Start your trip with a tour of the Hagia Sophia Museum and Church, known to locals as Ayasofia. More than just a brilliant gallery and a place of worship, this venue is always hopping with events and visiting exhibitions that will help set the stage for your Turkish adventure. You could spend an entire weekend visiting beautiful domed mosques and basilicas, but while you’re in Sultanahmet to see Hagia Sophia, why not wander through Topkapi Palace, the home of Ottoman sultans? It’s a palace, after all.
North of the Golden Horn—a river, not an actual horn—hang out in the district of Karakoy, where old meets new. Climb to the top of Galata Tower to see the lay of the land before people-watching from a sidewalk cafe. Looking for the best food in Istanbul? Skip the five-star restaurants and head to the lokantas on Istiklal Avenue. These cafeteria-style eateries serve up Turkish classics involving eggplant, pilafs and plenty of meat.
If you want to keep living like a local, it’s time to learn another word: hamam. The Turkish Baths Experience is like none other. Plus, you’ll be all refreshed and ready for a night on the town. If you’ve got a fever and the only prescription is more lute, book Istanbul hotels in Beyoglu for high-energy nightlife.
You’ll touch down at Istanbul Ataturk Airport (IST), about 18km west of the Old City. From there, the city is well-connected by buses, subways and trams, but you have some hills and bodies of water to contend with, which makes routes somewhat complicated. Otherwise, taxis or one of Wotif’s car hire deals are the most efficient ways to get from the airport to your hotel in Istanbul.
Sparks will fly if your visit falls on National Day on October 29—it’s fireworks time! You can head across the strait to Uskudar Port for an excellent view, but your absolute best bet is to be out on the strait. Hitch a ride on a boat and you’ll be cruising like royalty.
Istanbul loves fireworks, and New Year’s Eve is another great time to see them. Avoid the tourist hotbeds (looking at you, Taksim Square) and head to Kadikoy if you want the authentic—and crowded—experience. Live music, artificial snow, lasers and disco balls have all been part of the deal in past years. Of course, there’s also plenty of statue-climbing and shouting, so if you want something a little more relaxed, Istanbul accommodation on Istiklal Caddesi in Beyoglu is a good choice instead.
For music lovers, Akbank Jazz Festival takes place in October, while Efes Pilsen Blues Festival is in the month of November. The blues fest is 23 years old and still going strong, attracting musical geniuses like Cedric Burnside and Buddy Guy (who, aside from having an awesome name, is one of the most recognisable figures in blues).
Istanbul holidays are chockablock with vibrant, unique neighbourhoods to explore—one also happens to be an island chain. How cool is that? Obviously, you have to visit. There are no cars allowed on the islands, which only adds to the outdoorsy fun: You’ll have to take a bicycle or horse-drawn carriage! Tip: If you don’t want a good workout, leave the effort to someone else.
On Heybeliada, you’ll be living just like an Istabullu with a piknik in the pine groves (yes, that means “picnic”). Head to the main city centre to pick up bread, cheese, fruit and nuts from the bakeries and of course, plenty of raki, and that’s really all you need. Head to the pine groves of the nature reserve, and don’t forget the card games.
Buyukada is the largest of the islands and only 15 minutes beyond Heybeliada by ferry. If you’re in the mood for a hike, make the trek up to the Greek Monastery of St. George for sweet views and even sweeter wine (you’ve earned it!). For an easier day, cruise the shops of Recep Koç Sokak, gossip over strong Turkish coffee—trust us, it will have you talking!—or take a dip in the sea from Nakibey Beach. Don’t worry, you can still drink wine.
Let’s say you only have one day in Istanbul (Of course, you would never book only one day in this wonderful city, now would you?). There’s one attraction you probably noticed right away: The Blue Mosque dominates the Istanbul skyline. Its six pointed minarets reach for the sky and the many domes provide the backdrop for the profile pic of a lifetime. While the outside can look blue at dawn and dusk, its name actually comes from the 20,000 blue tiles that line the inside of the mosque.
All right, you’ve seen the grand extravagance of the Blue Mosque, and you want to take a piece home for yourself. Well, you can’t, but you can head to the Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s largest and oldest covered markets. How are your pazarlik skills? That means bargaining, and they’re about to get some practice. Haggle your way through leather, fabrics, gold and spices; be sure you’ve got accommodation near the Grand Bazaar so you don’t have to carry your finds too far.
You’ve got your bum bag, your walking shoes and your bargaining phrasebook. We’ve got awesome places to stay in Istanbul. Sounds like a match made in heaven! Check us out and book today, so you can save your lira for the market.
Hotels in Istanbul start at AU$40 per night. Prices and availability subject to change. Additional terms may apply.