Istanbul is one of my favourite Cities to visit! I first travelled to Istanbul in 2014. This time, I was travelling there with my boyfriend Tom, and we had booked to spend 4 nights there. Istanbul is such a modern, Cosmopolitan City, it was Tom’s first time there and he described it as really similar to Barcelona! I was really excited to go back and explore the City again and would definitely recommend a visit there!
Getting there, getting around, visas, currency etc.
We flew from Manchester to Sabiha Gokcen airport. Istanbul actually has 2 airports, so make sure you double check which airport you’ll be flying into if you have arranged a transfer from the airport! There are local buses situated right outside the terminal operated by a company called ‘Havabus’ who can take you all the way to Taksim square for just 18 Turkish Lira, or approximately €2. This is a much cheaper option to take compared to the €50 private transfers, and the buses are actually quite nice!
Istanbul has a great Metro system which runs all across the City. The trams come every few minutes, and you can buy an Istanbul card which you can top up for the duration of your stay, or buy single pass tickets for 7 Lira from the ticket machines located next to each tram stop.
Visas are no longer required in Turkey for anyone with a British or Irish passport. The local currency in Turkey is the Turkish Lira, with current exchange rates valued at 10 Turkish Lira= approximately £1 or €1.13. With the pound currently being so strong against the Lira, it is a great time to travel to Turkey as you’ll get really good value for your money!
Due to current COVID-19 restrictions, it’s important to have a read of local Government guidelines before travelling to Turkey. It is mandatory for face masks to be worn in all public areas, both indoors and outdoors, otherwise you may have to pay a 900 Lira fine!
Where we stayed
Istanbul is a huge City, with lots of different options of places and areas to stay in. After doing some research we decided to stay in the Sultanahmet area of the City which is where the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia are located. Sultanahmet is one of the most central areas of the City, so we thought this would be a great place to base ourselves.
We booked a hostel just a 5 minute walk away from the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia hostel called ‘Istiklal Hostel’. The hostel had great reviews online, looked lovely and clean, and even had a roof terrace. We were excited to spend an evening having a drink whilst watching the sunset over the Blue Mosque. However, that did not go to plan….After arriving into Istanbul after our 3.5 hour flight, getting the local bus an hour into Taksim, then the metro to Sultanahmet, we arrived and thought wow that was pretty easy so far! Unfortunately, the hostel was not what we expected. We wandered around the area for almost an hour dragging suitcases and trying to find where the hostel was on our maps but couldn’t find it! We eventually stopped at a restaurant to use their Wi-Fi and the hostel manager had sent me a Watsapp asking where we were. He came to find us and I wasn’t surprised that we couldn’t find it, it didn’t exist where he said it was! It was more like a run down guesthouse than a hostel, and our room didn’t have a door that locked. As it was now about 11.30pm and we were exhausted, we decided to spend one night there, of which I spent most of the night worried that there was definitely bed bugs in the bed, and then we left the next day! Moral of the story, don’t stay at Istiklal hostel, and don’t always believe reviews on hostel world!
Anyways, we moved to a hotel the next day which was just around the corner from our “hostel” called Sura Hagia Sofia Hotel. It was much nicer, and is a good option to stay in if you want to base yourself in the Sultanahmet area of the City.
As mentioned, the Sultanahmet area is where the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia are located. It is a good central location, but is quite a touristy area, where you’ll struggle to walk down the street without people trying to sell you something or get you to eat in their restaurant!
Things to do:
- –Visit the Blue Mosque: The Blue Mosque is probably one of the most iconic images of Istanbul. It’s best to go early in the morning to beat the crowds and remember to bring a cover up as you are not allowed to enter if you are showing above the knees or your shoulders. Coveralls are provided at the door if you forget yours, and it is free to enter. The Blue Mosque is currently undergoing renovations, so we weren’t able to see much from the inside due to the scaffolding, however it is still pretty to see from the outside against the Blue fountains of the square.
- Hagia Sofia Mosque: The Hagia Sofia Mosque is directly opposite the Blue Mosque across the Sultanahmet square. Last time I visited, the Hagia Sofia was a museum, but it has recently been converted back to a Mosque again. The Hagia Sofia is absolutely beautiful, with incredible mosaics and huge tapestries. Again, remember to bring your coverall when visiting the mosques as women must also keep their head covered inside.
- Take a cruise on the Bosphorus: Going for a boat trip on the Bosphorus is one of the best ways to really understand the huge size of Istanbul and get a great view of both the European and the Asian side of the City. Boat trips leave from the Eminönü area, which is just a short 10 minute walk from the Blue Mosque. We even saw dolphins on our boat trip!
- Topkapi Palace: Topkapi Palace is located directly behind the Hagia Sofia. It is a beautiful palace with lovely gardens and ornate rooms to view. The palace is huge, so give yourself a few hours if you want to explore inside fully and learn about the history of the Sultans who lived there.
- Basilica Cistern: The Basilica Cistern is across the road from the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque, and is where the water for the City used to be stored. It is such an interesting place to visit, and is nice and cool underground if the heat of the day is getting too much for you!
- Grand Bazaar: The Grand Bazaar is the best place to come to if you’re hoping to buy souvenirs from your trip. You can buy everything here from Turkish tea, Turkish delight, baklava, carpets, lamps, magnets, and more ‘genuine fake’ branded trainers or clothes than you could ever need!
- Suleymaniye Mosque: If you have taken a boat trip on the Bosphorus, you’ll have seen the Mosque which dominates the skyline over the whole City. This is the Suleymaniye mosque and I would definitely recommend a visit here! Unlike, the blue mosque where most of the inside is covered with scaffolding, the suleymaniye mosque is completed and the inside is absolutely beautiful. There are also lots of little terrace cafes around the mosque, so you can finish your trip with a cold drink and incredible views over the City.
The Taksim area of the City is another popular tourist area. It is a much more modern area of the City with lots of hotel chains and high street shops here. To get here from Sultanahmet, take the metro as far as the last stop of Kabataş, and then take the Funicular to Taksim. You can then slowly wander down the streets exploring the shops and finding nice cafes along the way.
Things to do:
- Republic Monument: The main thing to see in Taksim Square is the Republic Monument which is to commemorate Turkey becoming a Republic in 1923.
- Galata Tower: When we visited Taksim, the Galata Tower was actually closed for renovations, however the area around the Tower is filled with cobbled streets with lovely little shops and cafes which are worth exploring.
- 360 cafe: As you’ve probably picked up on by now, I love a good viewpoint! 360 cafe is located on the main shopping street of Taksim and has great views across the City and delicious cocktails!
Beşiktaş is a really modern area in Istanbul with lots of pubs, restaurants, and cafes. This area definitely had less or a tourist and more of a local vibe which we both really liked. To get here from Sultanahmet, take the Metro as far as the last stop in Kabataş, and then it’s a short 5 minute walk to Beşiktaş.
Things to do:
- Dolmabahçe Palace: The main thing to see in Beşiktaş is the Dolmabahçe Palace. It is absolutely incredible! I have never seen such grandeur and wealth, it was unbelievable! The palace has an audio tour which is worth doing to learn more about the history of the Sultans who lived there and the Ottoman Empire. There is also a really nice café located right beside the river to have a refreshing drink after your tour.
- Sample the food and drink in local cafes and restaurants: There are lots of nice pubs and restaurants around Beşiktaş. We went to Joker 19 pub near the palace, and Craft beer pub which also serves really nice food. For breakfast, House Café serves amazing food, coffee, and fresh juice!
Kadiköy is located on the Asian side of the City which is just a short ferry ride away. We weren’t sure if there was much to do on this side of the City after reading reviews, however, we were so glad we visited, and wished we had spent more time there or even stayed on that side of the City! To get to Kadiköy, you can take a ferry for 7 Lira from Eminönü, and it takes approximately 25 minutes.
Things to do:
- Explore the area: Kadiköy is a really popular area to live in for local Turkish people, and the area is filled with really nice affordable shops, bars, and restaurants. There is also a promenade which runs along the river from the ferry port which is a nice way to explore the area.
- Ice cream!: If there’s one thing you do in Kadiköy , make sure to try the ice cream from Meshur Dondurmaci Ali Usta ice cream café! The ice cream is amazing and worth travelling to Kadiköy for in itself!
With that, our time in Istanbul had come to an end. I fell in love with the City back in 2014, and after exploring it again and having more time to spend there this year, I love it even more! It’s such an amazing place and I would definitely recommend a visit there to anyone!