Travelling to any new city can be quite exciting. It brings with it the allure of the unknown, loaded with anticipation and desire to explore and discover all that it could possibly offer. if your are not travelling spontaneously, you would like to plan every single detail in advance. This is not necessarily to take away the gift of spontaneity, but to ensure that you are ready for any eventuality, and that you can take full advantage of all that the city can offer. Istanbul has abundant gifts to offer. A trip to Istanbul is one that, if planned properly, can leave you fully satisfied with all the wonder that travel can and should give. Allow us to help you plan an-end-to-end trip to Istanbul, from the sites all the way to the best hotels in Istanbul.
Before embarking on any details of what to plan, let us make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. Istanbul is a city that is situated smack at the spot where Asia and Europe meet. This leaves the question of whether it is a European city or an Asian one. Well, this is part of the charm of Istanbul. Being torn between these two amazing continents, Istanbul has a blended culture. The dominant religion is Muslim, making it more Asian than European. However, its main sites bear strong hints of its former empirical rulers, while some sites bear Christian mosaics from ages ago that bear witness of a European culture. Many Istanbul hotels will hold some of Istanbul history in their brochures, make sure to take a look and learn some more.
What to See In Istanbul
Istanbul is one beautiful city. Mixed as it may be, it carries such rich culture that can only be defined as native to Istanbul. There are numerous beautiful sites that you should definitely plan to visit and explore.
If you are out to explore the historical sites in Istanbul, then this particular list is for you. With its rich culture, Istanbul has numerous historical sites to boast:
- The Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia is one of Istanbul’s most prized possessions. Built in AD 537 as a cathedral, the Hagia Sophia was later transformed into a mosque and now stands gloriously as a museum. Its walls hold stories that only it can tell, especially being such a big part of both the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire. The main attraction is its beautiful walls, which are laced with glittering Christian mosaics which portray different Biblical scenes. This makes its huge dome come alive with beautiful color. The Hagia Sophia Museum is located in Sultanahmet.
- The Blue Mosque
While in Sultanahmet, you might as well visit the Blue Mosque. Located not so far from the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque is one of Istanbul’s greatest attractions. It contains a beautiful interior, decorated in blue. It was built during the early 1600’s, existing both during the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Besides its intricate décor, it also shows Sultan Ahmed’s mausoleum which was built over his tomb.
- The Topkapi Palace
The Topkapi Palace, which is now a museum, was built in 1459 under Mehmed the Conqueror’s orders, and took 16 years before it was complete, being opened in 1475. This was not a small feat, as it stands on close to 7, 535,000 sq. ft. of land. It was built during the Ottoman Empire and served as the administrative headquarters as well as the Sultan’s main residence. Its architectural design is absolutely unique, as it seemed to take on more rooms as the Sultans would add them during their reigns. It shows an amazing view, has beautiful rooms rich with history, including the Harem.
- The Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern not only serves to test your historical pallet, but also challenges your architectural and engineering ingenuity. Built in 532 A.D by order of Emperor Justinian 1, the Basilica was built to supply water to the palace. It was built to carry a bulk of 80,000 cubic meters of water, drawn from the Black Sea through an entire 20 kilometers of pipes. The tour through the cistern takes you down 52 steps into the mouth of the cistern. From here you can see the architecture, get to walk through the tall columns, and get to fully appreciate its function.
Istanbul does not just offer history, it also grants you a feast of what it feels like to be in this beautiful city, with its city feel. The following sites should give you a clear idea:
- The Grand Bazaar
If you are more into exploring the city life, then your number one stop should be the Grand Bazaar. This, too, is located in the Sultanahmet Square. Of course, even the historians will need to shop so you too should hit the Grand Bazaar and explore the 5000 shops it boasts. Haggle your way through buying your souvenirs, smell the spices, taste the numerous fruits, buy the historic, beautiful, unique jewelry and simply have a blast!
- The Galata Tower
The Galata Tower was built in 1348, when it was still called Constantinople. It is located in Bereketzade, Galata Kulesi SK, and stands 219 feet tall, granting you a beautiful full flung view of the city and the Bosphorous. It has become such a tourist hit that it now holds a restaurant on the top most floor, offering tourists and residents alike a chance to view the sights and relax into them.
Istanbul is full of amazing places to visit, including the Dolmache Palace, Sulyemaniye Mosque among so many other places. These are, however, the main highlights that you cannot afford to miss.
Top Istanbul Hotels
It can be quite tempting to stay as close to all the sites as possible, or at least, as close to most as possible. However, this may easily hinder you from fully enjoying the Istanbul experience, as you will always be surrounded by fellow tourists, and massive crowds. Choose instead, hotels that are not too far that you cannot easily get to the sights, but also not so close that you end up being right in the middle of everything.
One great recommendation is Hotel 1453. Located in Fatih district, Hotel 1453 is just a few kilometers from the Sultanahmet Square, grants you easy access to all the sites in that area as well as such sites as Suleymaniye Mosque and Column of Constantine. It has been rated as one of the most affordable hotels in Istanbul, coming with comfy beds, air conditioning and 24 hour front desk assistance. To top it off, you get free Wi-Fi so you can start sharing all those site photos as soon as you are back in your room!
Best Garden Hotel is yet another recommendation that you should consider. Located in Molla Guran Mahallesi in the Fatih District, Best Garden Hotel comes closest to the Blue Mosque without threatening too much noise and disturbance. As such, you can also access all other sites around the Sultanahmet Square without risking spending too much on travel costs. The hotel offers you all comfortable amenities, and includes Wi-Fi, so if you didn’t leave all your work at home, you can get to catch up on it in the late evenings. On top of all this, Best Garden Hotel offers you a shuttle to pick you up from the airport, though it will be charged to your room. Still beats having to find your own way around a new city.
The Ottoman’s Life Hotel Deluxe is top on a lot of tourists’ lists of the best accommodation in Istanbul. It offers you the feel of a five star hotel at prices that are far less expensive. Located in the Fatih District, Ottoman’s Life Hotel Deluxe grants you a full lifestyle even as you spend your days exploring the city. It features a gym, a lounge, a restaurant on top of the main amenities. The Wi-Fi here is rated as the best available and the customer care is friendly and very useful.
Pro Istanbul Travel Tips
First of all, it is important that you pick a good time to visit Istanbul, when you can fully appreciate the city. The best time would be between May and September, as it’s hot and humid then. Of course, if you are not a fan of full flung heat, the month of May and June would suit you best. However, if you want to get a view of Istanbul in the winter, then November to February would be your time.
Being a Muslim city, it is expected that you dress respectfully. In this culture, it means covering up as much as you can, especially for the women. As such, you may need to always carry a shawl with you to cover your head, wear long dresses with long sleeves, as opposed to shorts, sleeveless shirts and above-the-knee skirts. Much as some sites may give you a scarf to cover your head at the entrance, it is better to show up dressed appropriately. It shows that you understand and value their culture.
A lot of people in Istanbul speak English, and well at that. However, it would be a plus to learn some basic Turkish just to show you appreciate the language. Haggling is also part of their culture, it shows that you not only appreciate their goods, but that you want them so much that you want to lower your pride and haggle for them. They appreciate this. This goes for entrance fees at some sites as well. Most of these places have tourist fees, always bargain to get a local fee instead as it is bound to be far cheaper.
Finally, be careful how you choose your accommodation in Istanbul. As mentioned, you need to be far enough away from the action to actually appreciate it, but not too far that you spend so much getting to them. Also, always consider your budget and avoid being tempted to go above it. Enjoy your trip to Istanbul!