“The City on Seven Hills”, “To the city”, “The city”
9th to 11th of November, 2012
[flickr size=”medium” float=”left”]7657313@N08/8621884306[/flickr]
Finally we managed another of our destinations which was in our wish list for a long time. On this occasion, thanks to the air fare deal by Pegasus Airlines, the Turkish low cost. And although the flight times are not the most convenient ones, they give you in fact, the whole of the weekend to enjoy, by departing Friday night as the last flight of Stansted Airport and landing in Istanbul just before 5am on Saturday.
Don’t you worry about landing so early, Ataturk Airport is already getting busy by that time and you have everything already open and running, and so the bus to the city centre.
The city is the largest in Europe (by population within city limits, ref. Wikipedia) and also offers the visitor a great and vast amount of sights, monuments, museums and historical places. Once named Byzantium, the capital city of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople in the Ottoman Empire. Buildings from every epoch are still standing in great fusion with the modern and elegant city, where broad avenues where laid out on top of the ancient city.
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A great tip which will save you loads of time for sightseeing is to stay at a hotel (hostel, apartment or wherever you plan to stay) near Sultanahmet, since from this area you are only walking distance from most of the sights. No need for any transportation, only on foot (unless when going to Taksim Square or other areas).
Consider visiting the city in low season, this means immediately prices are much lower for everything, queues for the sights will be greatly reduced (while in high season expect even hours for Topkapi Palace or Hagia Sophia), and as always the best of this is the city looking much real and not an amusement park for tourists. I rarely can say this for my short weekend escapes to any city in Europe, but a weekend in Istanbul is really not enough, but at least will give you a hint and will amaze you on how pretty and how much history it has.
No visit to Istanbul can be really a visit without the must-do’s Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Grand Bazaar and a Bosphorus boat ride. But for sights I concentrate later on in the next section.
With regards to food, well, you are never too far from a great choice, specially if on the street between the Basilica Cistern and the Grand Bazaar. Be sure you go for Arabic food, which obviously includes hummus, falafel, dolma, kofte… or the mandatory kebab.
What to see and do in Istanbul:
- Sultanahmet Area (Old City)
-Hagia Sophia Perhaps the most renown symbol of the city is this marvellous and ancient church in origin, built in 537AD, then turned to a mosque and now musealised. 09.00-18.00, 25TL.
-Topkapı Palace This was the residence of the Ottoman Sultans for over 400 years. A huge complex of palaces and gardens with marvellous architecture. 09.00-17.00, 20TL.
-Sultanahmet Mosque The most important mosque in the city, dating back 1616. Commonly called the Blue Mosque for its blue tiles adorning the interior 09.00-19.00, free.
-Basilica Cistern Also referred as the Sunken Palace, built in the 6th century as a cistern to collect water for the city, is one of the many that were built, and also the largest with difference. Check the Medussa statues on two columns. 09.00-18.30. 10TL.
-Hippodrome Few remains are visible of this once upon a time great hippodrome. The obelisks are still in the very same position as they were for over 2000 years. The German Fountain (Alman Cesmesi) located in this square nearby is a gift from German Kaiser Wilhelm II to the Ottoman Sultan.
-Million Located near the Basilica Cistern, it’s a 4th century marker from where al the distances were measured in the Byzantine Empire.
-Soğukçeşme Street Between Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, Gülhane Park.
-Valens Aqueduct Over Atatürk Boulevard.
-Grand Bazaar Kapalı Çarşı. The world famous labyrinthine streets are a treat for your eyes, colours, smells, tastes. Anything can be found in here, but make sure you lower the originally quoted prices at least by thrice.
-Belgradkapı Gate In origin part of the Theodosian walls, it’s bear the Marmara coast.
- Bosphorus Area
-Ortaköy Mosque Under Bosphorus Bridge, the best view of it will be from a boat.
-Waterfront of Arnavutköy For beautiful villas and houses.
-Dolmabahce Palace and gates, although not worth pay inside, the magnificent façade can be best admired from a boat.
-Rumeli Citadel Also on the waterfront next to the main avenue under bridge, you will enjoy the best views while on a boat.
-Taksim Square This is the heart of the city where old and new blends, and also the place where should a revolt or manifestation occur.
-Galata Tower You can go up for great views over the city, but you can save the cost of it as from Topkapi Palace you will be offered great views. Nevertheless, the tower and the old houses under it create one of the most recognisable images of Istanbul, which you can capture from the opposite river side by the pier where all the tourist boat rides depart.
- New City
-Maslak The finantial district. North of Taksim Square. Metro Maslak.
- Asian Side
-Haydarpasa train station
-Maiden’s Tower, Salacak, south of Üsküdar, this is the tower-lighthouse in the middle of the Bosphorus. Any tourist boat rides pass next to it.
From the airport take the “Havaş” airport bus which starts at 5.00am and go as final destination Taksim Square for 14TL stopping along the way. From Taksim you have direct access to the Metro and trams, buses or taxis should you need them to your final destination.
In the city centre and running along the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, Grand Bazaar, etc is a newly opened tram line. There is also two metro lines currently operational, with a further 3 under construction and due to open soon. While along Taksim Square and that area there is the historic red trams, nowadays more of a tourist attraction.
As capital city and finance centre of such importance, absolutely every hotel chain is represented by more than one locations, and of course, the thousands of other local hotels. You should be able to find great deals over the internet but beware in high season months the prices will be higher.
In our case we stayed at the Albatros Premier, in Kucukayasofya Mahallesi, Cayiroglu. This is right in the middle Sultanahmet area, and less than 5 minutes to the Blue Mosque by walking. It was a very nice place to stay, but unfortunately they did not have the rooms we originally booked (4 rooms) and they split us. Not much of a problem because their other property is literally across the road, but not as charming as the historic boutique building.