Dilemma, so it seems you can’t take the week and spend it relaxing in Istanbul but you only have 3-4 days, which isn’t a lot of days for a city as vast as Istanbul. Guidebook tells you this and this and this and you sit here crying (no, not literally tear crying because people just do not cry over that there is not enough time to see everything, that my readers, is just weird). Anyway so you cry: ‘Shit! What to do?’ …and voila, here I am to help. You’ve probably read the top ten lists on other websites but so what, this is mine which frankly is similar to what others have said (just forget I said that).
- Topkapi Palace was built by Mehmet II after his conquest of Constantinople. It is huge and would take a good few hours, remember to go into the Harem as this was the highlight of our visit. Yes, Topkapi Palace is lovely but the Harem is beautiful in architecture and design. We particularly loved the walls and ceilings with the very intricate designs adorning each side. You do not buy the Harem ticket at the entrance when you purchase your Topkapi Palace ticket, instead you purchase this at the entrance of the Harem section. Entrance (+Harem) fee is: 25TL (+15TL)
- Suleymaniye Mosque I found much more calming and soothing than the Blue Mosque, despite the latter being much more known around the world. It is Istanbul greatest and most important mosque designed by the great architect Sinan for Suleyman the Magnificent. It is not as easy to get to as the other Mosque as it’s not very close to the tram stations but a bit of a walk but that might have been because we walked from Chora Church to Suleymaniye mosque. Entrance: Free.
- Chora Church really is a trek. We had to take the tram to Emniyet and then walk a good 15 minutes to the train and take it to Erdinekepi and then hop on a minibus to take us near Chora Church. If you are short of time, just hop on a taxi to take you there, wouldn’t cost much and would save a lot of time! But the effort to come here is well worth it because you will be looking at some of the very finest Byzantine mosaics and frescoes; the church history however is unknown. We only know that ‘Chora’ means in the countryside therefore it is assumed that the church originally stood in a rural place. The mosaics here are breath taking and no matter how many pictures or videos you google it does not capture the true essence of the splendid mosaics on show. You’ll notice that the Virgin Mary is covered and dressed in black at this Church because that is how the Turks viewed her (interesting fact gleaned from the guide talking to an American couple). Entrance: 15TL
- Blue Mosque and the New mosque are both worth visiting and are very close to each other. There is just something about the mosques that really captures you. Be it the architecture, the dome shaped ceilings, the intricate geometric patterns or the fact that you sit and think: ‘How the hell did people build this hundreds of years ago?’ Conclusion, humans are amazing. Entrance: Free
- Basilica Cistern is slippery. Make sure you wear shoes that have grips and not cheapy Hong Kong market bought shoes that make you slide everywhere like a very amateur skater on ice. This just makes you look like an odd tourist when you are gripping the sides for dear life. That aside, the Cistern is a vast underground of water and another piece of Byzantine engineering. Built in 532 and still standing today I think owes it to the clever Byzantine-ians for covering the stone with a solution so that water doesn’t erode it down. Clever bunch! There is another cistern which is situated underneath a carpet store; we went to take a look at that too, not worth going as much as this one. So if you are short on time, don’t bother with cistern under carpet store. Entrance: 10TL
- Haghia Sophia initially was two churches but put together by Emperor Justinian in 537. Later minarets, tombs and fountains were added to turn it into a mosque by the Ottomons. Make sure you walk in through the door which the Sultan/Emperor uses because then you get a great sense of the space inside the Mosque. But more importantly you can really step back in time and feel the power of the Sultan walking through the door in the middle whilst everyone uses the side entrances. This is a museum rather than a proper mosque so visitors do not need to worry about showing legs and arms. Entrance: 25TL
- Spice Bazaar was awesome! There were rows and stacks of different tea, spices and sweets on offer. If you don’t want to buy something just stay firm rather than being persuaded to buy something or worse feeling guilty that the shopkeeper has spent the past 10 minutes giving you tasters of everything available. Just ask for a business card and leave. Or simply say no. If you don’t want it, don’t buy it. Entrance: Free if you come out empty handed, unknown figure if you intend to buy stuff.
- Grand Bazaar is huge. So huge we got lost and just wandered round and round and round until the shops were closing. They sell everything here and haggling is a must! Entrance: Free if you come out empty handed, unknown figure if you intend to buy stuff.