There have been so many family members and friends that have travelled to turkey, whether it be on a beach holiday in the hills or travelling around different parts but i hadn’t ever taken much notice of trips to Istanbul, the capital. I love warm weather but this is usually when i am laying by a pool with a cocktail in my hand but i occasionally find myself travelling to some of the hottest countries with the busiest streets filled with things to do and see like Cuba, Hong Kong and now Istanbul.
As this was a planned holiday, we had five nights to enjoy taking in all that Turkey had to offer in its city. Every hill, market and Mosque, in 30 degree heat!
I’ve always been someone that will change up holidays, some more casual and others a little more luxurious but however you want to travel, never feel as though you have to pay an extortionate amount of money, some of my best holidays have been ones where we have stayed in locals apartments and found our way around on local transport using a map. they all just require a little bit of planning and looking around for the most reasonable prices that are still safe and efficient. Emma always seems to find some of the best locations for staying in different cities on Airbnb.com for amazing prices. So for Istanbul we chose a sweet top floor balcony apartment from a wonderful lady called Arya.
There are a few airports that you can fly into, some closer to the city than others, but our journey was around 45mins away in a cab which was only 120TL (around £20) one way.
In an area called Šahkulu, in the district of Beyoğlu was where our sweet top floor apartment stood.
We were dropped off outside of these gorgeous townhouses on top of a hill which gives you views of the rest of the city and roads leading leading to the Galata Tower. Our building (the pale blue one) stood right in between two streets that followed into the main street Galip Dede which holds shop after shop or trinkets, jewellery, fresh fruit stalls and restaurants, one way leads downhill towards the bridge that takes you over the Bosporous and the other deeper into the area of Beyolgu.
One thing that i would say that we didn’t see on any reviews or information on Istanbul is that this city is extremely hilly. On the side of Sultanahmet where a lot of the main tourist attractions are is less steep and has a tram that takes you as far as you choose. Karakoy is the opposite. very steep, cobbled streets, with some uneven areas so bring you’re walking shoes!
Houses are full of stairs with some not equipped with a lift, so read through carefully what area you are going to stay in and what your apartment or hotel includes if you struggle with walking or climbing.
We had booked the top floor flat which had the most amazing views on the balcony of the river and the Blue Mosque, however we had to get up there, with very large suitcases. I bet you can imagine how much of a struggle this was with winding steps and the heat testing us but we made it.
As we arrived mid afternoon, we quickly settled in, unpacked and decided to have a stroll around our area and then head down the hill over to the Sultanahmet area for the evening.
As soon as we stepped out of the door we could the cutest cafe placed right in front of our building.
Privato Cafe was styled with retro cool feel with mismatch furniture, vintage lace table cloths and old photographs. seating areas inside and out for you to watch the world go by while you enjoy a Turkish coffee or tea.
We soon realised that this would be our spot for traditional Turkish breakfast every morning and some baklava and coffee in the evenings.
After finishing off every morsel of baklava, we walked down the hill familiarising ourselves with the shops we wanted to spend our money in and admiring the people enjoying a glass of wine with their meals next to the Galata Tower.
We thought the first night after flying and travelling would be a great evening to tr and experience a traditional Turkish hamam. When you google these there are so many to choose from so again read reviews and see which one works for you in terms of price and what they do in the facilities.
Cagalglu Hamami is a traditional Turkish bath that has been running since 1741. Located in the area of Alemdar which is around a 5 minute walk from the Blue Mosque just shouts everything that old turkey has to offer. With photographs of the famous and different royals hanging on the wall as you enter, you can see how popular this hamam has been over decades.
I would suggest booking an appointment or getting your hotel to call before you go to arrange a time as they are usually very busy as we realised when we got there. They were fully booked but managed to fit us in an hour after arrived so we decided to get some dinner.
Two minutes away from the Hamam, was a restaurant called the Old Ottoman. It had actually been recommended to us by a friend and just so happened to be super close to where we were. Boy were we glad we went! The welcome was so friendly, the food deliciously filling and overall experience great, especially for our first dinner in Istanbul.
If you are going to Cagalglu hamam then make sure you enjoy dinner here!
As you walk further into the cave shaped hamam, the ambience is crazy. Candles, calm flowing water features and relaxed customers browsing around in their dressing gowns make you even more excited for whats to come.
For a lot of traditional hamams in any arabic country, men and women are separate so that both sex can enjoy lounging comfortably for the more religious. I personally prefer this as it gives every person no matter religions or beliefs the chance to enjoy a traditional spa without worry or hassle.
We were lead into the womens area and given a private room each with a bed, dressing table, hairdryer and essentials for us to use that are locked away with your own personal key and were then asked to change into something a little more fitting for a sauna, steam room and scrub..(i won’t go into detail), also with a sarong to wrap around us.
Sadly i don’t have any pictures from this point on as it’s respectful to keep it private and i guess also slightly mysterious for anyone who has never been before. All i can say is pure beauty! Floor to ceiling white marble, the roof arching over like a cathedral. Complete serenity.
You’re then led into a small sauna room and handed a bottle of water to enjoy while you sit for 15 minutes. It’s definitely long enough as i couldn’t be happier to see the lady point to my name and escort me out.
I have travelled a lot and had many massages and traditional scrubs, but never was i expecting what was about to happen from this point!
Warm water is poured over you, then you are gently escorted onto a marble table where you are souped, scrubbed and massaged until over inch of you is squeaky clean! After half an hour of this you are then robed and taken to relax with hot tea and Turkish delight. It was honestly the most incredible experience and i would tell anyone that visits Turkey will be missing out if they don’t try a traditional hamam!
We ended our evening with a cocktail at the rooftop bar where you can enjoy candle lit dinner and drinks after your spa day.
Emma and i are big fans of shopping, and vintage shopping is a big plus for us when looking for cities to explore. Somehow we manage to find somewhere in every country we go to to enjoy our habit! We had researched the city and realised there is a huge vintage craze in Istanbul so decided we would use our next day to explore the vintage stores, and the Grand Bazaar.
We enjoyed the most amazing Turkish breakfast (or should I say feast) that had us raring for the day ahead!
We knew researching would help us gauge where things are in the city and scout areas for food and drinks for the evenings. Heading out, bottles of water and sun cream at the ready in search for our first proper look at the city.
In beyogle, there is a stream of boutique stores hidden away in little streets and underground that hold all type of clothing and accessories for all styles. A great way to help you with locating where about the majority of shops are is to google them first and find their location, add them to your map app and see how far they are from each other so that you’re not wasting too much of your day travelling.
We had a rough idea of what each store looked like inside and whether it worth going too. Some were small, retro styled boutiques that were beautifully laid out with nicer one off pieces, others were places you could just rummage through. Still, it thrilled us to be able to do what we enjoyed in a city we never thought would have such great vintage stock.
ByRetro was by far our favourite store to find! Located underground, it took us a couple of tries and asking locals to actually find it but once we finally did, we knew we had hit the jackpot! Tunnels and tunnels of rails, jackets, trousers skirts and dresses. Costumes and accessories that had been accumulated over 20 years. It was Aladdins cave, but the jewels were vintage clothes!
Two wonderful women introduced themselves and told us to spend as long we liked roaming and searching for things they somehow knew we would end up falling in love with. We made a plan to gather what we liked and come back together and try things on and make a smart and not too expensive decision as we still had many other shops and markets to explore.
Three hours later! we were still deciding on what to buy. Having coffee breaks and chatting with the ladies didn’t help much but it was clear we were pretty comfortable down there. After finally acknowledging that we couldn’t leave Istanbul without half of our choices we made our decisions and promised we’d be back there to see them again before we left. Which we did!
Turkish culture is so welcoming, locals love to have a chat and get to know you and offer tea or coffee wherever you go, if they don’t, this might be a sign that you’re not so friendly yourself HAHA. The ladies offered to hold our items for us until we came back so wouldn’t have to travel around the city with big bags, and you know full well i wasn’t going to climb back up our stairs to our flat unless i was staying up there for the evening HAHA.
We found record and antique stores around small corners of the same area of beyogle. Local houses where residence were selling small trinkets and furniture outside.
Thrilled with what we had found already we headed over to the side of Sultanahmet to take a look around one of the most well known markets in the world, The Grand Bazaar. Very different to the quiet streets of beyogle, this busy bustling market is where tourists as well as locals come to haggle and barter for everything from household goods, traditional soups and scrubs, clothes and shoes, Turkish delight and dates and many variations of traditionally decorated pottery.
This is where you have to have your wits about you and be able to handle saying “no thank you” over a million times! The sellers on each stall will use anything from beautiful compliments to witty banter and discounts to try and get you just to take a look in their section. I am used to this as i usually venture into market territory in countries such as china where their techniques of shouting and hollering, sometimes even pulling on your clothes gain attention. So Istanbuls busy market was nothing for this intrepid traveller! It does however start to give you a headache after an hour or so and with the heat it can get slightly unbearable if really busy so make sure you’re in tip top strength for it.
For myself personally, this isn’t the place to get good deals on small items as so many tourists hit this spot it’s easy for prices to be higher than they really need to be, so i would always suggest buying your gifts and souvenirs from small stalls and shops further out of the main city, closer to residential areas. It is however an amazing place to visit and a must see to experience some of the culture.
CULTURE & HISTORY
Today was the day that we decided to experience as much Turkish culture and visit as many attractions that would give us a better idea of the history of Istanbul.
Our first stop was go to a new hotspot that I had found on social media that gives you the most amazing views of the city. I wasn’t sure whether there would be herds of other people there so we wanted to do it first thing so that we could enjoy it to its best potential.
After realising that we could potentially spend our whole day up there, we very reluctantly said our goodbyes and thank you’s and headed off to the next experience.
While we were in the area we decided to take a walk through the local market and into the spice pavilion. Once you come down from such a space with height to catch the cool, fresh breeze and then back down into the busy streets you realise the heat even more!
Built in the 6th century during the reign of a Byzantine emperor is located 150 metres southwest of the Hagia Sophia and is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul. Ancient texts indicate that the basilica contained gardens, surrounded by a colonnade which also held a water filtration system for the great palace of Constantinople.
Back out into the mid day sun and across the street over to the Blue Mosque. These historical buildings are all pretty close to each other so it’s best to try and see them all in the same day if you can. If you’re staying in the sultanemat area then you will have all the time to be able to pop back and forth on separate days.
There are six different mosques that are placed around the city that all look very similar however the Blue mosque stands as the largest and tallest of them all. As you enter you are asked to cover you hair and if you have any short items of clothing on then a skirt is worn as well. Shoes come off and soon silence falls as you walk into the carpeted dome.
I’m not a hugely religious person but I do believe in appreciating every culture, belief and its history that I come across and I try to understand it in my own way. See the beauty in what sometimes can be misinterpreted by others. And take what I learn to become a more educated, and open minded person.
After having our own moments in the mosque we headed a few yards over to the Hagia Sophia museum. What once used to be a cathedral, now mosque, with so much history inside, this building holds the most beautiful architecture.
Our day was filled with complete beauty that holds all the history to the city and our hearts were filled with how much love is kept into keeping its heritage going.
That evening before the sun set, we found a rooftop bar called “The Snog Bar” on the corner of our road to enjoy the sun going down, watch the world go by and have a cheeky cocktail or three.
Our last full day in Istanbul and if we could have found any possible way to stay longer, we would have! So to make sure that we got everything out of being in this beautiful country, we decided to take the ferry over to the asian side of turkey!
We thought it would be hard, but apparently it is the hub of how locals come to and from work. Like our oyster card system on the boats on the Thames in London, clearly we are pretty late to the party.
We jumped off at the dock and started to take a look around. We had a slight inkling about where we were heading as we had done a little research into what was around this area.
Caferağa is the small district that you can either walk around or jump on and off the tram to get around.
The area is filled with colour and greenery, retro buildings and edgy cafes to enjoy the sun in.
Some of the vintage stores we couldn’t get enough of were dotted around the district..
We wanted to make our last evening count, and wanted to remember this beautiful city by watching the sun set over it again and cheering to another amazing trip.
We chose the Panoramic Restaurant. Located in Fatih, near the Blue Mosque.
We enjoyed fresh fish and lamb, grilled halloumi, and olives. Following with traditional Turkish rice pudding and a very strong whisky in hot chocolate. The food was beautiful!
We laughed and went back through all the funny moments of our trip and i feel like every holiday should create those memories, even if in the moment we were wishing we’d chosen a laid back beach holiday.
This city trip was about us appreciating our surroundings and seeing everything that this country had to offer. On our trips we enjoy strolling around and taking it all in, the people, the noises, and how we blend into it. Sometimes that isn’t always for everyone but you can pick and choose what do and focus on what you appreciate on a holiday.
All that matters is that you embrace every part of a culture and take in everything you see and experience! Istanbul has so much to offer for all types and I can’t express enough how amazing this city is.