It was late at night when we reached our hotel in the Old City of Instanbul and it was beautiful, the whole street was so lively with lights, cafes, people exchanging hugs and trams going by. I fell in love with the city instantly. A term like ‘beautiful’ or ‘amazing’ also isn’t enough to describe Turkey. It was nothing like I expected and everything like I imagined (I am falling short of adjectives quite literally)
The best way to explore Istanbul and waste less time in subways and cabs, would be booking a stay in the old city of Istanbul (Near Sirkeci or Sultanahmet Road). This is an hour away from Ataturk Airport. We stayed in Golden Horn Hotel (Right next to Sirkeci station) and had Hagia Sophia Museum, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, Spice Market, everything on walking distance, pretty much a win-win situation.
Istanbul was my favorite city (other than Antalya in Turkey), also because of the fascinating part of the city connecting two continents together (Europe & Asia). Soak in the vibe of the city binging on cherries, watching trams and cruises go by. I am gonna list down couple of things that we explored and you can explore too if you have a layover in Istanbul.
- Hagia Sophia Mosque – First a Greek Church, then an Ottoman Mosque and now a Museum. The entry fee is 40 Turkish Lira and its grand, so spare couple of hours to explore this completely. It ends up attracting maximum number of tourist because of its beauty from outside and inside. On entering inside, you will be stunned by beautiful decor of marbles and mosaics on the pillars and the floor.
- Blue Mosque – Located right in front of Hagia Sophia Museum. Also known as Sultanahmet mosque is one of the most beautiful mosques I have ever seen. Make sure to wear something that covers your shoulder and knees, if not then you can ask for a sarong and scarf from side counter, then only they will let you enter. The restoration work was going on hence we couldn’t cover the mosque properly but on entering inside the intricate blue design on the walls of dome from inside glued my eyes to it, We could only imagine how would it be during prayer time.
- Grand Bazar – The colourful heart of the Istanbul City. Its chaotic and charming at the same time, for the reason of being there since 1461. Make your way in the narrow lanes, drinking chai, comparing and bargaining price and enjoy the beauty of it. It is one of the largest on oldest markets in the world which is still functional with 61 lanes and more than 4000 shops of Carpets, Leather, Jewellery, Furniture and many other things.
- Spice Market – Located in Eminonu (station between Old city and New City), it is one of the largest spice market in the city with numberless spices, turkish delights and dried fruits and nuts. Also known as Egyptian Market, you can try and make your mind to buy. Do try Baklava and Apple Tea. It was my staple in Turkey.
- Galata Tower – This was my favorite places of all. Located in Taksim (take a subway to Karakoy) and at a distance of 5 minutes walking (you can take a Tunel too), you’ll see Galata Tower. Once you get the tickets (the cost is around 25 Turkish Lira per person), the elevator takes you to top floor and you get a panoramic view of the Istanbul City with Golden Horn Sea (oh so blue). Be ready for a little crowd on the top but the view will make up for it. Sunset would be the best time to go there.
- Cruise on Bosphorus River – The view from my room had so many cruise going on the sea and I wanted to do that, and what better to do that on sunset. We boarded the cruise at 6-6.30 pm and bought the ticket there itself for 15 Turkish Lira each. The cruise goes for 2 hours, taking right in the middle of the sea with amazing view on the sides. Its an experience. You can choose amongst many companies according to your time limit and budget.
We missed Topkapi Palace and Turkish Hamam and still regretting it but I suggest you to visit it if you have time.
Insider Tip – For the aerial view of the city and the mosques with a background of the sea, make your way to Lady Diana Hotel or Seven Hills (and thanks me later with a fridge magnet from Turkey)