I’m sure you all are probably thinking, when did she go to Istanbul? I haven’t seen that on her Instagram posts…? Ok, Ok, this is extremely LATE, but I’ve had a request from one of my close friends to do an Istanbul recap since she is planning a trip there this Summer. I also thought it might be helpful for any of you planning trips there this year. You also may be thinking, really Istanbul? My response would be that Istanbul was one of the most amazing cities I’ve ever visited. It has an incredible amount of culture and charm that really makes the city special. You should also know that it was No. 1 on TripAdvisor’s best cities in the world to visit in 2014 and 2015. It definitely ranks in my top 5 favorite cities in the World, but I won’t spoil my travel guide… keep reading.
When to Go?
Drew and I went on our trip at the end of August, which in my opinion was one of the best times to go. It was at the end of vacation season for Europeans, and many Americans were already back in school. The weather was perfect the whole time we were there (even while in Greece), and it wasn’t overly hot and humid which made walking around the city more pleasant.
Is it safe?
This is the question I get most often when I tell people that I traveled to Istanbul. Did it feel dangerous? Did I ever feel like my life was at risk (lol, that one makes me laugh)? I will say there was never a time that I feel unsafe in the city, or felt uncomfortable with my surroundings. The locals were always extremely kind to us and willing to help if we needed anything. At the same time, we only stayed in the tourist areas of the city in Sultanahmet District. The only time we ventured away from that area was during our food tour, and we were with city locals so they knew where and where not to travel (more on that later). Istanbul is a safe city, but just like with any city there are verrrryyyy unsafe areas. If you are a smart and savvy traveler who always pays attention to what is going around you and you don’t test the boundaries of your location then you will be absolutely fine traveling to this city. If it makes you feel better, Drew and I were there during the Syrian refugee crisis (Turkey borders Syria if you didn’t realize that), and we still never felt concerned with our safety.
How to get there?
Our trip consisted of 3 nights in Istanbul, 3 nights in Mykonos and 3 nights in Santorini. We traveled first from Charlotte to Istanbul by plane (one stop in between) and then traveled to Mykonos by plane (one stop in Athens), and then took a ferry boat between Mykonos and Santorini. I recommend Aegean Air for your inter-country travel because that is Greece’s domestic airline and generally the most affordable for that area.
Where to stay?
Hotel Amira, and I honestly wouldn’t recommend you stay anywhere else. It was honestly one of my best hotel experiences I’ve ever had. The staff were extremely friendly, and each day literally drew out our walking path for where we wanted to visit. They also had an amazing breakfast spread each morning with local Turkish foods, so it was a good starting point for our day. The hotel was incredibly centralized in the Sultanahmet District and easy walking distance to all the best tourist attractions and restaurants. Only a 5 minute walk and you were in the middle of Sultanahmet square and the Blue Mosque. Not to mention, they have a rooftop patio with gorgeous views over the Mediterranean. It was an amazing place to end our day before dinner watching the sunset and taking down some amazing cocktails. Photo below is a view at sunset from the roof.
What to do?
- Istanbul on Food Tour – If there is one thing you do while in Istanbul, it is this tour. We specifically did the Taste of Two Continents tour and we had a blast. Istanbul is known for its diverse culture, and the best way to experience it is through the city’s food. Anything from baklava, traditional Turkish pizza, Turkish coffee, to visiting pickle shops, tasting kabobs and experiencing Turkish tea and the way they do breakfast, I can’t tell you enough how much you HAVE to do this tour. It is totally worth it and hands down the best thing we did while in Turkey. It also allows you to see the Asian side of the city because it is generally not safe for you to travel alone. This tour is given by a local so they take you to 10 of the best food locations in the city.
2. Visit a Mosque, preferably the Blue Mosque – There are mosques all over the city, but I would say the most famous and largest would be the Blue Mosque. You pay a very small fee to go inside and see the beautiful architecture. I will say that you have to take your shoes off as well as cover your knees and head with a head wrap, so if you don’t want to wear a scarf that everyone has used, I recommend you definitely bring your own. Also, I would avoid visiting a mosque during one of their 5 times of prayer throughout the day as it can get very busy.3. Topkapi Palace – Drew and I really enjoyed visiting the Palace. It is where the Sultan and his many wives used to live a couple of centuries ago (think Aladdin and Jasmine :)). It is now simply a tourist attraction, but it was really interesting to see the Sultan way of life and how it has transformed into their culture today. It really gave me an understanding of why the city is so diverse and how it is representative of so many cultures. Turkey was one of the largest thriving cities of its time and often Sultans battled against each other by building the largest Mosques possible to represent their power and take hold of the city. It is a really interesting story. It’s also a great way to get an amazing view over the water (see below).4. Visit the Grand Bazaar – This is another must do while in Istanbul. Not because it is a great shopping area and you’re going to find all the trinkets and gifts you need while on your trip, but it is truly a sight to see. It is roads upon roads of thrift stores, spice markets, and traditional Turkish items, all filled with lots of people (Drew’s biggest nightmare, lol) and beautiful architecture. It is also a tourist trap and the most expensive area to buy things. If you’d like to shop I recommend the two places I have listed as number 5 and 6.5. Visit the Egyptian Bazaar – This is the best place for you to buy Turkish grocery items and local spices. Basically it is where all the locals go to shop. Buying spices is something I wish I would have done more of because this is the most natural, locally sourced of spices you can buy. It was an amazing sight to see with all the piles of spices and dried fruits and vegetables lining the streets. If you do the Istanbul on Food Tour, this will be one of your stops along the tour.6. Visit the Arasta Bazaar, don’t miss Jennifer’s Hamam – This was one of my favorite places we went while in Istanbul. It was a long street of shops with anything from soaps to traditional Turkish clothing, to colorful Turkish rugs to hand sewn colorful towels. It’s really the textile shopping area of Istanbul. You may be thinking colorful towels? Yes, they’re towels that are hand woven by nomads in Turkey. The shop is called Jennifer’s Hamam and it is absolutely amazing. It is run by a Canadian lady named Jennifer, and she employs Nomads to preserve hand woven textiles as an art form that is virtually becoming extinct. I took a ton of photos of her towels but she asked that I not post anything to secure her proprietary designs, so I will honor her wishes and just say you MUST go there. Her towels are sold in the United States at a couple of locations but I am not lying when I say they are 5 times the price they are in Turkey. Make sure you rack up because you will not find these prices anywhere else in the world.
Where to eat and drink rose?
- Old Ottoman Cafe – this was our favorite restaurant while in Turkey. It has an amazing view of the mosques and it is best to go at dinnertime so you can see the mosques at night. The food was traditional Turkish food and it was amazing. The photo below is one we took at this restaurant.
- Aloran Cafe and Restaurant – This restaurant is located near the Blue Mosque and Haggia Sophia. Make sure you order the clay pot casserole. They heat it over fire and then break the dish and dump the food out on your plate, amazing…
- Imbat Restaurant, Albura Kathisma, Matbah Ottoman Palace – I wanted to mention these because they were all restaurants that were recommended to us, but we were never able to try it since we were only there 3 days and one day was a food tour. I’ve seen incredible reviews on all three places.
- Sekerci Cafer Erol – Amazing place to purchase traditional Turkish candy, they have locations all over Istanbul. Again, if you do the food tour, your guide will take you here. Make sure you purchase the Rose candy, it tastes just like roses!
Hopefully that gives you a starting point if you are planning a trip to Istanbul. As with any of my posts if you have any questions about anything I mentioned, don’t hesitate to reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org!