Istanbul has been on my travel wishlist for a long time, I've only heard people speak good about the city & they're *always* travelling back- I never truly understood why, but after my time in Istanbul, I get it and I'm 100% going back!
Istanbul is for those who want a city break, there's a lot of exploring (and eating) to do! It's far from relaxing (in my opinion), but there is SO much beauty around. If you're looking for a honeymoon destination, personally I wouldn't go here. But for couples in general, it's definitely a destination to visit with your other half!
A lot of people suggest 3 / 4 days is more than enough to explore Istanbul- I disagree! Especially if it's your first time going, there is a LOT to see and do! You 100% need rest days too because walking around can get tiring at times! Istanbul is the world's 15th largest city, so there are a bunch of different districts to explore too, not just Sultanahmet.
One thing to keep in mind, as you're walking through the streets of Istanbul, you will get hounded by almost every shopkeeper, and if you're looking to buy something don't forget to haggle, most of the time they do lower the price substantially when you're about to leave the shop. Sometimes they can get pretty aggressive (verbally), so just politely decline and walk away.
In terms of food usually, I like to have a list of places I want to visit, but in Istanbul, you spot restaurants in every corner! So food was never an issue, on our walks if we see something that looks good and smells delicious, we'll eat there.
The only "fancy" restaurants we went to was Nusr-Et in Grand Bazaar (£50pp) and Kuzubeyi (£40 meal)- out of the two, I preferred Kuzubeyi, the only downside is that it's a bit of a trek to get there (around 40min - 1hr by Taxi), but if you have some free time definitely check it out!
- March, April & May: Best time to visit, the weather is mild and dry, but there are some rainy days.
- June, July & August: Busiest time of the year, very crowded.
- September, October & November: Best time to visit, but it does get rainier.
FLIGHTS: £190 RETURN (Turkish airlines, ECONOMY)
Departure: BHX > IST (4hrs)
VACCINATION STATUS 💉
You need an Istanbulkart to use Public Transport, it's basically a pre-paid contactless card. These cost 35TL (£1.70) and you just load money onto it.
If you're planning on visiting a number of paid attractions, you might find it cost-effective to purchase a Museum Pass instead. There are two different passes available:
- Istanbul Museum Pass: 2, 3, 5 & 7 day passes, includes 10 museums. (From £72)
- Istanbul Tourist Pass: 1, 5, 7 & 10 day passes, includes over 60 attractions. (From £72)
- British Nationals = No visa required
- ⚠️ Don't have tap water
- ⚠️ Beware of pickpocketers! Keep your belongings within your view and avoid holding bags without zips.
- ⚠️ Make sure the taxi's meter is on
- ⚠️ You will be relying on Google Maps so purchase a SIM card from a local mobile shop, i.e. Turkcell, you need your passport (or a digital copy) at hand.
- Trams are very convenient and cheap, but during peak time people are packed like sardines, so if you want to avoid that just walk. (mainly during Spring/Summer)
- Avoid taxis where you can, traffic is insane! (mainly during Spring/Summer)
- If you need to use a taxi, download the BiTaksi app.
- If you're travelling during Spring / Summer, start your day early (around 8am!)
- Take comfortable footwear, you'll be walking A LOT,
- Streets are cobbly, hilly, and narrow and curbs are quite high in some areas so just watch where you're walking.
- It's not pushchair friendly, there are some pavements and streets which are flat and wide, but the majority are quite cobbly and narrow.
- Learn some Turkish words, or have Google Translation at hand.
- If you want the bill, ask for the "check".
Our hotel (Yasmak Sultan) was located in Sultanahmet and Sirecki was the neighbourhood area. If you're travelling to Istanbul for the first time I highly recommend you stay in Sultanahmet as all the main attractions are here and they're all within walking distance!
For me the hotel was great, the location was perfect, there was a variety of food in the buffet and the bed was comfortable. I wasn't too fussed about the hotel as we spent most of our time outside of the hotel. The only downside is you can hear noise from the street, so if you're a light sleeper - this probably isn't the best hotel for you.
Things to do: Sultanahmet
- Hagia Sophia
- Blue Mosque - Currently under construction, you can still pray & visit, most of the building is covered up.
- Grand Bazar - Stalls outside of the Grand Bazaar are much cheaper
- Misir Carsisi (Spice Bazar)
- Arasta Bazaar - Less crowded version of Grand Bazaar.
- Turkish Arts Centre - Tile painting and water marbling art workshops.
- Topkapi Palace - [320TL / £15.60]
- Museum of Turkish & Islamic Arts - [75TL / £3.60]
- Great Palace Mosaic Museum - [45TL / £2.20]
- Have a Hammam at Hurrem Sultan
Eyup was Istanbul's first Ottoman settlement, it lies on the shores of the Golden Horn on the European side of Istanbul. The main place to visit is the Mosque and there's also a cable car take takes you to Pierre Lotti Hill cafe where you have a breathtaking view of the sea and city!
how to get there
- Take the Ferry (£1) from Karakoy Pier which takes around 45 minutes, the Ferry operates every 1 hour.
- Take a Taxi which takes around 30-40 minutes.
THINGS TO DO: EYÜPSULTAN
Beyoglu is part of the European side of Istanbul, here you'll find all the edgy and hipster cafe's, this little district is also popular for its nightlife. It's a great place to get away from the old city and enjoy modern Istanbul.
THINGS TO DO: BEYOGLU
- Galata Bridge - This bridge crosses the Golden Horn & connects the historic city with modern Istanbul, from here you have a spectacular view of Sultanahmet,
- Galata Tower - Get the best panoramic view of Istanbul. [130TL / £6.35]
- Dolmabahce Palace - [120TL / £5.80]
- Taksim Square
- Istiklal Caddesi - The most famous shopping street.
The Princes’ Islands refer to a cluster of 9 small islands off the coast of Istanbul, only 4 are available to the public: Büyükada, the biggest and most popular, Burgazada, Heybeliada and Kınalıada.
It's worth visiting Büyükada which is the largest island out of them all. The Island is transport free so prepare to walk a lot, or if you can ride a bike- hire one there to cycle around the Island!
HOW TO GET THERE
- If you're staying in Sultanahmet then take the TurYol Ferry from Eminou Pier, the journey takes around 1.5hr - 2hrs.