To be honest, we actually spent 5 nights in Istanbul. However two of the days were in the holy month of Ramadaan and we were fasting (4am to almost 10pm). Hence, we had to do most of our touring in 3 days.
We flew into Sabiha Gokcen Airport which is on the Asian side of Istanbul. We booked a transfer with Istanbul Airport Shuttle which costed EUR10 per person. It was definitely worth it. I wasn’t prepared for Istanbul traffic. It took about 3hrs to get to the hotel from airport. It was an absolute gridlock. With a population of about 14 million, it should be expected, but being in stand-still traffic in terrible heat and nothing to drink, was not the best welcome. It should be noted that this was not peak traffic either.
We stayed in Hotel Sapphire in Sirkeci. It is well located, near to the tram station and within walking distance of most of the tourist attractions in the old city. Istanbul has a great public transport system which I always appreciate when travelling (I hate taxis!).
Hotel Sapphire is definitely an older hotel with with classic decor. The rooms are spacious and comfortable. I was happy with our choice. The room had more than adequate amenities. They have a pool which is not common in the Old City. It is definitely a good option for those on a medium budget in a relatively expensive area.
On the first afternoon, we took a walk through Gulhane Park and and along the banks of the Bosphorous. We ended up at the Spice Market with very little understanding of how we got there. There are loads of eateries practically everywhere in the Old Town (to suit most budgets) so the choice is yours. We ended up walking a good couple of kilometers and probably covered a big portion of the Old City with very little effort.
We bought the 3 day Istanbul Museum card for 85TL (approx ZAR 450) from a nearby hotel (Erboy Hotel) to save time in the lines and some money. Read about what it includes and where to get it here. Do note that it does NOT include entry into the Basilica Cistern which costs an additional 10TL (ZAR50).
The next morning we had an early start. We took a walk to Hagia Sophia and we arrived there just before 9am. There was only a few people in line. I highly advise to get there before 9am to avoid long lines everywhere.
It is every bit as epic as one would imagine. With a history as rich as it has, how could it not be? Read about it’s history here. We took more than an hour to explore.
Next up, we went to the Blue Mosque. Entrance to the Blue Mosque is free and remember, it is still in use. Therefore, appropriate attire is necessary. Entrance is also not allowed to non-praying visitors during prayer time. We didn’t spend a long time in the Blue Mosque, we figured we would return at a later time when it was less busy. In all honesty, it looks very similar to many mosques in the Old City from the inside. The outside is beautiful though, especially at night during Ramadaan when the festive lights are on.
We then strolled around the Hippodrome and took pictures at the Obelisk of Theodosius. Thereafter, we took a walk to the Museum of Islamic Arts which is great and wonderfully airconditioned in the midday heat.
Next up was Basilica Cistern. As mentioned before, entrance is 10TL. Luckily its nice and cool down there so its a great place to avoid the midday heat. It is so amazing to think that this underground waterway was constructed in Roman times. We strolled around for about 45 minutes. Some people chose to take cheesy photos in costumes near the entrance, we chose not to (ain’t nobody got time or money for that!).
That was the end of our touring that day. After freshening up at the hotel, we headed back to Sultanahmet in search for a local hookah bar, called Corlulu Ali Pasa Madresesi (my husband was eager to try). It is situated in a cemetery (of all places). It is a great place to meet Istanbul locals and it is clearly a hangout spot for many university students. Hookah was cheaper there than in most of the tourist spots and the tea wasn’t bad. Do check it out!
See part two for our tours of Tokapi, Taksim, The Grand Bazaar and the Bosphorous Cruise.
- Wear comfortable shoes! We racked up more than 20000 steps on the pedometer.
- Take plenty of bottled water
- Buy the Museum Pass
Read more About Turkey:
- Read part 2 for more information on Istanbul
- Read about Cappadocia Part 1 & Part 2
- Read about Ephesus
- Read about Pamukkale and Hieropolis
- Read about Oludeniz