What I did
Took a tour inside Hagia Sofia, blue mosque, Topkapi palace. Walked across the bridge through the Bosphorus Strait. Took a one day trip to Cappadocia/Kapadokya. Took a ferry to Kadikoy, and walked 4 hours from Kadikoy to Uskudar.
Sights to Visit
Old Sultanahmet, Beyoglu, Taksim, Uskudar, Kadikoy, Emninou
How many days: 5 days 4 nights
Taxi, tram, metro, ferry, walking (lots of it)! Uber, and yes they have Uber
What to pack
I packed one suitcase and brought one backpack throughout my trip. I packed a map, comfy shoes, sunscreen, chapstick, selfie stick, disposal camera, everything you need to know about Istanbul book by lonely planet.
First off I can’t describe how amazing this city is. By far, one of my favorite fast-paced cities.
Istanbul is shaped like a triangle that is filled with three major neighborhoods. My neighborhood in Old Sultanahmet near all the tourist attractions. The other one is Beyoglu north of Old Sultanahmet and one bridge/ferry/tram ride away. Both neighborhoods are on the ‘European’ side. The other neighborhood is in the ‘Asian’ side near the town of Uskudar. Both European and Asian side are separated by the Bosphorus Strait.
The city of Istanbul is an Islamic city. They would coordinate a ‘prayer for calling’ 5 times a day. In early mornings or late night evenings, you would hear loud prayer callings everywhere you go. One starting at 5 am and another one that at 12 am.
I loved my hotel and neighborhood. I stayed at the Yusufpasa Konagi, it’s near a cul-de-sac surrounded by dozens of outdoor cafes, gypsy shops, and Turkish restaurants. Near my hotel was filled with tourist attractions. Some of them include the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque – only a 20 min walking distance from my hotel. The downside of my neighborhood is that it is filled with tourists. EVERYWHERE. Tourist here, tourist there, tourist everywhere.
My other friends Miguel and Tiba lived in Beyoglu – a hip city with lots of creatives and a younger crowd in a lively atmosphere. A godsend if you want to get away from the tourists. The nightlife in Beyoglu is pretty standard with lots of cheap cafe bars and of Syrian Refugees. They also lived near Galata tower, a medieval stone tower in the Galata/Karaköy quarter of Istanbul.
I loved eating in authentic restaurants in old Sultanahmet and Üsküdar. I think the first night we had some rice + basil, with shredded chicken, chickpea beans, and tomato sauce. We ate so much bread, it was a sin not to eat one. Always, order chai tea and indulge in the flavor profile while stirring it with a sugar cube.
I’m very surprised that Turkish/Ottoman meals are not spicy. For every meal I’ve had no spice. I had to ask for hot sauce and literally had to soak it in ALL of my meals, which is surprising because almost every store in Istanbul is known for their spices.
I think what really stood out for me was Istanbul’s carpet industry. Almost every carpet is so intricate and detailed that it amazes you that people hand crafted it. Another side note, the men standing outside of the shops will holler at you and try to get you inside their shop. Some of them kept on following me and I had to politely tell them NO I was not interested in buying or haggling with them.
The lines they would use to get you inside their stores are hilarious because I’ve heard almost everything from “can I offer something you don’t need” to “come inside and pet my carpet” to “nǐ hǎo ma?” and yes they would actually speak Chinese to me…
Overall my experience in Istanbul was too short but perfect and magical because I got to do a lot for 5 nights. Getting lost in the city is perfectly okay, just make sure to be firm and say “NO” to sketchy strangers. Get lost and explore the cafes, carpet, spices, and trinket shops. But make sure to come home with a souvenir.