Hello! I just got back from an amazing trip to Turkey, spending time both at Istanbul and at Cappadocia. It’s my first time visiting and I’m here to share both my experience as well as some tips for those of you who are interested in travelling to this beautiful country too!
Istanbul is a large city split into two main areas - the European side and the Asian side. Most of the historical sites are located on the Asian side, so many tourists would choose to stay there.
For this trip, I decided to book a Hotel on the European side instead because I felt that it’s easier for us to just do short day trips to the Asian side and spend more of our time where the pretty cafes and shopping area is hehe. I really loved the neighbourhood we stayed at - Nisantasi - because it's one of the safest areas in Istanbul, filled with lovely cafes and stores, and at night the trees are even decorated with fairy lights!
More on our stay at Park Hyatt Macka Plas here :)
Places of Interest
These are basically all the must-do must-see places and activities for everyone who visits Istanbul for the first time
This is the main area on the Asian side of Istanbul. It’s a huge but walkable area, so you can simply take a taxi or public transport over and spend an afternoon covering 3-4 attractions at one go! Here you can find the famous Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Archaeological Museum and the tombs of past Sultans. Just a short walking distance away you can also visit the Grand Bazaar.
Cafe at Topkapi Palace
Tombs of Past Sultans
We spent about 2hours walking the grounds and taking pictures but only went in to the Blue Mosque. To be honest, initially the place I really wanted to see was the Topkapi Palace but the queue was so long even though it’s supposed to be low season. So we ended up having Baklava and hot chocolate at a cafe right outside the palace that has beautiful views of the property!
The Blue Mosque is really stunning inside though! I was so blown away by the intricate artwork on the walls. Definitely a must-see :) It’s free to enter but female tourists need to wear a headscarf, there’s a booth outside that loans headscarfs and long skirts for free. You’d have to remove your shoes before entering as well so try to wear something convenient!
We only spent 10mins just walking through the Grand Bazaar and left. To be honest, I don’t feel that it’s worth visiting. It’s super crowded and there are many touts outside which was quite uncomfortable for me. The prices are obviously inflated and most of the things that they are selling can be found on other streets as well.
The Bosphorus strait is a natural waterway that separates the European part from the Asian part of Istanbul. There are many different variations of Bosphorus cruise tours available like sunset dinner cruises, or cruises with performance shows, or simple half day ferry trips like the one we went on.
We were actually quite disappointed to discover that the tour we paid for was just a general one on a public ferry. Technically we could have just taken a taxi to the ferry terminal and took it ourselves lol. Luckily I booked the one which includes bringing us to the highest point with an amazing view of Istanbul before we took the cable car down together, so it was still kinda worth it. Highly recommend you check reviews properly before making your booking!
Telefarik - Cable Car
The Telefarik or cable car is actually more of a mode of transport than a tourist attraction. It's really cheap and lasts only for a few minutes. There are a few telefarik stations around, there's even one just walking distance from our hotel that will link us to the popular Taksim Square.
It's a pleasant experience though since the one we took was from high point! I'd imagine the views from the vantage point we were at would be even more amazing if it wasn't so foggy that day :)
These pictures are taken at the viewing point! I can't remember what the name of the place is, but after googling I think this is Camlica Hill
I LOVE TURKISH FOOD!!
Everything is cheap and absolutely delicious, especially love their Turkish Manti (dumplings/pasta) and lentil soup! Missing it already sighs
To put things in perspective, our most expensive meal was at Spago Istanbul which was located right opposite our hotel at the St. Regis. Delicious food, stunning views of the city and amazing service. Our bill? About SGD$140. And this is after over-ordering like crazy! A meal like that at Marina Bay Sands would easily be double the price.
Had a taste of their street food too, and this Turkish Pretzel (Simit) is really yummy with butter!! Easily found everywhere along almost every street :)
Located right outside Park Hyatt Mackas Plas
This is hands down the best kebab my husband and I ever had! The lamb was so juicy and tasty, and I don't even really like lamb to begin with. It's a beautiful restaurant in Nisantasi, if you're ever in the area I highly recommend you try this!
And not forgetting the famous Turkish coffee and hot chocolate. The chocolate in Turkey is AMAZING. Definitely must-try!
Istanbul felt generally safe to me in terms of terrorism or political unrest. People were just going on with their lives as per normal. There's security checks at every shopping mall and hotel entrance so you don't really have to worry.
I would, however, recommend that you keep your purses close to you and don't stay out too late in quiet areas. There was a fair bit of touts and beggars when I was at the Asia side - especially around the Grand Bazaar which was honestly quite uncomfortable for me. So just be careful, especially if you are a solo female traveller!
Use the Bitaksi App
Before heading to Istanbul, I did a fair bit of research and read about a lot of negative experiences regarding taxis there. So this app was really good!! It's similar to Uber (which is available in Istanbul as well), and you can just call your taxi with the app and pay by credit card, fixed rate :) Don't enter random taxis especially in touristy areas because they would most likely scam you, even our hotel concierge warned us about it.
Always always bring a namecard of your hotel with you because not everyone can speak english. And if you find yourself in a situation where there are no cabs available on the app, walk to the nearest large hotel establishment and ask them to call a cab for you at a fixed rate.
We actually spent 165euros booking for an Airport Transfer from Park Hyatt - the service was impeccable by the way! They picked us up right after we came out of the plane and ferried us to the customs and picked up our bags for us! But honestly, spending about $300sgd on just airport transfer is really expensive.
So I found and tested another airport transfer that charges a fraction of the cost, was on time and completely safe!
Link here - https://istanbul.safeairporttransfer.com
Remember to tip
We didn't realise we had to tip initially and was quite embarrassed to find out later, so remember to tip ok!!
Istanbul is truly an interesting city of contrasts. A place where east meets west. A beautiful place so full of history. I'm really glad I got to visit this amazing place.
Hope this guide has been useful!