On October 2014 I decided to visit my father in Istanbul. Istanbul, (a city name which i will misspell along this post countless of times (Instabul, Istambul or Istabul), also known in the past as Constantinople, is a charming city at a great strategic location between Europe and Asia which has given it great economical, cultural and historical significance.
I started my trip by visiting the impressive Hagia Sophia a beautiful example of how buildings can age well just like people. First built as a Greek Orthodox Christian Cathedral and later reconstructed in a Byzantine style, became the largest cathedral in the world.
After Sultan Mehmed conquered renamed the city to Istanbul, Aya Sofya was converted into a mosque and the minarets added during the 16th and 17th centuries. Nowadays, this is not a place of worship but a museum that has gone through several restorations making it still a beautiful memory of the past.
Walking away from Hagia Sophia, through the Sultanahmet Park, you will find Sultan Ahmet Camii, known as the Blue Mosque. Built in 17th century it is a great example of Ottoman design, mixing some elements of Islamic and Byzantine architecture.
Because this is still an active mosque, tourist visits are not allowed during prayer times and when allowed, make sure to follow the rules with the respect any place of worship should be given.
A few minutes away, we visited the Kapalıçarşı, the Grand Bazaar, constructed in the 15th century this is one of the oldest covered markets.
As you walk inside and while trying to picture this market at the peek of the Ottoman Empire, this must have been an incredible place for trading with products coming from both Europe and Asia. You can still shop for spices, sweets, textiles and jewellery and although the ancient organisation of merchants disappeared, you can still find each type of business along specific streets.
On the second day, we crossed the river to the Asian part of Istanbul, by metro through the Marmaray Tunnel made by a Japanese-Turkish consortium. I decided to mention this because I once saw a documentary about it’s construction and I absolutely loved it, I’m an engineer geek and this was some really cool engineering feat.
On the other side we visited the tiny island Kız Kulesi, the Maiden’s tower. A stone construction ordered by Sultan Mehmet in a place where stood an older version built by an Athenian commander to control and tax the the passage of boats. It is said, that during the Roman times it even became part of a two tower combination connected by a chain to protect against the passing of enemy boats.
Back on the European side, we strolled along the coastline to the impressive Dolmabahçe Sarayı, the Dolmabahce Palace. Built later in the 19th century for accommodating the Sultans and his family in replacement of the old Topkapı Palace, the Dolmabahce is an absolutely stunning place both in the outside and the inside with it’s huge chandeliers and massive rooms
From there we climbed up the cobweb of streets, and reached the Galata Kulesi, Galata tower, a medieval stone tower from where you can get a great panoramic view of Istanbul.
Still on the same day we took the tram up to Taksim Meydanı, Taksim Square, and from there we walked back down the İstiklal Caddesi, Istiklal Street, stoping to see some baklava shop and to check some hidden small side streets.
On the third day we visited the Topkapı Palace Museum, built in the 15th century after que conquest of Constantinople and which served as the residence of the Ottoman sultans until the construction of the Dolmabahce.
To me, because I love medieval palaces, it was a delight. A great afternoon can be spent here, slowly and casualy checking rooms and enjoying the view. If you decide to take this palace on, its time consuming and tourist packed, so the earlier or the later, the better.
After, we went on a boat ride up the Bosphorus until the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Köprüsü and back down to the city center. On the left bank you will pass the Dolmabahçe palace and see the Rumeli Hisarı, a medieval fortress from the 15th century that i would absolutely have loved to visit.
On the return trip the boat came closer to the Asian shore of the Bosphorus, definitely a place more exquisite with hotels, fancy houses and boats.
For the last day I visited the Yerebatan Sarnıcı, the Basilica Cistern, that dates from the Byzantine period. I went underground and then through wooden paths seeing the incredible columns and high ceiling. However unfortunately I don’t have cool pictures because me and my camera we did not understood each other properly at that time.
From the airport you can get to the city center by bus or metro. Bus from company Havatas departs every 30 minutes, from 4 am to 23 pm, costs around 4 dollars and takes you to Taksim, passing also at Yenikapı.
However if your staying somewhere near the Hagia Sophia (and you’re traveling light!) your best option is metro. Make sure to change at Zeytinburnu and board the T1 Kabataş tram to reach the center at Sultanahmet or Sirkeci stations.
The whole area around Hagia Sophia is obviously worth checking. If you are able to spot it, you will find traces of old constructions almost anywhere around this area.
Entrance to Hagia Sophia costs around 10 dollars and because it is a museum there is no dress code to enter. However free, entrance to the blue mosque will be subject to schedules and dress code. Make sure to dress covering your legs and in case you’re a woman also cover your heads and shoulders with a scarf.
Visiting the gran Bazaar is also free and you can try and spot the five main gates around the area. Wandering inside may take you a while so plan to have a clear schedule to be lost inside.
The Topkapi palace opens everyday except on Tuesdays, from 9 am to 4:45 pm, extended to 6:45 between November and April. Ticket will cost 10 dollars to see the palace and an extra 6 to visit the Harem. Plan ahead to have ample of time for touring through all of the exhibitions inside.
The Dolmabace is open from 9 am to 4:30 pm and closed on Mondays and Thursdays. Entrance ticket can vary between 6 to 14 dollars depending on whether you opt for a simple entrance or a combined ticket for Palace, Harem and clock museum. I think I only visited the Palace and I had a tour probably already included in the ticket price.
Regarding the entrance to the Galata tower it will cost you around 4 dollars and it should be open from 9 am to 8:30 pm.
To get to Uskudar and visit the Maiden’s Tower, you can take the metro from Sirkeci Station and then a short boat ride. Entrance fee and boat ride together should round up to 4 dollars but you still need to add the metro ride.
Everything around this map below is perfectly doable on foot, although you can take a tram to to up to Taksim Square if you wanna save some energy.
The boat rides leave from the boat pier near Sirkeci station, I have no idea what boat tour i took but i left a general trajectory on the map below.
Also added some nice features of the boat trip and included the location of something I found really cute: the Miniaturk. This is a museum with model miniatures of architectural heritage of Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman cultures. The museum can be reached by buses:
- Line 36 T from Taksim to Cebeci
- Line 41 ST from Topkapı to Seyrantep
- Line TB 1 from Sultanahmet to Dolmabahçe
What would I do differently
Because my father was living there he was able to give me a really cool tour and I think we covered a lot just in 4 days. Despite this I left without seeing the aqueduct, which i tried to visit but got lost on the way, and the fortress up the Bosporus i saw from the boat.
Hello! Long, long, long time no write. No use wasting words with excuses, I was too overwhelmed with life and something had to stay behind.
I bought a house (!) and I am really excited (!) but renovations have been delayed, as they often do with these things. For the time being, this means less traveling until I get my money back in order.
Luckily I’m still writing about 2014.
I don’t know if it would be cool or not to create a section on this blog for buying / renovating / decorating the house, after all this is “memories of a wanderer” and I am still wandering in life. I wanna use this moving to a new house moment, to become a minimalist (which my friends are making fun of because I am a hoarder) I though it would be interesting to document this. What do you think?
Next stop, Japan again! I have a new year trip to Japan with the sun rising, ironware shopping and Sea of Japan.
Exciting times again! Great motivation for the new year. Good luck for all of your projects / ideas / plans and a wishes of a very very very good 2019.