Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!
Travel to Turkey with OAT to find the heart of a land steeped in biblical history and scattered with relics of once-mighty civilizations. Witness the jeweled Byzantine palaces and soaring minarets of Istanbul, then journey to the shores of Van Lake—whose piercing blue waters are encircled by snowcapped peaks—to explore the bygone capital of the Urartu Empire. Wander among the ruins of an ancient walled Armenian capital in Kars. Walk in the footsteps of St. Paul in Tarsus and Antioch, the city where the apostle preached and mighty emperors reigned. And journey from the breathtaking mountaintop sanctuary of Nemrut Dagi to the surreal landscapes of Cappadocia, passing through the shadow of Mount Ararat, the legendary resting place of Noah’s Ark. In addition to exploring remnants of vanquished kingdoms, you’ll meet the modern inhabitants of these ancient lands—dining in the home of Kurdish villagers and visiting the workshops of traditional Turkish artisans. Join us to take the “Silk Roads” less traveled, and experience timeless beauty and unforgettable historic treasures of Turkey.
Depart the U.S. today on your overnight flight to Istanbul, Turkey.
Arrive in Istanbul this afternoon, where an OAT representative will meet you at the airport and assist you to your hotel. There, you'll meet your fellow travelers, including those who took our pre-trip extension to Istanbul, Turkey or The Silk Route: Tashkent, Bukhara & Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Dinner is on your own tonight.
Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, was first founded by Greek colonists in the sixth century BC as Byzantium. Since then, the city has had many lives and many names, serving as the literal and figurative intersection of the East and West. Here we’ll find historical Orthodox churches, colorful Islamic mosaics, and ruins dating back to the Iron Age. Time has not diminished the importance of the former Byzantine and Ottoman capital—it has grown into the world's fifth-largest city, with a metropolitan population that outranks London.
After breakfast, we’ll discover a few of Istanbul’s ancient landmarks, including the Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A Christian church for almost 1,000 years, this magnificent structure served as a mosque after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 by the Ottomans, who added minarets and fountains. In 1934, the founder of the Turkish Republic, Kemal Atatürk, designated it a museum to be shared with the world.
We’ll also explore the nearby At Meydani, better known as the Hippodrome, with its famous Egyptian obelisk brought over by Constantine. The Hippodrome was the center of life in Byzantine Constantinople for more than 1,000 years, and then (once the city changed hands) of Ottoman Istanbul for 400 more. After lunch on our own, we’ll work off our meal with a delightful walk along Istiklal Caddesi, the main street leading through the heart of Art Nouveau Istanbul. This evening, we experience the delights of Turkish cuisine during a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.
Early today we fly to Van, the one-time capital of the ancient Urartu Empire—contemporaries (and frequently rivals) of the Hittites. This historic city is set along the southeastern shores of Turkey’s largest lake—Lake Van—a crystal-clear saline lake encircled by craggy, snowcapped mountains, six times bigger than Utah’s Great Salt Lake. In the center of the city stands a statue of one of Van’s most famous icons—the Van Kedisi, an unusual breed of cat that typically has white fur, mismatched eyes, and an affinity for swimming. They’ve been known to dive happily into Lake Van just for fun. Their numbers are dwindling and export is strictly forbidden, so Van cats are rarely seen anywhere else on Earth.
Upon arrival, we’ll visit Cavustepe, a royal Urartian citadel consisting of temple buildings, a palace, sacrificial altar, and an extraordinarily advanced series of ancient cisterns. We’ll spend the morning exploring the site, then enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before checking into our hotel.
This afternoon, we embark on a walking tour of Van, including a stop by a local market. Dinner is at our hotel this evening.
This morning we hop a ferry to Akdamar, a tiny island in Lake Van, to view its Armenian cathedral. The recently restored reliefs on the exterior of the tenth-century structure depict a variety of Old Testament stories, as well as more mundane scenes of life at the ancient palace. The church’s conversion into a museum stirred up controversy in the Armenian community, where the cathedral is still considered sacred. In 2010, the Van government allowed an Armenian worship service to take place here for the first time in more than 100 years. After exploring the cathedral, we'll take a walk through the surrounding meadows to admire the church's idyllic setting.
After an included lunch, we’ll embark on a short hike back on the mainland to explore Van Kalesi (Castle), also known as the Rock of Van, an ancient Urartu fortress dating from the eighth century BC. The ruins of Van Kalesi make up the largest Urartu fortress in the world and the wall still contains an inscription from a later ruler, Xerxes the Great. Then, we’ll enjoy dinner back at our hotel.
Today, as we travel north through Eastern Anatolia, near the borders of Iran and Armenia, we enjoy views of green meadows carpeting a rugged landscape where trees are sparse and snowcapped volcanoes loom in the distance.
We’ll pause along our journey at the Muradiye Waterfalls to observe their frothing falls from a wooden bridge. We then continue on through the rugged terrain surrounding nearby Mount Ararat—legendary resting place of Noah’s Ark. Then we visit the Ishak Pasha Palace. Rising magnificently from a dusty plain along the Silk Route close to the Iranian border, the palace is a magnificent example of 18th-century Ottoman architecture. Then we'll enjoy lunch in the frontier town of Dogubayazit this afternoon.
Dinner this evening is at our hotel in Kars.
This morning we visit Ani, the ancient walled Armenian capital that once rivaled Constantinople and Baghdad in size and magnificence. Known as the “city of 1,001 churches,” the ruins here still contain the same bright red, black and pale yellow hues as when they were originally built from colorful local volcanic basalt in the tenth century. Ani never fully recovered from a devastating 1319 earthquake and has been deserted for more than 300 years. An archaeological site of great significance to Armenia, the ruins were rarely seen by visitors in the 20th century due to Ani’s proximity to the Armenian and Soviet borders. Up until 2004, the Turkish government required a special permit and prohibited visitors from bringing cameras to this extraordinary ghost city.
After hiking the ruins, we’ll visit nearby Bogazkoy village, for insights into local culture and a taste of traditional cuisine during a Home-Hosted Lunch with a local family. Then we’ll discover some of the famous Kasar cheese and honey at a local market. Later, we’ll enjoy dinner together at a local restaurant.
Today we discover Erzurum, eastern Turkey’s largest city. Set high on a plateau and surrounded by mountains, the town is a winter sports mecca noted for the challenging ski trails of Mount Palandöken. Historically, Erzurum has hosted many important civilizations, including Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuk Turks, and Ottomans. After lunch at a local restaurant, we’ll explore Erzurum’s surviving medieval structures, including the citadel fortress and the 13th-century Madrasa with its twin minarets.
And, during a visit to a handcrafts market, we’ll see the many ways locals carve jewelry out of jet—the local, coal-based stone that spawned the phrase “jet black.” Once popular for mourning jewelry, the delicate shiny black stone can only be carved into intricate designs by skilled artisans.
Dinner is at our hotel tonight.
After breakfast, we depart Erzurum for Trabzon, situated along Turkey's Black Sea coast, enjoying lunch en route. Upon arrival in Trabzon this afternoon, we discover one of the delights of this historic Silk Road city—and birthplace of Suleiman the Magnificent, the most influential and longest-reigning sultan of the Ottoman Empire—during a visit to the Aya Sofya mosque, a former Byzantine-era cathedral adorned with spectacular frescoes.
Leaving the Aya Sofya mosque, we discover more of Trabzon as we stroll from the Zagros Bridge to our hotel, where we'll enjoy dinner this evening.
Following breakfast this morning, we explore the mountain monastery complex of Sumela, whose construction began in AD 385. Clinging perilously to the sheer face of a cliff overlooking a lush valley, the 72-room monastery complex is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. We'll ride up to the monastery aboard our coach. Following our explorations, hardier travelers may opt to tackle the trip down on foot.
We have lunch on our own near Sumela, then return to Trabzon for an afternoon at leisure. Perhaps you’ll hike to nearby Boztepe, a hill and tea garden with four sacred fountains, including one known as the “milk fountain” at Kaymakli Monastery, which features well-preserved frescoes and ruins dating back to 1424. Or visit the Trabzon Museum, an impressive collection of archaeological and ethnographic materials located in a mansion that was once home to Turkey’s first president. And you can also explore Trabzon’s bazaar district, where narrow ancient streets twist and turn between shops and open-air markets. After our afternoon of independent exploration, we’ll meet up this evening for dinner at a local restaurant.
After an early breakfast, we’ll take a short flight west to Ankara, Turkey’s modern capital. The region of central Anatolia in which Ankara is situated is also the heartland of the long-vanished Hittite civilization. Upon arrival, we’ll head to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, which is located in the Old City at the entrance to Ankara Castle and home to an excellent collection of Hittite and Urartian artifacts.
After lunch at a local restaurant, we’ll continue our drive to Cappadocia, an extraordinary region of “fairy chimneys,” cave dwellings, and surreal volcanic landscapes like nowhere else in the world, which has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We arrive in Cappadocia in the early evening, and enjoy an included dinner at our hotel.
Our day begins with a visit to the renowned Goreme “open-air museum,” a group of ancient churches carved from the region’s soft tufa rock (the result of volcanic ash spewed some 30 million years ago). Most of the churches include interior chapels adorned by colorful frescoes. Then we enjoy an invigorating hike into the Soganli Valley, dotted with churches and curious rock formations, followed by a relaxing coffee break at a local café in Sinassos.
After lunch on our own, we’ll explore one of the underground cities used by early Christians and others as refuges from invading hordes that regularly swept across the Anatolian Plain. These vast complexes could hide thousands of people, as well as their livestock. Then we’ll journey to the highest point in the region, Üchisar Castle. The summit of this natural fortress, honeycombed with rooms, stairs, and tunnels, offers a splendid panoramic view of the surrounding countryside.
Following our day of discoveries, we'll return to our hotel for dinner.
If you wish, you can begin your day early with an optional hot-air balloon flight to watch the sun rise over the breathtaking landscapes of Cappadocia. Then, following breakfast, we’ll all enjoy an elective hike from the village of Üchisar to Goreme. If you choose to partake in this approximately two-hour hike, your efforts will be amply rewarded with some extraordinary views of the region’s unique landscapes—ribbons of pale yellow and orange rock, naturally carved fairy chimneys and man-made rock houses, punctuated by patches of green.
When we return to the modern world, we’ll attend a craft demonstration by local artisans at a rug-weaving cooperative, followed by lunch on our own. Then we’ll have the opportunity to get acquainted with the 9,000-year-old pottery-making tradition of Anatolia, followed by another elective hike in one of the surrounding valleys. Dinner is at our hotel this evening.
Today, we travel to Turkey’s Mediterranean coast to Antakya, a town close to the Syrian border. In ancient times, Antakya—then known as Antioch—was notorious for the perceived depravity of its inhabitants: Before suffering one of the most deadly earthquakes in recorded history, ancient Antioch enjoyed a decadent and luxurious lifestyle that prized arts and fashion over all else. Saint Peter chose this locale for his first mission to the Gentiles and his converts in Antioch were the first group to go by the name Christians. We'll have lunch during our drive today. Upon our arrival, we’ll enjoy a brief walk around the Old Town before checking in to our hotel. Dinner is included at our hotel this evening.
After breakfast, we’ll set out to experience A Day in the Life of two Turkish villages. First, we visit Vakifli, an Armenian village perched on the slope of Musa Dagh (Mount Moses) overlooking the Mediterranean, which is known as the last Christian Armenian village in Turkey. We’ll have a chance to meet with locals here and learn about their way of life. Then, we travel to the nearby village of Kapisuyu, where we’ll begin our cultural discoveries with a visit to Kapisuyu Primary and Secondary School when in session—supported by Grand Circle Foundation, a part of the World Classroom initiative. We’ll meet the school principal for a tour of the grounds of the school and join some of the students in their classrooms. After a walking tour of Kapisuyu and its market area, we meet the head of the village in his office for a discussion about local history and culture. We then divide into smaller groups to join local families for a Home-Hosted Lunch. This is a great way to savor regional cuisine, share a little of ourselves, and experience the local culture.
Then, before returning to our hotel, we'll hike to Titus Tunnel, a canal built by the Romans in the first century AD to divert rainwater from Antioch's harbor. We'll also discover the nearby Roman necropolis, which hosts a dozen tombs cut into the surrounding rock.
This morning, we visit the Hatay Archaeological Museum, we’ll see its collection of Roman and Byzantine mosaics (and other aspects of Roman and Byzantine culture) dating from the 1st to 5th centuries AD. Then, we drive to Gaziantep—one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. Once called "Antep," the city gained renown for its pistachios and olives. Gazi, which means “victorious,” was added to the city’s name in 1921. Now one of Turkey’s most vibrant cities, it is a shining example of a place that has been evolving for thousands of years.
After lunch on your own, we’ll visit the Mosaic Museum of Gaziantep, which features relics from Zeugma, a nearby Roman city whose villas included stunning floor mosaics. Then, we’ll tour Gaziantep’s Old Town, exploring stone houses and the market, where perhaps you’ll find some of the city’s signature products—copperware and colorful “Yemeni” slippers. Dinner is at our hotel this evening.
After an early breakfast, we depart for Mount Nemrut, one of Turkey’s most breathtaking destinations and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We enjoy a picnic lunch before ascending the renowned mountaintop where Antiochus I of the Kingdom of Commagene erected a temple and some dozen gigantic statues of both himself and various ancient gods. Some speculate this was an attempt to unite his multi-faith kingdom, while others consider it an extremely narcissistic attempt at immortality. This is also believed to be the final resting place of Antiochus I, although archaeologists have never been able to locate his tomb.
The bodies of the colossal statues stand, somewhat deteriorated, with their beautifully carved heads laying scattered at their feet around the haunting peak of Mount Nemrut. This affords us a rare opportunity to see the detail of these ancient and grand statues up close.
From Mount Nemrut, we return to Gaziantep, where dinner is on your own tonight. Perhaps you'll choose to sample one of the local delicacies, such as icli köfte (lamb and bulgur wheat meatballs).
After breakfast, we depart Gaziantep and journey west to Adana. Along the way, we stop at Karatepe, an archaeologically significant walled, neo-Hittite city dating from the eighth century BC. These remote and beautiful ruins, situated in the forested foothills of the Taurus Mountains at the edge of a lake, make an ideal setting for the included picnic lunch that follows our short hike around the site.
According to legend, Adana was a tribute to the Babylonian god of thunder, who brought the rain that made this land along the Mediterranean coast so fertile. The abundance continues today—Adana is now one of the largest cities in Turkey and still growing. Upon our arrival, we'll have an orientation tour, followed by free time to relax or begin exploring on your own.
Perhaps you’ll stroll through Merkez Park, a sprawling former citrus garden now full of turquoise fountains, palm trees, and bushes sculpted into animal shapes. Just south of the park along the Seyhan River is the Sabanci Merkez Camii, Turkey’s largest mosque with grand minarets so tall they can be seen throughout the city. Beyond the mosque, discover Tasköprü—a fourth-century Roman bridge spanning the river. Tasköprü, which literally means “stone bridge” in Turkish, is now open exclusively to pedestrian traffic and is often a main site of arts and cultural festivals that take place in Adana throughout the year, particularly in warmer months. Your Trip Leader will be happy to provide you with recommendations as you seek out dinner on your own.
Today we enjoy a revealing visit to Tarsus, notable as the birthplace of St. Paul—as well as the home of Mark Antony and Cleopatra in the first century BC. Our discoveries in Tarsus include a visit to St. Paul’s Church and an ancient stone well next to a foundation that some believe to be the site of St. Paul's house.
After lunch in Tarsus, we return to Adana, where the balance of the afternoon is on your own. You may choose to discover more of Adana’s history with a visit to the Adana Archaeology Museum, a walk through Old Town or by taking part in an age old Turkish tradition at a hammam (bath house)—Adana features several historical hammams that date back to the city’s heyday as a regional capital. The oldest is Irmak Hammam, built in 1494, while the largest surviving hammam is Çarşı Hammam, a magnificent building with five domes and a marble interior, originally built in 1529 with water wheels to channel in baths from the Seyhan River. In the evening, we’ll gather for a Farewell Dinner at a restaurant in Adana.
Depart for the airport to catch your very early morning flight back to the U.S. via Istanbul or begin your optional post-trip extension, Cruising the Turquoise Coast.