Another city that never sleeps, Istanbul is the only city in the world to straddle two continents – Asia and Europe. With 13 million people calling Istanbul home and another ten million tourists visiting every year it’s a wonder how this city runs as smoothly as it does.
The Grand Bazaar is bustling from morning to night as tourists peruse the 3000 shops. Delicately dusted Turkish delight are stacked alongside crisp baklava dripping in honey and crushed pistachios. The smell of shish kebabs and spiced koftas waft down every street making you constantly hungry while the prayer call is carried on the wind from the 3,113 of mosques sprinkled across the city.
You will need a minimum of three days in Istanbul to see a decent amount of the city. It is a large city and the ‘tourist sight’ areas are split into two districts on either side of the river.
You could easily spend a week discovering new restaurants, markets and textile shops.
WHERE TO STAY?
There are two main areas that most tourists find they spend their days and inevitably seek accommodation in – Sultanahmet and Beyoğlu/Taksim Square.
Which is better? This depends what you are seeking and possibly your age.
Sultanahmet is the historical centre and home to Istanbul’s biggest sights like The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar market. My favourite street to stay close to and find great restaurants along is Akbiyik Caddesi, use this street as an axis when looking for hotels/hostels in Sultanahmet.
– walking distance to main sights
– good mix of street food carts, casual restaurants and upper market restaurants
– older architecture and parks/gardens
– quieter nightlife (this could be a pro…)
– very crowded during summer months
– inflated tourist prices for shopping and accommodation
If you are seeking ancient history, open markets and the most famous sights I would suggest staying in Sultanahmet.
Beyoğlu/Taksim Square is situated on the northern side of the famous Galata Köprüsü bridge and is a modern hub of restaurants and nightlife.
– high street shops and malls, iconic trams and a cinema along Istiklal Street
– many options for nights out, small bars to big night clubs
– more modern style hotels
– a long (but beautiful) walk or tram ride to the main sights in Sultanahmet
– can be a little dangerous at night due to the high number of bars and clubs, lots of scams
– more modern shops than old world streets (however it is still very beautiful especially down the side streets)
Stay here if you are seeking a more vibrant visit and love being out on the town, dining and shopping. You will need to jump on a train, tram or walk over to Sultanahmet for the main sights Istanbul has to offer.
MY TOP FIVE SIGHTS IN ISTANBUL
Built in the early 1600’s, this iconic six minarets mosque is a must-see for tourists visiting Istanbul. There are twenty thousands or so blue iznik tiles that decorate the interior arched ceilings and walls, hence the name – The Blue Mosque.
There are always long lines of tourists waiting to enter, do not follow or pay anyone who offers you entry without lining up.
Be sure to carry a scarf or sarong with you, men must wear full length pants or wrap a cloth around their legs. Women must have knees, shoulders and heads covered, scarves and pieces of cloth for Men and Women are available at the entrance.
Click here to visit the official website of The Blue Mosque.
This Cathedral was the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years before the Seville Cathedral was built in 1520. The building became a Mosque from 1453 to 1931, today the church contains holy relics, meticulously restored mosaics and ancient doors and gates.
The Grand Bazaar is closed on a Sunday!!! Open Mon – Sat, 9am – 7pm.
Click here to visit the official website of the Grand Bazaar.
For the best photographs and experience, visit at sunset when the city glows a burnt orange and the evening mosque prayer calls echo across the skyline.
Also known as the ‘Sunken Palace’ this cistern was built as a water reservoir for the Byzantine Palace in 532 AD.
It is a surprisingly beautiful structure with water glittering around 336 Corinthian and Doric style columns. There are two upside-down carved Medusa heads from the late Roman Period, why they are underground and not the right way up is still debated by historians.
Click here to visit the official website of Basilica Cistern.
MY BEST ADVICE…
One of the most famous Baklava shops in town is Karakoy Gulluoglu – I can say first hand that it is delicious but visit on an empty stomach!
I find Turkish food to be mouth-watering, with its own unique style and flavour – don’t just stick to kofta and baklava, ask for local recommendations from the waiters!
Some love it, others hate it, but I think you should experience a traditional hamam once in your life. Your experience will depend on where you go and which service you book.
Some tourists seek the public bath houses where male and females are separated and it’s more of a self-wash experience – BYO shampoo, conditioner and soap. This is the cheapest way to experience a Turkish Bath.
More traditional places and hotel hamams catering more to couples allow male and females to choose bath, massage and pampering packages to have together or separately, naked or clothed. There are many options to choose from, you will have to research spas around your hotel and choose one you feel comfortable with.
Countless tourists forget that in a mosque or Islamic building there is a strict dress code. Respect it, be prepared and you will have no problems.
As always, be a smart conscientious traveller, there is always someone praying on the unsuspecting and in Istanbul this is very much the case.
There are many schemes that I have heard of recently like shoe shiners on Galata Bridge, or the ‘let’s have a drink’ new friend which can end with you owing an astronomic bill as well as general pickpocketing.
Be prepared to say a firm ‘no’ to someone offering to help carry you luggage or shopping bags, walk away from anyone who makes you feel suspicious or vulnerable.
Be savvy and you will have no problems, I have been to Turkey multiple times as a 20-something blond girl and never got into any trouble other than general leering and strange love proposals.
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So who am I…? Hi! My name is India.
I am a nomadic Australian who has wandered the world full time exploring over 60 countries and 5/7 continents.
After ten years on the road, I have launched my own website – Travelling Notebook – to share the knowledge I have gained on the road and the images I have collected over the years with fellow adventurers. Keep reading…
I am a freelance travel writer, photography and videographer, based in London. If you need specific travel advice or would like to collaborate please send an email my way!
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