Since 1980, ever since we left Turkey to live in Saudi Arabia, every summer we would visit Istanbul. My grandparents lived there, and most of our relatives were there. When I was younger, to me it was not the place I belonged to but rather the place I vacationed at. Now, as I get older, the bond between Turkey and me, in particular between Istanbul and me has grown stronger. It’s my city…and I miss everything about it. The sea, the sun, the wind, the crowdedness, the public transportation, the view..and the list can go on.
This summer, for the first time in 32 years, I went to Istanbul with friends.
The friends I travelled with were tourists, and I was somewhat a tour guide. However, unlike many tourists going to Istanbul from this region, I kind of had them travel around the city like natives do. A bit of taxi, a lot of tram, a bit of ferry, some bus, and some subway…it was a nice experience.
If you want to use public transportation in Istanbul, you need to keep in mind that cash is not accepted anymore. For the ferry and subway/metro you can always use tokens…but for the bus you need to have an Akbil or Istanbul Kart. I do suggest buying an Istanbul Kart because they’re easier to find and you can use them on almost all forms of public transports. You can find them at newspaper stands next to main bus-stops (like Taksim) or ferry ports.
The metro and subway are very convenient forms of transportation…You can easily check out where you want to go on the map from here.
Istanbul is a city full of history and culture. There are some places that I haven’t even been too, just because I am native..it’s funny how when you travel to your home town, you delay visiting the touristic sites because you have this thought ‘oh I can come here any time’, and then you just end up missing out on all the fun!
This summer, thanks to my friends, I got to go to places I hadn’t been to, or places I hadn’t seen in ages.
I had never been to the Hagia Sophia..and it was a place that takes you to another time. With the chandeliers and the tight tunnel-like passageway leading to the second floor. You can envision the people that were there hundreds of years ago.
We also went to Topkapi Palace museum…I had been there before when I was much younger and couldn’t really recall much. When visiting a place with a lot of history, it’s amazing how in our minds time travel is definitely possible!
The view from the terrace of Topkapi Palace was breathtaking.
And of course, we did go to the Anatolian side of Istanbul. That side is ‘my’ side…in the sense that my parents were born and raised there, and all our relatives are there.
We took a ferry ride…and if you like the sea, you will love these ferry rides! You just have to make sure you sit outside :) and of course, if you have some bread with you, you can feed the seagulls in the air…I mean literally feed them in the air!
If you are planning a visit to Istanbul, here are a few recommendations my brother, T, prepared and generously shared :)) Thanks T.
Misir Carsisi (Pronounced Misir Charshisi) (Egyptian Souk/Bazaar): This is an old market with lots to see and buy. Bargaining is a must! Directions: You can take a taxi to Eminonu. The Bazaar is immediately next to Yeni Cami (Yeni Mosque).
Kapali Carsi (Pronounced Kapali Charshi) (Grand Bazaar): The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest covered markets in the world with 60 streets and 5,000 shops, and attracts between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. It is well known for its jewellery, hand-painted ceramics, carpets, embroideries, spices and antique shops. Bargaining is a must! Directions: You can walk to this Bazaar from the Sultan Ahmet District. Also check with your hotel. www.grandbazaaristanbul.org
Sultan Ahmet District: This district has lavish gardens and is the location of the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque) and the Hagia Sophia Museum (Church – Mosque). You will also find many shops that sell souvenirs. Directions: From the Misir Carsisi, there is the “Eminonu” station for trams. You can buy tokens for the and take it all the way up to the Sultan Ahmet District.
Sultan Ahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque): This is a historical mosque popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. It was built between 1609 and 1616. While still used as a mosque, the Sultan Ahmet Mosque has also become a popular tourist attraction. www.bluemosque.org
Aya Sofia Museum (In Greek Hagia Sophia): is a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum in Istanbul. From the date of its dedication in 360 until 1453, it served as the Greek Patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople. The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931, when it was secularized. It was opened as a museum on 1 February 1935. www.ayasofya.org
Taksim Meydani (Taksim Square): This area is a major shopping, tourist and leisure district famed for its restaurants, shops and hotels. It is considered the heart of modern Istanbul.
Bosphorus Tours: The Istanbul skyline is justifiably one of the most famous cityscapes in the world, and while there are many places from which to admire it, by far the best is the deck of a boat on the Bosphorus. After the bustle of the city centre, a day trip up the Bosphorus gives you an entirely different perspective on the city where you can view many key locations. I am sure you may find many cruises at different times of the day. www.bosphorustour.co
Miniaturk: This park contains 120 models done in 1/25th scale. 57 of the structures are from Istanbul, 51 are from Anatolia, and 12 are from the Ottoman territories that today lie outside of Turkey. www.miniaturk.com.tr
Topkapi Sarayi / Topkapi Palace: the official and primary residence in the city of the Ottoman Sultans for approximately 400 years (1465-1856) of their 624-year reign. The palace was a setting for state occasions and royal entertainments and is a major tourist attraction today, containing the most holy relics of the Muslim world such as the Prophet Muhammed’s cloak and sword.
Princes’ Islands: During the summer months the Princes’ Islands are popular destinations for day trips from Istanbul. As there is no traffic on the Islands, the only transport being horse and cart, they are incredibly peaceful compared with the city of Istanbul. They are just a short ferry ride from Sirkeci/Eminönü, Kabataş and Yenikapı of Istanbul. Make sure you are well aware of return boats and the timings when you land on the island.
Dolmabahce Sarayi / Dolmabahche Palace: served as the main administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire from 1856 to 1922. www.360tr.com/dolmabahce/
212 Istanbul Outlet Mall: This is a nice Outlet Mall, good brands, good prices and nice place for shopping and dining. www.212istanbul.com
What to Eat:
- There are a vast selection of Kebabs. A favourite is Adana Kebap (It is like Sheesh Kebab but spicy)
- Iskender Kebap
- Baklava (Specifically at Karakoy there is GulluOglu for Baklava). This is the most famous in Istanbul where you can find Lokum too. You can go to Karakoy by tram and ask for directions from there.
- Doners: Make sure to have it in half Turkish Bread. Either that or Pide bread.
- Turkish Ice Cream especially Maras Dondurma.
- Turkish Tea (Steam Cooked)
- Most restaurants have ready Turkish food. The variety is great and the taste is very good, like home cooking: Konyali in Eminonu and Haci Abdullah (Pronounced Haji Abdullah in Taksim). Haci Abdullah has authentic Ottoman food.
- Istanbul has many other great touristic attractions like Galata Kulesi, Kiz Kulesi, Camlica (Chamlija), Ortakoy etc. Your hotel will have many suggestions and guides so feel free to ask.
- When you are shopping at regular shops (not the mall, supermarkets or branded shops) I suggest you bargain, a lot!