Myself and Phil went to Georgia and Istanbul on honeymoon last month, so I’ve decided to focus this blog post on Istanbul, because honestly, both places need their own blog post.
I’ll start by telling you to pack your bags and go to Istanbul, immediately! I can’t recommend it enough. Unfortunately we were only there for 3 nights, which was not enough time, and we have both said we would love to go back sometime.
Istanbul is a fantastic city, with stunning architecture and a very rich history. There’s no shortage of amazing things to see and do here. It’s also pretty cool that the city is split between Asia and Europe. It’s the only city in the world that straddles two continents! While more of Istanbul is positioned in Asia, all of the main tourist attractions are on the European side, so many tourists who go to Istanbul will remain only on the European side.
The most iconic building in Istanbul is of course, The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or The Blue Mosque as it is known as around the world. The Blue Mosque still functions as a mosque, but tourists are also allowed to go inside. The Blue Mosque was built in the 1600’s and is famous for the blue tiles used in the interior of the mosque. The main distinctiveness of the Blue Mosque is that it was the first mosque with 6 minarets (usually mosques have 5 minarets).
The mosque is opened to the public, however, it does close for short periods during prayer time, as it is an active mosque. If you are visiting, make sure you are dressed appropriately; women must have their hair covered and also their knees, and men should be wearing long pants and not shorts. You can get hair covers and wraps to put around your waist outside the mosque, if you are not dressed appropriately. You also have to take your shoes off before entering the mosque. Once inside, you should keep your shoes off and keep your hair/knees covered. I saw some women take the hair covering off once they got inside, which is pretty disrespectful. You can take pictures inside, but you should refrain from taking pictures of people who are worshiping.
Unfortunately, both myself and Phil left the Blue Mosque feeling very underwhelmed. I had been so excited to see it, but it was under construction, so, while we were allowed in, many parts of it were covered by huge tarps, we didn’t really even see the blue tiles that it is so famous for. It does, however, give me an excuse to go back and see it some day!
Hagia Sophia is directly across from the Blue Mosque and is well worth the visit. Hagia Sophia used to be a church, then became a mosque and is now a museum and it’s truly impressive inside. It has been a museum since 1935 . It is home to some wonderful mosaics, from the 10th and 12th centuries, which were subsequently plastered over once it became a mosque; a large number of the mosaics were only uncovered in 1930’s.
Islam is the largest religion in Istanbul, and there are mosques dotted across the city as far as the eye can see. One of the most memorable moments for me, was when we were at the top of Galata Tower, during the evening call to prayer. I have heard call to prayer before, but never in such a way, from so many mosques at one time. It was really amazing to hear the call to prayer ring out from across the entire city at one time, and we were so lucky to be at the top of Galata Tower at that time.
We crossed over the to the Asian side of Istanbul for two things; 1) to visit Dolmabahçe Palace and 2) to do a street food tour. There is a ferry terminal where you can take ferries across the Bosphorus Strait to get to Dolmabahçe Palace and the Asian side of Istanbul. The ferry journey to the palace took about 15 minutes, and then it was about a 15 minute walk from the ferry terminal. Get on the ferry at Eminonu and get off at Kabataş if you’re going to Dolmabahçe Palace. You should buy a metro card beforehand, you can buy them in most convenience stores or kiosks near the ferry terminal.
Dolmabahçe Palace is so opulent, I think it’s the most stunning palace I’ve ever visited (and I’ve been to Versailles!). You are not allowed to take pictures inside, which is such a pity because it’s so stunningly beautiful. We really enjoyed wandering around the inside the palace and imagining how the Ottoman Sultans lived there . It was really interesting and I would recommend a visit there.
During our street food tour, our Turkish guide told us that because the Asian side doesn’t really have many tourist attractions, you don’t find many tourists there, and it’s mainly just locals. The street food tour that we did was amazing and our guide was fantastic. She brought us around to local markets where local people were just doing their grocery shopping and going about their everyday lives. The food we tasted was all insanely good. That’s another reason I would highly recommend Istanbul, the food is delicious! We had 6 or 7 stops on the food tour, and we were so full afterwards, we could barely move! We tasted the best kebabs ever, from the store that created the Iskender Kebab, we had stuffed mussels, lamb intestines, baklava, manti (Turkish dumplings) and more. I also tried Turkish coffee for the first time during the tour, and fell in love with it. All in all, the tour was fantastic and if you are in Istanbul, I really recommend that you do it – make sure you are hungry though!! After our food tour, we then stayed on the Asian side for some drinks, there is a vast array of cool restaurants and bars on that side! The food tour, and the are we stayed for drinks was about a 10 minute walk from Kadikoy ferry terminal.
Taxim Square is another good area to hang out and check out some bars and restaurants. We noticed that many places didn’t have alcohol on the menu, but they would serve alcohol, so just ask them. However, there are some dry restaurants, and we did accidentally end up in one on our last night. We went to a place near our hotel, and we should have realized when we asked if they had beer and they responded with “no beer”, however we saw cocktails on the menu so we thought they served alcohol. It turned out that the cocktails were actually mocktails, so no drinks for us with that meal! However, the food was delicious so we didn’t mind. If are hoping for a drink with your meal, it’s best to check with them first!
We stayed in Lazzoni Hotel while we were there, which is a 5 star hotel (it was our honeymoon after all) and if you are looking for luxury, I can’t recommend it enough. It was fabulous, so luxurious and beautiful. Our room was gorgeous and the whole hotel is so well designed and furnished. The food was delicious, and the breakfast was out of this world, there was so much choice it was unbelievable! Its located in Beyoğlu, which is a great area, however, the hotel isn’t really in walking distance to much so you will have to take taxis. However, Istanbul is so so cheap, especially if you are converting from Euro, so taxis won’t cost you much!
Overall we really enjoyed Istanbul and will definitely return at some point in the future to explore further. Our only bad memory of Turkey will be the issues we faced with Turkish Airlines – you can read about that saga here!
Top Tips for Istanbul
- If you have time to kill in the airport, or your flight is delayed, you should definitely take advantage of the IGA lounge. It is worth every penny (59euro). It’s really nice, has decent food and drinks (which you can help yourself to for as long as you are there) and it has really nice showers. In the showers they provide you with a little kit that contains a travel toothbrush, toothpaste, shower gel, shampoo and body lotion and slippers! We were very impressed with the lounge and used it during our stopover from Ireland to Georgia.
- Don’t get sucked in at the airport by the people at the tourists desks! If they approach you and ask where you are going – don’t tell them. We were exhausted and made that mistake, so the guy took us to a transport desk within the airport that then arranged our transport to and from our hotel, which all sounds lovely, but they charge exorbitant prices. Then, after paying so much money, the driver proceeded to fuel up, drop his friend off at a different side of the airport and then drop his boss off at home – all before bringing us to our hotel!
- Don’t trust sheisty taxi drivers. Always make sire the meter is on before the taxi starts the journey. We forgot to this one day so he just charged us whatever he wanted, it turned out to be a very expensive 10 minute taxi journey, and he didn’t even drop us where we wanted to go!
- Please try Turkish coffee, even if you aren’t a coffee drinker. You can add some sugar which makes it sweeter and delicious! The sugar has to be added while the coffee is being prepared, not after it’s ready, so make sure to tell them you want some sugar in it when you order the coffee
- For the love of god eat all the Turkish Delight, because it is truly delightful. If, like me, you remember that weird jelly substance from Cadbury’s that was called Turkish Delight, and it makes you shudder, please don’t worry, real Turkish Delight is nothing like that, and it’s an excellent accompaniment to your Turkish coffee!
- I had read a lot about Istanbul before going there and many articles referred to the way women should dress while there. I didn’t cover up in any particular way, and I saw many women there wearing shorts/ short skirts and summer clothes without issue.
Until next time 🙂