Istanbul is one of those cities, that if you wanted to, you could spend days on end exploring the various neighbourhoods and sites, or you could spend just a few days.
I opted for the latter as, as much as I love cities, I wanted to explore other places in Turkey, in the 9 days I had there, including places like Cappadocia, where I went hot air ballooning, Pamukkales cotton castle, and then the super touristy resort location of Fethiye, where I did some paragliding.
Back to Istanbul however.
During my three nights in Istanbul, I stayed at the hip hangout of #Bunk at Taksim Square, which for as little as £10 per night (40 Turkish Lira), you get a comfy bed, which is equipped with a power point, and secure lockers, which are fitted with a keypad entry system. Some rooms are ensuite, and the bathrooms are really clean. There are chill out areas in the Foyer, as well as free tea/coffee/juice, computers for use and really helpful staff, who will give you a free map to explore the city. There is also a great rooftop bar, with views over the city, and they have an amazing breakfast spread in the morning to wake up to and get you ready to explore the city.
With many cities, there are the inventible ‘top sites’ that most visitors make their way too. I didn’t rush too quickly to these in Istanbul, instead opting to spend time in Kadıköy, on the Asian side of Istanbul, as well as the Princes’ Islands.
When I did get round to touring Istanbul and its main sites, here is where I went:
1. Topkapi Palace Museum and gardens
Ok, so I didn’t actually go inside; instead I spent time exploring the grounds and gardens, as I didn’t fancy shelling out the 30 Lira to get into it. It is a huge building, and looks impressive from what I have seen online. The gardens are beautiful however, and I spent some time roaming around, away from the hot sun.
Just up the road a little from the Palace, is Hagia Sophia. A religious building, which started off as a Catholic church, turned into a mosque, then finally a museum. Inside you will see artefacts pertaining to Christianity and Islam. It is one of the most visited museums in the World, and was constructed between 527 and 535 AD.
Entry into Hagia Sophia costs 30, you can pay a further 25 Lira for an audio guide, or you can be pestered by tour guides offering to give you a full tour, for double this price. What I tended to do, was slightly hang around some big tour groups and ear-wig in on some of the information they were getting (#travelhack)
Hagia Sophia is open between 9am and 5pm in the winter, and 9am and 7pm in summer months.
It is a beautiful building, with little hallways, and corridors leading to impressively decorated areas. There is also a courtyard and garden area, which is lovely to stroll around.
The Blue Mosque
You don’t have to travel far to see the ‘top three’ of Istanbul (The Blue Mosque, Topyaki Palace and Hagia Sophia). The Blue Mosque is literally across the road from Hagia Sophia. It is free to go into the Mosque, but I wasn’t overly keen on seeing inside, as I had seen many mosques in Asia, and was content to just see it from the outside.
You can find information here, in regards to visiting times, which need to be outside of the prayer times (as the Mosque will close for 90 minutes during prayers).
I went to the Galata Tower, to watch the sun setting, which is quite a popular thing to do, so I found out. It was beautiful, but very over run by tourists. It is better if you visit during a week day, and early in the morning, as many other tourists will be visiting the other sites in the city.
The Grand Bazzar and Spice Bazzar
One thing I loved about Asia, was the markets – the array of foods on offer, the smells, the shouting, the hustle and bustle. The two main markets in Istanbul, which heavily cater to tourists are the Grand Bazzar and the Spice Bazzar; both are located within easy walking distance of each other.
The Grand Bazzar, is much like Tuol Tom Poung (The Russian Market) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It is busy, and they sell everything from traditional Turkish lamps, rugs and carpets to clothes, shoes, and bags. They also sell spices and Turkish delight, but word to the wise – Turkish Delight and Spices sold in the spice market are cheaper, and you can haggle the vendors down quite a lot (ladies, turn on your charm – it works a treat!)
I didn’t spent an awfully long time here, as after I had picked up what I wanted to buy, I got out – there is only so much “hello darling, you want to buy?” you can take.
The artistic side of Istanbul – Street Art
If you are done with all the sights, just strolling around some areas, you will come across a number of street art pieces. Street art, is a big thing in many cities these days, thanks to the likes of Banksy. Karikoy on the Asia side, was great for a lot of art.
Taksim Square appears to the main intersection of Istanbul; there are a good few transport connections from there, including the airport shuttle buses, the tram and metro station. Here you’ll find street vendors, shops, hotels and other restaurants. There is a park that sits alongside it, which is nice to get some shade away from the sun.
On the whole, Istanbul is a good weekend destination. I loved cities, where water is present, and I could have spent hours sat down by the Bosporous.
You can easily spend a few days there, eat good Turkish food and see the sites. It is easy to walk in the city, but there are many transport options – bus, tram and metro. If you are going to do this, I’d get a transit pass, were you can buy one with a number of journeys allocated on the card, or just top up as you go. I paid for journeys, as needed, which were all 4 Turkish Lira per journey.