken fragments of the cult god statue still lie scattered about. Continue to Aga Limani Cove under the clatter of goat bells and rendezvous with our boats. Private Gulet (traditional wooden sailboat) (B,L,D)
Day 13 — Turquoise Coast
Today, sail in the open sea and drop anchor in Ekincik Bay. From the bay, you are transferred to a river boat to ride along water alleys flanked with reeds in the Dalyan Delta, a breeding place for Caretta sea turtles. The rustling reed beds inside the delta rise up to 6-13 feet in height and grow in the mixture of salt and fresh water. These wetlands are home to a vast number of fish and other marine creatures, such as sea bass, grey mullet and blue crab, as well as many species of birds like the Sparrow hawk, Crane and Jay. In the afternoon, visit Caunus, famous for its impressive 4th Century B.C. rock tombs. Private Gulet (traditional wooden sailboat) (B,L,D)
Day 14 — Turquoise Coast to Istanbul
After you disembark at Ekincik, fly back to Istanbul, arriving in time for lunch. After lunch, tour the Hagia Sofia and enjoy some time at leisure prior to the farewell dinner. Istanbul Hotel in Sultanahmet District (B,L,D)
Day 15 — Istanbul, U.S.
You are transferred to the airport for your departing flight. (B)