Istanbul truly is a fascinating city, a melting pot of ancient Ottoman culture and architecture blending with modern Turkish materialism and extravagance.
Upon arrival, we were thrust into a land with unfamiliar sights and sounds. From the skyline punctured by infinite mosques’ minarets, men hustling passerbys into their shops, the constant call to prayers projected via loudspeakers, the smoke of seared food wafting throughout the streets, and the endless throngs of people, it was a feast of foreign experiences.
Oh, and the shopping! The shopping was insane.
Be forewarned though: it is the most touristy place I have ever been to, even more so than Rome! We arrived expecting an exotic place of unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells. And although we definitely experienced just that, we were unprepared for the throngs of thousands of tourists, endless line-ups, disappointing food, and the overwhelming shopping. Did I mention the shopping? Having said that, if you plan your trip right, you’ll have an experience of a lifetime. I’ve compiled a 3-Day Guide to Istanbul, which really should be the minimum length of stay, as the city is MASSIVE, and you could easily spend weeks there hardly scratching the surface.
I’ve marked all the sights & more on an interactive google map: http://j.mp/1Dik0Bg
Day 1: The Old City
Spend the entire day seeing the biggest sights in Sultanahmet (The Old City) that Istanbul is known for such as Hagia Sophia, The Basilica Cistern, and the Grand Bazaar. The Old City is the most touristy and therefore expensive, however, so plan to stay across the Halic River. Be sure to use my Guide:
-Start by visiting Hagia Sophia first thing in the morning.
-Head over to Basilica Cistern.
-Visit the Grand Bazaar for souvenirs, and to try your hand at haggling.
-For lunch grab a fresh fish sandwhich from the one of the boats at the foot of the Galata Bridge.
-End your day in relaxation (somewhat) by getting a serious scrub-down in one of the ancient Hammams (Turkish Baths).
Day 2: Beyoglu
This is the ideal area to stay in, especially for the younger crowd that prefer more off-the-beaten path places. Crossing the Galata Bridge into Beyoglu is breath of fresh air. This is where the young locals “in the know” spend their time, and I highly suggest you do two. I only wish I did longer.
-Start your day a hip local cafe, and fill up on a traditional Turkish breakfast (or just Turkish tea + baklava).
-Pass through Takism Square, making your way down Istiklal Avenue, one of the most famous shopping streets in Istanbul.
-Climb the Galata Tower (or wait to get the same view at pre-dinner drinks)
-Wander around the winding streets of the neighbourhood, with its cool one-of-kind shops and cafes.
-Grab drinks at Mikla, one of best of Istabul’s rooftop terrace scene.
-Dinner at a trendy restaurant packed with young locals. Our fave was Dai Pera Istanbul Cuisine
-Beyoglu is also wonderful at night with plenty of great bars & night clubs to take your pick from (or, just wander around the eerily quiet streets).
Day 3: Bosphorous
-Begin your day at Dolmabahce Palace, basking in the opulence of Turkey’s largest palace.
-Afterwards, hop onto a Bosphorous River cruise. You can catch one at the foot of the Galata Bridge (Old City Side). Get off at the Ortaköy Mosque stop.
-Check out one of the many hip restaurants and cafes in the Besiktas area, such as ANY.
Be sure to also:
-Pick up some gold or silver jewellery from one of the bazaars.
-Be sure to eat some Sutlac, a delicious dessert similar to creme brûlée.
Admire the beautiful mosaics