Istanbul Visit Was Delightful:
Our first visit to Istanbul was a runaway success! We spent a bit over a week exploring just part of this humongous and absolutely fascinating city. We only got to experience just a bit, which was nice as it keeps you wanting to come back for more. The people were extremely friendly and helpful. I had previously been to Istanbul, but it was only a 24 hour layover. You will agree with us that Istanbul is a turkish delight and not just because of the candy.
l wanted to experience the city with my husband so l did not go sight seeing. As luck would have it, shortly after, Turkish Airlines had a €99 round trip fare that we took advantage of. Yeah :-). It’s always a good idea to search for deals. I like to use Skyscanner (putting everywhere as the destination, so that you get loads of deal fares). Hopefully, you will agree with me that Istanbul is a Turkish delight for sure. It’s full of yummy goodness.
How To Get to Istanbul Turkey:
The new Istanbul International Airport is located in the Anavutkoy district of the European side of Istanbul. It replaces the previous one in Ataturk. Turkish Airlines is the national airline of Turkey and has a hub at the airport. Direct flights to Istanbul is plentiful from different countries in the world. Low cost carriers fly to Istanbul as well.
Istanbul tourism has suffered recently, thanks to the most terrorist attack at the old Ataturk airport as well as continued political unease and public protests at Taksim Square. My feelings about fear ruling your world can be found on this post, so l won’t delve into it too much here. The world as a whole is becoming a boilerplate and you can either live your life or hide in fear. I choose the former.
Where to stay in Istanbul Turkey:
Our hotel in Istanbul:
We stayed in Sultanahmet Square, the old part of the city at this wonderful place called the Basileus Hotel. I had done my due diligence and ultimately chose this place, thanks to the great reviews that it had. I can only tell you that everything you read about it is true! It is a little family run hotel that is situated close to the Blue Mosque and the AyaSofia (Hagia Sophia). Very convenient as far as getting to the tourist destinations.
The room was a good size, all the little touches were welcome, they even gave you little slippers. We always end up sharing as Federico always forgets to pack his :-). The owners are so nice and they make you feel like family. This l suspect is the secret of their success.
Turkish Delight Istanbul:
One can not visit Istanbul and not try the candy that Turkey is famous for. Turkish Delight or Lokum can be found almost anywhere in the city. From airports to stalls on the side of the road. To truly enjoy some of the best flavors though, it’s best to go to a Lokum store for variety.
What is Turkish Delight?
Turkish Delight is a dense, jelly like candy made by boiling cornflour and sugar syrup over low heat for several hours and flavoured with rosewater or citrus juice. A variety of nuts, mints, fruit etc. are then added and moulded to for a square candy. Delicious.
We enjoyed sampling turkish delight at the store below in the bazaar called Last Ottoman. In addition to the candy, they also had a nice selection of spices and dried fruit. It was a warm and inviting store and the prices were fair.
Another famous store in Istanbul that sells Lokum is the family run Altan Şekerleme (Candyland) which is located close to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar. We didn’t have enough time to visit there after our visit to the bazaar because the stores were closing up. Our friend from the hotel assures us that is one of the local favourites where you’re sure to discover a new love for turkish delight.
Federico really loved the orange in addition to the walnut and cream flavoured ones. Mine was hazelnut and the pistachio. You have to try the double dipped pistachio ones, it’s to die for. We gorged on pistachio nuts too because they are pretty pricey where we live.
One of the uncles (part hotel owner) gave us a great evening walking tour of the city. We ended up eating kebab at his favorite restaurant. This was after we had first gone to this restaurant whose name eludes me, but they are famous for their roasted lamb slow cooked in a pit/well for hours. It comes served just on the bread, nothing else, so you get to taste the lamb and its natural juices. It was lovely. We must have walked at least 4 miles that Friday night, and never feared for our safety. Not then, not even when we were alone. I was very surprised at how safe it is.
The city of Istanbul is alive 24 hours a day it seems. My theory is that because it is a largely Muslim country, liquor is not readily available, and that factor eliminates your typical drunken behaviour. What a pleasant surprise! By the way, at the end of every meal, they serve you tea, which is great, as it aids with digestion. Ask for the apple one. It is so very good. I’m not usually a big fan of tea after a meal, but that?, l could drink a gallon.
What to see in Istanbul (Istanbul Itinerary):
- Egyptian Bazaar
- The Blue Mosque
- The Bosporus River
- Grand Bazaar
- Basilica Cistern
- Sultanahmet Square
- Taksim Square
- Hagia Sophia
The above list is what l consider the not to miss places in Istanbul. There are o course others such as other famous mosques, Topkapi Palace, Dolmabahce Palace, Galata Tower, not to mention the spice markets. There is plenty to occupy your Turkey vacation.
Weather in Istanbul Turkey:
The average weather in Istanbul is about 57 degrees average. The summer months can be quite warm and humid. The best time to visit Istanbul is April, May, September and October when the weather is pleasant. The weather in Istanbul when we visited in December was wonderful for the first 4 days, then it turned cold and windy. I didn’t mind too much though. I like bundling up. Istanbul is a very liveable city, and one that l could see myself living in easily.
We ate a lot..most especially a whole lot of seafood (our favorite!) and lamb kebab. We didn’t drink too much as a lot of places only serve soft drinks, being a Muslim country. The usual touristy places had alcohol though, but we avoided them mostly so we could get a more local experience.
We like to eat like the locals, because not only is it usually cheaper, l think more authentic taste that doesn’t cater to the masses. We enjoyed checking out the bazaars and l got a pretty good deal on a designer imitation bag for my sister.
In no particular order, here are some of the places we enjoyed visiting in Istanbul.
One of the most known and visited place in Istanbul. Site of many protests and government disruptions. I highly recommend finding out if any protests are scheduled, and if so, avoid venturing there then. It is chaotic. There are lots of hotels, bars, nightclubs and theatres in the area and it seems to be a happening place.
In the center of Taksim square stands the Independence Monument made by an Italian sculptor. It pays tribute to the founder of the Republic namely Ataturk. Did you know the name Taksim means distribution?
We imagined ourselves as Bond in Skyfall and Liam Neeson in Taken 2, riding and running on the roofs. We took lots of pictures. Both movies had recently been filmed there and the Grand Bazaar areas. Lots of locals were still talking about it. Apparently, a lot of the traders were paid handsomely as they shut down the place to film. Nothing like a paid vacation :-).
We highly recommend taking the Viator Big Bus Hop on, Hop off bus whilst there. It is just too big a city to try and take cabs everywhere or even do the trains if you are unfamiliar, and you see pretty much everything, including the Asian side after crossing the river. This way, you have a good idea of places you want to see further.
Thousands of years old history as it passed back and forth between religions. A small group experience with a knowledgeable guide walks you through historic places suchs as Hagia Sofia, as well as Topkapi Palace and four other sites, and includes a three course lunch. It’s a perfect way to enjoy Istanbul with people with a passion. Book your tour here to experience the rich history.
The biggest bazaar of them all. It is like a small city inside it, and quite easy to get lost. No matter what you’re looking for, you’re sure to find it here. From food to clothing and souvenirs. A definitely must visit in Istanbul.
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Bosphorous Boat Ride:
An awesome way to see the city from a different angle. There are numerous cruise boats offering rides around the river. I have to say it is a beautiful thing to see the bridge from under. A nice way to spend an afternoon and seeing the when the sun is going down like we did is definitely worth it.
The grounds are stunning and we enjoyed meandering. You get great views of the palace as well as the views across the river. The interior of the palace though was not to my liking, a lot of pink! I’ve never understood why royal families were obsessed with all shades pink. It kind of reminded me of Versailles color scheme wise, but not in grandeur.
The largest of the ancient cisterns that number hundreds and were beneath the city when Istanbul was still called Constantinople. It can hold over 100,000 tons of water but now has just a little bit with huge koi fish swimming lazily about. It was an enjoyable little tour. Read about our Cistern visit here.
One of the largest bazaars in Istanbul is the famous spice bazaar located in Eminonu quarter and is also called the Egyptian market. It is the second most visited bazaar and worthy of a visit. We picked up some saffron there too. Built in 1664 and is a colorful market thanks to all the spices and turkish delight amongst other offerings.
One of the best things to visit in Istanbul. It is an absolutely gorgeous mosque. Make sure to find out when they have services as the mosque is closed to visitors then. Read all about this most famous icon of Istanbul on our Blue Mosque Visit
What to eat in Istanbul:
We went to so many places to eat, and everything was delicious. We forgot to take pictures. We ate a lot of grilled meats, Kebabs and seafood. Sometimes hunger takes precedence over images :-), but here are some. Vegetarian food in Istanbul is a given, and you will be spoiled for choice. A street food tour of Istanbul is the best way to enjoy all the city has to offer.
Some of the must try Turkish food in Istanbul are:
- Menemen – a Turkish style omelette
- Kuyu Kebab – goes without saying. A staple Turkish food and delicious. The kuyu (which means well) type kebab is a whole lamb without the organs cooked in a hole or over a charcoal fire and covered with pine tree branches to enhance the flavour. Truly wonderful and one of the most delicious things we had on our Istanbul walking tour with the lovely uncle from the hotel.
- Adan Kebap – skewered kebab served with thin pita with onions and tomatoes. Yummy!
- Manti – Turkish ravioli and served with cold yogurt topping. Federico liked it but l didn’t. Reminded me too much of gnocchi which l hate.
- Meze – Turkish appetizers, sort of like tapas and consists of little portions of food like fried eggplant with tomato sauce, pinto beans, hummus etc.
Tea in Istanbul is a staple and freely given out , even at shops. We couldn’t get enough of it. The high point to any meal is a cup or two of this delicious tea that helps you digest your food. Mae sure to sample some on your Istanbul visit.
Is Istanbul Worth Visiting?
A resounding YES! A visit to the wonderful city of Istanbul should be on everyone’s bucket list. It is so worth it. There is so much history and beauty in this ancient city. Our visit barely scratched the surface and it’s the kind of city that leaves you wanting more. We will surely be back to Istanbul, as well as other places in Turkey.
Is Istanbul safe to visit in 2019?
I will answer with a question. Is any place safe to visit in this day and age? You never know what life has in store for you. As l see it, one has two choices, cower and let the minority terrorists win, or keep on traveling and enrich your life. Your call.
Inspired to pin it to your bucket list?
Have you ever been to Istanbul? If yes, how did you like it? If not, have l convinced you to add it to your bucket list of places to visit?