Speechless and Exciting, Istanbul is an amazing city that is must-see. The crazy vibes of the Metropolis are hard to describe in words. Istanbul is where the European continent meets the Asian continent and creates a fusion with a unique atmosphere and unlike any other city.
This Turkish city is divided into two parts. There are two sides, two continents, two cultures and that makes Istanbul one of the most intriguing cities.
Is it safe?
They have a tense political situation and after the terrorist attacks in 2016 and 2017, the tourists’ number has dropped. Some arias are not allowed to enter and it’s better if you will respect that. On the street try to be careful with your bag and mobile phone. Currently, there are no travel warnings for Istanbul as far as the British Foreign Ministry is concerned. Up-to-date information can be found under the following link: Travel information Turkey.
I recommend you to check the Lonely Planter Travel to Istanbul guide book. You can view and buy the travel guide here: Lonely Planet Istanbul Travel Guide. You can’t go wrong with this guide.
Get Scrubbed in a Turkish Hammam
You can find many hammams, or traditional bathhouses, from very cheap once to very luxurious. My advice is to try the Aga Hamami, a historic hammam with more than 560 years of tradition. Usually, the hammams are open daily from 10 a.m to 10 p.m. and the price is between 30 and 90 EUR.
Eat and Drink Everything!
While you’re in Istanbul, don’t miss the street food, go to a local restaurant, and don’t forget to try Turkish tea and coffee. Sampling local cheese and Turkish delights (yes, you can totally sampling). Don’t forget to save some room for baklava. 🙂
- Try the Fish Sandwich on the Bosphorus, when walking on Galata bridge, there are crowds of fishermen.
Central Neighborhoods in Istanbul to check out:
- Taksim: The most famous square in the city, this shopping area is always crowded with tourists. You can find the best shopping in the city, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs.
- Beyoglu: A very romantic area with many small and cute shops. Try the Galata Tower, and if you want views of the city, go to the top for 25 TL ($7 EUR).
- Kadiköy: It’s very close to both Sultanahmet and Taksim. So many trendy restaurants where you can walk and enjoy the local cafe and food.
- Sultanahmet: The most touristy area as all the tourist go there so you cannot miss this place as well. I don’t advice you to eat here, to buy souvenirs as the prices are two times higher.
- Ortaköy: A very popular area especially for locals. You will have a nice view of Bosphorus as you will walk along. Pretty and cute restaurants that serve fresh fish are also on the menu here. P
- Fener & Balat: Very Instagramable place. When I visited Instanbul, Instagram was not created but I totally remember this colorful neighborhood.
Most important sights in Istanbul
Almost everything can be reached quite easily by foot. My advice is for you to start in the historic quarter of Sultanahmet in the Fatih district. Sultanahmet square offers a lot of cafes and restaurants but I recommend you to avoid them. The square was once the social center of Constantinople.
Don’t miss the sunset from Galata Bridge – Istanbul has killer sunsets, be sure to catch at least one. You can go to a rooftop or near the water, the sky gets totally orange and it’s amazing.
- Entry fee: 20 TL (3 EUR) and it’s closed on Mondays
Hagia Sophia started its life as he biggest Greek Catholic Church (Church of Holy Wisdom – built by Constantine the Great in AD 326 ), after that it was turned into a mosque (when Ottoman conquest) and is now a museum (from 1931 ). The interior is a fascinating mix of both Byzantine and Ottoman splendor as a result of dual religious usage over the centuries
And if you are a James Bond fan, then you might enjoy the fact that Hagia Sophia was featured in the film “From Russia with Love.” 🙂
Blue Mosque (a.k.a. Sultan Ahmet Mosque)
- The entrance is free.
The nickname “blue ” is because the inside features blue hand-painted tiles and the construction of this famous mosque ended in 1616. The mosque is more spectacular from the inside.
Please cover your legs, shoulders and your head when entering inside. There is also a rental area at the entry point.
- Entrance fee: 25 TL(4 EUR)/ pers but check the official website for opening hours
Once the main residence for the Ottoman Sultans, now it serves as a large museum. You can find the vision of the true Turkish royalty and it will take a few hours to explore. Don’t miss the Harem, where the sultan ‘kept his women’ and the treasury of the crown jewels as you will navigate through the palace.
You will love the panoramic view of the Marmara Sea from the courtyards.
The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul is one of the oldest covered markets in the world with more than 61 streets. The construction began as early as 1455. The Bazar will give you an interesting and lovely taste of Turkish culture. You can try small samples of local food but be aware that you will probably buy something from those store as you will not be able to avoid it. Be prepared to negotiate and usually, the first price they say it’s 50% more than the price market. They love to have conversations with the tourist and they will take your hand to drag you their store – so just be nice and respectful replay that you are not interested.
Sunset Cruise over Bosporus – take a cruise
The cruise is very touristy but it’s the best way to see some interesting parts of the city. It should cost just 10 Liras for 2 hours. Just keep in mind that there is no need for you to pay and extra seat as nobody is sitting and most probably they will block your view.
And it is pretty cool to be between the two: Asia on one side and Europe on the other side. 🙂
Princes‘ Islands – day trip
- Transportation: to reach here, take a ferry operated by IDO or, Istanbul Liners. The departure is from Kabatas. More details here.
There are 9 islands on the Asian side of Istanbul. The name is because, during the Byzantine, the exiled princes and monks were sent here. The most popular is Buyukada.
I loved that on islands the motorized vehicles are banned. You can rent bicycles and enjoy the islands.
Istanbul is a mix of everything. I don’t advise you to rent a car in the city, it’s better to travel by taxi or local transportation but you can also walk as everything is near the center. If you want to go to the Asian side, we took the metro for a few stations and it was the best option. The traffic is chaotic there so be prepared with the crazy noise on the streets.