Planning a trip is like solving a puzzle. It involves putting together different pieces of curated information about a city and making the right choices that will satisfy your unique interests and curiosities. This indeed can be said for literally any city. However when you are planning a trip to a city that sits on two continents, is estimated to be older than 6000 years and has been the capital of four empires; creating your unique masterpiece experience may be a little bit more complicated than solving even the most complicated puzzle.
You may ask around who has been there, read a guide book or two, check out Tripadvisor or just post very specific questions on Facebook, Twitter or Google+. Do you think this will suffice for a city that has a population nearly twice the size of Sweden? No. When Istanbul is in the question, the answer is never easy or a single one for that matter.
Let’s start with the basics!
Where to stay in Istanbul?
Istanbul is so huge that it is nearly three times as big as London.
However don’t make this vastness scare you, if you have one day in Istanbul and you need a place to stay – regardless of who you are and what your interest is – Beyoğlu is the district to base yourself.
Unlike many European cities, there are several city centres in Istanbul. To name a few: Eminönü is and has been the heart of trade in Istanbul for hundreds of years with many landmark bazaars and narrow streets that are categorised based on the commodities offered in small shops all crammed together.
Sultanahmet is the heart of the old city, surrounded by every major architectural marvel that marked the Ottoman and Roman history alike – except for a few iconic buildings peppered around on the shores of Istanbul.
Kadıköy is the “Beyoğlu” of the Asian continent with a very vibrant nightlife, colourful shopping streets and cultural offerings.
Beyoğlu however is the place to be, as it is a hub of everything that all of the districts above can offer together. Taksim Square is the transportation hub of Istanbul. There are few places – if any – that you cannot get to from Taksim. The number of hotels and hostels in the district are for everyone from luxury travelers to backpackers. In every corner of Beyoğlu, Istanbul life is so vibrant and colourful that you can eat from a Michelin Star chef’s menu or enjoy a “simple hamburger” on the same street. Walking down with the crowds from around the world on the busiest of shopping streets, Istiklal Caddesi. You may see a magical street performance or you may end up in a pop-up performing arts gig. Whether it is Ottoman or Byzantine history; Islamic, Christian or Jewish culture of Istanbul you are after, Beyoğlu has it all! Istiklal Street is one of the streets that host the highest number of art galleries or exhibition spaces in Istanbul. If you don’t want any of it and just want to enjoy a book in a silent outdoor space where you can also admire the silhouette of Istanbul, parks and mosques, the Cihangir neighborhood awaits you, just like hip and urban cafes and restaurants in the hood of Karaköy, on the shore of the Golden Horn.
The list may go on and on, but if we have been able to convince you here are some accommodation suggestions that may be of interest for you in/around Taksim:
Georges Hotel: http://www.georges.com/
X Flats: http://www.xflats.com/
Witt Istanbul: http://www.wittistanbul.com/
Adahan Sishane: http://www.adahanistanbul.com/
Bunk Hostels: http://bunkhostels.com/
World House Hostel Galata: http://www.worldhouseistanbul.com/
One day in Istanbul: What’s the recipe for a perfect day in the city?
You are now settled in a luxury room looking over the magnificent Bosporus, or just staring from your hotel down to narrow streets of Istanbul buzzing with life. You want your piece of buzzing for that one day, but you don’t know where to start…
We are talking about a city that cannot possibly be covered in a lifetime, but just because you have one day in Istanbul, here is a cheat-list of things to do for that will help you write the postcard right!
Visit the “old city” of Istanbul: Sultanahmet
Writing that post card right involves at least half a day trip to “old city” – and when we say the “old city” Sultanahmet is the place to be. You need to breath the air in/around Sultanahmet if you are ever going to convince anyone that you stepped foot on “Istanbul”. Historically, Sultanahmet area has always been the richest and most important part of Istanbul. Blue Mosque, Hippodrome Square, Hagia Sophia, Underground Cistern (my favourite!) and Topkapi Palace are among the highlights of Sultanahmet. From there you can also take a walk downhill from the Grand Bazaar and end up in the Spice Bazaar standing next to the famed Golden Horn where the sunsets are always a sight to see. This lower end of the old city is full of interesting shopping opportunities and experiences, offering you an escape from the banality of the packed and copy-paste shops of giant city malls.
Visit local neighborhoods along the Bosporus Strait
From old ages to imperial history settlement after settlement Istanbulites chose to build their lives on the shores of the Bosporus Strait. And they have done rightly so! This waterway forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia is indeed among the most beautiful natural formations of the world.
The limits of the Bosporus are defined as the connecting line between the lighthouses Rumeli Feneri and Anadolu Feneri in the north and between the Ahırkapı Feneri and the Kadıköy İnciburnu Feneri in the south. Between these limits, numerous villages are lined up like precious pearls on a very elegant necklace. As Istanbul grew these villages have turned into neighborhoods, each with their own differentiating offerings.
If you do not feel like visiting museums or taking in so much history, you may want to hop on a ferry boat from Kabatataş or Beşiktaş and visit Üsküdar, Çengelköy, Kandilli. Then take another public ferry to Arnavutköy, Rumeli Hisari or Emirgan. Getting almost lost and feeling the vibe of Bosporus is something very unique.
You can find the current Istanbul public ferry schedules at: http://www.sehirhatlari.com.tr/
or download the Şehir Hatları (City Lines) apps for your convenience: https://itunes.apple.com/tr/app/sehir-hatlar/id783673371?mt=8
One great thing about Turkey is our hospitality. If you cannot choose between your options or don’t know if you’ll be able to manage your time to fit in as much as possible, don’t sweat it! Treat yourself to a day of Turkish hospitality – which is definitely something to write back home about anyway! – with a top-notch travel agency.
I would recommend Istanbul Tour Studio. They have very interesting and enriching Istanbul tours that you can enjoy with professional guides who speak impeccable English!
If you happen to end up in this city multi-continental city on a Saturday, do check out Istanbul Tour Studio’s “One Day in Istanbul Tours” which run every Saturday from 10am-3pm: https://istanbultourstudio.com/tours/i-have-one-day-in-istanbul
Traveling is about the journey, the adventure; it is about the happy, exciting accidental things and people you encounter and not so much about the checks you put on a to-do list. Don’t let the number of things you are missing out make you leave unsatisfied when you should feel lucky to have experienced an imperial capital. So if life hands you a flight delay or simply a single day in Istanbul, make the most of it and enjoy!