I’ve always heard stories about Istanbul from the Turkish side of my family. However I didn’t want biased opinions on the country, so decided to spend a week in Istanbul to check everything out myself. I even took a notebook with me everywhere I went to write down thoughts and points of interests. That’s dedication to journaling haha.
Let’s start with accommodation, I stayed at an Air BnB in Taksim Square. You’ll recognise the zone as being one of the most visited plazas in the city. Sure it was a little noisy but there was everything I needed literally at my doorstep. You can expect to find plenty of shops, restaurants and leisurely activities here. As mentioned in previous posts, I do tend to enjoy walking on my holidays, so don’t mind how far something is located, but the steep steps around Taksim Square meant each journey took a little longer than stated in Google Maps.
For example, from my accommodation, it took me about an hour to walk to the Grand Bazaar. The name says it all. This market is sensational. Not only is the architecture impressive, the amount of variety here will keep you entertained for hours. Yes, there is a lot of repetition in product type but this didn’t distract from the sheer amount of choice. Definitely try to haggle with prices though, as you’ll end up paying excessive amounts for an item which can be purchased cheaper a few stalls down. My weakness was bags and bags of spices. I never knew just how many different types existed. These made great gift ideas, as many stalls offered to flat-pack the spices meaning hardly any room was taken up in my suitcase. I also picked up some handmade soaps and boxes of Turkish delight (although it turns out I only like the ones that are covered in chocolate haha).
You can’t go to Istanbul without checking out the Blue Mosque. However, just a heads up to female travellers that you won’t be allowed inside without a covering. Once you meet the entry requirements of covering your hair and ensuring clothing is modest, you’ll be asked to remove your shoes. The mosque was impressive from the outside, so you don’t have to see the interior if you don’t want to but I recommend doing so. By going inside, I was able to learn about the history from locals who were more than happy to answer questions.
Some other activities I did involved visiting a Turkish bath (you will not believe the amount of force used to scrub), a professional photography experience, eating at ‘360 Istanbul’ with a view of the entire city and checking out the local football stadiums. I also got ice-cream from the traditional stands almost daily because the whole process is such a show. I’m sure you’ve seen the videos of stall owners playing around with the cone, teasing customers. It’s completely worth the laughs, plus the actual ice-cream is pretty good too. With my time in Istanbul, I didn’t have any set plans. Instead, I just tried out different things which caught my eye whilst strolling around, apart from the photography experience which I booked with Air BnB before I arrived.
My lack of research lead to some stressful moments though. That’s why I urge you to read this next paragraph on things I wish I knew before visiting. Firstly, I found gluten-free food difficult to locate in restaurants so bring your own snacks if you have intolerances like I do. Turkish food, like any Mediterranean diet, features a lot of salads and other vegetables in grilled form so you may be okay there. You should also be okay with most grilled meats, however be careful when ordering rice from menus. In Turkey, rice is often cooked with vermicelli which isn’t always gluten-free. Secondly, I didn’t know I needed a visa to enter when booking my flight. It was a simple process and only took 5 minutes but double check entry requirements! The price was around 20 dollars at time of writing. Finally, female travellers, from my experience I could have brought more lengthy dresses with me, as even some knee-length dresses resulted in uncomfortable glances. I purchased a few maxi dresses on the second day of my trip and felt less anxious, and much more respectful, as a result.
Would I visit Istanbul again? Absolutely. This city has a lot to offer. So much so, I often found myself waking up at 5 am just so I could fit in as much sight-seeing as possible. I’m an early bird anyway, but wanting to be out the door by 5.30 to explore should give you a good indication of how much I enjoyed my time here.
Until then, see you in the next post