Finally, Istanbul it was. A city I was eagerly waiting to explore. Napoleon Bonaparte once quoted, “if the world were one single country then Istanbul would be it’s capital”. When I first heard this quote, I could not understand why would someone say that. In no time, I tossed this thought somewhere in the back of my mind and continued doing what I was then doing. Fast forward some years & here I was standing right in Istanbul, where the same quote kept coming back to me. It was insane when I realized why Napoleon said what he said.
For me Istanbul was a quagmire. It had soul, it had culture, it had magic and so much more that all of it kept pulling me in. There was almost no spot left where I didn’t feel the heart of the city. This city had life, so much life that for a moment I kept wondering as to who was exploring whom? Was I exploring the city or was it the opposite? Was the city exploring me. I think it was both ways. The more I explored Istanbul, the more Istanbul explored me.
One of the most visited cities in the world, I had to admit it was a bit crowded when I started exploring Istanbul. Compared to all the other cities, this city had people from all over the world. Looking at all that crowd I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be there at that time. But this city still managed to open up to me with all it’s heart & soul. It made be believe that magic exists irrespective of the fact that it’s crowded.
We stayed for a total of 5 days in Istanbul. The first day we arrived late in the evening & the last day we had flight to catch back home, which gave us only 3 complete days to go around and explore. 3 days in Istanbul? Well, obviously it wasn’t going to be enough. I think that to fully explore a vibrant city like that, one needs to stay at least for over 6 months. But hey doing that is surely tough! Isn’t it? But never mind 3 days wasn’t bad either.
Day 1: The first day in this city was more of an ‘exploring the highlights day.’ We visited the sultanahmet square where almost all the top sites were overlooking each other. The vibe around that area was super crazy & super fast as people were going from one spot to another in a jiffy. It felt so touristy as if all the tourist population in Istanbul were at the same spot at that moment. Also, the cafes & restaurants & the sellers were almost everywhere, inviting you to their shops. By standing there in the middle one could actually feel the craziness that was going around the square. We started our visit from Hagia sophia & then went to the blue mosque. Later on we visit the ever-famous bazaar of Istanbul.
All of this took our entire day, leaving us tired & completely drained out from the walk. Later on that night I went to explore the nightlife if Istanbul. I went to an area called as Taksim square, which was full of people, shops & bars.
Day 2: On the second day in Istanbul, we explored the topkapi palace which is now converted into an museum. The second day was a tad bit relaxing at the sultanahmet square was not as busy as the previous day. We hanged around the shops and took walks along the city center. We lost our way somewhere in the streets of Istanbul. Half of the day we tried to look for a way out. Although we were scared but we were also lost into the city which made it kind of adventurous. No Internet in our phones. Finally we found the way by asking the locals in broken Turkish and came back on the right way. However, it took us too long to find a way out. I think it took us almost two hours.
That evening we headed straight to the Galata tower from where one can see the panoramic views of the city from the top. Later on we walked on the Galata bridge where all the fisherman were fishing and overlooking the bridge there was a mesmerizing sunset.
Day 3: On this day we explored the Asian part of Istanbul & were completely taken aback by the difference in the culture & people. We headed off to a park and watched the beautiful river right in front of us. Walking along the markets, I found plenty of street art in the Asian part. Later on we took a ride along the bosphorous river and headed back to the European part. We explored the posh part of Istanbul and watched the amazing bridge in the evening all lit up. It was completely mesmerizing and one should definitely check out this part.
I think 3 days wasn’t enough & that I could easily stay for more just to feel more of the vibe & magic of this city.
HOW TO REACH ISTANBUL:
One of the best connected cities in the entire country. It’s the most easiest and the most connected city to other parts of the country.
BY AIR: This city houses two most important international airports. These airports are Sabiha Gokcen Airport as well as The Ataturk Airport. Both the airports are well connected to the city center. Also there are several connecting flights to other parts of the country starting from Istanbul. Also there are all modes of transport like metro, buses & taxis which can take you to the city center right from the airport.
BY TRAIN: The city already has it’s own metro system & a very efficient train system which connects all major cities to Istanbul. However, the train station is quite far from the city center. After the bus one needs to take a ferry and a bus and other transports only to arrive at the city center. This is applicable if you are coming from another city to Istanbul. But, if your first destination is Istanbul then you can easily take the metro to all the major spots in this city.
BY ROAD: One of the most easiest way to arrive in Istanbul is by bus. There are two bus stops: one on the Asian side & the other on the European side. The city center is in the European side & hence getting down at that side is worth it.
BY FERRY: As you know, this city is located on the Bosphorous river, there are plenty of ferry points which connect Istanbul to different cities. It’s a great option to reach Istanbul especially when you are travelling in the nearby cities. Also, one can consider to go by ferry on day trips to immediate cities.
THINGS TO DO:
1) Admire the Bazaars:
One of the most important things to do in this city is to stroll in the ever-famous bazaars of Istanbul. Grand bazaar & the spice bazaar being the most popular ones, they have the capacity to keep you interested for hours. Be it the spices, souvenirs, fabric or small cafes. The bazaars have it all. It’s free to enter & stroll around the bazaars
2) Enjoy the Sunsets:
This city is considered to be one of the best cities for viewing sunset. Every evening, the nature decides to paint the sky in different colors, making people stop on their way & admire the beauty of the nature. Although, sunsets can be viewed from everywhere, the best place to experience this magic is from Galata Tower & Galata bridge. The tower gives you a 360 degree view of Istanbul along with the sunset & charges 25TL, whereas on the bridge you can see locals fishing & enjoying the sunset for free. The vibe at this time is completely different. Also, if you decide to go in the tower, make sure to arrive 30 minutes before time as there is a queue waiting outside for entrance.
3) Explore the squares:
Taksim square & the sultanahmet square are the two most important squares in the entire city of Istanbul. Taksim is where you should head to if you are into shopping & cafe culture. This square is very much alive after evening & one can find all youngsters chilling by one of the alleys in a bar and drinking alcohol. Sultanahmet on the other hand is more about the architectural side. The entire square houses the three most important points of visit which are The Blue Mosque, Topkapi palace & the museum of Hagia Sophia. Generally people start from sultanahmet in the morning & later head to taksim in the evening. And that is what is recommended.
4) See the difference between the Asian & the European side:
As this city lies on both the continents, it’s mandatory for an individual to get a perspective about both the continents at the same time. Hence, make sure to visit both the continents & see the change in the vibe, the culture & in the people all for yourself.
5) Boat trip on the Bosporus:
Do not miss the 90 minutes boat ride along the Bosporus river which takes you around all of Istanbul & shows you all the important spots from a distance. This boat ride will give a good perspective especially for photographers.
WHERE TO STAY IN ISTANBUL:
Luxury: Double tree by Hilton and Hotel Sultania
Mid-Budget: Hotel Amira
Economical: Sunlife Oldcity
However, if you didn’t like any of the above, then you can check our more options here: Accommodations in this city.
HOW MUCH DOES EVERYTHING COST & HOW TO BUDGET?
Istanbul caters to all types of accommodation. Budget hotels, luxury hotels & hostels. Choose wisely depending upon your budget. If you are solo then hostel is your safe bet, but if you’re travelling with someone, the only way to reduce the price on accommodation is to live on a sharing basis, either with friends or family. In this way one can reduce per person cost on stay. The cost of accommodation starts from 20 TL or $7-8 & goes further up depending on where you opt to stay.
Turkish cuisine is one of the best cuisines & missing out on it is definitely a bad decision. If you choose to live in a hostel then buying groceries from supermarket and cooking in the hostel definitely saves a truck load of money. But if you’re not into cooking then do not go in the cafes/restaurants near to the city center or tourist hotspots. Generally you will find authentic Turkish food in those small places which are far away from the tourist hot-spots. Not only they are authentic but is also quite cheaper compared to those at the beaches. The cost of food in this area should be anywhere between $5-10$ per day per person depending upon where you eat. If you plan on cooking on your own, it would cost you less than $5 for sure.
Transport will be quite cheap assuming that you use public transport for all the places you plan to visit. Istanbul center and other parts can easily be explored on foot so one can easily get healthy while saving money. You’ll only use transport for crossing the continents & if you’re abode is away from the city center. Don’t take taxis especially if you are alone as you will end up spending double the rate. There is a very efficient metro, tram & ferry system in Istanbul. You can take Istanbul travel card and recharge it with 10 TL. This will give you access to all modes of transport including ferry & also provides you with discounted rates till you end up using all the money in the card.
There are a lot of things to see & do in Istanbul & hence you need to buy an Istanbul museum card. This card which costs 80 TL or $22 will give you access to all the museums in Istanbul. Paying individually for all museums will be too expensive & you might end up spending double the amount. Depending upon what is your preference, you will end up spending anywhere between $25-$50 for multiple activities. Obviously, the activities there are in abundance and you will definitely want to do lots of different things there, and so the cost will go up. And hence, I recommend you to save money by buying the museum card & allot more budget for other activities.
Istanbul is a great city to explore. You will not be satisfied even if you spend months in this charming & enchanting city. It has the ability to sweep you off your feat and suits for people of all age groups. I can go on & on about this city & still not be satisfied. Definitely a Must visit!
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9 thoughts on “Istanbul doesn’t have to be hard! (You can thank me later)”
Istanbul is one the cities that have been so written about. I did not know that Napolean quote but when I read the book Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk – the noble laureate from the city, I thought he described it rather melancholic. However, traveler accounts, like yours too, are always cheerful about the city that spreads itself on two continents.
Hi Tanvi, I really like how you set the stage for inviting the reader to explore Istanbul. I agree with Napoleon, it is indeed a spectacular place to visit. There are so many cultures that made the city their home, so much history. I’d love to see Hagia Sofia one day, and some of the palaces. Which one did you like best? Also, did you feel safe all the time?
It’s almost very difficult to choose which one I liked the best because both of them were beautiful in their own ways. Also it’s quite safe to go there. I had the same thought about the safety but after going there I realized that I was just worrying unnecessarily.
We visited Istanbul on a long layover years ago. It was long enough to visit a few of the highlights like the Blue Mosque. We also visited the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market, which really tried my patience. We’d just come from the Middle East, where I expected the hawkers to be relentless but it was actually here in Istanbul that I had to get forceful and sound like a broken record with no on repeat. Perhaps I need to give Istanbul another chance, but now that Americans cannot get a visa there, I won’t be visiting again any time soon.
Istanbul is a beautiful city and you have taken me back there reading this. I loved the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and exploring the grand bazaar! I love your the photo of the lamps as wanted to buy one! But bought the same ides in tea light candle holders and use them in my house still today.
We only had a day in Istanbul as it was a cruise port, and I regret not having longer. It’s such a vibrant and eclectic city that it deserves a lot more time. We didn’t manage to get to the Asian side, though we did take photos of it from the bridge. My favourite spot was the Hagia Sophia. The locals there are really good at seeking out the tourists. We were approached almost immediately by a guide who then wanted to invite us into his brother’s rug shop “for some tea”.
Istanbul is still on my bucket list. I always enjoy markets, so I would love to walk through the Bazars and smell and see all the new impressions. The boat trip on the Posporus sounds super cosy as well, so that’s definitely something for me 😀 5-10$ a day for food is quite cheap and I do love Turkish food (except the sweet stuff).
I didn’t know much about Istanbul and it wasn’t high on my bucket list. But you highlighted some unique activities that intrigue me, e.g., seeing the asian and european side of the city. Hopefully, I will get to visit this city soon!
I could not agree more with Napoleon’s quote. Istanbul is everything at the same time and you have reflected it well in your post. It is so diverse. It’s a shame that the hostile atmosphere is still present lately. It is such a beautiful country and people are now reluctant on visiting the city that once was the capital of the Ottoman Empire.