Istanbul is a city that is simultaneously rich in history, culture, religion, and architectural wonder. I must admit that I had some preconceived notions about it (before visiting), and we have been debating whether or not it is worthwhile to put it on our bucket list of places to see for years.
But after we went there, I was totally amazed! We’ll journey through our itinerary for Istanbul together in this piece.
Istanbul has it all, from the holiness of the mosques to the vibrancy of the Grand Bazaar and the nightlife in Karakoy. Beautiful, breathtaking structures with exquisite interiors may be seen everywhere throughout the city. As well as gorgeous streets and hidden jewels like Balat, it has one of the largest covered marketplaces, one of the largest spice bazaars, and other noteworthy features.
Day 1 – Exploring the touristic European Side
Having a Turkish breakfast to start the day
Most of the hotels have an inclusive breakfast, but for this time, we choose for a central AirBnB flat.
We enjoyed our breakfast very close to our flat in a lovely place called Rabbit Hole. The place is new & stylish, very chill and quiet early in the morning. You and definitely enjoy your Turkish coffee in peace alongside some sweets and mentally prepare for the day.
Turkish breakfast typically consists of both sweet and salty foods. The buffets at almost all hotels offer a variety of choices. However, if yours doesn’t, you won’t have any trouble locating delicious street food outside.
Stroll around the Sultanahmet neighborhood.
One of Istanbul’s oldest neighborhoods, Sultanahmet has a rich cultural history. The Ottoman and Byzantine empires each had their capital there. Sultanahmet is well known for its stunning, opulent, and ancient mosques. Thus, it is essential to visit the mosques in this area.
Just take a stroll and enjoy the beauty of the quarter as a starter. The positive energy present will astound you. Don’t forget to sample some of the bread and pastries that the locals there sell. We booked for a free tour on the European side here and definitely enjoyed it.
Walk into Hagia Sophia mosque
Sultanahmet is a wildly popular tourist destination and a great place for travelers to be amazed on a really epic scale since it has so many must-see sights within a short distance of one another and all located around the site of an ancient Byzantine hippodrome. Beyond the splendors of the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Palace, and more, this very tiny region of Istanbul manages to keep a sense of serenity and peace. Visitors may enjoy spectacular views of the Bosphorus, a far less well-known network of charming alleys and side streets, and an excellent selection of lodging alternatives for all tastes and price ranges.
Hagia Sophia, this architectural wonder has a broad, flat dome that was a daring technical accomplishment when it was built in the sixth century, as well as 30 million gold tiles all over its interior.
Let the Grand Bazaar guide you
The Grand Bazaar, where we were headed next, was ten minutes’ walk away from our AirBnB. It is a must-see location on your agenda for Istanbul. The Grand Bazaar is one of the world’s largest covered markets, with more than 4,000 businesses.
Here, you may find a wide variety of stores, including ones for food, textiles and jewelry. Be ready to navigate through a sizable throng. Thousands of residents and visitors wander the area shopping for clothing, jewelry, etc. Every vintage enthusiast’s ideal location may be found there. Take your time and show courtesy to the (sometimes) overly friendly sellers.
In our first day, we tried some delicious food in the Bazaar: baked chestnut, sweet corn, local lokum, multiple types of baklava, and of course, Turkish tea & coffee.
Be brave and book for a Turkish Hammam
Is there anything more soothing and revitalizing than receiving a complete body scrub while resting on a heated stone in a Turkish hamam?
Turkish hammams, also known as Turkish baths, are significant aspects of Turkish culture that date back to the 16th century. The hamams in Istanbul are the pinnacle of Turkish bathing, and after your first (or fifth) visit, you’ll feel rejuvenated.
If you are curious about it, here is a list of 10 best places you can have a hamman in Istanbul.
Day 2 – Marching to the Northern European Side
The Old City and the Beyolu area of Istanbul are connected by the Galata Bridge. Along with tram tracks, the bridge offers lanes for automobiles and pedestrians. Famous seafood restaurants and taverns may be found on its first levels.
Glance over Galata Tower
The Istanbul district of Karakoy is home to Galata Tower. It is a nine-story skyscraper with a height of 66.9 meters. To stop hostile ships from entering the harbor, the tower served as a watchtower.
You can still take in the view from the top from virtually everywhere else high in Istanbul, despite the fact that the café and restaurant at the top of the tower are overpriced and frequently crowded.
We decided against going up there since it was too touristic for us, but we did enjoy ourselves while exploring the nearby neighborhoods and stopping for a rest in a quiet rooftop café called Konak Bar
Visit Suleyman’s Tomb
By far, this is the most well-known street in Istanbul. It is a pedestrian-only route with beautiful structures, architecture, and in-home businesses. If you have just arrived in Istanbul, Istiklal Street might serve as a fantastic introduction to the city. You’ll be in the perfect frame of mind to explore the city if you stroll around here and hang out at the quaint cafes and restaurants!
Visit Galatasaray High School, Turkey’s first high school, while you’re at Istiklal Street. Don’t forget to have a peek at Istanbul’s historic Içek Pasaj retail center as well.
Try the renowned, historic red trams that run between Taksim Square and Galata Tower on Istiklal Street.
Get lost in Taksim
One of Istanbul’s busiest places is Taksim Square. Due to the abundance of eateries, cafés, and stores, it is frequently crowded with tourists. It is also a significant commercial hub. Because of this, there are a lot of residents working or conducting business there.
You may go to surrounding attractions like Gezi Park in addition to Taksim Square. The demonstrations that took place in the park in 2013 gave it historical and political significance. They first intended to object to Istanbul’s urban development plan.
Walk on Bosphorus shore
Day 3 – Discovering the hidden gems of the Anatolian side
Enjoy a perfect breakfast on the Asian side
We got two amazing breakfasts in different locations in different days, but both of them on the Asian side. For both we have to wait for an hour or so, but if you ask me, I would stay in line to get it again.
In Moda, reading a book while sipping tea or Turkish coffee is a fantastic way to unwind. The Moda Tea Garden, which has a beautiful view, is the ideal location to accomplish this. Both residents and visitors like it.
Due to the numerous Ottoman minorities that resided in the region, Moda boasts a fantastic combination of historic buildings and religious monuments. You will be astounded to see Sarca Paşa Köşkü, a stone mansion from the 1900s that is still occupied by the original owner’s family, as you pass by Ali Usta Ice Cream Shop. Be on the lookout for mansions with beautiful architectural details as they dot the neighborhood.
There are just too many options in Moda if you have a sweet craving. You may visit Asuman and the very popular Chocolate Shop. Both places are wonderful for a date. In Moda, the options seem limitless.
Moda is not just Istanbul’s prime location, but also the cosmopolitan hub of Kadköy!
Tips & tricks
- Withdraw cash from big banks only (no fees) – Don’t use the exchange offices or withdraw from ATM blocks (min 5% fee)
- Shop & eat only on the Anatolian side
- Book for a room on the Anatolian side (Julliette rooms) – less crowded and cheaper
- Don’t shop from Grand Bazaar – the prices are overrated
- Be careful at shoe cleaners (scam)
- Book a Free tour on the European Side
- Purchase an Istanbul card and Topup with at least 200 Turkish lira. You’ll avoid the wasted time queueing for every top-up
- Instead of Galata Tower visit Konak bar – is basically free, there are no queues, you can seat and enjoy some drinks & sweets in the shade and see the exact same view
- Wear long sleeves and long pants – some religious places will require a dress code
- Try an authentic Turkish food at Durumce (European Side)
- Get a local SIM card. Turkey is not in EU and expect some high roaming charges. You can easily get a local SIM card from Vodafone with 20GB of data for €20.
Some Turkish phrases
- Hello — Merhaba! — MARE-HA-BA or Salamu Alaykom — SALAMOO ALAYKOM
- Thank you — Teşekkür ederim — TE-SH-QU-ERR ED-ERR-IM
- You’re welcome — Birşey değil — BEER-SHEY DEY-EEL
- Please — Lütfen — LUT-FEN
- I don’t understand — Sizi anlamıyorum — SI-ZI ANN-LA-MA-YOR-UM
- I don’t speak Turkish –– Türkçe bilmiyorum! — TURK-JEH BILL-MI-YOR-UM
- Could you please repeat — Şunu tekrar edebilir misiniz? — SHU-NU TEK-RA ED-EBB-ILL-EAR MISS-IN-IZ
- How much does it cost? — Ne Kadar? — NAY KAD-AR
- Excuse me — Afedersiniz — AFF-ED-DAR-SAN-IZ
- Can you help me?-– Yardım edebilir misiniz?– YARR-DIM ED-EBB-ILL-EAR MISS-IN-IZ
- Yes — Evet — EV-ET
- No — Hayır — HI-EAR
- Where is the toilet? — Afedersiniz, tuvalet nerede? — AFF-ED-DER-SIN-IZ TOO-WA-LET NER-REY-DE
- I am sorry — Özür dilerim — OUZ-UR DILL-EAR-IM
- Welcome — Hoş Geldiniz — HOSH GEL-DIN-IZ
- Okay — Tamam — TAM-AM
- Goodbye! — Hoşçakal! — HOSH-CHA-KAL