Istanbul is the ONLY city located on TWO continents! (Europe is on one side and on the other side is Asia.) You can visit two continents the same day! How COOL is that?!? Need I say more?
How many days do you need in Istanbul?
You need at least 2 days in Istanbul; 3 to do it justice.
Visa? Visas are required for some nationalities (Sorry, American brethren). You can get an e-visa prior to traveling for $20. You can pay using debit card or credit card.
Money: Turkish Lira (you can also use euros) but Turkish Lira is more commonly accepted.
What should I know before going to Istanbul?
- When entering a mosque (an Islamic place of worship), women must be dressed conservatively. Check HERE for dress code and etiquette.
- Also, you can buy a Museum Pass at a discounted rate that gets you MOST (not all) of the tourist attractions
- Many of the tourist attractions are not open everyday. Please make sure you check the schedule before making plans to “visit” any of the attractions on the day that it’s closed.
What is there to do and see?
There are so many sights to see in Istanbul some of the most noteworthy are:
- Hagia Sophia (or Aya Sophia): is a former Greek Orthodox Christian church that was later converted into a mosque… and Finally, a museum.
(NOTE: CLOSED ON MONDAYS; FEE: 30 lira)
- Sultan Ahmet Mosque (A.k.a. “Blue Mosque“): a mosque that is magnificent architecturally and better known as the blue mosque for its blue titles and towering minarets.
(OPEN ALL DAYS, but try to avoid prayer times. FEE: Free)
- Topkaki Palace: Palace converted into a museum with a ton of religious artifacts
(NOT OPEN ON TUESDAY ; FEE: 30 Lira )
- Grand Bazaar: The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest markets in the world.
(CLOSED SUNDAYS; FEE: Free to enter)
- Chora Museum: Greek orthodox church preserved as a mosque
(CLOSED WEDNESDAY; FEE: 15 Lira)
- Little Hagia Sophia: is a lesser known mosque. It was built in the 530s as the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora.
(NOTE: Open every day, but avoid prayer times; FEE: Free)
- Bosphorus Cruise: Cruise up and down the Bosphours River on a boat to get a chance to see Istanbul on both sides of the river. There were a lot of people in the street offering us the “best deal” for a Bosphorus cruise (60 Euro? No way!).
We were on a tight budget so we took the most budget-friendly option. The cheapest way to go all the way to the end is with the public ferry to Anadolu Kavagi (that is as far as it goes), have lunch in one of the fish restaurants there and/or climb up to the castle on the top of the hill, and then get the ferry back (it is a three hour wait – which is just about time to eat and see the castle).
- Basilica Cistern (20 lira) (NOT a part of the museum entrance): An archaeology museum that was constructed in 532 to supply water to the Byzantine Palace.
(CLOSED TUESDAY; FEE: 15 Lira)
What to Eat?
- Mezze: variety of cold appetizers – hummus, pita bread, tabbouleh
- Turkish (coal-fired) coffee: coffee that is cooked over coals
- Apple tea: a tea made of (you guessed it!) apples
- Kunafe/kunafa: a sweet desert that is the middle east’s version of a cheese “Danish”
- “Turkish delight” : a gelatinous sweet confection traditionally made of syrup and cornflour, dusted with icing sugar
- Iskander: A kind of döner kebab prepared from thinly cut grilled lamb basted with hot tomato sauce over pieces of pita bread and generously slathered with melted sheep butter and yogurt.
- Baklava: a rich, sweet pastry made of layers of filo filled with chopped nuts and sweetened and held together with syrup or honey; similar to greek baklava but has pistachios
- Pide: Turkish “pizza”
How to get around?
The main airport in Istanbul is the Ataturk Airport. This airport connects to a metro station into the city (about 30 -40 minute ride). Once you are in the downtown area, everything is in walking distance (or literally right across the street).
Where to stay?
Somewhere near the Sultanahmet Area (that’s where everything is centrally located). I stayed at an Airbnb within walking distance of the Grand Bazaar, which was also about 15 minutes away from the other major local tourist attractions.