I’m going to start this one by recommending nobody ever fly into Sabiha Gorcen airport in Istanbul. It’s on the Asian side and pretty far in, so I had a nightmare getting to my brother and Sarah. The flight landed at 6:05 and I wasn’t through the airport and to them until about 10:00. My phone was also misbehaving which left me in a panic as I tried to figure out how I would actually find them!
Thankfully, it all worked out and I ended up in Istanbul, on the European side. Since I arrived so late, we went for hookah and a quick dinner but did not attempt to do anything else that night.
The next day was a completely different story. Our Airbnb was centrally located near all of the Old Town sites so we were able to wake up early and start the day immediately (after a visit to Starbucks!). We got really lucky with the tourist attractions and never had a big issue with crowds. Mike and Sarah said it was completely different last time they were in Istanbul and so busy, so I’m happy I chose the right time to come!
The three of us invested in museum passes in order to see as much as possible. They cost about £18 and provide access to most of the major sites. We started off with Topkapi Palace. It’s very similar to all other palaces, but it was still really cool to see how someone lived back then. There were a ton of artifacts, including big diamonds (yay) and the belongings of the prophets (i.e., Moses’ staff). The Harem apartment was fun to walk around because there was literally a room for everything – including the circumcision room. Mike joked about having a harem of his own and we said he definitely needs one of the rooms with the low couches for his hookah! Also, the views from the palace were absolutely stunning, and a great view is always a plus.
After Topkapi, we went to the Hagia Sofia. Sarah warned me that it was a bit run down, and I definitely saw that. However, it was still nice to see a place that was so instrumental according to my AP World History class (thanks Freeman!).
The next stop on our “Istanbul in a day” agenda was the Basilica Cistern, which was probably one of the coolest things I’ve seen, mainly because it was just fascinating that something like it was built so long ago. It wasn’t included on the museum pass, but was worth the 20 Tl. The Medusa columns are also down there which are weird but worth seeing.
When we finished at the Basilica Cistern, we still had time to kill before we could go to the Blue Mosque (it was closed for prayer in the AM), so we headed to the Grand Bazaar. I expected stalls like you would find in a food market, but it was really just a bunch of shops all in the same building, like a mall. I had my bargaining cap on, but did not feel the need to buy much. I did find a nice Turkish tea set and spoon rest, though, which will make great staples for the new house! We tried to get them to really knock the price down, but the guy selling them got really emotional about how they were handmade. We still walked away with a 30% discount so I was happy.
Once we were shopped out (and really thirsty), we went for lunch. Mike introduced me to iskender kebab, which is a pita with doner kebab covered in tomato sauce and butter. I actually really enjoyed it so I suppose I like Turkish food!
We made it to the Blue Mosque just in time for its afternoon opening. It was absolutely stunning inside, and I imagine it must be an incredible experience to attend prayer there for practicing Muslims. We wandered around a bit and then went into the Mosaic Museum, which is located nearby. The Mosaic Museum had all of these Mosaics that were wonderfully preserved. Outside, there was another smaller Bazaar which we shopped around in a bit before going for ice cream.
Apparently when you order ice cream in Turkey, they bring you a mix of the most random flavors. We had our ice cream and sat under a misting fan before heading home for a quick nap.
After our naps we went to Istanbul Modern, the modern art museum. This is probably one of the best modern art museums I have been to yet because I genuinely liked all of the art and wanted to hang it in my house. I’m already googling to find prints of the pieces if possible!
For dinner we went to Bosphorus Brewing Company, a local microbrewery. They had beers from all over the world – Mike tried a bunch, but Sarah and I played it safe and stuck to one we liked. The food was decent, but we mainly went for the beer and Mike seemed impressed! After dinner, we met someone on Mikes program for drinks and hookah in Taksim Square. We were exhausted from walking around all day (31,000 steps!), so when we got back afterwards we all passed out.
While we missed out on a few things, I would say we did a pretty good job of seeing Istanbul in a day! It’s definitely possible to cover most of the city in a short period of time, but I imagine having more time would have allowed us to discover some really unique things.
Note – this was my first time flying Turkish Airlines and I was pleasantly surprised. They gave out Turkish delights and then a full meal and wine. On a three hour flight! There was also plenty of leg room and the seats were pretty comfortable. And it was beautiful out the window, but that’s just the perk of flying to Turkey!