One full week in Istanbul. Where I usually take 2-3 days for a city trip, for this gorgeous city I had all the time in the world to explore, as this city has so much to offer! This article is a long read (but including pictures) of what to do in Istanbul, how to get there, the people, and random observations.
What to see and do
Day 1: Sultanahmet
Sultanahmet is the old part of Istanbul. This area is where most of the big attractions and sights are, and also the place where I stayed at in my hotel. Everything is within walking distance.
Topkapi Palace & harem:
My Lonely Planet guide included a recommended walking tour, this took me along the Hippodrome, Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Mosque, Little Hagia Sophia and Arasta Bazaar. See the various colorful shops of the Bazaar in the photo below.
Day 2: Beyoglu
Now it was time to cross the bridge North (not East across the Bosphorus) to the modern part of Istanbul. Beyoglu is situated a bit higher, thus I first had to climb up several streets to reach the hustling and bustling part of Beyoglu.
Galata Tower: Galata Tower is the first sight you come across. For only TL100 (€10) I went up the tower with an elevator (nope, I didn’t have to take the stairs) to the top floor, from here there is a 360 degrees view of all of Istanbul.
Serdar-i-Ekrem street: From Galata Tower you walk into this street, apparently hip and happening with various boutique shops. At the end of the street I came across these houses with street art on it.
Istiklal Cd: At the starting point of the biggest shopping street in Istanbul, look for Starbucks Coffee. I came here for a quick bathroom break, but was surprised by a quaint square with various restaurants, a perfect place to sit down and relax. The entire street is all about shopping, branded stores all the way to Taksim Square. Half way I even came across a cathedral, which was a different sight between all the mosques.
Day 3: Bazaar district
Shop til you drop, that’s what you do in and around the Grand Bazaar. Not only the Grand Bazaar itself, but all the streets around it are filled with stores selling all kinds of things. And the interesting part is that they’re all categorized together. So I found a street full of stores who sell socks, another street with cute kids dresses and suits, a street with underwear, a street with stationary, etc. etc. The Grand Bazaar mostly had jewellery (silver). And walking towards the river there is the smaller Spice Bazaar, with of course; spices.
Amidst all this shopping delight, one of the prettiest mosque’s is hidden between the streets; Süleymaniye Camii. Although easily seen from afar, nowhere to be found up close. When I eventually did find it, I was glad I did. A beautiful structure but also more pretty views towards the river and Beyoglu.
Day 4: Princes Island
Princes Island is the perfect city getaway. Take the ferry to Buyukada, rent a bike, climb up to the monastery and simply relax. I wrote a specific article just for Princes Island.
Day 5: Kadikoy
Kadikoy is on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. A direct ferry from Sultanahmet departs every 15 minutes. Upon arriving in Kadikoy I immediately noticed it is much less touristy. Restaurants and stores are more focused towards the locals, and here I wasn’t constantly being spoken to, which was actually rather refreshing. I stopped at “Munchies Crepes & Pancakes” for lunch, as a pancake lover this place made me instantly happy. After lunch I walked along the boulevard of Moda Sahil Park and simply enjoyed the atmosphere of the area. I love places like this and I’m glad I included it in my trip.
Day 6: Karakoy
It’s the last day before heading back to the airport, I had until 2 PM to do the last bit of exploring. For this I decided to visit Karakoy. Karakoy is a small area with a few lively streets, another place where it’s all about the vibe. Various restaurants and tiny streets where the young and hip people from Istanbul come together.
How to get from Istanbul airport to the old city?
Easy answer: taxi or Havaist bus. My answer: Havaist bus
Whenever possible I personally try to avoid taxis. I think taxi drivers are the biggest scumbags all over the world, no matter where you are. And since I prefer having positive interactions with the local people and not immediately hating and distrusting them all, taxis are avoided.
Luckily there also is a shuttle bus! Havaist line 12 takes you to Sultanahmet for only TL35 (€3,5) (instead of TL500 which some of those scumbags taxis try to steal from you). The final stop of the Havaist bus is “Meydan Beyazit”, but due to construction? the bus stopped earlier at “Aksaray”. No problem, from there I took the tram line T1 to “Sultanamet” and walked the last 3 minutes to my hotel. Money and aggravation saved!
The Turkish people
While traveling I’m always wary of my surroundings. But I soon noticed that the Turkish are just very friendly people. Yes, of course some try to sell you something. But a friendly smile and a polite No is enough if you do not wish to be bothered. I was also positively surprised that I not once had the feeling that someone tried to scam me. People invited me into their shop, talked to me, let me take pictures, never asking anything in return. I never felt unsafe at any time, while traveling as a solo woman.
Cats: Around the city you see stray cats everywhere. The Turkish love their stray cats; they feed them, they pet them, they let them sleep in their store.
Masks: I’m writing this in October 2021 and at this moment face masks are mandatory to wear inside and outside in Turkey. I was relieved that about 50% of the people in the old town didn’t abide by this rule. I joined them and was happy to walk and breathe around freely. When crossing the river to the Asian side, a whole lot more people did wear the masks though.