I wasn’t in Istanbul that long so my sightseeing was limited. It was also raining for a good portion of my trip, and that also put a bit of a dent in some of my plans. I’ll list the major things I did and couldn’t do, and my brief thoughts on each.
- The New Star Alliance Lounge at LAX
- Turkish Airlines Business Class, LAX-IST on TK10
- Doubletree by Hilton Istanbul – Old Town
- Some of My Activities in Istanbul
- The Turkish Airlines Business Class Lounge in Istanbul
Istanbul On Bike (Bicycle Tour)
I mentioned before that I like to do bicycle tours in cities whenever possible because I think it’s a great way to explore a city, but I wasn’t able to because it got rained out.
My friend and I signed up for the Istanbul on Bike tour before my trip. We were told by email beforehand that the tour would be cancelled if it rained, but we had to wait for confirmation the day before the tour. I actually found that the company wasn’t particularly good about communication as their email address didn’t work when I tried to contact them and only ended up getting a hold of them from their Facebook page. I can’t really provide a review, but I’m bummed that I didn’t have a chance to go.
Istanbul Eats Culinary Backstreets Walks
I like food, so I decided to sign up for a walking food tour. Trip Advisor lists several different companies that provide this service so I picked one of the highest rated ones called Istanbul Eats (it’s actually #2 on the list of all activities). There were options for several different kinds and routes even after I picked a company so I utilized Trip Advisor’s reviews to select one that sounded the most interesting. I picked the “Two Markets, Two Continents” tour, which I thought was great. The best food I had on the tour was the buffalo’s milk cheese, spread on fresh-baked bread, and drizzled with honey or fruit compotes/jams. It was amazingly delicious!
We also had things like traditional Turkish Coffee, teas, nuts, ice cream, and candies along with street food like lamb tripe (I didn’t like it), gyros, hummus, olives, and more. I enjoyed the food tour and would definitely recommend it. We were also given an Istanbul Eats guide book at the end of the tour.
The tour took up much of the day, going from about 9:30am to 3pm.
Probably the most famous landmark in Istanbul is the Blue Mosque. It was a short walk away from my hotel, and I thought it was every bit as impressive as it looks in pictures. I was very excited to see it for the first time because it’s been somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a long time (I even made it part of the “Travel Summary” header!).
Getting in was simple. You’re first able to see the inside plaza (not sure what it’s called exactly). There’s a couple of entrances to get inside the mosque, one from the plaza and one from a side door. It’s still a functioning mosque so women have to be covered appropriately and no one is allowed to wear shoes inside. There is a large section cornered off in the back where all the tourists can look around and take pictures. Towards the front is the actual prayer area, and Muslims are welcomed to pray inside if they’d like. The thing to see here is the giant dome on the ceiling, with full Islamic calligraphy and art included.
I only spent about an hour or 90 minutes here.
The Hagia Sofia is just across the street from the Blue Mosque. Entry is again very simple, and I’d say there’s a lot more to see here than inside the Blue Mosque. It reminds me of visiting an old castle – the stonework was very old and there were some historical artifacts to view. Still, it wasn’t like a full museum and it’s hard to give yourself a self-guided tour. There are people outside that offer a tour service (for a price of course), which I declined, but I’ve heard that some of them are very good and make the visit totally worth it. I personally spent only about 60 minutes here without a tour guide.
A slightly longer, but more scenic, walk gets you to the Topkapi Palace. This was probably my favorite place since I’m a fan of history and seeing historical buildings. This time my friend and I opted for a tour guide and got an Egyptian guy that had good-enough English. He showed us around the entire grounds, explaining what each room was and how it had been used in the time of the Sultans. We also got to see quite a few historical artifacts, including massive jewels and diamonds, weapons, and others. The most interesting ones, however, were of religious figures. The museum claims to have the Staff of Moses (the same one that turned into a snake, according to the books). It’s on display and looks pretty well-preserved, but I’m curious to know how they know it’s really Moses’ Staff. Additionally, they have several things that belonged to the Prophet Mohammed, including some teeth, strands of hair, and a sword. Again, it’s kind of random that they have this stuff and I’m curious to know how they got them and know they’re authentic.
Unfortunately no pictures are allowed inside this part of the museum, but that didn’t stop me from trying to get a pic of the Staff. The reflection made it a bit difficult so the pic below is the best I could do. I’d set aside about 3-5 hours for a Topkapi Palace visit depending on how long you want to spend looking at the museum artifacts.
The Cisterns are very close to the three buildings mentioned above. I thought it was a very cool place to visit. It’s basically an underground reservoir where all the water was stored, and they’ve kept it in very good condition. They’ve also lighted the columns in a way that makes for some really nice pictures. An audio guide is free with admission. This probably won’t take more than an hour of your day.
I felt like 4 days was enough time to do all the sightseeing in Istanbul, but if you like eating and museums then you might want more time there. Several people suggested I take a Bosphorus River cruise up the river, but simply didn’t have time. I’m sure there’s much more to do that I missed, and I know there’s plenty more in other parts of Turkey. Hopefully I’ll make my way back there eventually!