Quick history lesson: What IS the deal with Istanbul vs. Constantinople? To put it simply, Constantinople was the Christian name for the city, but the name changed to Istanbul when Islam became the predominant religion.
Istanbul, Turkey is the friendliest and most interesting place we have EVER been. I still can’t get over how amazing it was. While we did avoid group tours and large crowds, we felt safe walking around during the day and at night. The recent terror attacks are harming the economy of an INCREDIBLE city that depends on tourism, and our hearts go out to the Turkish people and all those in the world who are suffering at the hands of terrorism. Right now, we know Turkey is not the safest place to be, but if you EVER have the opportunity visit this city, go and you will have such an adventure.
Kevin and I stayed at the Hotel Amira in Sultanahamet (the old town). This hotel made our good Istanbul experience a GREAT one. Getting to the hotel from the airport was about 40 minutes and costed about $50. We arranged for transportation through the hotel. For $160 a night, we got free breakfast and afternoon tea, a rooftop terrace, and the best service we have ever had. The concierge (named AJ) who had perfect English sat with us on the terrace (after giving us a glass of wine) for 40 minutes to go over the city map and tips for our trip. Who does that?! So great. Our hotel room was spacious and they upgraded us to a balcony room. The hotel was also in walking distance to pretty much everything – 5 minutes from the Blue Mosque/city tram and 10 minutes to Hagia Sophia.
Like in the China post, I am going to post some must-sees/dos and some photographs underneath.
Hagia Sophia – Formerly a church turned mosque and now a museum. Get the museum pass if this is your first stop. If you go to at least 2 of the museums, it pretty much pays for itself.
Cisterns – This was a really unexpected, cool excursion. The cisterns are Roman-built and used to house the usable water underneath the city. This does not count as part of the museum pass, but is worth the money. This is right across the street from the Hagia Sophia.
Blue Mosque – This building is just beautiful, inside and out. If you are not wearing a long dress (females) or pants (males) the mosque will loan you clothing. Be prepared to take off your shoes inside. Wear socks.
Topaki Palace – This is included in your museum pass. It was so neat to see how the sultans lived. The tile-work is gorgeous. And the views from the palace are to-die for!
Grand Bazaar – You probably won’t get the best prices here unless you’re a master haggler, but it is definitely a fun experience and a must-see! It’s so cool to think that vendors have been selling there for centuries!
Bosphorus Cruise – This is the only “group” tour that we did. The cruise was amazing and probably our favorite part of the trip. We really liked seeing Asia on one side of the straight and Europe on the other! Our particular cruise also included a visit to the Yeni Cami Mosque and the Spice Market beforehand.
- Babylonia in Sultanahamet
- Fine Dine Istanbul – the view is the most incredible we’ve ever seen
- Hamdi for kebabs
- Turkey is still not part of the EU, so they do NOT use the Euro. Make sure you use Turkish Lira.
- DO NOT take a taxi. Walk or use public transportation.
- Be prepared to hear the Call to Prayer 5-6 times per day coming from the minarets of the mosques. Bring earplugs if you’re a light sleeper. It is such an eerie, beautiful sound.
- Females, bring a scarf. Your head must be covered to enter mosques.
- Dress conservatively. No tank tops. I wore short-sleeves and linen capris most of the time. Although Turkey is technically a secular country, it is predominantly Muslim in terms of population.
We hope to meet again, Istanbul.