• Neha & Arindam

5 Days in Istanbul

Updated: Apr 24, 2019

This is part 1 of our 3 series on planning a 12 days holiday to Turkey. We will be covering our itinerary of Istanbul and Cappadocia, along with a few insights on the country.

Imagine a country so vivid, where you have the pleasure to wake up to a beautiful sunrise of the east and call it a day while watching a mesmerising sunset in the west.

That is Turkey for you. A country brimming with culture, traditions, taste and warmth. We spent 12 days in this country and still believe we could be here for 12 months and yet be unaware of so many wonders it hides in its surreal landscape.

Ortaköy Mosque, Turkey
Ortaköy Mosque

Some tips to guide your overall travel experience:

- Turkey can be explored both in summers and winters. We chose winters and if you do the same, be prepared for extreme chilly winds, some rain and even snow. Pack your essentials accordingly.

- Book your hotels at least 3-4 months prior to the trip. Try opting for choices that are near the city square and can help you explore the city on foot or via the local trams.

- While we loved the warmth of the locals, we recommend being cautious of the taxi drivers as they could charge you a lot more than the real price. Always check the meter to avoid a bad experience.

- Not all corners of the country accept forex cards, so ensure you do carry the local currency and do not only rely on plastic money

Turkey Flag & taxi
The vibrant colours & taxis in Istanbul, Turkey

We started our journey in the country by landing in its popular metropolis Istanbul. We flew Turkish Airlines that has a direct flight 7 hours flight from New Delhi. With a comfortable journey onboard, we landed in Istanbul on a cold chilly afternoon.

Tip: Try taking an early morning flight that lands in the noon in Turkey, giving you sometime to rest and also an opportunity to explore the city in the evening.

Istanbul Airport, Turkish Airline, Turkey
Istanbul Airport, Turkish Airline

We spent a total of 5 days in Istanbul with first leg and the last leg of the trip after returning from Cappadocia. We recommend you should keep at least 3 if not 5 days for this city as it has plethora of attractions and some out of the many are worth a visit. So here we go:

Day 1: Fly into Istanbul and take an evening stroll on the Sultanahmet street

We landed in Istanbul and headed straight to our hotel Best Western Antea Palace, situated in Fatih. To our surprise, this hotel was in one of the most beautifully located neighborhoods, across our journey in the country. The hotel stands on a cobblestoned street, faces the beautiful Marmara Sea and is 6-7 mins walk from the busy Sultanahmet Street. We checked-in the property in the late afternoon, took a short nap to rejuvenate ourselves and headed out to explore the city on foot, in the little time we had before the sunset.

luxury hotel, Istanbul, Best Western Antea
View from our room at Best Western Antea Palace

Also known as the old city, the Sultanahmet street and square is a perfect amalgamation of the historic gems and the new age treasures of the city. From Byzantine & Ottoman-built monuments to iconic coffee shops, from local street souvenirs to artistic ceramic ware, this street has a piece of flavor for all.

We recommend keeping the Day 1 light, walk around the square, have a cup of Turkish tea sitting on the terrace of Simit Café, while you watch the colorful tram go by and the beautiful sun dip below the horizon.

Day 2: Rise early for Hagia Sophia & Blue Mosque, relish some Turkish coffee and unwind with a surreal Bosphorus view

Get dressed, pack your bags and head out for a day full of stop overs!

Spend the wee hours of the morning soaking in the beauty of the pictorial Sultan Ahmet Camii, also popularly known as the Blue Mosque. Built somewhere between 1609 and 1616, this mesmerizing structure plays a major role in giving Istanbul an iconic skyline. Unlike usual mosques, Ahmet Camii has 6 artistic minarets and a fascinating dome. The more than 20,000-handmade ceramic Iznik tiles in the interiors of the mosque is the reason it is referred to as a blue wonder.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey
Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

As you step out of the Blue Mosque, standing mighty tall in front of you is the monument of ‘holy wisdom’ – the resplendent Hagia Sophia. In the last 1,400 years, this imposing architectural marvel was once a cathedral, then converted into an Ottoman mosque and now a spectacular museum with interiors showcasing both Byzantine and Ottoman splendor, for the world to admire. Walk around the museum gardens and appreciate this consequential beauty while you binge on some hot local Turkish bagel (simit).

Tip: Both Blue Mosque and Hagia are major attractions of the city and hence are always flooded with tourists. To be able to enjoy the beauty, try reaching by 9 AM, so you are among the first ones to enter.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

If you’re still on the Sultanahmet street, head to Hafiz Mustafa, a quintessential shop from 1864, that still is the most popular one among both locals and tourists. We can vouch for their Turkish delights, baklava, milk puddings, cakes and of course the Turkish Tea & Coffee!

Spend the evening on an unforgettable sunset cruise, that sets sail from near the Galata bridge of the European side, glide through the waters of the Bosphorus Strait and a brings you closer to the Asian side of the city. The cruise also passes through historical palaces, castles and bridges, giving you a slice of their rich heritage in every corner.

If you have ever watched the Disney classic Aladdin, you will know how it feels to watch the majestic Hagia Sophia as you sail past it on the Marmara Sea!

Tip: With so many cruise companies offering packages for the Bosphorus tour, you may be slightly confused on which to choose. We recommend that instead of spending on a day long or a private ferry, choose a short one that takes you around in an hour. We opted for the Turyol boat company cruise that runs at 6 PM.

Day 3: Get lost in the grandeur of the Grand Bazaar

One of the most Instagramable and searched places on the internet, the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul is an enchanting world of its own.

Imagine walking into a realm, that dates to the 15th century and is a pandora’s box for spices, herbs, jewelry, glass lamps, precious stones, furniture, vintage classics, silver art, carpets, leather goods, clothes and what not! As you enter this traditional market, be prepared to get awestruck with 61 covered streets, more than 4000 shops and 18 gates. We bet even if you enter the bazaar with the aim of not buying any souvenirs, you are bound to leave it with at least a few in your hands.

We had only a half a day for Grand Bazaar as we were flying to Cappadocia in the evening. Though we do know that this Bazaar can surely keep you in spell bound for an entire day!

Tip: This bazaar is a perfect place to showcase your bargaining skills. Never settle for the first price you hear, for there is always scope for a better deal.

Lanterns grand bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey
Mesmerising lanterns at the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

Day 4: Experience the hustle bustle of Taksim Square and Istikal Avenue

People say that you can spend an entire day at Taksim by just walking around the street, doing absolutely nothing but soaking in the view. Guess what? We totally agree!

A long pedestrian street buzzing with iconic and new age cafes, sizzling hot shawarma points, numerous clothes to shop, local food carts, a scintillating nightlife and some local street music in little corners, Taksim is where you see the modern Istanbul come to life.

So, if you are at Taksim and its neighbourhood, make sure you tick the below off your list:

· Spot or maybe even ride in the iconic red Tram, that takes you from the Taksim square to Tünel. In case you are not aware, this is the famous tram you see in all artistic paintings that showcase Takism and the road to the Galata tower.

Galata Tower
Galata Tower

- Have some fun while trying to get hold of the Turkish Dondurma. The vendors for these ice-creams are so entertaining that watching them makes for a great show. Unlike the usual ones, these ice-creams have a sticky texture due to which the vendors serve it very amusing manners!

- Sip on some Turkish Coffee with a view, from one of the many cafes you will spot on the busy Taksim street. Relish some Baklava by the side and celebrate the beauty the street beholds.

Turkish Tea, Istanbul, Turkey
Turkish Tea, Istanbul, Turkey

- Appreciate the art galleries at Istikal street, showcasing various local and international artists and their beautiful canvases depicting Turkey and the world.

Grafitti art, Istikal Street, Istanbul
Grafitti at Istikal Street

Cobbled pathways, Istanbul, Turkey
Cobbled pathways of Istanbul

Day 5: Laze around at the picturesque Ortaköy & fly out of Istanbul

Istanbul is a city synonymous to stunning mosques in every nook and corner but our favorite of them all is the "Great Mecidiye Mosque”, famously known as the Ortaköy Mosque.

It’s unique in many ways. First, as it is situated on the water front and gives an illusion of floating on the Bosphorus. Second, this 19th century mosque is a perfect example of Neo-Baroque style architecture, one of the many forms of architecture predominantly found in Turkey. Third and the most paramount is its elegant & artistic look, comprising of white marbles and intricate mosaics.

We spent a lazy afternoon of our last day in the country at the shores of this mosque, indulging in a hearty meal at the House Café, one of the most popular ones in the Ortaköy neighbourhood. This was our last leg of the trip and we headed for the airport in the late evening.

Ortokoy Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey
Ortokoy Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

Tip: Reaching Ortaköy can be a little tricky. We experienced that it can be best reached well via the city bus from Bosphorus instead of taking a taxi that can be a pricey affair. Check with your hotel information desk for the bus pick & drop points.

Istanbul for us, was a discovery of fusion. A fusion of experiences and emotions that will stay with us forever. “Teşekkür Ederim”, from all our heart. 😊

We hope our journey helps you plan your itinerary for Istanbul. For any questions on the article, please leave us a comment below, we will be happy to answer.

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