Hi, we are doing 3 back-to-back tours Sep 1 to Oct 13 (Greece in 14 Days, Sicily in 11 Days, Turkey in 13 Days). We have a few days between each tour. Do you have any "must do" side trip recommendations that are not covered during these tours? We are tentatively thinking Santorini for a few nights between the Greece and Sicily tours, just because Santorini is so famous, the tour does not cover the islands, and we may never go back again. And, thinking Crete for a couple nights between the Sicily and Turkey tours for similar reasons plus it is sort of on the way to Istanbul. Any thoughts will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
I would spend any extra time you have before your Turkey trip in Istanbul (it's an easy flight from Catania via Turkish Air). There is TONS to do there, and the tour only hits a few top sights over 2.5 days or so. I spent over 2 weeks on my own in Istanbul and never ran out of things to do. Here's what Rick Steve recommends (right on this website, if you read the tour information):
"Here are suggestions for sightseeing that we will not do as a group: Istanbul Archaeological Museum (includes Tiled Kiosk and Museum of the Ancient Orient); Yerebatan Underground Cistern; Çemberlitaş Hamam; Mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent; Chora Church; Galata Tower; and Dolmabahçe Palace. For details, please see the Rick Steves Istanbul guidebook."
If that's not enough, send me a PM and I can add many things even to this list. I went all over the place, including areas that were not touristy at all. If I had more time, I would have taken a half day or all day food shopping/cooking class which would have been a blast.
Crete is not really "on the way to Istanbul" but you can fly from Crete to Istanbul on Aegean through Athens. On my test dates, the fastest connections are the very early and late departures. It would surely be simpler to fly from Sicily to Istanbul. Try www.skyscanner.com as a search engine.
Between each tour, I suggest that you have a full day of doing nothing. Any beach town is good for that, whether on an island or not. Cefalu is no longer a stop on the Sicily tour but is a charming old town with a decent beach.
If you only have 2 or 3 days, I'd spend the time between Sicily and Turkey in one of those two places. I would not be making two flights in that time period.
I'm not sure if this is still in effect, but the State Dept. did issue a warning about travel to Turkey in the past year. Check their website.
I'm going on the RS Turkey tour Oct 15 - 27. I think you may end your Turkey journey on Oct 13 it seems. I have been warned by some of my friends about Turkey but I think Rick Steves would pull the tours if he knew we would be in danger. After all, it is his business and his name is on the door! I don't think he would risk our lives. Last year he pulled all the Turkey tours because of the issues between our government and the Turkish government.
I respect the US State Dept. warnings but they tend to be a little overcautious I have read on this forum. The Turkey forum has numerous posts from people who have been there recently and have been very safe.
I think your 3 back to back tours sound wonderful, I wish I had that much time off!
I was just on the RS Turkey Tour in May-June. The days in Istanbul are brief and quite rushed, so I would definitely recommend extra days in Istanbul before the tour, visiting the many sites and areas that are NOT included on the tour itinerary. Also a great time for shopping, where I recommend the Arasta Bazaar between the Blue Mosque and the tour hotel, the Azade. Some very fine specialized shops, and a much more laid-back experience than the Grand Bazaar or Spice Bazaar, both of which are visited by the tour. The interesting and inexpensive Mosaic Museum lies within the Arasta Bazaar if you like ancient mosaics, which I do very much. By the way, the interior of the Blue Mosque is under renovation, and, I believe, closed at least to visitors. I could enter the courtyard, and of course the exterior is very impressive from all angles. The RS Tour visited the Suleyman Mosque instead. Among the pre-tour visits I would recommend include the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, the Archeology Museum, The Cistern ( which doesn't make much time). I visited the Chora Church in 2016, and the exterior and much of the interior were covered in scaffolding and cloth for a major renovation, and while I found the ancient frescoes I could see to be spectacular, overall it was a disappointing experience, not worth the time to get there (I walked) and money involved. I would check recent reviews to see what people are saying. Also lots of interesting streets and neighborhoods to visit in Istanbul, with lots of shops, restaurants, mosques, and some churches and museums along the way. In 2016 I took an excellent food tour with Culinary Backstreets/Istanbul. They offer several different tours, I enjoyed the Two Continents/Two Markets Tour.
In Istanbul and elsewhere through Turkey, I felt no danger or unfriendliness, just the opposite, the country and its people were very friendly and helpful. Also, the Turkish Lira has been suffering, and for those changing dollars or Euros, prices were very low.