How to survive Istanbul – Your go-to guide to enjoying this huge and cultural city – Part 2
This is Part 2 of this post. If you missed it, Part 1 is here.
By now, I’m guessing you’ve decided to press on with your visit to Istanbul, and why not?! This wonderful city deserves an exploration, and one visit will never be enough to see everything there is on offer. In part one we talked about the things not to do, and the ways to not get ripped off, but putting the ‘shouldn’t dos’ aside, let’s get positive and talk about the wonderful things you must see!
Of course, everyone is different, and one person’s preference might not be another’s, but on the whole there are several historic and cultural attractions that should certainly be on your must-visit list. This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but these were my favourites when I visited Istanbul.
Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet
Basically, most of the historic places of interest are in Sultanahmet, so read through and find out where you want to go, gather all of the ones in this area, and do them in one or two days, focusing your attention in this part of the city, before moving onto another – this makes more sense than zig-zagging!
The Blue Mosque can be summed up best in one word – beautiful. Be sure to get there early because the queues can be horrendous, and make sure you check closing times before you go, because it is a functioning mosque, and during prayer times it is closed to the general public. Remember that Friday is Holy Day, so prayers are longer. Remember mosque etiquette, e.g. shoes removed for all, respectful clothing, and women must cover their heads.
Hagia Sofia, Sultanahmet
Hagia Sofia was probably my favourite place in the whole of the city, it literally took my breath away, and not many things have managed to do that! This is where Christianity and Islam come together in one building, and the whole serene vibe about the place will leave you awe-struck, with chandeliers seeming to float in mid-air – it’s a scene you simply have to see for yourself. This is one of the historic attractions in Istanbul that you have to pay for, but the 25TL fee is more than worth it.
Grand Bazaar, Sultanahmet
Now, I dare you to not get lost! Don’t worry if you find yourself wandering aimlessly around this huge, colourful, and busy bazaar, because I’m reliably informed that even the locals get lost in here! If you want to haggle and grab yourself a few bargains on souvenirs to take home, then this is your best bet. I found it helpful to work around it methodically, exploring one alleyway, before returning back to a central point, but even that got a little confusing after a while, so the best advice? Go with it and hope for the best, you’ll find your way out eventually!
You should certainly visit the Asian side of Istanbul, for a totally different viewpoint on the city, and a more laid-back and traditional way of life. The best way to get from the European side to the Asian side is without a doubt via ferry, and it’s tradition to feed the seagulls as you go. Beware that they will swirl around your head, and if you have bread in your hand, you need to be a bit quick with throwing it, before they take matters into their own beaks! As you sail, check out the bridge for a real view on how huge and imposing it is; it also changes colour at certain times of the day, so time your cruise carefully.
Istiklal Street, Taksim
Taksim Square itself is pretty awesome, so on your way to Istiklal Street, stand for a moment and check out the various monuments. Istiklal Street gets hugely busy, because it is the main shopping district in the whole of the city, and you need to keep a firm hold on your bag at this point too, because pickpockets do lurk around this area. That aside, the one thing you must do is a ride on the red tourist tram! A tip? Hold on tight, the tram jerks to a rather sudden stop quite often, and you might find yourself a little too up close and personal with the front window!
These are just a few must-dos in Istanbul, and believe me, there are countless more. If you love football, try and get yourself a ticket to one of the Galatasaray or Fenerbache matches, and see for yourself just how much Turks love their sport!
Whatever you choose to do during your time in Istanbul, be sure to grab every second, and one thing’s for sure, it won’t be your last visit!