Howdi my people, how’s it going?
After the immense number of messages I received whilst I was in Istanbul, I thought this would be the perfect post to answer all your questions….
Its my Ultimate Guide to get you through Istanbul….
Ok so just to be clear this is MY guide from my experience and I am hoping to update it as I go along. But do let me know your thoughts and experiences too, so I can put them down too…..
So Lets start:
First thing first- in this changing ‘new’ world we need to talk about this first. Masks are a requirement everywhere in Istanbul. The Mask journey starts from the Plane- where you have to wear it continuous for the whole flight and does not end there. Disposable masks are the best. (I learnt this after nearly collapsing with my fancy black one which made me retch up and feel suffocated). Take just a few with you. In Istanbul you will find them in every corner and oh so cheap! We bought a box of 50 masks in Istanbul for a £1, whilst in UK we are paying £1 for one!!
All shops/ restaurants/convenience stores have sanitisers in place, but I kept a small bottle in my purse just for my own conscience. A lot of the shops/vendors will check your temperature before letting you in. The same applies to any entrance to Markets/Bazaars Mosques/ Museums…etc
Location Location Location
Where to stay in Istanbul? Its my second time in Istanbul and let me tell you this, I will definitely be going back…. Over and Over and Over…… Istanbul for me is like London…. (and you guys know I Love London!) but Istanbul is ‘Halalified’ and Waaaaaaay Cheaper!!! (that’s like the perfect dream!)
On this trip we stayed in SultanAhmet– and this has to be the spot for me- its just a walk away from the Blue mosque and Hagia Sophia. I would definitely stay at this end again. It is the hubbub of location in Istanbul- never a moments peace- you are in The Square. It is the Location Location….. however there are loads of other area’s around and if you are happy walking or jumping on a metro anywhere near SultanAhmet will do the trick.
Currency rates in Istanbul are way better than the currency rates from here. So I would advise to just change maybe £50-£100 here and do the rest in Istanbul. If you are going to change money then make sure it’s changed by cash and not card- once again the rates are better and you are not hit with additional charges.
Having said that our American Express card was also doing good rates (if they do take it) so if you have a American Express card use that as we saw a lot of benefit from it. For change of currency make sure you change it near the Grand Bazaar or in Ayup– (if you do go there), they have the best rates. (Avoid changing in Taxim!)
I needed to talk about this because on both occasions I made the same mistake! Comfy shoes are the way to go…… all the way. This is not a city to wear heels in, its a city to explore and jump onto tubes, buses, taxis, and walk down alleyways into never ending streets and you really can’t do any of that with heels on…….the Heels…. well pop them into your bag for the photo moment- the rest of the time wear the flats!
First things first get yourself a Istanbul Kart. For travelling this is the quickest and cheapest way. You can pick up a Card from any kiosk for around £1.50, and then you top it up as you go along. This can be used to jump onto Any form of public transport- in Istanbul this means…. Buses, Metro, Boats and even Cable car’s…. Yes you are seeing it right, Boats and Cable Cars are a form of Public transport in Istanbul and are included in this. Each trip costs between 30p- 60p per person, and using the public transport experience is second to none! You can use the same card for a few of you- just hand the card back to the person going through. We only bought the one card and shared it between the 4 of us. It saves you from having to look after so many cards, and you can just top up in one go.
Also the beauty is- Once you have finished you can go back to a kiosk and they will hand back the remaining amount on the card if you have over paid….. Win Win situation.
Bitaxsi is Turkeys answer to Uber, it really is just as cheap as well. Just download the app on to your phone and make sure you have it translated to English and use as you would Uber- the beauty with this is- you can pay by cash instead if you wish. It does require Internet access.
Bhosphorus Boat Trip
Who likes Boat trips? Me Me Me, ok so like in all holiday’s you will get approached by someone who will sell you a Boat trip. Now this is entirely up to you. If you are after a day on a Boat with Lunch/ Dinner then by all means go for it. Don’t forget to haggle down the price, they know we are tourists and start at a high price. Knock it down by 30-50% at least. You will be suprised…..
We personally didn’t go for a Bhosphorus Lunch/Dinner Boat trip- but we did go on the Bhosphorus Boat to get across Istanbul, and all this at the price of public transport. you want the experience of a Boat- use it to get to places in Istanbul and then Eat at the other side!
Boats are located at Eminunu.
Hammam/ Turkish Bath
……When in Turkey……. how can you go home without one?……Depending on which Hotel you are in and what facilities you have in the hotels, you will be offered a Turkish Bath/Hammam. Usually this is roughly the same or somewhat slightly less than what we pay back at home. Our hotel The Great Fortune Spa Hotel was offering this at £30 for one session, which is not bad considering we pay a lot more back at home……
…….But the best thing to do is whilst you are out- you will be offered by vendors outside the same packages at other venues/hotels…..at a fraction of the price. Yes. This can be quite scary at times. The best thing to do is make sure the place is not too far out- and before booking yourself in, go to see the place and once you are happy then book yourself in.
The hubby dearest found a hotel (The Best Western Hotel) a couple of alleys away from ours who gave him 3x turkish bath with massage (an hour treatment each) for £30. Thats £10 a session!! We didn’t pay them until after each session and made sure we were happy with the venue and the whole hygiene of the place.
You can’t come home without it, and everyone back at home wants it too, right? You will find Turkish Delight is sold everywhere in Istanbul. And it is very affordable anyway. Depending on how much you want to give and to whom, you can choose places like ‘Hafiz Mustafa’ who do the upper end of Turkish Delight with beautifully ribboned boxes, or the ones found in kiosks on the street- where you can buy a bundle box with different flavours.
Or…… You can pop into the Spice Bazaar in Eminunu and buy it fresh in kilo packets and then get a few boxes off the vendor and once home package it up and send off. This is the best way- I would say as you can get Fresh Turkish Delight out to everyone, and buying it in bulk is very cost effective.
And I think I am pretty much done with the Do’s and the Do not’s….. Shall we move on to the bucket list??
Sultan Ahmet– Here you will find the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Museum. The Blue Mosque is currently under renovation, so you will not gain access inside, but you can have a look at the gardens and the structural work (that doesn’t have scaffolding on it). Hagia Sophia now converted to mosque- you can gain access to the Hagia Sophia, you will need fully covered clothes and masks. Entrance to the mosque is free. Topkapi museum is a chargeable tour. I would advise for you to pay for entrance and a guide tour as well. It is a beautiful set up and a lot of history. The guided tour will help you understand better the culture of the Turkish life.
Being the Location Location- you will have loads of places to Eat- I would recommend the roof top restaurants and also just before sunset because you can get to see the beautiful structures of the Hagia Sophia, and Blue mosque in both the day and the evening. Both as magical as each other.
Here are a few I have tried: Seven Hills Hotel and The Terrace, but their are loads more as you walk along. You will not miss them.
Grand bazaar is literally a stop on the tram away from Sultan Ahmet- but we use to walk it down along the tram routes. This is entirely up to you. I would suggest walking once you are more comfortable with walking around…… What is it?….. Its a Bazaar and the biggest you will find. This Indoor market holds up to 5000 shops under one roof….. yup 5000. and Yes you will get lost in there! And yes you will get harassed in there! but hey…. its a bazaar that’s what they are known for. It is the biggest Market in Istanbul and very well known to tourists so Don’t forget to haggle. They will price it according to your face!
The Clay Pot
Most restaurants will offer this, but its a must when in Istanbul. make sure you order this at least once when you go. Especially if you are a Instagrammer- This is a picteresque dish worthy of a story!
I have not been here, but it is in my To-do List for sure because I have heard loads about it! To get to the Mosque- it’s best to get a tram to Eminunu and then jump onto the ferry to Uskadar. (Both of which require the Istanbul Kart.)
At Uskader catch a taxi to the Mosque, cost of this is 25-30 Liras- (Which is £2.50-£3.00). If you are using a Bitaxsi then you are already aware of the charge, if you are using a standard taxi- make sure the taxi driver has a meter running. You would be suprised how many will try to con you.
Once at Camlica Mosque- take those beautiful Photos!
This one is on my list for sure for my next visit.
My Favourite Stop. Eminunu is a Harbour, from here you get to go across to other areas in Istanbul by the Bhosphorus………. but Eminunu also holds the Spice Market…. And I Love the Spice Market!
The Spice Bazaar is another indoor market but holds all the spices. The glorious colours and aromas are intoxicating. Each vendor is similer to the other and its just so beautiful inside. If you go into the spice market at one end- on the other you will end up at a outdoor market place… and this is were I shop….. they have the best cups ever (You guys know I love my cups right?) Plus you will also find a lot of the stuff in grand bazaar is very similer here and often at a cheaper price and then you can haggle some more!!. So be wary, and clever about this!
I could potentially shop for my whole house in this place, they have everything from shoelaces, to cups, to pots and pans to bedding, and all so affordable and unique! Its quite hard to get me out of here.
Also Eminunu holds Burgerillas– an absolute dream for Burger freaks, I had 3 of them with me, so after all the walking around a stop at Burgerillas is a must!! Trust me on this!!
The first Mosque ever to be built in Istanbul, and also holds the Tomb of Abu Ayyub Ansari (A companion of the Prophet). This is a very touristy area, yet it is so calm and peaceful. It is set on a forecourt with a fountain said to be flowing with sacred water and olive trees from around the Ottoman Era.
To get to Ayub Sultan you will need to get a tram to Eminunu, and from Eminunu get the number ’99’ bus to Ayub…… Or use a taxi (it is a 35 minute ride) so its entirely up to you. Personally we use the public transport on getting there, and on the way back we used a Bitaxsi.
The mosque is beautiful, and not to be missed, also the tombs are free to walk around. it is quite majestic so do pay a visit. Make sure you are fully clothed and mask is always to hand.
You will also find Cable Cars here- so walk up the hill and follow the signs to them. You can use your Istanbul Kart here to jump onto a cable car- which takes you to the top of the hill. At the top you will find a cute cafe called Pierre Loti– make sure you have a drink and take in the views.
At the back of the cafe you will see street vendors, shopping is cheap here as also is street food. Going down you have 2 options, you can use the footpath which has little vendors as you go down- or jump on to the cable cars again.
I did not go here- but I have heard its good, especially if you have little ones. Its basically an island which uses no form of public transport- so there is no pollution in this island- it has no cars/motorbikes any form of vehicles, it is pure. Kids can enjoy swimming, adults can enjoy the beach, their are donkey rides and funfair activities. A good day out for the little ones.
To get to Princess Islands, you will need to get to Eminunu and then take a ferry to Kabatas– which is the last stop of Eminunu. From Kabatas you take another ferry to Heybeliada. The total time for this journey is 2 hours- so do bear that in mind. Also get the times for a last ferry on the way back- as you may get stuck on a island!
Also known as the ‘Asian Side’ Of Istanbul. Full of lively Cafes, Bars, shops and galleries. Its a different world at this end of Istanbul. Its a nice stroll and definitely a different experience. Known for its Seafood- you will find seafood restaurants in every corner, from fish to lobsters to mussells. and also very hip and chic cafes! Its worth a visit to be sure.
To get to kadikoy– get a boat from Eminunu. Its a 25 minute direct Boat ride.
The High-End to Istanbul. This is more my children’s favourite than mine, because its like being back at home. Its an area with High streets, brand names from Zara and H&M to Lacoste. Its clean, its affulent….. its everything I don’t like going to when I’m on holiday. I prefer culture…… But I go there for one reason and one reason only…… McDonalds….. And its worth it!
To get to Taxsim– get a taxi- its roughly a 30 minute drive at 40 liras each way (£4.00)
Must Have Food Stops
Did I mention that Istanbul is ‘Halalified’ London…. and so lets Eat…. Here is my list of all the Food places you must go to!!
You’ve heard of this guy right? Course you have. Well Istanbul hold a few of his franchises- so make sure you book yourself in! The one we went to is in Grand Bazaar– but there are others also. Find the one that suits you according to your day.
For the best desserts ever!!! you’ll find a Hafiz Mustafa in Istanbul on every corner. That’s not a lie. Just in Taxim we saw 7.
On my list for next time- but also known for the best desserts ever…. just like Hafiz Mustafa you will find a Mado on every corner….
Yes I will mention it again- because it is THAT good. Found in Eminunu
Just grab it and go! especially the Sweetcorn! My mouth is watering already.
For the best Shishas in Town. Its my spot!! (further down from Grand Bazaar)
Its Halal. YO! (in Taxsim Square)
In SultanAhmet. I had the Clay Pot here- and it was absolute divine!
…..and that’s all I remember and have got for you….. so far
Any hotspot’s you been to? Don’t forget to tell me about them….. I can jot them down on my to-do list for next time….
Love and Regards
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