A Personal Guide to Istanbul : Turkey

June 7, 2024
Turkish Tea

Istanbul, straddling the continents of Europe and Asia, is a city where East meets West. With its rich history, stunning architecture, vibrant markets, and delicious cuisine, Istanbul offers an unforgettable experience for every traveller. Istanbul is a city where the ancient meets the modern, offering a unique and dynamic experience to its residents and visitors. I have complied a Guide of Istanbul, for you to read through!

Turkish Tea

Istanbul is a vibrant and historically rich city sharing two continents: Europe and Asia. It is Turkey’s largest city and serves as the country’s economic, cultural, and historical hub. It has incredible sights, sounds, and experiences. was lucky enough to travel a lot throughout Turkey from North to South.  I loved every single minute of it!  The Turks are such friendly, warm people.  The food was delicious, the sea warm and inviting.

I have put together a personal Guide to Istanbul.

As in every single country, there are always top attractions, that you must tick off.  They hold history, culture, and stories that date back decades.  It’s important to learn from your travels, get perspective, and live to tell your tale.  Here is a list of my favourites you must see in Istanbul.

Top Attractions

Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)

Description: Originally a cathedral, later a mosque, and now a museum, this iconic structure is renowned for its massive dome and stunning mosaics.

Activities: Exploring the intricate mosaics, architecture, and museum exhibits.

Tips: Visit early to avoid long lines, and consider a guided tour to fully appreciate its history. Please respect this beautiful building, by covering your arms, legs, and shoulders.  As a woman, whether it is your religion or not, you are expected to dress modestly.  Out of respect for your host nation.

Hagia Sophia

Topkapi Palace

Description: The former residence of Ottoman sultans, now a museum displaying imperial collections and holy relics.

Activities: Touring the palace, including the Harem, Treasury, and beautiful gardens.

Tips: Allocate several hours to explore thoroughly, and don’t miss the panoramic views from the palace grounds. You honestly lose time.  It is vitally important, to wear comfy shoes!

Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque)

Description: Famous for its six minarets and beautiful blue Iznik tiles adorning the interior.

Activities: Visiting during prayer times when it’s closed to tourists, but otherwise exploring its stunning interior.

Tips: Dress modestly, cover your head if you’re a woman, and remove shoes before entering. They are very strict here, so cover up!

Blue mosque

Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı)

Description: An ancient underground water reservoir with impressive columns and a mystical atmosphere.

Activities: Walking through the cistern and viewing the Medusa heads.

Tips: Wear sturdy shoes as the pathways can be damp and slippery. If you can bring your tripod along, you can get incredible photographs!

Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı)

Description: One of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, featuring thousands of shops.

Activities: Shopping for jewelry, carpets, spices, and souvenirs.

Tips: Bargain with shopkeepers for the best prices and explore the hidden corners of the market. I learned the art of bargaining here.  I never knew it until I learned from the Turks.  Selling and buying something is like an art!  You sit down, you get given tea, and then you start the game.  Without question, it’s great fun! Be prepared to bargain hard.  And never lose your sense of humour!

Grand Bazaar

Best Neighborhoods to Explore

Sultanahmet

Description: The historic heart of Istanbul, is home to many of the city’s most famous landmarks.

Activities: Visiting major attractions like Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace.

Tips: Stay in this area if you want to be within walking distance of many attractions.

Beyoglu and Taksim Square

Description: Known for its lively atmosphere, shopping, and nightlife.

Activities: Strolling down Istiklal Street, visiting the Galata Tower, and enjoying cafes and restaurants.

Tips: Visit the area in the evening to experience its vibrant nightlife.

Kadikoy (on the Asian side)

Description: A bustling neighborhood with a more local feel, great for food and shopping.

Activities: Exploring the markets, dining at local restaurants, and enjoying the waterfront.

Tips: Take a ferry from Eminonu or Karakoy to get there and enjoy beautiful views of the Bosphorus. I loved this area at night.  One thing to note, it’s expensive!  But you can get a doner at 3 am after too many Raki’s!

Kadikoy, district in Istanbul

Balat and Fener

Description: Historic neighborhoods are known for their colorful houses and narrow streets.

Activities: Walking tours to see the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and old synagogues.

Tips: Wear comfortable shoes as the streets are cobbled and hilly.

Cultural Experiences

Turkish Bath (Hammam)

Description: Relax and rejuvenate in a traditional Turkish bath.

Recommended Hammams: Cagaloglu Hamami and Cemberlitas Hamami.

Tips: Follow the etiquette and instructions provided for the best experience. This was a no-brainer for me.  I loved the experience and went back many times.  It was amazing!

Bosphorus Cruise

Description: A scenic boat tour along the Bosphorus Strait.

Tips: Don’t take a tourist trip, rather take the trip a local will use as transport to and from different stops along the way.  Get off the stops and walk into the towns.  Or take a night cruise for spectacular views of the illuminated city skyline.

Boat ride with seagulls in Istanbul

Cuisine

Turkish cuisine is a rich and diverse culinary tradition that reflects the country’s historical and cultural tapestry. Influenced by the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and Balkan cuisines, Turkish food offers a wide variety of flavors and dishes.

Here are some highlights of Turkish cuisine:

Fresh Produce: Vegetables like eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and greens are staples.

Meats: Lamb, beef, and chicken are commonly used, with lamb being particularly favored.

Seafood: Fresh fish and seafood are prevalent, especially in coastal areas.

Dairy: Yogurt is a cornerstone of Turkish cuisine, used in various dishes and as a condiment.

Grains: Bulgur, rice, and bread are essential components.

Famous Dishes

Kebabs: Varieties include shish kebab (skewered meat), döner kebab (rotating grilled meat), and Adana kebab (spicy minced meat).

Mezes: A selection of small dishes served as appetizers, such as hummus, baba ghanoush, dolma (stuffed grape leaves), and ezme (spicy tomato salad).

Manti: Turkish dumplings filled with spiced meat, served with yogurt and garlic sauce.

Pide: Often referred to as Turkish pizza, it features a boat-shaped flatbread topped with various ingredients.

Lahmacun: Thin, crispy flatbread topped with minced meat, onions, and spices.

Turkish Food

Soups

Mercimek Çorbası: Lentil soup, a popular and comforting starter.

Tarhana: A fermented grain and yogurt soup, often flavored with vegetables and spices.

Desserts

Baklava: Layered pastry filled with nuts and soaked in honey or syrup.

Turkish Delight (Lokum): Gelatinous cubes flavored with rosewater, lemon, or other ingredients, and dusted with powdered sugar.

Künefe: A dessert made of shredded filo dough, filled with cheese, and soaked in syrup.

Aşure: Also known as Noah’s Pudding, made from grains, dried fruits, and nuts.

Baklava

Bread

Simit: A sesame-crusted circular bread, often enjoyed with tea.

Ekmek: Simple white bread, a staple in every meal.

Lavaş: Soft, thin flatbread often used to wrap kebabs. Yummy this was one of my best breads!!

Beverages

Tea (Çay): The national beverage, served in small tulip-shaped glasses.

Turkish Coffee: Strong, unfiltered coffee served with grounds settled at the bottom.

Ayran: A refreshing yogurt-based drink, often salted and served cold. When you experience hot days in Turkey, this is the best drink to cool you down and the bonus is it’s delicious!

Raki: An anise-flavored spirit, commonly enjoyed with seafood and mezes.

Street Food

Döner: Meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie, typically served in sandwiches or wraps.

Kokoreç: Seasoned and grilled lamb intestines, often served in bread.

Balık Ekmek: Grilled fish sandwich, commonly sold near the waterfront.

Dining Experience

Family Style: Meals are often shared, with multiple dishes laid out for everyone to sample.

Tea Culture: Drinking tea is an integral part of social interactions.

Hospitality: Turkish people are known for their warm hospitality, often offering food and drink to guests generously.

Turkish cuisine offers a delightful journey through a variety of flavors, textures, and aromas, making it a beloved cuisine around the world. I can promise you, the food is to die for! The best food I have tasted while traveling.

Sweets and turkish delights

Practical Tips

Best Time to Visit

Spring (April to June): Pleasant weather and blooming flowers.

Autumn (September to November): Mild temperatures and fewer tourists.

Summer (July to August): Hot and humid, but great for coastal activities. This is the best time to travel.  If you are looking at beach days and sunlight!  One of the best notes for my guide to Istanbul

Transportation

Public Transport: Use the Istanbulkart for buses, trams, and ferries.

Taxis: Readily available, but ensure the meter is used.

Walking: Many attractions are within walking distance in the Sultanahmet area.

Take note of all my important notes to my Guide to Istanbul

Safety Tips

Be aware of pickpockets in crowded areas.

Avoid unlicensed taxis and always confirm prices before boarding.

Stay alert and respectful on religious sites.

Turkish Lamps sold at the Grand Bazaar

Language

Turkish is the primary language, but English is widely spoken in tourist areas.

Learning a few basic Turkish phrases can be helpful and appreciated by locals.

Istanbul, with its rich cultural heritage and dynamic modern vibe, is a city that promises an unforgettable travel experience. Whether you’re exploring its historic landmarks, savoring its diverse cuisine, or simply soaking in the unique ambiance, Istanbul is sure to captivate your heart. I hope my Guide to Istanbul has given you excitment!

 

Your personal guide to Istanbul

 

 

 

 

 

    1 comment

  • Monika
    June 10, 2024
    Reply

    I am goin to Turkey in October and I am hoping that I can visit a few places from your list. Looks like a very beautiful and varied place. Cannot wait.

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