"Too little time......." Istanbul by leics

Istanbul Travel Guide: 7,934 reviews and 20,602 photos

..but I knew there would be.

This was a brief trip, just 3 nights...two whole days and a morning. Enough, I knew, to do nothing more than scratch the surface of this huge and vibrant city, to see the major historical sites and to spend just a short while exploring the realities.

And so it was.

I chose a hotel right in Sultanhamet, to ensure I spent as little time as possible getting to and from the places I wanted to see. I knew it was the 'tourist area' but for this short visit it suited my purposes. As it turned out, the hotel was right on the edge of Cankurtaran, a much more 'real' area and one which I enjoyed wandering for a while before breakfast and after my evening meal.

My priorities were simple: Topkapi and the Harem, Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque and anything else I could manage to fit in. As it turned out, I managed to fit in quite a lot more than I expected by walking and walking and walking from (more or less) 9 am until 5pm, with only the briefest of breaks (usually for tea and something sweet to get the blood sugar back up again!).

But it was crowded....far more so than I had imagined. I was at Topkapi when it opened at 9am (there was a 15-minute queue even then), and by 11.30 it was heaving with tour groups, school parties and a huge contingent of what I assume were Turkish sailors on a daytrip (all terribly smart in their uniforms).

My visits to Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque were also accompanied by tour groups and school parties. I have to say that small Turkish schoolchildren are just as noisy as their UK equivalents!

What must Istanbul be like in the high season? I have realised that the return visit I plan for the future must most definitely be in low season....I found the crowds I encountered quite irritating enough and every tram I saw was packed to the gills with people, so much so that I simply couldn't face forcing myself inside to explore more widely.

I managed to fit in (not just ticking boxes, but taking my time and properly looking):

* Topkapi and the Harem

Ayia Sofia

* Sultanahmet Camii (the Blue Mosque)

* Ayia Irene (from the outside only, but finding some rather fascinating excavations tucked away behind)

* the Basilica Cistern (wonderful in essence, if tending towards the cheesy in its touristy presentation)

* the Byzantine Hippodrome and its sundry ancient columns

* the really excellent Archeology Museum

* the equally excellent museum of the Ancient Orient

* Sirkeci station

* the Spice Bazaar (or the Egyptian Bazaar, if you prefer)

* a wander across Galata Bridge into Karakoy and a visit to its fish market

* Rustem Pasa Camii (with the most wonderful Iznik tiles)

* a wander along some of the sea walls, and what is left of the Palace of Bucleon (hardly anything visible, in truth)

* a very quick whizz round the Grand Bazaar..not my idea of fun, I'm afraid

* Beyazit Camii with its beautiful courtyard columns of marble, serpentine and porphry

* various wanders around Cankurtaran and Kumkapi

That may seem like a lot.....but there is still so very much more to see and explore. I've not been to the Asian side....explored no further than the water's edge of Karakoy...to Eyup....to Dolmabahce Palace...taken the ferries across and along the Bosphorus...explored Istakal Caddesi......loads of things.

Things which stick in my mind:

* the huge variety of clothing styles

* the beauty of tiles

* the abundant friendliness and sheer basic courtesy of ordinary folk

* the quiet inside the huge buildings, even when they are full of visitors

the tulips....such bright colours and so many of them

* the cats

* walking back on the lower deck of the Galata Bridge and being 'hooked' by a fisherman above...and how kind and concerned were the two men who rushed to my aid, how they disentangled me (the hook had, fortunately, caught in my shoe rather than in me) and insisted I took the lead weight as my 'good luck charm'..

* the delicious smell of fried fish around the Kayakoy fish market and the many people thoroughly enjoying their fish sandwich lunches..

* the umpteen street sellers of simit, roast corn on the cob, roast chestnuts, and the knife grinders, and the shoe-shine-men...and the little boys I saw with their plastic bags of tissues and their sets of scales...

* the sheer massive variety and diversity of what was on sale, everywhere....

* the ebullient, gregarious and absolutely tireless chef-hatted owner of the Kayat Cafe, just up the road from my hotel, whose cries of 'My sister! My brother!' to all and sundry ensured his cafe was full of people whenever I passed....and whose food was excellent, and well-priced, and whose much quieter relative (brother?) served everyone with courtesy and modest smiles.....

* glimpses of ancient Sultanahmet which are still visible, hidden between and beside 'newer' buildings....six hamam domes seen from my hotel but entirely inaccessible....a chunk of city wall protruding ...a watchtower leaning drunkenly over a narrow street...

* the lack of health and safety regulations.....no nanny state here....people trusted to know their own abilities and take responsibility for their own lives...

* the sheer number of people....not just the tourists but Istambullu themselves...

* the wooden houses in Cankurtaran, patched and re-patched, full of holes, leaning drunkenly at angles above the streets...and still lived in...and many with satellite dishes....

So very different in so many ways, but I felt safe there.......and next time (yes, there will be a next time) I will explore more......

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Stuffed with history and things to see
  • Cons:Vast and busy...and the traffic!
  • In a nutshell:Wonderful city full of history
  • Last visit to Istanbul: Apr 2010
  • Intro Updated Oct 12, 2014
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Reviews (19)

Comments (10)

  • pieter_jan_v's Profile Photo
    Oct 12, 2014 at 8:48 AM

    Hey J, Good to read you visited Istanbul. I still have great memories of my visit. BTW small typo in the intro (mnanage).. PJ

    • pieter_jan_v's Profile Photo
      Oct 12, 2014 at 8:55 AM

      For me it was April/May of 2011. It was a big eye opener and I loved every day (came back with a kilo of Baklava!). PJ

    • leics's Profile Photo
      Oct 12, 2014 at 9:09 AM

      I think it will be on next year's list, though I don't think the farmer's wife will appreciate it...too big, too busy, too much history!

  • zadunajska8's Profile Photo
    Jan 10, 2012 at 10:46 AM

    Some really useful tips here I'll try to put to good use later this year - perhaps most importantly about WHEN to go!

  • vichatherly's Profile Photo
    Aug 10, 2011 at 4:45 AM

    Excellent Istanbul trips. I've been a few times and still have not even touched the seurface of it's treasures

  • Roadquill's Profile Photo
    May 3, 2011 at 5:42 PM

    Great info J, We will be heading to Ist right after the euromeet. Still trying to find the right hotel. Best, Karl

  • Raimix's Profile Photo
    Mar 13, 2011 at 2:04 PM

    Great oagem great place! Waiting forward to visit it in May ;)

  • Regina1965's Profile Photo
    Feb 4, 2011 at 11:23 AM

    A good page, now I want to visit as well :)

  • nhcram's Profile Photo
    Jan 11, 2011 at 5:22 AM

    Great page J. Look forward to visiting in June x

  • roamer61's Profile Photo
    Oct 17, 2010 at 9:19 AM

    Hey J. I like the video of the cafe owner/chef playing the Turkish Guitar.

  • maykal's Profile Photo
    May 18, 2010 at 11:16 AM

    I've never seen anyone "hooked" either, but I have had a few near-misses! Great page...you managed to pack in a lot in 2 days, hope you go back to see the rest one day.

  • Durfun's Profile Photo
    Apr 12, 2010 at 1:16 PM

    Woah! I did wonder if those over-zealous fishermen ended up hurting passers-by...


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