This summer we spent two weeks exploring Turkey with Intrepid Travel on their Real Turkey tour … and all we can say is wow. If we had to choose one country that has exceeded all our expectations it has got to be Turkey – and Istanbul is now up there as one of our favourite cities we have ever explored.
As the tour started in Istanbul, we decided to arrive a few days early to explore as much as the city as we could – and we could have easily spent a further week or two here!
After spending two days experiencing as much of Istanbul as we could, we have come up with 15 things that you must do during a visit to Istanbul.
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1. Explore The Grand Bazaar
This is one of the largest and oldest covered bazaars in the world, with over 60 streets and alleys and 4,000 shops – it is a shoppers paradise!
When stepping inside for the first time we had prepared ourselves to be bombarded with locals wanting to sell us stuff, but our experience was the complete opposite. The sellers were gentle and kind. If we looked lost they asked us what we were after and would direct us to where we needed to go. We could have easily spent hours exploring the little stores and cute alleys full of dreamy Turkish lights & carpets.
2. Attempt to Order Turkish Ice Cream
Turkish ice cream, called dondurma, is not your typical ice cream. What makes it different from others is that it has quite a sticky texture and is more resistant to melting.
The stickiness of the ice cream allows the Turkish ice cream vendors to go for a… ‘unique’ approach, should we say, when it comes to how they serve their ice cream. If you haven’t seen our We Tried Turkish Street Food YouTube video yet, we highly recommend you do just to see these ice cream vendors at work!
3. Visit Hagia Sophia
This architectural wonder has had quite the long history. It gone from being an Eastern Orthodox cathedral, to Roman Cathedral, back to Eastern Orthodox cathedral, to mosque, and is now a museum!
It may not look as grand as the Blue Mosque from the outside, but you must go inside to take in the heavenly domes and ancient mosaics covering its interior.
Price: 40 Lira
4. Eat a Balik Ekmek under the Galata Bridge
Balik ekmek, literally translating to fish bread, is a cheap, traditional sandwich composed of grilled fish, onions, tomato and lettuce. The most famous place to try one is from boats in Eminönü beside Galata Bridge.
Once you order it you must wash the sandwich down with pickle juice! We tried it, so you have to, too!
5. Experience a Traditional Turkish Bathhouse
If you are looking for a place to relax and unwind than you should go get scrubbed in a hamam. Traditionally, you will need to get naked and relax in a steam room laying on hot marble, before a brisk soapy body scrub, followed by a sultan’s massage until you skin is soft & smooth.
If you are wanting to visit one of the oldest in the city we recommend Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamam.
Price: Ranges anywhere between 20 to 150 Euro depending on treatment & the hamam you choose.
6. Sunset at Galata Tower
The Galata Tower is one of the best spots in town to get a 360 panoramic view of Istanbul. We suggest you head there for sunset as Turkey has some of the best sunsets we have ever witnessed! Just be warned, the lines here can get super long, so make sure you give yourself enough time to line up before the sun begins to set.
Price: 25 Lira
7. Drink a lot of Turkish Coffee
We love Turkish coffee! It is amazing how much preparation can go into such a small cup – but we are obsessed!
One of our favourite spots to have a proper traditional Turkish coffee is Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi in Eminönü near the Spice Bazaar. Also, if you are wandering around the Grand Bazaar, stop by the Fes Cafe for a modern presentation of this traditional drink.
8. Take a Tram Through Istiklal Avenue
If you are looking for a shopping hub in the city we recommend checking out Taksim Square. Here you will find a bunch of restaurants, cafes, and all kinds shops and stalls. While there, why not jump on the old-school tram that takes you from Taksim to Istiklal. The tram runs straight down this extremely busy street, and is something we simply had to experience for ourselves.
9. Enjoy a Turkish Breakfast
Breakfast was our favourite meal of the day during our travels in Turkey. Breakfast here is a beautiful combinations of breads, jams, eggs, salads – literally you name it and they will be serving it for breakfast!
Our favourite breakfast spot in Istanbul is Van Kahvaltı Evi. The breakfast here is super cheap, delicious and plentiful.
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10. Eat all the Gözleme
This was our go-to snack throughout our time in Turkey, and you can find it everywhere. Similar to a crepe, this savoury Turkish flatbread is made from hand-rolled dough and is filled with all types of toppings, such as cheese, meat, vegetables and potatoes. Delicious!
11. Turkish Tea with a View
You can’t leave Turkey without having at least one cup of Turkish tea. In most shops, cafes and restaurants they will offer you Turkish tea – the hospitality here in Turkey is the best!
If you are looking for an amazing view point of Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque you need to check out Seven Hills Restaurant, order a hot Turkish tea and simply enjoy the 360° panoramic views.
12. Find a Simit Vendor
Another popular street food, typically eaten for breakfast, is simit. To describe it, it is basically half pretzel, half bagel and 100% tasty. It is the cheapest snack you can find here, consisting of a circular bread typically encrusted with sesame seeds. You can eat it plain, or with jam, cream cheese or nutella.
13. Enjoy The Spice Bazaar
This is the second largest covered market in Istanbul after the Grand Bazaar. Here you’ll be able to pick up spices, nuts, dried fruit, Turkish coffee, loose leaf tea, and delicious local Turkish desserts.
If you are looking for the best baklava in all of Istanbul make sure you take a visit to Karaköy Güllüoğlu located inside the Spize Bazaar. We recommend you order an assortment of flavours and enjoy them on the second level of the cafe where you can look down over the bazaar.
14. Visit the Blue Mosque
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or the Blue Mosque as it is commonly known, is one of the most picturesques mosques we have ever seen! It is made up of five main domes and six slender minarets, and the interior is decorated with over 20,000 handmade tiles all coloured blue.
We decided to get up bright and early and take some photos before the crowds gathered. Well worth the early wake up call!
When visiting the Blue Mosque, you are given a scarf to cover your head, but make sure you come dressed modestly for your visit.
Entrance here is free.
15. Cruise the Bosphorus
To truly take in Istanbul, we recommend jumping on a ferry and cruise along the Bosphorus. The ferry services are only 12 lira for an hour and a half guided tour. We suggest doing this one for sunset, as this is when the city really looks breathtaking.
Applying for an e-Visa
Applying for an e-Visa to Turkey is super simple. You used to be only able to purchase a tourist visa upon arrival, but the government decided to transition to e-Visas in 2015 to reduce waiting times at border crossings.
If eligible, approval is instantaneous – just make sure you print out your e-Visa before leaving for Turkey. Apply for your Turkey e-Visa here.
We had a little issue when entering Turkey, were we put the incorrect date of arrival on our visa application. This meant we had to wait until the clock struck midnight to be able to enter the country, as we had put down the 14th instead of the 13th. So just a heads up to make sure you read through your visa application thoroughly before sending it off, otherwise you may be made to purchase a second visa before being allowed to enter.
Where To Stay
Hotel Agan is located in Old City Sultanahmet, just a 5-minute walk from the Sirkeci Train Station. They have an outdoor terrace with Turkish cushions, free wifi, TVs and air conditioning. All rooms have private bathrooms.
Set in a 150-year old renovated Ottoman building, Régie Ottoman offers a chic restaurant with original mosaic artwork and accommodations combining modern amenities with an authentic atmosphere. The historic Sultanahmet area is a 10-minute walk away. Free wifi is included, as well as a full buffet breakfast.
Hotelfeatures a roof-top terrace with views of the Blue Mosque, and free Wi-Fi. The spacious rooms have traditional features and modern furnishings, with free wifi included. All rooms feature LCD satellite TVs and under-floor heating in all bathrooms. Breakfast is included, as well as a library, lounge area and fireplace for guests to enjoy.
Airbnb is also a great option when finding a place to stay in Istanbul. Get $55 off your first stay using this link!
READ MORE: TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN CAPPADOCIA, TURKEY
Thanks to Intrepid Travel for inviting Flying The Nest to experience their Real Turkey Tour, as always all opinions are our own.