Me and my wife have just came back from a week long trip in Istanbul. Despite the tension in the region, we decided to go ahead in visiting - and boy was it a great decision.
I’m simply going to go over what we done and things we’d recommend potential newbies to Istanbul do. When we go on holidays, we don’t stay in your regular 4-5 star hotels, rather, we stay locally so we can experience how the local people live . On this trip, we walked to most places and cycled so we could discover places through our own eyes rather than paying a tour guide or relying on taxi drivers to take us. It’s all about adventure for us and it’s the best way to do it, in our experience.
So basically, there’s two sides to Istanbul. The Western side and European side. We decided to stay in the later simply due to the fact that it had the most tourist attractions. We stayed in a local hotel, round the corner from the Blue Mosque - literally a 3-4 minute walk at the most. Crossing over to the Western Side isn’t difficult and literally a walk over a bridge. You could also get a tram, taxi or cycle (as we did).
Speaking of trams, this is the best possible way to get around the city. We used it manyatimes when we got tired or simply wanted to experience the other side of Istanbul. It costs 4 lira per person for any given stop, so whether your getting of at the following stop or at the very end, you only pay 4 lira. Each tram station has 2 types of ticket machines, token or prepaid card, and you can choose between 2 languages - Turkish or English. Needless to say its quite cheap getting around and safe. It is quite busy at peak times so getting a seat is a mission, however, the stops are quite close to each other so you won’t be standing for ever. For example, from Sultanahmed (blue mosque) to Eminonu (the stop before crossing over to the Asian side) is approx 5 minutes by tram. Theres huge ambition and the construction sites around Istanbul reflect this, they are expanding the tram system from the airport into the city which hopefully will help once its up and running.
We had a nasty experience with taxis so didn’t use it after our initial encounter. Despite agreeing a price before we got onto the taxi, the driver all of a sudden decided to change the price to triple the amount which he quoted after the journey. Needless to say we didn’t budge, even despite his threats to take us to the police station (which we said we would happy to - and he drove around the block a few times) and then we agreed to pay him just a little more than what he had quoted in the first place. Make sure, you agree on price in local currency before you set off. Don’t just say 15 or 20, as they may assume you were referring to Euros or Dollars (we made sure we quoted in Liras but looks like we just got unlucky with the driver). Having travelled the world, it’s a hit and miss with taxis so it shouldn’t be seen as a huge downer but just beware and cautious. It’s not a city you’ll be needing taxis as the infrastructure is quite decent compared to other parts of the world, the tram is a perfect example.
So your in Istanbul for a few days or an overnighter and you want to experience the must-do things, heres our recommendation based on us being there for 7 days. This is in order of our favourites:
Tip: get yourself a Museum card for 85 lira per person, available readily (we got ours from the ticket desk at Hagia Sophia). It gives you access to the top tourist sites in Istanbul for free for 5 days (Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Science & Technology museum, Arts museum and loads more). Your saving on a really decent amount.
Tip 2: get yourself an AyeGear garment to carry all your items safely and securely during your trip. With dedicated pockets for your camera, SD cards, bottle of water, iPad - stay connected on to go with fingertip access to all your essentials. The new AyeGear V26 is available in Khaki, perfect for the climate in Istanbul.
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