With more and more travellers flying with Turkish Airlines these day, Istanbul is often a stopover but instead of staying at the airport, I suggest taking some time out to enjoy this vibrant city where the East meets the West and every street corner is a delight to the senses. If Turkey is your destination, then you are in for a treat.
From mouth-watering delicacies, historic monuments and traditional bazaars, Istanbul has something to offer to travellers of all ages. I go to Istanbul regularly, often a few times a year and often start my excursion from the historic Sultanahmet area where in close proximity you find the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar, the Fatih District and the Topkapi Palace.
If Istanbul is my destination, I tend to stay in the Taksim and Pera neighbourhoods, that has a big choice of restaurants, cafés and retail options at the doorstop. I love the traditional markets in the area and often find the more exquisite pieces of jewellery from street vendors.
If you love being on boats like I do, then the best way to take in the sights of the city is to hop on a Bosphorus boat tour along the Bosphorus Strait. No matter how many times I take this tour from different tour operator, its always a pleasure. I often start my journey with a simit (local pastry with sesame seed) and a Turkish coffee along the port.
Most of the tours go through the heart of the city, past the Istanbul Modern Art Museum, several Ottoman palaces, fortresses, waterside villages with Ottoman architecture and often have views of the nearby polulated hills, the Galata Tower, the Blue Mosque and other iconic buildings.
For retail therapy, enjoy the Grand Bazaar and shopping malls but the vendors along the Bosphorus shores and stores run by designers are the best places to pick up items that make you stand apart. Give yourself a few hours in the bazaars that sell anything from souvenirs, spices, jewellery, clothes, carpets etc.
Istanbul is a place for culture and history and hence has numerous visitor attractions like the Topkapi Palace and the Istanbul Museum Pass allows free entrance to a dozen of the city’s best paces like the Hagia Sophia and the well-known Istanbul Mosaic Museum.
If adventure tourism is your thing, check out the possibility of scuba diving in the Mediterranean, helicopter tours (One of my best experiences in seeing the whole of Istanbul from the sky), trekking, mountain biking, kayaking, cycling and paragliding.
No visit to Istanbul is complete without visiting the historical hamams. Getting scribed and cleaned in the steamy Turkish baths with relaxing massages is one thing everyone should do when in Turkey. While I enjoy my Turkish hamams in the hotels I stay in, visiting the seventeenth-century Çinili hamam in the Asian suburb of Üsküdar is possibly one of the most traditional experiences.
Turkey is one of the few countries I go to where I don’t drive as the city is big, you need to know roads off the beaten track to see the best sights and the best way is to get a driver and enjoy the city relaxed and comfortable. If your stopover is short and you can only do one or two things, my favourite choices would be to either take a Bosphorus tour or visit the Sultanahmet area.