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A day in … Istanbul

Jul 27 • 4545 views • 8 Comments on A day in … Istanbul tourism experience, Travel, Travel tips and advice, Turkey

Looking for Things to do in Istanbul?

Istanbul looks like my kind of place.

I had approximately 10 hours to kill on my journey back from Uganda to the UK with Turkish Airlines. Head into the city – it’s dead easy.
A Turkish Visa for a UK passport holder is only £10 (US$16) for 90 days (2011 price). Bargain! This meant I might also be able to nip back to the Grand Bazaar on the trip home (were I to have any money left!)

Obviously, you can’t see that much of a new city in one day but my day in Istanbul gave me a feel for the city and helped me plan a longer trip there some time later:

Crossing continents – the Muzungu’s Istanbul city tour – my brief stopover certainly whet my appetite to see more of Istanbul!

Entrance to the Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey. things to do in Istanbul

Entrance to the Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

arrived in Istanbul at nine o’clock in the morning.

Istanbul’s Atatürk airport is modern, clean and well-organised. The tiny tourist information office is at the far end of the hall, worth a visit for a free map and advice on where to spend your day. Opposite is the Left Luggage counter where, for between 10-15 Turkish lira (US$5–8 per item), you can stow all your hand luggage. I hadn’t had much sleep so I hung out at Starbucks and hooked up to their free wireless and checked with my Lonely Planet blogger and Twitter friends on ‘must-do’s in Istanbul. This gave me time to acclimatise: Uganda, Turkey, UK. With three currencies to get your head around in less than 24 hours, you need to give yourself a bit of time to adjust. I liked the local menu: breakfast was strong coffee and fig and goat’s cheese roll.

Armed with my new map, I headed straight for the Metro, quick and easy to find, just a short walk from within the main airport building. Public transport in Istanbul is cheap, clean and easy-to-use. Each ticket costs 1.75 Turkish Lira (US$1) and you’ll need two tickets to get into town. There aren’t that many signposts in English but I managed to work things out quite easily (many people don’t speak any English at all but don’t let that deter you).

Courtyard of the famous Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Courtyard of the famous Blue Mosque. Things to do in Istanbul

Top of my sightseeing list of Things to do in Istanbul was the famous Blue Mosque, approximately 45 minutes by train from the airport. It’s an immense and beautiful structure. Unfortunately I arrived at prayer time so couldn’t enter. Instead, I walked down to the sea along the waterfront, where I watched a dolphin swim in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes!

Men sat fishing while others played cards, islands in the mist on the horizon in one direction and skyscrapers in the other. I walked back up the hill through some pretty cobbled streets. It was a hot day.

For lunch, just wandering the streets, I grabbed a gigantic bread pretzel coated in sesame seeds and filled with cream cheese. Delicious.

Lamps adorn the ceiling in the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

“I’m sure it was this way back to the gate …” Grand Bazaar, Istanbul. things to do in Istanbul

Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar has been on my wish list since forever.

I imagined noise and chaos, of hundreds of traders throwing themselves at me, barging past me with carpets…

My imaginations proved to be seriously outdated: although the architecture is old, it’s less a market, more an enormous shopping mall. I guess I’ve become used to the hectic street markets of Uganda, with their earth floors and ramshackle shops. In stark contrast, the Grand Bazaar’s streets are tiled, the whole place is well lit and each stall is in fact a separate shop front.

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul - it's not just carpets!

Turn left at the scarves, right past the carpets, right again at the antique jewelry… Grand Bazaar, Istanbul. things to do in Istanbul

According to the free guide, “the Grand Bazaar is the oldest and biggest closed Bazaar in the world. It was founded in 1461. Like an enormous labyrinth, it is a spectacular and unique part of the city with 60 streets and over 3600 stores on an area of 30,000 m². It includes five mosques, seven fountains, one stream, one public fountain, 18 gates and 40 public houses.”

It’s possible to walk from the Blue Mosque to the Grand Bazaar; in fact there are interesting streets and buildings all around you. The train from the Bazaar back to the airport takes about 40 minutes.

One thing I’d highly recommend, but didn’t go prepared for, was a Turkish bath and massage, the perfect antidote to a day’s travelling and a night flight. There’s a very reasonably priced Turkish bath between Çemberlitaş train station and the road down to the Nuruosmaniye Gate into the grand Bazaar. Warning: both male and female friends say that massages can be ‘very intimate’!

Cafe culture, Istanbul street, Turkey. things to do in Istanbul

Cafe culture, Istanbul street, Turkey. things to do in Istanbul

My day in Istanbul cost me less than 50 Turkish lira (US$30), not including the following souvenirs:

  • Turkish Delight! This comes in many flavours and always looks beautiful
  • Nutty halva and baklava dripping with honey are other favourites
  • Turkish slippers for a seven-year-old friend
  • Handmade lavender soap
  • Baggy Turkish ‘harem’ trousers
  • Lapis lazuli beads
  • An ‘evil eye’ pendant to ward off evil spirits
  • Coffee

On my next trip – I’ll definitely be going back and for longer – I’d love to buy the gold leaf miniature paintings and glass hanging lamps from the Grand Bazaar. Istanbul is a vast city and there’s a ton to do: shopping, sightseeing (mosques, synagogues, churches, museums), dining out, or even hitting the beach.

Istanbul felt very accessible and very safe. I had no hassle at all, just the occasional seller asking me if I wanted to look in their shop, much the norm anywhere.

My Day in Istanbul helped me plan a PROPER visit:

Crossing continents – the Muzungu’s Istanbul city tour

I flew with Turkish Airlines and just LOVED the food.

Have you visited Istanbul? What things to do would you recommend for a Day in Istanbul?

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8 Responses to A day in … Istanbul

  1. Janna says:

    Great blog, I’m glad you had a lovely time in Istanbul. Such a beautiful, cosmopolitan city. I was amazed at how many languages each vendor in the Grand Bazaar spoke. Sometimes, 4 or more! Turkish baths are indeed, intimate and quite an experience. You must get one, should you return. 🙂

    • charliebeau says:

      Tx Janna 🙂 you reminded me, I did have a vendor trying to get my attention – speaking Spanish to me! (My tiny drop of Spanish blood was obviously very evident that day!) Can’t wait to go back to Istanbul – Turkish bath is def on the list!

  2. I also spent an eventful day in Istanbul a couple of years back…it was a fabulous experience 🙂

  3. […] A day in … Istanbul got me thinking about how much I’d like to be travelling and writing about travel full-time. […]

  4. […] Muzungu loves to explore new places on her own but this time top of things to do in Istanbul was: a personal Istanbul […]

  5. Great post! While you can’t see it all in one day, you definitely saw a nice chunk of Istanbul and like you mentioned now you know the lay of the land and can really plan a proper visit next time. I got one of those evil eye pendants when I was there and so far so good! Thanks for taking me back there.

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