5 Days in Istanbul

Last year, Jon, a few friends, and I went on a 5-day whirlwind trip to Istanbul. Thank you, crazy-cheap-must-have-been-glitch-plane-fares! Oh, and travel during the off-season when it’s cold and rainy. I DON’T CARE. Istanbul captured me, and I can’t wait to go back.
After we got home, our friend Austin put together a recap with links of the places we went — such a great idea! We’ve passed it along to several people headed to this great city, and now I’m posting it here for all of you.

Austin’s recap of Istanbul

Day 1
  • Arrive in Istanbul at 4:45PM from the Turkish Airlines flight direct from Dulles. For an airline ranked “#1 in Europe,” we expected better, but it still did not disappoint with great food (you even get a menu when you board), free alcohol, hundreds of movies on your personal in-flight entertainment system.
  • Checked into our Airbnb apartment in Beyoglu near Istiklal Street (or Caddesi in Turkish). The host is nice and reliable. The photos look exactly like the actual apartment and the view of Old Town Istanbul is unbeatable.
  • Istiklal Cadessi: Tons of “western” shops, great Turkish delight stores, and Taksim Square
Day 2
  • Bosphorous Boat Cruise: Buy your ticket at the port and buy some chai and “simit” (circular bread with sesame seed) and, if you are up for it, freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. The boat will stop in a village on the Asia side. Be sure to find one of the many fish shops for a great lunch!
  • Taste of the Spice Bazaar & Grand Bazaar
  • Dinner at Darüzziyafe Restaurant in Suleymaniye Mosque (it’s in the old soup kitchen)
  • Hookah in Beyoglu. Make sure they do not scam you by giving each person a hookah. One hookah was more than enough for the 5 of us.
Day 3
  • Best Turkish Coffee Place just off of Istiklal Cadessi.
  • Cemberlitas Hamami. This is one of the cheapest, yet historical bathhouses we found in the Old Town. It is definitely a cultural experience that everyone should experience once.
  • Explore the Old City, Blue Mosque and Aya Sophia.
  • Hookah in Beyoglu
Day 4
  • Spice Bazaar: The best Turkish delight and the best service is at Topkapi near the front entrance of the bazaar. They are not pushy at all and have great saffron as well.
  • Best lunch spot in Istanbul near the Grand Bazaar.
  • Grand Bazaar: The best Turkish towel place is at this unassuming shop, run by Dr Suleyman Ertas. He is so nice and will give you good deals. He and his son made the costumes for top Hollywood hits like 300, The Hobbit, and others. So cool!
  • One of the best carpet shops in the city is Osman’s Carpet Shop. It gets great reviews by all the guide books and the carpets are beautiful.
  • Nevizade Sokak. This is a street off of Istiklal with great seafood and night life.

Day 5

  • The best breakfast you’ll ever have at Van Kahvalti. This is a MUST!
  • Make sure you spend some time exploring the neighborhoods and streets east of Istiklal. You’ll find cool coffee shops, antique shops, and awesome architecture.
  • We took the cable car up to Pierre Loti Cafe to see the view of the city. I do NOT recommend doing this if you are staying an apartment with a great view of the city. It is far from the Old Town and just not worth it.
  • Whirling Dervishes at Galata Lodge.
  • We found the best hookah place called Nargile-Tophane for our last night in the city. There are tons of great hookah places all in the same a.

Note: Check out this site for great food recommendations and Rick Steve’s guide to Istanbul for other great things to do in the city.

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