The EET ultimate guide to visiting Istanbul!
Istanbul has been on my bucket list for ages and when I finally had enough Turkish Airlines air miles to fly return from Dubai to Istanbul, I jumped at the chance to spend my Spring half-term there! My mam was very worried when I told her I was travelling there, naturally with all the terrorist atrocities the city has sadly faced in the last few years. I am happy to say that I’ve had an absolutely wonderful 5 days in Istanbul and would highly recommend it to everyone! For me, it is the perfect balance of the Middle East & Europe. You have the shisha, call to prayer, and baklava pastries, but with a more liberal and “Western” feel. Istanbul is definitely a place I would consider teaching in the future because it still has the Middle Eastern aspects I love, but with only a 3-hour flight to Ireland; the best of both worlds!
THINGS YOU MUST DO IN ISTANBUL!
- Get your Turkish e-visa online before you go, to save a busy queue when you arrive to your airport in Istanbul.
- Visit the Sultanahmet Mosque (aka the Blue Mosque) and the area around it. It’s free and its architecture will blow your mind! For me, it is up there with the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Look at my photos below to see why!
- Visit the Topkapi Museum as well as it provides such a great insight into Istanbul’s history, especially the Ottoman Empire! See a selection of my photos below:
- If you plan to visit a number of Istanbul’s museums, including the one above, and the Hagia Sophia Museum, İstanbul Archaeological Museums, İstanbul Mosaic Museum, Museum of Turkish and İslamic Arts, Museum for the History of Science and Technology in Islam, Chora Museum, Galata Mevlevi House Museum, Yıldız Palace, Rumeli Hisar Museum, and/or the Fethiye Museum, I’d definitely recommend buying a 3/5-day Museum Pass Istanbul. It costs 85 TL (€21/ £19) for admission to all the tourist attractions listed above and you can buy it at any of the tourist sites!
- Buy silver jewellery for a very reasonable price. There are a million and one jewellers in Istanbul, so to get your best deal, ask the shopowner how much per gram, so you can see how they calculate it and always ask for the best price! As you know, I love a bargain and after much investigation, the best deal I found with a very open and honest owner was at a shop called EFE JEWELLERY, No. 61-11, which was in the Arasta Bazaar, very close to the Sultanahmet Mosque. You can find the shop on Google Maps and it’s is definitely worth a visit! This bazar is a small strip of shops and restaurants.
- Buy some beautiful glass mosaic lamps! Once again, I love a bargain and I priced tonnes of shops around Istanbul. The best deal and service I found was at a shop called KAYA GIFT SHOP, run by a lovely friendly man called Davut Kaya. His shop is No.58 on Vezirhan Street (Caddesi in Turkish). It is not on Google Maps, but if you Google Map the Atik Ali Pasa Mosque and take the street on the right-hand side before it, if you’re coming from Sultanahmet (look at the Google Map image below right). You’ll see a tall, old, crumbling column at the top of the Vezirhan street. There are lots of lamp shops, but keep an eye out for KAYA GIFT SHOP on the right-hand side of the street, beside a Samsung phone shop. Tell him Sara from Dubai sent you!
- Continue down Vezirhan Street to go and see the Grand Bazaar. Its design is stunning with a great atmosphere, but I don’t recommend buy anything there, because the shop owners pay a high rent for their pitch so naturally souvenirs are a lot more expensive there.
- Try Ayran– it’s a very popular Turkish drink, like a salty yogurt. It tastes delicious with a doner kebab- see pic below!
- Try the delicious baklava (delicious sweet filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and held together by syrup or honey)!
- Ask locals where they eat to find the best and most reasonable restaurants.
- For local apple tea and lemon cologne (used like antibacterial hand gel), buy it at the supermarket.
- Avoid those tourist boxes of Turkish Delight sweets! I bought one to try it and they were disappointingly bland and flavourless.
- Do not confuse Karakoy with Kadikoy, both in Istanbul! Karakoy is still on the European side of Istanbul, across the Galata bridge. I found that souvenirs there, e.g. evil eye key rings, magnets, coasters, were much cheaper there than in Sultanahmet. Kadikoy, however, is on the Asian side of Istanbul, and is accessible by a 20-30 minute ferry ride. Eating out seems to be cheaper there and as it was less touristy, there were a lot more locals and normal shops. I liked it as in the backstreets, there were so many funky, hippy, and alternative cafes, bars, and tattoo parlours, which I hadn’t seen much of around Sultanahmet.
- Get the Big Bus Istanbul Bus Tour to see the whole city. There are 2 routes and your ticket is valid for both. Check online and in tourist shops for special bus offers.
- As well as doing the bus tour or getting to know your area on foot, spend your first day pricing day trips and tours. There are so many tourist shops and prices really vary, so visit a few in more and less-touristy areas, before deciding on the best-priced tour for you.
- Finally, give yourself AT LEAST 3 hours to get to their airport before your flight. Afternoon traffic in Istanbul can be crazy and then once you arrive to the airport, especially Ataturk airport, all you’ll see are queues! Since the tragic attack last year, there is now a queue to enter the airport because of a security check. Then another queue to check-in for your flight. After that, an extremely long queue (minimum of 30 minutes) to go through passport control. Then a final queue for security again. In the current climate, I am so thankful for such tight security, but do arrive early to the airport to avoid stressing and rushing.
I have to say that I absolutely loved my 5-day holiday in Istanbul because it was a perfect blend of history, architecture, museums, relaxation, and eating! The whole holiday, including:
- flights (return to Dubai during school holiday time)
- food & drinks at the airport
- my visa to enter Turkey
- private taxi pick-up and return (airport- hotel; hotel- airport)
- 4 nights’ hotel accommodation
- museum admission
- eating out
- ferry ride to Kadikoy
- gift-shopping (including 7 medium-sized glass mosaic lamps, a hand luggage bag (to carry all my shopping!), real silver jewellery, cushion covers, coasters, magnets, and key rings)
cost me… 2258 TL / €571 / £489! Yes, for EVERYTHING listed above! That 2258 TL / €571 / £489 includes flights, accommodation, and eating out!!!! On EET Money Monday, I’ll let you know how I did it!
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