Spread across 2 continents Asia and Europe, the one and only city Istanbul has become one of the most popular destinations for many good reasons. As its historically strategic location, the city is home to awe-spiring architecture, cultural mosaic and genuine hospitality. In this blog, I will show you my Istanbul travel guide and tips.
1. Everything you need to know about Istanbul
Before telling you my Istanbul Travel Guide, let’s me show you some you-may-not-know information about this city.
1.1. What makes Istanbul special?
Istanbul is the only city on earth that spread across Asia and Europe. For its strategic location, Napoleon once said “If the world was only one country, Istanbul would be its capital”.
Although Istanbul is Turkey’s economic capital and the biggest industrial center, this city remains its authenticity and historic heritage. Spires and domes of mosques dominated the skyline and medieval architecture scattered throughout the city are what is typically seen in Istanbul. And every corner from the old town has a story to tell.
1.2. You-may-not-know facts about Istanbul
– Istanbul has about 3,113 mosques, which is home to the most mosques in Turkey.
– Almost everyone mistakes Istanbul as the capital city of Turkey, but Ankara is.
– The population of Istanbul reaches 13 million people, which is the same as that of Belgium.
2. What to prepare before your Istanbul’s trip
2.1 Turkish E-visa
Replacing the old “sticker visa” visa from 2014, the Turkish E-visa makes it more accessible for visiting Turkey. All you need to do is submit the application online, print the E-visa and bring it along.
You can find more details and apply for Turkish E-visa via http://www.evisa.gov.tr/. If you wish to apply for Turkish E-visa, make sure to have these requirements:
- Travelling to Turkey for the purposes of tourism or business.
- Valid visa OR valid residence permit from one of the Schengen Countries, USA, UK or Ireland.
- Your passport covers the period that I will be staying in Turkey.
- Round-trip ticket with Turkish Airlines, Pegasus Airlines, Onur Air or Atlasglobal Airlines.
2.2. What to prepare
a. Sim card: Buy your sim card in advance (or at the airport) since you can’t get the cheap plan in tourist areas of Istanbul.
All members of my group use Data Roaming and it is not budget friendly and convenient when traveling in Istanbul. So we went to a sim card store to ask for the tourist plan (we read the recommendations for sim card plan via Tripadvisor before).
The staff knew we were foreigners, so they introduced us a very high-price tourist plan. I asked them about a more affordable tourist plan which previously read on Tripadvisor, they said they don’t have that plan.
b. Scrafs: Bring some scarfs (for women) to cover your hair when visiting mosques. You can borrow some before visiting any religious tourist places. But it is better to bring beforehand.
3. Best time to visit Istanbul
You can visit Istanbul at different times of the year. However, Spring (March – May) and Autumn (September – November) are together 2 best times to visit Istanbul.
During these periods the days are longer, drier, sunnier but not as hot as summer, or as cold as winter. Moreover, spring will be a best time to enjoy the vivid beauty of blooming tulips.
I travelled to Istanbul during the middle of October and the weather is nice (temperature ranging from 17 to 25°C). And you don’t need to wear too much clothes, I only wear a shirt/sweater and jacket during my trip.
4. Istanbul best places to stay
With more than 15 million residents spreading over 2 continents, choosing places to stay during your Istanbul’s trip is quite time-consuming. As every area of this city boasts its own charm and vibes.
Before traveling to Istanbul, I’ve read the recommendations from Tripadvisor. So I stay in Sultanahmet and Taksim, and here are some reviews about these two areas.
a. Sultanahmet: Housing Istanbul’s most popular places to visit namely Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace, Sultanahmet is inarguably the best places to stay in this city. However, this quaint district is not for nightlife lovers as it is pretty laid back and quiet after dark.
b. Taksim: Different from the memorizing atmosphere of Sultanahmet, Taksim offers dynamic vibes. This neighborhood lies within the Beyoglu European part is the main transport hub of the city.
However, be careful when strolling around this area at night. I will tell you my story. When I went back to my hotel that night, I passed through a group of 2 young men and women. They were talking normally but suddenly fought each other. And they threw their slippers at each other, but it didn’t hit anyone of them, but me. Me and my group go straight forward as quickly as possible because we don’t want to get hit by any other slipper again.
5. How to get around Istanbul
Spanning across 2 continents, Istanbul offers a huge and diverse network of public transportations (metro, ferry, tram, funicular, bus, BRT,…). But you don’t need to use all these modes of transportation. I only use metro, tram and funicular during my 5N4D trip.
However, staying in Sultanahmet area means you don’t need to use any mode of transportations as tourist attractions are only a few minutes walk away. And this will be the best way to save travel costs.
6. Istanbul best places to visit
Hagia Sophia, Sultanahmet (Blue Mosque), Galata Tower are some of the best places to visit in Istanbul. However, there are more other amazing things waiting to be explored.
6.1. Sultanahmet Camii
Being built between 1609 – 1616 during the rule of Sultan Ahmet, Sultanahmet Camii (Blue Mosque) is one of the you-need-to-visit-place in Istanbul. Taking its name from the blue tiles of the dome, the mosque was built with the ideas to build a mosque that surpasses the magnificent Hagia Sophia.
As the mosque remains to be an active place to worship, all visitors are required to remove their shoes and women are required to cover their hair (you can borrow near the ticket booths).
6.2. Hagia Sophia
Used to be a Christian Church, then became a mosque, a museum and a mosque again, Hagia Sophia is one of the world’s greatest monuments as it reflects the religious changes over the centuries.
Once the house of worship that serves several religions, there is a mix of both on Christian and Islamic architecture.
6.3. Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace, which served as the administrative centre and main residence of the Ottoman sultans from 15th to 19th century, has become the best place to visit in Istanbul.
This palace complex combined stunning scenery of the Bosporus and historical sites. It is recommended to take a glimpse of the harem where the wives and concubines of the sultans lived. But keep in mind that you’ll need to buy a dedicated ticket for the harem.
6.4. Galata Tower
Rule Istanbul’s skyline since 1348, the nine-story Galata Tower still offers the best panoramic view of the old city.
The Medieval stone tower used to be a watchtower, a prison and a navel depot in the past. Now it is renovated and becomes a popular tourist attraction. And the tower gets its name from the area where it is located.
6.5. Basilica Cistern
Being built for the Byzantinum Emperor Justinianus I in the 6th century, Basilica Cistern is an underground water reservoir which used to provide Istanbul residents with water.
Known as the “Shrinking Palace”, Basilica Cistern has become one of Istanbul’s splendid historical buildings. This place was made up by 336 Corinthian style marble columns rising from the water. And you will see the Medusa head which is mystically put in a reverse or lateral position.
6.6. Dolmabahce Palace
Lying next to the Bosphorus coastline is one of the most magnificent symbolic structures of the Ottoman Empire, Dolmabahce Palace. This imperial palace blends traditional Turkish architecture with European style.
Splendid, luxurious and lush and are some of the adjectives to describe Dolmabhance Palace. And it was once compared to the Chateau of Versailles – Paris.
6.7. Grand Bazaar
Among Istanbul best places to visit, Grand Bazaar is definitely a must on every tourist’ itinerary. As Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest indoor markets in the world which offers like-a-local shopping experience.
This “1001 nights” lookalike market houses over 4,000 shops in a total area of 30,700m². Don’t forget to make a bargain when shopping here.
6.8. Maiden’s Tower
Located isolatedly on a tiny isle to the southwest of Bosphorus, Maiden’s Tower is such a building which comes from ‘1001 nights’ tale. This iconic medieval tower that rises up from the water, has a rich history, along with a few legends adding to its fame.
Nowadays, it becomes a cafe restaurant during daytime and a special restaurant during nighttime. However the best way to enjoy the timeless beauty of this iconic landmark is taking the Bosphorus cruise at sunset.
7. Istanbul travel itinerary
My recommendation is spending at least 4 days to explore Istanbul as the city encompasses many historical sites,
You can see my Istanbul travel itinerary below (and please note that this itinerary is for reference only).
10:15 – 16:10: Flight London Gatwick – Istanbul Ataturk
18:30: Hotel check in
19:30: Stroll around Sultanahmet & Dinner
08:00: Topkapi Palace
11:00: Hagia Sophia
14:00: Blue Mosque
17:00: Boat tour Bosphorus
19:00: Stroll around Sultanahmet
08:30: Hotel check out
09:00 – 11:00: Basilica Cistern
11:15 – 12:30: Grand Bazaar
15:15 – 16:30: Flight Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen – Kayseri
After that, I travelled to Cappadocia for 3 days
18:25 – 20:00: Flight Kayseri – Istanbul Ataturk
21:00: Hotel check in
21:30: Take a stroll around Taksim
08:30: Hotel check out + Luggage storage
09:30 – 11:15: Dolmabahce Palace
12:00 – 13:00: Galata Tower
13:30: Galata Bridge
15:00: Grand Bazaar
20:20 – 22:30: Flight Istanbul Ataturk – London Heathrow T2
8. Istanbul travel budget
You don’t need to worry much about Istanbul’s travel budget as it is a cheap destination when compared to other destinations in Europe.
It only takes me about 1419 TL (189 USD) for a 5D4N Istanbul trip while the flight ticket accounts for 30% of the total budget.
You can see my Istanbul travel budget table below (and please note that this table is for reference only).
|1.1. Flight ticket London –Istanbul (roundway)||548 TL||* Depend on the journey being made|
|1.2. Taxi Airport – Sultanahmet||17,5 TL|
|1.3. Taxi Taskim – Airport||90 TL|
|1.4. Istanbulkart||30 TL|
|Turkish EVisa||172 TL||45 USD|
|III. LƯU TRÚ|
|3.1. 2 nights stay in Sultanahmet||128 TL|
|3.2. 1 night stay in Taksim||62.3 TL|
|4.1. Museum Card Istanbul||85 TL|
|4.2. Bosporus Cruise Tour||15 TL|
|4.3. Basilica Cistern||20 TL|
|4.4. Galata Tower||25 TL|
|4.5. Dolmabahce Palace||40 TL|
|4-day eating cost||95.5 TL|
|TOTAL||1418.3 TL||≈188,98 USD|
9. Istanbul travel guide & tips
Buy Museum Card Istanbul to save money when visiting Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia and many other tourist destinations in Istanbul.
This is my Istanbul travel guide & tips, hope you guys will have a good preparation for your upcoming Istanbul’s trip. If you need any further information, please feel free to contact me.
– MUST-USE WEBSITE TO PLAN YOUR NEXT TRIP –