Turkey is, essentially, one big open-air museum, and it would be difficult not to have a learning experience while traveling in such a historically rich country. Where better to begin than with Smithsonian Journeys (tel. 877/338-8687; www.smithsonianjourneys.org), billed as "the best in educational travel"? Tours include the Journey of Aeneas and The Black Sea: Crossroads of Culture, and all are led by leading scholars in Ancient Greece, and Classical and Byzantine Art.
For their Turkey trips, Intrepid Travel (tel. 800/970-7299 in the U.S.; tel. 866/360-1151 in Canada; tel. 0203-147-7777 in the U.K.; tel. 1300-364-512 in Australia; www.intrepidtravel.com) manages to effectively combine authentic experiences with an optimal cultural overview.
If you're planning to drag along unwilling offspring, try booking through Thomson Family Adventures (tel. 800/262-6255 or 617/864-4803; fax 617/497-3911; www.familyadventures.com) for kid-friendly trips without adult compromise. Thomson takes an added interest in your children -- establishing departure dates according to the school calendar -- and provides fun educational activities prior to departure.
Using a local travel agent can make anybody a bit skittish, but expert in the region is the English-proficient Credo Tours (tel. 0212/254-8175 in Istanbul; fax 0212/237-9670; www.credo.com.tr), specializing in creating theme tours on special request. A somewhat recent program organized visits to select fine-arts galleries and exhibitions during the 2007 Biennale.
Excursions Into Eastern Turkey -- For the first time in more than 20 years, eastern Turkey is enjoying an extended period of calm, and slowly but surely, destinations that previously came with State Department warnings are appearing in tour brochures. Make no mistake, however -- as far as creature comforts go, it's still the Wild West out east. Alas, publisher's directives about page limits constrain me from elaborating on such wondrous destinations as Zeugma, Antioch, Mount Nemrut, and Lake Van. Instead, I can highly recommend Credo Tours (tel. 0212/254-8175; fax 0212/237-9670; www.credo.com.tr) for your foray into Turkey's eastern and southeastern provinces.
Another reputable outfitter experienced in the east is Fez Travel (tel. 0212/516-9024; fax 0212/638-8764; www.feztravel.com), run by a group of Australians who made a name for themselves with a hop-on-hop-off circuit of Turkey's hot spots. These trips, top-heavy with Australian backpackers, are geared more toward the budget end of travel. Meanwhile, many tour operators based in Göreme, in Cappadocia, run overnight bus tours to Mount Nemrut, mostly utilized by backpackers.