No trip to Turkey would be complete without a brief stop in the hectic and historical Istanbul. The traffic in the city is crazy and it takes a while to get into the city centre from either airport. We booked a private taxi, however you can also take a shared shuttle to and from the airport. Unfortunately there is no handy train system, so sitting in traffic was mandatory. We were staying in the Fatih district which is a lot quieter and less expensive that the very touristy Sultanahmet district. Conveniently this was also home to one of our favourite restaurants – Ozlem Karadeniz Restaurant – where I gorged on delicious Turkish ‘pizza’ called Lahmacun and Andrew indulged in a surprisingly earthy tasting traditional Turkish coffee.
Even though Sultanahmet is very busy, it is home to many of the main sites, therefore the crowds must be braved. Luckily the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are right next door to each other and easy to tick off. Remember to dress a bit conservatively when heading to these sites otherwise you will need to borrow some items to cover up your sexy knees and shoulders. The Blue Mosque is a quick walk through as there are not many areas you are allowed to visit. However, the Hagia Sophia is gorgeous and can take a bit more time. Andrew and I were trying to save some pennies after all the Efes (beer) we had been consuming so opted only to see the tombs (free). However, we have it on excellent authority that the rest of the compound is delightful.
Nearby is the Basilica Cistern, which is a site that we particularly enjoyed. A cheap ticket lets you walk down the stone steps into the cistern that was built in the 6th century. It stored a lot of water back then but is now kept almost empty to allow people to wonder through it. It is an incredibly interesting place to visit and to marvel at the architecture of a bygone era.
Istanbul was full of markets and squares with stalls to buy anything from carpets to handbags. The famous Grand Bazaar and and slightly quieter Spice Market are the obvious ones to visit. We tried our hand at haggling for some apple tea and turkish delight, but soon found the noise and craziness of the markets tiresome. If you’re anything like us then a brief whip around will probably satisfy your curiosity.
We enjoyed strolling along the waterfront near Galata Bridge where local fisherman line up to drop a line. We were a bit concerned about the quality of water (and consequently the fish) but we seemed to be the only ones with that worry. With a mental note to avoid ordering fish at any of the restaurants, we had a rest, people watched and gazed across the water at the Galata Tower.
It was by accident that we actually discovered our favourite district in Istanbul. When making our way back to our hotel we wandered through an area called Hocapaşa. We found here a haven with minimal crowds and quiet alley ways. We came across a cafe called Cafe de More and settled in for a shisha and apple tea. It was an idyllic end to our time in Istanbul.
Overall our time in Istanbul was brief and full. If you are just passing through then you only really need a couple of days to get around the main sites. Cost wise, it is cheap as long as you avoid the tourist traps. Our rule was not to go into any restaurant where there was someone haggling you to come in.
Here is a breakdown of our costs for 2 people for 2 days:
Accommodation – £40 (NZ$78)
Food/Drink – £68 (NZ$133)
Activities – £23 (NZ$45)
Transport – £73 (NZ$143)
Total spent – £204 (NZ$399)