global tourism

Islamic art, bustling bazaars, and scrumptious sweets: A tourist’s guide to Istanbul

Joshua Berida

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Islamic art, bustling bazaars, and scrumptious sweets: A tourist’s guide to Istanbul
Desserts in Istanbul are awesome! Don’t leave without trying the kunefe, baklava, and Turkish delight!

Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, was the capital of both the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires. It’s a city in the middle of both Europe and Asia. You’ll see vestiges of both empires scattered in different parts of the city. Istanbul is a convenient and easy addition to your trip around Europe. It’s also an affordable destination with plenty of things to do and see.

Getting a visa

For this article, you’ll include Turkiye in your itinerary before or after you enter Europe. It’s possible to get an e-visa as long as you have a valid resident permit or visa from any Schengen country, the UK, US, or Ireland. You can enter Turkiye within the validity permit of your visa or resident permit. 

You can get your e-visa through this website.

The online process is straightforward: fill out the form and submit requirements. You can pay online.

If you’re interested in getting a sticker visa, you can visit the Turkish Embassy’s website here.

Get into Istanbul

There are many direct flights from European cities to Istanbul. Purchase your tickets weeks or months before your trip to get the lowest possible airfare. You could check Skyscanner or Turkiye’s airlines such as Pegasus and Turkish Airlines for flights.

Get out of the airport

Depending on which airline you booked a ticket from, you’ll either arrive at IST or SAW (low-cost terminal). The most convenient and cheapest way to get to the city is by bus. The HAVABUS has regular schedules departing from both airports to different parts of Istanbul. If you’re going back to the airport for your flight, leave the city as early as possible because traffic is unpredictable especially during peak hours.

Get around Istanbul

Istanbul is a huge city and can be chaotic at times, but once you get a feel of it, you can navigate its streets and public transportation. Purchase an Istanbul Card and just top it up whenever you need to use the metro and tram. The card costs around TL50. The city is a great place to take long walks in. Avoid taxis as much as possible because they would often overcharge tourists. 

Itinerary

You can include Istanbul before your trip around Europe starts or after it. The currency they use is the Turkish lira (TL).

*This itinerary assumes you start with one full day.

Day 1

After breakfast, start your first full day with a visit to the Topkapi Palace. This palace (now a museum) dates to the time of Mehmet the Conqueror. The complex was the residence of the Ottoman Empire’s sultans. During your visit, you’ll see fetching Islamic art, opulent rooms, beautiful courtyards, chambers, and others that would give you a glimpse of the life of royalty. The Harem is a separate complex where the children and concubines live in. You can easily spend half a day exploring the Topkapi Palace.

Indoors, Interior Design, Floor
ARTISTRY. Topkapi Palace. Joshua Berida/Rappler

Make your way to probably the most famous destination in Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia. The latter has a long and storied past dating to the time of Constantine I. The Hagia Sophia used to be a church, then it was turned into a mosque during the time of the Ottomans. During the 20th century, it was converted into a museum. In 2020, Pres. Erdogan converted the Hagia Sophia into a mosque again. The building is an interesting mix of Christian and Islamic influences. You can grab a light lunch somewhere around the Hagia Sophia.

Architecture, Building, Person
FAMED LANDMARK. The Hagia Sophia. Joshua Berida/Rappler

Not too far from the Hagia Sophia, is another striking destination, the Blue Mosque. Sultan Ahmed I had the Blue Mosque built in 1609 and it finished construction in 1616. It stirred controversy during its time because it had six minarets. The Great Mosque of Mecca had the same number of minarets. To stop the criticism and dissent, the sultan had a seventh minaret built in Mecca. The exterior is impressive, you’ll feel just as impressed when you go inside. The mosque has eye-catching mosaics and tilework. Walk a few minutes to see some of the city’s ancient monuments and relics such as the Hippodrome, Obelisk of Theodosius, and the Serpent Column.

The area around the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia are touristy, but nice places to walk around in. There are many shops, fast food places, and restaurants. Make your way to the Grand Bazaar. The latter is where many go to shop for all sorts of items and souvenirs. You can check out some of the stalls and take note of the items you might want to pick up before leaving. 

Bazaar, Market, Shop
SHOPPING TIME. Grand Bazaar. Joshua Berida/Rappler

Day 2

After eating breakfast, make your way to the other part of the city to Dolmabahçe Palace. The latter shows you how much Europe has influenced Turkish architecture in the 19th century. Sultan Abdulmecid I had this complex built. Succeeding sultans moved from the Topkapi Palace to Dolmabahce after the latter’s completion. This palace combines design influences such as Neoclassical, Baroque, and Rococo with Ottoman aesthetics. I clearly saw the difference when I explored this palace compared to Topkapi. You could easily spend half a day here walking around the grounds and visiting its rooms. 

After exploring Dolmabahce, make your way to Taksim. The latter is a bustling part of the city filled with shops and places to eat. You can grab something to eat here before sightseeing again. The streets and neighborhoods from Taksim all the way to the Galata Tower are all interesting places to walk around in. This long walk will give you a glimpse and make you experience the hustle and bustle of the city. You’ll pass by many old and colorful buildings, more cafes, shops, and restaurants. Stop wherever you want to pick up souvenirs or grab a snack. At the end of your walk is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Istanbul, the Galata Tower. The centuries-old tower stands around 50 meters high and provides visitors with overlooking views of the city. You can end your day in one of the restaurants in Karakoy, a popular place to eat and hang out in.

Food, Sweets, Shop
VARIETY. Turkish delight. Joshua Berida/Rappler

Day 3

On your third day in the city, check out a couple more famous mosques. The Suleymaniye Mosque was built for Suleyman the Magnificent. Construction finished in 1557. This huge mosque occupies a prominent feature of Istanbul’s cityscape. Make your way to another famous mosque, this time in Fatih. Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror had the Fatih Mosque built after his army had broken through the walls of Constantinople. Construction began in the 1460s and was completed in 1470. You’ve probably seen a lot of mosques by now and would want to explore a different part of the city again. One place I’d recommend visiting is Balat. The latter is a district full of historic and colorful buildings, and winding streets and lanes. There are also many shops, cafes, and restaurants where you can relax, unwind, and eat.

Architecture, Building, Dome
STATELY. Suleymaniye Mosque. Joshua Berida/Rappler

Day 4

Depending on the time of your flight, you have another day to relax and revisit some of your favorite places in the city. You can also do some last-minute souvenir shopping before you head out to the airport. Eat some more Turkish desserts like baklava, Turkish delight, and kunefe. 

CHEESY. Kunefe. Joshua Berida/Rappler
How much will you spend?

Istanbul is an affordable city especially after coming from Europe. A budget of roughly TL1,200 a day covers expenses such as a bed in a dorm (with breakfast), two paid attractions, use of public transportation, and budget meals with dessert. This doesn’t include shopping for souvenirs and nights out. Two of your biggest expenses are the entrance fees to the Topkapi Palace and Dolmabahce Palace. If you don’t enter either of them, you’ll save yourself a substantial amount of money. Eating at restaurants is good value because of the serving size you get. Desserts are awesome for people with a sweet tooth like myself; don’t leave Istanbul without trying the kunefe, baklava, and Turkish delight. Like in the Philippines, you could always haggle the price whenever you shop at the bazaars and shops. If you have the budget, you can spend luxuriously during your stay in the city. – Rappler.com

Joshua Berida is a writer that loves to travel. He blogs at www.thewanderingjuan.net.

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