For those of you who don’t know, here is how we ended up in Iraq during the Covid-19 global pandemic. We then took a bus from Baghdad to Istanbul through some adventures but tiring ride and toured Istanbul’s main historical and tourist attractions in 4 days.
In this post, I will take you through our 2 weeks Turkey itinerary with children outside Istanbul where we set for a fantastic self-drive journey in a rental car. We first headed to the south before driving all the way to the north and back to Istanbul.
For our expenses, I mostly used my HSBC World Elite and Brim Financial Mastercard. Both cards offer no foreign transaction fees which is what I always take advantage when traveling abroad. You can sign-up for the Brim Financial Mastercard for free by going to this link.
Last Day in Istanbul & Heading South
In our last day in Istanbul, as we had our rental car, I decided to drive a bit outside the main historical area of Istanbul to the Miniaturk which is a miniature park at the northeastern shore of Golden Horn in Istanbul.
Miniaturk displays 135 models, in 1:25 scales, of structures around Turkey and some Islamic historical structures from other parts of the world. Miniaturk contains bridges, stadium, pools, and waterfalls.
There was also a very nice 30 minutes 4D movie for extra charge flying you around Istanbul and the whole Turkey. This was one of the best 4D movies I’ve ever seen. There is also a helicopter ride simulation and a nice kids’ playground. We didn’t do the simulation, but the kids enjoyed playing in the playground including the small maze and huge chess game.
We spent 3 hours in Miniaturk before heading to Izmir which is 481 KM / 5 hours drive from Istanbul. The plan was to tour Izmir and stay somewhere close to our next destination.
After a bit of research, I booked a place called Ephesus Centrum in Selcuk for 1 night. This was a 1 night in a Quadruple Room with Balcony with no breakfast for $38 CAD or €26.48.
We kept driving with one stop for lunch to make it to our destination before midnight. There was a bit of traffic before getting into Izmir, but everything went smoothly. We enjoyed a nice sunset view along the highway.
We made it to Izmir around 9 PM and went straight to the main landmark of the, Izmir Saat Kulesi. Izmir Saat is a historic clock tower located at the Konak Square of İzmir.
We then walked around the city, sat by the waterfront, had some snacks, and back to the car and drove to our amazingly great hotel in Selcuk. I was so much surprised by this nice hotel and its wonderful owners who are a family.
Parking was just by the front door. Its location was so convenient by the traditional town Bazaar with local vendors. We bought breakfast in the following day from lovely women who were baking it in their tent. She was so kind and asked us to take her photo.
Visiting the Ancient Greek City of Ephesus & Virgin Mary’s House
Today is going to be a busy day like most our days as we have some historical lands to visit. We first headed to the ancient Greek city of Ephesus which was founded in 10th century BC and is one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.
This is truly a massive and beautiful site with so many details. I leave you with the photos below.
After enjoying Ephesus and learning more about the Greek empire, we headed toward Virgin Mary’s status and house. The House of the Virgin Mary is 7 km from Selcuk which was discovered in the 19th century.
Catholic pilgrims believe that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was taken to this stone house by Saint John and lived there for the remainder of her healthy life. The Catholic Church has never pronounced in favor or against the authenticity of the house.
- Related: Why not checking out some of our Europe Adventures?
There isn’t much to see in the house and they don’t allow taking photos inside. The outside is just a simple small stone house. Surprisingly, we also found a street sign pointing to the Grotto of the Seven Sleepers in Ephesus. There are different versions about the Seven Sleepers and their cave, so I leave the judgment about the authenticity of this place to the readers. Regardless, if you find yourself in Ephesus, go visit this place which takes just half an hour.
Do you think we are done for the day? Wrong answer! We are travelers not tourists, so we headed to the Ephesus Museum to enjoy the fantastic artifacts from the same Ephesus site we earlier visited. These artifacts were initially split between the British and Vienna Museums until 1964 when Ephesus Museum was founded.
We spent 2 hours in the museum before hitting the road to our next hotel, Pamukkale Batu Termal. This was for a 1 night which cost us €19 or $27 CAD.
Everything was perfect from the freezing AC to the super friendly owner and his Syrian wife. He was even waiting for us by the street to tell us where to park the car which was just in front of the hotel.
WiFi worked fine in the room. In addition, the location is super convenient which is by the entrance of the local bazaar where we bought food and had delicious Turkish Chai. We also bought clothes for the kids from this bazaar.
The only weird part of the motel is the bath. As advertised, this place is full of thermal water. This meant there is no clean water and we had to fill the tub with the brownish thermal water to take a shower. We weren’t in the mood of doing this so skipped the shower for that night.
The following morning, we just walked around the bazaar and picked a nice looking restaurant for the breakfast which ended up being way more than what we need and super delicious.
Pamukkale Thermal Pools & Hierapolis Roman Site
After breakfast, it was time to go check out Pamukkale Thermal Pools and the adjacent Hierapolis Roman site. This was one of the most beautiful places we have ever visited anywhere. I am so glad we did the 3 hours detour north of Selcuk to come see this majestic place especially during the sunset.
Pamukkale means cotton castle in Turkish which is famous for its mineral rich thermal pools water flowing down white travertine terraces on a nearby hillside. The ancient Greek city of Hierapolis was built around 190 BC on top of the travertine formation which is in total about 2,700 metres (8,860 ft) long, 600 m (1,970 ft) wide and 160 m (525 ft) high.
I didn’t expect this site to be so massive. It consists of many sites which makes the Pamukkale Thermal Pool a small attraction in comparison with the roman site itself. We spent the whole day here and were exhausted and ready to hit the bed by the time we left around sunset.
On our way out, we spotted a wedding briefly in the parking lot. After Pamukkale, we once again hit the road for another 3 hours drive to reach Antalya.
Antalya & Alanya for the Cheapest 5 Star AI Resort
While driving, I made a booking at Exporoyal Hotel for 2 night. This was €61.20 ($88 CAD) with breakfast include. After taking some good sleep and healthy breakfast, we hit the road to tour Antalya. I didn’t really have anything listed for Antalya but thought we could go to Antalya Aquarium.
However, when we got there and after checking the price and size, we decided to leave and just go to 5M Migros Shopping Center and walk around.
After some walking in the mall, we drove around the waterfront and then headed to Kursunlu Selalesi park which is 19 Km from Antalya. Kursunlu is a very beautiful park with fantastic waterfalls which I highly recommend it to other travelers in the region.
We walked around and through the park for 2 hours. By the time we left, it was almost getting dark, so we skipped the nearby Perga Archaeological Site and went straight to see the Sandland. We also heard that Sandland is more beautiful at night with all the colorful lightening.
One thing we didn’t know was that the ticket allows entry twice on the same day. Once during the daylight and a second time after it gets dark. The place is full of sand sculptures of iconic global landmarks & mythological creatures which was beautifully lit up at night. There was also a movie at the entrance showing how it the artists built the enormous sand sculptures.
After our visit, we went had some great Turkish Kebab before driving around Antalya at night seeing Hadrian’s Gate with its super bustling surrounding. We then went back to the hotel to rest and be ready for another full of adventures day.
The following day, after having breakfast at the hotel, we turned on the car and started driving toward Alanya with a stop at Dim Cave (Dripstone).
I had no idea what to expect here and didn’t even have plans to stay in this city anymore. However, the kids insisted they wanted to stay somewhere with a waterpark.
I wasn’t sure if I am going to spend couple hundreds in this touristy place where everything is priced in Euro rather than Turkish Lira. However, we just opened Booking.com app and started scrolling up and down without any hope until I eyed something unbelievable! An All-Inclusive with pools and multiple slides for $85.5 CAD per night.
I couldn’t believe the deal and was afraid to book it. Conveniently, as we had the car, I drove to the place and wow! This is a 5 star resort. I confirmed they do have pools and waterslides. I then asked if they could book it for me. However, their price was double what I saw on Booking.com so I ended up booking 2 nights initially before adding a 3rd night in the reception by the app using my phone.
They then told me it can take up to 1 hour to get confirmation and prepare the room, so we just entered the facility and walked around enjoying our finding. Kids were so happy. Happy kids happy parents!
This was one of the best stays we have ever had during our many years of traveling and the price is unbelievable as the delicious food with its endless variety. There is also a nightly show and daily games to attend.
Everyone is Club Paradiso on Alanya was super friendly and attentive. I paid $256 CAD for our 3 nights stay including meals, snacks, drinks, and everything in between. My little one enjoyed it so much that she didn’t want to take off the bracelet.
Funny thing was that when I took the kids to the real beach, they were complaining saying it is hot and they don’t like the salty water. So we returned immediately to the pools and slides.
We have never been All-Inclusive resort kind of travelers and I think Club Paradiso raised the bar so high that we will probably will never find something with the same quality in this price range anytime soon.
Overnight In a Cave Hotel & the Underground City
After some fantastic relaxing time, we hit the road again to go to another fantastic Turkish attraction, Cappadocia in which was 7 hours away. However, we chose to stay in Nevsehir for a new experience I am going to talk about soon.
Before reaching Nevsehir, we stopped in 80 Binde Devri Alem Parki which is another very interesting park. The park’s name gets translated to Around the World in 80 Thousand Park. I underestimated this park which ended up being big and remarkable. The park is filled with dinosaur replicas, fairy tale figures and miniatures of historical significance.
We spent at least 2 hours in this park before continuing toward our destination, Nar Cave Hotel. Exactly! This is the unique experience of sleeping inside a room inside a real cave. It was such a special stay. Everything was perfect including the super delicious breakfast with magnificent views in the hotel.
The stay here cost us $59 CAD which was very much worth it. The whole area was full of houses inside the mountain. On the following day, we left early after breakfast to go to Cappadocia when spotted a castle on top of a hill which of course we had to go visit.
There was an elderly doll seller at the top which we bought 2 dolls for the kids from him. The views were worth the drive to the top and there were also some Greek ruins here and there.
After this short stop, we drove to Derinkuyu Underground City. The city is believed to have been built bythe Phrygians, an Indo-European people, in the 8th to 7th centuries BCE. After the population became Christian in Roman times, they began to include chapels in their underground dwellings.
The underground city felt never ending and we were glad it was very well lid and signage so we can navigate through it without stress. This visit took about 2 hours. However, there are some really narrow passages which sometimes get crowded, and visitors have to wait a bit to have it cleared.
Pigeon Valley in Cappadocia (No Balloons Sadly)
It was time to go see one of Turkey’s most visited places, the Pigeon Valley in Cappadocia with its Fairy Chimneys and magnificent views. By the time we got there, it started raining heavily so we just drove around and took quick pictures.
The following day, it was a better day to visit so we drove, stopped numerous times, took tens of photos, enjoyed the views, before leaving this amazing region. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t cooperating during our 2 nights stay so we couldn’t ride a balloon.
We stayed in Cappadocia Apartments for $32 CAD which was by far the worst place we stayed at ever. I won’t go into details but avoid this place.
After taking many photos from the amazing views, it was time to decide what to do next. We had time to explore Turkey more and enough kilometers to stay within our 4000 allowance. Well, we decided to see more of Turkey.
Initially, we decided on going to Nemrut Mount, but we were warned by locals that our tiny car won’t make it to the top plus it is too cold there. So instead, we opted to go to the north, Trabzon. This was the longest single day drive we did in Turkey. It took us all day to reach Trabzon where we stayed for 2 nights at White Golden Suit Hotel for 94 CAD.
We didn’t have any plans for Trabzon except enjoying the nature and seeing Sumela Monastery. We arrived at Sumela Monastery around 4 PM and the gate was closing by the time we reached its entrance. It was also pouring rain and we were super tired. We just took pictures from outside and walked down.
Luckily, as we were going to visit Greece after Turkey, we knew there are some wonderful monasteries in Greece to visit which made us feel less pathetic about missing on Sumela Monastery.
We enjoyed Trabzon’s nature during our short stay there before heading back to Istanbul with a short stop in Samsun and an overnight stay along the way in Kayi Apart Hotel in Bolu which is 3 hours from Istanbul. This hotel charged us $56 CAD.
For our last night, we stayed at Kervan Hotel which is the most budget place I could find close to the airport for $66 CAD a night including breakfast. The night before our flight, I dropped off the car at the airport and took a taxi back to the hotel.
We took another taxi to the airport on the following day to say Goodbye to Turkey and Hello to Greece!
In total we spent $921 CAD for our hotels in Turkey.
Final Thoughts About Our 2 Weeks Turkey Itinerary with Children
This was a truly fantastic experience. It was tiring but the rewards we gained especially the kids are uncountable. I am so thankful we had the opportunity to do this journey during the pandemic.
We usually go with a fast pace and you might think we lost a lot of time on the road. I think it is the opposite. It is not about the destination but the journey. We enjoyed all the scenery that Turkey provided.
Of course, I wish we had more time to spend in Turkey and surely we will be back in the future, but, I think we saw enough of Turkey during our first trip. Turkey is affordable, beautiful, full of history and culture, delicious food, and friendly helpful people.
Driving in Turkey is easy especially outside Istanbul. Tailgating and using high beam is normal especially by the German car drivers approaching with light speed! Gas stations are everywhere and they all accepted payment with credit card.
Gas (Benzine) is cheap but the tolls on the main highway are expensive. After paying for 3 tolls, I told Google to “Avoid Toll Roads” which led to some fantastic mountain or village views.
I hope you enjoyed reading and seeing the photos but I need to be honest. The pictures don’t do justice to any of the places we visited. You need to see it with your own eyes to absorb the history, culture, and beauty.
Thanks for reading & Stay tuned for next episode for our Greece adventure coverage!