Istanbul is one of world’s oldest and greatest cities. With more than 15m population it is also one of the most populous. We travelled there in April-May 2018 for 5 days. Most think six days are a couple days too many. I think it’ not enough.
There’s everything from UNESCO World Heritage sites to modern lifestyle. People are friendly, markets are lively, spaces and streets are full of character, mystique and graffiti and transportation varied. It is great for walking around, photography and food. Istanbul has something for everybody.
Here’s how we spent our time in Istanbul. You could do all of this in fewer days, but you won’t experience as much.
Summary: Arrive and Checkin, visit Golden Horn and Galata Bridge
We reached Istanbul early afternoon and headed straight for our hotel (Peradays - more about the hotel later). After checking in we headed out for a walk.
We were close to Istiklal Street and walked down to the Tunel to reach the Golden Horn and Galata Bridge.
We had dinner at the wonderful Merih restaurant. The food was local and homely. It was so good, we ended up having dinner there everyday we were in Istanbul.
Summary: Visit Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, Blue Mosque, Hippodrome and Galata Bridge
We headed to the Sultanhamet area of old Istanbul - home to the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque (which was unfortunately closed for renovation), the Basilica Cistern and Hippodrome. Keep a lot of time since the queues can get pretty long and it takes time to soak in the beauty and history of these places. Even though the Topkapi Palace is just next door, it’s best kept for another day.
Spend the evening bear the Galata Bridge. There’s lots of food (especially the fish sandwiches) and street photography opportunities here.
Summary: Visit Topkapi Palace, Hagia Irene, Chora Church, Fener/Balat areas and Galata Tower
We headed to the Topkapi Palace and Hagia Irene early morning and spent till lunch there. To completely explore the Palace would take up the whole day.
Post lunch we headed to the Chora Church and walked around the Fener and Balat neighbourhoods. These areas are completely off the tourist trail but gives a brilliant glimpse into local Istanbul life.
In the evening we headed up the Galata Tower. The best time to go up the tower is late evening just around sunset. The colours over Istanbul at this time are incredibly beautiful. The queues can get long, so best to be there with enough time on hand.
Summary: Bosphorus Cruise, visit Emirgan Park and Asian Istanbul
After 3 days of walking we took it light and went on a hop-on-hop-off Bosphorus cruise. There are cruises that stick to the water and travel quite a bit (including lunch). But the hop-on-hop-off allows to travel to the Asian side as well.
Our first stop was Emirgan Park to see tulips. It was the end of the season, so there weren’t many. Earlier in April it would have been awesome. We went over to the Asian side next, walked around a bit, had lunch and returned to our hotel.
Summary: Visit Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar
Our last full day was all about shopping at the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar, eating street food and the mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent.
Summary: Get a bath!
Our final day in Istanbul was all about relaxation. We headed over to the Suleymaniye Hamam for a scrub down. It was the most relaxing thing we could have done after walking endlessly for the last 5 days.
Our last lunch in Istanbul was at Hamdi Restaurant in Eminonu overlooking the Golden Horn.
Just before we started on our way to Goreme, we finished off in Istanbul with a cup of Turkish coffee at the inner court of Hazzopulo Pasajı (off Istiklal Street).
In terms of the basics, Peradays is the perfect stay. Just a 5 minute walk from Istiklal Street but very quiet and close to many great places to eat. (Will come back to this point a little later.) Public transportation is also a 5 minute walk to the nearest bus stop and around 15 minutes to Taksim and the Tunel from Beyoglu to Galata Bridge. Breakfast was great and traditional - just the way you should have it when travelling. We stayed on the top floor room with an attached balcony-terrace and access to the common terrace area which was an added bonus.
The best part of the stay though was not just the comfort or the food. It was Murat and Bora. They were in regular touch from the time I booked helping us through arrival and recommendations on things to do and places to eat at. They suggested the Merih restaurant just a couple of hundred meters away and we ended up having dinner there 4 of the 5 nights we were there. Homely food at a great price.
Murat helped us book our bus tickets to Goreme given we had a bit of a language problem and also suggested ways to plan our activities in Istanbul (including recommending the Suleymaniye hammam and hop-on-hop-off ferry from Kabatas to Emirgan Park and Asian Istanbul). Bora on the other hand was the best person to have a conversation with. We had a dinner with him at Merih and he introduced me to Raki (traditional Turkish liquor). He also shared a parting gift with us that is now gracing our living room.
Summarising, we couldn’t have picked a better place to stay when in Istanbul and we are sure of staying there again when we visit again. It’s like home in Istanbul.