Monday, 11 March 2019

ISTANBUL TRAVEL GUIDE - THINGS TO DO IN ISTANBUL

Known as the city where east meets west, the only city in the world in two continents - Europe and Asia - is none other than incredible Istanbul. Awe-inspiring architecture, rich history and immersive culture, Istanbul is a true gem and a must see city.

Sunsets over the Bhosphurus with the stunning silhouette of grand mosques - that's the image in my head when I think of the city.





I'm not a fan of guided tours and prefer to make my own itinerary. That way I can chop and change according to my own taste. I used this Prompt Guides City Guide to Istanbul to plan my trip. It's such an easy to use, useful guide that includes all the major highlights of the city, what order to do them in to ensure convenience and what to do when. It's also a 3-day guide which means you can see the best of Istanbul in just 3 days.




While my trip wasn't nearly long enough to experience all that Istanbul has to offer, it did give me a good overview of the city and maximized my time there. Here are my must sees in Istanbul:


Things to do in Istanbul, Turkey



Sultanahmet



All these attractions are in the vercinity of Sultanahmet Square area so you can do them all in one go!


Hagia Sophia



But did you even go to Istanbul if you didn't go to the Hagia Sophia (Pronounced Ayasofya)?! Hagia Sophia is absolutely breathtaking and one of the biggest attractions in Istanbul. It was first built as an Orthodox cathedral, then became a mosque and is now exclusively a museum. It was a part of both the Byzantine and Ottoman empires and has so many historical elements from both.

When I was there it was under construction and that took a lot away aesthetically but it was still awe-inspiring!

Since it's such a major attraction, you can imagine the kind of lines outside! The queue to get in is crazy, so I would recommend going early when it just opens. The entrance is also a hefty 60 Lira. It's still a must see because of the hype around it.






Blue Mosque



I'm absolutely fascinated by the architecture of mosques and the blue mosque doesn't disappoint. Officially it is the Sultanahmet Camii (Mosque of Sultan Ahmet). The name, Blue Mosque, comes from the beautiful blue interior. Remember you will need to cover up and woman are required to cover their heads, so instead of using theirs, take this as a opportunity to wear your trendiest scarf as a hijab!

It's also a major attraction so expect it to be very full! For me, the crowd took away from the experience and I didn't enjoy it as much as the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. It's free to enter but remember to dress modestly and that you will need to take off your shoes.


Grand Bazaar



Istanbul's Grand bazaar is one of the world's oldest markets and one of the liveliest places in the city - you can find just about anything there. Don't forget to bargain!

While this is one of the major attractions, if you're somewhat claustrophobic like me, the large crowds and shopkeepers trying to sell you their products can be TOTALLY OVERWHELMING. Plus, I don't feel like their prices were all that good anyway. Of course you want to do some shopping but I would rather suggest you roam the streets and find little more unknown markets and do your shopping there. For instance, I discovered a really nice market just opposite the station for Princes Island ferry in Eminönü.


Taksim



On the second day we took a train to Taksim and did all these attractions on foot.





Istiklal Avenue



Work hard so that you can shop harder. Shopping in Istanbul is such a treat - shops are many, shops are vibrant and diverse and prices are low!  Funny enough, I didn't even go to one mall in Istanbul - Istiklal Avenue is where I did most of my shopping.

The iconic red tram is found on Istiklal Avenue in the heart of Taksim. This street is truly something special - it feels like a typical street in Europe. There are so many amazing stores on Istiklal Avenue, both local and international.




Something I really enjoyed was visiting Madame Tussauds Istanbul and enjoying the wax figures! There were many of the typical movies, characters, sports stars and singer wax figures but I loved the historical Turkish ones - I actually learned a lot about Turkey's history from the Madame Tussauds in Istanbul!





Galata Tower



You can spot Galata Tower from a mile away - and it's such a beautiful sight! Unfortunately the queue to actually go and enjoy the 360 degree views of Istanbul from the top of Galata tower are crazy long! I ended up going around midday and was way too tired to wait in line so I just enjoyed the sight from outside.





Prince's Island



Now, this is a must see! Simply take a ferry to the prince's Island. The cheapest option is to take the public transport ferry from Eminönü with your Istanbul Card. However, the ferry trip to the Islands is around 1.5 hours so it's best suited as a day trip. I would suggest leaving in the morning, around 8/9 to come back at 4. Don't worry, the trip doesn't feel nearly as long when you consider that you get to enjoy the stunning views of the city. The ferry ride really is an experience on its own.





Why should you visit the Islands (Plural because there are 9 of them with 5 being inhabited)? It's like escaping to a whole other era! Interestingly cars are not allowed on the islands - only bicycles and horses. The most popular island is the last stop on the ferry ride, Buyukada. I'm not joking when I say that this was the best things about Istanbul for me! On the island there are tons of shops to get souvenirs as well as lots of restaurants. The best way to experience the island is to explore - either on foot, on a bicycle, or in a horse and carriage (We decided on the latter).







OTHER THINGS YOU HAVE TO EXPERIENCE IN ISTANBUL




Traditional Turkish Hamam



To be honest, I enjoyed a Turkish Hamam (bath) in Cappadocia, not Istanbul, but in any case it is a must! A Hamam is a type of public bathing originating in the Ottoman Empire. It short it involves a bath, a massage and a scrub. I suggest choosing a package that includes to whole shebang as opposed to just the bath. Treat yo self! It can be a little awkward if it's your first time but it's also very similar to a Moroccan bath (Which I love!)







Turkish Food



I'm not one for taking food pictures - but I took so many food pics in Istanbul! The food was absolutely delicious. I enjoyed a combination of traditional street food as well as fancier (and pricier) restaurants and would hands down choose the delicious street food any day. The foods I came across the most, and indulged in the most, are definitely döner, kebab, köfte, dondurma (ice cream) turkish flatbread and baklava. And traditional breakfasts are amazing! They're mostly cold and include tons of cheeses and healthy options.







Turkish Tea



Everywhere you go, you will be offered tea and many times given Turkish tea free of charge! Everyone seems to love their tea. As someone who only really drinks green tea and rooibos tea, Turkish tea was a very different taste to what I'm used to. But boy, did I grow to love it. My advice is definitely to try the tea at least. And if you don't exactly love it, learn to love it - you'll be offered it all the time!

These are some of my highlights of Istanbul. While there were so many other things I enjoyed in the city, this blog post would be impossibly long if I mentioned all of them so these were some of my must sees! Overall I loved Istanbul even more than I thought I would. It really was everything I expected it to be and me. Above all, the thing that stood out to me about Istanbul the most will always be the people - some of the kindest, friendliest people I've ever met!




ALSO READ: GUIDE TO CAPPADOCIA TURKEY

ALSO READ: ACCOMODATION AND FOOD IN ISTANBUL


ALSO READ: TRAVEL TIPS FOR ISTANBUL






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