Istanbul, Turkey

Intro: After seeing Taken II, the last thing my parents wanted to hear was that I had a trip to Istanbul planned. I understood where they were coming from, but I had spoken with other friends who had ventured there and had come back with nothing but good things to say about the ancient city. With a little street smarts, and local knowledge, Istanbul became a truly magical place. I totally recommend it!

You can find my journal-esque blog post about Istanbul here.

Eat: Istanbul is home of the Döner kebab- meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie. It’s a staple inexpensive meal for broke Erasmus students, and I’ve had my fair share in Paris… Berlin… Milan… basically, everywhere. That being said, I definitely wanted to try it on its home turf! It did not disappoint. Istanbul eats are c h e a p, so definitely go all out with the street foods, kebab, and TURKISH DELIGHT. You can buy these everywhere in the city. They’re almost like jellies, and covered with nuts and powdered sugar. They’re great, and are great souvenirs. Jussayin’. Turks also love their Raki- a white, cloudy liquor that smells like licorice. Try at your own risk, as it will hit you like a ton of bricks. Speaking of intense drinks, I tried a Turkish coffee and grew hair on my chest. It’s very thick, but a must try experience! I think I’ll stick to Turkish chai tea, which is sweet like the Southern sweet tea, except that it’s served hot there.

Sleep: We stayed in the historical Sultanahmet area of Istanbul, which was central to a lot of the tourist attractions and meant we were close to a lot of the Western hotel chains (and therefore, our people. Hehhh). We stayed at the youth hostel Bahaus Hostal, which had the sweetest staff. This was one of those classic simple hostels that had comfy beds, thick white duvets, and clean bathrooms with great showers. There was a complimentary breakfast, which provided cheeses, eggs, yogurt, sliced meats, and fresh fruit. On a sunny day, eating on the rooftop terrace can provide a great start to any day!

Trek: I flew from Dublin to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines (one of my favorite airlines for all the in-flight amenities!) into Atatürk Airport. This international airport is H U G E, so you’ll want to allow yourself ample time to get through it. Getting there early is no problem, as they have plenty of shops, Starbucks, and even an in-airport hotel to sleep at. I booked a room back in 2013 when I had an awkwardly medium-length layover in Istanbul, and it was so great to have a shower in the middle of trying to get home! As far as getting to the city, it’s best to take a cab. In the city, there are trams to take, ferries from the Europe to the Asia side of Istanbul, and cabs. Though, be warned, cabbies may try to rip you off. Ask what your fare is to be before you get into the cab!

Do: There is so much to do in this city! We toured the Hagia Sophia, which has the unique distinction of being both a basilica and a mosque in its nearly 1500 year history. Across the courtyard, the Blue Mosque can be found. Formally the “Sultan Ahmed Mosque,” it’s commonly known as the Blue Mosque for its interior blue tiles. It is absolutely breathtaking inside, and you can stare for hours at the intricate tile work on the interior without getting bored. It should be noted that although the Hagia Sophia is a museum, the Blue Mosque is still a popularly used functioning mosque and a modest dress code should be followed. You’ll also need to remove your shoes and females will have to cover their hair, so be prepared for that as well! Topkapi Palace, a major 15th century residence of the Ottoman sultans, and the Basilica Cistern, a 6th century ancient cistern, are also near the aforementioned. One of my favorite places to explore was the massive Grand Bazaar, which houses FOUR THOUSAND shops, and sees up to 400,000 visitors daily. It’s huge. It’s magnificent. It’s ancient- it’s been around for over five hundred years. Just let all that sink in. I could have spent two days just perusing all the shops. And then I’d probably still have three thousand to sift through.

Summarization: Turkish people are some of the nicest people I met on my travels. They’re hospitable, kind, and genuine. We met with a Turkish Istagrammer who took us to a Turkish dinner and for drinks after with some friends. It was a great authentic experience, and I’m positive he would have done it for anyone else traveling through Istanbul! Istanbul is a historical city full of secrets and stories and I’m so here for it. If you haven’t made it there yet, it’s definitely worth a trip!

Extra Notes:

  • Need Wifi? There’s Starbucks for that. You’ll have to buy a drink, but admit it, you wanted an excuse to buy a caramel frappuccino. Mmmm, homeeee.
  • During the calls to prayer, you’ll hear them loudly throughout the city. This took some getting used to at first!
  • We visited a bar that had no name, and just a bird as its logo on the outside of the building. It was the forreal coolest bar I’ve ever been to and of course I can’t even look it up to tell y’all to go there! I’ll figure it out one of these days… it was legit so cool inside. UGH.
  • On my bucket list STILL is to visit neighboring Cappadocia and go on a hot-air balloon ride! We simply didn’t have enough time to fit it in to our trip, but I am determined to go eventually! It’s definitely worth looking into, though. I’ve heard great things about it!