Where the West meets the East, the great city of Istanbul is an amazing destination. Some of you may immediately think that with the recent events it is not very safe to visit, but we visited in between two incidents and if it wasn’t for the news we would have never known that something was happening.
I can safely say that Istanbul was one of the most pleasant cities I have ever visited. Turkish people are very friendly, the food is amazing and the sights are breathtakingly beautiful. So follow me for 4 days in what used to be known as Byzantium and Constantinople.
Day 1 – Sultanahmet, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern
We started our trip in the most famous neighbourhood of Istanbul, Sultanahmet. This is where you will find the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and many more famous sights. We were lucky to have excellent weather, and after a quick breakfast on the go, we headed to Hagia Sophia.
I knew the history of Hagia Sophia, once a Christian Orthodox cathedral, it was turned into a mosque, and is now a museum. What I didn’t know, on the other hand, was how big and impressive the place was.
The ceilings are so high it is unbelievable.
This is also where you will find the very famous Deësis and Comnenus mosaics, some signs left from its cathedral days.
Make sure to peek through the windows for the most beautiful views of Istanbul’s roofs.
After a Turkish tea break, we were off to the Blue Mosque. It is good to note that the visits are allowed between prayer time and if you are a woman you will need to cover your hair. I made sure to wear a scarf around my neck at all time when in Istanbul so I could easily cover my head if I needed to.
The inside of the mosque is embellished with light features, stained glass and mosaics.
The building itself is wonderful to look at and changes colours throughout the day, sometimes appearing blue, sometimes grey or even white!
We took a little bit of time to check out the Obelisk of Theodosius and the Serpent Column before grabbing lunch at one of the many restaurants around.
In the afternoon, we first visited the Basilica Cistern, famous for featuring in a James Bond film (From Russia with love) and for its Medusa columns.
We then spent some time exploring the streets of Sultanahmet. Stopping for some baklava.
We headed toward the Yeni Cami square where the beautiful ‘New’ mosque stands.
Our last stop of the day was the Spice Bazaar, where we smelled and tasted a few things before buying some tea and some Turkish delights.
Turkish food is delicious and there are a few dishes I listed in a previous post that you need to try while there!
We crossed the Bosphorus and enjoyed watching the fishermen keeping busy at sunset.
Day 2 – Galata Tower, Karakoy and afternoon tea at Pera Palace Hotel
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great on our second day but we didn’t get discouraged and headed out to explore Karakoy neighbourhood.
Our first stop was at the Galata tower, a medieval building with amazing panoramic views of Istanbul and the Bosphorus.
We enjoyed the views and headed back downstairs for a warming cup of tea. The weather wasn’t getting better we, therefore, decided to go explore Karakoy’s streets so it would be easy to shelter in a shop if needed.
Embarrassing fact: I didn’t know Istanbul had an old tramway system running in the pedestrian streets. I actually discovered it when I almost got hit by one!
We got lost in the streets and ran into some of the famous Istanbul sights like the Kamondo steps and Taksim Square.
It eventually started raining so we decided to take shelter at the Pera Palace Hotel for some tea and cake.
The place is gorgeous and famous for hosting the Orient Express passengers – including Agatha Christie – before or after their trip on the train.
Day 3 – Ortakoy and a cruise on the Bosphorus
We started the third day in the neighbourhood of Ortakoy, a charming traditional area with plenty of trendy restaurants and cafes.
This is where we had the best Turkish breakfast of our trip!
After a very satisfying breakfast, we headed to Besiktas’ port to catch one of the Bosphorus boat tours. I cannot remember exactly which company we used, but they were very easy to find and we bought the tickets at one of the front desks at the port.
We picked a hop-on-hop-off cruise which allowed us to stop and explore different neighbourhoods.
The boats are often enough that you won’t have to wait too long if the area you stop at is not very big.
We were lucky to have excellent weather on that day and the views were fantastic.
We first stopped at Emirgan, a small neighbourhood with a village vibe where we grabbed a coffee.
Back on the boat, we headed to Asia and stopped at Beylerbeyi for a quick bite on the go and nice views of the European side.
Our last stop was in Kadikoy, where we explored the small lively streets and grabbed yet another cup of Turkish tea (I did buy a couple of boxes to take back home as you can imagine).
We very much enjoyed Kadikoy with its lively market and plenty of bars and eateries. It seems like it would be a fun place to go out in the evening too.
Day 4 – Topkapi Palace Museum and the Grand Bazaar
Our final day was spent back in Europe. We spent the morning exploring Topkapi Palace.
The place is beautiful, the architecture is amazing and the gardens are a real pleasure to visit.
I also recommend visiting the harem where you can learn a lot about it, which (spoiler alert) is nothing like what you may imagine it to be. It was a lot more civilised and a lot less glamorous than what books and movies may have depicted.
The harem was actually where the family of the sultan lived. It was a private and quiet house tucked away from the crowds of the royal court.
After lunch, we headed to the very famous Grand Bazaar, our final stop. We kept it for last as we knew we would probably buy souvenirs there (we did).
The place is very impressive with endless covered alleyways. It is vast and it is very easy to get lost in it.
It is also magical and feels like shopping in a giant Aladdin’s cave!
We absolutely loved our time in Istanbul and we will definitely be back, where Europe shakes hands with Asia.