Istanbul is THE most beautiful city I have ever been to. Ever since not visiting Damascus, Syria every summer, its been hard to find a city that feels so close to home-- but Istanbul definitely filled that void for me. From the breathtaking architecture, to the rich cultural and religious history, to the kind and hospitable people, I know I'll be back again. For todays post, I thought I'd share a mini travel recap of my few days there. For anyone considering traveling to Istanbul, read through these next few bullet points, and I hope I'll inspire your next trip!
P.S. I'll be sharing a separate post about my time in Turkey at the Tizaya Refugee Camp with Onsur Syria ASAP. Stay tuned for that!
We've all seen the news lately, and it breaks my heart. While it sometimes can be a bit of a repel towards tourism, attacks have become vulnerable to so many places in our world today so it's hard to try to play it safe. To be honest, I was a bit hesitant about visiting Turkey at first, just because of the overload of news, but once you're there, its like a whole different, peaceful world. With over 35 million people in Turkey functioning in their everyday lives, its hard to count the statistics from a likely attack in terms of the bigger population. The amount of security and metal detectors at every location was unimaginable. From entering the Grand bazaar to any of the mosques, to even standing in a crowded parade, there was security monitors, detectors and baggage screening. Even though it may or may not do much, it was an effort and display of authority. In terms of other safety, Turks are one of the nicest and helpful people you will come across. Whether out late at night or in a less crowded place, I always felt comfortable. I would be sure to avoid large crowds and public transportation like buses if still feeling uncertain-- by foot is always better!
2. WHERE TO STAY.
For my stay, I chose a boutique hotel that was meters away from the historical Sultanahmet square district. It was perfect. Super quiet at night and in the morning, and amazing walking distance from all the major tourist sites, restaurants, little shops and metro. While at first the location can be a bit confusing because of all the winding roads, you get the hang of it after the second day. The best thing about boutique hotels in Turkey, is that they all make an effort to have included breakfast on their rooftop, that way you always have a beautiful view of the city every morning. Turks take pride in their city, and they love sharing it with their guests. Some of the footage above was taken on a hotel rooftop near the mosque. The views are just unreal!
3. HOW MUCH TO BRING.
Coming from the USA, activities in Istanbul are definitely less expensive than our average prices. From $2 sandwiches to $5 cab rides to $10 museum tickets, to $75/night 5 star hotels with breakfast, its safe to say that $100 a day on activities will cover plenty (considering pre-paid hotel). Souvenirs can be expensive if purchased in the tourist area, so be sure to ask about the local markets when making bigger purchases! It's almost 3x more for the same present in the tourist bazars! Most places will accept credit cards and US cash, but I changed $200 to Turkish liras at the airport to not run into any trouble with cabs.
3. WHERE TO SEE.
I was lucky enough to be visiting a city and having cousins who live there! They took me to SO many amazing places in Istanbul in my short stay. We began the day by heading to the main Sultanahmet Square. As featured in my first images above, its a large park with beautiful flowers and fountains, accompanied across by the two large structures- Hagia Sophia Museum and Blue Mosque. We went into both and it felt like you were walking into ancient history of where the Ottomans battled it out with their enemies (despite all the tourists everywhere).
Next, we walked into the city to catch a ride on a ferry in the Bosphorous river. Personally, I wouldn't recommend this as a first day activity because I fell asleep most of the way with alllll the jet lag and gorgeous Turkish breeze hitting against me on the boat. But, it was amazing to see all parts of the city in both the Asian and European side. Fun fact: The European side is the antique, classic, tourist area. The Asian side is the modern city with tall buildings and business districts.
Afterwards, we took a stroll through the Grand Bazaar and all its accompanying bazars. Its an amazing place to buy cheap souvenirs like candies, toys, scarves and more. I saw so many items that reminded me of Damascus (like the evil eye beaded blue bracelets, and halal cotton candy sticks), so I had to grab a few for my family!
We went to a Turkish restaurant outside the Grand Bazar and watched a whirling dervish perform (it was quite dizzying) but super relaxing.
On another day, we took a cab to the Istiklal Street area, which is where the famous images of the street trolley up the hill surrounded by stores is pictured. The trolley was currently taken down for repairs, but hopefully it'll be back soon!
Near Istiklal street is the Galata tower, which holds a gorgeous view of ALL of Istanbul. Every single corner from the seaside front to the hilled apartments to the two main museums/mosques.
There was so much more to see, but that's all the time I had!
4. WHAT TO EAT.
So, Istanbul is absolutely known for its street foods. I had so many delicious, amazing foods (and unfortunately I also got food poisoning one day from eating a falafel breakfast). Here's what I loved!
- Laban Ayran: This is a Middle Eastern yogurt drink, and they can make it in front of you with foam bubbles in the Old Grand Bazar area! Yogurt is always clean to eat.
- Simit: This is a bagel-like sesame pastry thats sold in a lot of the booths in the streets (such as in the photos above). Its perfect to satisfy a hunger craving without making a greasy mess.
- Street Corn: Must try!
- Shish Tawook and kabobs: Turks are known for their version of bbq (mashawi), so be sure to try it fresh for dinner!
- Turkish coffee: Its definitely an acquired taste, but being the coffee lover I am, its so good.
- Rahaa "Turkish Delight": This is a sweet made of starch and sugar, combined with so many flavors like pistachio, rosewater, chocolate and more. Its made in powdered cubes.
5. WHAT I MISSED.
So, as I mentioned earlier, my time was super short in Istanbul, and I would've loved to visit the Topkapi Palace, Taksim Square, Istanbul Modern Art Museum, the all womens beach resorts, a Turkish bath experience, the entire Asian side of Istanbul and more! But, its always nice to leave room to come back again.
Planning on visiting Istanbul? Leave a comment below with your questions or comments, and safe travels!