A Short Trip to Istanbul
Arts & Culture
I have been to Istanbul many times, however, I have always been in Turkey as part of my job and haven't had more than a day or two on each trip to enjoy the things there are to see in this astonishing world city. Some of my friends asked me about the city because they are going there on a cruise or have an overnight layover. Here are my thoughts for a short trip to Istanbul.
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Things to do in Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul is an enormous, ancient city which would allow for endless things to do if you were there for a week. But, if you are there for only a day or two, this may help you navigate your journey. Istanbul's most famous things to see and do are located in the European side of the Sultanahmet Square. Another name of this area is "The Faith District". If you only have one day to visit, you will have your hands full seeing all there is to see here.
The most famous site is the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque. This building traces its history back over 1,500 years. It is an architectural wonder and shares history with both Christian and Muslim. Originally the seat of Christendom (Constantinople) Now a gorgeous Mosque open to the public.
Not far from the Hagia Sophia is another fabulous feet of architecture, the Blue Mosque, also know by its official name, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, It is open to the public. Both are within steps of each other and well worth your time. While you can visit either without a guide, there are people outside of the mosques wearing badges that have a flag with the "Istanbul Tourist Pass" logo on it . You should avoid any "Guide" who is not wearing this badge. They are not official and mostly are front men for carpet shops which will hard sell you for way too long. The cost to enter both is free. There are restrictions to visiting during prayer times so check on that before you visit.
Next is the Topkapi Palace. Again, only steps from the Blue Mosque, Topkapi is one of the palaces of the Sultans who ruled during the Ottoman Empire. The construction began in 1459 and concluded in 1856. It is well preserved both in the interior and the large courtyard. There is a charge to enter depending on various options.
Finally, about 1/2 mile from Topkapi is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. the Grand Bazar. This market contains 61 covered streets with over 4,000 shops. This is a great place to taste and buy some Turkish delight, baclava or Turkish Tea to bring home to your family. It is organized chaos but fun to visit if you have never been.
Here are some other journeys worth considering.
You can cruise the Bosphorus Strait.
You can Take a Palace and Castle Tour. Visit the Egyptian (Spice) Bazar which is way more authentic than the Grand Bazar but not walking distance from my list of sites.
The Roman era "Basilica Cistern" is close to the Hagia Sophia. There is a fee to visit this underground basilica constructed between the 3rd and 4th centuries. It is pretty interesting but very dark.
Places to eat & drink in Istanbul, Turkey
It is almost impossible to recommend places to eat and drink in Istanbul. There are innumerable Mediterranean restaurants. Some are wonderful places to sit down and be served. However, my favorite places to eat, while sightseeing are the many offerings of street food. "Falafel, gyros and baclava, OH MY".
If you have time, for a special dine-in experience, there is a wonderful restaurant called the Keyifli Restaurant & Cafe. It is located about a 15 minute taxi drive from the Faith District. It is an indoor BBQ where you pic your meats and veggies from a deli display, they deliver them to your table and you cook them at your table on a hooded indoor grill.
Need to Know
For more travel tips, check out Fora Advisor Ellie Zade’s guide, History, Architecture and Fine Dining in Istanbul.
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Türkiye.