Istanbul, a city straddling both Europe and Asia is amazing and intoxicating in so many ways as there's a huge mix of old vs new combined with a plethora of cultural sights, tastes and sounds. 48 hours might sound like way too little time in this extremely popular city, but we'll try our best & pick the best things to do while visiting!
Firstly, go visit the Sultanhamet area where there are plenty of attractions and something for everyone to go see. We enjoyed a simit from a street vendor around the area before checking out the sights, which is essentially like a turkish pretzel and as always I enjoyed the chocolate flavoured ones!
Topkapi palace was once the home of the Ottomon sultans and all the stunning & intricate tiling details certainly lead you to think so. During your visit inside the palace you can view the rod of Moses here, although I must say I was slightly dubious looking at the rod as it looked way to clean & polished! As with any attraction it definitely pays to purchase your entrance ticket beforehand so you can fast track your way in instead of waiting around in queues!
Hagia Sofia has a particularly interesting history as it was formerly a Christian place of worship and then converted into a Islam place of worship as the years went by and change in religion came through Turkey. I personally loved the interior although was a bit sad to see some restoration work going on while we were there so there were bits that were covered and obscured but it was still so stunning!
The Blue mosque, and aptly named with the blue tiles on the interior of the mosque was the last of the attractions that we visited while in the area. You'll need to remove your shoes before entering (there are plastic bags provided for you to put your shoes in if you're uncomfortable about leaving your shoes outside the entrance) and if you are a female you also need to cover your hair. Don't fret too much if you don't have a scarf of your own to cover your head as they provide head coverings for you to be able to enter. Of course this goes without saying but you'll also need to be modestly dressed & bare shoulders should also be covered. Also note visiting times are in between prayer times so remember to make a note of the prayer times before trying to visit otherwise you might be thoroughly disappointed!
A hamam is something that can't be missed while visiting Turkey and as experiences go, one not to miss in during your trip in Istanbul. We indulged in a hamam at Ayasofya around the Sultanhamet area which is indeed a tourist mecca however it's the best introduction to the Turkish way of hamam-ing. It really is one of the top spa experiences in Istanbul so not surprising to say it is also one of the most beautiful ones around! Once you've finished your hamam (we recommend you book in advance to ensure a spot) you'll feel so relaxed and super squeaky clean! We didn't want to travel far after our hamam so we popped over the The Han Restaurant for some local Turkish food - they even have a dedicated gozleme lady there who makes it fresh, definitely something that needs to be ordered if she's around!
Enjoy a borek with a turkish coffee while you're have an early breakfast - go where the locals hang out at the waterfront branch of assk kahve, a super cute and quirky cafe with both indoor and outdoor seating - we definitely recommend spending a meal here!
We recommend to venture out to the Grand Bazaar and Spice markets relatively early before the busloads of crowds swarm down into the markets. Although the Grand Bazaar & spice markets is an exquisite place to visit, I particularly was not a fan of the vendors saying a mix between 'ni hao', 'konichiwa' and ah yeong ha sei yo' to try & attract our attention. I did however pick up 2 wonderful turkish towels for a really decent price at these markets, just note a tonne of stalls sell these towels but remember to look around with a sharp eye to pick up ones that aren't just the run off the mill towels!
If it's your lucky day you'll be able to find the stairs that lead to the rooftops as shown in Taken 2 and Skyfall. Apparently it's not entirely legal to get up on these stairs as I do imagine it would be quite dangerous if you don't have the best of balance with the rickety roof tiles and all but if it's something you'd love to do ask around a few of the shopkeepers within the bazaar and they may point you in the right direction as we were so lucky to be pointed to!
As you can see you get incredible views of Istanbul & the Hagia Sofia from the top of these rooftops!
While you're around the area, pick up a incredibly tasty kebab from the corners of the market. If you're adventurous why not try the kokorec kebab - smells delicious and lots of locals were queuing up for it but we weren't gutsy enough for it, although we've been told it's absolutely amazing! Turkish ice cream is also a popular street delicacy, the texture sticky & completely different to what you would expect. The vendors make a bit of a mockery of you before they serve it to you which is quite entertaining although I didn't fancy having to beg for my food so we gave this a miss!
Walk across the galata bridge where you get to see all the fishermen fish off the side of the bridge. we were recommended to have a fish burger, but only do this if you don't mind digging fish bones out of your bun while eating! heading up the galata tower is also an option to get a fantastic view of the bosphorous and istanbul all at one shot but unfortunately we didn't have time to get around to this!
Legend is that if you looked into the eyes of Medusa you'd be immediately turned into stone. Fortunately, that won't actually happen when you head to the Basilica Cistern under the city of Istanbul and instead you can see two stone carvings of her head on the bottom of the columns at the far end of the cistern.
In the evening take a cruise down the bosphorous - you get to see the east & west of turkey while cruising down. you can typically catch people feeding birds off the back of the boat - makes for a great photo when you see it in action!
We all know going for a shisha and enjoying an apple tea is definitely a past time while in Turkey, and how can you resist with sweet smell of the shisha wafting in the air as you walk past! Our friend who lived there took us to a popular local haunt: Ali Baba Nargile & showed us the true local experience while playing some backgammon.
Before we knew it that was our time in Istanbul and we could have easily stayed 1 or 2 more days to slowly enjoy all the sights and sounds of Istanbul, but we were keen to get to Cappadocia - watch this space for our next post!
We Flew: Turkish Airlines, We Stayed: Our mates place!