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Updated 2019: Istanbul had been on my wish list for some time so I was really looking forward to arriving and ending my 10 days in Turkey with 3 days in this city.
I had heard that it was a busy city with a rough population of 14 million (wow!!) and with neighbourhoods spread out on each side of the river on the European side, plus neighbourhoods on the Asian side too so my first challenge before even arriving was deciding where to stay in Istanbul. I opted for a guesthouse in Karakoy which is an area that I would recommend, not too touristy and therefore slightly lower in cost but close enough the tourist attractions, especially as I was in Istanbul for 3 days!
Check out accommodation in Istanbul on Booking.com here, they offer lots of options and flexible payment terms!
I arrived quite late into Istanbul as I had flown from Cappadocia that day so on my first full day I headed straight to the Sultanahmet side of the city from Karakoy where all the tourist attractions are. I had to cross over the Galata Bridge to start with which gave me a fantastic view over the river and the mosques on the other side, it was a good start to my day.
I headed for the Main Square which has quite a few of the attractions surrounding it. I was very lucky as it was a beautiful blue sky Autumn day in October, and for me coming from a British Autumn I found it fairly warm.
There are many attractions and activities in Istanbul. I started off visiting the Blue Mosque which isn’t as blue inside as you may think but it was very beautiful and best of all its FREE to enter!
I then crossed the square and headed to Hagia Sophia. Earlier this year I read Dan Brown’s book Inferno (which i highly recommend!) and this building plays a big part in the book.
As I was queuing to get in a tour guide started speaking to me and asked if I wanted a tour, I said no it’s fine and he said he could do it for 20 Lira but 10 Lira if I was poor and for free if I was really poor.. of course I claimed that I was really poor and didn’t think he would then bother but he said ‘ok then i’ll take you in’.
I cautiously asked what the catch was and he explained that he does tours all over Turkey and when he’s not doing them he does tours around Istanbul and especially Hagia Sophia and right then he was bored so why not offer a tour for free.. fair enough I thought although still a little cautious but at this point I had said yes and had brought my ticket so I had to go in one way or another, the ticket costs 30TL/ £6.00 and the guy did in fact give me a really good tour with lots of interesting information and facts.
At the end I did expect him to recommend a tip and if he had I would have given him one but he told me I could stay there now as long as I want and off he went.. although he did mention he would be working by the gates until 6pm if i wanted to go back and say hi.. I didn’t and I got free tour so i’d say i did pretty well! And the building was really amazing and interesting!
My next stop, as with Dan Browns book (although writing this may have just given away part of the ending so sorry!) was the Basilica Cistern, which took some finding as there’s only a small building on the street level where the tickets are sold and then it all goes underground! This is a huge area used to hold water for the city built in AD 532!! and from the outset it sounds quite boring but along with reading the book and the ery-ness down there it was quite an interesting place to visit and cost 20TL/£4.00 to enter.
My afternoon was spent walking around the busy streets of Istanbul a long with visiting the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market. As I’m at the start of a big trip I didn’t need or want to buy anything but had I been going straight home from Istanbul this would be a very different story! Both markets are a fun place to visit though as long as you can ignore all the comments from the men that work there!
Later on I walked up to where the Galata tower is as it isn’t far from where i was staying, got a falafel wrap and called it a day.
If you want to pre-book tickets for things to do and see in Istanbul, I would recommend these tours and packages:
On my second day in Istanbul I woke up to a bit of rain and grey skies so I got out my umbrella and headed for Taksim Square which is the other side of the river to Sultanahmet. To get here I had to buy an ‘Istanbulkart’ and use the tram and then the funicular, both of which were really easy to use! I was due to get a bus to the airport from near Taksim Square when I left Istanbul so I found the stop so I knew how long I would need to give myself when I left, and then I headed for Istiklal Avenue.
To be honest I wasn’t that impressed with Taksim Square or this road, it’s the new part of the city and is full of high street chain shops and restaurants but if that’s what you’re looking for then I can see the appeal!
This road took me all the way back to the Galata tower where I had been the night before and down the street from here I decided to stop for a chai tea and baklava because i was in Istanbul of course!
That afternoon I headed back over the Galata bridge to the Sultanahmet area to visit the ‘New Mosque’ which i would say is even better than the Blue Mosque and had another walk around the streets.
As I travelled to Istanbul Solo I wasn’t too bothered about doing anything in the evening but if you are looking for things to do in Istanbul at night and you are with friends, seeing one of the famous shows and going out on the River would be a good idea. It is a bit touristy but it sounds fun!
On my last day in Istanbul I headed over to Kadikoy on the Asian side as this was something I had really wanted to do seen as the city is split over two Continents, how cool that you can visit Europe and Asia within an hour!
I have written another post on my day on the Asian Side of Istanbul here and I would highly recommend adding it into your Istanbul itinerary as it really made my 3 days in Istanbul!
In the afternoon I visiting a Turkish Bath or Hammam as they are known which was ermm… lets say an experience! I left feeling incredibly clean and soft and this is a must do thing in Turkey but there were some funny/ awkward moments!
To end the day and my time in Istanbul I caught the sunset from the Galata Bridge which was just amazing!
Overall I really liked Istanbul and i’m glad I visited. I can’t say that I fell it love with it but that was probably to do with the fact that I travelled there alone, didn’t experience any nightlife and of course in 3 days theres only a certain amount you can see (especially on a budget!). I would definitely go back again in the future though!
I found Istanbul really reasonable in price. Again, as with most places you can spend as little or as much as you want but I found I could eat really cheaply – £2.00-£3.00 by getting some food at a cafe or take away place.
Istanbul is a huge city with lots of neighbourhoods as I mentioned so don’t just stick to where you’re staying or where the tourist sights are, take a day to explore away from this and I guarantee you’ll find some awesome streets. For some off the beaten path places to visit in Istanbul, have a look at this post.
To get around on the public transport in Istanbul you do need an ‘Istanbulkart’- like an oyster card. These can be brought from shops around the city and at most tram stops etc. The card cost me 7TL and then each bus, boat, tram ride you take costs 2-3 TL so it’s really cheap to use!
I used the Havabus to get to and from the airport which drops you off at Taksim Square and cost 14TL/£3.00 from Sabiha Gokcen airport.. note that there are 2 airports in Istanbul!
Have a look at accommodation in Istanbul here:
I hope this helped you, let me know in the comments below or by tweeting me @wandering_quinn!
For more of my Turkey posts see:
I’m Ellie Quinn!
I’m a travel addict who has been travelling on and off since 2010. In the Summer of 2018 I quit my office job in London, left my flat and I now travel and blog full time! Yes, I’m living that dream!
NOV-DEC: PROBABLY INDONESIA
If you want to join or read more about the details of the group tour.