Istanbul was an interesting city to explore, and my first visit to Turkey. As I’ve not been travelling so much recently due to Covid restrictions, and having been to fairly safe countries recently, it seemed all my travel sense and knowledge went out the window. I was conned twice, and I wish I had prepared a lot more before taking the trip. So make sure you keep your wits about you.
There is quite a lot of beauty in the city, but I'll admit it's not my favourite destination. Apart from tourist scams I felt safe to walk around, even late at night.
The nightlife was buzzing, even during the Covid 19 pandemic, so there's lots of bars, restaurants and clubs for all kinds of tastes.
Make sure you have your travel head on whilst walking around Istanbul! I wish I had researched beforehand. If you’re travelling from the airport then I suggest public transport. If this is not possible then arrange for a private pick up. The taxi drivers can overcharge you even if you negotiate a price beforehand. I negotiated a reasonable price, but once at my destination, the taxi driver who spoke very little English insisted that I had to pay over double the original price due to bad traffic and toll bridges. I had no option but to pay.
Be aware of anyone approaching you on the street. All through the day you’ll have people complimenting you and offering to give local advice. I was fooled by this as I ended up talking to two guys for 30 minutes before being asked if I was interested in art. I wanted to remain polite so agreed to see their artwork, but I was taken to a carpet shop. The owner then tried for some time to sell me overpriced carpets. I was able to refuse buying a carpet much to the anger of the shop owner, but I was then taken to a Turkish delight shop by my new “friends” and was charged £50 for the local delicacy. The men who do this will earn commission if you buy the overpriced items from the shop you’re taken to.
If you want to buy anything, do so of your own accord and don’t feel pressured to buy. Don’t worry about offending or not being polite, be prepared to flatly refuse if they are charging you a high price. Always offer a lower price then what is asked for.
Another stunning mosque in the city of Istanbul, Hagia Sophia is located opposite to the Blue Mosque and with the best photo opportunities also from Sultan Ahmet Park. It dates back to 537 as the patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople, but it was later turned into a mosque by the Ottoman Empire. During most of the 20th century it was used as a museum, and in 2020 has once again become a mosque. It’s worth taking a look inside, and I actually found the interior here more impressive than the Blue Mosque, but that may be due to the Blue Mosque being under refurbishment.
Most commonly referred to as the Blue Mosque, its real name is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. You’ll no doubt come across many mosques whilst in the city of Istanbul, but this is certainly one of the most impressive. It gets its name due to the blue tiles decorating the interior. It’s is free to enter, but you may not be allowed in during prayer time.
There are several spots to get a good photo of the exterior, but I’d recommend doing so from a nearby rooftop restaurant, or Sultan Ahmet Park.
The tower dates back to medieval times and it has stayed in surprisingly great condition to this day. You’ll come across this in the Karakoy area of Istanbul, but it can be seen from a distance in many other parts of the city.
Once used as a prison the tower now houses a restaurant, café and night club. If you choose to enter you’ll get some wonderful views of the city.
I found this to be one of the most interesting sights to see in Istanbul. It won’t take you too long to go around but it’s definitely worth checking out. There are actually hundreds of ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul, but this is the largest. It was built during the Byzantine empire in the 6th century, and is in surprisingly good condition.
You’re able to walk around and see the various columns in low lit lighting, but the most impressive columns are that of the weeping column and the upside-down head of Medusa.
One of the most popular sights in Istanbul is the Grand Bazaar. You’ll find all sorts of items here, from traditional souvenirs to more obscure items. If you’re prepared to haggle you can get a good price, and many of the stalls here sell good quality items. Just be cautious of the items which are not such good quality.
It’s one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, and it’s very easy to get lost as you explore the various twists and turns. Although the Grand Bazaar is the covered area, there are many other market stalls surrounding this area which are also worth exploring.
One of the most impressive sights I found in Istanbul was the Maidens Tower. You’ll see this situated on a tiny island in the middle of the sea between the Eastern and Western parts of the city. It’s close to the eastern side, so if you want a better look or to take a boat to the tower, that’s the side you’ll need to be at.
The tower itself dates back to the 4th century and has been used for many different purposes over the years including defense, a lighthouse and even a tax collection center. There’s also a legend about a Nun living in the tower who would light it so her lover could find his way to her. Until the fateful night a storm blew out the light and her lover lost his way and drowned.
Nowadays the tower has a restaurant and café, and can be visited via boat.