Day 3: Post breakfast we checked out of Sophia Studio Apartment and left luggage in the luggage room. We then visited Grand Bazaar and walked to the Spice Market and explored the market between the two. Post that we had lunch and then chilled at Eminonu. In the evenings, we headed back to the apartment to collect our luggage. We took the overnight bus by Metro Turizm to Selcuk which departed at 09:30 pm from Istanbul.
Day 1: Took an early morning Qatar Airways flight at 04:10 am from Mumbai which arrived in Istanbul at 12:30 pm and checked into Sophia Studio Apartments in Sultanahmet. We visited Grand Bazaar to exchange currency (you get the best exchange rates there) and then headed to Galata Tower for the Sunset.
Day 2: After breakfast, we headed out to visit Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern. Post lunch we relaxed in the gardens outside Topkapi Palace and then headed to Istiklal Street to spend the evening.
As you stroll down the cobbled streets of Istanbul, history greets you at every step and culture is a constant companion. The palaces, mosques and churches of the city are artistic goldmines in their own right and the bazaars exude this infectious energy. The mezes are unending, the kebaps are always tender and the coffee is the most addictive of the lot. Entrenched in its prosperous heritage, Istanbul defines vibrance in a way no other place does.
Istanbul is one of the largest cities in Europe. Turkey's most populous city and its cultural and financial hub. Located on both sides of the Bosphorus, the narrow strait between the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea, Istanbul bridges Asia and Europe both physically and culturally. It is the only city which is spread over two continents!
Things to know about this city:
1. Atatürk Airport: Most international flights arrive at the Ataturk airport (other airport being Sabiha) and one can reach the main city by Havatas Muncipal service bus (11 TL) or by a private taxi (50 TL)
2. Two main neighborhoods to stay at:
i) Taksim square- Major tourist and leisure district known for its nightlife, restaurants and pubs.
ii) Sultanahmet- Old city, where all tourist attractions like the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi palace can be explored by foot.
3. Ortakoy neighborhood: Ortakoy is a vibrant neighborhood to explore. It has many cafeterias and tea houses around a square near the water or in the alleys, restaurants, bars, small shops and a market which gets very lively during the weekends. World class night clubs like Reina and Anjelique are also in this area, on the Bosphorus which one should not miss.
4. Kumpir: One cant miss eating Kumpir at Ortakoy! You would be remised not to try one of the town's signature dishes,a loaded baked potato pureed to perfection and stuffed to infinity with as many or as little toppings as your heart desires.
5. Galata Tower: City's tallest tower with a restaurant and cafe on the upper floor. Tickets to go can be booked online or instead one can visit Galata Roof Top Cafe which has the same view!
6. The following are the most famous attractions in Istanbul which shouldn't be missed. Also the days when these attractions are closed should be kept in mind before you plan your itinerary:
i) Blue Mosque or Sultan Ahmed mosque- no entry fee and closed during praying hours
ii) Hagia Sophia- 20 TL entry fee and closed on Mondays
iii) Topkapi Palace- Closed on Tuesdays
iv) Basilica Cistern- 20 TL entry fee
v) Hippodrome Square
vi) Dolmabahce Palace
7. Gulhane Park: Located adjacent to the Topkapi Palace, this urban park is a perfect place to have a peaceful lunch.
8. Princess Island one day excursion: The main feature of any of the Princes’ Islands is the sound of silence. All motorized vehicles are banned, making the islands an oasis of peace and quiet. Horse-drawn carriages and bicycles are the main transportation means on the islands.
But that’s not the only feature that makes the Princes’ Islands unique. You’ll find yourself walking or riding through narrow streets flanked by either untouched pine-forests or fine, wooden Victorian cottages.
Ferry will be available from Kabataş every morning which will take you to 4 of these islands. Early reservation for stay is mandatory in these islands since it gets full pretty fast.
9. Hookah/Sheesha: One can't leave Turkey without trying a Sheesha which is basically smoking flavored tobacco. Best place to pull sheesha would definitely be near Galata tower or Tophane area.
10. Grand Bazaar: The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops which attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. In 2014, it is listed No.1 among world's most-visited tourist attractions with 91,250,000 annual visitors.
11. Spice Market: Again a covered market, one of the largest spice bazaars in the world, also known as the Egyptian bazaar since all its goods are brought from Egypt. Goods such as Iranian saffron, Indian curry, Chinese flower tea, Turkish delight, Russian caviar etc are found in abundance.
12. Istiklal Street: Arguably the busiest pedestrian street in the world popular for shopping and snacking street, is lined with boutiques, cafes, consulates, restaurants, galleries, cinemas and banks, with residential apartments above. The avenue begins at Taksim square, the hub of this city.
13. Whirling Dervishes: Well known dance form, when the whirling dervish take the floor with the heavenly sounds of Sufi music, you can’t help but be transfixed. The right hand stretches to the infinite cosmos and the left towards the ever-grounding earth. Not a performance, but a form of worship.
14. Hammams: No trip to Turkey is complete without a visit to the famous baths, called hammams. Experiencing a few hours at these bathhouses, many of which date back hundreds of years, is a relaxing, rejuvenating and rich cultural experience.
15. Simit: A simit is a sesame seed-crusted bread with fluffier interior that found across the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire, and the Middle East. Simits are often sold by street vendors, who either have a simit trolley or carry the simit in a tray on their head.