Looking for Things to do in Istanbul?
Istanbul looks like my kind of place.
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!
I 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).
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.
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.
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’!
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
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:
I flew with Turkish Airlines and just LOVED the food.