Istanbul in a short time
Previous to my recent and first trip to Istanbul I heard and read a lot about the city, made some research as I always do, and of course, a list with must do’s too. I was already aware that 2 nights and 3 days would never be enough to cover everything I wanted to, even so I tried to fit as much attractions as possible within this short time in a city with so much to offer like Istanbul.
Even with the short time, I could visit all the attractions that were on my list, and within these 3 days I had time to visit the Galata Tower and contemplate a beautiful view of Istanbul in an early morning, watching the city waking up…
This medieval stone tower was built by the Genoese in 1348 to replace the Old Galata Tower, which was destroyed by Latin Crusaders in 1204. The Galata Tower used to be the tallest building in Istanbul, 66.9 m high, constructed at 35 meters above sea level. The tower was my favorite attraction in Istanbul and it’s a must, especially in the early morning.
To have a very nice Turkish Breakfast nearby the Galata Tower, with tea and omelet:
To cross the Galata Bridge that links the Beyoglu and the Fatih areas of the city, and provides a beautiful view of the Bosphorus…
To pay a visit to the so famous Hagia Sophia (Hayasofya)…
Of Byzantine architecture, the Hagia Sophia used to be a Greek Orthodox patriarchal Basilica, then an Imperial Mosque and nowadays a Museum. I particularly found it beautiful on the outside, but honestly didn’t think it was an amazing place on the inside. I have seen more beautiful religious buildings, besides it really requires renovation (they were actually renovating at the time of my visit). However, it is also a must in Istanbul!
Be impressed with the Basilica Cistern…
I admit that I had no high expectations of this place, but once I got there I realized how impressive it is. The Basilica Cistern is the largest cistern among several others lying beneath Istanbul (formerly Constantinople), 143m high, some fishes and the famous Medusa head.
To have some freshly pressed Pomegranate juice, found in almost every corner of Istanbul. If you like sour, then get one! I loved it!
To have a look at the Blue Mosque (officially Sultan Ahmed Mosque)…
Called Blue Mosque because of its blue tiles, its construction was completed in 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. During my visit I wasn’t able to get inside as when I got there it was closed for prayer, so before heading there, check the opening times.
It might seem silly for many of you, but what called my attention was that just beside the mosque there are individual water taps for people wash their feet, face and hands before attending the prayer. As many of you know, this is something Muslims must do before praying.
To explore the Topkapi Palace and its amazing rooms and beautiful view to the Bosphorus…
Of both Ottoman and Baroque architecture, the Topkapi Palace used be the residence of the Ottoman sultans for 400 years. It is nowadays a museum with holy relicts of the Muslim world, and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. No doubt a must see!
To walk the busy Istiklal avenue and the Taksim Square…
To bargain at the Spice and Grand Bazaars, where you will not only find spices and handcrafted materials, but also replicas of famous brands…
Useful tip: even spending a short time in the city, buy the Museum Pass, it costs 30 Euros for 3 days, and it gives you access to several attractions in Istanbul. Without the card you would spend the same price in least 3 museums, so it’s worth even for 1 day, in addition you can save time and take the faster line. Be aware that the card allows only one visit per attraction.
Gourmet tip: while in Istanbul I ordered some Turkish homemade gourmet truffles at Giano. The truffles were amazing and exotic, and their service was impeccable, they delivered at my hotel and even sent me a little card wishing me a great trip!
When in Istanbul, if you are interested on trying their truffles or chocolates you can e-mail your order to info[at]giano.com.tr. Their website is available only in Turkish, but I used Google translator to find out which flavor I wanted, you can’t go wrong with “Rokfor” – made of white chocolate and Roquefort Cheese. Remember to order at least 3-4 days in advance, as they customize the order especially for you. Thank you Giano‘s team, I loved it!
Where to stay
Before choosing my accommodation in Istanbul, I was in doubt to whether stay at the old area of the city, Sultanameht, close to the major attractions, or at the neighborhood where cafés, restaurants and bars are located, Cihangir. Truth is, I chose to stay at the latter, a very prominent area, which became popular among artists in the past years.
I have to say I was very happy with my choice, highly recommend to anyone and everyone, and would stay there again. Cihangir is very close to the Galata Tower, and you can be in Sultanameht within minutes by foot or tram, and just nearby you have plenty of options to eat and drink.
I was also more than happy and satisfied with my hotel choice: Frida Suites. With a very comfortable and stylish room, with a kitchen, great shower and extremely clean with an amazing smell, Frida Suites surprised me in every way. The hotel manager was incredibly helpful, nice and funny. Highly recommended!
It is important to be aware that nationals of some countries require visa to enter Turkey. This visa can be obtained online, or as soon as you arrive at the airport, on specific machines where you can make a payment and receive your visa before heading to the immigration line (it’s very important to know that to avoid wasting your time). To check if you need to pay for a visa, take a look here. Luckily, W and me were exempted from visa.
Getting to and from the airport…
With metro: you can reach the center city very easily with the metro. You will need to buy the metro tickets, available at the station entrance. I would recommend buying the Istanbulkart, which can be reloaded whenever needed.
By Taxi: I wouldn’t recommend this option unless you mind using public transportation, besides the traffic in Istanbul is horrible and you will probably pay more than you are expecting. If you choose this option, agree the price with the driver in advance.
By shuttle bus: this option is very practical in case you don’t want to walk with your luggage around the city or pay a lot for a taxi. There are buses leaving from the Airport to Taksim Square and vice-versa. One way costs approximately 11 Euros.
*All information based on Atatürk International Airport
Even with the short time, I had a blast in Istanbul, and would go back in a heartbeat. I left too much to be discovered behind, so I will not hesitate to take the opportunity to visit it again when it appears. For more about my impressions of Istanbul, check my post Istanbul, until we meet again…