I spent 8 days in Istanbul at the beginning of last month and have only just managed to get this written lol. I felt like I just had to write a travel guide for the city because, if you're like me, the prospect of a whole week in a city seemed v overwhelming but it turned out quite well and the trip definitely turned out to be a highlight of my summer!

Istanbul is an amazing city with such a different feel to any other European city I've visited, mostly because the nature of it's geographical positioning with a European and Asian side as well as it being a muslim majority country. The history of Istanbul in particular is astounding and so rich from it's origins as Constantinople in the eastern Roman empire (Byzantium) to the Ottoman conquest in 1453 and most recently in the 20th century, the work of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk which shaped the city (and country) into what it is today. The streets are busy, markets and bazaars are full to the brim with walls of silk scarves, turkish delights and evil eyes hanging everywhere and the mosques are so overpoweringly stunning with low domes and long, thin minarets that seem like if they were a few feet longer, would be piercing into the heavens. The people are incredibly lovely and so helpful with everything from drawing out detailed itineraries on where to go, serving your Turkish tea in their shops to letting you off a few lira's when you're short. The addition of the (super clean) Bosphorus river (the Thames could never) gives the city a whole new feel and it's always lovely to spot the river as you near the banks.

+ I didn't take my camera with me so the photos in this post are all from my phone- I hope the quality isn't too bad...


day 1:
A good way to start your trip is by walking around the Sultanahmet area which is the main historical district in Istanbul. You'll the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, the Gülhene Park and Topkapi palace. The blue mosque still operates as a mosque so modest clothing is required to enter- they provide scarves and long skirts for both men and women outside the entrance which was so useful. It's worth noting that it's currently under some maintenance works. We also took a break in the park and walked around in the shade which was the perfect way to escape the sun before going into the palace which was full of Ottoman tiling, inscriptions and relics. The Hagia Sofia was lovely too and there are a few byzantine mosaic pieces like one of Jesus, Mary and John.

day 2:
We crossed the river and went to Taksim square which has a much younger, livelier feel than Sultanahmet. It's super busy and packed full of people, especially Istiklal street which felt like the Oxford st equivalent- lots of shops and restaurants and stunning architecture. An old tram line runs through the street too. There's a the flower passage (çiçek pasaji) which has a couple of restaurants. The passage itself is beautiful very much reminded me of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. Further down Istklal street is the Museum of Illusions which was a nice small museum to pass some time, there's also a similar one in Berlin. We walked further along the street on the way to the Galata tower and came across a different district which had a very independent artist feel, the only thing I can slightly compare it to is Camden (but much less touristy and commercial) There were lots of small stalls with shell necklaces, hand painted coasters, tiles and notebooks and some street art. It's a really lovely area to walk around and get an alternative feel to the city. Then there's the Galata tower which is much bigger than I was expecting- there's an option to climb up it (we didn't) but I can only imagine how beautiful the view over the city would've been at sunset! We headed all the way back up Istiklal street to eat something and then back to our hotel by metro.

day 3:
This day started a little slower. We went to Eminonu (which is another bustling area of the city) and went on a boat down the Bosphorus (which further cemented the fact that Istanbul's river/sea is superior to any other I've seen) Honestly, I couldn't keep myself awake for most of the boat trip, I don't know if I was just tired or if the soft waves were sleep inducing but oh God, a nap on a boat is incredible. In the time that I was awake, I noticed a couple of stairways into the river where people could swim. I would advise against it if you're not a confident swimmer because the currents are quite strong and there's lots of boats and ferries passing by which makes the water rougher. There is a swim spot somewhere along Kennedy Caddessi which my dad and I went to and it was lovely and quiet- if you're looking to go, let me know and I can dot it on a map for you (how vintage). After the boat trip, we went to the Egyptian bazaar (which is just across the street from Eminonu port), found a Moroccan guy working in a Turkish delight shop and subsequently were given lots of tasters. There are lots of similar shops with piles of pistachios, turkish delights, baklava and spices- it reminded me of Marrakech souks. Further into the bazaar are more artisanal shops with hand painted bowls and plates etc. There is a lot of cat calling (which was another reminder of Moroccan souks lol) which is never pleasant- just something to keep in mind.


day 4:
We decided to get out of Istanbul for the day and took a ferry to one of the Princes' Islands from Eminonu- you can get on these with the Istanbul card (I'll get into it in more detail below- it's a must have) and the boat stops off at each island so you can decide which one you want to get off at. They are quite regular and you'll find a schedule at the ports both ways. We stayed on until Buyukada island which is the largest and more developed of the archipelago. There are no vehicles allowed on the island which makes it very pedestrianised and the main forms of transport are cycling or by horse carriage (but please don't get the horse carriages, it's not fair on the horses in that heat :( ) You can hire bikes for the equivalent of €5 so there's nothing to lose! My dad and I cycled around the island in search of a good swim spot, we ended up swimming on the bank again before finding a more private area (you will have to pay around 40 lira though) There are also lots of small stalls and fruit shops in the main area and some restaurants along the sea with beautiful views, especially at sunset- we went to Mirlot and according my family, the fish was amazing.

day 5:
Carrying on with the out of Istanbul trend, we took a ferry to Bursa. This is from a different port (so not Eminonu) called Yenikapi and the Istanbul card can't be used on this ferry as it goes to a whole new city. Honestly, I wouldn't recommend a day trip to Bursa, it was quite lacklustre with barely anything to do aside from a big market, the grand mosque and the teleferic (which was quite nice)
the state of my hair in this :O istanbul's water is not the best


day 6:
Our sixth day also had a bit of a slower pace, we went to the grande bazaar which is similar to the Egyptian one but with many more jewellery and silk scarf shops. I bought a pair of small blue stone hoops for a good price and the owner of the shop, brother Ali, was super lovely and brought over a couple glasses of tea. I think my mum has his business card somewhere so I'll update with his details if you ever are in search for dainty jewellery and find yourself in Istanbul ;) We also tried and failed at going into the Dolmabece Palace...honestly, why does it close at 4pm? But the exterior was beautiful so I can only imagine how stunning it is on the inside.


day 7:
On the final day we went to the Besiktas Saturday market which the hotel receptionist recommended- it's very local and has everything from fresh fruit and cheese to clothes. It seemed as though not many tourists were aware of it, but maybe it's better that way...We also went to Balat which had such a different vibe to the rest of Istanbul- it has a significant Balkan, Eastern European and Jewish community there which gave it a very unique feel with lots of local coffee shops, restaurants and shops and colourful homes. It reminded me so much of Berlin! We stopped off at Fida cafe- they do a very good iced latte :)

general things:

there are SO MANY CATS it's amazing!!! there are also lots of dogs- they tend to have little markings on them to indicate that they're vaccinated (I read that the Istanbul city council 'owns' all the stray cats and dogs and keep them healthy) it's not unusual to find bowls of cat/dog food and water by shop stalls for the strays to eat and drink from :)

get the IstanbulKart- the public transport in Istanbul is really good and well developed as well a super cheap. the card is easy to top up and tram/metro/bus trips are usually less than £1 (!!!) it's also worth mentioning that CityMapper works in the city which was helpful

try to avoid taxis, they tend to overcharge. if you do get in one, make sure the counter is on and is on the front mirror where you can see it.

do haggle in markets but also remember to be fair on the seller.

the Syrian community really came through with the falafel wraps because Istanbul is not the most vegetarian friendly lol- there's a really good place in Taksim called Falafel Zone. It was cheap and the falafel wraps were v nice. PETA have a vegan guide to Istanbul here

despite giving me morocco vibes at times (like in the markets and souks), it's definitely much safer- you can have your phone out at any time without fear of pickpockets and there isn't as much catcalling. walking alone at night is fine too.

there are varying levels of english spoken. we were lucky in that quite a lot of people spoke Arabic but on a whole, english isn't very widely spoken so it's definitely worth learning a bit of turkish before visiting :)

early September is the perfect time to visit, the weather is still warm but not unbearably hot, there are less tourists and things tend to be a little cheaper.

Okay. that's my Istanbul travel guide- I hope it helps because I wish there was a good guide out there before I visited :) I'll probably come back and edit this soon!

-Dalal

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Lots of love, Dalal

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