Updated: Aug 15, 2020
We have visited Istanbul on our special date — a year since we got married. Istanbul is a good city for special dates, since it is so unusual that you will definitely be impressed.
Our trip to Istanbul lasted 3 days. For us, this time was enough to enjoy the city and see all the planned attractions.
This article contains recommendations based only on our experience. I hope this will help you to organize the perfect weekend in Istanbul!
Entertainment in Istanbul
Shopping in Istanbul
Istanbul feels like one huge bazaar. Everyone everywhere are selling something. It is like, here coffee is for sale, and 2 meters further bags are sold. And now you get to a whole street where only rosary are sold, and then you get to the streets with multi-storey shops with evening dresses.
There are two most popular places for shopping in Istanbul:
Grand Bazaar which is located in the old part of Istanbul. This is a city inside the city: 61 streets, 4400 shops and life around is in full swing. However, there are so many goods, all the shops are in the mix, head goes round from it. Pretty quickly we got tired of walking through the Grand Bazaar streets.
If you would like to find some interesting souvenirs and have a good shopping experience, it is better to go to the Beyoglu district. To get there just go across the bridge from the old part of the city. Istiklal avenue is the main place for shoppers. For us shopping here was more pleasant.
Hammams in Istanbul
You can relax in a traditional Turkish bath — hammam. If you choose the good hammam, you can get a real pleasure.
There are several types of hammams:
Hammam of mixed type (can be visited by both women and men). Often hotels have hammams. In such hammams it is required to wear swimsuits and special cover for the body.
Separate hammam (women and men attend separately). This is a traditional hammam where you can completely remove your clothes.
In Istanbul there are historical hammams and hammams for tourists. Among the most famous, old and luxurious are:
To view the rating of hammams in Istanbul, click here.
Places to Visit in Istanbul
Here is a list of great places to visit in Istanbul:
Hagia Sophia Mosque. This mosque is not functioning anymore. It works as a museum. Open hours are from 9:00 to 17:00. The cost of the ticket is about €15.
The Suleymaniye Mosque. A very beautiful and old mosque. Tourists can visit it from 9:00 to 12:30 and from 13:45 to 15:45.
The Blue Mosque (also called Sultanahmet Camii). It is one of the most beautiful and famous mosques. The mosque is located in the center of Istanbul, directly opposite the Hagia Sophia.
Basilica Cistern. Cost of the ticket is about €6. Opened hours are from 9:00 to 18:30. I love places where you feel like Lara Croft tomb raider. And the guys here can feel like James Bond, because one of the episodes of the movie was filmed in the Basilica Cistern. Basilica Cistern was built about 2000 years ago in the time of Constantinople. At the very end of the Basilica Cistern are located 2 inverted heads of the Gorgon Medusa. Nearby swim fish that delight tourists. All columns in Basilica Cistern are different since they were brought from different countries and temples.
Grand Bazaar. You will always have the association of Istanbul with this place. This is a city inside the city: 61 streets, 4400 shops, fountains, mosques, cafes, schools and even a bathhouse. On the Grand Bazaar goods are overpriced, but it is nice just to walk there, you need to feel this atmosphere.
Bosporus strait. Here mainland of Europe and Asia are divided.
Galata Tower. This is a tower with a great view on the city. There are a lot of tourists, so it takes about 30 minutes to wait on the queue. The ticket is about €8.
Istiklal street. This is a great place for shopping. Here you can find interesting souvenirs, admire the passages, check an old tram — one of the symbols of Istanbul.
Maiden's Tower. Place is located on an island in the Bosphorus. You can get there by boat, which goes from the Kabatas pier from 9:00 to 21:30. The cost of the ticket is about €4.80.
Istanbul Food & Drinks
Those who are not afraid to get some weight should definitely try:
Dondurma. This is Turkish ice cream. Get ready for a mini-show while buying a dondurma in street stalls.
Baklava. There are lots of Baklava in the city, all fresh and juicy. The price is different. You can go to a fashionable place and leave there for a box of Baklava about $20 or you can find in a neighboring shop the same baklava will a cost about $7.
Turkish Delight (also called Lokum). This is a classic.
Irmik Helvasi. This is a delicious dessert. Ice cream, which is under semolina with halva.
Food experience in Istanbul can be different. You can find both ordinary and extraordinary dishes. We really liked a dish with the freshest fish. You can try some interesting food:
Balik Ekmek. It is translates as «fish in bread». A local dish where, in addition to fish, greens and onions are also added.
Roast Chestnuts. In Istanbul there are many places outside where chestnuts are sold. It tastes like sweet, undercooked potatoes.
Simit. These are local buns. You can find a lot of places where they are soled in the city.
Turkish Tea. In Istanbul tea is the king of drinks. Tea is everywhere, even sold by street vendors who go with trays of hot tea in Armudu (kind of glasses). Such an unusual form of glasses, extended to the bottom, is designed to keep heat longer.
Istanbul Travel Costs & Prices
Here are some examples of prices in Istanbul:
Transportation. Taxi from the airport will cost about 35 liras. The tram ticket will cost about 3 liras.
Food and drinks. Tea costs about 1 lira. A bottle of water costs about 2 liras. Kebab costs about 4 liras. Dinner for one in a standard restaurant costs about 30 liras.
Accommodation. Double room in a hotel costs about 350 liras per night.
Attractions. Tickets to visit attractions costs about 15 liras.
We used to book hotels in Istanbul through Booking. I recommend to check reviews on TripAdvisor. There you can compare prices on different resources and directly go to the site you liked to book a hotel. Usually I choose hotels with 4 or 5 rating.
We have booked a Rios Edition Hotel. Of the advantages I can notice that it is clean, good transport interchange (there are buses that go directly to the center), the price is good, beautiful panoramic windows, a hammam is included in the price and there is a spa. I not name any specific disadvantages. However, it is important to note that the staff does not know English well and it is slightly noticeable that the repair in the rooms is old.
I advise you to read visitor reviews and hotel ratings before booking. We always search for the hotels with a rating 4 and 5 on TripAdvisor.
Things a Tourist in Istanbul Should be Ready for
Below are a few points and life hacks which I can distinguish from personal experience. I hope it will help you to be prepared for Istanbul and get the best experience!
When choosing an outfit in Istanbul, a tourist should take into consideration the fact that it is not allowed to come into the mosque with opened shoulders and legs. Shoes will have to be removed. Also, women need to cover their hair with a scarf. Most mosques give a public scarves and even skirts on the entrance, so you do not have to choose the most closed outfit for walking.
Food can be strange, so if you’re not sure do not rush with the selection of the most unusual dishes.
Prices here are often overpriced. Sellers are reluctant to make a discount. When I came to the Grand Bazaar for the first time, I imagined that sellers from all sides would lure me to visit their shop, show all the goods and bargain until I buy at least something. In fact no one pays attention to you. Sometimes even you need to attract the attention of the seller to ask a question about the product. It is funny, but it feels like they have more important things to do in the bazaar than sales.
Quality is not always good, so always double-check reviews, carefully choose souvenirs and make sure that there are no defects before buying.
Be prepared locals poorly know English. We had some difficulties when we wanted to ask locals for the help with transport, so it is better just to buy the mobile internet here and find all the answers.
Here is a life hack for transportation! Buy the Istanbulkart. With this card you will significantly save money on transportation. The card costs about 6 liras and can be bought in the machine at the subway. It is not necessary to buy a card for each person, because you can use one card for two. Also, before leaving Istanbul, you can hand over a card in a shop with the signboard Istanbulkart at the entrance to the airport and the value will be returned.
Most of all I was impressed by ancient mosques. I always dreamed of visiting and feeling the scale inside it. In Istanbul mosques are everywhere, and they stand out from ordinary buildings.
Istanbul will definitely remain a colorful memory. Have a nice trip to Istanbul!