I don’t have many rules in life, but there’s one rule that I generally follow; you don’t go to the same country twice. Never ever. Until I’d been to Istanbul and realised that if 1 city is so amazing, the rest of the country must be worth visiting as well. And so I broke my rules and found myself in Istanbul again, only 6 weeks after my first visit.
It’s hard to describe why I like Istanbul so much. Instead I’ll just give you the highlights, so you can visit Istanbul yourself! Forgive me, it became quite a technical blog. The next blog will be full of exciting travelling stories again.
There are 2 airport, Atatürk and Sabiha Gökçen. Most low budget airlines fly to Sabiha, but this is still pretty far from the centre. I had my amazing friend living just around the corner, so that was perfect, but if you arrive late at night, find an airbnb and go the the centre the next morning.
So, first of all, stay in Sultanahmet, the old city centre. I can recommend Mavi’s guesthouse, where you can sleep for a few euros on the rooftop and see the Aya Sofya from your bed (already mentioned in an earlier blog).
What to do in a city that has as many inhabitants as the entire Netherlands?
In Sultanahmet: visit the Aya Sofya, which is a super impressive mosque. Walk into the Blue Mosque and check it out, although the Süleymaniye mosque is more impressive and less touristy.
Ok, time for some souvenir-shopping! On my first trip to Istanbul I found so many good things that my backpack became way too heavy. The guidebooks recommend the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar. I would say, go there, take some pictures, feel the vibe, but buy your souvenirs in the area between the two markets. This won’t just save you lots of money, it’s also more fun. There’s a tiny book-market next to the Grand Bazaar which is worth walking through (though not mentioned in the Lonely Planet, so just ask for it). Near the aquaduct is a local market, go there and you’ll be invited for maaaany teas and way too much food which you’ll all get for almost nothing. And no other tourist will be there, since (again) Lonely Planet doesn’t mention this place.
You can combine the bazaars with the Süleymaniye mosque. Then have a meal at the bean restaurants behind the mosque, which used to be the ‘addicts-street’ but is transformed to a street with amazing food.
Take a boattrip on the Bosphorus, and who knows, you might even see a submarine or Russian military vessels.
Time for a change of scenery: cross the bridge, visit the Galata tower and as you make your way up to Taksim square, zigzag through the streets in this neighbourhood. Full of artshops and small cute coffee places.
If you still have energy and time, go to Ortaköy, which is a bit further north, but easily reachable by ferry. You can visit the Dolmabahçe palace (closed when I was there), drink coffees at the boulevard, eat kumpir (stffed baked potato. But be careful, it feels like a bomb on your stomach), stroll through Yildiz park and take the picture everyone takes here…
One last thing that I strangely really enjoyed: the crazy public transport. Like I said, I stayed at a friend’s place pretty far from the touristic attractions and Istanbul is massive. Every day I tried different routes to beat my record. This included ferries, buses (incredibly slow), metros (awesome) and mini buses (they don’t have a maximum passenger number. When you think it’s full, there are at least 15 extra people that will fit in. Very safe, because a pickpocketer won’t even be able to raise his arm). Even though I usually had no clue where I was, I always got home, because Turkish people are amazing. The strategy I always use when travelling; make sure that the person next to you knows where you’re going to and they’ll make sure you’ll get there. I once asked in a bus where I had to get off; 6 women around me started discussing it and eventually one decided that it was too difficult: they got their car and dropped me off at home! (Yes, I know, never get in a car with strangers). So I would say, use public transport and dare to leave the touristy areas. No one speaks English, but you’ll always get home somehow.
All in all, Istanbul has something magical. I’ve spent 7 days there now in total and wouldn’t mind to hang around there more.
Please feel free to let me know if you have any questions or remarks. LThere are still so many more places that I couldn’t mention.