I went to Istanbul for 4 days last week and it was a blast! It’s perfect for a city break as there’s so much to do. We did all our touristy things in one day and then the other days we just ate, smoke shisha and shopped away. This place is a magpie’s dream! All the evil eye and hamsa hand jewellery kept stopping us over and over again, so make sure you bring some money for spending and also practice your bargaining skills (mine were non-existent).
I thought I’d write this post for any of you considering travelling to Istanbul!
Where to stay:
We stayed near Taksim Square which is a major tourist and leisure district known for its shops, restaurants, bars and cafes in the European side of Istanbul. If you want to have a good time in the evening definitely stay around here. It’s busy, lively and seems like it’s open all day and all night. The buskers all get a nice crowd around them and the watchers join in too – it’s a really fun vibe. If you want to stay near the tourist locations try find a place in Sultanahmet – the other side of the river also known as the “asian side”. It’s much quieter and more tourist-friendly. We stayed in a hotel called Hotel Next2 which we recommend 🙂 Very affordable.
What to visit:
- Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Suleymaniye Mosque and the Basilica Cistern.
- The Spice Market (get some great tea’s here! Avoid buying turkish delight, you can get it cheaper in the Grand Bazaar)
- The Grand Bazaar – bring a big bag and a lot of change to bargain with. A lot of the stalls are repeats of each other so try get the best deal you can. The worst is when you walk a few steps and find what you bought selling for cheaper.
- Mitani Cafe in Sultanahmet for a lovely Shisha experience. It’s a beautiful place run by some great gents.
- Aga Hamami – This comes to 60 Turkish Lira for the basic package which is very reasonable. You get a nice scrub all over the body, foam bath and they wash your hair too. You can opt in for an oil massage or facial for an extra charge. It’s a great authentic experience. It’s worth noting the part before your scrub/wash/massage etc is a mixed area so if you’re not comfortable with that try find a women’s only one. I recommend researching them rather than just picking the one your hotel recommends which can be really overpriced.
- Whirling Dervishes or Dance show – we originally wanted to see Belly dancers but it’s really tough to find one that doesn’t cost 80€ and above. However Hodjapasha has a few dance shows depending on when you are there. We missed the Saturday show which has all the different types of dance so we decided to watch the Whirling Dervishes. It is pretty astounding how they keep it going for so long. It’s 60 Turkish Lira and around an hour long.
- Go to one of the weird perfume shops and be amazed at how they recreate popular designer fragrances!
What to eat:
- Definitely try the kebabs here, these are legit!
- Kumpir – glorified jacket potato. They mash up the potato though so it’s really smooth and then you pick a lot of toppings.
- Turkish Ice Cream – suuuper strange, looks and tastes like normal ice cream except it’s CHEWY.
- Turkish Delight/Baklava – obviously.
- Ayran Yoghurt Drink – You may see a lot of locals sipping on this. No it’s not a milkshake like I thought, it’s literally yoghurt with salt and I personally thought it tasted awful. However it’s very good for you and worth a try with a traditional meal.
- Go to the Galata bridge and have a fish sandwich. It. is. AMAZING.
- Turkish tea!!!! I drank so much and I looooved it.
- If you want to buy jewellery or one of the bags/pouches I actually recommend getting them from the small stalls you may see outside of the bazaar eg by the mosques, in Taksim etc. They sell everything for a bit cheaper. The Grand Bazaar is amazing but they will try to rip you off.
- Plan your travel. We kept assuming things and getting confused. You can use the metro or the tram but they don’t really interlink often so make sure you know what you’re doing before tapping in somewhere. Our hotel provided us with a travel card which you top up and you can reuse between the lot of you. It’s around 2 Lira each.
- Go to Golden Rose and buy all the makeup. GO!
I definitely recommend Istanbul as a quick break. This time of year is very quiet and calm, there were hardly any tourists. Of course this might be due to the recent issues within Turkey so of course if you do go be careful! Just be smart about your surroundings, your money, stay away from protests etc. And have a good time! 🙂 Have any of you been before?