Istanbul Travel Tips
For my first time in Istanbul stayed in Sultanamet as it is full of interesting historical sites all within walking distance. Stayed at the Ibrahim Pasha Hotel which is a lovely boutique hotel five minutes walk from the Blue Mosque. It has a lovely rooftop bar and has a great view of the mosque, great for sundowners!
On our first day we bought The Museum Pass card for 85TL which is valid for 5 days and gives access to lots of sites without having to queue. The pass can be bought at most historical sites at the ticket counter or at automated kiosks (though these didn't seem to be working while I was there). The first place we went to was the Hagia Sophia which is now a museum but used to be a church and then a mosque. You can see all the layers of history on it, very interesting, would recommend getting a guide outside as they will be able to bring it to life, worth the money!
Then we went to Topkapi Palace and visited the Harem. Loved the Harem it is decorated with the beautiful Iznik tiles. Very impressive and definitely worth having a look in there. The palace is quite spread out with lots of different sections you have to walk between. You probably need a good half day to see everything and take your time.
After this sightseeing we were ready for something to eat and went to the Seven Hills restaurant because they have a rooftop terrace. Food and service was great in there but the best thing was the view and we were presented with the most amazing sunset which changed from yellow to bright neon pink. I've never seen a sunset like that before and on asking the waiter he advised that this was a regular occurrence!
Opposite the Seven Hills Restaurant is the Four Seasons Hotel which we went in for a drink and ended up in the wine tasting night! It is lovely in there, worth a visit.
On the second day we went to the Basilica Cistern which contains ancient cisterns which were built in the 6th century to contain water underground for the city. Really fascinating definitely worth going to. This isn't included in the Museum Pass so you will have to queue to get a ticket, but this doesn't take long.
Next we walked to the Grand Bazaar to go shopping for ceramics and bags. It really is full of shops, just too many, and great fun to stop and buy as the sellers are very friendly and will probably give you some apple tea if you are buying!
Late afternoon we went to the Mosque as there are set times you can go to visit as the other times are for praying as it is an active Mosque. Lots of Iznik tiling in there but not at ground level so you can't really get to see the tiles up close. Very beautiful.
One thing we noticed in Sultanamet was all the stray cats and dogs which looked very well fed! Did a bit of research and found that the city spays the dogs and then releases them back outside and that local people feed them. Seems to be a folklore to treat stray animals well. Its wonderful, I've never been to a city that cares for strays as much as this!
For our last day we went to Galata Tower and wandered around the streets next to it shopping. There are some great boutique shops there with original one off designs, we bought quite a lot. Also went into the Anemon Hotel opposite as they have a rooftop restaurant and from there you can get the view without having to climb up the steps of the Galata Tower. Looking down we saw a marriage proposal with letters spelt on the top of umbrellas, just so cute!
Istanbul is great, lots to see and do and next time will need to stay and visit the Asia side!