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Travel Guide: Istanbul, Turkey

Turkey is a magical country-- from beautiful sights to the friendliest people, it was the perfect vacation destination. It was on my travel bucket list for many years and I'm so glad I finally got to visit in May. I stayed in Istanbul for 4 days and had the best time.

Where to Stay

If it's your first time visiting, I highly recommend staying in Sultanahmet also known as Istanbul Old Town. This is the heart of Istanbul and where all the main historical and cultural attractions are located. If you book your hotel in advance, you can find rooms for as low as $60/night. I stayed at the Great Fortune Design Hotel and had a wonderful experience. The staff was so accommodating and helped us navigate our stay. The hotel also has it's own Hammam (Turkish bath) which was such a relaxing experience. The hotel is less than a 10 min walk from the Grand Bazaar and Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Museum, Blue Mosque, etc. Just up the street from the hotel, about a 4 min walk, is the tram station.

What to Do

There is so much rich Islamic culture and historical attractions to see in Istanbul. You can purchase a museum pass on your first day at a discounted rate to get admission into all the museums. There a lot of tour guides available as well that you can book through your hotel. Here is a list of must visit spots if you are visiting:

  • Hagia Sophia

  • Blue Mosque

  • Suleymaniye Mosque

  • Sultanahmet Square

  • Dolmabahçe Palace

  • Topkapi Palace Museum

  • Maiden's Tower

  • Grand Bazaar

  • Ortakoy Mosque

  • Bosphorus Bridge

  • Galata Tower

  • Takism Square

  • Balat

Where to Eat

Turkey was a halal food heaven for me! There wasn't a meal that I did not enjoy and if you're visiting soon, then be prepared to be overwhelmed with food options. Some of my favorite spots that I tried are:

  • Sah Sultan Cafe

  • Galata Sirin Firin

  • Qooqs Cafe

  • Seven Hills Restaurant

  • Hafiz Mustafa

  • Nusret Steakhouse

  • Zeferan Sultanahmet

  • Blacktop Cafe & Bistro

How to Get Around

Visiting Turkey in May was a great decision because the weather was amazing. It was just hot enough to be able to walk around. The traffic in Istanbul is very bad and in most cases it was faster to walk or get on the tram than a car. I highly suggest getting a tram pass and using that to explore Istanbul. It's very inexpensive and is the fastest way to get around. If you're staying in Sultanahmet, then most of the attractions will be at a walking distance.

If you do need to get a car, it's best to ask your hotel to call a taxi for you. Using the Uber app was very difficult as most people would cancel the rides after accepting. In most cases, they would accept the ride and then ask for more money when they picked you up. It was very confusing and had us waiting a lot for rides. But our hotel staff was very accommodating and helped us book our taxis in advance.

While in Turkey, I also visited Cappadocia for a few days. Check out my blog post here for more details.

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