Turkey is such a huge country, you could easily spend a month or more exploring all the different parts and still not see all that it has to offer. We opted for 2 weeks in Turkey but would have gone for 3 if we had more time.
The general route itinerary is to go in a circular motion, generally east, then south, then west, then back up north. Ie. Istanbul, Cappadocia, Olympus, Kas, Fethiye, Bodrum, Izmir, then back to Istanbul and Gallipoli. Or in reverse.
For our trip, we split our days up as following: Istanbul (5 nights), Cappadocia (2 nights), Feithye to Olympos Gulet Sailing Cruise (4 nights), Gallipoli (1 day), Istanbul (2 nights). If we had more time we would have added 2-3 nights in Izmir and 2-3 in nights Bodrum.
Today we have a guest blogger, Marisa (shown below) writing for us about our time spent together in Istanbul. Marisa joined us for our time in Nice, France as well as in Istanbul and Cappadocia, Turkey. Sadly she couldn’t join us for our trip to Gallipoli (post below) or Southern Turkey (posting later).
I am a New York City-based photographer and lover of food and animals. I’m a bit of a gypsy at heart and love to travel. I hope through my experiences and adventures you will be able to see how incredible Istanbul is, and perhaps better plan for your future trip there!
First things first, Istanbul is huge. Fifth largest city in the world to be exact. It is the only city spanning over two continents, Asia and Europe. With that said, I would suggest creating a bit of an outline of things to see and do, that way you are able to experience as much as possible.
Upon entering Istanbul you will have noticed all the animals walking amongst you. I immediately felt my secret animal hoarder self-wanting to ‘save’ them all from the street life. But after walking around and seeing these animals that looked well fed, clean and relaxed I started to wonder, maybe it’s different here than the states? I then saw all the food and water containers left out for them and I realized the locals take care of them! The cats and dogs on the street were incredibly friendly as well and always came up to say hello.
We stayed in the Cihangir area and we were so glad that we did! It was an artsy student area with plenty of local cafes and shops. It was that area that I found most of my favourite restaurants.
Here is a list of my favourite things to do, and places to eat in Istanbul.
Things to do in Istanbul
Bosphorus River Tour – There are many river tours to choose from, but I chose the 1.5-hour local one with the best price. It was 12 TL (US$4.5) and I hopped on from Karakoy. You were able to see both coasts of the Asia side and the European side.
Grand Bazaar – A huge indoor market. Get ready to bargain. I highly suggest you get to know how much things actually cost before going to the Bazaar as things are way overpriced. For example, I bought a Turkish coffee pot and outside the Bazaar the markets were selling them for 10TL. In the Grand Bazaar, they were starting the prices at 65 TL and would only go down to 45 (after bargaining and walking away). Maybe I need more practice?
Spice Market – A fantastic place to bring home some spices for family and friends! They will even vacuum seal it for you. I got kebab spices and they were a hit at home!
Galata Tower area – I found this area to be the best for shopping. It had a very youthful feel to it. Bring comfortable shoes, it’s all on a hill!
The Blue Mosque – A cool experience with a beautiful interior. Women must cover their hair, shoulders and wear loose-fitting pants. But don’t worry the mosque lends attire free of charge to wear if needed.
Kilic Ali Pasa Hamam – A luxurious Turkish bath experience. It was recommended by a friend and it was a real treat going there. It lasts about 1.5-2 hours and costs 150 TL (around $57). They wrap you in a Turkish towel, throw warm water on you, bring you cool water to drink while laying on a hot marble stone and then scrub you down from head to toe.
Asian Side – It is very easy to take a ferry over to the Asian side from the European side of Istanbul. We visited Kadaköy and it was a very local area with minimal things to see or do. If you prefer to visit the Asian side I would suggest going a little further north and visiting Üsküdar.
If you are after a swim in Istanbul you can check out any of the following beaches and pools here.
Where to Eat in Istanbul
Mellow – Considered a tapas bar & restaurant. It’s nestled in a great area with other fantastic restaurants. I got the chicken curry and a glass of local red wine. The sea bass was also highly rated here.
Durumzade – Thought to be one of the best kebabs in Istanbul. After trying it, I definitely agree. I got the mixed meat durum kebab, after Anthony Bourdain’s TV show recommendation.
Sahi – The absolute best Turkish delights that you can find. It is handmade right in front of you and customizable. May I suggest the Nutella, banana and orange zest delight? I also had breakfast there one morning. They have a rooftop with a spectacular view of the river.
Susam – A hip, cool cafe for all of your dining needs! I went there for an appetizer of zucchini fritters with tzatziki. It will not disappoint.
5.Kat – A fancy rooftop restaurant and bar. I suggest you sip a cocktail during sunset and grab dinner elsewhere.
Zubeyir Ocabasi – Delicious and authentic kebab platters. The aubergine and mixed meat kebab was a favourite!
360 Rooftop Bar – A great rooftop with 360 views of the city. It becomes a club on Friday and Saturdays but a place to grab a cocktail or a meal during the day every other day.
As I mentioned earlier, Istanbul is so large that it would be great to create an outline of things to do, but I highly suggest that you allow yourself to get lost, trust me it’s pretty easy! The public transportation is easy to figure out and there are many Information Centers to ask for help!
A Few General Tips
- To use the transit system (train, tram, ferry, bus) it’s best to purchase an Istanbulkart card. You can purchase these at the stations or from various kiosks throughout the city. You can use the card to pay for several passengers at a time.
- Similar to Portugal, some restaurants will place appetizers (olives, bread etc) on your table without them being ordered, always confirm they are free prior to eating them.
- There are 2 airports in Istanbul, one on the Asian side by the airport code of (SAW) and one on the European side (IST). If possible try to go to the closer IST airport. The easiest way to get to the centre of town is by their local Havatas bus which will take you directly to Taksim Square or by taxi. You can find these buses directly outside the terminals.
A big thanks to Marisa for guest blogging on Istanbul. You can see more of her lovely photography at Memories by Marisa.
As an Australian, no trip to Turkey is complete without a visit to the historic WWI battlefields of Gallipoli. On April 25, a public holiday in Australia, we commemorate ANZAC day. ANZAC, standing for the ‘Australian New Zealand Army Corps’ is the day we remember our fallen soldiers, coinciding with the date our first troops landed in Gallipoli, Turkey in 1915.
There are a lot of rumours and misunderstandings about what happened on that day so we made it our mission to find the most reputable company to take us on a tour of the area. That company was RSL Tours (99 Euro pp) who we can highly recommend. There is the option to do 2 days one night with the same company and with this tour, you will also visit the site of Troy.
This company gave a knowledgeable, unbiased view of what happened during the period, from both points of view based on ‘facts’ recorded by war historians. We won’t give you a history lesson as it’s something you need to hear first hand but these were the sites we visited:
- Kilitbahir Castle
- Kilitbahir Fortress
- Corporal Seyit
- Bastion Namazgah
- Turkish Canon Batteries
- Brighton Beach
- Beach Cemetery (the grave of John Simpson)
- ANZAC Cove
- Ariburnu Cemetery
- ANZAC Commemorative Site
- Respect to Mehmetcik Memorial
- Lone Pine Australian Memorial
- Johnston’s Jolly (Turkish and ANZAC trenches and tunnels)
- Turkish 57. Infantry Regiment Cemetery
- The Nek
- Chunuk Bair New Zealand Memorial
It should be known that it’s a very long day when leaving from Istanbul, 16 hours in total, covering some 700km.
We really enjoyed the tour, hearing how & where the soldiers landed, and why they landed where they did. Also, it was great to dispel the myths and rumours put forward by many, especially Hollywood producers.
Married days survived: 103