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I just can not get excited about a potential side trip to Istanbul

A business trip this September brings me to Ukraine. The last day is in Odessa, and then I plan on taking two weeks of vacation. I am well-traveled in Europe (Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Czechia, Germany, Switzerland, etc.) but have not been to places such as Greece or Turkey or a lot of Eastern Europe.

I just watched a Rick Steves video where he says Istanbul is in the top 4 must-see cities alongside Paris, London, and Rome. The thing is I keep looking at the highlights and videos and articles, and the city does not seem to grab me at all? I am not one to visit places just to brag or add more countries to my list so I can tell people how many I have been to. Instead, I go back to places like Italy and Spain and Switzerland because I love them so much.

I am just asking if anyone can give me some insight besides the obvious which is everyone has different travel tastes. I was planning on probably going to Italy (Rome and Amalfi Coast) and fitting in Istanbul a few days because there is a perfect flight time direct from Odessa to Istanbul and then to Naples but if there are any other ideas, I would rather do something I am jazzed about.

Posted by
2361 posts

We loved Istanbul. If you are interested in seeing the complete beginnings of western civilization, you have to go to Greece, Italy and Istanbul. You can also arrange a trip to Troy and Ephesus. Personally, I consider all of these to be "must-sees". Plus it's a chance to experience an Islamic culture that is more like Europe.

Posted by
6148 posts

I say give it a shot at least, especially if you're flying on Turkish Air and it's part of the layover. I've been four times or so and I never get tired of it. It's a mega city of 13 million plus people and spread out across two continents - and it's full of different layers like a giant onion. It doesn't feel like other parts of Europe, and I like to travel to places that are visually, culturally, and historically dissimilar. Istanbul was a feast for the senses for me, and the rest of Turkey is an archeological and cultural treasure trove. A simple ferry ride on the Bosphorus was probably one of my top traveler experiences and I've been all over the place. I have to admit the exchange rate and the low cost of travel there is an added bonus. You can't say that about Switzerland. I'm a big fan of getting outside your comfort zone and trying new things instead of repeating the old comfortable ones. At the end of the day, I think the desire to go someplace really starts with you. I would do some additional research, don't narrow your vision of a place just to Rick's videos (although Rick definitely promotes Turkey in general and has a great network of guides on the ground to help him write his books).

Posted by
10899 posts

I've been to Istanbul, and it didnt light my fire either. Interesting, yes; but I travel for more than architecture. Just never got comfortable.

Odesa is a pretty great city. I'm jealous. Unfortunately not well connected, but you can get to Budapest through Kyiv (another favorite of mine). And naturally, Budapest is the most impressive of all European cities.

Another option is through Krakow instead of Kyiv.

Posted by
1184 posts

Istanbul is spectacular. Capital of the Roman Empire for about a thousand years with all the riches and history that entails, with Ottoman riches and history as a cherry on top.

Posted by
1132 posts

We've been a couple of times and enjoyed our visits. There are some specific great "wow" sights such as the Tokapi palace, Hagia Sophia and one or two of the mosques, plus it's an interesting city of contrasts to walk around (especially if you cross to the Asian side), and has many "lesser" sights (though that's relative, naturally).

Overall, I can't believe anyone would be bored with a few days. The food choices are good and the people friendly (though, to be honest, people are friendly most places, I find). It's easy to get around, though sprawling.

I don't think you can compare it to Spain or Italy, not least since they're whole countries with much more sights and variety. But I think it more than holds it own compared to, for example, cities such as Athens or Vienna. I wouldn't put it in the same league as Rome or London, or even Paris, however.

But if it doesn't grab you, then don't go. It's not as if you'll be short of alternatives and we all have limited time & money; so go somewhere that appeals more. Poland is fantastic, incidentally, if that fits your plans.

Posted by
698 posts

Interesting, rich in history, friendly people, but I didn't love it. I'm jazzed by (biased toward) western art, now I know, and found eastern decorative arts less than captivating, except for the Byzantine mosaics. I've been fortunate to travel a lot, and Istanbul was high on my list. I'm glad I saw it but have no desire to return. (In comparison, I NEED to return to London and Italy every year.) Clearly others see it completely differently. If it's an easy connection, maybe you should give it a couple of days and see for yourself.

The big sights are closely grouped in the Sultanhamet district and easy to do on one's own. The history can be confusing if your background focused on the west, but the RS Istanbul guidebook gives good explanations. I'd like to hear what you think if you decide to go.

Posted by
2691 posts

Let's face it, it is Eastern, it is Muslim, it is different. Therefore, not everyone's taste or comfort zone.
I did something similar. It was never on my bucket list, but a great Turkish Air price and time made me reconsider. I stayed 3 night which was ample for my interests and I packed a lot of secondary museums into my days with the 'must sees'. Often it was these lesser places I enjoyed more. I have been to Egypt and actually love the evening call to prayer, the differences of a Muslim society and loved the small fine details of the Turkish handwork and the ancient mosaics.
If you can afford the investment of time and accommodation, consider 2 nights as a taster to the East. If you have any interest in non Western culture, this could be your 'dip a toe in'. Stick to the Sultanahmet section. Everything is walkable. At the least, you can have some great food (don't forget the fresh made Turkish delight) at most, it might unlock the door to further travels outside Europe.
If you don't think you can open your mind to it, take the flight but not the layover.

Posted by
17 posts

You guys and gals are amazing. The things you said made so much sense. I will go ahead and book a three-night layover in Istanbul in late September. It will give me a full 2.5 days to explore Istanbul, which I know is not enough, but I will see if I like it. If so, of course, I will be back and can explore all of Turkey the next time.

Couple of things to share with you and then maybe one more question....
1999 was the first time I thought about going to Istanbul. I was watching The World Is Not Enough (James Bond), and it had so many wickedly cool video scenes of the Bosphorus and the Maiden's Tower. I had to go back and research all of that just now because it had been etched in my memory for that many years, but I forgot what specific Bond movie had those scenes in it. Looks like they have filmed there many times.

Recently I had my first trip to southern Spain, and the Alcazar in Seville goes down as one of my favorite places in the world. The delicate mix of Moorish tiles and colors with the traditional turned a 2 hour guided tour into a 5-hour visit where I continually sat down in different places to visually take all of it in. Not sure if that means I will appreciate what I will see in Istanbul, but I am thinking some of this will be similar?

So why did I not purchase the airline ticket just yet? The post above by JamesE has me now pondering Istanbul to Budapest instead of Istanbul to Naples. I have also wanted to go to Budapest for at least the last 5 years. Earlier this year I flipped a coin, and Prague beat out Budapest on a trip that included Prague to Czesky Krumlov to Salzburg and Vienna. I simply did not have enough time and had to cut out something. I enjoyed Prague but could not help thinking about a travel blog couple that described Prague as the fancy building lipstick but Budapest as being the city with more depth and things to do. If you can not tell, I can now travel a lot, so I will be back to Europe twice next year....so I will hit all of this eventually, but I need to decide on Naples-Amalfi Coast (first time to visit) and Rome (second time to visit) versus Budapest. The Path of the Gods is a hike I have dreamt about and in my mind, and I think it would be one of the highlights of my entire trip if I kept with the Naples flight plan.

Posted by
2691 posts

Thanks for the extra details. I had my fill of Istanbul with the same time allotment you are considering, but now I recall Rick's day trip by boat that I couldn't fit in. I am sure Google can tell you which JB movie you had in mind. With that consideration, you do need more days....or a return 😁
To be honest, I saw little similarity between Istanbul muslim heritage and the Mudajar heritage in Spain.
If you know you will be returning to Europe frequently, I am going to suggest you stick to whatever plan requires good weather. Budapest, Istanbul any great city can be done any time of year, but Amalfi Coast is not conducive to a February visit. I arrived in Istanbul from Uganda in early March. They had a freak 7 inches of snow on top of roses, pansies and other flowers in bloom. It was warm enough to sit out and enjoy the sun. Essentially Spring with some white stuff hanging around on the ground.

Posted by
137 posts

I was skeptical about Istanbul but others really, really wanted to go and so I did. I don't regret a single moment! It's a fantastic city; the market and spice market knocked my socks off. Taste the difference between Turkish Delight made with sugar and that made with honey (I loved the honey)! And, if you're a Bond, James, Bond fan - the Basilica Cistern must be put on your Must See list! From Russia With Love . . . .I also took the boat ride to see the mansion/castle featured in The World is Not Enough. People were amazingly friendly. I was walking alone in a market when the shop owner asked me where I was from - I said the United States and he said he was surprised I would come to Turkey because he heard how Americans hated Turks - I told him our media said the same about them and us. We had a great conversation and he helped me pick out a CD with Turkish music -- drums, good belly dancing music. It's nice to break down stereotypes! Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Haghia Sophia, and other mosques are great places to go. But for me, markets are my number one favorite place to visit.

And if you haven't been to Budapest - go! Try and make sure to get to the Szechenyi Baths - where the locals go for fun, relaxation, therapy, company. That is my #1 thing to do in Budapest! Food is also terrific there!

Posted by
110 posts

Eddie, if people have to talk you into going to Istanbul, then don’t go. You clearly don’t appreciate how amazing Istanbul is. You are better off going somewhere else.

Posted by
13930 posts

Hmmm, if I had to rank Istanbul, Budapest, and Naples, I would definitely put Naples third, but would be hard put to decide which of the other two is a better destination. But since you can go to both on this trip, I don't have to decide.

Living in the Israel, I was expecting Istanbul to be somewhat like Jerusalem's Old City. It felt more like Paris meets the Levant - clean (!) and surprisingly sophisticated and modern, but with enough Middle Eastern flavor to make it special.

For me Budapest is the poor man's Paris. A little shabby, not many great works of art or gilded palaces, but wide boulevards, beautiful parks, interesting museums, and excellent food/wine and opera/concerts at very affordable prices.

Posted by
290 posts

Hi Eddie,
We should start our own travel group for this area :-)

I have been to Istanbul a couple of times and like it so much that I am returning next year.

I feel that Rick's video does not really do Istanbul justice, but I agree that you need to have some interest in order to want to visit a destination. Maybe the history or location - Europe Asia, on the bosphorus?
It's a really lovely city and quite interesting in term of history and architecture. The food is good too.
Sometimes going out of our comfort zone and taking a chance may pleasantly surprise us.
Your call, but I say do it.

Posted by
690 posts

This is an interesting discussion. I have had three trips to Europe. 1. Ireland 2. Scandinavia 3. Italy. I went to Ireland due to heritage and it was a childhood dream. Scandinavia, also heritage plus interest in the history and long long summer days without the searing heat. I went to Italy because my husband asked me to. It was not on my radar. I wanted to go to the Adriatic Coast countries or Slovakia, Bulgaria etc. I prepared for my trip to Italy by taking online classes about Western Civ, Roman architecture, Renaissance art.....etc. I am really glad I went and even more glad that I have all of the knowledge I gained during the preparation. I took the Best of Italy 17 day tour. I went early to stay in Milan and I stayed after to see more of Rome. I was surprised by my love and comfort in Rome. So, I think that going to a place that you know is fantastic and important because so many other people say it is, is a valid reason. I gave Italy 3 weeks which is my yearly travel allowance, I think 3 days is worth a shot. Then, when I was preparing to sign up for the Adriatic tour, I heard a small voice that got louder and louder. The voice said, come to Turkey. The bridge from Rome to Istanbul was very enticing. I leave for Turkey in 24 days (who is counting).
I like to hear how people decide where they are going next. I thought I was a landscape traveler, but it turns out I love huge, historical cities. I am thinking Barcelona, Madrid, and Paris for 2020.

Posted by
10899 posts

vandrabrud, you never know. I stumbled into Budapest nearly 20 years ago and it turned out to be sort of okay.

Posted by
25 posts

I'd recommend getting a Turkey guidebook and just looking through it because the entire country has so many interesting areas. On our visit in 2010 we allowed four days for Istanbul during our five weeks in Turkey. We so fell in love with it that we rearranged our travel to spend an additional three days before returning home.

Posted by
929 posts

Istanbul is full of wonderful people, sites, and fantastic food! I found the people of Turkey to be friendlier than those in Rome and I’ve spent a lot of time in Rome and Italy. As long as the political situation is quiet, go. One never knows when a place will be off limits due to political and terrorist unrest!
I love Budapest too but Istanbul is a different experience and not like Western Europe, which Budapest feels like to me.

Posted by
173 posts

If you are upto doing something very different, I would suggest flying to Yerevan Armenia, during the month of September it is called a golden month. Armenia has tons to see and do. It will be less crowded as well since school starts and most tourist have already left town. The people are very welcoming and super friendly, the food is great and there is tons to do.