I really liked Istanbul! Maybe it’s not the city I’ve always been drawn to (like London or Barcelona), but I go along with it when you say you must have been in Istanbul once. I’ve read a lot of useful things before what you need to know about Istanbul and now I’ve gathered all the information I need in this travel guide.
As always, remember that this is my personal opinion, based on the experiences I made there. As always, I would be very happy if you would write me more tips in the comments below if you have ever been to Istanbul. Who knows, maybe I will get there again sometime
It is relatively easy to get to Istanbul by plane from Europe. The somewhat less known airport “Sabiha Gökçen” (SAW) is to be recommended, since it is approached by the cheap airlines (easyjet, germanwings..). It is located on the Asian side of Istanbul. We ourselves flew with germanwings, because this airline offers the most flights within Germany and also relatively cheap. You can fly with germanwings from Berlin-Schönefeld, Dortmund, Hamburg, Cologne/Bonn, and Stuttgart to Istanbul. Disadvantage is that it is a little further away than the bigger and better known airport “Atatürk” (IST). However there are shuttle buses for “Sabiha Gökçen” that will take you to Taksim Square or to the harbour in Kadiköy. The whole thing is operated by the bus company Havaş . If you want to fly back, you should go to the place where you were let out. The buses will also return to the airport. (From Taksim Square every half hour.) One trip costs 13 TL.
We already found a real pearl at our accommodation. Via Booking.com we searched for hotels and accommodations on and around Taksim Square (thanks again for this great tip, Sera!!) and found the A Plus Residence. The good ratings and the description more than appealed to us. We paid a total of 464€ for one week, which was more than worth it for the location and the service. It was very close to Taksim Square, so we were always right in the middle of the action. The three hosts were super nice, always tried to fulfill all the wishes we had, were always there when you needed them and always asked if everything was to our satisfaction. We had a TV, a small fridge, free W-Lan and water (very important in Istanbul!) and a state-of-the-art air conditioning system. So if you want to spend a bit more on your accommodation, I would highly recommend the A Plus Residence.
Of course, the mosques are also part of the obligatory tour program in Istanbul. There is no getting around Islam when you are there. It is much more present than for example Christianity. Thus, for example, five times a day, there are loudspeakers throughout Istanbul calling for prayer. This always takes some minutes (by the way also at five o’clock in the morning, but one quickly gets used to it). We only managed two of the most important ones ourselves.
Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia) – Ayasofya Meydanı, Sultanahmet Fatih, 34400 Istanbul
Tram: T1 Sultanahmet
Admission: 30 TL = 10,70€ (July 2014)
Conclusion: We were glad that you were there once. However, we found the price quite steep, for Istanbul standards. They must have just raised it, because in all current travel guides and on the Internet a price of 20-25 TL was given. Nevertheless, it is an important place and a lot of information and movies that were shown there were even in English, which unfortunately is not self-evident. Nevertheless you should have a travel guide with you, which explains you exactly where everything is, since one walks otherwise nevertheless very helplessly by the area.
Sultanahmet Camii (Sultan Ahmed Mosque // Blue Mosque) – Sultan Ahmet Mh., Torun Sk No:19, 34400 Istanbul
Tram: T1 Sultanahmet
Conclusion: As this is still a used mosque and not a museum, the entrance was free. But there are also strict clothing rules here. Men have to wear long trousers and long shirts. Women wear long dresses (also not only 3/4 long) and long tops. Neckline must also be covered. A headscarf is also required. If you don’t have the clothes or forgot to put them on, you’ll also get clothes there (also if the staff finds that your clothes are still too revealing). But don’t worry, it looks super strict from the outside, but in the end it was enough that I wrapped the headscarf loosely around my head, just like the rest.
Even though the mosque is beautiful, I found the atmosphere a bit strange. There were separate areas – a prayer room and one where tourists can take their photos. Still, I don’t think it’s so nice to want to pray in peace and hear photo shots and “Ohhs” and “Ahhs” from next door all the time. Exactly the same I felt something deported. It was immediately made clear to us that the tourists are not allowed to enter the prayer rooms and get what they want to see in the other room (it was really only one room). Nevertheless it was an impressive building.
Not a mosque, but a palace:
Yerebatan Sarnıcı (Sunken Palace) – Alemdar Mh., Şeftali Sk No:6, Fatih, 34400 Istanbul
Tram: T1 Sultanahmet
Admission: 20 TL = 7,14€ (July 2014)
Conclusion: It’s easy to lure your friend to this palace, as both a James Bond and Jackie Chan movie were shot here. It’s literally a palace, which seems to be sunken, but of course it’s not real. It was built underground from the very beginning and served as a water reservoir for the Great Palace. It’s a really very impressive building (not only because movies were shot here, too), as the columns, which come from different monasteries, are all illuminated and it just looks breathtaking. Unfortunately, the price on the internet and the travel books were not right, which is why we were surprised by the price again.
Who really wants to get the feeling of life of the city, far away from tourist attractions and sights, I would recommend to go into smaller alleys or to look for a nice corner at the Bosporus. However, on the page in the district Beyoğlu. There it is not so crowded with tourists and many Turks go there themselves. There are many “beach-like” stalls. There you should sit in the seat cushions, drink Çay (Turkish tea) if you want to smoke a shisha and play backgammon. If you sit there like that, see how slowly the lights come on, reflected in the water, the sun slowly disappears behind the horizon and you still don’t feel a bit cold, but rather a pleasant warmth… believe me, this is the biggest one!
A big item on your list of things you should see in Istanbul are the bazaars. They are full and you have to be careful not to get ripped off, but they are definitely worth a visit. By the way, Coco once wrote a great article about bargaining and what you should pay attention to. If you really should visit a bazaar, this article is worth its weight in gold. There are two important bazaars that we have visited and which I present to you here.
Kapalı Çarşı (Great Bazaar) – Beyazit/İstanbul, Istanbul
Tram: T1 Beyazıt-Kapalıçarşı or Bus: İETT Beyazıt Otobüs Durağı
Conclusion: I imagined him a little differently than he was at the end. I imagined real stands, but in principle there were many, many shops next to each other. However, this is not meant to be negative now. It wasn’t that incredibly full. One could still move relatively freely. There was a lot to buy, but especially for tourists it was too expensive. So you should haggle here in any case and not accept the first price. It has a great atmosphere, but one already notices that it is rather oriented towards tourists.
Mısır Çarşısı (Egypt Bazaar // Spice Bazaar) – Rüstem Paşa Mahallesi, 34116 İstanbul
Tram: T1 Eminönü
Conclusion: A lot more full and cramped than the Great Bazaar, but also because it is much smaller. But for me it still had a lot more bazaar character. Everywhere stands with exotic spices and smells in the air. The locals buy here themselves and you can tell the difference. But it also happened relatively quickly. But I would recommend you to buy spices there, because they really sing very differently, compared to spices known to us.
Tram: T1 Eminönü
Price: 10 TL = 3,57 € (July 2014)
Conclusion: It is cheap and I was really looking forward to this trip, but you can’t get more than 90 minutes to sit on a ship. It was nice to look at, but unfortunately there were no explanations what exactly you saw there now. Neither in English, nor in Turkish. By the way, I would not get involved in any private trips that are offered. There one is often hewed only over the ear, since they are completely overpriced.
* Galat Tower (Galata kulesi)
Metro: M2 Şişhane
Conclusion: I wasn’t on the tower myself, so I couldn’t say anything about the price. Nevertheless, I would have liked to go there to have a nice view over Istanbul. You should expect 6-10€ at the entrance.
A tip that is apparently not so well known is the Princes Islands, in Turkish Adalar. This is a small archipelago, where the princes and princesses were sent in former times, if they had so to speak “Hausarest” – hence the name. For the Turks themselves, it is a popular excursion destination, if you are tired of the big city and want to have more of the holiday beach feeling. We ourselves were there twice, on two different islands. It was both times fantastically beautiful. Whether you want to swim (we recommend Heybeliada, because the water is cleanest here) or just want to explore the island and the monasteries, you can do everything here. There are also carriages that take you comfortably through the whole island. (About 25 TL cost) Apart from bicycles, they are the only means of transport, as cars are forbidden there. Only the police or transporters are allowed to use a car.
Departure from Istanbul is from the station Kabataş, which is also reached by tram T1. From there you get on the ferry, which takes about 60-90 minutes. The trip costs 6 TL = 2,14€ (July 2014).
Since we didn’t eat very often in the restaurant, but often in the supermarket or on the street, I don’t have so many tips for you. But a few and of course I like to share them with you!
Galata Konak Cafe
Bereketzade Mah. Hacı Ali Sk. No:2, 34420 Istanbul
Those who would like to have breakfast abroad should definitely go here. As the cafe has a roof terrace, one has a great view over Istanbul. In the menu there is typical European food, but also some Turkish specialities.
Medi Şark Sofrası
Kucuk Parmak KapI Sokak No: 46a, Istanbul
We found this restaurant by chance in a side street and it spoke to us immediately. Ivy hung from the ceiling and the waiter greeted us friendly. Everything looked super comfortable with the big oriental tables. The food was also plentiful and very cheap.
Asmalimescit Cad. No16/D | Beyoglu, Istanbul
A really typical meal (at least as far as starters are concerned) can be found here. The principle is very simple. The waiter comes with many starters on a trolley and you choose as many as you want (a starter costs about 7 TL). The nice thing is, it’s typical Turkish food, which you may not know yourself yet. The starters are then divided among the group. Then it goes on as usual with the main course!
Istanbul is relatively well connected. The most important train here is the T1, which takes you to all the important sights. A single trip costs the equivalent of 4 TL = 1,40€ (July 2014). But in the long run I recommend to take the Istanbulkart. This is a rechargeable card, where the first trip costs 2,15 TL = 76 Cent and the second trip within 2 hours costs 1,45 TL = 51 Cent. So it is considerably cheaper than in Germany. The only problem is that these are not season tickets. This means that you always pay 2.15 TL, regardless of whether you travel two stations or 20 stations. Sometimes a bit annoying if you really only travel a short distance. Getting the map is also a bit difficult. Most vending machines offer it, but they are often sold out. But you can also buy them at kiosks. You can easily find them if you look around for signs with Istanbulkart on them. But be careful! They wanted to cheat us by selling us two tickets. But you can also share a card as long as there is enough money on it. It is not necessary to get one card for each person. It cost us 20 TL, where 7 TL were credits. I think you can get it cheaper at vending machines, but we were glad that we finally had a card.
Soo! That was it. I put a lot of work into this post and of course I would be happy that the tips will help you. If you visit Istanbul and use my travel guide, I would be happy if you let me know!