Having flown through Istanbul on our way to many other places, we figured it was time to make Istanbul itself the final destination and explore the fascinating city.
As always, we had about 48 hours to make the most of the city. Here are the top 5 things we would recommend should be included in every itinerary:
1. Explore the neighborhood of Sultanahmet (old Istanbul), visit the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia
Sultanahmet is the old town of Istanbul, where the famous Blue Mosque (known as Sultanahmet mosque to the locals) and Hagia Sophia are located and both are definitely worth a visit.
The Hagia Sophia was originally built to be a church, which was then converted into a mosque with the coming of the Ottomans and now is preserved as a museum. It has beautiful architecture and is a fascinating example of juxtaposition of the two religions. Recommend taking the audio tour or going in with a guide, the stories make the visit a lot more interesting.
The Blue mosque is probably one of the prettiest mosques we’ve ever seen, from both, the outside and inside. Since it was Ramadan, the area around the blue mosque, also considered sacred and special, was the place to be to break the day-long fast at sunset.
Note: Since the blue mosque is still used for prayers, they are fairly strict about clothing. Men need to be in pants and women need to have long sleeves and must cover their heads. They have a booth that lends scarves, long skirts and gowns to those who need them, free of charge.
2. Climb Galata tower and get great Istanbul city views
The walk from Sultanahmet to the Galata tower offers great views and involves crossing the Galata bridge which is also an interesting experience. Once at the Galata tower, dont get put off by the line to get in. It normally moves quickly and there is an elevator to get to the top, so no need to climb hundreds of steps. At the top, the 360 degree view is absolutely worth it!
3. Walk along Istiklal street and visit Taksim square (new Istanbul)
From the Galata tower, the long Istiklal street runs all the way to Taksim square. It feels like a completely different world, from that in Sultanahmet. Flanked by new, large malls, shops and restaurants, it is constantly thronged with foot traffic.
4. Smoke a nargile
A great way to unwind after a long day of sightseeing is by smoking one of the ubiquitously available nargile (hookah).
5. Eat the local street food and drink Çay (pronounced chai) at every possible opportunity
As with all our travels, food was a very important part of the trip and food in Istanbul should definitely feature predominantly on any itinerary. For more details about what and where to eat in Istanbul, see the separate post.
Overall, Istanbul is a great city- the people are very nice, the food is delicious.. we’ll be back!