A Week in Istanbul: Markets, Mosques and Bazaars
Istanbul is one of those cities that you just never want to leave. We spent about a week exploring the best that the city had to offer. Every day we found new things that would make us just go ‘wow’. It has such a rich history dating back thousands of years, incredible food, busy vibrant markets and some of the friendliest people we have met in 12 months of travel.Istanbul is one of those cities that you just never want to leave. It has such a rich history dating back thousands of years, incredible food, busy vibrant markets and some of the friendliest people we have met in 12 months of travel. Click To Tweet
We did a fair amount of research before hitting Istanbul and decided on a small family run hotel in the Sulthanamet region of the city. It’s really central to most of the main tourist sights like the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar as well as having some amazing restaurants and street food all around.
A Week in Istanbul: Sulthanamet and the Blue Mosque
Each day we followed a similar routine.
We started each day with a big Turkish breakfast and some Turkish coffee. Our breakfasts were normally a big dish of Börek, a phyllo pastry dish stuffed with various meats and cheeses. Sometimes we would go for a full Turkish breakfast which consisted of multiple dishes of cheeses, meats, dips and spreads and as much bread as we could fit in our stomachs. We would always finish breakfast with a delicious glass of Turkish Tea which had become a favourite of ours while in the country.
After breakfast we would head towards the old part of town to go sightseeing. We were there for such a long period of time so we decided that we would break it up and try to see a little each day rather than cramming it all in.
The Sulthanamet area has some amazing things to see. The Blue Mosque, a 400 year old mosque is incredibly beautiful. Unfortunately when we were there it was being renovated so we didn’t get to see the whole thing.
The Hagia Sophia
We also spent time visiting the Hagia Sophia. This is one of the most incredible and important pieces of architecture in Europe. It is about 1500 years old and has been through periods of serving as a Christian church, a Mosque and now a Museum.
The amount of history, art and artefacts in there is incredible. The doors are said to be made of wood from Noah’s Ark and there is even graffiti left by Vikings carved into the stone inside.
Beneath the city there are beautiful cisterns which were built by the Romans, then abandoned until they were rediscovered in the 1800s. There is so much history just in the Sulthanamet area that you could easily spend a few weeks just wandering around here.
A couple of tips though for museums in Turkey.
1. You can buy various museum passes which will allow you to visit more than one site (often as many as you would like) over a couple of weeks.
2. There is an app that you can download to turn your phone into an audio guide at a lot of attractions in Turkey. Alternatively, you can rent one so long as you leave your passport as a deposit at each museum but unfortunately for us they were all rented out when we visited the Hagia Sophia so we had to rely on Google to guide us around.
Local Cuisine: Simit, Pide, Kofte…
After each morning of sightseeing we would find some lunch. We always tried to find local food; anything and everything we could find. Some of our favourites were:
Simit – A round Turkish bread from street vendors that they would cut in half and spread either cream cheese or Nutella inside.
Pide – Delicious Turkish pizza with various meats and cheeses.
Kofte – Delicious, well seasoned Turkish meatballs with all the bread you could possibly want
Kebab – Sometimes the kebabs were the traditional wraps we know but other times it was a bowl of meat and sauce with bread to dip in. No matter what it was always amazing.
Of course we would wash it all down with some delicious Turkish coffee or tea. If you’re feeling really adventurous try Ayran. It’s a salty yogurt drink that tastes exactly how you would imagine salty yogurt might taste.
A Week in Istanbul: Turkish Ice Cream, the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Markets
When we were done with lunch we absolutely had to try Turkish ice cream. The dessert is delicious but the show you get while waiting is a ton of fun.
After lunch we would head to the Grand Bazaar. I knew nothing about this place before we came and it was not like I had pictured at all. I was picturing a Middle Eastern market like something out of Aladdin but instead it is a massive undercover modern complex. The shops spread out in every direction as far as you could see and sell everything from Turkish delights and sweets through to knock off designer goods and Turkish antiques. Be aware that prices are not fixed so prepare to bargain hard. I bought a leather jacket here and ended up paying less than half of what they were originally asking!
When we got sick of the Bazaar we wandered down the streets towards the spice market. The entire area between these two markets is also shopping. We found streets full of jackets, shoes, bedding and a surprisingly large number of shops selling women’s lingerie. The streets around here are vibrant with hundreds of people both local and tourists doing their shopping.
At the bottom of the hill, just near the river, is the Spice Market. It isn’t very big but the building is beautiful. Inside the vendors mostly sell trinkets, souvenirs, lamps and sweets like Turkish delight and baklava. We wanted to bring home some Turkish delight and we found the cheapest places just outside the spice market on the north western side of the building. Here plenty of shops will be vying for your business and prices for even the fanciest of sweets can get as low as $10 per kg.
Hidden Secrets: Saving Major Cash on a Bosphorus Cruise
While we were down this side of town we found one of the hidden secrets of Istanbul. As you walk around the tourist areas there will be people that will approach you trying to sell you boat rides on the Bosphorus. The prices for these were normally between 30-50 euro per person so we decided early that we wouldn’t be going. One day outside the spice market we headed across to see the water. There are tons of floating restaurants selling a variety of seafood, but we found a small office selling tickets for a Bosphorus cruise for only 15 lira per person (about $3). So we paid the money and jumped on the boat. It was amazing!
For about an hour and a half we cruised up the Bosphorus taking in some incredible sights. It was only on this cruise that we realised just how little of Istanbul we truly saw. There were castles on hillsides, mosques, Roman-looking buildings. Admittedly there was no ‘guide’ but we didn’t feel like we missed out because of it. Taking an afternoon cruise down this gorgeous stretch of water is the perfect way to end the day before tucking into some more delicious food back at the docks.I’m not normally a fan of cities – I prefer to get out of town to smaller rural areas to really experience a place's culture. BUT… Istanbul has become one of my favourite places in the entire world. Click To Tweet
I’m not normally a fan of cities – I prefer to get out of town to smaller rural areas to really experience a place’s culture. I’m also not a big fan of returning to somewhere I have already seen because there is so much world to see still. BUT… Istanbul has become one of my favourite places in the entire world. I wish that I had 6 months to really explore it. We will definitely be back there one day because I just know it’s one of those places that will call us back again and again.
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