Istanbul is one of my favorite place to travel, especially because Turkey’s meatball is so delicious (I think it is one of the best food in the world!). Compared to Europe, this place is also not so expensive in terms of accommodation and food. Last year, I spent 5 days in Istanbul, since I just finished my exam and want to do super chilled travelling. In my normal pace, maybe 3 days will be enough to explore the city.
Visa to Turkey
You can apply for e-visa for Turkey. Everything is online, you don’t need to go to any office and you can receive the visa immediately. You can access the e-visa application here.
How to Travel to Istanbul
I came from Budapest, and there are two direct airlines with route Budapest-Istanbul, Pegasus and Turkish Airlines. I chose Pegasus since it was so much cheaper (like 100 euro difference at that time) and it only 2 hours flight. The difference between Pegasus and Turkish is the airport in Istanbul. Using Pegasus, I landed in SAW Istanbul Sabiha Airport instead of Istanbul Atatürk Airport (now, they move Turkish Airlines to Istanbul Airport).
It took around 1.5 – 2 hours from the airport, longer time than from Atatürk. But don’t worry, the transportation in Turkey is nice and just by asking around, they can help you. I don’t use any packet data when I was there and I survived.
To use bus/tram in Turkey, there is Istanbul transportation card available outside the airport. You can buy it from machine, but they only accept cash, so make sure you bring Lyra or withdraw it from ATM inside the airport (afaik, there is no ATM outside the airport, so I need to go back to airport to withdraw my money). I top up with 30 Lyra and it can last me until the end of my trip.
Where to Stay
I stayed at a hostel in Sultanahmet area. The most popular place to stay is Sultanahmet or Taksim Square area, however I choose Sultanahmet since it is has tram stop and also walking distance to Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and Sultan Ahmed Mosque.
I have 4-bed female dormitory room and it cost me around 10 euro per nights with breakfast. They served Turkish tea, eggs, bread, cheese, fruits and salads for the breakfast. With only 10 euro, I think it was really worth the money. It was in December and low season, so I shared the room only with one girl and for the last 3 days, I have the room for myself.
Where to Eat
I tried several places, but the one that I recommend is Tarini Sultanahmet Koftecisi Selim Usta, located near to Sultanahmet stop. The grilled meatball are just really delicious, and for Asian, don’t worry, they have rice too.
What to See
Since in this trip I was in relaxation mode, I visited (of course) the mainstream location such as
- Basilika Cistern
For you who watch Inferno, there is a scene where the villain wants to spread the disease through underground water system, and yes, that’s Basilika Cistern. I am in awe of its structure and the fact that they can build it underground. There is also Medusa statues on the two of its pillar with weird position (upside down and sideways). The myth has it that Medusa turn the people who look at her into stone, those the weird position is to prevent that thing from happening. However, logically, people think that the Medusa head were placed there to support the structure.
I personally think that this place is one of my favorite in Turkey. Although it is not as big as I expected, but I rarely see this kind of structure underground, especially with water underneath. However, it is not included in Istanbul museum pass, so you need to pay it separately.
The Istanbul Museum Pass covers other placese such as Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Harem, Chora Church, Istanbul Archaeological Museums, etc. It cost around 30 euro for 5 days after first use. I bought the ticket in front of Topkapi Palace and I think it is good value since I can skip the queue to buy ticket for each place after that.
- Hagia Sophia
Known also as Ayasofya or Sancta Sophia or Church of the Holy Wisdom, it displays the meeting of Islam (central mihrab, direction of Mecca) and Christian religions (Virgin Mary and Christ with John the Baptist). You can walk here from Sultanahmet stop, in my case I just need 10 minutes walk from my hostel.
- Topkapi Palace
I think, Topkapi palace is the biggest place that I’ve visited in Istanbul. I love their “kitchen” section, and they also provide nice and (imho) complete information. I really like the fact that they can provide “complete” facts such as how many lambs they need to order for the entire kitchen, what is the food for king or for other family members.
- Sultan Ahmed Mosque
Also known as Blue Mosque, because of blue tiles surrounding the walls of interior design. If you are muslim, you can pray here too. It will be closed during prayer time, so of you just want to see inside, better to not come during prayer time, especially midday Friday prayer.
Men should wear long trousers, while women should cover their hair, arms and their legs from knees up. Before go to the mosque, you should put your shoes in plastic bags (free of charge) provided at the entrance. There is also a room where you can ask more about Islam if you are interested to know more about the religion.
- Galata Mevlevi House
If you want to understand and learn more about Sufi’s way of life, their history and tradition, this place is right for you. I enjoyed the time I spent there, especially since I have read about Sufi especially Jalaluddin Rumi from my father’s book collection. I remember when I was a child, I got confused with his concept about God-human relationship, especially through one of his poem. However, now I kinda find that he has interesting point of view.
Don‘t think that saying “I am God”
is proclaiming one‘s greatness.
It is actually total humility.
Some one who says,
“I am the servant of God”
infers two – God and himself –
whereas someone who says,
“I am God”, negates himself.
He relinquishes his own existence.
“I am God” means
“I don‘t exist.
Everything is God.
Only God exists. I am nothing.
I am utter emptiness”.Jalaluddin Rumi
- Market (Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar)
I love both of the market and although I am not buying anything except Turkish snacks, I really like spending my time there. They have lots of collection from lamp (genie lamp!), kitchen utensils, clothes, or gold. I especially love the spices section and the various tea that they have.
I also visited other places such as Chora museum, Galata Kulesi and Taksim Square but not really spent much time there. If you only have limited time in Istanbul, I would definitely recommend you to go to Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and Basilica Cistern. Have extra time? Then Sultan Ahmed Mosque and the market place can also be added on your list.
I think that’s all what I can share from my trip. If you have any questions, just drop me a message. Hope you have nice trip!