Just google this song and listen to one of the catchiest songs of all times. Not that I don’t like this song from the 50’s. But you will definitely have this haunting melody in your mind for at least one day.
I could start telling you a story about Arabian Nights and something about orient and occident. Which would be partly true. But actually there is no difference to other big cities in the world.
There’s also a more realistic view on Istanbul, which kills the romance of the city, but doesn’t make it less interesting.
Istanbul is huge. Istanbul is loud. Istanbul is full of people. So many people. We really asked ourselves where all these people even live.
City of contrasts
Brutal wealth meets brutal poverty. Reconstructed tourist sites next to streets with declined houses. There’s something new behind every corner. Often something unexpected. Most of the time something good!
Istanbul is the city of ‘It’s going to work somehow’. And it will drive you crazy. The next moment you meet unbelievably adorable people and everything is alright again. The motto is, keep calm and drink cay (Turkish tea).
Istanbul is everything but boring!
The mega city at the Bosporus
Over several hundred years, maybe thousands of years people had fought about this strategically advantaged place on earth. And they all left their traces behind. Numerous historic buildings could be preserved and are nowadays flooded with tourists from all over the world!
Generally speaking there is definitely no lack of sights, great restaurants, bars and manzaras (viewpoints) in this city.
Istanbul is huge
Despite the current political situation in Turkey, many people of diverse ethnic groups live together in cramped conditions more or less peacefully. Regarding the amount of people, it’s astonishing. With so many people living there even Istanbul can become a quite narrow place. Unfortunately there is no place left for claustrophobia in Istanbul – Sorry!
Being in Istanbul for the first time might be devastating. You can see a lot by walking, which we highly recommend. But everything is just not possible.
Especially those from Germany or Northern Europe who love it neat and tidy might be pushed over the edge when confronted with the public transport system. You just really don’t know if this is the bus you have to take. While the tramways work surprisingly well, the bus system remains a mystery. If you’re loving organzied transport, you shouldn’t take the Dolmuş: A little bus, which is only driving when being fully occupied. You get in there by jumping on it and get out the same way – quite an adventure. Nothing for the fraidy-cats.
You need a good time management for Istanbul
As said before, the city is huge and most won’t stay for more than a week. We would highly recommend you, to stay at least three to four full days. Depending on the time of the year, queuing might jangle your nerves. This is what you have to keep in mind while planning.
In case of Istanbul, it makes a lot of sense to visit quarter by quarter. For the Sultanahmet quarter and Beyoğlu you should plan minimum one full day each. A bit more would be better. Trying to see it all can become really exhausting in this moloch!
Most sights in Istanbul are located in this quarter. Magnificient Byzantine and Ottoman buildings witness the power and wealth of ancient times. The Topkapı Palace, the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Basilica Cistern are in this part of the city. We’ve been to Istanbul twice. As the queue was always too long, we still couldn’t see the Basilica Cistern.
In Europe it is known as the Blue Mosque. Its name derives from its blue and white tiled cupola. By order of Sultan Ahmet I, it was finished in 1616.
This one’s next to the Blue Mosque, just a short distance of 500 meters and leaves a moving history behind: Being used as a church, then as a mosque. Nowadays it’s a museum.
For us, it was Istanbul’s most beautiful building.
We’re not sure whether it’s that important seeing some of Sultan Ahmet’s beard hair. It’s almost impossible seeing the Topkapı dagger due to huge tourist travel groups.
Nevertheless, the harem was interesting. Not because there was something spectacular. But being there, one can imagine what was going on here and this will make you smile!
Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar
These places are great. You totally feel like being in another world. Especially in the Spice Basar.
Thanks to mass tourism it is a lot more expensive than it used to be. Bargainers don’t bargain any more. Maybe only for show, but the prices are still extortionate.
By the order of Süleyman the Magnificient this mosque was built in the 16th century and is one of the biggest in the whole city.
In Beyoğlu you have to walk along the Istiklal Caddessı. Not because it’s beautiful, but it’s one of the main streets of the city. And maybe you’re able to make a ride with the nostalgic tram. But this one’s always full. After London’s Underground it’s the second oldest in the world.
The Taksim Square is a main transportation hub. It’s nothing special but it’s surrounded by tons of restaurants and shopping opportunities. It’s located at the end of the Istiklal Caddessı.
The French Street
Today it’s not called the French street anymore. Turkey is mad at France because they dared to name what happend during the Ottoman Empire: the Genocide of the Armenians. Since then it’s not as neat as it used to be. In 2010 it was a place full of life; in 2014 not so much.
Maybe it’s still worth passing by. There are some cafés and bars.
The Galata Tower – A great view over the city
During our first trip in September 2010, we didn’t have to queue. During our second trip last year over the Easter weekend, we waited for almost an hour. We’ve been there with family and it was a must.
The view was worth it though!
The Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn
Despite of the ‘Fishing fobidden’ signs everywhere (of course, written in Turkish), nobody seems to care. Well, why should they?!
The Galata Bridge connects Beyoğlu with Sultanahmet. If you’re in the mood of or have the time to, you can observe the chaos at this place.
From this place, you’ll have an amazing view over the Golden Horn and over Istanbul. Especially in summer, it’s the place to be as it is getting really hot and the trees here are offering shade. Furthermore it gives you some time to rest from this moloch of a town. You can reach Pierre Loti by cable car and it is always a bit crowded.
The Café is named after the the French naval officer and writer Pierre Loti (1850-1923). He spent several years in Istanbul and especially in this place. He’s supposed to have had an affair with a Turkish married woman named Aziyade who he dedicated his first book to.
As many people just come for a few days to Istanbul, the Prince Islands are ignored by most of them. We think you shouldn’t miss them.
After seeing everything important, here is a list of what you should do when in Istanbul!