Istanbul, Turkey was never really one of my top places to visit, but after spending 4 days there, I totally recommend it to anyone who’s ever thought about going.
Why you should go
- Istanbul is on two different continents and you can visit both in a day (It’s just a 20-30 minute ferry ride away).
- The views are amazing. You can see amazing views from almost anywhere.
- The sight of a mosque everywhere is amazing.
- The food is amazing. If you love meats, carbs and cheese, you’ll be in heaven.
- There is so much history and culture and the contrast of historic and modern architecture.
- There is so much shopping from clothes to appliances to spices.
Where to stay
- We stayed about 15 minutes outside of all the tourist attractions (which we were going to). It wasn’t too bad to go back and forth since we usually just left in the morning and didn’t come back at night. It was a little more affordable than staying in the touristy area.
- We stayed at the Hampton by Hilton Istanbul Zeytinburnu. It was nice and what you would expect from a Hilton. One bonus is that they have a pretty extensive Turkish breakfast that’s included for free every morning.
- If you’re doing mostly touristy things, I would recommend staying in Sultanahmet (Where the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia are) or Beyoglu (Where the Galata Tower is).
Things to do in Istanbul
The Topkapi Palace is now a museum that use to be the main headquarters of the Ottoman Sultans in the 15th century. Come here to check out the amazing architecture, gardens and art.
Hint: skip the audio tour they try to sell you. It barely shares any information. You’re better just reading the signs next to each place/item instead.
Explore the Grand Bazaar
This is one of the biggest and oldest covered shopping areas. You can find spices, sweets, teas, household items, clothes, jewelry, and almost anything you can imagine. There are over 4000 little shops so plan for plenty of time to go browsing here.
Come to Galata Tower for an AMAZING panoramic view of the city. I’ve been to may view points (I always get suckered into going up the “tallest” building in a city or place) and this is for sure one of the best views I’ve ever seen. It’s also so cool to see so many huge mosque scattered among the other buildings.
Hint: Skip the simulation of flying over the city, especially if you get motion sick. It shows you all the major tourist attractions, but we saw most of them in real life. The graphic was really CGed.
Relax and check out more views
This city has such amazing views everywhere! Grab a drink or a meal at a rooftop restaurant and just relax and enjoy the views. We went to Mimar Sinan.
Hagia Sofia is a now a museum and was once a church. It’s famous for it’s dome and it was one of the largest buildings when it was built.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) is still an active mosque that tourists can visit. It’s called the blue mosque because of the hand painted blue tiles on the walls inside the mosque and the blue light that comes into the at night. Ladies – you will want to make sure that you are dressed conservatively and have your head covered when you visit.
This is one of the many cisterns that are underneath the city. A cistern is a place for storing water. The Basilica Cistern only holds a little bit of water so that visitors can come see it.
We took “The Taste of Two Continents” tour and it was so good! We started on the European side and took a ferry to the Asia side. It was literally non-stop eating. If we weren’t eating, we were walking to the next restaurant or taking the ferry to the next restaurant. Our tour guide was great and knowledgable. More importantly, the food was DELICIOUS and the portions were so generous! I was seriously full after the first stop, but somehow managed to eat everything at the 10 stops we went to. This was one of my favorite things to do in Istanbul.
Hammam (Turkish bath)
After walking so much, you deserve a little pampering. A Turkish bath is a place where you can get cleansed in a heated tiled room with heated marble slabs. We went to Cukurcuma Hamami and got the traditional Turkish hammam. Itncluded sweating next to the kurna (the marble water basin), traditional body scrubbing, a quick massage and a relaxing bubble wash, complimentary herbal tea with dried fruits and detox water at the Camekanlık (lounge) area.
It was nice and relaxing and I got a lot of dead skin cells off from the scrub so my skin felt super clean and smooth. Book strategically and you won’t need to shower for the rest of the day 😛
Go shopping – İstiklal Caddesi (İstiklal Avenue)
If you want to go shopping at more mainstream stores, Istiklal Avenue is a good place to go and shop.
Where and what to eat
We came here for our first meal in Istanbul. We wanted to try everything so we got the kabab platter, which was more than enough for 3 people to share. Unfortunately, it was just okay. It was a little on the dry side and could have used a little more spice. The Turkish pancake with cheese was delicious though. The service was not very friendly and they wouldn’t give us our change until we asked a few times.
We came here for dinner and it was a fun experience. We got the clay pot and it was like a mini show. They set it on fire, break the clay pot and pour the contents (meat) for your dinner. We ordered a lot of meat and carbs – just the way we like it. The meat was pretty tender and the flavors were good. The service was really friendly as well.
I’m sure most have heard of Salt Bae and this is his restaurant. We already had dinner so we really came here for dessert since we were in the area. His place is really known for the meats so we got an appetizer of carpaccio, which was really good. The meat was really tender and the mix-ins complimented the raw meat well. For dessert, we got the mocha cake and baklava and both were delicious. The star for me was the baklava though. It was flaky, had a lot of pistachio filling and I loved the sliver of Turkish ice cream sliver they put in the middle. I would recommend coming to this place for the novelty of coming to Salt Bae’s restaurant, but also for the delicious meat and dessert.
What a cute place to come hang out and eat a breakfast with multiple dishes. We got a traditional Turkish breakfast, manti and mezze and loved the variety. Everything was homemade, had great flavor and it was fun to try a little bit of everything.
We came here for the fish sandwiches. They actually cook the fish on the boat and they set up tables and chairs on the deck next to it so you can enjoy your sandwich. Though there were bones, it was a simple, but very fresh fish sandwich. They also came by with stuffed mussels where the mussels are stuff with rice inside. It was so good with a squeeze of lemon.
Somewhere near the Grand Bazaar
^^ That’s a horrible description as I can’t remember exactly where we got this from. We were walking and saw a line for a baklava shop and thought that if there was line, it must be popular. We got a few different kinds of baklava and it was one of my favorite things that I ate on the trip (one of many). I loved the flaky crust and the honey soaked pistachio filling. We did not hesitate to scarf all of it down.
Van Kahvalti Evi
We came here for breakfast after our Turkish bath. We loved the menemen so much from our food tour that we each had to get another one.
Surprisingly, we went vegetarian for a night and shared a mezze platter. Of course, we had it with pita (not pictured). It was cool to try so many different dips.
We couldn’t leave our trip without the famous Turkish ice cream. If you don’t know about Turkish ice cream, it’s extremely sticky and the person who scoops the ice cream loves to play tricks on you – flipping your ice cream around, putting it on your hands and then taking it back, etc. It’s fun to watch, but I just want ice cream! Luckily, it was worth the wait of being made fun of in front of other people as the flavors were great and I love the sticky texture.
Tip: Let them know how many scoops you want instead of coming to their stand expecting them to ask. If you don’t say anything, they will give you a cone with the most scoops (and one that cost the most). They will try to get you (or your friends) to get one as well. If you don’t want one, just refuse it. My sister and my friend got suckered into each getting one (and a big one) because he stuck out a cone and was just like “just a little bit”.
Overall, I had a great time in Turkey. Although the historical parts were cool, I loved the views, the food and just exploring the city.