Cost: ££ – very reasonably priced
Rating: 8/10 – really loved this city
Trip length: you can see most of it in 2 nights but would have been nice to stay longer
Click here to see my trip vlog.
Flights were cheap – London to Istanbul return with Pegasus Airlines were £102! Check SkyScanner for best rates.
We stayed downtown, just outside the centre of the city at an incredible boutique hotel called Nish Palas – part of the World of Hyatt group.
Rates start at about £100 per night for a basic room… we were so lucky to get upgraded to the terrace view! Rates for this room start at £300(really not sure how we managed to bag that).
Currency is the Turkish lira. £1 = about 8 lira at the moment but check conversion rates before you go!
We mainly got around on foot but yellow taxis are very cheap and the city has a reliable metro system too.
*TOP TIP* – go to the app store and download MapsMe!
You can download a map of the area, plug in all the places and restaurants you want to visit, and then you can use it to map your journeys without using any data. Ideal!
Is Istanbul in Europe / Asia?
Bosphorus strait is a waterway which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and forms a natural boundary between Europe and Asia. Istanbul is about 95% Europe and 5% Asia!
What we did…
– Blue Mosque
An impressive mosque built in 1606.. It still functions as a mosque but also open to tourists (2 different entrances).
Why is it called the Blue Mosque, you ask? Well, the simple explanation would be that the interior is covered in blue İznik tiles, but it’s also thought a sailors who sailed past the mosque saw the blue sea reflected in it… hence the name!
– Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia is directly opposite the Blue Mosque. It was originally built as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral in 537 AD but was converted into an Ottoman mosque in 1453.
For almost 1000 years it was the largest cathedral in the world!
It is no longer used as a mosque, but open for tourists to look around. Entry was 72 lira per person (£9) but you can buy a multi-museum pass if you’re seeing a few in the same day.
Between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia is a gorgeous area to walk around. We went off season so it was quite quiet, but I can imagine it getting packed during the summer months.
– Obelisk of Theodosius
Situated next to the Blue Mosque, this obelisk was originally erected by Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose (1479–1425 BC). In 357 AD, the Roman emperor Constantius II transported it to Alexandria and in 390 AD, Theodosis I transported it to Constantinople (now Istanbul) which is where it stands today! It’s seen more of the world than most!
– Galata Tower
Built as a watchtower to defend the city in 500 AD. Now, tourists can climb to the top for fantastic views of the city. Someone who lives there told me there is a tradition / superstition that whoever you go to the top with, you marry. So visit wisely!!
Unfortunately the queue was massive when we arrived and we were pushed for time so didn’t make it to the top.
– Topkapi Palace
This palace used to serve as the main residence of the Ottoman sultans (for about 400 years). Now, it’s a large museum accessible to tourists. I believe entry cost 72 lira per person (£9) but also part of the multi-museum ticket I saw on sale around the city.
We arrived just as it was closing so didn’t make it in. Wish we’d had more time to return!
– Dolmabahce Palace
Gorgeous palace in the Beşiktaş district of Istanbul. – a little way out of the centre, but certainly worth a visit if you have the time. It was the administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire from 1856 to 1922.
We hopped on a ferry from Karakoy to Kadikoy. The ferry ride is lovely on a clear day (even if a little chilly in the winter).
We walked around Moda, a busy area with lots of restaurants and bars, and also along the waterfront promenade which was lovely.
– Maiden’s Tower
Maiden’s Tower came highly recommended for a romantic dinner. You can take a ferry out to see if even if you don’t go for food.
– Grand Bazaar
The largest and oldest covered market in the world! Really wish we had the time to visit but it was closed the day we were nearby.
– Golden Horn
The primary inlet of the Bosphorus.
– Basilica Cistern
Right by Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern is the largest ancient cistern under the city.
– Summer Palace
You’ll stroll by this (now quite run down) building if you walk from Dolmabahce Palace into the centre.
– Dogs and cats
I really loved the Turkish attitude towards stray dogs and cats. All were tagged and looked well fed and happy. Dog / cat beds and houses were left outside many properties with food bowls topped up by locals (and me!)
We didn’t get a chance to go for a Turkish bath (hamam) although I wish we had. Here are a couple of recommendations:
- Galatasaray Hamam
- Kilic Ali Pasa (Hamam)
Where to eat…
We were really impressed with the fantastic service, unbelievable food and reasonable prices at all the restaurants we ate at in Istanbul. Definitely recommend every single one of the below if you visit. Overall, the best dining experience I’ve had in a long time.
– Tiraje Teras
Absolutely incredible restaurant on the top floor of our hotel. It’s a fixed menu so if you have any dietary requirements, let the waiter know (if he/she can hear you above the loud music). The food was SO delicious and there was loads of it. The atmosphere was amazing too – turned into a real party with locals on tables singing to Turkish pop!
– Balikci Sabahattin
Great fish restaurant near to Hagia Sophia with a lovely outdoor area. It was nice in the winter with heaters and I’m sure amazing during the summer months too.
Fish was fresh (caught that morning), so tasty and really reasonably priced.
– Naomi Sushi Bar
Brilliant sushi bar with super fresh fish very close to our hotel. Best sushi I’ve had in a very long time.
– Cesme Bazlama
Brilliant breakfast / brunch venue! Again, it’s a fixed menu, so do let the Bazlama team know if you have any particular dietary requirements.
& here some other bar / restaurant recommendations from a local:
- Karga Bar
- Kadi Nimet Balikci
- Cicek Pasaji
- Sur Balik
Our experience in Istanbul was way above our expectations. The city is beautiful and steeped in history, the people are welcoming and warm, and the food and service is fantastic. It’s certainly worth visiting during the colder months as I believe rates are better and the city is less crowded.