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7 nights in Istanbul!

We just got back from a week in Istanbul and wanted to share the details.

We flew direct on Turkish Airlines from SFO. We booked Welcome Pickups to get us from the airport which worked well. Our driver even contacted us before we left California. I had heard that our flight was often delayed and also that it takes awhile to get out of the airport. So i booked the pickup for 1 hour after our flight was landing. This turned out to be good - although our flight was on time after all!

We stayed at a Hyatt in the Taksim area, because i had Hyatt points, This had good and bad aspects. It was in a quieter area so it was nice to to spend the evenings there. But though Taksim square and Istikal street were nearby, it wasn't as quaint and interesting as the Sultanahmet area. But we were happy with our choice.

Everything people have said about the difficulty in buying a transit pass is true! :-). We took taxis the first few days, which were very inexpensive. about $4 for a 20-25 minute taxi from Taksim down to the Hagia Sophia area. When we did attempt it, we had to get help from a staff person at one of the stops, and then again when we needed to top up. (if you stand at one of the machines long enough, someone will usually come up to assist!)
I did see where to change the language to English - but the instructions are still not that obvious...!
Also, if we had had a Mastercard, our guide told us we could just tap to pay at the turnstile. But we only had visa so that didn't work.

Also, as far as ATMs, they are always in a cluster, and i had to sometimes try a few to get one that wasn't charging an extra fee. I remembered that Ziraat was mentioned, so we tried to use that one, but if that one wasn't available i would try another. they do state up front if they are going to charge a fee.

We also had the luck of arriving in Turkey right before the 100th anniversary of Turkish Independence day! There were lots of local celebrations and decorations. Turkish flags were everywhere. But we did have to alter our plans one day due to the crowds.

We booked Metin Koca (recommended on this site) for 2 half days of sightseeing. We really enjoyed his guiding! He told us that he had recently been interviewed by Rick Steves when he was in Istanbul, and will be listed as a guide in the next Turkey guidebook. On our first day he met us at our hotel, and we took a taxi to the Topkapi Palace, It's very important to come here in the morning, as the lines build throughout the day. The palace is enormous and beautiful! After that, we went to the Basilica Cistern. This was an underground water storage area built by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. Istanbul didn't have a nearby source of fresh water so they built this as well as the aqueducts leading to it. It is beautiful with roman columns supporting the space and it is lit with different colored lights. Makes for a great photo op! After this, we headed back to our hotel. For us, 3 hours of touring was enough for 1 day. I'm glad we split the time up. We had dinner near our hotel and i purchased a scarf from a street vendor to wear at the mosques the next day.

The next day was amazing!
We met Metin at the Hagia Sophia in the morning. He waits in line for you and gets there at 730am to be the first in line. Then when you arrive at 8:45 or so, and see about 500 people in line, you get to go up to the front and be the first people of the day to enter the Hagia Sofia! It was incredible to see and take pictures of the mosque when it was empty!! What an experience. Metin told us it is his favorite mosque and he used to visit every day during the pandemic.
- to be continued...

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174 posts

After this, we visited the Blue Mosque, which was also very beautiful! but not the same experience as it was full of people.
Then we toured the Grand Bazaar - which is amazing because of its size, but sold a lot of knockoff bags/clothes, and we saw a lot of the same stuff everywhere. So it wasn't a place i wanted to shop. After that, we went to the Spice Market, which is another. smaller bazaar, which is a bit more authentic. There are side alleys within the bazaar, where you will see quirky shops that sell carpets or brass pots, for example.
This was the end of our 2nd touring day. We asked Metin for a lunch recommendation and went to Hamdi, a restaurant on the upper floor of a building overlooking the water. We had kebabs and it was excellent! Also saw the first of many restaurant cats - one climbed in the window and the waiter quickly got her a dish of food. I have so many pics of the dogs and cats of Istanbul, which are mostly very well cared for! the turkish government takes care of vaccinations for the stray animals.

Sunday; 100th anniversary of Turkish republic.
We had planned to do an all-day food tour, but since the 100th anniversary celebrations were going on, we rebooked for Monday, which was a good decision. Instead we took a taxi up to Nisantasi, which is north of Taksim and supposedly the fancier part of town. Everyone was walking around with their red Turkish flags, they were being handed out everywhere. Happened on a small parade with music, and also wandered into stores. It was warm so we sat at an outdoor cafe, and had some cold drinks with flavored syrup - my husband got mint and i got pomegranate/passionfruit. Very thirst quenching!
We decided to walk back home as the route took us through Macka Park. we passed the entrance to a gondola which seemed to go across the park. We decided not to take it - but wish we had, because we walked way downhill and then way uphill to get across the park. Did i mention that Istanbul is very hilly? It was more tiring to walk around than some cities because it is built on 7 hills like Rome.

Turkish Bath/Hammams:
We are big bath fans, and didn't want to miss the hammam experience. We went to 2 different hammams. the first one i picked, Cukurcuma Hammam, was because it was walkable (though hilly!) from our hotel. I booked both our Hammam experiences before we left the states. But it's possible to do it after you arrive - at least at the time we were there in late October.
We did not add on anything - the basic hammam experience is about 60 euros. Cukukurma was pretty good, but the 2nd hammam was fantastic. This was at Cagaloglu Hammam, which is very highly rated. Its located in Sultanahmet, which for us was a 20-30 min cab ride. Unfortunately, we booked for late afternoon- which is the absolute worst time to travel across the bridge- as in most major cities. So the traffic was so backed up that we had to push back our appointment and get out of the taxi early and walk as that was going to be faster. But it was well worth it.
Cagaloglu has separate mens and womens facilities, so my husband and i split up. part of the treatment is a massage while lying on a marble slab and the massages at this hammam were so good! (also more naked if that bothers you!) anyway, we were super relaxed afterward and ate a light dinner at the restaurant nextdoor, Oryantal 1741 , which was some of the best food we had in Istanbul!

To be continued--

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The 6 hour food tour!
My husband and i love food tours and have done them in Italy, Spain, and Seattle. But this food tour was unlike any other! it included multiple breakfasts, lunches, and a boat ride! It's called the Taste of 2 Continents food tour. I would highly recommend it! our guide was excellent and there were 10 of us. Food tours are also always a good way to meet people. Had a lot of interesting, different foods that we would not have had the chance to try, as well as traveling over the Bosphorus to Kadikoy. So we ate from about 10am to 4pm. Be sure to pace yourself!

On the way back, we all took different ferries depending on where we were headed. for Taksim, The one we took connected to a funicular from the coast up to Taksim. This was a fun bit of public transportation!

The next day we visited Ortakoy which is a cute seaside neighborhood with a beautiful mosque. This was a rainy day unfortuntately, so we didn't stay as long as we would have otherwise. We took the bus both ways from Taksim. The bus fare is about 50 cents.

At the end of our week in Istanbul, we were flying to Italy for a few days and booked Air Pegasus out of the other Istanbul airport (SAW - or Sabiha Gokcen). Allow plenty of time if you fly to or from here, it is farther from Istanbul - 1 hour or more- and the security and immigration lines are longer and more crowded. We had to leave at 7:30 for our 11:30 flight to Bologna.

Overall, Istanbul was incredible and different and overwhelming at times. It took a little bit more work to figure things out but it was well worth it. Plan to return and do other parts of Turkey! Hope this was helpful.

Posted by
2500 posts

Great report! I also enjoyed Istanbul and have about a zillion pictures of cats too ;)

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341 posts

Thank you for this nice and comprehensive trip report. I am going on the Rick Steves Istanbul tour next April. I have written down some of your suggestions and observations. I plan to go at least one day early and stay in a hotel nearby the tour hotel. Thanks again.

Posted by
8864 posts

Excellence report. Loved my stay in Istanbul. Fascinating history, wonderful people and great food.

Posted by
1175 posts

Don't miss the Muslim war trophies taken from the Christians including the staff of Moses, an artifact from Joseph, the same Joseph of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and the sword of King David among others. All at Topkapi Palace. The Istanbul Museum of Archeology houses the sarcophagus of Alexander the Great, now believed to have belonged to an ancient king in Lebanon. Ancient history abounds in Istanbul.

Posted by
4325 posts

Sounds like a wonderful trip. Thank you for the report! Haven’t made it to Istanbul yet, but some day…..

Posted by
6788 posts

Thanks for sharing the nice trip report, you obviously had a great time.

We were in Istanbul a few weeks ago, I already miss it and look forward to going back!

FWIW we also stayed up near Taksim this time - previous trip we were deep in the Sultanahmet so we decided to try a different base (we stayed at the Intercontinental, because we had lots of IHG points to burn, how did you like the Hyatt?)...our hotel was fine, and the location worked out fine for us - we eventually started using the funicular, connecting to the tram down along the waterfront. Our only complaint about the hotel was there was some concert venue close by, and even though we were up really high - 10th floor or so - the music was still pretty loud on several evenings. Being in Taksim and having all the options along Istiklal street was great (I'm craving some Nizam Pide right now!).

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4920 posts

So glad you enjoyed your visit to Istanbul! Reading your report is getting me excited for my return trip next summer. I'm taking notes!

I want to do a food tour, so thank you for the notes about yours. It may be hard to choose.

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3896 posts

I'm a little late to respond, but great report. Thinking about a stop in Istanbul going from Germany to Thailand in a few months.