A road trip from Antalya to Istanbul, Turkey

A rooftop terrace at the Fulya Pansiyon Hotel, Eğirdir/Isparta, Turkey

As you know, this summer we went on our big Turkish trip that combined varieties of activities – from exploring one of the oldest and biggest cities in the world (Istanbul), relaxing on the Mediterranean coast at an all-inclusive resort, and taking a road trip back to Istanbul through the country to witness ancient city ruins, walk around small towns, eat good food and fully experience Turkish culture as it is.

Let’s talk about how and why we decided to plan a road trip through Turkey.

We think that a road trip is the best way to explore new places as you can do so at your own pace. You can especially accomplish a lot just in a few days when the distances are relatively small, like in Turkey.

You can plan your itinerary, and choose what and when you want to see depending on your favorite activities. Thus, our trip included visiting ancient city ruins, hiking at the natural sites with thermal waters, strolling along a magnificent mountain lake, and enjoying local food.

Renting a car with Avis

We booked and picked a car online on Avis.com before our departure. We used Avis many times, and it has never disappointed us. There were several other car rental companies that you can rent from if you prefer any other ones.

💡 Good to Know

You don’t need to get an additional international driver’s license to drive in Turkey. Your regular U.S. state-issued driver’s license works just fine.

It was pretty straightforward – reserve a car, pick it up at the airport (in this case Antalya International Airport), pay at the pickup, and drop it off at the chosen location (in this case Istanbul International Airport). We paid $598.18 for five days for a full-size car and used the Chase Sapphire Preferred to pay for the rental as it gives you the primary car rental insurance so that you can decline the car rental company’s insurance.

💡 Good to Know

While the Avis office at the Antalya Airport (as well as the parking lot with the rentals) is by the International Terminal, you need to visit the Avis kiosk at the Domestic Terminal first to complete your paperwork.

As a family of 4, we tend to pack a lot of things, especially baby gear (we brought a car seat, a stroller, and a foldable crib). We reserved an SUV but didn’t realize that SUVs in Europe are a bit smaller than in the U.S., so when we saw “our” car, the first impression was – no way our stuff would fit in there, and well, it did not, as much as we tried to fit everything in 😅.

Top family-friendly travel tips for stress-free trips

Traveling with kids can be a wonderful experience, but it can also be challenging. From organizing and packing everything you need to keep your kids entertained and comfortable during flights and road trips, there are many factors to consider.
Continue reading →

So we asked for a bigger car, and the bigger car was a full-size Škoda Superb, which was very wide and roomy, but even that could barely fit our stuff, but we still managed. We had to pay a little extra for the upgrade, but we didn’t have a choice there.

Here we began the road trip part of our Turkey journey, where we planned to drive for 800 mi (1300km) in 4 days and stop at some amazing places! Yep, our plan was to change hotels every night for four nights in a row. Even though we had sworn to never change hotels every night in the past, after the same experience in Alaska last year, we decided to give it a try again.

Day 1 – Drive to Pamukkale

The first stop on our road trip was the little town of Pamukkale, famous for its thermal waters flowing down the hill. It took us about 3.5 hours to get there, with a lunch stop at a random cafe at a gas station. There was even a little outdoor playground adjacent to the restaurant, where the girls gladly used the swings and slides.

💡 Good to Know

The distance from Antalya to Pamukkale is about 150 mi (250 km).

There were a lot of roadside cafes on the way, so you could definitely have a pit stop somewhere.

Accommodation in Pamukkale

We stayed at the Hotel Sahin in the town itself. It was located right in the footsteps of the town’s main attraction and within minutes of the restaurants and shops.

We booked a family room (with one queen and one twin bed) with a balcony through Expedia for $65.59 per night. You would be pleasantly surprised to see the prices for Turkish hotels that are not in the big cities or on the coast – usually, they’re cheap, but yet you’re not getting anything fancy.

It might have been the tiniest room (you can practically see the front door in the picture) we have stayed in with two kids so far, but it did not stop us from enjoying the view and the area. Even though the room was small, it was pleasant and clean.

The view from our room at the Hotel Sahin, Pamukkale, Turkey

Hotel Sahin had an outdoor pool and a rooftop restaurant that was open for breakfast (included with our stay) with a fantastic view of the thermal pools.

Staying at the hotel in the town had a huge advantage compared to taking a tour and arriving with a group on the bus. When visiting the thermal pools from the town, you start your way up from the bottom and hike up to the top, while the tour buses stop at the top and people go down.

You can start your way up right after the site opens at 8 am and enjoy the pools for some time without the crowds.

Things to do in Pamukkale

Pamukkale is a natural site with flowing thermal waters leaving a carbonated mineral (travertine). Thermal water is flowing over those travertine terrace formations leaving dozens of thermal pools that you can walk on or swim in. It looked absolutely stunning, and everyone in the family, especially the girls, who splashed in almost every little pool there, loved this place!

💡 Good to Know

The price of admission is 180 TRY per person. This includes the thermal pool hike and the ancient city Hierapolis visit on the top of the hill.

We did not pay for the kids as they said it was free for 7 and 1 years olds.

With an ancient Roman spa city Hierapolis on the top of the hill, this area is a very popular tourist attraction and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Consider spending at least a few hours there, walking, swimming, and taking pictures. If you are planning on staying at the site a little longer, there is also a cafe located by the Hierapolis ruins where you can grab a bite.

Day 2 – Drive to Lake Eğirdir

We had lunch in Pamukkale at one of the many restaurants on Mehmet Akif Ersoy Blvd. We ordered a çoban salad (Turkish shepherd’s salad with fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions), chicken kebabs (skewers), potato gözleme (Turkish stuffed turnover), and a döner (Turkish flatbread sandwich with meat). Here Sophia is trying ayran – a Turkish yogurt drink; she wasn’t really impressed, though 😅.

Right after lunch, we ventured to our next destination – the “Lake District” of Turkey in the Isparta Province. On our way there, we wanted to check out the mountaintop ruins of Sagalassos!

💡 Good to Know

The distance from Pamukkale to Sagalassos is about 110 mi (180 km).

The ancient city of Sagalassos

The ancient city of Sagalassos is located in the Taurus mountains at about 5,500 ft (1,700 m) elevation.

First mentioned in the 14th century B.C., it was the “first city of Pisidia” and one of the wealthiest cities there when Alexander the Great conquered it in 333 B.C. on his way to Persia.

It is truly a hidden gem and one of the largest archeological sites in Turkey, with phenomenally preserved Hellenistic and Ancient Roman ruins.

💡 Good to Know

The cost of an admission ticket is 25 TRY per person, and the operating hours are from 8 am to 8 pm.

The highest altitude Roman Theatre in the world is located in Sagalassos!

The Monumental Fountain (Nymphaeum) was fully functioning and looked phenomenal.

Again, a huge advantage of planning an itinerary yourself and renting a car is that you can visit places at your own pace and avoid crowds. We were practically the only ones there, with a couple of other people somewhere around.

Accommodation at Lake Eğirdir

We arrived late in the evening at Lake Eğirdir and spent a night at a family-owned lake-view Hotel – Fulya Pansiyon. The owner, Ibrahim, emailed us the day before, letting us know about the dinner options they had at the hotel and making sure everything would be ready for our arrival.

This is us in the picture below having a late homemade dinner on Lake Eğirdir with freshly caught fish from the lake, traditional Turkish ground beef stuffed eggplant, soup, and a whole row of little appetizers. Thank you, Ibrahim, for your hospitality 😊.

We booked a lakeside Family Studio with a lake view (1 king bed, one twin bed, and a kitchen) for $82.68 per night on Expedia. The studio was spacious and even had a balcony where you could enjoy an amazing lake view.

In the morning we went to the hotel’s rooftop terrace to have our breakfast and were absolutely stunned by the view.

Things to do in Eğirdir

Lake Eğirdir is the second-largest freshwater lake in Turkey. It’s not that deep (only 46 ft / 14 m) but a rather large lake (186.1 mi²).

We only had half the day to explore the area and took a stroll along the lake, enjoying the views. You can easily spend a day in the area – fishing or going on a boat ride.

You can also explore the little town which had historical and modern parts.

Day 3 – Drive to Kütahya

The city of Afyonkarahisar 

We decided not to stay for lunch in Eğirdir, but instead, drive to Afyonkarahisar and have lunch there.

This little town is famous for many things: having a giant rock with an old castle in the middle of the town, being one of the biggest pharmaceutical opium producers in the world, and having colorful historical architecture.

💡 Good to Know

The distance from Eğirdir to Afyonkarahisar is about 84 mi (135 km).

The name of the city (Afyonkarahisar) refers to the Black Castle (Kara Hisar), as the city was built around it. There is literally a giant rock in the middle of the city, and that is what caught our attention in the first place while we were planning our trip.

The Castle is a historical fortification that was built around 1350 B.C. on the top of the 226 m craggy rock by the Hittite King. You can take stairs all the way to the top, to the castle, but we didn’t risk doing that will the little ones.

We only planned to spend a few hours there and had lunch at one of the local restaurants – Kale Konak. The restaurant was on the second floor of a building and had a really interesting authentic Turkish decor; Sophia was even wondering if we were in a museum 😅.

The family that owned the restaurant was very kind, and the food was delicious. They obviously did not speak English, so we had to improvise with all the languages we knew to order the food.

For lunch, which almost included every item on the menu, we paid just 185 Turkish Liras ($11). We had Turkish manti (small meat-stuffed dumplings in a yogurt sauce), potato gözleme (Turkish stuffed turnover), kaygana (Turkish egg-based dish), Turkish tea, and ayran (Turkish yogurt drink).

We absolutely fell in love with this city and would have easily spent a night there if we had not already planned the rest of our trip. If you are flexible with your time, consider exploring the area!

The ancient city of Aizanoi

The next stop on our trip after Afyonkarahisar was the ancient city of Aizanoi.

💡 Good to Know

The distance from Afyonkarahisar to Aizanoi is about 73 mi (117 km).

The city of Aizanoi was an important political and economic center in Roman times. Right now, you can explore some of the well-preserved ruins of the city, such as the Temple of Zeus, Roman Baths, and the Roman Theater.

💡 Good to Know

The cost of an admission ticket is 15 TRY per person and the operating hours are from 10 am to 7 pm.

Check out the incredibly well-preserved ruins of the Temple of Zeus, an archeological marvel on top of the hill with colossal columns still standing there after many centuries of being exposed to elements.

We went to the underground chamber in the Temple; the setup was absolutely astounding – with dimmed light and music accompanying the atmosphere of the chamber! As we were the only ones there, it was out of this world experience!

As usual, we walked to the Roman Theatre and sat there alone admiring the ancient ruins and imagining the theater bustling with life centuries ago.

Accommodation in Kütahya

To live up to our name, in Kütahya, we decided to stay at a Hilton hotel which we booked with points! Usually, the average cent per point for Hilton redemptions is about 0.5 CPP. We booked a standard room at Hilton Garden Inn Kütahya using 5,000 Hilton Honors; the cash rate was $53.35, which ended up at 1.07 CPP, an amazing value for Hilton points even though the redemption amount was low.

Upon check-in, we were automatically upgraded to a suite (even without asking for it!). We also got free parking and complimentary breakfast as Diamond members (in the U.S., you get a measly $10 F&B credit (or $20 for 2+ people) at Garden Inns instead of complimentary breakfast).

Day 4 – Drive to Istanbul

Lunch in Bursa

On the way from Kütahya to Istanbul, we drove through Bursa, the former capital of the Ottoman Empire. This city is just a few hours outside of Istanbul and is the fourth most populous city in Turkey.

First things first, we left the car in a paid parking lot and went to grab lunch in the historic market district at the Koza Han.

In the 15th century, Bursa was the center of silk production and trade. Thus, it had a great deal of visiting foreign merchants, who needed to be provided with lodging and storage for their goods. In 1491 the city welcomed travelers at a new caravanserai (basically a roadside inn) – Koza Han.

We had lunch in the building’s inner courtyard with the tea garden and cafes. There were several restaurants next to each other, with outdoor settings, and we just picked one of them randomly. The girls quickly found their favorite dishes on the menu – potato gözleme (Turkish stuffed turnover) for Sophia and köfte (Turkish meatballs) for Zoe 😊.

After lunch, we tried a charcoal-cooked Turkish coffee prepared right in front of us. The coffee was rich in flavor, very thick and concentrated, a must-try for coffee lovers if you’re there.

We walked a few blocks into the city and headed to Istanbul afterward, as everyone was tired and needed to save some energy for the next full day in Istanbul. You can absolutely spend more time in Bursa and explore what it has to offer.

Bottom Line

This concluded our short road trip through Turkey, and we were happy that we got to do it. It’s always a challenge with the little ones, especially toddlers that just want to “get out” of the car in the middle of nowhere. At least 3 out of 4 of us were really excited about the new places we visited and all the cool things that we got to see. This itinerary was indeed a good fit, and we definitely recommend this route.

Leave a Comment