Friday, December 18, 2015

Turkey: 5 days in Istanbul

Historically also known as Constantinople and Byzantium, Istanbul is not an unfamiliar name for Malaysian students, especially those who took "Sejarah" seriously during SPM. Imagine my excitement when I saw all that I learnt about came to life in front of my very eyes.

Day 1: Sultanahmet Square

Topkapi Palace

Be ready to queue to get in. Ticket cost around 40 lira, but once you are in, you immediately realize that it is wayyyy underpriced! I was dazzled by the array of collection in the treasury, the awe-inspiring golden doors, splendid panoramic waterfront view, and of course the beautiful gardens are terrace.
1. Tickets (with discount) can be bought online in advance. Doing that might just save you from the scorching sun and frustrating wait (especially when you are visiting in summer. )
2. Do not attempt to rush it in few hours, it would be overwhelming. Allow at least a half day.
3. There are local 'guides' who offer you guided tours for a fee. If you are not interested, turn down politely.
4. If budget allows, pop in Konyali Lokantasi for delicious buffet lunch and nice terrace view.
5. The Harem is lovely, however entrance to the Harem is not included in your general admission tickets.

Eat Kebab

What is this: meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie, served on bread, pita or lavash.
Where to eat: Sultanahmet Buhara Kebab House
Address: Alemdar Mahallesi, Nur-u Osmaniye Caddesi, No: 7, Istanbul 34440, Turkey (Sultanahmet)
Phone: +90 212 513 7799
Why I absolutely love this place: Amazing food with 5 star service. Our waiter treated us like VIPs. Took his time to get to know us, call us by our names and even served FREE baklavas and Turkish tea after our meal. We felt welcomed and at home. Definitely highlight of the day! Oh and he gave me a flower before we left.

Day 2: More of Sultanahmet Square

Hagia Sophia

Once a Greek Orthodox Basilica, Hagia Sophia was converted to a imperial mosque in 1453 and later became a museum displaying the finest marvelous architecture in Istanbul. We made it to Hagia Sophia first thing in the morning (skipping the long line and huge crowd.)
1. Notice the "floating" dome without supporting pillars
2. Look for the 'weeping' column, said to possess magical power to cure all diseases.
3. Look for Viking graffiti carved into the wooden rails.
4. Look for Emperor Alexander mosaic on the 2nd floor.
5. It is closed on Mondays.

Sultanahment Mosque (Blue Mosque)

Just opposite of Hagia Sophia is another sight not to be missed! It make sense to combine both visits in one day. We've been to the blue mosque twice: morning and at night. It is known as the Blue Mosque for the 21,000 cobalt blue Iznik tiles adorning the interior and also the blue stained glass windows and dome. Entrance is free.
1. Be respectful.

Obelisk of III. Tutmosis

The obelisks is worth stopping by since you are so near to it. It is the Ancient Egyptian obelisk of Pharaoh Thutmose III with circa-1400 B.C. hieroglyphics. It was re-erected in Istanbul, by the Roman emperor Theodosius. Fascinated? So did I.

Basilica Cistern

A stone throw away from the Blur Mosque, this ancient wonder made of granite and marbles is the largest cistern hidden beneath the streets of Istanbul since 532 AD, initially aimed to supply water to the palace. Entrance fee is cheap and it was not too crowded. For some reason, people tend to miss this historical site... WHY?!?!
1. There are 2 Medusa heads: One is upside down and another one is lying on its side. Don't leave without seeing both.
2. Once you enter, go to the left for a chance to take photos in old Ottoman dress.
3. Check for upcoming concerts in the cistern.

Grand Bazaar

It was in a very bad mood when I reached the Grand Bazaar: my camera was not working like it should! By looking by one of my photos (before it started throwing tantrum), you can easily tell why I was so frustrated.
The place is enormous, filled with vibrant atmosphere, colourful goods. It is easy to get lost in here but hey, don't worry. It is worth getting lost in here.
1. It is crowded. VERY crowded, so be sure to grasp your belongings tightly.
2. Items do not have price tags, so don't be shy to haggle, in fact, it is a must!

Spice Bazaar

Foodies rejoice! The Spice Bazaar is a budget friendly foodie wonderland for those who wants to get introduced to the rich culture via smell and taste.
Perhaps the most important tips of all: Say you are from Malaysia!
I got this question a lot in both Bazaars: "Konichiwa? Ni hao? Annyong? Where are you from?""Malaysia," while I was going to describe the location (I usually say "above Singapore", and people will go like "o..... I know Singapore." ), they said "Oh, WE ARE BROTHERS AND SISTERS! Choose anything, will give you good discount and free gifts."

Day 3: Modern Setting

Taksim Square

Such contrast from the historic side of Istanbul! This is a popular hub for major festival, nightlife and fine dining.
1. This is a good place to score a discount tickets to see the Whirling Dervishes in Galata Mevlevihanesi.
2. Get a Turkish Ice cream here (or near one of the bazaar). I prefer mine here though because the bazaar was too crowded to enjoy your ice cream in peace. ps: I WON'T tell you what to expect!

Dolmabahce palace

If you intend to visit only 1 palace during your visit, choose the Topkapi Palace. However, if you have the time and budget, I strongly suggest you to check out both. Dolmabahce Palace was home to six Sultans and the front gate itself is an architectural marvel, made out of marble. Beautifully set at the Bosporus, the palace has huge enchanting lawns, gardens and fountains. This is the perfect example of Eastern and Western aesthetics meeting each other.
Go early to skip the line and crowd. You have to take a guide.

Day 4: Bosphorus

Süleymaniye Mosque

This outstanding mosque is an Ottoman imperial mosque, the largest mosque in Istanbul. The Suleymaniye Mosque sitting high on the hill overlooking the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus Strait-- this,is the classic postcard view. 

Bosphorus cruise

A Bosphorus cruise is a great way to see both the European and the Asian side along the river.
Also, you can catch a glimpse of  Dolmabahçe Palace; Ciragan Palace; Ortakoy Mosque, Beylerbeyi Palace and so much more! We took a 2 hours cruise for 10 TL per person (I forgot the name of the company running it, but I remember someone telling me it is run by the state.), Also we tried the more affordable "cruise" which is the public ferry (just to the other side of the river.)
Wear more layers, it was very windy.

Kitchen on the water (Balık ekmek )

Before going on the Bosphorus cruise, I noticed some boats along the Eminonu Pier serving street food on land. I immediately come back for lunch.
Balık ekmek fish sandwich and traditional pickles (get them from the kiosks next to the seating area.)

Galata bridge


Connecting the “old” Eminonu to “new” Beyoglu, this bridge provide a plethora of eateries serving mainly fish dish. There were people along the bridge fishing and also a look out point perfect to admire sunset and take some great photos.

Galata Tower

If you are fit enought a climb a few stairs, take an elevator up to this iconic landmark of Istanbul to get a panoramic view of the city, the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus.
The stone tower is open from 9am to 8pm.

Whirling Dervishes

Just a short 4 minute walk from the Galata Tower, don't miss the Whirling Dervishes performance at the Galata Mevlevi Lodge.
Arrive early to grab the front row seats!

Day 5: More history and culture

Walls of Constantinople

Free to wander, the walls of Constantinople is a place shouldn't be missed by history buff. It gives you a sense of time, imagining how this walls used to guard the city during Roman times. At some point of the historic walk, you can even go up the walls to have an elevated view of the city of Istanbul.
To get there, take a boat from Eminonu to Ayvansaray.

Baclavas and Turkish Delights

For the best variety of sweets, I HIGHLY recommend Hafiz Mustafa 1864.
Address: Hobyar Mahallesi Hamidiye Cad. No:84 Bahçekapı Eminönü, 34080, Turkey
Phone:+90 212 513 3610
 I found this little gem sitting in a corner after having a fantastic time shopping for souvenirs. Amazing baclavas and puddings, I am a fan of turkish sweets ever since! AND, also included in my experience,was a detailed introduction to various kind of baclavas and sweets by a v-e-r-y handsome waiter. What not to love about this place?
Go to the upper floor (the lounge), where you can enjoy your dessert while looking out to the busy street of Istanbul.


A trip to Istanbul is never complete without a visit to a hamam (Turkish bath).
You can add scrubbing and/or a massage to your experience. The hamam is divided by sex although some caters to couples too (do ask at the counter.)
Buyuk Hamam (full session +massage and scrub) 35 TL (at least 30 TL cheaper than others)
Address: Camiikebir, 34440 İstanbul, Turkey
Phone:+90 212 253 4229

Thank You for Reading! 
This post is based on my opinion + personal experience. 
Feel free to share your thoughts with me by commenting below!


Cheryl said...

You make me want to fly to Istanbul. 🙏🙏🙏🙏 hopefully one day!

Cheryl said...

And is it easy to go to Greece from Istanbul? Did you combine greece with turkey or only turkey?

Sabi said...

Untunglah gi turkey... :)