Best of Istanbul: Our Travel Guide & Tips
Speechless. Overwhelming. Exciting. These impressions of Istanbul are forever lasting and it is probably the most memorable city we have ever explored. Despite harboring a tinge of skepticism before our trip, it wasn’t long before we fell in love with the city of Istanbul.
If you happen to be planning a city trip to Istanbul, then you’ve landed on the right page. In this article, you’ll find out what you can expect from the largest city in Turkey. We will share with you the most beautiful sights and of course our personal tips for your trip to this fascinating city situated on the Bosphorus.
Istanbul: Our Experiences & What to Expect
This much we can tell you right away: Istanbul is a city you absolutely must see for yourself. The pulsating vibes of the Metropolis is hard to put into words – this city exudes life like no other.
At the same time, Istanbul is so unique and unlike any other city. It is literally a collision of two worlds – the European continent meets the Asian continent and creates a fusion, that is Istanbul. What’s so fascinating is that Istanbul is the only Metropolis in the world that encompasses two continents. This Turkish city is divided into two parts. There are two sides, two continents, two cultures. It is this contradiction that makes Istanbul one of the most intriguing cities we have ever been to.
Is Istanbul safe?
Unfortunately, Istanbul isn’t all beautiful. By that, we think back to the terrorist attacks in 2016 and 2017, which led to a massive slump in tourism. On top of all that, they also have a tense political situation.
Nevertheless, reducing Istanbul to terror and the coup attempt would never do justice to the city. In the end, Istanbul is a great city that really impressed us and is one we will surely return to again.
Currently, there are no travel warnings for Istanbul as far as the British Foreign Ministry is concerned.
How much time should I plan for Istanbul?
If you want to explore Istanbul as stress-free as possible, we recommend you to stay about 5 nights. That way, you will have enough time to visit all the main sights and also to make a trip to the Asian side of Istanbul. Of course, more time is always better. No doubt, you will still be discovering new corners of
Istanbul even if you stay longer. Do not worry if your time is tight: even on a weekend you can visit the highlights of Istanbul, as most of the sights are very close together.
Sights and Activities in Istanbul
Many sights in Istanbul can be reached quite easily by foot. You are best to start off directly in the historic quarter of Sultanahmet in the Fatih district. Here you will find all the main tourist attractions in the Old Centre of Istanbul, including the world famous Hagia Sophia. Once you cross the Galata Bridge, you will reach the other side of the Golden Horn in the Beyoglu district – the modern side of Istanbul. Here, the focus is no longer on the sightseeing, but more on the Turkish lifestyle. Nevertheless, there are some places worth seeing here as well.
Once the largest church in the world, it then became a mosque, and now museum: The Hagia Sophia is probably the most important landmark and one of the absolute highlights in Istanbul. Visiting the world- famous building is certainly a must on a trip to Istanbul.
Important Note – just so that you are not disappointed: some of the interior parts of the Hagia Sophia have been under scaffold for years now (or even decades). It seems like the Hagia Sophia may be under permanent, ongoing restoration.
Our tip: Hagia Sophia is one of Istanbul’s most visited attractions, so it may be that there is a waiting line at the entrance (especially in high season). Depending on the time of day and the season you visit, we would therefore recommend that you buy your ticket in advance.
Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque)
Directly opposite the Hagia Sophia is the largest and undoubtedly most impressive mosque in all of Istanbul: the Blue Mosque. It is most noticeably unique for its six minarets.
As visitors of a different faith, you are allowed enter the mosque for free – but only outside the prayer times. Shoes must be taken off at the entrance, and women are also required to cover their hair with a cloth and to cover their clothing if it is considered too tight.
The third highlight in Sultanahmet is the aristocratic Topkapi Palace. It is located north of Hagia Sophia. The Topkapi Palace was once the residential and governing seat of the Sultans – today it is one of the most important sights of Istanbul and a museum exhibition showcasing the historic rule of the Ottoman
Empire. The palace consists of several buildings with countless rooms from high nobility and a large spacious garden park. Make sure you don’t miss the highlight of the Topkapi Palace: the Harem. You have to pay extra for this, but the 35 Lira is well worth it.
Not far from Sultanahmet, you will reach a fascinating indoor labyrinth with all kinds of goods down every lane. The Grand Bazaar reportedly attracts up to half a million people every day. Whether the statistic is accurate or not, it is obvious that the Grand Bazaar lives up to its name. You can buy everything here, from leather and textile goods to jewelry, souvenirs and sweets. As is the case
with most markets, bartering is essential. It’s not uncommon to push the offered prices down by as much as 50 percent.
The Galata Bridge crosses the Golden Horn and connects the historic city centre (Sultanahmet or Fatih) with modern Istanbul (Beyoglu) – the bridge is two-storeys high: the upper section is where traffic flows, while the bottom section is home to numerous restaurants. The Galata Bridge is an integral part of Istanbul. There is always so much going on here, no matter the time of day. We could have spent forever watching the fishermen on the bridge. Another thing that really impressed us was the view of the city centre. From the Galata Bridge you have a spectacular view towards Sultanahmet, including the Süleymaniye Mosque and the Rüstem Pasha Mosque on one side, and the New Mosque on the other.
Asian side of Istanbul
Even if it’s just for an hour or two, a trip to the Asian continent is a must on an Istanbul city break, especially when it’s so close! Only 20 minutes by ferry to be exact. A good starting point to explore the Asian city of Istanbul is Kadiköy. Suddenly all those international brands that you just saw at Istiklal Caddesi are but foreign words. The city is the same, but the atmosphere on the Asian side is definitely something else – that much we can promise you.
The Most Beautiful Lookout Points in Istanbul
Probably the best panoramic view of Istanbul is up by the small viewing platform on the Galata Tower. Unfortunately, the tower is far from a secret. Therefore, expect to wait up to 30 minutes or even more. Nevertheless, it is still worth the visit! The 360 degree view is simply spectacular and the viewing terrace
itself is fairly easy to reach. There is a lift that takes you almost to the top, so you only have to walk the last two floors.
However, the viewing platform is very narrow, so it can be a bit tight up there. Our thoughts: although the rush is usually the worse just before sunset, the light is just simply so beautiful.
The name already says it all: From the terrace of the 360 Istanbul restaurant, you have a spectacular view over the city. Since the prices are quite high, we would recommend just coming by for a cocktail.
Food an Drinks in Istanbul
In Istanbul and Turkey in general, there is great emphasis placed on food – something we love to hear! The most important meal here is dinner and people usually meet with their family and friends no earlier than 8pm. What we didn’t fancy so much is that the food culture is incredibly meat heavy and it can be quite
difficult for vegetarians to find creative dishes. Nevertheless, Turkish cuisine is delicious.
Bakery Hafiz Mustafa: Baklava & Other Turkish Sweets
If you want to taste Turkish sweets, then there’s no way you can pass by the bakery Hafiz Mustafa. Supposedly they make the best baklava in all of Istanbul. Even though we are personally not the biggest fans of this sticky sweet dessert – we will admit that the baklava was good. Due to the large selection, making a decision is really hard. However, you can try and sample all sorts of
Turkish sweets, including the baklava in all its many variations. They now have several branches in Istanbul (including one near the Galata Bridge in the south and one in Sultanahmet).
The bars and restaurants of this vibrant area in Beyoglu is where half the population of Istanbul meet up in the evenings for beers. Nevizade Sokak is actually the name of a particular street, but it is used mostly to refer to this particular quarter. If you can, you should try find a seat right on the street, order an “Efes” (the most famous Turkish beer) and enjoy the vibrant nightlife of Istanbul.
Our Hotel Recommendations for Istanbul
The choice between staying close to the historic centre (Sultanahmet) or staying in Beyoglu on the other side of the Galata Bridge – is a matter of personal preference.
In the historic centre (Sultanahmet), you have the advantage of being able to reach the main attractions by foot. While Sulanahmet is pretty touristic, Beyoglu offers a much more authentic atmosphere.
We hope that you enjoyed the article !!