by Tim Baker
Istanbul is the magical city where West meets East. The city has a lot of tourist attractions, excluding the minarets, which is why many vacationers are drawn towards this city around the year. With a rich history and vivacious energy, the locals are the chief attraction of this megalopolis; the Istanbul localites have a generous spirit and infectious love of life.
I’ve been to Istanbul and covered almost the whole of it within 4 days. Don’t believe it? I will let you know how you too can do it. Istanbul is one of the few countries in the world that has a fusion of modernity and tradition, which is why it should definitely be on your traveling list if you want to experience the ancient as well as contemporary lifestyle all in one place.
So, let’s dive into this guide for visiting Istanbul and seeing the manifold tourist spots in this city, which is divided into three parts by two water bodies, that is, the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn. The former divides the side towards Europe in two, that is, the traditional Sultanahmet and the contemporary Beyoglu; while the latter side divides Asian and Europe.
Staying and getting around within a budget
Istanbul is quite cheap for backpacking trips. In fact, why only Istanbul, you can travel the whole of Turkey within $40 per day. And, when it comes to staying in Istanbul, you can stay in a dorm room hostel, which has prices beginning from $5. Yes, that is how economical Istanbul is.
Make sure when you choose to stay in a dorm, you keep your belongings locked. In such a case, you can pack your stuff within packing cubes so that you can take them out easily and keep them back when you’re done. However, there are a lot of choices of packing cubes in the market. In such a case, you should choose only the best packing cubes since these can help you carry lots of stuff with you in your long or short vacation to Istanbul while keeping it organized and damage-free.
However, when choosing where to stay in Istanbul, do consider the places you want to visit. You will mostly spend your time in Sultanahmet, but several nice bars and restaurants are on the side of Beyoglu, where you’ll spend your evenings. Or else, you can just take a tram ride from where you’re staying. So, it solely depends on where you want to spend your time in Istanbul. For your information, I stayed on the European side.
Getting around Istanbul is cheap, including bus fares, where a luxury bus ride just costs $20 per person. Plus, flight rates to Istanbul are startlingly inexpensive. However, the traffic scenario in Istanbul is quite frenzied since it has a lot of one-way streets. This is why a taxi ride can take plenty of your time even if it’s a short distance. Therefore, it is recommended that you walk within the city as much as you can.
Top sightseeing spots to visit in Istanbul
The places you want to see in Istanbul depend on two things:
- The duration of your vacation, and
- Your preferences
If you are living for many days like for two weeks in Istanbul, you can easily see everything. But, if you only have a few days on your list like for a week, then you need to choose the places you want to visit depending on your priorities. For instance, some tourists prefer to see the historical monuments, some like to explore food avenues, and others follow in the footsteps of regular tourists.
I’m the kind of person who wants to fit most of the sightseeing places in my tour. So, although I took a trip of 4 days to Istanbul, I tried to see as many places as I could. I visited some places and left others as per my judgment and choice. And, my voyage went pretty well.
Depending on what I learned from my trip and what I did in Istanbul, I’m listing all the places that you must see in Istanbul, along with additional tips for first-time travelers.
- The typical iconic monuments are a must-see in Istanbul. Keep 2 days for this.
- Start your days early so that you can cover as much as you can.
- Day 1 & 2 – When you’re visiting the Aya Sofia and Topkapi Palace, you should reach the gates before the opening time. The tour of the palace will take a minimum of 3 hours, which means if you go early you can save your time by not standing in the queue.
- You would already know this point since it is very common for every trip – Make sure while you plan your itinerary, you select sites that are situated nearby. In case of Istanbul, it is Aya Sofia, the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, and Basilica Cistern, which are all close to Sultanahmet Square.
- Do visit the Grand Bazaar, which is a short distance up the hill. After the bazaar, you can go to the Sulimaniye Mosque. You have two options to reach here, either you can take the tram to Universite stop or you can just walk. From the bazaar, you can visit the Spice Bazaar as well as the magnificent Rustem Pasa Mosque.
- Day 3 – You can walk on the Galata Bridge and then visit the Galata Tower that is up the hill. Nearby, there is Istiklal Cadessi and from here you can walk to Taksim. Additionally, if you have time, you can catch a funicular to Beşiktaş and then strut down the Bosporus to the Istanbul Modern and the Dolmabhace Palace.
- Day 4 – You can cover the places that you have left on the remaining days of your expedition. These include Kadikoy that is in the Asian part of Istanbul. Take a food tour or just stroll in the market. Have your lunch at Ciya Sofrasi, the food is really yummy here! After you’re done with your lunch, you can go back to Eminönü via the ferry. Then, you can either take a Bosphorus cruise or go to the Chora Museum.
Trying the Turkish cuisine is a must when you’re in Istanbul. You can choose from a wide array of cheap and traditional dishes that can make your tummy full and that too within a few dollars per meal. And, if you want to eat Turkish cuisine that is easy on the pocket, then you should eat off the streets, which can cost you less than $5 per meal.
So, travel to the ancient and diverse city of Istanbul, when you have plenty of time to spare at hand in order to make the most of it. Do visit the major sights and then if you have time, explore the hidden gems. You can add more places and days to the Istanbul itinerary provided in this blog post since it was according to my own expedition to the beautiful city of Istanbul.